While in Madrid, you will find that living with a local family, taking classes focused on Spain, and the Mediterranean, and partaking in various day, weekend, and week-long study tours will mean that there is no "normal" week. Your life in Madrid will be shaped by these forces, the friends you make, the sightseeing you choose to engage in, and the lifestyle you choose to lead. We strongly encourage you to think about what your goals are for study abroad, as your life in Madrid will truly be shaped by these goals. You will come to understand what it means to live life as a Spaniard, and we hope that you too will make efforts to live like a Spaniard yourself.
Only in Madrid can you stroll through the lovely Retiro Park and enjoy the jugglers and mimes, treat yourself to "tapas" while taking in the exquisite design of the old Plaza Mayor, or view the paintings of Goya, Velasquez, and El Greco at the Prado Museum. Also Madrid's fabulous public transportation system makes exploring this exciting city easy!
Madrid truly lives up to its title as the city that never sleeps. Night-owls delight in Madrid as you are expected to eat and dance the night away, whether you're twenty years old or fifty years old. There is always something to do in Madrid no matter what time it is.
The Rastro is a must-do in Madrid. It is a huge flea market held every Sunday from 8 am to about 2 pm. It is in Old Madrid near the Latino metro stop. You can get anything at Rastro - scarves, earrings, sunglasses, shirts, Levi's, shoes and leather goods, books, household items and even army- issued goods, among a myriad of other things. You must be very careful to watch out for pickpockets! El Rastro is notorious for this type of petty theft. Do NOT carry large amounts of cash or any valuables on you when you go to el Rastro.
Grocery stores are a bit different in Spain. You will notice that though they can be like local grocery stores in the U.S., the variety of choice is different. For example, in the U.S. there are numerous brands and styles of canned tomatoes, whereas in Spain, you may notice that there are only two brand and three styles of canned tomatoes. While shopping for fruit in Spain, only touch the fruit with the plastic gloves provided. Do not handle the fruit with your hands. You may not always be able to use a credit card at the grocery store if you are not spending the minimum amount. Be prepared to have cash and in small denominations. And don't forget, grocery stores are almost always closed on Sundays. Some common grocery stores are Mercadona, Dia, and Carrefour. Undoubtedly you will find your own store close to you.
You will find that Madrid has some of the best clothing shops in Spain. The variety is tremendous. You can find your designer brands, chains, and boutiques across the city. Ask your host family about the various shopping districts in Madrid.
Some of the world’s best art museums are located in Madrid. Do not leave Madrid without visiting each of them several times! The three most well-known museums in Madrid are:
- Museo Nacional del Prado
- Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza
- Museo Reina Sofia
Also, ask your professors for other recommendations for museums beyond these big three. You will have inevitably heard of El Prado. Probably the city’s most well-known museum, the Prado houses some of the finest European art as well as one of the best single collections of Spanish art. The Reina Sofia focuses mainly on 20th century Spanish art and has huge collections of Picasso and Dalí as well as works by Miró, Juan Gris and other Spanish artists.
While in Madrid, take some time to explore Retiro Park, el Parque del Retiro. The park spans about 350 acres, contains a pond where you can rent paddle boats and kayaks, and boast many monuments, statues, and architectural wonders. And you can’t miss Plaza Mayor located in the center of Madrid. This is a wonderful place to relax, meet up, or start your evening. Not too far from Plaza Mayor is Palacio Real, Madrid’s Royal Palace built in 1764. You can take a tour of many of the rooms within the palace, learn about the history of the Spanish Kings and Queens, and admire the exquisite architecture and art. Lastly, you should take some time to explore the architecture, monuments, and history of Puerta del Sol, located in the center of Madrid at the crossroads of many major boulevards and streets throughout Madrid. This is another great location to meet up with friends before heading out to see more of the city. You will find that Madrid has so many wonderful public spaces, palaces, museums, theaters, and street art that you simply cannot catalogue it all. You will find your favorite parts of Madrid and come to refer to them your local meet up and hang out spots.
You should definitely take the opportunity to travel within Spain during the semester. Travel by train and by bus is very affordable, though buses go more places and tend to be less expensive. If you are able to get a student identification card from the university in Madrid, you can get the Carné Joven, which entitles you to 50% off all train travel in Spain. There are many places near Madrid that are easy to reach by a short bus ride or train trip, such as Toledo, Segovia, Salamanca, Burgos, Cuenca, El Escorial, Valle de los Caídos, La Rioja, Avila, Aranjuez, and Palencia. There may be organized trips with the whole group to some of these locations.
Spain is well known for its fiestas, celebrating every religious holiday. The Carnavales are big in Cádiz. Around Ash Wednesday there are plenty of activities in Plaza Mayor in Madrid. Holy Week, Semana Santa, has especially grandiose celebrations in Granada and Sevilla. Any tour book will list and describe the fiestas. Popular areas to visit are Costa del Sol, Barcelona, País Vasco, Valencia, or Galicia. Spain is rich in diversity of culture, geography, and activity. Bring good walking shoes and explore as much as you can!
We encourage you to limit your personal travel to within Spain. This is your one chance to really get to know one single country very well. Travel throughout Spain and limit your travel to other European cities as much as you can. Keep in mind that personal travel must NOT interfere with program classes, activities, or field trips.
Madrid is a beautiful, walkable city. Walking is the best way to familiarize yourself with the city, and to relieve a bit of stress through exercise. Many of the places you will be living are within a 20-40 minute walk from downtown Madrid. Europeans walk much more frequently than Americans. You will notice that a Spaniard’s idea of “walking distance” will differ significantly from the average American’s definition! A map is key for Madrid, and will be priceless for creating your own walking tours. Buy a good map and don’t rely solely on GPS on a smartphone. Ask locals for directions instead of looking up things on-line in your smartphone. Interact with locals and you will find your semester in Madrid far more meaningful!
You will also want to carry around a metro map so you can easily figure out the best way to get to where you want to go. If you can’t walk somewhere, then you will use Madrid’s efficient metro and bus system. You will find Madrid's system excellent. Subways, buses, and local commuter trains (called cercanias) provide frequent and efficient service to all parts of the city and surrounding areas. The metro system in Madrid is far larger than the DC metro system, with many more lines and TONS of transfer stations. Stops are much closer together than DC metros. There are a LOT of steps and escalators in the system. When transferring lines, you may walk a lot longer underground that you normally do in the DC metro system.
The metro does close at night, around 1:30 am, and doesn’t open again until around 6 am; however, there are different options for getting around the city after the metro closes. Night buses run from around 2-6 am, all week long, and conveniently follow the many of the same lines as the metro. There are also special night buses called Buhos that connect different parts of the city on weekends, during the hours that the metro is not open. We recommend you purchase a monthly-unlimited use travel pass after you arrive, as it will invariably save you money in the end. Information on the travel pass will be furnished to you at your in-country orientation.
Spanish nightlife begins at 11:00 or 11:30pm at night. It begins at a local bar until it closes, then the discos, the dance clubs, or glorified bars with dance floors. These discos stay open until about 5 or 6 am, and people tend to hop from disco to disco. There are a few big name (and pricy) discos in Madrid, like Joy Esclava. You needn't necessarily go to these places, and as a matter of fact, usually only tourists frequent them. Often the best places look like they are no place at all and do not charge at the door. Some good areas to try are Calle Huertas off of Plaza Santa Ana, and Bilbao, Alonso Martínez, Chueca, and Argüelles metro areas (near the Universidad Complutense). If you have any contacts in Madrid don't be afraid to use them. The Spanish love to meet and talk with American students, and they can tell you good places to go out.
After a long night of dancing and socializing, when the clock strikes about 6 am, cafeterias will re- open and serve another long-standing Spanish culinary tradition, chocolate con churros. Churros are a fried-dough pastry, and chocolate is a rich hot chocolate, almost pudding thick. It is a delicious combination, and not too damaging to your waistline if you order it only once in a while.
Going to the cinema is also a lot of fun and there are a lot of cinemas in Madrid where you can see movies. Most movies coming from Hollywood are dubbed with voiceovers in Spanish, although you will find movies with subtitles also. Look for the ¨día del espectador¨ for discounted days or student days (vary by theater).
You can find the cinema listings by looking in the daily newspaper. You can visit Guia del Ocio for a weekly listing of all nightlife, movies, discos, restaurants, and cultural events in Madrid, as well as other cities in Spain. All the information needed to plan a trip to a flamenco show, una zarzuela (Spanish opera), cultural festival or movie theater can be found on this website. In addition to short descriptions of each listed movie, Guía gives the address and nearest metro stop for each theater. It is an invaluable source of information. You can also visit InMadrid.
Another great way to spend your time is at the central park in Madrid, known as El Retiro. El Retiro is a gigantic park in the center of Madrid. You can spend hours wandering through its many paths, tree lined avenues, and sitting in one of the several cafés located within it. Please use common sense, however, and don't wander around at night or by yourself.
As you have probably guessed, Madrid is a huge fútbol (soccer) city given that it is home to three world class teams: Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, and Rayo Vallecano. If you are interested in attending a game, you can look for tickets. Madrid also offers a variety of other sports games including Basketball, Tennis, and Bullfighting. In fact, Madrid has the largest plaza de toros in all of Spain.