Are you planning a trip to Madrid and don’t know where to start? We feel you, there are too many things to consider to avoid the moment when you say to yourself: “Why did not I think about this before?”. Experience counts, the more you travel the more you learn, and we have learned a lot from the guests who visited us. These are some of the things that travelers sometimes overlook, and you should know. We hope you find these tips useful when you visit Madrid in 2019:
1) Make Housing Arrangements
Let’s start with the most obvious tip. Before leaving, it’s important to know where you’re going to stay during your trip. If it’s a very long itinerary, it’s almost insane to have everything booked in advance, because we make decisions on the go. But if your trip doesn’t have many stops, it’s not a bad idea to decide where you want to stay in advance.
Whether you choose an Airbnb, a hostel, or a hotel room, make sure you have a place to sleep. And even if you do not give Cats Hostels a try (we write this in tears), we want you to travel without worry, and in order to do that, it’s best to book well in advance. It’s no secret that in a crowded city like this, the best places are the first to be fully booked. Imagine the wave of disappointment when you arrive and the receptionist says there are no free beds (oh yes, we have seen those travelers!)
Fortunately, there are many accommodations that have a flexible cancellation policy in which you can cancel up to 24 hours before arrival (ahem, like us). So, this is one of the best tips we can give you: book your accommodation in Madrid now, decide later.
2) Make Photocopies of any Important Documents
Before getting on the plane, be sure to make photocopies of all-important documents and carry that copy in both carry-on/checked baggage. Once in Madrid, keep the copy safe in the hotel/hostel room’s locker or in your friend’s house Another good idea is to have copies of these documents in the cloud or Dropbox.
We aren’t joking — although you may think this is an exaggeration, you never know when (unfortunately) a robbery may happen. If it does, you’ll be relieved that you still have a copy of your passport, train tickets, car rental slip, itinerary, credit card information, and other valuable documents. You should have a plan b in case you “lose” your wallet, passport, cell phone, or any other valuable item.
3) Make an Itinerary
To make your trip better and your life easier, make plans ahead of time so you know what you want to do and see in Madrid. This will allow you to better manage your time and be aware of locations and distances. Be realistic, make a list of your “must-sees” and then, after, add your “interesting ones”, which are the sights you can visit if you have time.
When you arrive at a new place, you never know if you’re going to find an unexpected party, if the museum you wanted to visit happens to be closed for renovations, or if you’re going to meet someone who has a different plan. When traveling, unexpected things happen, so having a list of the places you want to visit no matter what, can help you to reorganize your plans based on your preferences.
Just remember, traveling is not a race or a competition. It’s not about being the one who checks off the most boxes. It’s about enjoying each step, mingling with locals and immersing yourself in the culture, instead of running from one place to another to get the photo taken. Sometimes, quality is better than quantity.
4) Do your Research!
Before leaving, look up everything you can. For example, it’s important to know the dates of the major holidays in Madrid in 2019 and check to see if any are during your trip. This could mean two things: on the one hand, somewhere you may want to go may be closed on that day, and on the other hand, maybe there is a special event in the city that you can participate in that you didn’t even know about. (And some of them are free!)
The good thing about knowing these things in advance is you can better organize the itinerary we talked about in the previous point, to make sure that the hours of operation for a particular site match your plans. Researching the hours also helps you to know if there are days/times when the museums are free or have a reduced entry price, which is good to know as well!
5) Try to Live like a Spaniard!
Since you’re going to be in Madrid, make sure you know and try to mimic Madrid’s customs such as greeting people with two kisses, traveling by metro, having midday vermouth with a tapa, or going on a Sunday walk to El Rastro or El Retiro Park.
One of the customs that you’ll want to adapt to quickly is to practice ‘terraceo’ (the art of drinking beers on a terrace) and, of course, to buy churros with chocolate. We in Madrid (or Spaniards in general) like to have a siesta, something completely normal if you consider another very Madrilenian custom: partying till late! So, remember to nap about 30 minutes to recharge your batteries. It’s true that the party here lasts longer than the average European one!
Something very Spanish is spending time outside. The weather is perfect for it all year round! The people of Madrid love a street party. When May arrives, and with it San Isidro festivities, everyone gathers in Las Vistillas or La Pradera. And when summer comes, it’s festivals time. In autumn, the weather is still very pleasant so there are a lot of things to do in October. In winter, the street activities include buying chestnuts, visiting markets, and of course eating the grapes of luck in Puerta del Sol. So you know now that wherever you go, you should do as the Madrileños do!
6) Be Smart! Don’t be a naive tourist
Our beloved Madrid is not dangerous, but sadly we have to accept that more than one visitor or resident finds themselves in an unfortunate situation. In crowded places, hold your backpack in front of you and avoid putting things in the outer pockets with zipper or that a thief could easily access. Always close your bag when you’re walking around, and never leave your cell phone or wallet in your back pockets. Do not leave anything out in the view of others; for example, if you leave your phone on the table at a terrace, someone could come and try to distract you by asking a question and next thing you know, your cell phone is gone! In restaurants, always keep your things in front of you where you can keep an eye on them or on your lap.
We hope none of this scares you, because there’s really no reason to be afraid and none of these robberies violent. But these pickpockets approach the tourist areas hoping to take advantage of some naive tourists. Do not be one of them!
7) Pack smart
If you’re planning to travel around Spain and do not want to drag a huge suitcase everywhere you go, a backpack is a good idea. We’ll let you in on a secret: Madrid is full of hills and cobblestone streets. These historic cities are beautiful, no?
How should you pack for Madrid? Well, that depends on the season, but in general, remember that the summers are veeeery hot and the winters are moderate, compared to the rest of Europe. You’ll not see the snowy streets in the city center. On the other hand, just because we have good weather doesn’t mean that you should not bring something to keep you warm, as air conditioning can be chilly! On the flip side, it also doesn’t mean that you should only bring your flip flops, because in some of Madrid’s clubs, the footwear can be a reason that you’re denied entry. In Madrid, is almost always sunny (not too hot), but friends, the sun does differentiate between skin colors! It burns us all equally. Always use sunscreen… and if you do not want to bring it with you, you can buy it when you get here. But hey, remember to pack some sunglasses!
8) Plan a day trip
There are many cities near Madrid which you can see in one day. Our favorites are Segovia and Toledo, go and see why! There are daily day trips with guides, but since public transportation between the two cities and Madrid is great, it’s very easy for you to visit them on your own, and save some money while you’re at it! The bus is the cheapest option, but with the high-speed train you’ll arrive in the blink of an eye! These cities are rich with history, and walking through the historic center of both you’ll be able to see bits and pieces of all cultures.
Another visit of great architectural value is El Escorial, an imposing monastery that listed as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. Wherever you choose to visit, feel free to come by the reception desk and ask for information and advice on the different transportation options. We’ll be happy to help you!
9) Buy a European Adapter and an external battery
This is something that many people forget, but the voltage in Spain likely is not the same as the voltage where you live. Ours is type F, so if your plugs are not compatible, remember to buy an adapter before flying (or, you can buy one at the airport, although that’s always more expensive).
The fact of the matter is that while traveling, we spend most of the day out and about, and while our phone may run out of battery, we need it for things like Google Maps, since we no longer use physical maps to help us navigate a city. Especially since we tend to use our phones as our camera instead of an actual camera, it’s a good idea to get an external battery to charge our devices when we’re walking around, so there’s no need to stop somewhere to search for a plug!
10) Prepare for Spanish Food
And to eat like a Spaniard, that is, eating well and eating often! Get ready to try a lot of Spanish food but also to adapt to our schedule. Spaniards eat late compared to other Europeans:
- Breakfast: usually served from 8:00 am to 10:00 am. Of course, some food chains will offer it until 1:00 pm Try the typical Spanish breakfast!
- Lunch: usually starts at 2:00 pm although in many restaurants the kitchen is open from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm. We eat very late!
- Dinner: starts around 9:00 pm but on weekends you can order food until midnight!
Madrid is also home to the streets in Spain with most bars per square meter, so just choose a bar that catches your eye, or ask us at reception for advice and we’ll tell you where to eat the best tapas !! In Madrid, there are restaurants for all budgets. Even if you think you’re going out on a budget, don’t just choose your favorite fast food chain. For example, we have places like the Museo del Jamón that sell jamón (ham) sandwiches for €1. On the other hand, we encourage you to go to a restaurant and order a la carte. You’ll definitely read very strange things that you have never tasted like the rabo de toro (oxtail), or the gallinejas y entresijos (chitterlings and lamb intestine). Here we talk more about the tapas in Madrid that you cannot miss. Try everything, you only live once!