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LIFE IN SPAIN

Twelve Madrid life hacks that will make you feel like a local

What does it take to be a true Madrileño? Journalist and longtime Madrid resident Simon Hunter enlists the help of the Spanish capital's twittersphere, as well as drawing from his own experiences, to bring you the ultimate list of Madrid life hacks.

Twelve Madrid life hacks that will make you feel like a local
“Contact” parallel parking is one of the art forms Madrileños have to develop to get by in the city. Photo: Simon Hunter

Avoid changing Metro lines at certain stations

Madrid’s Metro system is a fantastic way to move around the Spanish capital, but it can have a few pitfalls. One of these is making a connection at Nuevos Ministerios, Diego de León or Cuatro Caminos – walking boots are recommended given the length of the tunnels you’ll have to traverse.

You should also avoid taking the stairs in Cuatro Caminos, even if the queues for the escalators are long. At 45 metres, it’s the deepest station in the network and is equivalent to a 15-storey building.

Choose to get on or off at the wrong metro station in Madrid and it may be a while until you see daylight again. (Photo by GERARD JULIEN / AFP)

 
Be ready for weather extremes

In winter months such as January you can expect lows of between 0 and 3ºC compared to average highs of some 35ºC in the height of summer. All self-respecting Madrileños will have two entirely distinct wardrobes to cope with these extremes, to usually be switched around and stored accordingly in early October and May.

But be aware, the arrival of summer can be deceptive: as the saying goes, “Hasta el cuarenta de mayo no te quites el sayo” – in other words, keep something warm to hand for when the weather takes its regular turn for the worse before June 9th.

And one last tip: always take a light jacket to the cinema in the summer. With the aircon cranked up to 11, you’re going to need it…

 
Stay away from the tourist traps

The Plaza Mayor is a must-visit location in Madrid, especially during the holiday season when the Christmas market is in place. But avoid the bars and restaurants that line the square, and head instead to the connecting streets and beyond.

The former are mostly frequented by tourists and visiting football fans and are greatly overpriced. Look instead for places packed with locals and always wait before ordering food at the bar – that way you’ll be guaranteed a tapa with your drink. And never frequent a restaurant that has pictures of the food on the outside…

Plaza Mayor isn’t the ideal place to have food or drinks in the capital, especially if don’t want to be overcharged. (Photo by GERARD JULIEN / AFP)

 
Learn to stay up ridiculously late (and make an unseen exit)

Madrileños are trained practically from birth to stay up ridiculously late (for proof look no further than the kids running around bars and restaurants well into the night). Keeping up with this rhythm requires some serious preparation, including a strategic nap before a night out as well as pacing yourself when it comes to drinking alcohol.

If it all gets too much for you, however, never, ever announce to Madrileño friends that you are leaving, otherwise they will expend all their energy on getting you to stay. Instead, find an excuse to disappear for a minute, turn off your phone and sneak away – a practice known as “una bomba de humo”, or a “smoke bomb”.

 
For toilet stops, look for El Corte Inglés

Madrid is shockingly short of two public services: water fountains and toilets. You can, of course, nip into a bar, but many establishments – particularly in the centre – will insist you purchase something before using their facilities.

As an alternative, El Corte Inglés department store is your best bet. They’re all over the city and boast plentiful and clean bathrooms. Be warned, however: the branch at Nuevos Ministerios is nigh-on impossible to navigate, and legend has it that there are still lost souls wandering around trying to find the exit after having popped in for a pee in 1997.

El Corte Inglés, Spain’s flagship department store and a lifesaver for many with full bladders. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

Leave the city in July, not August

August is still traditionally when most Spaniards get away for their summer holiday. Time was when Madrid would pretty much shut down completely during the eighth month of the year, but no more.

July is actually hotter, weather-wise, and the city is still very hectic during that month, meaning it’s a better option to hightail it to the beach. August is a wonderfully calm time in the capital, with less traffic, emptier streets and still plenty to see and do.

Get to know the waiters in your local bar

For many newcomers to Madrid, waiters – particularly those in what are dubbed “old-man bars” – can come across as spectacularly rude.

But really their attitude is more business-like than anything, and if you make the effort to get to know those in your local not only will they soften up, but they may even serve you up your regular tipple before you even ask for it.

The secret to conquering Madrileño waiters is confidence: a loud “¡Buenos días!” is always a good starter on arrival, and forget using “¡Oiga!” to get their attention like the guide books tell you, use “¡Cuando puedas!” (When you have a second…) instead.

Developing an almost telepathic relationship with the waiters at your local bar is a sign of integration in Madrid. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

If driving, beware the M-30 ring road and practice your parking

Madrid is a city that grinds to a halt when it rains, and nowhere is this more true than the M-30 ring road. In fact, even on normal days it turns into a car park during rush hour. As such, avoid it before 10am and after 6pm, as your journey will not be brief. And if you must take this city circular, make sure you know exactly where you’re going and which exit you need to take: there are myriad slip lanes and lateral routes and very confusingly you may actually have to take a right lane to go left and vice versa.

You’ll also need to perfect your “contact” parallel parking (assuming you can find a space in the first place), which involves stopping only when you lightly touch the cars in front and behind. With a bit of practice you’ll be amazed at the gaps you can squeeze into (see photo at the top).
 
Punctuality and distances are relative

When meeting with Madrileños, you should take all times as more of a guide than a definite plan. Everything is likely to happen one to two hours later than you expect, including, of course, the actual end of a night out. Madrid is a fantastically walkable city, but you should also be wary of claims that your destination “is just five minutes away” – five minutes can easily mean 40, with several bar stops along the way.

Don’t take claims such as “ya llego” (almost there) too seriously if you’re waiting for a friend in Madrid. Photo: Gerard Julien/AFP

 
Get to restaurants early for a chance to bag a table

Madrileños love to eat late and dine late, which takes some getting used to. However, it can work to your advantage if you want to grab a table at a restaurant: get there at 1pm for lunch or 8pm for dinner, and you should have the place practically to yourself.

Whether you’re in the streets around Plaza Mayor or in another central ‘barrio’, finding a table to eat out in Madrid can be challenging. Photo: Ed Orozco/Unsplash

 
Escape to the mountains (and ski)

From the right vantage point, the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains are visible on the Madrid horizon, which makes for a stunning sight when they are snow-topped. Whether it’s winter or summer, an escape from the city to these stunning landscapes is a must, and there are plenty of public transport options to get you to mountain villages such as Cercedilla or Alpedrete.

Provided enough snow has fallen, a ski trip to the Valdesquí resort is also a treat – and if you need a bit of practice before you go, you can head to SnoZone at the Xanadú shopping mall. It’s Spain’s only real-snow indoor slope.

You may not have to travel as far as the Pyrenees or Sierra Nevada if there’s enough snowfall to ski in Valdesquí. Photo: Ines Ogara/Unsplash

Find a friend with a swimming pool

When the summer hits, and the scorching sun starts to super-heat buildings and sidewalks alike, your mind will inevitably turn to water. While there are plenty of public pools to enjoy (Lago is a particularly highlight), it’s a much better plan to cultivate a friendship with someone who has their own.

You don’t have to stray too far out of the city centre to find apartment blocks with communal swimming pools, and some of them are really impressive. Many end up deserted during the month of August once Madrileños up and leave for their vacations, so if you want to pull off the perfect summer heist, offer to house-sit for your friend to enjoy a free swim and a sunbathe every single day.

In landlocked Madrid, a friend with a pool is worth more than one who’s a doctor or IT expert. Photo: Jaime Reina/AFP
 
 
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MOVING TO SPAIN

Swapping Dublin for Madrid: The right escape from Ireland’s cost-of-living crisis?

Seventy percent of young Irish people are considering moving abroad to escape Ireland’s worsening housing and cost-of-living crisis. Could Spain’s capital offer solutions to those seeking a new home? Irish Madrid resident Cormac Breen breaks down the costs.

Swapping Dublin for Madrid: The right escape from Ireland's cost-of-living crisis?

More than a million people in Ireland (out of a population of 5 million) are struggling to make ends meet.

That’s according to the Irish government’s latest Behaviour & Attitudes (B&A) survey, which also saw four in five Irish people acknowledge that they have less money than a year ago. 

Ireland’s cost-of-living and housing crises are affecting young people in particular, so much so that another survey carried out for the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) found that 70 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds in the country are considering moving overseas.

Finding a home to rent in Dublin for under €2,000 has become almost impossible, even small one-bedroom flats are going for €1,500.

So, could Spain’s capital offer what young Irish workers and graduates are after? Madrid is certainly an exciting and varied city with lots to offer, and although it’s not on the coast, it certainly boasts better weather than the Irish capital.

READ ALSO: Where do Spain’s Irish residents live?

Is it possible for Irish people to find work and accommodation in Madrid relatively easily and have enough money to cover costs and save up?

English teacher Cormac Breen, who swapped Dublin for Madrid, explains what his countrymen should factor in.  

Average wages

As of 2022, the minimum monthly salary in Spain stands at €1,166 gross for a 40-hour work week. Despite this, the average monthly salary in Madrid is about €2,000 gross, about €300 higher than the national average.

Comparing this to Dublin, where the average weekly wage in 2022 is €850 a week, or about €3,683 gross per month, it is clear to see that salaries are much higher in Ireland. 

Earning considerably less may worry you, but as you read through this article, you’ll see how you will also be spending less in Madrid than in Dublin.

Job prospects

You’re probably familiar with the fact that Spain isn’t renowned for its great career prospects, but native English speakers often find they can access jobs that aren’t as easily available to Spaniards.

Many of them work in the education sector as teachers, particularly in private language academies.

Salaries range from about €1,200 to €1,400 a month net for about a 30-hour working week but with fluency in English being such a sought-after skill in Spain, there are endless opportunities to supplement your income with private classes which can earn you about €15 to €25 per hour. After Brexit, there are fewer UK nationals who can move to Spain to work as language teachers, so young Irish people will find it easier to get work and take advantage of their EU status. 

READ ALSO: The most in-demand jobs in Spain in 2022

There’s also remote working for a company, Irish or otherwise, from Madrid. The rules on remote working from Spain are a bit of a grey area sometimes, but you will generally be expected to pay taxes in Spain if you settle here

The Spanish government is also set to introduce a new startups law and digital nomad visa which will go a long way to remove the current bureaucratic hurdles that exist for non-Spanish residents wishing to work remotely from the country. Although this visa is aimed at non-EU remote workers, there are parts of the legislation which are geared towards making Spain a better place to set up a business, including for Irish and other EU nationals.

READ ALSO: New self-employed workers in Madrid to pay no social security tax

Accommodation

Irish salaries are among the highest in Europe but so are rental prices, with Dublin in particular proving to be very expensive to live in (recent figures place the average monthly rent in Dublin at just under €2,000).

According to comparison website Expatistan.com, on average housing in Dublin is about 79 percent more expensive than in Madrid.

If you’re looking to rent a place for yourself, or to share, prices in Madrid city centre will of course be higher, especially in more touristy areas and trendy neighbourhoods such as Chueca and Malasaña.

Finding a place slightly outside the centre can often offer cheaper rents, and more modern buildings. Renting a studio flat will cost you about €800 to €1,000 a month while a one or two-bedroom apartment can cost upwards of €1,200 per month.

Sharing a room is the most economical choice in Madrid, with a room in a shared flat costing on average about €400 to €600 a month. 

It’s worth remembering as well that finding a place to rent in Spain’s big cities is also becoming harder than it was, even though prices and the lack of rental units isn’t as severe as in Ireland. 

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Maximilian Vitzthum

Madrid’s main street – Gran Vía. Photo: Gregor Schram/Unsplash

Utilities

Like most European countries, Spain has seen a sharp increase in the cost of utilities, with heating and electricity in particular becoming much more expensive. Even so, it may still work out to be cheaper than bills in Ireland, where the average household’s annual electricity bill in 2022 is expected to be €2,120.

All in all, you can expect to pay about €50 to €80 a month if you are sharing a flat in Madrid, with bills rising to about €100 to €130 per month if you rent a studio or one-bedroom flat.

Spanish homes normally have to pay for heating, electricity, water and internet access. How much you pay a month will largely depend on your usage, and whether you are sharing a flat or renting your own place.

Water tends to be the cheapest utility, costing about €10 to €20 per month. Shopping around can help you find the best deal on internet packages which often come with landlines or mobile services included. Prices start at €20 per month depending on whether you want to pay just for wi-fi access, and what speed of internet connection you want.

Transport

Dublin is the second most expensive city in Europe for public transport costs. Spain and Madrid on the other hand have recently introduced big discounts on public transport (or made it completely free) to help people deal with rising inflation.

Madrid has an extensive public transport network, incorporating metro, bus and light rail along with a range of individual options such as bike and scooter hire schemes. Having a car in the centre is not really necessary given the costs involved with parking and fuel, and most people prefer to take advantage of public transport as their primary means of commuting to work and moving around the city.

Transportes Madrid offers a range of options for those wishing to take advantage of the vast transport network, with the monthly pass by far being the most popular. For a 30-day pass, giving unlimited access to the entire transport network, prices start at about €25 for under 26’s, rising to about €55 for anyone above this age. In an effort to tackle costs, the transport authority introduced an almost 50 percent reduction on the cost of a 30-day pass meaning that someone under the age of 26 can expect to pay as little as €10 euro for their monthly pass, while someone availing of the standard rate now pays about €32.

READ ALSO: 12 Madrid life hacks that will make you feel like a local

The Crystal Palace in Madrid’s huge El Retiro Park, in the centre of the city. Photo: Maximilian Vitzthum/Unsplash

Enjoying life in Madrid

Dublin residents will know full well that eating out or having drinks can be pretty expensive. Not so in the Spanish capital.

From restaurants, museums, theatres and trendy bars to nightclubs, food markets and sports, Madrid has something for everyone.

And even if you’re on a tight budget, you won’t miss out on what this city has to offer.

A night out in Madrid usually involves food and alcohol. A glass of beer or wine in a modest city centre bar or terrace, can cost as little as €2 or €3 while a copa such as a gin and tonic, can cost about €7 or €8. Trendy wine and vermouth bars, cheap and cheerful cervecerías, late night dance bars, and some of the best nightclubs in Europe, Madrid’s nightlife has something for everyone.

A meal in a standard restaurant can cost from €20 to €25 for two courses and a drink between two people. For €12 to €15, you get a two-course meal, along with a dessert and drink as part of the popular menú del día

The city contains impressive and sometimes free public amenities, such as parks, gyms, swimming pools, sports pitches, museums, exhibitions, and theatres. A monthly gym membership costs between €20 to €40. Tickets to live music or cultural performances can cost as little as €10, but range upwards towards €100 for international acts. Madrid unfortunately lacks a beach, but it is very close to the mountains where you can enjoy hiking all year round, and for those with a bit of extra cash, skiing in the winter.

Madrid costs breakdown

With the above considerations in mind, here is how much you should expect to spend living in Madrid as a single person, renting a room in a city centre flat on a monthly income of about €1,600.

Rent: €600

Utilities: €50 – €80

Transport: €10 – €30

Food: €200-€300

Activities/Entertainment: €100+

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