Laid back by day, lively by night: Madrid, Spain’s largest and capital city has nothing short of “mucha marcha.” The city is a live wire and whether you are single, a couple or a family, there is something for everyone.
Madrid is, both literally and figuratively speaking, the heart of Spain. A feast for the eyes, the city is characterised by Pedro de Ribera’s frothy architecture, contemporary skyscrapers, such as Tamasaki’s Torre Picasso, and transformed buildings, where libraries inhabit former breweries and art graces the walls of former abattoirs.
Eating out is easy: dress codes are laid back, but don’t expect wine and cheese to follow your meal. Pavement cafes transform into open-air nightclubs after dusk and the only drinks you’ll find on the menu are hard-hitting cocktails. For the footloose and child-free, calling it a night at dawn is considered the norm. For those who prefer to eschew the hedonistic revelry of la noche, during the calmer daylight hours Madrid is the emerald in Spain’s crown. With more trees and green areas than any other European city (16m² of green space per inhabitant!), Madrid can be as calm and tranquil by day as it is vivacious by night. Only in Madrid can you find Casa de Campo, Spain’s largest park, where you can splash in the outdoor swimming pool, thrill to the fairground, or simply lose yourself in the three separate ecosystems that provide this park’s unique natural environment.
Art lovers venerate the city’s Golden Triangle of Art (three museums on the Paseo del Prado) where you can behold the works of Picasso, Goya, Velázquez, and José Ribera, to name a few. The move to Madrid will plunge you into a culture that is spontaneous, sociable, boisterous, fun, family-oriented, passionate about bullfighting and football and above all, reciprocal – you’ll only get out of Madrid as much as you put in!
What is special or unique about your city?
Madrid has been described as "the city of a thousand faces" due to the incredible diversity of its architectural styles. A cosmopolitan city steeped in history and art, Madrid is home to an exceptional number of world-class museums and galleries. Situated in the geographic centre of the Iberian Peninsula, this capital city is the hub of Spain's commerce, banking and industry.
What are a newcomer's first impressions of your city?
Every Spaniard will tell you "Spain is Different" and Madrid sums this up to a tee! The pace is completely different from most European capital cities and most probably, your own home town. Working, eating and shopping hours tend to be dictated by meal times. Madrileños (Madrid locals) have a distinct working day that does not conform to their European counterparts’ schedules. It is not unusual to have a two-hour lunch between 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., and dinner is not served until 9:30 p.m. at the very earliest.
In the summer, many companies work the “jornada intensiva,” literally translated as the “intensive day,” which is from 8:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. during July and August. This was originally because of the heat in summer (when air conditioning was not available); by 3:00 p.m. it was just too hot to work. Also, because most Madrileños tend to take at least three weeks of vacation in the summer, the city practically shuts down from mid-July to the end of August.
Are these impressions likely to change?
Once you are used to the way of life and the hours that Madrileños keep, you'll find Madrid a wonderfully friendly and vibrant city with a huge amount to offer culturally and socially.
What is the local language?
Spain's official language is castellano (Castilian). Without a doubt, you will find that castellano is the language you encounter most in Madrid. In Barcelona, the Catalan language is widely used alongside castellano.
How easily could I live in this city without knowing this language?
It is recommended that you learn Spanish as it will allow you to integrate better into the Spanish way of life. While English is quite widely spoken in business, surprisingly few people in Madrid speak it with any level of fluency, although that is changing with the younger generations.
What are good things to remember in order to avoid offending the other residents of this city?
Madrileños are very polite and friendly. Having migrated to the capital from virtually every region in Spain, you will find the citizens of this city to be very open. Don't be surprised, however, that despite a Spaniard initially embracing you upon first meeting, it may take some time to develop a deeper relationship. Despite their diverse origins from virtually every region of Spain, Madrileños are very proud of their city and you should be mindful of common social courtesies.
It is quite common for Spaniards to talk to people they do not know. When greeting each other in public, handshaking is a commonly used gesture, although considered quite formal. Women tend to kiss on both cheeks. When being introduced or meeting for the first time, an appropriate acknowledgement is by saying " Encantado/a” or “Mucho gusto/a." A less formal greeting would be "Hola" (Hello), "Qué tal?" (How's it going?) or "Como estás?" (How are you?).
In Spanish, "you." the second person, is expressed in two forms: the formal and the informal. "Usted" (written "Vd.") is the formal way of addressing someone, whereas "tú" is more familiar. Knowing the appropriate time to use these expressions can pose a challenge. As a general rule of thumb, it is best to use the "tú" form with children, close friends or those who also use this familiar form when addressing you. When addressing an older person, or when conducting business, it is safest to use the "usted" form. It is worth mentioning that in more recent years, the rules have somewhat changed, with more people using the familiar "tú" form when speaking with contemporaries.
When out in public, it is customary to say "Buenos días" (good morning) and "Buenas tardes" (good afternoon) in passing.
How might the local weather affect my daily life?
The weather in Madrid has two extremes, very hot in the summer - when temperatures can reach 40 degrees Celsius (fortunately it is a dry heat) - and very cold in winter - down to -10 degrees Celsius in the sierra of Madrid, although it rarely goes below zero in the city. There are two primary rainy seasons: March to May and October to December. That doesn't mean that it rains a lot; in fact, clear crisp winter days with blue skies are the norm.
The seasons move quickly from winter to summer and vice versa. You could say that spring and fall each last a maximum of about a month. Toward the end of May, the temperatures suddenly start to soar and toward the end of September, they drop almost overnight.
The Spanish have a saying: “hasta el cuarenta de Mayo, no te quites el sayo,” which roughly translated means that until the 40th of May (early June, in other words), don't take your coat off.
As it is so hot, air conditioning is widely used.
Is there anything else I should know about the overall character of your city or its people?
While the Madrileños are very warm and welcoming, it is still a very family-oriented city and the people are still quite traditional in their ways. It is worth mentioning that until only fairly recently (less than 30 years ago), Spain was under a dictatorship and some traces still remain, although it is true when people say that the country has progressed 75 years in the space of 25.