Don’t Make These 6 Tourist Mistakes in Madrid
No matter how seasoned a traveler you are, at some point, you’re bound to make mistakes when exploring a new destination. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you can have a much more pleasant experience with some extra preparation. This post focuses on mistakes to avoid when visiting Spain’s capital, Madrid. This grand city is filled with incredible attractions, as well as opportunities to commit a faux pas. Here are 5 of the biggest tourist mistakes to avoid in Madrid.
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This post is part of the Madrid Travel series. Here’s a full list of posts in the series.
Walking tour: A Self-Guided Walking Tour of Madrid with Map
Day Trips: The 10 Best Day Trips From Madrid
Tourist Mistakes: 6 Common Tourist Mistakes To Avoid in Madrid
Expect people to speak English
Madrid may be an international city, but English isn’t as widely spoken as in other major European cities, like Berlin or nearby Lisbon. Don’t walk into a convenience store and start speaking English to the cashier. Chances are they’ll have no idea what you’re talking about. This is also one of the tourist mistakes to avoid in Barcelona.
The reality is that you don’t need to speak Spanish to get around the city. Signs are easy to understand and the city is walkable. Just put your destination into Google maps or the Moovit app, which is more accurate in Spain for checking public transit schedules, and you’re good to go. That said, it helps to know some basic Spanish phrases. Even if you can’t have a conversation in Spanish, at least the person can point you in the right direction.
Useful Spanish Phrases To Know
Hablas Inglés? – Do you speak English?
Donde esta el baño (ban-yo)/ Donde están los aseos? – Where is the bathroom?
Donde puedo coger (co-hair) taxi? – Where can I find a taxi?
Donde esta el metro mas cercano? – Where is the closest metro?
Me puedes ayudar, por favor? – Can you help me, please?
Me gustaría – I would like…
Como puedo llegar a [insert destination]? – How do I get to [insert destination]?
Me llamo (yah-mo) [Insert name] – My name is [insert name]
Vengo de [insert hometown] – I am from [insert hometown] (Tip: the V in Spanish is pronounced like a B so vengo sounds like bengo)
Cuanto cuesta?/Cuanto vale? – How much is it?
No hablo (ah-blo) español – I don’t speak Spanish
Take a taxi from the airport to the city
Unless you’re traveling with a group or just have money to blow, taking a taxi from Madrid Barajas Airport to the city is not the best idea. The rate for a taxi is a flat 30 EUR. On the other hand, taking the Cercanias (local) train will cost you around 5 EUR. You could also take the 200 Bus to the Avenida de America Station for 1.50 EUR. An Uber would even be slightly cheaper at around 20-25 EUR. Lastly, you can take the airport express bus, which goes to Atocha, Cibeles, and O’Donnell, which are all in the center of the city. This bus costs 5 EUR each way. While taking a cab is convenient, I think you should consider other transportation options first.
Eat at the restaurants at Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor is the main town square in Madrid and one of the must-see stops in any walking tour of Madrid. That said, the restaurants in this plaza are expensive, watered down, and catered to tourists. I eat here once and had the blandest paella. There’s no reason to dine at the restaurants at Plaza Mayor with so many great restaurants around the corner.
Walk around in flip flops
The surest way to scream ‘I’m a tourist!’ is to wear flip flops around the city. Madrileños (people from Madrid) and Spaniards, in general, don’t wear flip flops anywhere but the beach. My hunch is that, in the eyes of Spaniards, wearing flip flops to walk around the city is just plain tacky. Sure, you are free to wear whatever footwear you see fit. I just think it would be more tasteful to ditch the flip flops and do as the locals do.
Only eat paella and tapas
I wouldn’t say Spanish food is my favorite, but there are definitely Spanish dishes worth trying besides the typical paella and tapas. If you’re a meat-eater, then I’d recommend Rabo de Toro, oxtail in a garlic sauce. Another great dish to try would be Cochinillo Asado or suckling pig.
For Rabo de Toro, I’d recommend a restaurant called Casa Salvador, right off Gran Via
Address: Calle de Barbieri, 12, 28004 Madrid, Spain
For Cochinillo Asado, I’d recommend El Botin, which also happens to be the oldest continuously-running restaurant in the world.
Address: Calle de Cuchilleros, 17, 28005 Madrid, Spain
Explore only the city center
While a ton of Madrid’s attractions, like the Royal Palace and the Prado Museum, are in the city center, there are beautiful and interesting places still farther out from the city center or within the community of Madrid. These places are a longer metro drive from the center, but worth a stop:
This northern Madrid neighborhood is home to one of the major train stations and the main financial district in the city. It doesn’t get on people’s radars as a place worth visiting. Chamartin was actually the first neighborhood I stayed at during my first visit to Madrid. It’s a quiet, mostly residential neighborhood with cute cafes and flea markets. I think this area is worth taking a stroll.
The Manzanares River runs through Madrid. In the southern part of the city, you’ll find Madrid Rio, a huge recreational area created around the river. This area is great for the many bridges, gardens, and outlooks. I think it’s also one of the best places to take epic photos in the city.
Casa de Campo
This is the largest park in Madrid. While I don’t think it’s as beautiful as the more popular Retiro Park, it’s a relaxing place to spend a few hours. You can take a boat ride at the giant lake in the center of the park.
These are also a couple of great places to visit that are just a short train ride away from the city. You can take a day trip to the El Escorial Monastery and to the nearby towns of Aranjuez and Alcala de Henares, which are just around 40 minutes away by train. Here’s a quick overview of these destinations.
El Escorial Monastery
El Escorial sits high up in the hills of a town of the same name, about 30 miles west of Madrid. Although it now a monastery, this complex has also functioned as a residence for the King of Spain. There’s also a grand royal palace on the property, in addition to a library, a museum, and a pantheon. One of the must-see places here is the garden outside the monastery.
Aranjuez is a picturesque town about 25 miles south of Madrid. The best attraction in this town is the Royal Palace of Aranjuez, a 16th-century royal residence. It gives the royal palace in Madrid a run for its money.
Alcalá de Henares
Alcalá de Henares is famous for being the hometown of Miguel de Cervantes, who wrote what is possibly the most famous Spanish language book of all time, Don Quijote de la Mancha. This is a charming town with narrow streets and beautiful backdrops where you can get amazing photos.
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