Tips, Tricks, & Helpful Links
When in Madrid, go ahead and live like the madrileños. Making Spanish customs your own will give you authentic cultural insights you can't get any other way.
Shopping & Entertainment
- Most stores in Madrid (except large department stores) close from 2 p.m. - 5 p.m. and are closed on Sundays (except the first Sunday of every month). Some department stores will open on Sundays, but with reduced hours.
- Banks are open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. and most are closed on weekends. Some banks may open on Thursdays from 4 - 6 p.m. for additional hours.
- Breakfast is a small meal in Spain. Most people drink a cup of (strong) coffee and eat a piece of toast or some cookies. Lunch is the main meal and is served around 2:30 p.m. Dinner is much lighter than lunch and is served between 9-10 p.m. Bear in mind that if you go to a restaurant from 4-7 p.m. the kitchen might be closed.
- In a restaurant, the server won't bring the bill until you ask for it. Depending on the type of restaurant, tipping is normally 5 percent or less, and since tipping is not as important in Spain as in the United States, service is a bit more relaxed and not usually as fast.
- Tipping in taxis is about 0-5 percent.
- To be respectful to your host family, never just walk into the kitchen and help yourself to food unless they've told you it's okay to do so.
- When you're introduced to someone, you must either shake hands (men to men) or kiss both cheeks (men to women, or women to women). Kissing cheeks takes place among friends, but not in a professional environment (at work, everybody shakes hands). It's often a good idea to wait until the other person acts and follow their lead.
- Electricity and telephones are more expensive in Spain than in the United States. Make sure to turn lights off when you're not using them.
- In Spain, heating is kept to a minimum and hot water tends to get used up quicker too, so don't expect to take long showers.
SafetyFor its size, Madrid isn't dangerous. Still, common sense will help you stay safe just like in any city.
- Avoid walking alone at night. It's always safest to travel in a group and you can also plan for someone to walk you to your doorstep.
- Stay away from trouble. It's best to avoid public demonstrations, if they arn't properly sanctioned or get disruptive, you can get in trouble for being involved and could even be arrested and expelled from the country.
- Spain suffers from a high rate of traffic accidents. As always:
- Never get into a car with a stranger.
- Never get into a car with someone who's been drinking or taking drugs.
- Be very careful when crossing the street. A red light doesn't always mean a car will stop, so make sure that you watch the cars as well as the traffic signals.
- Watch out for pickpockets in the metro and buses, and on the streets. Always be alert and aware of your surroundings. Make sure you keep your wallet somewhere that isn't easy to reach and try to avoid keeping things in your back pockets. If you're carrying a backpack or purse, make sure all zippers are securely closed. Never carry large amounts of cash with you.
- Always carry some form of ID. It's best to carry your driver’s license instead of your passport. You can also make a photocopy of your passport and leave the original in a safe place to avoid losing it.