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.

Tips

  • Most stores in Madrid (except large department stores) close from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and all stores are closed on Sundays, except the first Sunday of every month.
  • Banks are open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Saturdays (October through April) from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
  • 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.
  • Wait to be invited into a Spanish kitchen. Never just walk in and help yourself to food unless that's been okayed by your family.
  • 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.
  • Electricity and telephones are very expensive in Spain. Turn lights off when you're not using them. Hot water is always scarce, so don't expect to take long showers. Heating is kept to a minimum.
  • In a restaurant, the server won't bring the bill until you ask for it. Tipping is normally 5 percent or less, depending on the type of restaurant. Since tipping is not as important in Spain as in the United States, service isn’t usually as fast.
  • Tipping in taxis is about 0-5 percent.
  • Stay away from trouble. Remember, it's illegal for foreigners to participate in any type of public demonstration in Spain. You could be arrested and expelled from the country!
  • Spain suffers from a high rate of traffic accidents. Never get into a car with someone who's been drinking or taking drugs. Never get into a car with a stranger. Also, be very careful when crossing the street. A red light doesn't always mean a car will stop. Don't watch just the traffic lights; watch the cars, too.

Safety

For its size, Madrid isn't dangerous. Still, common sense will help you stay safe.
  • Never walk alone at night. Plan for someone to walk you to your doorstep.
  • Watch out for pickpockets in the metro and buses, and on the streets. There are a lot. Make sure your wallet is somewhere hard to reach and try to avoid keeping things in your back pockets. If you're carrying a backpack or purse, make sure its zippers are closed. Never carry large amounts of cash with you. Always be alert and aware of your surroundings.

Always carry some form of ID. Carry your driver’s license instead of your passport. It's best to carry a photocopy of your passport and leave the original in a safe place.