Madrid: A Mini Survival Guide

This will probably be the third and final post in my little Madrid series (until we return again, of course), the others being our visits to Parque de El Retiro and Salón des Fleurs

Getting Around

The Metro

The Metro is inexpensive and, compared to the cramped, constantly-under-refurbishment, London Underground, cleaner and much more spacious.

The metro map is laid out to represent an approximation of the lay of the land and is easy to read, while the stations are well-lit and the platforms have LED display notifications. A nice touch was the display of ‘train entering the station’ (in Spanish) rather than sticking at 1 minute like London does. The trains themselves have both audio and LED display notifications too so all very deaf friendly.

We used the blue, yellow and orange lines between Guzmán el Beuno and Atocha, and a single journey was no more than €1.60 (£1.14). We didn’t look into travel cards, however purchasing the tickets was straight forward and the machines could be set to English. Stations can be found alphabetically and it was possible to buy multiple tickets at once.

All platforms we used were generously wide and housed tracks in both directions. They were also not as deep as London since my phone still had reception. I was impressed with the Barcelona and Paris metros previously, but I think Madrid may be in contention here.

Plaza Mayor

Taxis

We only used a taxi once and it was fairly straight forward. We were able to flag one down right outside our hotel on Gran Via, the main multi-lane boulevard running through the centre of town. We went a few blocks in the wrong direction but only because the driver thought I said ‘Arranda’ when I had said ‘Miranda'(!)

It was all in good humour though and the driver happily drew the shape of the letter ‘M’ in the air to explain the difference. Aside from driving at terrifying speed and being caught in traffic just metres from our destination, the experience was fine.

With our detour it cost about €12 (£8.58) to get from Gran Via, south down round the Prado museum, and then north again to Mercado de San Miguel. For my in-laws the same journey – 15 minutes without detour – was about €9.50 (£6.79) Journey time was about 15-20 minutes.

Tour Buses
We used the Madrid City Tour on one of the days to see some of the sites. There are multiple loops to choose from, just like those in New York, and you can hop on and off as you like. Headphones and multi-language pre-recorded description as the bus drives around.

Although not exactly deaf-friendly, I preferred this to the traditional style of commentator-with-a-microphone found on other tours as I could relay information to Lizzie as needed or sit back and enjoy the view. As it turned out, I listened to the dialogue while Lizzie snapped away with her camera.

The bus was an open top which was much better than the one we took in New Year which had a scratched plastic canopy, making pictures difficult. We got off at the palace and would have picked up the tour again however there was a demonstration on causing delays on the route.

Tickets can be bought from the Conductor on board for either 1 or 2 day duration. We bought tickets for 1 day at €21 () each and these were valid on any bus until 10pm that day. You can also buy tickets via the website.

Segway Tours

These were very popular in both El Retiro Park and in the town centre. I didn’t see a stall at the park, but there is a shop beside Mercado de San Miguel selling 90 minute tours for about €59. Google has revealed another rental place close to the park and we did see a row of Segways at Plaza d’Espagna (however these may have belonged to the tourists taking selfies nearby!)

Nibbles

Eating Out

Tipping

There is no added service charge on the bill in restaurants, however you may see IVA which is Value Added Tax for food and bar service. It’s typical to tip 5% where the service has been satisfactory, however we simply gave the usual (for the UK) 10% which the staff were very grateful for.

We did not have a single poor meal and even when ordering just drinks, some nibbles were usually brought to the table.

Ordering

We found the staff in most tavernas and restaurants spoke fluent English, however I took every opportunity to practice my Spanish. The following phrases came in handy / were found on menus:

  • La Cuenta = The Bill
  • Carta = Menu
  • Desayuno = Breakfast
  • Almuerzo = Lunch
  • Menu Del Dia = Fixed Price Menu
  • Mesa = Table
  • Copa = Glass
  • Taberna = Tavern
  • Los Servicios = Toilets
  • Gambas = Prawns
  • Arroz = Rice
  • Fresas = Strawberries
  • Mejillónes = Mussels
  • Pan = Bread
  • Pimientos = Peppers
  • Sopa = Soup
  • En Salsa = In Sauce
  • Alioli = With Mayonnaise
  • Tostado = Toasted
  • Cafe Con Leche = Coffee with Milk
  • Vino Tinto = Red Wine
  • Vino Rosado = Rosé Wine
  • Vino Blanco = White Wine
Mussels
I struggled to remember this one and had to keep checking the menu!

Entertainment Suggestion

We had a thrilling night watching Flamenco dancing at Las Carboneras near Mercado de San Miguel (the aforementioned ‘Arranda’ / ‘Miranda’ mixup!). We didn’t take any pictures because it was that good. It’s a small taverna with the dance stage surrounded by tables.

The effect of the feet stomping a few feet from where you’re sitting makes your hair stand on end and the costumes were beautifully detailed. There was a group of about seven performers who alternated between signing and clapping while one of their members performed. I loved the camaraderie they showed: I couldn’t understand what was said but it came across as authentic rather than part of an act.

For €67.50 – €74.50 per person you can have dinner and a show, including a drink. However we opted for the cheaper show and a drink for €36. The show lasted an hour and we ordered tapas which we paid for at the end. Well worth a visit!

I hope you’ve enjoyed our highlights from Madrid. What tips and recommendations do you have from your best holidays?

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