the wandering bean – tips for travellers in Madrid
Adventures Europe

the wandering bean – tips for travellers in Madrid

tips for travellers in Madrid -
My two days in Madrid were actually the first two days that I had ever been abroad by myself. These two days were full of new challenges, experiences, and fears I didn’t even know I had. But, they were also full of discovery and a new found resilience. I didn’t feel resilient at the time. I wanted to go back to the airport and get on a plane home. Needless to say, I didn’t do that.

I threw myself reluctantly into the city and started exploring what it had to offer. Obviously as this was my first time travelling on my own I quickly discovered a whole bunch of stuff that I could have done differently to improve my experience. To be honest I would be lying if I said I had an amazing time in Madrid. Parts of it were torturous, but only because of my own reservations and lack of experience. If I ever have a couple of grand lying around again I would love to do this trip a second time armed with all the knowledge I have now.

So, here are three of the main things I learnt while I was Madrid – two of which I learnt from mistakes, and one of which I learnt from actually doing the thing right the first time around.

Learn some Spanish

As Spain’s capital city, Madrid is huge, and naturally full of things to see and do. However, don’t assume that because it’s the capital everyone will speak English. They definitely don’t. Of the ten cities I visited on my travels, Madrid was the one where I struggled most with communication. It definitely pays to learn some basic Spanish phrases before you visit. I know that’s the polite tourist thing to do anyway, but this time round I didn’t bother because there’s no way I was going to learn 10 languages in three weeks!

Not being able to communicate was isolating, and contributed significantly to my anxiety. Being alone in a different country is bad enough, but not even being able to TALK to people is really, really hard. Oh, and all the sun cream is kept in locked glass cabinets for some reason. It’s quite expensive so I guess they had a problem with theft? Being a pasty ginger I NEEDED sun cream, else I would definitely have become a crisp. Eventually I got the sun cream after a lot of awkward British person gestures and grunts. I felt like the stereotype of a rude tourist and I didn’t like it at all.

Related:  the wandering bean part 1: "one day"

Use the Metro

tips for travellers in Madrid -
I love walking, but Madrid is BIG and some of the things I wanted to see were quite far out from the other stuff. Aside from that, there’s less risk of getting lost because once you know which metro station  you need to get to, you’re usually only a few roads away from your destination. Just bear in mind that metro stations tend to have several exits onto different streets, so pay attention to which exit you need.

The metro is actually super easy to navigate, too. Take a look at my post here for some tips. Plus, you can mark all the places you want to go on the map and cross them off to make sure you don’t miss anything. That’s what I did and it made it all really simple. I didn’t even have to talk to anyone, which is really good given the aforementioned lack of English speakers.

Research places to visit first

tips for travellers in Madrid -
Madrid is full of cool buildings, museums, parks, plazas, places to eat and drink – all sorts. So while you’ll never be stuck for something to do, you might miss out on something really cool because you simply didn’t know it was there. I made a plan for each day of things that I enjoy. On my travels I didn’t want to visit too many museums because they can be quite pricey, and I’m much more of a wanderer. However I did want to go to loads of parks and nice open spaces.

Luckily Madrid has loads of nice outdoorsy places, including the fantastic El Retiro, which I’m SO glad I didn’t miss out on. There’s also Casa de Campo, which is more like a country park. El Retiro is very man made, whereas Casa de Campo is trees and rivers that have been left to be enjoyed. There’s also a zoo and fun fair at Casa de Campo, which I didn’t go to because I couldn’t afford to visit EVERY zoo (I did visit some later on in my journey).

Related:  the wandering bean - when travel plans change

It wasn’t until my second night in Madrid that my boyfriend suggested trying to find some places geared towards backpackers. I was feeling very homesick and isolated, in desperate need of finding some friends. My research led me to a great tapas bar called El Tigre, and I was not disappointed. I sat at a table by myself, ordered a beer, and within five minutes I was chatting to a friendly American man who was also backpacking.

I REALLY wish I’d done more research before I arrived in Madrid. Hindsight and experience are great things, and I hope I can use mine to help you. Finding the right places to eat and drink can make all the difference when you’re travelling alone. Even if it’s just a ten minute chat, hanging out with other people in the same position is awesome and can go a long way to alleviating the loneliness.


If you have your own experience of Madrid, please drop us a comment below 🙂 

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