If you’re considering a visit to Europe—or even a move—Madrid needs to be on your radar. A sunshine-filled cultural haven, this friendly city will capture your heart without breaking your budget.
The underlying authentic charm and laidback, understated vibe of Spain’s capital proved irresistible to me when I first arrived. It’s been home for nine years now and I’m still head over heels. Here’s just five reasons why…
1. Great Value Rentals and a Low Cost of Living
One of Europe’s most affordable capital cities, Madrid allows you to live a champagne lifestyle on a lemonade budget. Eating out here is seriously affordable. Even after all these years, I’m still shocked when the bill arrives after a night of drinks and tapas with friends, realising I’ve spent just $10 all evening.
Madrid’s public transport system is state of the art, with buses, a bike system and metro. A trip across the city typically costs around $2.50. If you’re 65 or over, monthly transport passes—which allow you unlimited use of the subway and bus system—can be had for just $19.
Rentals here are excellent value too. You can find a quaint one- or two-bedroom apartment for around $1,000 a month. That’s in the city centre. The prices go down for smaller properties and if you move a little out from the action, they drop further still. Wherever in the capital you base yourself you can expect all the charm of a traditional Madrid home…high ceilings and glass doors opening out to small balconies outfitted with iron railings… The perfect spot to soak up the afternoon sun.
2. Join the Gastronomic Revolution
Madrid is having a real moment when it comes to cuisine. Once a country that could barely look beyond Iberian ham and Manchego cheese, Spain is now offering some of the most creative, gourmet cuisine in all of Europe—and Madrid is a hotbed of this gastronomic innovation and delight, with top chefs flocking here to open restaurants and run food trucks and market stalls.
The good news is, despite Madrid’s rising profile as a top-notch foodie destination, it doesn’t cost much to eat like a king here. Whether you’re sampling traditional tapas while standing around a wooden barrel in a family-owned, 100-year old restaurant, eating tofu at a vegetarian cafe or nibbling on innovative Spanish-Asian fusion minimalist cuisine, you don’t need to be rich to dine out here. A three-course meal with a glass of wine won’t run you more than $40…or you can share hearty plates of raciones (generous portions of traditional Spanish cuisine) and beers with friends for around half that.
3. Experience Rich Culture
It’s no secret Madrid has some of the best museums in the world. Admire the court paintings of kings past at the Prado Museum (and do it for free between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Monday to Friday and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays) or while away an afternoon taking in the works of Dali and Picasso on display at the Reina Sofia (general access tickets run to $14). Smaller museums are often the best hidden gems, like the Museo de Romanticismo, which features of 16,000 examples of romantic art, furniture and artifacts. Admission here is free on Saturday afternoons and all day Sunday.
But be advised, the culture in Madrid goes well beyond its celebrated museums. With a seemingly endless list of galleries, special exhibitions and off-the-beaten-path offerings such as street art, food festivals and pop-up craft markets, there’s always something new and exciting to experience. Time your visit right and check out the once-monthly Mercado de los Motores. Located in a vintage train museum, it’s the perfect spot to pick up an antique treasure or hand-crafted gem.
4. Savour Simple Pleasures
Madrid is a walkable city and it’s a pleasure to stroll through its lush public parks, bustling squares and pedestrian-friendly streets. It’s also one of Europe’s sunniest capitals so getting out and savouring the sunshine is irresistible… A game of chess in the park, a walk through verdant gardens or simply soaking up that sunshine on a bench and watching the world go by… The simple pleasures of daily life here always put a spring in my step.
Madrid’s most famous and central park is the Buen Retiro, an impressive attraction filled with sculptures and monuments, but some of the best parks are actually the lesser-known ones, like the Parque del Capricho, featuring a full-on labyrinth formed by impeccably manicured bushes and trees or the Parque del Fuente del Berro, where’ll you find regal statues guarding vibrant flower beds.
For a quirky, lesser-trodden spot, head for Torrejon de Ardoz, a suburb 20 kilometres from the heart of the capital and home to Parque Europa. This quirky park has replicas of 18 monuments in Europe, so you can check out landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and the Trevi Fountain without ever having to leave Madrid.
5. A Warm Welcome
The Spanish are a welcoming, happy and friendly bunch and Madrilenos in particular love to share their beloved culture and traditions with visitors, so if you plan to spend some time here, expect to become part of the Madrid family in no time…and expect lots of party invites too. This is the land of fiestas after all.
The expat community in Madrid is thriving too. With plenty of groups and clubs organising regular meet-ups and events. Book clubs, wine tastings, jogging, hiking, golf… no matter what your interest, you’ll find something fun to do and plenty of new friends to help make settling in a breeze…
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