Six tips for making the most of Madrid

In The Art of Travel Fall 2015, Madrid, Tips by Daniel McElroy

Madrid is a tough nut to crack. I’m not sure how clear it’s been over the course of this semester’s blog posts, but Madrid is not my favorite place in the world. A friend recently described this place as somewhere that she enjoys ‘point A’ and/or ‘point B’, but rarely the journey between them. I feel the same. New York and London explode with inspiration, Madrid must be cracked. But it can be done, with a little motivation and (I hope) these six tips.

1. Get the language essentials down early: Regardless of your Spanish ability, you can survive in Madrid fairly easily. Never fear. But there are things that you’re going to have to deal with pretty quickly and I have it straight from my less experienced friends that menus are the most important. Do some research online, talk to friends who speak Spanish, whatever you want… but know different kinds of meat, know vegetables, and know what some typical Spanish dishes are. It’s an easy enough thing to do, and hey, if you want you can make your ‘research’ delicious by going out for Spanish food in the U.S.

2. Buy an Abono Joven: More than anything, you’ve got to get out of the house if you’re going to discover all there is to love about Madrid. The Abono Joven, a monthly metro/train/bus pass, costs only €20 for under-26s so there’s really no excuse for ‘not being able’ to explore the city. The thing is, there’s conflicting information about how to get your metro pass and many people have never gotten one because of the perceived difficulty in getting it. It will take waking up early. You have to go to one of the less busy station offices, Avenida de América or Nuevos Ministerios, as soon as they open (at about 7.30am) with your passport in order to apply. They should give you the pass then and there. It’s worth it, I promise.

3. Think carefully about where you live: Please, for the love of all that is good in this world, make the right choice about your living situation. Given the chance, I would absolutely choose differently. I happen to think that if your main motivation for living in a homestay is language acquisition, you’d be better off choosing an apartment, as you can’t guarantee how much time it will feel natural to spend with your host family. If you want someone to cook for you, a homestay might be right. In any event, plenty of people enjoy both options, and if you want to hear about a good homestay experience, ask my friend Varshini. Seriously, she’d love to tell you about her experience.

4. Get away from the familiar: When we arrived in Madrid, the majority of my new friends wanted to hang out in Sol, the touristic center of the city. Then, they expanded a bit to the cool, hipster and very ‘New York’ neighborhoods of Malasaña and Chueca, which are both great. But they also feel like home. I only realized that I could expand my sights even further—to La Latina, Lavapíes and Chamberí—a couple weeks ago, and these neighborhoods have really started to make me see that Madrid does indeed have some character. These areas with more locals than foreigners are farther from the geographical center of the city, but worth it. There’s nothing wrong with the hip familiarity of Malasaña, to be clear. But get out of your comfort zone and you’ll enjoy Madrid much more.

5. Don’t load up on academic responsibility: This piece of advice could really go for any study abroad experience, but I think it’s worth mentioning. The general consensus about the course load in Madrid is that it’s actually quite easy, but still, taking 18 credits might feel fulfilling on paper… but is it really going to allow you time to take advantage of the city? Likely not. If it’s at all possible, take 12 or 14 credits. Give yourself whole days free, which will end up being perfect for day trips or, sometimes, working on midterm essays (as sucky as that sounds). Trust me, you’ll thank yourself for it later. This time is as much about self-discovery and having fun as it is about academic achievement.

6. Stay in Spain: Another tip that goes for any kind of studying abroad. Absolutely take advantage of the ease of international travel while you’re here, because it’s an amazing opportunity. But also, reserve some weekends for other parts of Spain because it’s an amazingly beautiful and varied country and you don’t want to miss the chance to really get to know one country well. It feels good and you’ll appreciate it farther down the line.

Overall, Madrid is a place you will either love or hate. Talking with my friends here at NYU Madrid as I write this, many of them are expressing staunch disagreement with my feelings about this city. And the things they love about it are all quite valid. It’s simply not for me, but maybe it will be for you. Finding out is part of the adventure! Have fun!

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  • Casa de Campo: Daniel McElroy