When you are forced to decide where you want to study abroad, it can be extremely challenging. You find yourself asking, “What if I don’t speak the language?” or “What if I study abroad in Europe and end up wishing I went to Asia?” It’s impossible not to have concerns about picking the perfect city in a world full of diversity. Have no fear; you can’t pick a “wrong place”. After studying abroad in Madrid and traveling around Eastern Europe, I am confident I would have had the same experience in any country I visited or anywhere else in the world. The 6 months I spent living in Madrid were some of the best times of my life and I wish I could have spent more time there. The only thing I would have changed is that I wouldn’t have walked on the plane back to go back to the U.S., because I was nowhere near ready to say goodbye to the city where I spent half a year. Here are some of the reasons why I believe Madrid is the best place to study abroad.
1. Cheap Eats- Everyone knows what it feels like to be on a “student budget”, trying to find a satisfying meal for around 5 dollars/euros or less. When being abroad, it may seem impossible to find such a thing, but Madrid has you covered. No matter what day of the week it is, you can always find something to fit your budget. At 100 montaditos, you can eat small baguette style sandwiches (montaditos) for only .50 euros each on Monday and for 1 euro on Sunday and Wednesday. Another popular place for students is El Tigre, where you can get a full plate of food with a drink for 5 euros. There are many more places where you can have a tapa with a drink for 2/3 euros, but these are some of the best deals I found around town where students would get together and enjoy an inexpensive meal.
2. El Retiro- Even if you only have 2 days to spend in Madrid, The Retiro Park is a must-see. It’s one of the largest parks in Madrid and belonged to the Spanish Monarchy until it became public in the late 19th century. Retiro is located near the Puerta de Alcalá and the Prado Museum and it’s easy to find. Take a walk around the park and get lost, listen to the street entertainment around the water or sit and sip a coffee on a sunny day. You can also rent a boat with a group of friends for about half an hour for a couple euros per person and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Retiro is a place where you will want to spend an entire afternoon, so be sure to give yourself enough time.
3. Paella- This is something you will have to splurge on at least once while you are in Spain. Good paella can be a little pricey and even though it comes from Valencia, you can still find quality paella in Madrid. Many restaurants offer it as a tapa, but if you want exceptional, fresh paella in your own personal pan to share with your friends or family at dinner, you could be paying around 20 euros or more per person.
4. Churros- Churros is another popular food in Spain and is a traditional Spanish dessert. A churro is a long, fried, tube-shaped, crispy pastry, somewhat similar to a long crispy doughnut. They can be stuffed, covered or dipped in chocolate, or even covered in cinnamon… the options are endless! They are available anytime of the year, so you will have the opportunity to try it no matter when you go abroad. You may want to visit the famous Chocolatería San Ginés close to Puerta del Sol that has been open since 1894. The café has pictures hanging on the walls of famous people who have dined there over the years with mirrors, green seats and marble tables.
5. Public transportation- Have you ever wished you could just hop on a metro to get to the other side of town without having to sit in standstill 5 o’clock traffic? Me too. The public transportation in Madrid is convenient and relatively easy to navigate. You can use either the Metro or Renfe to get where you’re going depending on how much you want to pay, what zone you’re going to and how fast you need to get there.
6. Kapital- The nightlife in Madrid is unlike any other, but Kapital is in its own category. For one, it never stops. If you want to dance the night away, Kapital is the place for you to go. There are 7 floors, each with a different theme to satisfy whatever mood or genre you want to groove to. On each floor, you have a view of the main dance-floor with the deejay or whoever is performing. The first floor has karaoke if you want to show off your vocal skills, the second has R&B and hip-hop and the fourth, fifth, sixth has its unique style and top floor is a terrace.
7. Santiago Bernabéu Stadium- Even if you aren’t a soccer (fútbol) fan, the stadium where the Real Madrid team plays is impressive. Soccer is the most important sport in Spain and a ticket to a Real Madrid game can be pricey. If you aren’t willing to pay for a ticket, a tour of the stadium is enough to get a feel of the place. The fans are passionate and are proud what their team has accomplished.
8. Museums- Museums in Madrid are FREE, that’s right, museums in Madrid are either free or reduced for students under the age of 25. Who would have known that a student ID would be handy and get you free stuff in other countries? So don’t forget to bring it! The art triangle in Madrid includes the Prado Museum, the Thyssen-Bornemiszca Art Museum and the Reina Sofía National Art museum. It can take days to go through the Museo del Prado, but you can see all of the most important masterpieces in 30 minutes. There is no need to rush because it’s free for students so you can visit it as many times as you like. Prado is one of the largest art museums in the world and has famous artworks of Goya, Velázquez, Bosch and many others. The Thyssen museum offers reduced tickets for students and the Reina Sofía is free for students under the age of 25. International students are recommended to bring their ISIC card to prevent any issues.
9. Sol/ Plaza Mayor- Puerta del Sol is Madrid’s most famous and most central square. It’s about a 2/3-minute walk from Plaza Mayor. The clock in Sol is famous for New Year’s Even when Spaniards gather to watch the clock strike 12 and eat a grape for each of its chimes at midnight. The Kilometer zero is a famous landmark located in Sol, marking the official starting point for Spain’s national roads. Another famous landmark in the Puerta del Sol is the statue of the Oso (bear) y el Madroño (strawberry tree), a symbol for the capital of Spain and many people use it as a meeting point. Plaza Mayor is the main square in Madrid and is usually pretty crowded. The plaza hosts Madrid’s Christmas market and is typical for the calamari sandwich.
10. Traveling- After you’ve gotten a feel of Madrid, you may want to travel outside of the city. Madrid’s location is perfect for traveling because it’s in the center of Spain. It doesn’t take too long to get anywhere around Spain and they have an international airport with cheap airlines such as RyanAir and EasyJet. You will never get bored in Madrid, but if you ever want to venture out and explore another city in Spain, or even another country in Europe, it’s easy to do.
All photos by Ashtin Morgan
Written by: Ashtin Morgan
Ashtin is an Education Abroad Peer Ambassador studying Journalism and Spanish. She is a Junior and participated in the UK Exchange Carlos III program in Madrid, Spain.