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Patrick Macfarland in Madrid: Living in the City of the Bear and Strawberry Tree

Living in Madrid is truly magical. The second-largest metropolis in the European Union, with more than 6 million people, Madrid draws you in with its Neo-Mudéjar or Gothic-style architecture that emphasizes the importance of history.

Not only will you find all the best stores on Gran Via, but you will become a jamón serrano and tapas addict. Spain’s capital is a great place to live, but it is also a city that will enchant you anywhere you go — from every street, every park, every metro station, and every restaurant and bar. Why is Madrid so great, though? What draws you in every time you step foot on one of its cobblestone streets? 

Housing Tips

Like any other city in the world, finding housing is quite hard. There are a few tips that you should know when doing that housing hunt.

First off, research the different communities of Madrid because each one has its own character and charm. For those who are buying, you should go through an agency or download an app that can show you what is available out there. For those of you who want to rent, there are a myriad of apps that you can go to to find the place that’s right for you. You can also go through an agency, however, that will cost you a bit extra because of that fee. 

When contacting a landlord or agency, be persistent. And also, know that pisos (or apartments) fly by in an instant, so you have to be quick. You need to take a tour of the apartment to get a feel of the surrounding vibes, but also the apartment on the inside. Lastly, make sure you have your documents ready including job pay stubs or bank statements. 

Arts and Culture

What can I say about the city that houses the oldest restaurant in the world (Restaurante Botin, founded in 1725)? Madrid is the only city with the only monument of the devil in the world. The “Fountain of the Fallen Angel,” which depicts Lucifer’s fall from heaven, is located in Retiro Park and was sculpted by renowned artist Ricardo Bellver. 

Just a few short minutes from this monument is the grand prized museum of Spain: The Prado. Here you can enjoy European art at its finest, from Goya to Velasquez to El Greco.

With the many museums in the city, Madrid houses an impressive art collection: it’s one of the biggest in Europe.

You can also visit Madrid’s many churches, including Almudena Cathedral, which sits across from the Royal Palace of Madrid (the Spanish Royal Family’s official residence).

Green Spaces Galore

Two major parks are in the city center — Parque del Retiro and Parque del Oeste. But there are so many parks throughout the entire city. This highlights the importance of green spaces and how they can help a person’s physical and mental health. If you head to Retiro, you will see the Puerta de Alcalá: a beautiful neoclassical stone arch that acts as an entrance to the city’s main park. El Retiro houses several museums and features a large lake at the heart of the park.

If you head to Parque del Oeste, you will find yourself with winding walks of greenery, a beautiful rose garden, and a reconstructed Egyptian temple known as the Temple of Debod. The Egyptian government donated the temple to Spain in 1968 because of the Spanish assistance in saving the Abu Simbel temples.

Making Friends

Madrid is an international city and that’s why many groups cater to expats. These groups have the goal of creating a community with one another — it’s the easiest way to make friends. Join the many groups Madrid has. Are you a writer? Join the Madrid Writer’s Group. Want to make a difference in politics? Join Democrats Abroad. Love sports? There are many community sports teams you can join.

Once you make friends, you can head to the thousands of restaurants of all types of cuisines. Enjoy a nice plate of tapas and an ice-cold beer at Plaza Mayor or Mercado San Miguel or even a rooftop bar with gorgeous city views. If you’re a sports fan, invite your friends to watch a Real Madrid football match at a local pub or head to Santiago Bernabeu Stadium to watch it live and in person.

Vibrant Nightlife

Madrid is world famous for its vibrant nightlife. It has plenty of bars, clubs, and entertainment spots to enjoy a few drinks or meet up with friends. Spanish culture is all about community and friendships. They value human connections and this emphasis is seen in Madrid’s bar culture.

You can pick and choose from a myriad of places. Whatever you fancy is right at your fingertips — from the hipster vibe of Malasaña to the charming restaurants of La Latina, or the vibrant gay bars of Chueca. The LGBTQ+ community is strong here, and many people from all over the world flock to the Spanish capital to take part in the city’s Pride festivities — which is one of the largest in the world.

Bottom Line

If you haven’t already fallen in love with Madrid, you will love that the city is one of the sunniest in Europe. More than 300 days of sunshine bless the city each year. With so many things to do, the city that takes pride in the iconic symbol that forms the coat of arms of Madrid — the bear and strawberry tree — will surprise you. It’s a city steeped in rich history and architecture.

With Madrid’s transportation card (which allows you to travel by metro, commuter train, or bus) you can zip around all corners of the city.

Madrid grows more enchanting every day. Maybe it will hit you when you’re sitting on the terrace of the bar down the street from your piso having a beer with a friend. You look around and realize this is what life is all about.

And just like that, you’ve become a madrileño.


Read more about Madrid here in Dispatches’ archives.

Read more about Spain here.

Website | + posts

Patrick Macfarland is a writer living in Madrid, Spain. From San Diego, Patrick used to be a teacher and political candidate. He has been writing for more than 10 years. In his off time, he loves cooking, traveling, and reading a good book on the metro.

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