Pros and Cons of Living in Madrid – 10 best and worst things
Interested in knowing about the pros and cons of living in Madrid?
Well, you’ve come to the right place.
I’m originally from the US, but I’ve been here for over a decade and I can tell you a lot about life in Spain… The good and the bad.
Of course, living anywhere has its pros and cons.
And in the beginning, living abroad can be quite exciting. I was pretty much giddy with emotion my first two or three years here.
Now I’m more conscious of the cons.
But that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten about the pros.
Not by a long shot.
Pros and Cons of Living in Madrid
Let’s hit it.
For every pro, I’ve tried to find a “complementary” con – so in the end the choice about whether or not to move (or stay) here is yours.
Fair and balanced, just like Fox News.
(If you can’t bear to hear anything negative about Spain, ever, you should probably have your head examined before leaving me an angry comment. It’s cool. I’ll still be here when you’re done.)
So without further ado…
Pro: excellent public transport
Madrid’s system of public transport is among the best in the world – and they’re constantly pouring tons of money into improving it.
The Metro we know today is about twice the size as it was when I arrived.
New neighborhoods outside the city are now connected, and nearly every summer a whole line is closed for remodelling.
The buses are pretty good too. And the suburban trains.
And even though there’s a whole public outcry every time the monthly pass goes up 40 cents, the prices are still really good compared to other “world cities”.
Also, unlike London, everything here is pretty close together. Up there, 45 minutes seems like “right around the corner”. Here you can be relaxing in a small mountain town in less than that.
On the other hand…
Con: awful work schedules
If you’re teaching English – and a lot of younger expats are – you might be hoofing it around the city from 7:30 AM to 9:30 PM, with a few dead hours at midday.
Depending on where you live and where you work, you might be able to get home for a siesta.
But either way, you’ll be spending a LOT of time on that wonderful public transport.
People who work in offices get a bad deal too: they’re faced with the cultura de presentismo – a work culture that values holding down the desk till late in the evening, whether or not you’re actually getting anything done.
The Spanish envy those countries in the north of Europe where 5 PM means your drop what you’re doing and go home. Here you might have to futz around pretending to get things done for a few more hours, because the boss will think you’re lazy for going home on time.
But hey – it’s exactly those people up in Scandinavia who spend all their money and vacation days coming to Spain… And we get to live here full-time.
Pro: lower cost of living
Madrid is cheap.
Relative to some places, at least.
What you’d spend to rent a room full of rats and tuberculosis in London’s Zone 7 will get you a sweet penthouse with a huge terrace in one of Madrid’s nicest areas.
Friends from New York will shock you with how much they paid to live with bedbugs and junkies in Brooklyn, back in the day – here you just can’t compare the prices.
Food is also pretty cheap – and going out with friends won’t cost much either, if you avoid the gastrobars and the more expensive discos.
Cost of living varies a lot from barrio to barrio – for something less costly check out Usera or come up to my neighborhood, Tetuán.
But before you get too excited about the low cost of living, you must take into account…
Con: terrible Spanish salaries
Spanish salaries suck.
And it’s little comfort knowing your rent is nowhere near Brooklyn prices if your salary is 600€ a month.
Back in the day – in the pre-crisis years – people would complain about being mileuristas.
A mileurista was someone who held down a decent, respectable job, but was frustrated when their salary never got much higher than 1000€.
When the shit hit the fan, however, and unemployment went to 26%, being a mileurista became many people’s highest aspiration.
Because suddenly, even the architects and engineers were either fleeing the country or earning 800€ a month – and happy to have it.
There are still certain lucky people who earn salaries in the low 4 figures… But they’re few and far between.
On a more positive note…
Pro: the nightlife
I personally know next to nothing about nightlife.
But from what I’ve heard, Madrid’s nightlife is one of the world’s best.
I can tell you that if you know where to go, the party never really stops. After dinner on Friday night you could potentially go to a bar, a club, a chillout, an after, etc all the way through till Sunday night.
(I assume some people do this, possibly with the help of many controlled substances. Either way, I don’t know any of them.)
In any case, Madrid is one of those cities that’s busier at 3AM than at 10 AM – Gran Via is a huge traffic jam in the middle of the night, then a ghost town until late in the morning.
Early in the day on weekends, public transport is almost entirely heavy partiers on their way home after 8 hours of debauchery.
Maybe someone should do a guest post about Madrid’s nightlife for me. Hit me up here if you want to.
And on the other hand…
Con: the noise
This depends quite a bit on your street and on your barrio, but in most places, Madrid is noisy.
I consider my place to be pretty quiet compared to others.
But still, during the day I’ve almost always got some sort of construction or road works happening right outside my window.
And at night, I’ve got the garbage trucks at 1 AM, and the disco that closes at six, with all the kids coming out and breaking stuff on the surrounding streets.
It makes sleep a bit difficult when the windows are open in summer. (An extra con could be that Spanish air conditioning is a joke… but I guess that’s another article.)
If you live on one of the main streets, you’d better hope for double windows and really good A/C – because otherwise you’re going to be dealing with noise 24/7.
(Have I mentioned that Spanish people shout a lot? Well, yeah. Apparently “shut your goddamn mouth” isn’t a part of most Spaniards’ parenting strategy. And when those kids become adults they’re often pretty loud.)
Pro: the food
I like Spanish food a lot.
The typical things involve few ingredients, and are simple and high quality – nothing as elaborate as French or Italian cuisine.
Just wholesome, good cooking like Grandma used to make.
Some of the classics you should try here in Madrid are tortilla de patatas, a good paella, and maybe some meat or some cochinillo. Have some pork ear if you’re feeling adventurous.
I personally like squid ring sandwiches with ali-oli, but apparently there’s a lot of other (better) fish out there too – Madrid’s wholesale fish market is one of the busiest in the world.
On the other hand, you’ve got the gastrobars, which are kind of disappointing. And plenty of food from all over the world, which is hit or miss. (I love L’Artisan and a few of the Chinese places around Plaza España, but once again, I’m no expert.)
Con: the meal schedules
When I first arrived my flatmate Javi was frustrated to no end with my meal schedule – he’d come home from work at 7 PM and see me digging into a plate of pasta.
He’d say “What is this? Lunch, dinner? This is no time to be eating pasta!”
On the flip side, if your metabolism is used to substantial breakfasts, lunch at 12 or dinner at 6, you’re going to spend a lot of time hungry and frustrated.
First off, Spanish breakfast is usually tiny. Like, a piece of toast and some coffee tiny. Or a cup of tea and one cookie tiny. After that, people usually tide themselves over with a second breakfast at 11 or so. Lunch is at 2 and dinner at 9 or 10.
These days, more and more restaurants have a kitchen that’s open all afternoon and evening – maybe 12 to 12.
But even in the most touristy areas, there are still plenty of places you’ll find shuttered all through what you consider to be “dinner time”.
Better get used to it.
(Intermittent fasting for the win!)
Pro: the social life
My favorite part of living in Madrid is that there are people from all over.
My social life involves people from literally dozens of countries, and there’s always something going on.
The expat community is huge and constantly renewing itself.
And if you want you can also try hanging with the locals.
In any case, there’s always time to go to the bar, or to have a 3-hour lunch, or to spend a couple of weeks stuffing yourself with sweets and celebrating the never-ending holiday season.
Expat Thanksgiving, in fact, is one of my favorite moments of the year: imagine Thanksgiving at home, but with 10 times more wine and people who are much more fun than your family.
(You make the turkey, I’ll buy the booze. Call me.)
Con: you might never go home
This last one is either a pro or a con, depending on how you think about it.
If you have some big life plan that requires you to become a Wall Street banker or an actress in LA, well then good for you.
But Madrid’s probably not the place for that.
A lot of people move here for 6 months or a year, end their contract or stay out their visa, and then go home.
And a lot of others find love, or just get hooked on the lifestyle, and end up spending their free time fighting the bureaucracy to be able to stay a few more years.
I’m part of the second group. Really, I was only supposed to be in Spain for 8 days. That was 2004 – and here I am. First it was love, then the lifestyle. Now I can’t get away.
Was it worth it?
Would I recommend it to others as a life plan?
So I guess you need to handle Madrid with care.
Despite the negatives, it’s still a pretty awesome place to live. And a lot of people never manage to make it home.
Other pros and cons of living in Madrid…
I can’t really think of any other pros or cons.
Spanish bureaucracy sucks, but I assume it’s not much worse than in other places.
Customer service isn’t great – but that’s probably down to the terrible salaries people are earning.
The political situation is fucking ridiculous, but who am I to talk? I’ve got an orange-skinned reality TV star for a president.
Personally, I’d love to find another place I love more than Madrid.
A place with high salaries, low taxes, awesome weather and an amazing social life?
I’ll be there tomorrow!
But so far (despite visiting many of the major cities of Europe) I don’t have one.
So here I am, and life is good.
P.S. What do you think? What are the pros and cons of living in Madrid? Hit me up with your ideas, right here in the comments. Thanks!