Madrid Overrated: 5 Madrid musts that actually kinda suck
I love Madrid.
And now that I’ve got that disclaimer out of the way…
There are plenty of things that “everyone” around here does that I just want no part of.
Things that I find to be pretty overrated.
Or that I just haven’t done, in my 13 years of life in Madrid.
Do these “Madrid musts” suck?
Or am I just a grumpy introvert, barreling down upon middle age, who no longer appreciates the finer things in life?
I’ll let you decide.
(Feel free to tell me where I’m wrong in the comments. I can take it.)
So without further ado…
Madrid must #1: the world-famous night life
Maybe it’s an introvert thing…
But going out and sweating all night in a club just doesn’t fit into any of my definitions of “fun”.
Yeah, Madrid’s night life is supposedly great. World-class, even.
Yeah, we’ve got traffic jams on Gran Via at 4 AM.
Is that really how you want to spend your life?
I had a student years ago… Classy finance woman. Worked at a hedge fund. Wore pants suits. Probably spent more than my week’s salary on her hair and nails.
She told me that when she was younger, her plans for the weekend invariably involved getting drunk to the point of puking, puking all day, and then going out doing it again the next night.
I was shocked to hear that anyone – much less my classy hedge fund woman – did such things. And she had since moved on to other, less pukey past-times.
In any case, I was in Joy Eslava once. I’m pretty sure it’s Madrid’s first and oldest disco.
And it was like being an anthropologist from the planet Neptune who’d been transported a land of customs so bizarre and obviously wrong-headed that I immediately decided… night life’s not for me.
It was gross…
Maybe the movida was more fun.
Or then again, maybe not.
I wasn’t around in the 80s to find out.
So moving on…
Madrid Must #2 – Santiago Bernabéu stadium
I know, I know.
Football. The sport of kings. The king of sports. The beautiful game.
Well, lemme tell you football fans an inconvenient truth: if Budweiser can call itself the king of beers, then I guess anything can be the king of anything.
(I’m officially declaring myself, as of now, the King of Tetuán. Will that make me tax exempt? Maybe get me a big fat pension for sitting around feeling important? Here’s hoping.)
Anyway, back to football.
Here’s another uncomfortable truth: being popular doesn’t mean that something isn’t lame.
I guess I should admit I’ve never been to an actual football match. But I’ve watched plenty at bars. And I find it difficult to get into the whole thing.
Now that I live near Santiago Bernabéu stadium, I see the tour buses pull up for the stadium tour. My neighborhood is occasionally shut down by violent hooligans of one sort or another. The Real Madrid shop seems to always be full of people.
And you know what?
I just can’t seem to give a damn.
Though in the interest of letting “the other side” be heard, I have an article about why you should TOTALLY go to a Real Madrid match.
Here’s another one…
Madrid must #3 – Chocolate con churros at San Ginés
I tried to go to San Ginés for their famous chocolate con churros a couple of times.
Both times I was put off by the line.
This last Christmas, I was with a friend and his 3 kids who were visiting from out of town. They wanted to go to San Ginés, but the line was around the block.
We ended up at Dunkin’ Donuts.
If you like that kind of thing, I recommend Chocolatería Valor, right next to Plaza de Callao. Or any number of other churro-and-hot-chocolate places around the city.
Spanish churros are a bit different than in the US, by the way. And so is hot chocolate. Either way, you have my permission as an almost-local to skip San Ginés and go somewhere else.
Or just lay off the processed carbs for a day.
(Lay off the sugar. The gods of paleo will smile on you.)
Either way, here’s another Madrid must that I can’t stand…
Madrid must #4 – Primark on Gran Vía
For the whole week it opened, nobody was talking about anything else…
Primark is finally on Gran Vía!
There was apparently a line around the block for that, too.
Anyway, I’m a little iffy on fast fashion these days.
And the news reports (which I guess may or may not be true) of people finding notes from slave laborers inside their Primark trousers don’t make me want to rush down there.
In fact, I was once in a Primark shop in some faraway shopping center. La Gavia or something.
I stepped into the shop and looked around briefly – not even coming near any merchandise.
My jaw dropped. The scene was like one of those nightmarish triptychs from Hieronymous Bosch. It was hellish. Low-end consumerism in all its planet-destroying, soul-eroding glory. I was there for about 5 seconds before I turned around and walked out.
So, um… feel free to give Primark a miss. As well as H&M, Zara, and the rest of the huge shops on Gran Vía.
Those Chinese prisoners will thank you.
Madrid must #5 – Lavapies (or at least most of it)
Well, if you’ve gotten this far without thinking “that Mr Chorizo is such an asshole!” then maybe this last point will change your mind.
Lavapies… Bohemian wonderland? Or overrated and overpriced?
I should mention that I’ve spent a lot of time in Lavapies since I moved to Madrid in 2004. I liked it a lot when I was in my early 20s.
It was an immigrant neighborhood, supposedly cheap, with lots of Original Madrid Flavor™. But funny thing… when I tried to find a room to rent there, I discovered I couldn’t afford anything.
A mattress on the floor and no room to stand up – still out of my budget.
Later, I dated a girl who lived in a 500€ a month room – way out of my price range, back then. Maybe you remember Mariglia from my life story.
She lived on Calle Amparo, and damn…
The “local color” you get exposed to for the low low price of 500 euros is pretty shocking: the neighbor who’d grill bacon in the tiny patio at 3AM. The robberies on the street – complete with screaming victims. The junkies who’d sometimes let themselves into the building to shoot up on the stairs.
Worth spending the extra rent money, for sure.
These days, I don’t go to Lavapies much. But when I do, I usually find myself thinking, “Y’know, La Latina is right up the street. And Huertas is just across Calle Atocha. Wouldn’t I be better off in one of those barrios?”
In any case, I do still like a few things down there. There’s some good pizza, and some good Indian food. I like Bar Colores, the Senegalese restaurant on Mesón de Paredes. I had a lot of good times all around Lavapies, back in the day.
And if you’re into the “bohemian lifestyle” – whatever that means – I’m not telling you to stay away.
But it’s not my favorite neighborhood anymore.
Are a lot of Madrid’s top sights overrated?
I wrote an article a couple of years ago about some of the worst tourist traps, as well as cheaper, better alternatives.
And I’m not saying these Madrid musts won’t be enjoyable for you.
I just feel that some well-known places around town are crowded, expensive, and otherwise overrated.
But that’s just the opinion of one almost-local.
Who also happens to be the new King of Tetuán.
P.S. Love this article? Hate this article? Wanna write a guest post? Have a favorite Madrid must that I’ve left off the “overrated” list? Let me know. I’m listening…