Nuts-and-bolts information to plan your trip, plus a checklist of essentials to include when you pack and a list of links to local media
Entry Requirements: U.S. citizens need a valid passport to enter Spain and a visa for stays over 90 days.
Security: Madrid is rife with pickpockets. Do not carry all your money in one spot and use a money belt for large bills; just be discreet when accessing it. Consider chucking your backpack for an over-the-shoulder courier bag; it is easier to access while walking and easier to clutch in crowds. In restaurants and bars, keep your bag on your lap at all times or slip the leg of your chair through the strap of your bag.
Time: Madrid is six hours ahead of U.S. eastern standard time.
Money: The currency of Spain is the euro. For current conversion rates, go to OANDA Currency Converter. www.oanda.com/convert/classic
Phone Calls: The country code is 34. Madrid numbers begin with 91; mobile phones with 6. Numbers beginning 90 are toll numbers, with rates lowest for 902 and increasing through 906. To call Spain from the U.S., dial 011 34 the local number. To call the U.S. from Spain, dial 001 area code number.
When to Go: The best month in Madrid is May—temperatures are delightful, flowers are blooming, Madrileños are buzzing, and San Isidro is in full swing. Fall is also good for both pleasant weather and a jam-packed calendar of events.
Getting There: Madrid’s Barajas Airport is 7 miles (12 kilometers) outside the city. U.S. flights land in Terminal T1 or T4; check www.aena.es to confirm your flight and terminal. The Metro subway connects the airport to the city in about 40 minutes; however, expect long walkways and several staircases. There are private airport shuttle companies located in both terminals. Taxis are plentiful and run about $30 to the city center.
Getting Around: The historic center is compact and most monuments are within walking distance of each other. Driving is not recommended unless you are leaving the city—traffic is incessant, parking scarce, and local driving habits frightening.
Public transportation is cheap, convenient, and easy to use and includes both the Metro subway system (www.metromadrid.es) and a network of red buses. Best bet is the ten-trip Metrobús ticket, which lets you use both; couples or small groups under ten people can share the ticket, passing it through the turnstile one time for each person; just be sure to stick together on the train in case your ticket is inspected. Cercanías trains (www.renfe.es/cercanias) handle trips farther out in the Madrid region.
Official taxis (white with a red stripe across the door) are plentiful and inexpensive, but be aware—after 2 a.m. when the Metro stops, it can be a challenge to find one. If you will be out late, stick close to your hotel or check with your concierge for Buho (night bus) routes.
Cell Phones: To use your cell phone in Spain, it must be a GSM (European standard) phone and have an unlocked SIM card. You can then insert a prepaid Spanish SIM card for free incoming and inexpensive outgoing calls. Learn more at www.spainsim.com.
Comfortable Shoes: Whether visiting the Prado or tapas-hopping in La Latina, a good time in Madrid requires heavy walking. Though you’ll see madrileñas dodging the cobblestones in high heels, uncomfortable footwear is best reserved for a special night out—by taxi.
Credit Cards and Money: Before leaving home, advise your banks that you will be using your debit and credit cards in Spain. Email yourself a copy of your credit card numbers and toll free phone numbers in case of theft. You’ll need a few euros to get into town from the airport; either buy some in the U.S. or take out 80 in the ATM in the airport (avoid multiples of 50, taxi drivers generally won’t accept them).
Electrical Gadgets: Spain uses 220 volts. Be sure that any gadgets you bring (hair dryer, electric shaver) can adapt; most travel appliances do. Laptops and chargers for cell phones and cameras usually have built-in transformers—check the packaging to be sure. Spanish plugs have two round prongs, so you will need a plug adapter. They are readily available at electronics shops, airports, and in hardware stores throughout Madrid.
English-Spanish Phrasebook (Preferably With Pronunciation Key): Despite being a major world capital, Madrid is not a city comfortable with English; be prepared to use your phrasebook often.
Identification: U.S. citizens need a valid passport both to enter and leave Spain. For safety, leave yours in your hotel while you sightsee; carry instead a copy of your passport and your driver’s license. If asked to show I.D. when using your credit card, your license will suffice.
Sunscreen: The Madrid sun can be brutal. Though sun protection is readily available, it is expensive; stock up back home.
Offers walking tours, barrio overviews, and practical tourist information plus articles on everything from food to festivals. www.descubremadrid.com
Mad About Madrid
Comprehensive overview of cultural events—festivals, live music, museums, and theater; “My Madrid” offers insiders tips from Madrid-based expats. www.madaboutmadrid.com
One-stop, super site for all things Madrid—history, politics, and architecture; in Spanish. www.madripedia.es
Covers the always evolving, often chaotic cultural scene that is modern Madrid—art, events, fashion, politics, music, restaurant reviews, and nightlife. www.mapmagazine.com
Moca en Boca TV
Weekly videos on people and places in Madrid and elsewhere in Spain; emphasis on wine, dining, and shopping. www.mocaenboca.tv
Notes from Madrid
Expat advice on everything from electrical appliance usage to drinking laws to shopping. www.notesfrommadrid.com
Comprehensive listing of Spanish art, music, and literature; includes overviews of the Prado and the Reina Sofía. www.spanisharts.com
An American expat blogs on tapas; includes tapas bar reviews and tips on how to enjoy tapas like a local. www.tapastalk.com
Full-color, 360-degree photographs with commentary on Madrid’s top sites. http://madrid.arounder.com/
Magazine Monthly magazine produced by Madrid tourism office; calendar of events plus features on culture, history, and Spanish personalities. www.esmadrid.com
Guía del Ocio
Weekly listings magazine of current events, exhibits, concerts, and movies; comprehensive restaurant and nightclub guide; in Spanish. www.guiadelocio.com
Monthly magazine aimed at Madrid’s large English-speaking community; articles on Madrid life, culture, and current news; restaurant, film, and music reviews; events listings; classifieds. www.in-madrid.com
International Herald Tribune
Daily English-language newspaper owned by The New York Times Company; offers a European perspective on current events; six days a week it includes an English-language version of the Spanish daily, El País. www.iht.com
2014 Traveler Photo Contest
See all the winning images from the 2014 Traveler Photo Contest.