Destination guide: Madrid, Spain
Madrid is the capital of Spain (Europe) and is in the middle of the Iberian Peninsula.
To get to know this city, you can visit El Retiro Park, the Temple of Debod, the Sabatini Gardens, the Capricho Park, the Main Square, the Royal Palace (a baroque castle made of stone and strategically located on the top of a cliff) and the Cibeles Fountain (a sculpture representing the Romen goddess Cibeles), as well as many other attractions.
Purchase your flights to Madrid and discover all of Spain’s culture, history and traditions.
Madrid - Practical Information
In Spain, all roads lead to Madrid's Plaza de la Puerta del Sol, kilometre zero, the physical and emotional heart of the city. Radiating out from this busy plaza are roads - Calle Mayor, Calle del Arenal, Calle de Preciados, Calle de la Montera, Carrera de San Jerónimo and Calle de Alcalá - that stretch deep into the city, as well as a host of metro lines and bus routes.
South of the Puerta del Sol is the oldest part of the city, with Plaza Mayor and Los Austrias to the southwest and the busy streets of the Huertas barrio to the southeast. Also to the south lie La Latina and Lavapiés.
North of Plaza de la Puerta del Sol is a modern shopping district and, beyond that, the east-west thoroughfare Gran Vía and the gay barrio Chueca, gritty Malasaña, then Chamberí and Argüelles. East of the Puerta del Sol, across the Paseo del Prado and Paseo de los Recoletos, lie El Retiro park and Salamanca.
First, the bad news. Not so long ago, Madrid was the second-cheapest capital city in Europe. But soaring house prices and a significant rise in prices across the board since Spain adopted the euro in 2002 have made Madrid not only the most expensive city in Spain, but the 22nd most expensive city in the world in which to live.
Despite such a gloomy outlook Madrid remains generally cheaper for travellers than many major world capitals. If you’re coming from Paris, London or New York, you may find most things cheaper than back home. Unlike elsewhere in cities of Madrid’s stature, it’s also still possible to find semi-luxurious boutique hotels for around €100 a double in the city centre. At the budget end of the market, dormitory beds shouldn’t cost more than €20 and nice hostales (hostels) with private bathroom and TV rarely cost more than €60, sometimes even less.
Eating out in a nice, midrange restaurant shouldn’t cost much more than about €30 per person, although you can do it for a lot less, especially if you partake in the weekday lunchtime menú del día, a fixed-price, three-course set lunch that costs around €10. The menú del día is a great way to experience a more expensive restaurant without getting stung for à la carte prices. Transport (metro, city buses and even taxis) is still absurdly cheap and, if you time your visit well, it’s possible to visit some museums at no cost, including the must-see Museo del Prado and the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.
1L petrol: €1.21
1L bottled water: €0.30-0.40
330ml bottle of Mahou beer: €2-2.50
Bocadillo (filled roll) €2.50-4
Souvenir T-shirt: €10-25
Spanish, Catalan, Gallegan
Spain is one of 25 member countries of the Schengen Convention, under which 22 EU countries (all but Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the UK) plus Iceland, Norway and Switzerland have abolished checks at common borders. Cyprus has signed the Schengen agreement, but full membership has been postponed until at least late 2010.
The visa situation for entering Spain is as follows:
- Citizens or residents of EU & Schengen countries No visa required.
- Citizens or residents of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, NZ and the USA No visa required for tourist visits of up to 90 days.
- Other countries Check with a Spanish embassy or consulate.
- To work or study in Spain a special visa may be required – contact a Spanish embassy or consulate before travel.
Extensions & Residence
Schengen visas cannot be extended. You can apply for no more than two visas in any 12-month period and they are not renewable once in Spain. Nationals of EU countries, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland can enter and leave Spain at will and don’t need to apply for a tarjeta de residencia (residence card), although they are supposed to apply for residence papers.
People of other nationalities who want to stay in Spain longer than 90 days have to get a residence card, and for them it can be a drawn-out process, starting with an appropriate visa issued by a Spanish consulate in their country of residence. Start the process well in advance.
Weights & Measures
Duty-free allowances for travellers entering Spain from outside the EU include 2L of wine (or 1L of wine and 1L of spirits), and 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco.
There are no duty-free allowances for travel between EU countries but equally no restrictions on the import of duty-paid items into Spain from other EU countries for personal use. You can buy VAT-free articles at airport shops when travelling between EU countries.
- Banks: 8.30am-2pm Mon-Fri; some also open 4-7pm Thu and 9am-1pm Sat
- Central Post Offices: 8.30am-9.30pm Mon-Fri, 8.30am-2pm Sat
- Nightclubs: midnight or 1am to 5am or 6am
- Restaurants: lunch: 1-4pm, dinner: 8.30pm-midnight or later
- Shops: 10am-2pm & 4.30-7.30pm or 5-8pm; big supermarkets and department stores generally open 10am-10pm Mon-Sat
The ubiquitous blue payphones are easy to use for international and domestic calls. They accept coins, phonecards (tarjetas telefónicas) issued by the national phone company Telefónica and, in some cases, various credit cards. Phonecards come in €6 and €12 denominations and, like postage stamps, are sold at post offices and tobacconists.
Spaniards adore teléfonos móviles (mobile or cell phones), and shops on every high street sell phones with prepaid cards. The most basic models of mobile phones start from around €80 (if you're buying a prepaid SIM card - they are often free for residents taking out a contract).
Spain uses GSM 900/1800, which is compatible with the rest of Europe and Australia but not with the North American GSM 1900 or the system used in Japan. From those countries, you will need to travel with a tri-band or quadric-band phone.
You can rent a mobile phone by calling the Madrid-based Cellphone Rental (www.onspanishtime.com/web). It will deliver the phone to a hotel or apartment anywhere in Spain.
Dial the international access code ([tel] 00 in most countries), followed by the code for Spain ([tel] 34) and the full number (including the code, 91, which is an integral part of the number). For example to call the number [tel] 91 455 67 83 in Madrid, you need to dial the international access code followed by [tel] 34 91 455 67 83.
The access code for international calls from Spain is [tel] 00. To make an international call, dial the access code, wait for a new dialling tone, then dial the country code, area code and number you want.
International collect calls are simple. Dial 99 00 followed by the code for the country you're calling:
Australia [tel] 99 00 61
Canada [tel] 99 00 15
France [tel] 99 00 33
Germany [tel] 99 00 49
Ireland [tel] 99 03 53
Israel [tel] 99 09 72
New Zealand [tel] 99 00 64
UK for BT [tel] 99 00 44
USA for AT&T [tel] 99 00 11, for Sprint and various others [tel] 99 00 13
You'll get straight through to an operator in the country you're calling. The same numbers can be used with direct-dial calling cards.
If for some reason the above information doesn't work for you, in most places you can get an English-speaking Spanish international operator by dialling [tel] 1008 (for calls within Europe) or [tel] 1005 (rest of the world).
For international directory inquiries dial [tel] 11825. Be warned: a call to this number costs €2!
Dial [tel] 1009 to speak to a domestic operator, including for a domestic reverse-charge (collect) call (llamada por cobro revertido). For national directory inquiries dial [tel] 11818.
Mobile phone numbers start with 6. Numbers starting with 900 are national toll-free numbers, while those starting 901 to 905 come with varying conditions. A common one is 902, which is a national standard rate number. In a similar category are numbers starting with 803, 806 and 807.
Cut-rate prepaid phonecards can be good value for international calls. They can be bought from estancos (tobacconists) and newsstands in the main cities and tourist resorts. If possible, try to compare rates because some are better than others. Locutorios (private call centres) that specialise in cut-rate overseas calls have popped up all over the place in the centre of bigger cities. Again, compare rates - as a rule the phonecards are better value and generally more convenient.
European plug with two circular metal pins