Madrid Overrated: 5 Madrid musts that actually kinda suck

March 5, 2018

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.

But 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.

madrid musts that actually kinda suck
Real Madrid Store on the back of Santiago Bernabéu… artfully combining shopping and football – two things I don’t care about at all.

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.

Never again.

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.

And finally…

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?

They might be.

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.

Regally yours,

Mr Chorizo.

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…

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About the Author Daniel

How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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  1. Daniel Will you believe me, a born in Spain, Lover of El Rastro, the McDonalds at La Gran Via, the area around El Corte Ingles, La Plaza de Espagna, La Puerta del Sol, and a few more places, that I agree with you 100%, no, 1,000% about everything you say sucks about Madrid? except that the drinking until you puke and staying in bars until 6 am and raising hell in the streets all f—ing night to the point of me wanting to shoot every single one of those FUN LOVING shit heads and assholes who don’t give a damn about anybody else except their idiotic FUN, is the same every city in spain. Fortunately, small towns don’t have the abilities for young people to HAVE FUN. I am fully with you Daniel and I have shared with my social media sites

  2. Yeah…Dunkin’ Donuts. We did it just for the kids 😄 Next time you show me the ‘real’ places! And our Madrid friends also pushed me inside Primark where I couldn’t find out what the heck is sooo special in entering a shopping mall. Well….sapiens 😉

    1. Hehe yeah, and I guess those donuts are pretty overrated too. But it hasn’t stopped Dunkin from spreading to many countries. Have a good one!

  3. You think nightlife in Madrid is about clubs?? Do you really live here??

    Only guiris go to Joy and Kapital. Madrileños go to bars.

    San Ginés is also guiri territory, I don’t know anybody from Madrid who goes there anymore.

    Bernabéu: the Stadium tour is for guiris. Watching a game is mostly for locals, season ticket holders.

    Lavapies is overrated, and Primark is for chonis y macarras coming to the civilization on weekends, people from God forsaken-places such as Getafe, Leganés, Parla, etc.

    1. I’ve got a pretty big club here in the neighborhood that looks pretty full of Spanish people. About Chonis from godforsaken places like Getafe, um… I’m glad you said it and not me 🙂

      Thanks for commenting!

      1. Ouch! What do you want from Leganes Mr?! Haha:) i live there and love It! All the good things about Madrid are within my reach, but all the crap ones somehow are out! Perfect for people who r bit 20 any more. Great article as always Mr Chorizo:)

  4. Hey King of Tetuán, I loved the article and have to agree with your opinion. Especially about the night life (being an old married lady with two children it really doesn’t appeal to me) and about Primark opening in Gran Via. I went into it once, but will not return. For me there are much better places to shop, with less crowds. (even if you love Primark)

  5. Hola.

    Lo primero de todo quisiera disculparme contigo. Creo que mi segunda respuesta a tu entrada sobre la gentrificación de Lavapiés fue un poco borde y desabrida. Lo siento, me he equivocado no … 😉

    Casí te compro el paquete completo. Completamente de acuerdo con la noche madrileña, aunque claro a mi edad todo lo que sea más allá de las once de la noche es trasnochar. Tampoco creas que la afamada movida, fue lo más. Si eras “modernillo” e ibas a la Vía Láctea, al rock-ola u otros locales míticos puede pero si vivías en el extrarradio, nada de nada
    ¿San Gines? Como dice alguien en un comentario un poco más arriba, solo van turistas y despistados. Ni su chocolate, ni sus churros son de los mejores
    ¿Primark? No tengo palabras, y si las pongo me censuras el comentario. Efectivamente solo hay que pensar en las personas esclavizadas que hay detrás. Pero es lo mismo que ocurre con Zara, H&M y cualquier otra multinacional que vende barato.
    ¿Lavapiés? Pues efectivamente, tiene sus cosillas por decirlo de alguna manera, poer por ejemplo la oferta cultural alternativa, el TDB,la tortuga, El espacio mínima, La escalera de Jacob, sin contar el CDN, las diversas galerías de arte de la calle doctor Fourquet…
    ¿Futbol? Ya sabes lo que se dice, el futbol es un deporte de caballeros practicado por villanos… pero aquí querido mío, si que no. Hay pocas cosas comparables a ver un partido en el Santiago Bernabéu, y si, lo has adivinado soy madridista. Ver un partido en un bar o en casa no es lo mismo. Pero no solo pasa con el futbol, casi todos los deportes pierden interés al verlos por la tele. Y no creo que sea el rey de los deportes, para mi es el atletismo…
    Creo que otro elemento que está sobrevalorado es el Mercado de San Miguel, un espacio masificado, caro y al que solo voy cuando enseño Madrid a amigos que vienen de visita, se lo enseño por fuera ya continuación nos vamos de bares
    Un saludo

    1. Yeah, I basically agree with you Julio (and don’t worry about the last comment). I guess I’m not saying football sucks in general, because I understand a lot of people like it. I’m just saying it’s not for me. And “things that suck” is a better title for an article than “things that aren’t for me”. Have a great day!

  6. Estoy de acuerdo con todo, Señor Chorizo.

    I feel the same way about night life here that I did about it in New York City. I think everyone is lying to themselves about it. I say, try it without the drugs – alcohol included – and see how much fun you’ll have. I’ve done it. Drunk people are only fun if you’re drunk too.

    The closest I got to the stadium was trying Honest Greens, otherwise I could care less about any sport culture.

    Churros are fried crap and make me feel like molasses without any of the sweetness. I purposely never bring them up in hopes that a visiting friend will forget they exist. I saw the line at San Ginés and immediately lost interest forever since.

    Primark really is a hell hole – only went there once because The Sam. Love the Hieronymous Bosch analogy.

    I spend a lot of time in Lavapies. Has some of my favorite bars, restaurants, and even specialty groceries. But I know better than to have any desire to live there. I like parties because I can go when I want, and leave when I want – wouldn’t want to live in one, especially if I have to pay.

    Fun article – thanks for putting your neck on the internet chopping block for my entertainment!

  7. Hi mate, good post

    I lived in lavapies – youre right , its rougher and louder than the surrounding areas and the bars arent that good, you can pay the same amount (or maybe even less) to live in malasaña or salamanca and the areas are much nicer.

    The chocolate churros place is okay, I only ever went there when i was taking a break from smashing it in JOY (most likely with your hedge fund mate by the sounds of it) and i ended up avoiding any lines because its open almost all night.

    I think the other points u made are a little unjustified – primark is an irish company that opened a store in madrid. it has nothing to do with the city’s cuture and is by no means an attraction that poeple actively reccomend visiting.

    The points about nightlife and the footy stadium are poor. You’ve admitted you’re not a fan of either pass-time then slagged the attractions off. Of course youre not going to enjoy the Bernabéu if you dont like football and of course you wont enjoy the nightlife if you dont like going out.

    The nightlife in madrid is superb, particularly its longevity, the clubs dont close until 6am and there are also after-bars you can go to, the madrileños are super friendly and the venues vary hugley stylistically.

    Glad to hear youre a fan of the place in general though – i spent a year there and loved it



  8. Hola, Mr. Chorizo!

    Tienes razón, al poner en el título “…suck” lo convierte más en un clickbait.

    Mi opinión, también de un “almost – local” y algo introvertida es la siguiente:
    1. hay otros lugares en el mundo y más baratos con vida nocturna bastante más excitante. Sin embargo, la oferta variada que hay en esta nuestra ciudad adoptiva no es moco de pavo; realmente mola. Especialmente cuando se es joven y sin muchas responsabilidades. Uno puede disfrutar de sitios como Joy sin necesidad de emborracharse hasta más no poder. Si quieres bailar junto a tus amigos celebrando tu cumple rodeado de otra variopinta gente a la que le gusta bailar, este es tu sitio. De acuerdo con Antonio: es verdad y triste a la vez que muchos jóvenes autóctonos se pasan sus días de fiesta bebiendo hasta más no poder y lamentablemente aquí se consume también mucha droga; pero como ellos lo hacen también los jóvenes británicos y de otras nacionalidades, sin ánimos de ofender a nadie. Ojalá las nuevas generaciones cambien.

    En conclusión: the night-life sí mola, pero en tu caso, dadas tus circunstancias personales, no te hace mucho tilín 🙂

    2. Tampoco soy fan del fútbol, pero sí he visto partidos en vivo: de baloncesto, balonmano, tenís y fútbol y sí es verdad que el vibe de la afición es muy contagioso. Te recomiendo ir aunque sólo sea una vez y los tickets sean caros.

    3. Después de una noche de baile en la Joy, sí apetece hacer el plan redondo y acabar desayunando en la mítica churrería, aunque sea sólo por las risas que te echas con los amigos haciendo cola o bien los amigos o ligues que uno se echa en la misma. También es curioso estudiar los cuadros que muestran la cantidad de famosos que han pasado por el local. Estoy de acuerdo en que no sean necesariamente los mejores churros/chocolate, pero en buena compañía, todo se es mejor.

    4. Lo único de Primark que mola es ver el edificio acondicionado. Aterra pensar en como todas las grandes marcas se nutren de trabajadores malnutridos y exploatados de países tercermundistas, no sólo asiaticos o africanos, sino europeos también. Por otro lado, también es verdad y lo sé de primera mano, que muchos de esos trabajadores ven su trabajo como una salvación, ya que les da de comer a ellos y a sus numerosas familias; por lo que no creo que primark sea el único culpable de su situación; quizás los gobiernos, los contratistas y la sociedad en sí tiene gran parte de la culpa por tratar así a su propia gente.

    5. Totalmente de acuerdo con tu opinión. Los alquileres están por las nubes, igual que la contaminación. Ni por su caracter bohemio ni diversidad cultural viviría ahí. Y esta opinión viene dada también por mis circunstancias personales. Sin embargo, conozco muchos extranjeros con más poder adquisitivo a los que les encanta vivir ahí y eso es también por sus circunstancias personales: tienen un montón de dinero, o bien sus patrocinadores, y no les importa tirarlo en los alquileres y, desafortunadamente, no les importa exigir disminuir los efectos negativos de la gentrificación. Nunca han vivido en un entorno donde se es bastante tolerante para con los inmigrantes de la clase social más baja que provocan los escándalos y movidas que Antonio también menciona en su comentario; donde se es bastante tolerante hacia la homosexualidad y minorias; donde todo esto se entreteje con una gran variedad de ofertas culturales y gastronómicas. En mi opinión, todos estos factores suelen hacer a uno pensar que es lo más.

  9. Hey Daniel, I have to agree with you, even though I’m married to a Spaniard and have vowed to give a fair chance to enjoy living in Madrid (a year in already). In my opinion, the whole city is a bit overrated, and I think when I heard so many people raving about living here, I expected I’d love it too. I will say it’s cheap and sunny compared to other European capitals, so there’s a great appeal. As for the nightlife here, I may be biased, because I’ve lived in and traveled to some unforgettable cities with such amazing nightlife, I feel young again just recounting my memories. Here, I don’t have that feeling. Maybe because it’s too causal (meaning people dress super casual and kinda of bleh; let’s be honest, If I’m dressed like I’m just walking to the supermarket, I’m not gonna be in a party mood), or that Spaniards rarely engage with foreigners while partying (in my experience, maybe others will disagree – getting into a Spanish circle is super difficult), but I haven’t found the experience to be unforgettable or EXTREMELY fun. It has been ‘pretty fun’ at best. It could also be because I’m not an early 20-something student who wants to drink myself stupid every weekend repeatedly. I don’t mind going to nice bars, but I can’t go out until 4-6am each weekend unless it’s really worth wasting my entire next day sleeping whatever I drank off – here, it’s not. Also, I don’t GET the Primark appeal. Is it because it’s cheap? Really still scratching my head with that one… You’re right on the money on other parts – and you don’t sound like an old grouch complaining. I’m not a futbol fan, just tolerate it because of the mister, and when in Bernabeu I couldn’t feel a difference with being in any other stadium. I wish I shared the passion of others here! There’s often too much pressure to love a city because so many others love it and have dropped everything (like great salaries and career paths) to move to Madrid and live basically paycheck to paycheck to enjoy the nightlife, sunshine, cheap living and… food, I guess? People usually fall into the ‘Spain or Italy’ categories, and it’s evident I’m Italy through and through. Lots to enjoy in this great city, but it’s not the best ever in my book *yet.

    1. So me that last part about dropping everything to come live paycheck to paycheck in Madrid!! Still waiting for that thing that drew me here to show up!

  10. This list had me chuckling the whole way down (Original Madrid Flavor™, ha!). I haven’t done the nightlife or gone inside Primark, though I have taken visitors to eat churros and hot chocolate at San Gines—we passed by and I couldn’t believe it but there was no line. People must be branching out 🙂 Cheers!

    1. Thanks Danielle, I’m just checking out YOUR blog now. I like your article “5 big dumb myths about travel” and I’ve actually got an draft somewhere of an article about the “tourist vs traveller” debate. The article is sort of abandoned because I find the whole debate to be totally dumb. But whatevs. Thanks for commenting!

  11. Best line …”Low-end consumerism in all its planet-destroying, soul-eroding glory. I turned around and walked out. Never again.” Primark is THE prime example of fast fashion, cheap, low-cost, low-end, soul sucking consumerism! Yeah, yeah, it’s cheap (because of all the reasons mentioned) but it’s SHIT. Why do you think you see hoards of people shopping there ALL the time? One reason is because they are just replacing all the awful, cheap stuff they bought there just recently that’s already gone to shit when they’ve got 2-3 wears out of it max. And the cycle repeats itself. Walking in there is so overwhelming… and I’m not just talking about the crowds. The amount of products. You stop and stare and just process how much of it there is, and how they get new items EVERYDAY, how run down the workers look, how the clothes and unnecessary items all made of plastic are just spilling out on hangers and on the floors…. and it just makes your head spin. …. SO YEAH I 100% agree with you that it is awwwwwful and rightfully so on this of things that suck about Madrid as people here seem to effin’ love it.

    1. Thanks for your comment Mary! I’m fully in the “buy more expensive stuff less often” camp, which is why I stay away. Anyway, I don’t really like shopping, so why do it more often than I have to? Glad you like the article 🙂

  12. IN NO REAL LIFE ACCOUNT OF MADRID IS THE STUPID BERNABEU STADIUM A ”MUST” OF THE CITY. This list is pretty ignorant and also embarrassing. Dismissing Lavapies because you couldnt afford rent or because it got gentrified by Americans who move here and now write ignorant blogs ? This kind of clickbait is demeaning to the content and the reader.

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