The truth about living in Madrid – more pros and cons from Spain’s vibrant capital

December 7, 2017

Are you ready for the truth about living in Madrid?

Several weeks ago I published an article about some of the pros and cons of living in this beautiful city.

Today I’m back with more of the best and worst aspects of my adopted hometown.

A lot of these were suggested by readers on Facebook – and I have no idea how I managed to overlook some of them in the original article.

But hey… thanks to everyone for their feedback.

There’s a lot to say about this great city.

My disclaimer usually goes something like this: I’m just one guy and my experiences are my own. Therefore, I’ll be making a few generalizations.

If you have no sense of humor, you should probably go somewhere else for your “news” –  why not watch a couple hours of Prime Minster Rajoy’s declarations about Caso Gürtel?

Just sayin’… If you want to be bored and miserable, the internet has lots to offer.

Without further ado…

Con: Madrid’s high levels of pollution

Yeah, the pollution’s pretty bad.

I’m not sure how it compares to other major cities, but the brown cloud is real. Locals call it “la boina” – a boina is a sort of flat cap that old guys (like your humble author) wear. The word is also used for the Basque-style beret – in this case it’s the layer of pollution over Madrid.

Recently, the city hall has tried different measures to combat air pollution: reducing speed limits on the M-30 highway, banning parking in the center for a day, stuff like that

Doesn’t seem to be working too well…

And the funny thing is, I still haven’t figured out why people in Madrid even feel the need to own private cars.

The transport system is good enough I’ve never felt the urge myself – and there are always taxis or Cabify as well.

If your plans for the evening involve friends with cars, they’ll inevitably call you half an hour after the agreed-upon time to say “Sorry, I’ve been driving around in circles looking for a place to park”.

So they’re hardly saving time over the metro either.

My one guess about why people in Madrid own cars: they’re young, live with their parents, and need a place to get comfy with their significant other.

More about that in my article about dating a Spanish girl.

Update: someone on Facebook pointed me to this article, which shows that “bad pollution” is pretty relative. In other words, maybe Madrid’s pollution isn’t that bad. Thanks!

Anyway, here’s a good thing…

Pro: Madrid is a very safe city

Every once in a while someone gasps in shock when they find out that I live in Tetuán.

“Tetuán!” they say. “I hear it’s full of gang violence! Have you ever had a run-in with the Latin Kings?”

“The Latin Kings… lemme think. Oh yeah! You mean those kids hanging out on the plaza? Sneaking cigarettes where their moms won’t see them?”

Just kidding.

Short answer: no.

No Latin Kings in sight.

Although a girl I know who grew up here says they used to take her lunch money when she was in middle school. Hardened criminals, indeed.

Fact is, Madrid is a very safe city. Most people’s only encounter with crime while here in Madrid is being pickpocketed – which happens quite a bit.

Be careful.

Other than that, I know a few people who have been jumped at 3 AM in Lavapies, but it’s rare.

And the homicide rate in Spain is one-seventh what it is in the US.

In 2015 there were 303 homicides in the whole country – in other words, there are more murders in Baltimore than in all of Spain.

So relax… Take a chill pill.

And come buy me a beer up here in Tetuán.

Moving on…

Con: Madrid is dirty and dog turds abound

Is there a politically correct term for dog turds?

How ’bout canine waste?

Anyway, madrileños love their little dogs and sometimes can’t be bothered to pick up Fido’s mess. Be careful you don’t step in it.

Other than that, is Madrid dirty?

I guess it depends on what you’re comparing it to.

There were a few garbage strikes years ago that left the city buried under trash for a couple of weeks.

The rest of the time, it seems to depend on the area. The major tourist areas are cleaned up every night, and the dog turds and litter are cleaned up pretty regularly in my neighborhood by a small army of street sweepers.

It’s not Scandinavia.

But I personally don’t have any complaints.

(Maybe we could chalk it up to growing up in the desert, where I was more worried about stepping on a rattlesnake than on a dog turd.)

Pro: We’ve got nice sunsets. The best sunsets. Really good sunsets.

This one was suggested by a reader, and I guess they’re right.

Though once again it depends on what you’re comparing it to.

If you want to see the sunset in Madrid, head to the area around Palacio Real or Templo de Debod. You can also see some nice ‘sets from some of the rooftop bars around town – I like the one at Dear Hotel on Plaza España, for example.

Or for a spot only locals know about, check out “Parque de las Siete Tetas” in Vallecas, around the Buenos Aires metro stop.

sunset in madrid
The sunset as seen from my window in Tetuán. Most people don’t have these sweet views.

Vallecas is my old barrio, by the way, and just like Tetuán, has a reputation for being dangerous. But in my 6 or 7 years living there, there was only one hostage incident on my street.

Only one!

Careful, though. If you move down there, make sure you don’t get my ex-landlord. He was a total douche.

Not much else to say about sunsets…

Pro: access to culture

When I was first in Madrid, I was shocked by the architecture…

“Real buildings, with history – this is nothing like what we had back on the ranch!”

Being the capital of Spain, Madrid has quite the cultural scene.

The art museums downtown are some of the best in the world: check out Museo del Prado for older works from the likes of Goya and Velazquez, and Reina Sofia for modern Spanish artists like Picasso and Dalí.

truth about living in madrid
The truth about living in Madrid: we have architecture too, just like Paris and London. Here’s a bit of sky in Plaza Castilla.

If you’ve been there and done that, though, there are dozens of other museums you can visit as well: Museo Sorolla, Museo del Traje, Museo de América. Whatever floats your boat.

And besides museums, there’s always something cultural going on – smaller art or photo exhibits, theatre, those awful musicals on Gran Vía.

For theatre, I particularly like Teatro Español on Plaza Santa Ana. Tickets are often pretty cheap, and I’ve never been disappointed by a show there.

In any case, the main “cultural” activity that most madrileños spend time on is just going out to enjoy the social life: cañas in La Latina, or good food wherever.

And finally…

Pro: the public healthcare system

I can’t talk about the greatness of Spain without mentioning the healthcare system.

While people love to complain about how long it takes to get appointments, the reality is it’s basically free, medications are heavily subsidized, and as far as I can tell the quality of care in hospitals is among the world’s best.

Incidentally, I also have private insurance coverage through my bank which means I can walk into any number of clinics in the city. My rate is 12€ a month –  and the one time I used it for a checkup and blood test, they eventually billed me a whopping 25€.

Take that, Obamacare!

The way it all works, though, is that doctors and nurses are just not very well-paid.

Which has the unfortunate consequence that many of the best-qualified end up going to other countries to work.

And the aging of the population is – at some point – probably going to cause some sort of demographic disaster which will make free healthcare and pensions much more difficult for the government to maintain.

the truth about living in madrid
If you live anywhere in Spain, chances are you could use more money. Here’s my PayPal if you’d like to support independent news from Madrid. Thanks! Photo by Jonny Exon.

The good news: together we can save the Spanish Social Security system before it’s too late.

It’s time to start popping out babies.

(Ladies, call me to schedule an appointment. I’ll try to fit you in as soon as possible. But like your local health center, I can’t promise it’ll be this week.)

So what’s the truth about living in Madrid?

The truth is, Madrid is awesome.

But I’m not the typical guiri blogger who’s going to write “OMG Madrid is so FUN!” and nothing else.

I enjoy the grit and the grime as much as the nicer aspects of the city.

The old man bars and the gentrification. The touristy parts and the working-class neighborhoods.

It’s all good, baby baby…

‘Cause who ever said life would be without some everyday struggle?

Not Biggie, and certainly not me.

Fairly and balancedly yours,

Mr Chorizo.

P.S. Your turn… What’s the truth about living in Madrid? Is it the greatest city on earth, or am I just imagining it is? Whatever you think, leave me a comment, right here…

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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. En el Retiro hay siempre exposiciones en el Palacio de Cristal (mi sitio preferido de Madrid en verano y en invierno, voy casi todos los días a sentarme delante un rato) y en el Palacio de Velázquez, que es uno que está casi al lado y siempre ponen exposiciones muy vanguardistas. Y en el otro Palacete que se llama Casa de Vacas también. Hay siempre 3 exposiciones en el Retiro, que suelen ser interesantes para un paseo cultural-relajante.

  2. Wow lo de Baltimore me a sorprendido. Sabia de la tasa de homicidios en Estados Unidos pero no esperaba semejante concentración de homicidios en una ciudad. Sobretodo porque yo vivo en Zaragoza, una ciudad con una población similar a Baltimore y toda la ciudad esta estremecida por el asesinato de Víctor Laínez, la calle mas emblemática de mi ciudad, la calle Independencia hay un altar improvisado con velas y ofrendas de coronas de flores en su memoria. No me imagino vivir en mi ciudad con una media de casi 1 homicidio por día, como casi alcanza Baltimore, dios no concibo como vivir en una ciudad así.

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