It’s after midnight on a Tuesday and the streets of Madrid’s Malasaña neighborhood are as lively as ever. As I watch from my apartment balcony, an elderly couple strolls by as young passengers get out of a taxi. A group of friends stops at the bar next door, passing a middle-aged man carrying his groceries. Voices from the nearby plaza waft around the corner of the church across the street. Sounds of clanking silverware drift out of a cafe. A reggaeton beat grows louder as a guy passes by carrying a speaker on his shoulder (even though it’s no longer 1985). Taking a moment to absorb the sights and sounds of city life, the fact that I’m now a resident of Madrid starts to sink in.
The past month has been a blur of apartment hunting hell, job searching, and getting acquainted with my new home. (After looking for an apartment in a foreign language, I will never complain about searching back home ever again.) But I have never once regretted my decision to pick up and move here. Madrid is a warm, captivating city that I’ve only just begun to explore, but I can already say me encanta. Here is what is sure to be a growing list of reasons why I love Madrid.
It’s the city that actually never sleeps.
Spain is well-known for its leisurely pace of life, from afternoon siesta to the fact that much of Madrid shuts down during the month of August as its residents flee to the coast. Although some local businesses and schools take advantage of siesta hours and close for a two-to-three-hour-late-afternoon window, the city’s professionals hardly spend it napping. Which is even more reason to wonder if these people actually ever sleep. Dinner doesn’t start until at least 9 p.m., and bars are packed until well past midnight on weeknights. Get to a club before 1:30 a.m. and you’ll be one of five overeager foreigners. Hey, there are only so many hours in the day, and Madrileños know how to spend them well.
It’s always 5 o’clock.
Casual drinking seems to be a local pastime, whether it’s grabbing an afternoon caña or an after-work tinto de verano, there’s a refreshing alcoholic beverage for any time of day. The best way to meet up with a friend is to grab a drink at an outdoor cafe, which are packed at all hours. Madrileños love nothing more than a cold drink and warm conversation.
Getting around is easy.
Madrid’s public transportation system rivals some of the world’s best—I’m talkin’ London, Singapore, Taipei. It’s far-reaching, reliable, clean, easy to navigate, and best of all, cheap. If you’re under 26 years old, you can get a youth card with unlimited travel for 20 euros a month (about the cost of one tank of gas back home). There’s also the uber-useful city bike program, and when all else fails, city center is extremely walkable—all of which keeps driving to a minimum and Madrid’s sky as blue as can be.
Locals prefer to be outdoors.
From sidewalk cafes to rooftop bars to city parks, locals prefer to enjoy Madrid’s sunny weather outdoors (except the aforementioned month of August, when they’re all at the beach). Professionals hold business meetings at open-air cafes. Couples flock to rooftop terraces to watch the sunset. Others spend their lunch break sunbathing at Retiro Park. Plus, when nearly every park boasts a historic landmark or monument, there’s never a shortage of scenery.
Plazas create vibrant communities.
Spain’s plaza culture captivated me when I first visited more than a year ago. Each city has a main square—Plaza Mayor in Madrid—but each neighborhood also has its own. A plaza is considered to be a meeting place, or as Spain’s tourism website describes it, “the living room” for its towns and cities. It’s a place to hang out, eat tapas, and grab a drink with friends. Plazas really come alive after the sun sets, and even in the later hours you’ll find children playing way past their bedtime. Also, let’s appreciate the fact that going out for tapas is its own verb in Spain: Vamos a tapear?
It’s very welcoming.
There’s no feeling of “otherness” in Madrid. Whether you’re a tourist or an expat, you mix and mingle with the locals. Since Madrid is a diverse city of residents from all over the country, there’s no pretentiousness. Aside from foreigners, Madrid is a socially liberal city where gay couples are seen canoodling almost as often as straight ones and an entire subway station is painted like a rainbow flag. It’s easy to fit in in Madrid, but there’s also a feeling that you don’t necessarily have to.