Madrid Life and Travel Tips
Madrid is one of the world's great capital cities and the Spanish are cheerful, friendly and generally very helpful. Good manners are welcome everywhere and expected by most people. Madrid is undeniably a major-league cultural and historic city and worth a visit, whatever the time of year.
Spanish is the third most widely spoken language in the world, after Chinese and English. Although Spanish is the language of the land, English, French and German are generally understood at most attractions, museums, hotels and restaurants that cater for visitors. Castilian Spanish is the official language but in the regions, Basque, Catalan and Galician are spoken. In smaller towns and villages a phrase book is a useful item to carry.
Tipping is quite discretionary, with taxi drivers usually being given a 5 to 10% gratuity or thereabouts, although this is by no means obligatory. Restaurants always include service charges by law, and these should be clearly stated on the menus, although a small tip will still be expected and very much appreciated. Hotel staff, such as luggage handlers, happily accept a small tip. Generally, no other public service workers expect tips. You should always pay tips in cash, as this way you can be sure that the person it is intended for receives it fully.
Places of Worship
The national religion of Spain is Roman Catholic, although many other faiths and major religions are also represented. There are an enormous number of churches that welcome visitors and these have a fairly formal dress code, i.e. no shorts.
In many buildings and public transport, rules restrict smoking and this is usually indicated by no-smoking symbols in prominent places. Spanish legislation makes it illegal to smoke in many public places and the rights of non-smokers tend to prevail over the right to smoke, although most pubs and bars welcome customers who wish to relax with a drink and smoke.
It is always worth exercising discretion and sensitivity when selecting a place in which to smoke. The best advice would be not to smoke unless others around you do so.
Tips for Using the Euro
The Euro is made up of eight coins and seven paper notes and was introduced on January 1, 2002. The 12 original members of the European Union - Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal
, and Spain - planned the event for more than a decade, determining a conversion rate for each country's national currency. The colourful Euro bills, which include holograms and shades of green, yellow, blue, mauve, and orange, are identical across the Euro area. Coins have one common and one national side, but they can be used in any of the member countries, regardless of the country of issue. Old currencies are no longer accepted, although they can still be converted to Euros in central banks.
Tourism and Tourist Information (Oficinas de Turismo)
The city's tourist information service has several offices in Madrid and they can supply you with a variety of leaflets, maps and brochures in English, with detailed information about tourist attractions and the various regions in Madrid. The main Municipal Tourist Office can be found at the Plaza Mayor 3 (tel: +34 91 588 1636) and other regional offices are dotted around the city - there is even tourist information available at the Barajas Airport and Chamartín Station.
Telephones and Emergency Numbers
- Emergencies - for police dial 091 (national) or 092 (local)
- For fire emergencies dial 080 or 085 and for an ambulance dial 409 5530
- To call from one city code to another, dial the city code, complete with initial 0, and then dial the number
- Telephone country codes: United States and Canada is 1, Australia 61, New Zealand 64 and for the United Kingdom 44 (the international prefix from Ireland is 00)
The biggest threat in Madrid is by bag snatchers and pickpockets. Thieves are very skilled, so be particularly careful with hand baggage. Wear a bag or camera across your body, or even use a concealed money belt.
VAT (IVA) is always included in the price and refunds are unusual in Spain. Tourists from countries outside of the EU may claim a refund on this tax if the item was purchased for personal use and cost more than a certain amount. Ask the shopkeeper for details.