What’s the pace of the city? What are the opening hours of museums and monuments? Will my phone work in Madrid? Is it safe to drink tap water? Find the answers to these questions before your visit to Madrid.
Shops in Madrid open at 9 or 10am and close between 8 and 10pm, and most of them don’t close over lunch. Some – especially those far from the city centre – close from 2 to 4 or 5pm.
In Madrid, shops don’t have restricted opening hours, as local regulations governing shopping days and times grant retailers freedom to close or remain open. The shops and businesses in the districts on the tourist map, mostly Puerta del Sol and Gran Vía, will be open even on Sunday and bank holidays.
To have lunch at a restaurant table, it’s advisable to arrive before 3.30pm, or before 11pm for dinner. However, you can still find kitchens open later than this. And if you don’t, you can always go tapas, as tapas bars and restaurants have more flexible hours.
Summer: Summers tend to be dry and very hot, with an average temperature of 30ºC (77ºF) in July and August. During these months, days are longer and the city really begins to come alive in the evening. In August, however, the whole scene looks much quieter, as a large number of Madrileños go away on holiday. In late August and in September, the temperatures drop significantly.
Mobile phone coverage
Spain uses the GSM international coverage standard. American frequency ranges (850 and 1900MHz) are different from those in Europe (900 and 1800MHz), but the widespread use of 3G and 4G devices provides support for the entire range of bands in both continents. In addition, 3G terminals include a third band that supports the band of a region other than that of purchase. For instance, European tri-band phones typically cover 900, 1800 and 1900MHz, while American tri-band mobiles cover 850, 1900 and 1800MHz.
If you have another type of mobile phone, ask your service provider to check for coverage.
Electricity supply in Spain is 220V. Plugs have two round pins and an additional ground pin.
A standard travel adaptor plug will enable you to use appliances from abroad. Most hotels will supply you with one.
In Madrid you’ll find one of the safest tap waters in Spain. The capital’s excellent drinking water comes directly from Sierra Norte to the points of consumption.
VAT & tipping
In all establishments, service is included in the price. This isn’t the case in hotels and restaurants, where the legend ‘IVA NO INCLUIDO’ (VAT NOT INCLUDED) usually comes next to the price. This means you should add 10%. It’s up to you whether you want to tip or not, but if you’re happy with the service, you may want to leave a gratuity.
Spain was one of the first parties to join the Schengen Agreement, which abolished internal borders, enabling passport-free movement between a large number of European countries. If you’re a citizen of a non-Schengen country, check with the Spanish Embassy in your home country whether you need a visa.
The Schengen Agreement applies to residents in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland. In addition, under further agreements between Spain and individual countries, no visa is required if you’re coming from Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Costa Rica, Croatia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, San Marino, Singapore, South Korea, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City or Venezuela. In all these cases, you only need a valid passport.
As a rule, you’ll be granted a visa if you can provide evidence of sufficient funds to cover your travel expenses, return flight ticket and hotel reservation for your stay. However, requirements for obtaining your visa may vary between countries. For full details on how to apply for a visa, you should contact the Spanish Embassy in your country. Visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website for a list of Spanish embassies around the world.
If you’re coming to Spain on holidays, you’ll need a short-stay or Schengen visa, which allows you to stay or travel around Schengen countries for no longer than three months (90 days) within a six-month (180-day) period from the date when you first enter the Schengen Area.
If you’re visiting Spain for other reasons, you’ll have to apply for a long-stay national visa, which allows you to live, work, study or do research in the country. This entry requirement doesn’t apply if you’re a citizen of the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland.
During your stay in Madrid, you’ll need euros, the single European currency of the euro area whose notes and coins were introduced in 2002. The euro has eight coin denominations: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents, and 1 and 2 euros, while bank notes come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 euros.
Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport, Atocha and Chamartín train stations, and the main transport hubs – Avenida de América, Méndez Álvaro and Moncloa – are dotted with foreign currency exchange offices. There are several bureaux de change in central Madrid, especially in Puerta del Sol. Most banks and some hotels offer currency exchange services as well.Market conditions usually cause price fluctuations, so you should check the euro’s exchange rates beforehand on the day of the transaction.
Credit cards and ATMs
Running out of cash isn’t a problem in Madrid, since chances are you’ll find an ATM within walking distance wherever you are. Also, most establishments accept credit cards, which you can even use to purchase your tickets to get around Madrid on the underground.
Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted cards, American Express and Diners are less common. You should contact your bank if you wish to find out what commission they’ll charge you for using your card in Spain.
In Madrid, you may tip or not depending exclusively on how happy you are with the service you get. Among the locals, at least, it’s always been up to the consumer to decide whether and how much to tip. Your waiter won’t protest if you just get up and leave.
Some restaurants may add a 2- or 3-euro charge to the bill for bread and appetisers, a service which they have the obligation to tell you about and which you can refuse. As a general rule, it’s you who decide whether to reward the quality of the service and the kindness of the staff with a gratuity.
The same rule applies in hotels, taxis, beauty or hair salons, and other one-on-one services.
Remember that in all establishments, service is included in the price. This isn’t the case in hotels and restaurants, where the legend ‘IVA NO INCLUIDO’ (VAT NOT INCLUDED) usually comes next to the price. This means you should add 10%.
Tax free shopping
If you come from a non-EU country, you can reclaim VAT on items worth over 90.15 euros. Show your tickets or receipts for the goods at the tax refund counters at Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport.
Once customs officials have gone through your purchases and stamped your tickets, you can choose to post them back to the retailer in order to have the money credited to your credit card or bank account. Alternatively, you can get paid on the spot by registered VAT refund agents, which usually charge handling fees.
In order to get VAT refund in cash at the airport, you should buy in shops displaying a ‘Tax Free for Tourists’ sign and ask the sales assistant for a tax-free form showing the refund amount. The VAT refund agent will ask you to hand in your forms before they give you the money.
When travelling, it’s always advisable to know where to turn to for medical or police assistance if the need arises. Read below to find practical information on what to do in an emergency.
The Spanish National Health System comprises a widespread network of hospitals and healthcare centres that spans across the country. Healthcare centres provide primary care, while specialist service is available in hospitals, to which patients must be referred by a doctor. In addition, hospitals and some healthcare centres have an emergency service.
The entire list of healthcare centres in the Region of Madrid can be found here.
If you’re an EU citizen, you and your family are eligible for medical care, so that you don’t have to return to your country of origin for treatment. However, you should get the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) in your country, or any equivalent document proving that you have medical insurance in a member state, since this will entitle you to prompt medical care wherever you are.
If you don’t have this card (or an equivalent document), you’ll still get immediate medical assistance, though you may be fully charged for it. You may claim a refund from your health insurance company, according to the medical costs applicable in the country where you received treatment.
Medicines in Spain must be bought at pharmacies, which you’ll easily spot by their green cross. Regardless of the time and the area where you are, you’ll always find one on duty, open round the clock. Antibiotics are sold on prescription only.
In case of emergency (ambulance, fire and rescue, police), call 112, a toll-free number that works 24/7 across the EU, Spain included. The 112 call centre immediately identifies the caller’s location. It has interpreting services covering as many as 80 languages.
Foreign tourist assistance service
The Foreign Tourist Assistance Service (SATE) offers personal assistance to tourists who need to visit a police station for whatever reason.
Assistance is provided by a qualified team at the official tourism agency or by police officers. They help tourists lodge complaints or fill in forms.
Most countries have diplomatic representation in Madrid. Check out the list of embassies in the city.
The Foreign Tourist Assistance Service, SATE, is a specialised service run by the MADRID DESTINO municipal organisation in collaboration with members of the national police force.
Its purpose is to attend to the needs of tourists who, during their stay in Madrid, are involved in incidents that require police intervention. The main services provided include: help filling out paperwork for police-related matters, locating family members, cancelling credit cards, contacting embassies or consulates, and providing tourist information.
National Police Station
Calle Leganitos, 19, 28004 Madrid
(Near Plaza de España)