1. Tip small
  2. Eat late
  3. Watch your items closely
  4. Take the metro in Madrid

Whether it’s tipping, timing or just getting the bill – Spain is a world away from the US. Below are some important things you should know before visiting.

When to eat
Prepare yourself to not follow your regular US eating schedule when you are in Spain – lunch will be after 2PM and dinner will be after 9PM (8:30PM, if you’re lucky). If you walk into a restaurant before these hours, expect to find the kitchens closed! As you can imagine, with the later eating hours, this means that discotecas and other night spots will be virtual ghost towns until well after midnight (the “party” doesn’t usually get started until 2AM or so).


  • Tipping in Spain is nothing like it is in the US.  It is not uncommon at all to not leave a tip when going to a restaurant of taking a taxi.  Generally, for a taxi, a couple of coins is sufficient (no more than one euro).  For a cheap meal (under 30 euros) a euro or so is just fine.  Don’t feel compelled to tip if you order a small coffee a cafeteria or anything of that sort.

Don’t wait for the waiter to come to you to take your order or bring you your bill

  • When tipping doesn’t really happen, then neither does good service.  Don’t expect waiters to come to you to take your order, ask how you are doing, or even bring you your bill.  If you want to place your order, look for a waiter (any waiter – usually here, one waiter isn’t necessarily tied to a table) and flag them over.  To get your bill, just get a waiter’s attention and signal in the air the signing of a receipt – you don’t even need to tell them you need the bill, just the gesture is enough.  Without letting them know by either the gesture, or saying “la cuenta por favor” don’t expect to get your bill.

Keep watch of your items

  • Particularly in the touristy areas, be sure to keep your possessions close.  Don’t place purses on the ground, but instead in your lap.  I always make sure my items are secure and nothing can easily be grabbed.  I personally (knock on wood) have never had any issues – you just have to remain more alert than you would at home….especially in tourist areas where people will unabashedly take your bag from beside you if you aren’t holding it closely.  Also, just do your best to act like you know what you are doing and like you fit in, which I suppose is hard to do in touristy areas being an American.  If you act like a lost, confused tourist, you make for a fantastic target.

Words/phrases you should know

You will find that Spanish people are super friendly and almost always willing to help.  If you can’t find something or are confused, Spaniards are usually willing to go above and beyond to help you out.  Additionally, most Spaniards (I find, anyway) know at least a few basic words in English.   So if you ask a simple question in Spanish about where something is, for example, a Spaniard might likely be able to say “left, right, straight.”

    Please – por favor

    Thank you – gracias

    The bill – la cuenta

    Where is ….. – Donde está ……

    Bathroom – aseos (you will often see aseos instead of baños here)

    How much does it cost? – Cuánto cuesta?

    I’m ….. OR my name is – Soy XXXX OR Me llamo XXXX

    Nice to meet you – “encantado” if you’re male and “encantada” if you are female

    We are going to the airport – Vamos al aeropuerto

    Bye/see you later – adios/hasta luego

    And I think most of you know probably the first ten numbers in Spanish….

Getting around Madrid

Taking the metro

Madrid has a fantastically efficient and easy to use subway system called the “metro.” The metro will take you just about everywhere you need to go – including the airport. Using the metro is simple – once you identify the line you wish to take (based on the stop you are at and the stop you are going to), you will just want to get on the one going in the right direction. How do you know the right direction? Look at the very last stops at each end of the metro line – you will want to go toward the one that is in the same direction as the destination of your stop.

Paying for the metro is also super simple. When you enter any given metro stop, there will be automated touchscreen machines. With one touch you can change the language to English. If you think you will be using the metro quite a few times, you may want to buy a 10 trip pass (it’s one euro per trip – if you have to switch lines, that is still considered a part of the same trip). If you think you will only be using it a couple times, just go with a one trip ticket.

Easy as that!

Taking taxis
There is usually an abundance of taxis. To grab a taxi, just do it “New York-style” and flag one down. If the sign in the window says “libre,” that means they are available!