Madrid – the next destination for digital nomads?

Berlin, Chiang Mai, Ubud, Ho Chi Minh City… travel to any of these destinations and you’ll find coworking spaces, trendy coffees and paleo breakfasts galore to cater for the influx of digital nomads.

Madrid… not so much.

But after spending four cumulative weeks here (one week back in May, and now three weeks this past month), we can confidently say that it’s our FAVOURITE place to be a digital nomad – in Europe if not the world.

Here’s why:

It’s cheap

Not Chiang Mai cheap, but cheaper than most Western European countries we’ve been to. And it’s cheap in the “right” ways too. In Berlin, it’s only really good value if you want to die of a heart attack by the age of 40 – i.e. you can get a massive doner kebab, pizza or humongous roasted chicken for less than the cost of the sweatbands you’ll DEFINITELY need to buy, but good luck finding a reasonably priced restaurant serving anything the right side of healthy.

In Madrid, by contrast, you can get a “Menu del Dia” in most restaurants every lunchtime: a three-course meal (including bread and wine) for 10 euros. Some restaurants also do a Menu del Dia for dinner too: the other night we got practically a loaf of bread, three courses, and half a bottle of wine each (i.e. a full bottle between us) for 10 euros each. Also, the food is superb. We’re talking quail braised in lentils, and sirloin steak with salsa and roasted potatoes.

Supermarket food is also pretty good value. We like to cook a lot, and it pains us when we go to the local supermarket in other countries and discover we’re almost better off eating out. (NYC is a great example of this.) In Madrid, the fruit, veg and fish all cost way less than in most European cities we’ve been to.

As for the wine in wine bars… even in upscale bars you can get a large glass for 1.5 euros – and of course they’ll throw in a plate of tapas – usually two – for that too.

Our album is full of very similar photos

Public transport is cheap too – far cheaper than Berlin or London. And Madrid is known for having one of the best public transport networks in Europe. Having said though, you probably won’t need to use it much…

It’s easily walkable

Unlike in Bangkok or Berlin, we hardly ever need to get the train or bus here because the city is so compact. And it’s fascinating to walk around: each neighbourhood is entirely different from the next one in terms of people, architecture, and places to eat and drink. 

It’s beautiful

Right???

Admittedly “prettiness” is desirable of most cities – regardless of whether you’re a digital nomad or not. But I thought it necessary to add this one in because Madrid really is exceptionally beautiful, and we had no idea it was even supposed to be until we arrived. No one ever mentions it, even though it’s pretty much on par with Paris.

It’s just pretty all over – everywhere you walk, there’s something else to look at and be wowed by.

Everyone’s really friendly

People in other cities are friendly too, but sometimes (we’re looking at you, residents of Budapest and Sofia) they don’t half have sour looks on their faces. Here, everyone’s super-friendly and super-willing to help you out as soon as they realise you’re not exactly fluent in Spanish. 

Airbnb apartments are big and very high-quality

Although nighttime loo visits are a right bugger

I’m comparing mainly to Paris and NYC here, because we’ve found some awesome apartments in other parts of Europe in the past. We’ve now stayed in two much larger-than-we’re-used-to apartments, for less money than we’ve paid in months.

The bright-and-airy apartment we’re in at the moment cost us £1,000 for the month, but you can get a decent apartment here for as little as £600 if you want to (or even less if you go outside Airbnb). It’s in a mid-16th century building with an elevator (which we’re guessing was installed a few centuries later), beautiful communal areas and secure entry.

Tip: Madrilenos like to stay up very late, and they make a lot of noise. If you can, try to get an apartment on a high floor or facing into a courtyard rather than the street. 

The dogs are AMAZING

In Budapest, dogs always come in identical pairs; they’re always small and they’re always wearing ridiculous bows and ribbons. In Sofia, the dogs are all big, scary and moody. In Thailand they’re scrawny and yappy. In Berlin, you get super-obedient dogs – ones who’ll wait outside the supermarket without a leash or sit by the side of the road until it’s safe to cross. Berlin dogs are great.

In Madrid, you get the BEST DOGS EVER. They’re big and cuddly, and they’re super-silly and fun. They look like they’re having a blast.

I’m not sure if “awesome dogs” warrants an entry on this list, but they make us so happy when we walk around that I felt I had to include them.

People aren’t obsessed with being cool 

And this delights us.

There are very few “cool” bars and nightclubs. All the best bars we’ve been to (which are full of young people) are either exquisite, old-fashioned classy bars that serve manzanilla with olives, or they’re cafeteria-style places that will give you a whacking huge glass of wine for practically free – plus a ginormous plate of tapas thrown in for actual free.

The AWESOME and delightfully uncool La Venencia

We went to one of those cafeterias the other night. Inside, people were drinking either wine, beer, coke, coffee or hot chocolate. In London, we always get weird looks if we try to order a hot drink in a bar. Not here. Here, anything goes. A young guy with one of those earlobe-expanding earrings was drinking a beer and delicately eating a chocolate donut with a knife and fork. Really – anything goes.

Also, while it’s a given that Spaniards always look effortlessly well-dressed and beautifully presented, they don’t seem to do it to be cool. At the supermarket, for instance, I saw two beautiful young men packing up their shopping – one was putting his stuff into one of those old-lady shopping trolleys; the other was trying to shove a ready-made pollo asado into a backpack that surely belonged to his girlfriend. 

There are more wifi cafes than we originally thought

Gorila cafe – a favourite wifi cafe

Heaps of cafes here have wifi – but at first we couldn’t find any that looked suitable for working in. Now that we’ve done more exploring, we’ve come across loads of place that are perfect: lots of comfy tables and chairs, cheap coffee, soft music and a great atmosphere. Also, the coffee only costs about 1.50 euros here.

The wifi is bloody fast

In both apartments as well as all the wifi cafes we’ve now been to, the wifi has been incredibly good.

In the interests of balance…

I probably need to point out some “things to consider” – potential cons to living here (although we don’t see them that way). 

Their English is so-so

Which is how it should be: we can’t expect them to know our language. We’re really trying to learn Spanish (we’ve got books, podcasts, audiobooks and TV on the go), so we see it more as an opportunity than a hindrance. But it makes things tricky occasionally – especially as we want to stick to local, untouristy restaurants and cafes.

There isn’t THAT much to do and see

It’s fine for us because we just love wandering around. But there aren’t that many museums, galleries, historical sights, etc. (We’ve been reading about the history of Spain, and we’ve discovered that not much actually happened in Madrid.)

Compared to Berlin and Budapest, it might seem a bit bereft of culture.

The weather gets a bit iffy in winter

It’s never as grey and miserable as London gets in winter, but it can get pretty chilly between December and February. If you’re fair-weather supporters like we are, it’s probably best to go elsewhere during winter.

What do you think? 

Have you been to Madrid? What did you think of it – did you love it as much as we do?

Are we missing some massive reason why digital nomads don’t come here in droves at the moment?

Let me know in the comments!

  • [sigh] Now I really want to go to Madrid.

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      COME!

  • I’m flying there on Thursday! Unfortunately I’ll only be spending about six hours in the airport 🙁 Great write-up – but WHY IS THERE NO PICTURE OF THE DOGS???

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      I KNOW – we’re seriously letting ourselves down with the lack of dog pics! We keep meaning to take photos, and then we get all embarrassed! We’ll make it our mission to take some.

      Madrid airport is quite bearable as airports go, but it’s such a shame you won’t be coming into the city itself!

  • Mat Newton

    Great post guys.

    I lived in Madrid for 3 months in 2008 and they were some of the best months of my life… and am writing this post while in Barcelona.

    You’ve pretty much got it spot on.

    Having said that for me maybe you’re talking the beauty up a little bit — it’s a lovely city, but in terms of beauty I think one could do better. Also, the food is very hit and miss.

    The contemporary art museum is cool (Queen Sofia I think is the name?) and also El Prado with the audio guide I found very, very interesting.

    Here’s three more big advantages:

    1, Madrid is the night-life capital of Spain. Lots of fun times at night in bars and clubs. I had a riot.

    2. When you don’t want to walk, the Metro is very cheap compared to a place like Berlin.

    3. FOOTBAAALLLLL !!! Haha I love my football culture and Madrid is game set match. I went to games in multiple stadiums and had a great time, not to mention all the games I watched in bars packed with locals. I picked Atletico Madrid as my local team and just loved that aspect of the culture.

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      Hey Mat!

      Thanks so much for the comments and list of yet more advantages!

      I’m constantly shocked by how beautiful Madrid is, but then perhaps I haven’t been to enough other beautiful cities!

      There’s a football match on at the moment, as it happens, and the bars are heaving. I think I might drag Rob out to one so that we can join in with some Spanish chanting!

      As for the food… we’ve had non-stop AMAZING food. Except for in El Tigre. But then we can’t really complain about El Tigre’s food, considering the portion sizes and total free-ness of it (and the fact that after a jug-sized glass of wine, we’re too hammered to notice what we’re eating).

      The Prado museum is fab, as is the Royal Palace. We haven’t been to Reina Sofia yet (the name brings up bad memories for Rob… long story), but it’s on the list!

      Thanks again, and hopefully we’ll get to meet you in Barcelona!

      • Mat Newton

        Only just saw this (reminded to come back by visiting Rob)

        Was great to miss Rob, shame you were stuck working! Some day!

        I love that you had a bunch of good food. Did you use the net to research it? I had sooo much rubbish in Madrid tbh. It was 50/50 between great and terrible, am happy that you missed that side.

        • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

          Someday super super soon! Sorry I missed seeing you – it sounds like a lot more fun that what I was up to!

          We used the internet to research some food places, and then for others we just discovered them and got lucky, I guess. We made sure we went to places where no one spoke English and the menus were Spanish only – and that seemed to work pretty well!

          We’ve been in Barca for almost a month now, and I’ve got to admit: we love it here too (although we don’t get nearly so much free tapas)!

  • Beto

    I stayed last year in Madrid for little more than a week, which of course is not enough time to really know any place. However, from what I did see I have to agree with your appreciations. I love the bar culture of “Caña y tapa”, meaning you make stops for a sip and a snack as you move along the bar circuits. Didn’t go to El Tigre though – felt it too overrated.

    By all means go to the Reina Sofia museum. Pablo Picasso’s Guernica is there in its full glory. Besides Prado, there is also another museum worth seeing, the Thyssen. All are along the Paseo del Prado walk.

    And of course, being a native Spanish speaker as I am helps a lot 🙂

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      Thanks for the comment Beto! And thank you for the Thyssen recommendation – we hadn’t considered that one.

      El Tigre is actually a lot of fun (and we were amazed by the generous portions of food and drink), but I definitely wouldn’t consider it a “must do” – especially if you’re only visiting for a week and want to eat and drink wonderful food and wine at every opportunity!

      We’re trying desperately hard to learn Spanish… we’re even watching Series 1 of Modern Family in Spanish! Getting there slowly…

  • Joe

    Don’t suppose you’ve noticed the rental price of a three bedroom gaff on your travels?

    Sounds like a great place to live/work.

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      It really is – highly recommend it.

      I’m afraid we haven’t been looking at rental prices, but I’m sure there’s info online about what you can be expected to pay for a three-bedroom place. Good luck!

  • I love Spain and think it’s one of the best (if not the best) places for being a digital nomad in Europe. But hey, come check out Malta too, you might be surprised 🙂

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      Thanks so much Jean!

      We’ve been to St Julian’s, but that’s about it! We’re actually planning on returning to Malta in September 2014; any tips on where to go?

  • I agree with most of your points and would actually consider spending a few months there – however, in defense of Berlin I have to say that we ate super cheap every single day there, and not only kebabs 😉 We never paid more than 5 Euros for a lunch special – from Vietnamese, Indian, Middle Eastern to Italian, to name just a few. They usually came with a starter and/or dessert and we are still talking about the cheap eats of Berlin because they were just so good!! Even sushi for the two of us was only 10 Euros!! I don’t know where you guys ate but I’ll make sure to introduce you to all of our favorite cheap eats next time we’re all there 😀

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      Please do!

      While the food in Berlin was nowhere near as pricey as London, we failed to find “proper” restaurants that serviced decent, cheap food (which is what we’d been expecting to find!).

      So yes… we could definitely do with some guidance!

  • hi Mish and Rob,

    Madrid is also one of our favorites cities in the world (among many other favorites ;-)… and we always come back here ! We’re actually here now, are you still ?

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      Noooo! We leave tomorrow! Such bad timing!

      This is our second time in Madrid, but we’re already making plans to return next year – love it.

      • Then let’s meet then some other time… may be somewhere else in the world…

        You might want to join this cool network that will always tell you which other digital nomads are the same city as you are… > http://nomadproject.com

        hasta luego!