CASSIDY OLSEN- For a typically hurried, overcommitted and poorly-rested American university student like myself, the first few weeks in Madrid can be alternatingly blissful and jarring. Seeing endless couples on leisurely walks and people of all ages chatting over tapas at terrazas on weekdays seems too idyllic to be true. I’ve found myself regularly asking, “Why is everyone drinking outside at 1 pm? Is this okay? Is this something I’m allowed to do now?” While the answer is indeed “yes, you are allowed to do that, you are an adult and this is Spanish society,” the start of classes brought the realization that the “studying” part of study abroad was also going to have to happen.
While the sunny weather, umbrella-lined streets and leisurely pace of Spanish life may not seem conducive to being a productive student, there are literally hundreds of thousands of other busy people in this city, and therefore plenty of public places available to get work done. Because they can be a little harder to spot than the closest 100 Montaditos, I’ve assembled a list of my current favorites to help anyone looking for a nice study spot. The program center at Monte Esquinza is great, but typically crowded with other students writing essays, making plans for Barcelona or screaming at the printer. Whether you’re looking to sip a café con leche and work on your laptop in a busy café or read in complete silence in a library, your options are out there.
If you’re interested in sampling some tostas, great coffee and “tapas del mundo” while you work, stop by La Ciudad Invisible in Centro. Located right near the Ópera metro, La Ciudad Invisible is a café/bookstore with unlimited free WiFi and friendly staff, and offers a great space for working on your laptop. While you may be distracted by the café’s music if you need relative silence to read, La Ciudad is not typically busy weekday afternoons and thus provides good coffee shop background noise. My personal recommendations for food are the salmon toast with avocado spread and, oddly enough, the miso soup. Make sure you don’t get there too early: the café opens at 1 pm on weekdays and noon on the weekends.
An exceptionally adorable and more upbeat joint is Café de la Luz in Malasaña. Like La Ciudad, Café de la Luz offers tables big and small, as well as an eclectic mix of comfortable couches and chairs, but is more a brunch-centric bar than a laidback bookstore. The free WiFi is limited to 2 hours per sitting, but that was plenty of time to get some group work done with friends and to buy plane tickets over my last lunch there. The place starts to get loud around 4 pm when the bar fills up, so it’s best to get in earlier and try the “minibrunch,” which includes your choice of tosta, hot beverage, fresh juice and a slice of cake for only €9.90. So, so delicious, and a great way to curb your Sound Bites cravings if you’re a Tufts student like myself.
If you’re more of a library person and desperately miss your long stacks sessions in the States, Madrid is full of libraries available to the general public, as well as ones specifically designed for students. Just a 12-minute walk from the program center at Monte Esquinza is Biblioteca Pública Municipal Mario Vargas Llosa, a public municipal library with a modern design and plenty of quiet room to work. The building’s sleek white walls and desks make for a tidy workspace with, thank god, actual outlets (good luck finding accessible outlets in a normal café). The WiFi can be spotty at times, but is sufficient for most basic internet browsing. You don’t need to show ID or a library card to enter, either.
Another popular municipal library is Biblioteca Pública Municipal Iván de Vargas in La Latina, which many international students particularly love for its “Madrid room” devoted to art, history, film, literature, travel, and all things unique to the city. If you’re trying to become a true madrileño and want a quiet place to study, Iván de Vargas is the place for you. In addition to municipal libraries, there are UNED (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia) libraries, such as the one in Lavapiés, available to students who present a passport and obtain a library card. At the end of the day, whichever library is closest to your home or job will probably be the best option, so be sure to check out the library directory on Madrid.org. Remember that most are not open on Sundays!
Last but not least: don’t knock Fit Food until you’ve tried it! Sure, the “Look good naked” sign is pretty obnoxious, but the smoothie bowls are delicious and will make you feel great (and cost about €7). I’m biased because I worked at an organic juice bar for a few summers, but something about the juice bar environment is relaxing. The staff are friendly, the long couch benches are super comfortable, and it’s much better than the Starbucks across the street. It’s usually pretty empty and the music is chill, so work can definitely happen there if you’re around Monte Esquinza. Recommendations: the green acai bowl is balanced, tasty and topped with strawberries; you can’t lose. I’m also partial to the health “chupitos” if you’re feeling run down and need a boost.
Even though I’m sure to be rushing to finish a lot of my homework this semester on planes and trains over weekend trips, having a few staple study locations in Madrid is helping me feel like a local and avoid desperately asking for the WiFi passwords at terrazas.