My experience thus far in Madrid (a total of 3 weeks) has been highlighted by one key thing: getting absolutely lost all the time. If you’re like me and have no sense of direction, getting lost is a part of my daily life. But add to this: confusing street names, one way/dead end streets, and lack of cell phone reception, it can be a pretty scary combo. Luckily, I have yet to have a truly bad experience and usually am able to find my way home (or to my destination). So, as someone who gets lost often, here are My Tricks to Figuring Out My Way: Madrid Edition.
DOWNLOAD THE MBC APP
The Madrid-MBC app I have is my holy grail. Especially when my internet connection is being faulty. On this app you can download the maps of the metro, cercanías, and look at bus routes. Usually, if you know which stop is closest to your home or destination you can figure it out by looking at the maps yourself. THE METRO HERE IS EXTREMELY EFFICIENT AND YOU’LL ALMOST NEVER WAIT FOR MORE THAN 7 MINUTES FOR A TRAIN.
There are various versions of this app available on both Android and Iphone, most work really well and have the features of letting you download the maps to use offline. I actually haven’t done that because the app loads really well without wifi.
ASK THE LOCALS
The people in Madrid are super friendly (for the most part), and willing to help you figure it out. You’ll have program staff tell you all the time, don’t be afraid to ask friendly faces for help. And don’t be afraid when they all but walk you to your destination.
MADRID IS VERY WALKABLE
If you have to walk it’ll usually never take you more than 30 minutes. Madrid is extremely walkable. The streets can be confusing, but if you get stranded without access to public transportation (which is doubtful) you can always walk to your destination. At night is mostly likely when this will happen, and for this I suggest to try to talk the more popular streets, even though there almost always seems to be people on the streets here. And if it’s not people it’s garbage trucks and other city facilities.
THE STREET NAMES ARE ON THE CORNER OF BUILDINGS
MAP APPS: WHAT WORKS AND WHAT DOESN’T
A lot of people swear by this app. It definitely gives you the most options in terms of routes: bus, metro, Renfe, walking, bike, and uber. Even catapult if you wish… not even joking. It’s a one stop shop for everything, including when the next bus, metro, Renfe times are and you can set what time you want to arrive and it tells you what time to leave in order to make it on time! Great tool for those of you, like me, that are permanently running late. It also seems to be the most up to date in terms of places and where they are ~actually~ located. Other apps sometimes tell you that 100 Montaditos is at a Domino’s… no lie.
Google Maps works well here, if you’re a google map addict like me, it’s my go-to. But, it’s not the most convenient, and often doesn’t show you all your options. Also in-terms of walking routes, google maps is hell. I definitely do not recommend. Otherwise, it’s pretty trustworthy, just not as convenient cause it seems to take longer to load than other apps in my experience.
Apple maps seems to work for a lot of people, it’s definitely the most clear of all the apps. The map graphic is really nice, and a lot less confusing/more user friendly. But, like google maps it’s doesn’t tell you all your route options and often misses some. For walking though, I find it the most helpful.
KNOW WHEN THINGS STOP RUNNING
Especially important if you’re going out on the weekend. Normal bus routes leave for their last run at 23:00 and starts back up again at 7:00. Metro stops running at 1:30 and starts at 6:00. Renfe at 00:30 and starts at 5:00.
BÚHOS: A VAGUE UNDERSTANDING OF HOW THEY WORK
Búhos are weird, they’re buses that run at night and have different routes than regular buses, they basically only go up and down main streets. Basically, ask your host family which one leaves you closest to you house. And if you’re like me that the closest leaves you a 12 minute walk from your place, call an uber. But, there are a lot of them so usually it works out, even if it’s at least to get you slightly closer to your destination.
WARNING: BUS LABELED C2 IS NOT THE SAME AS 2
This happened to me too many times to be funny at this point. But don’t be like me, if it’s not labeled exactly as the one you want, don’t take it, you’d think that’d be simple enough. BUT NOPE. As mom says, “a cocotazos se aprende.”
PUSH COMES TO SHOVE CALL A CAB
Apps I recommend: MyTaxi, Uber, and Cabify. Also a number to call for a taxi is: +34 91 547 8200. You can always stop a taxi on the street if you’re phone’s dead, and it’s late, that’s what I recommend. Some cabs do take card, but that’s not always true. Try to bring some, in case you have to order a taxi, cash whenever you go out. Probably around 10 euros, is good.
GETTING LOST ISN’T ALWAYS A CURSE: OFTEN IT’S A BLESSING
Getting lost all these times has really made me work to better understand the layout of Madrid and pay attention to its public transit. You learn the most you have to stop to look around and figure out routes on your own. Sure sometimes it can be scary, but for the most part it’s just inconvenient. Be patient with yourself, you’re in a new city, probably for the first time, and it’ll take some time for you to get how it’s laid out. If you’re late to that dinner, meeting, or event, because you got lost, most people will understand. BE KIND TO YOURSELF. And if it’s super important you’re not late, I’d say add a “got lost” buffer time of about 15 minutes to your commute. Thanks to my super ability to get lost, I have come across some really beautiful spaces. It’s helped me discover a lot of places, which I am really grateful for.