Spain is the most popular Erasmus destination in Europe, welcoming 42,573 students in 2014 and 2015, which means you’ll be able to mix with students from across the continent, opening your eyes to not only Spanish culture, but a whole range of different languages and traditions.
Madrileños love a good fiesta – don’t miss Easter celebrations, when church brotherhoods parade through the streets. In May, the city celebrates its patron saint, San Isidro, with a week of street parties, dancing, dressing up and a packed schedule of bullfights at the city’s Las Ventas bullring. In summer, different neighbourhoods celebrate their own fiestas and the city hosts its annual Pride, a fantastic celebration of inclusivity with concerts, parties and a huge parade to end the week.
From its Moorish beginnings and its dominance as the centre of Spain’s global empire during the Golden Age to the fierce battles fought for the city during the Spanish Civil War, Madrid has a fascinating history. You can explore centuries past through the city’s museums, churches and monuments, or just wander its streets and soak up the atmosphere.
There are few better destinations for art students than Madrid, home to some of the world’s finest art galleries. The Prado holds the former royal collections and features the works of esteemed Spanish painters such as Diego de Velázquez and Francisco de Goya, while the nearby Reina Sofia museum holds Picasso’s powerful depiction of the bombing of the town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War.
Despite being a capital city, Madrid is pretty reasonable and living costs can easily be kept low by eating cheaply, searching out free activities and taking advantage of student nights across the city.
Madrid is the geographical centre of Spain – there is a plaque on the Puerta del Sol that shows Kilometre 0 – the very centre of the entire Spanish road network. This means it’s a great base from which to see the rest of the country. Trains, buses and car sharing are all great ways to get out of the city and go exploring.
From its old-fashioned tapas bars where little has changed in centuries to its hip restaurants and cocktail bars where the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Ava Gardener once hung out, Madrid is famous for its excellent nightlife. The night starts late – bars stay open well into the early hours and don’t even think about turning up at a club until at least 2 or 3am. Prepare to become a serious night owl if you live in Madrid.
Madrid is home to a good range of student bars, which usually have drinks deals like buy a bucket of beer for so many euros. So whether you’re looking for cheap beers or panoramic views from a cool rooftop bar (check out The Hat hostel’s secret roof terrace), Madrid has you covered.
From free art galleries to the street art that peppers the walls of the neighbourhoods of Lavapiés and Malasaña, there are free things to see and do all over Madrid. The city is full of impressive monuments to explore, from a real Egyptian temple, the Temple of Debod, to the chapel of San Antonio de la Florida, where Goya is buried. And cultural centres such as the Matadero and Conde Duque have regular exhibitions, film screenings and events.
Moving to Madrid is a great excuse to learn Spanish – a language that could be invaluable in your future career and will make travelling – whether to Ibiza or South America – much easier. Find an intercambio, or language exchange partner, and arrange to meet up in a café. You can speak half the time in English and half the time in Spanish and who knows, you might make a good friend out of it, too.
The great thing about Madrid is that you can try dishes from every single region of Spain here, and for a completely landlocked city, it has some of the best fish in the country (it is home to the second-biggest fish market in the world after Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market). Living in Madrid means you can dive right into the city’s tapas scene. The city’s incredible food might mean you’ll never want to leave.