Want to get to know a city? Go to a bar and get a crash course in a city’s culture and customs. But a country’s drinking culture is as idiosyncratic as its language, so you need to be prepped. Read our guide to Madrid’s drinking culture and you’ll be able to order a cerveza with your head held high.
If you want to drink like local, start later. While people go to local neighborhood bars in the early evening, this is generally to have a couple of drinks and have some food. People eat around 10pm or sometimes even 11pm, and start their evenings properly later. Before 11pm, in the types of bars where people go dancing and flirting, you will only see confused tourists wondering where everyone is. On the stroke of midnight around Madrid, half-empty bars magically fill up as if they have been sprinkled with fairy dust. Most bars will open till about 4am without any cover charge. Clubs are open to 6am or 7am; while you will have to pay entrance, you will often get a free drink as well.The flipside of starting later is going to bed later and prepared to stay up late. Going to bed at 3am is considered having an early night.
There are so many different words for measures of beer in Spain, it’s like the Inuits with snow. Caña (200ml), a small beer, is perfect for a baking hot afternoon sat on a terraza while you pick at some olives. If you want to eat two plates of olives go for a caña doble (350ml). A tubo is beer served in a straight glass and is around 330ml. The jarra is generally the largest serving in a bar which is around a pint (depending on the size of glasses in each establishment), perfect for a chilly evening indoors catching up with friends. A pinta (500 ml) is served in a standard pint glass which you would find in an Irish bar, or one that sells different types of imported beers. Generally the pinta and the jarra are interchangeable but jarra is more authentically Spanish. And then there is the mini. Do not be fooled by its innocent name, perversely the mini is generally the largest beer on sale, at around one litre. The mini is the sort of thing you’d drink at a music festival from a plastic glass when you couldn’t be bothered going back to the bar. If you buy a mini, all ideas of getting up early the next day go out the window. For bottled beers, you can order abotella or tercer, a standard bottle (330ml), or abotellín, which is a smaller bottle. Often you can find deals onbotellins which are brought to your table in a bucket.
Make the most of being in the country of La Rioja, as prices are cheaper and quality is higher. Don’t be worried about drinking cheap red wine, for €2 you can get a perfectly decent glass of house red that doesn’t make you wince. Although people associate Spain with sangria, red wine mixed with fruit, sugar and brandy, this is only really drunk at special occasions. Tinto de verano (summer wine) is what everyone drinks on a daily basis, red wine mixed with a lemon soft drink. This is far more refreshing than sangria and despite the name, it is drunk all year round.
A copa is a spirit and a mixer. How much spirit depends on how generous your server is, or whether you can distract them as they are pouring. Some copas are more spirit than mixer, so careful how many you drink. Often there is a choice of house name spirits such as Absolut or local brand such as Larrio which are cheaper. In a surprising demonstration of anglophilia, it is the humble gin and tonic which is the Spanish drink of choice when it comes to copas. It is not just bog standard Gordons that you can choose from: there is Beefeater, Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire and gins from countries you didn’t realise even produced it. There is similarly a huge amount of tonics on offer. In Madrid, there are even dedicated gin bars with tome-like menus with a bewildering range of combinations such as cardamom and cassia bark and watermelon-flavored gin tonics.
You have to be fairly assertive in getting a waiter’s attention in a busy bar and you should be prepared to wave and shout if necessary. Don’t worry, it’s not considered rude, either you make a show of yourself or you risk being ignored. Spanish people generally do not leave tips in bars, but there are always exceptions, such as more tourist focused places, or expensive hotel bars. If you really feel you need to leave a tip, go for it but you may be the only person who leaves a tip all day.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.