11 oct. 2018

Madrid - Using the city as a resource to learn Spanish!

If you are studying Spanish then you’re in the right place! One of the great things about Madrid is that it’s still a very Spanish city. It hasn’t given over its soul to mass tourism, and although an increasing number of people can speak English here, what you hear in the bars, the shops and in the street is mainly Spanish, meaning that there infinite opportunities to practice. The AIL Madrid Guide to the city is designed as a learning resource to help your practice become as effective as possible! Here are some of our top tips to help you fully immerse yourself into the Spanish culture:

Los mercados (the markets)

Buying food is a necessity. Doing your regular shopping in a traditional market instead of a supermarket will not only get you fresher produce, but it will force you to interact with a real person… in Spanish! It’s a great way to consolidate basic vocabulary, to practice requests as well of course numbers.


In the last few years a lot of great gastro markets have appeared throughout the city. However, we recommend you try one of the many traditional ones. There’s one in every neighborhood. Here are three of our favorites.
  1. Mercado de Maravillas. Calle Bravo Murillo 122. Dating back to 1942 it’s Madrid’s largest market and, strangely, the second largest fish market in the world after Tokyo! It’s a great place to improve your fish, fruit and vegetable related vocabulary!
  2. Mercado de San Antón. Calle de Augusto Figueroa 24. A classic working class Madrid market in the central barrio of Lavapiés. Just listen to people talking and absorb the language!
  3. Mercado de La Paz. Calle Ayala 28. Built in 1879 in the heart of the swanky Salamanca District, this combines tradition and style, and is a beautiful setting to hone in on your Spanish shopping skills.
La Filmoteca

Calle Santa Isabel 3. There are few better ways of developing listening comprehension skills than following a movie and focusing on the dialogue. Even if it’s a challenge, listening out for set phrases is great for your auditory comprehension. The fantastically good value Cine Doré, known as the Filmoteca, has regular cycles of Spanish cinema and is a beautiful setting for the Spanish cinema experience.

Instituto Cervantes

Calle Alcalá 49. The Instituto Cervantes not only oversees the accreditation system which guarantees quality control at Spanish language schools, but also exists to promote Spanish Language and Culture. Its emblematic HQ on Calle Alcalá holds regular exhibitions, a must for any serious student of Spanish.

La música

Listening to music in Spanish is as pleasant a way as any to tune your ear to the rhythms of Spanish speech. There are a number of bars which specialize in Spanish cantautores (singer/songwriters), often completely free or for less than 10 euros.
  1. La Fídula. Calle Huertas 57, great area, great live music.
  2. Libertad 8. Calle Libertad 8, a historic venue for cantautores in the heart of Chueca.
  3. The Dog & Roll. Avenida de Brasil 17, a variety of Spanish artists from folk to rock n roll.
El microteatro

Spanish theatre in small spaces! This is up and coming in Madrid. Great for improving listening skills and is often interactive, meaning that you can put your Spanish into practice!
  1. Microteatro Por Dinero. Calle Loreto Prado y Enrique Chicote, 9. Located in hipster territory in a former brothel in Malasaña!
  2. Esconditeatro. Calle Estu¬dios 2. An intimate experience in La Latina.
  3. La Infinito Café Libros. Calle Tres Peces 22. In multi cultural Lavapiés, a bar upstairs, and micro-theatre downstairs!
  4. La Escalera de Jacob. Calle Lavapiés 9. Also in Lavapiés. Micro-theatre every Wednesday with 3 pieces for just 9 euros.
There are also a number of things you can do to make speaking Spanish a part of your daily life in Madrid.


  • Football in bars! Even if you’re not a fan, watching a game of La Liga in a crowded bar full of Spaniards is as good a way as any to strike up a conversation, and you’ll be anything but bored!
  • Kiosks. The city is full of them. If you can’t handle a full novel then try buying the odd magazine, or better still books of crosswords and word games.
  • Social media. Change your phone settings and social media apps to Spanish now! If you’re looking for Spanish company, and a chance to converse check out www.uolala.com or www.singlesmadrid.es
It’s a great city. Once you start to relate to it in Spanish it becomes even greater! Enjoy!

9 oct. 2018

J&J Books and Coffee

I have always been an avid reader, but since moving to Madrid my appetite for good books has been almost insatiable. I find that after a long day of working and speaking entirely in Spanish, my brain needs its English fix to rest and unwind a little bit. While my reading comprehension skills in Spanish are pretty solid at this point, I seek comfort in the relaxing nature of reading in my native English. One of my hobbies in New York was collecting second hand books so I was able to bring a few over when I moved here, but after the first few weeks I desperately needed to replenish my supply, and that is when I discovered J&J Books and Coffee.

J&J Books is a café/bar/bookstore located in the Malasaña neighborhood. Among other things, they host various events during the week such as intercambio nights and quiz nights that provide a fun, casual environment to meet other expats as well as Spaniards looking to brush up on their English.


The bottom floor holds a large collection of second-hand, English-language books. The quantity of books is vast and impressive and is divided by category (romance, mystery, biography, classics, teaching English, health, etc.) to ease navigation. The website also includes a browse tool that enables you to see what books they have in their catalogue (by author, title or subject), but I know in my case I tend to enjoy the process of browsing the shelves and seeing what´s out there.

Discovering this store has been such a treat for me. Few are the days when I leave there with less than four or five books to devour. Given that J&J buys books from its customers as well, they often have many new releases on hand but those tend to move fairly quickly. Enjoy!

J&J Books and Coffee
C/ Espíritu Santo, 47
Metro: Noviciado

4 oct. 2018

Spain sin español

There are many ways to learn Spanish once you get to Spain.

The biggest reason I have heard for not moving to Spain has been “I don’t speak Spanish!” At first, I thought that was an acceptable reason to avoid the country, given how difficult language barriers can make communication in the most ordinary of interactions (the basic Spain sin Español). However, I have come around to the point of view that, if you are a person with a chance to move to Madrid, it doesn’t matter all that much whether you know Spanish initially and here’s why!


  1. You’ll start learning as soon as you get here: if you have to start work before taking any Spanish classes, you will still start to pick things up instantly. That said, Madrid is home to a lot of high quality Spanish academies, so the opportunity to learn is right here waiting for you! Our favorite is AIL Madrid, since you’ll also start to build an immediate sense of community and a friend group as a newcomer to the city. I spent years in the United States learning “¿Dónde está la biblioteca?” type phrases, but the Spanish you learn here will be more applicable and instantly fire-tested because you will be really trying to buy groceries or tell the taxi driver where you are going, not just practicing with a classroom partner.
  2. You are probably prized for your English speaking skills: whether you are here as an English teacher or as a business person in another field, knowing English will be a helpful if not essential element of your job, and there’s a good chance that (as long as you let them know ahead of time) Spanish won’t be. Every day there are more people who speak English in this country, and even those who don’t speak it really well often can understand you. If you’d like to take advantage of this, try getting your TEFL certification with TTMadrid and they will link you in to the network of English teachers here in Madrid.
  3. Living in a country where you don’t know the language does something special to you: Everyday life is more of an adventure when you are constantly trying to understand and express yourself in a non-native language. You will learn unforgettable lessons, laugh at yourself, and be frustrated, but you will not cruise through your days without any memorable experiences. I know this is true because, even though I came to Spain with a reasonable level of Spanish for someone who had never been immersed in the language, I myself have experienced it. I feel more alive here because every conversation has to be a little more intentional and, in the middle of a conversation, I get to ask what a word means and learn something totally new.
Don’t let the reason why you don’t come to Spain be lack of knowledge of Spanish; while it won’t be an easy life at first, the benefits definitely outweigh the drawbacks!

2 oct. 2018

Moving to Madrid: The ultimate checklist

Hey guys! I’ve decided to take a minute to get back to the very basics of Moving to Madrid: The Ultimate Checklist! This list applies to anyone and everyone, despite the duration of your stay, so read on and feel free to add additional items you seasoned guiri’s have found helpful in the comments.

The following essentials have been discussed and hashed out among numerous guiris here in the city, so you can feel confident when you’re preparing your suitcase that you’ll be ready for any adventure that Madrid may bring you! Let’s get started:

1. Your passport!

You might be thinking, “this is obvious,” but that doesn’t make it any less important! Even if you’re from a European country, this vital ID is necessary to complete visa processes, take weekend trips to Morocco, and even to check into the occasional hostel.

2. Smart Phone (unlocked)

This is the easiest way to bridge the gap between your home country and your new life here in Madrid. With all your original contacts, photos, apps and more, your smart phone is a great tool to help you navigate your new home. Grab a new SIM card at one of the many stores in Madrid (Orange and Vodafone offer pay as you go SIM cards, and Movistar offers monthly contracts if you already own the phone), or pick one up at your Spanish or teacher training academy. I know AIL Madrid offers them at the front desk and rents smart phones as well, all you need to do is ask!

3. Some sweets shades

In a city that’s sunny 65% of the year, a good pair of sunglasses will take you far. You’ll find them perfect for days in the park, walking to class or work, or a weekend lunch on one of Madrid’s many terraces.

4. Your favourite bathing suit

This item is easily purchased here, but make sure you have one either way. Madrid’s warm seasons (spring, summer, and winter) bring access to all the city’s public pools, as well as many private ones (motivation to make new Spanish friends!) In addition, the beach is less than a two hour train ride away, just waiting for you and your long weekend!

5. Light, simple layers

You can ski or hit the beach within just a few hours of Madrid, so flexibility and layering are your best friends in the varied climates of this beautiful country. A scarf to throw over your shoulders is invaluable when visiting a church or visiting the mountains, as is the ability to take it off and bask in the warm rays in the park or at the beach.



6. A secure purse/bag

I want to take a moment here to say I’ve never felt unsafe in Madrid. Be it dusk or 5am, my personal safety (as a young foreign woman) has never caused me a moment of worry or distress and I couldn’t be more grateful to have that feeling of security. That said, like any big city, the center has a few pickpockets. The easiest way to combat this is to have a purse with a zipper/magnet or, for the gents, to keep your wallet in your front pocket: yes, it’s that easy!

7. A practical pair of shoes

The first day I arrived in Madrid I was given a copy of Hidden Madrid, a book full of walking tours and historical information about the nooks and crannies of this expansive city. This book, combined with a good pair of walking shoes, has exemplified more than anything what almost everyone who visits Madrid says: “the best way to get to know the city is by foot!”.

8. Converter

If you arrive in Madrid without the ability to plug in your electronics, don’t worry: just stop by a ferretería and they’ll set you up with what you need. But it’s definitely easier to arrive with at least one converter so that you can stay charged and in touch throughout your arrival and have one less thing to think about.

9. A camera/phone

For those of you who have already lived here for a while, I’m guessing you feel the same as I do: some of my most cherished memories now belong to Madrid and I have the photographic evidence to prove it! Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a photographer, you’ll want something to start documenting your new life and adventures in Madrid.

10. A kindle (or whatever form of book you prefer)

I recommend a kindle simply for easy transportation: when you’re traveling or commuting, having a compact entertainment source with a variety of books can be hugely helpful! I joined the hundreds of readers on the metro right after my move here and have never looked back. It can also be the perfect companion for a sunny afternoon in the park or at a café, or lend a helping hand when it comes to practicing your Spanish: try reading a book you’re familiar with in your native language, but in Spanish!I started with Pride and Prejudice; the translation is simple and the vocabulary is useful in everyday life.

11. A weekend bag

Madrid is one of the best connected cities in Europe, with high speed trains reaching every desired destination within the country and cheap flights available to all the neighboring countries. Whether you want to hit the beach in Málaga, walk the streets of Ávila, or take a quick weekend trip to París or Rome, having an overnight bag can make the decision to go that much easier (and help you avoid problems with RyanAir baggage regulations!).

12. Something to share from home

Bringing a small treat, a style of music or dance, or even new mindset to share with others is one of the best ways to make new friends and expand your new life in Madrid! Every time I visit home, I come back to Madrid with a bag full of maple candies, chocolates, and various arts and crafts to distribute among madrileños and guiris alike. What’s your country or state known for?

My final note regarding packing is this: don’t over think it and pack light! Madrid has great shopping opportunities for all budgets, and you’ll be able to find anything you meant to bring but forgot. Whether you want to avoid baggage fees or feel like discovering what all the Spaniards are wearing before selecting your own wardrobe, going light is always the best option!

So, get packing and come to Madrid: we’ll be waiting for you!

27 sept. 2018

How to Save Money in Madrid

For most people being a savy shopper on their home ground and in their native tongue is second nature. However, moving to another country where you no longer speak the lingo means you often rely on the major department stores for shopping and the advice of well meaning friends regarding which companies to use for phones and utilities contracts.

So, until you learn the Spanish language, here are a few tips on How to Save Money in Madrid:

• Most hotel lobbies will have a selection of MiniCards – these are aimed at tourists but some have great discounts for restaurants, leisure activities and more. So just pop into any hotel when you’re around town and pick some up.



• Before you visit a museum, check out the conditions for free entrance. For example, at the Prado Museum it’s free if you’re a student under 25 years old, unemployed (need proof) or you’re under 31 and have a Youth Card. And if you don’t fall under any of these categories, Monday to Saturday from 18:00 to 20:00 and Sundays & holidays from 17:00 to 19:00 h it’s free for everyone.

• Sign up to sites such as oportunista.com, put in your email and you’ll be informed of offers in the Madrid area. No prepayments, only discount coupons mainly for restaurants and beauty treatments.

• Sign up to sites such as oportunista.com, put in your email and you’ll be informed of offers in the Madrid area. No prepayments, only discount coupons mainly for restaurants and beauty treatments.

• And if you really want to buy something in El Corte Inglés, don’t forget to take your passport and request your 10% tourist discount – it’s available on items in plenty of departments.

25 sept. 2018

El Museo Sorolla: More than just an art museum

Art museums – If you’ve lived in Madrid for more than three days, then you’ve probably visited a few. But have you been to El Museo Sorolla?

Awhile back, Courtney eased our museum fatigue by introducing us to some of the lesser-known museums in the Spanish capital. And today, I’d like to revisit one of those semi-secret spots.

The Sorolla Museum isn’t just any small museo filled with art. Instead, it’s a proper home hidden inconspicuously behind a wall on the always-bustling General Martínez Campos. Within its walls you’ll not only find Sorolla’s masterpieces, but an urban getaway replete with lush foliage and trickling fountains. For a moment, you might just think you’re in Andalucía.



Born in Valencia in 1863, the Impressionist artist is most famous for his depiction of The Vision of Spain. This series of paintings, commissioned by the Hispanic Society of America, features fourteen large panels depicting Spain’s regions. Now, his art displays around the world, but also occupies his old family home here in Madrid.

In 1925, Sorolla’s widow donated this house (built in 1910-11), along with all of their belongings, to the Spanish State in honor of her husband’s memory. Passing through the salons, hallways and gardens, it actually feels like a home (well, not my home, but some ideal version of it). Chandeliers, furniture, books – it makes the Prado feel like a sterile hospital.

Both art lovers and loathers will likely find something to appreciate about Museo Sorolla – whether it be the opportunity to admire a prominent Spanish artist, to check out unattainable Madrid real estate, or just to transport yourself, even for a minute, outside of the city. And hey, if none of that pleases you, the collection can be seen so quickly that the moment you realize that it’s not your thing, you’ll be done!

I was happy to find out today that the museum is often open on random Spanish holidays (speaking of which, happy Corpus Christi?) and that no admission is required to enter the gardens. That said, if you’re feeling a tad too lazy to make it over to the museum in the Madrid heat, you can instead take a virtual tour of the garden (which probably feels a lot cooler from the comfort of your own home). Turn on your computer sound, grab a tinto de verano, and you’ll be set.