First things first...
Being an expat, before looking for schools, the first thing I asked myself was where to live.
Where was the best neighbourhood in Madrid to live with my family?
For me it was a matter of living in a family-friendly neighbourhood where we could raise our three young children and
… yes, the puppy we had promised the kids if we moved.
So it had to have a garden. Even a small one.
And so our search began.
Commuting time to my husbands work?
Commuting time to my son’s school?
Was I going to be my kids’ taxi driver?
(Not when they were small, but yes now that they are older, but that’s another story).
Luckily we had a relocation agent who could help us navigate google maps, because I’m useless with that thing.
But still, we wanted to know where things were and what was “better” for a family.
Having said all that, I later learned that there is no “better”, it just has to work for you. Because what is “better” for me, didn’t work for my friend Julia, for instance, who was very happy living in the city. So her idea of “better” was different from mine and that is normal.
So, first of all, think of what you and your family need and what is important for you.
What is crucial, non-negotiable? What is nice to have but not essential?
Once you decide that, dive into schools, neighbourhoods (barrios) and other stuff.
I´ll just give you here a brief overview of some neighbourhoods in Madrid.
Disclaimer: It is by no means a thorough guide to all of Madrid. I’m sure I’m going to leave out a few great options purely because I don’t know them enough. Or I may make a few mistakes on where exactly places are but the information here is to the best of my knowledge.
Living in the city
First things first: city centre or just in the city?
Whatever it is, know that if you live in Madrid city, you will probably have everything at your doorstep. Many people I know don’t even have a car and walk to most places or take public transport (which is excellent, by the way).
As for schools, there are lots of schools, mainly concertados and public ones, in the city. But should you choose to send your kids to one of the international schools in the suburbs, like Pozuelo or La Moraleja, most of these schools offer a school bus service (for an extra fee, of course.)
If you have teenagers, living in the city is great because they will be able to go everywhere on their own with public transport. Also, there are lots of things for them to do (both nice and safe things, and others not so nice, but that’s the same in every city in the world).
So what neighbourhoods are there in the city?
City centre or el centro or Madrid Central
Personally, I think that’s a great area if you’re single or don’t have kids or are a university student.
You can find absolutely everything in the city centre, is walkable and hip. Yet, it’s getting expensive accomodation wise and the affordable places are small.
This is the place to live if you want to be close to la Puerta del Sol, Museo del Prado, Plaza Mayor, Gran Vía, Puerta de Alcalá, etc.
Outside the city centre
There are lots of nice neighbourhoods outside of the city centre.
There is the Retiro neighbourhood, which takes its name from the Parque del Retiro and it’s very central, yet not considered the “city centre” as such.
Then we have the Salamanca neighbourhood, which is one of the best ones in terms of status. It’s chic, upcoming, has lots of bars, restaurants, the most exclusive shopping street runs through it (Serrano) and it offers many cultural activities.
Further out (but not that much), is Chamberí, another really nice neighbourhood, more family-oriented and more “normal”, if you know what I mean. I certainly don’t know how else to explain it.
Argüelles is another good area to live, with the feeling of a small town.
Further North, along Paseo de la Castellana, we find the Stadium Santiago Bernabeu, home to the Real Madrid Football Club. I’m only mentioning it, because behind it you have El Viso, a traditional neighbouhood with houses, not only flats.
Going further North there are other good neighbourhoods to live in, very family-oriented and well-connected since they are still part of the city of Madrid.
These are Plaza Castilla, Arturo Soria, Chamartín, Hortaleza, Mirasierra, Tres Olivos, Montecarmelo, etc.
On the other side, but also in the North, there are the neighbourhoods of Moncloa and Aravaca, which have been described in this article, “an ideal choice for families”. It is worth to mention that the big green area of Casa de Campo is beside these parts.
But that’s enough!
If you want to know more, let me know, bearing in mind, that I will refer you to a real estate agent I know, who is also a relocation agent.
Anyway, let’s go outside the city!
Suburbs of Madrid
Yes, I´m going to talk about places that are still in the Comunidad de Madrid (more on my last blog post), but a bit farther out. With all the services and amenities one needs, but maybe with less metro stations. By this I mean that there is one station per neighbouhood, not a hundred (yep, I’m exaggerating), yet buses still come and go.
Las Tablas, Sanchinarro and Valedebebas
These are not suburbs as such, but they are not close to the city centre.
Las Tablas and Sanchinarro are North of the city on the way to Alcobendas (see below). They are newly built, family-oriented areas with lots of appartment blocks. Sanchinarro has a shopping centre, schools, two hospitals and lots of schools. Not to mention restaurants and bars. Las Tablas seems quieter, but it’s also popular amongst young families.
Valdebebas is very close to Sanchinarro and it’s a very new area. Well, new for families, because the training grounds of the Real Madrid are here. It’s an up and coming neighbourhood, full of restaurants, bars and smaller shops. It is also besides IFEMA, Madrid’s Trade Fair grounds.
Now, let’s continue with the parts I know least: The Northwest.
Pozuelo de Alarcón, Las Rozas, Boadilla del Monte, Majadahonda and Torrelodones.
Pozuelo is closest to the city, Torrelodonoes de farthest. But don’t be put off by that, because the times I’ve been there I’ve had a sense of space, of being in nature, even if they are normal neighbourhoods, with shopping centres, supermarkets, and highway, lots of schools, etc.
From Majadahonda I can only say that the town centre is beautiful. And very close to lots of nice hiking routes.
Boadilla is being built up, which means the housing there is affordable and new, but, I have to admit, it’s very far away from Madrid city. You definitely need a car or else have 2 hours to spare to get there in public transport. That’s the reason I haven’t considered it, because I have teenage kids who need to be independent and I don’t want to be their taxi driver.
All other areas have good public transport connections with the Moncloa area of Madrid, which is perfect for kids.
Alcobendas and La Moraleja area
On the Northeast side we have La Moraleja area, which includes El Soto de la Moraleja, Encinar de los Reyes. These areas are part of the town of Alcobendas.
This area is very popular with expats because a lot of the international schools are here. Although the American School of Madrid is in Pozuelo, but I will talk about schools in another post.
Furthermore, it is very green and the access to and out of Madrid is easy from, but in private transport as well as public.
Let’s go further out, to
San Sebastián de los Reyes, Algete, San Agustín de Guadalix, Tres Cantos and Colmenar Viejo.
All these areas are towns in themselves and hence have all services, amenities, as well as good schools. But most importantly, they are closer to nature than Madrid. Here, you go out of your house and have a hiking or cycling route available. Housing is still affordable (well, it depends on the area, but still cheaper than Madrid city). And in some of them, you still have that small town feeling, yet it’s only a 30 minute drive to Madrid.
Of course there is the town of Barajas. You may have heard of it, because that is where the airport is located. It may seem that it is very far away but in reality it isn’t. It’s well connected to many areas. And you have the airport beside you, in case you like to travel a lot or your spouse is constantly travelling.
Last but not least...
Only YOU can decide what the best neighbourhoods are in Madrid.
What works for me didn’t work for my friend Julia, and viceversa.
What I do recommend, though, is that you tackle the house search in one of two ways:
- Either you look for the perfect neighbourhood and then look for schools nearby.
- Or you look for the school you want for your kids and then look for where to live.
Because otherwise you will be a slave of the car and that’s definitely no fun.
A final (and important) thought...
And this has to do with Spanish culture and language: (remember I’m a Spanish teacher, can’t help it):
The word “suburb” has a negative connotation is Spanish Spanish (that is, not in Latin America). So, if you meet a Spaniard and they ask where you live, just mention the neighbourhood, not that you live “in the suburbs” (“en los suburbios”) because that will not go down well.
Let me know if you found this information useful!