Safety and precautions in Madrid

I am a nervous traveller and will be in Madrid for the first time. Please list precautions that we should take during our stay. Also, what are the areas to avoid in Madrid?

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Madrid is safe with only some exceptions

It is natural to be nervous in a new city, but Madrid is by and large a very safe place. I have lived here for many years. Of course like every city Madrid also has some parts you should be careful in.

Precautions to ensure safe stay in Madrid

1. Be wary of pickpockets around popular attractions

On a short trip, you will be in the most popular parts of Madrid. Unfortunately, more tourists also mean more petty theft, especially pickpockets. So be careful in tourist dominated locations like:

  • Plaza Mayor
  • Retiro Park (not so frequented corners)
  • Train stations including metros but especially around Atocha terminus.
  • El Rastro flea market

2. Invest in Pacsafe

I have found Pacsafe (security backpack with anti theft features) useful, even in cities with more hazard of pickpockets than Madrid. In any case, do not carry more cash than needed. Leave your passport etc in your hotel and carry only photocopies of important documents.

3. Areas to avoid in Madrid

Though Madrid, in the year 2004, witnessed worst Islamist attack in European history, serious crime and terrorist attacks are rare in Madrid.

Today, all of Madrid is safe for tourists. As an extreme precaution, tourists can avoid following areas in Madrid:
- Lavapies area at night
- Retiro Park is safe during the day but can be dangerous at night.
- Calle Barco, Calle Desengaño, and Calle Ballesta - these are around Gran Via and best avoided by tourists.

4. Ask for the menu before ordering

All restaurants need to display prices by law so make sure you know how much you will pay for. A very common mistake in Madrid is to order a special item of traditional food without asking for the price. You get excited by the description and the salesmanship of the waiter and then you are presented with a huge bill!

5. Make sure the taximeter is turned on

Normally you will never need to take a taxi within the city because the public transport system is so efficient. But there are always situations where a short taxi ride makes more sense than waiting for a bus or metro.

If you take a taxi, always make sure that the taximeter is turned on when you start your journey. All taxis should have fares listed in the vehicle and if there are any surcharges they will also be listed.

The only flat fares, 20 to 35 euros depending on your destination, are from the airport to the city.

If there is a problem on any matter outlined above, do not panic. First lodge a complaint, the Madrid police are quite helpful. Also note that taxis and restaurants have complaint forms that they must give you by law.

6. Avoid political demonstrations

In a capital city especially in Europe there are always demonstrations happening and you will surely see some rallies even on a short stay in Madrid. No problem to watch, but stay away from taking part. It is not legal for foreigners to participate but the more important reason is that the crowd can get unruly sometimes.

7. Use tourist assistance service when in trouble

It can be frustrating to wait at a police station to file any reports so the best thing is to use the Madrid tourist assistance service called SATE. You can call them on the phone, it is the best way to report a problem or file a report.

SATE has English speakers available and will assist with any issues including connecting you to your embassy if required.
Phone (24 hours): +34 902 102 112

8. In medical emergency rush to a public hospital

In the event of any medical emergency, rush to any public hospital. Hospital General Gregorio Marañón (General University Hospital) is one of the biggest centrally located hospital. By law, foreigners have the right to emergency medical treatment in a public hospital. If you ever need an English speaking doctor, you may find this list useful.

Madrid has a friendly police force. Do approach them when in trouble

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