Traveling Abroad to Spain with CIEE: Tips

By: Kayla Keats

Deciding to travel to Madrid with CIEE is no small accomplishment. Not only will you learn so much about Spain in the classroom, but you’ll also learn even more outside of it! One of my favorite ways to experience, and more importantly taste, Spanish culture is in Tapas or Small bites. For any student interested in having an authentic Spanish experience, trying tapas in Madrid is an absolute must.

Tapas are an absolutely elemental dish in Spanish cuisine. They’re small and flavorful dishes served alongside drinks you can order at any Spanish bar or restaurant. They range from bite-sized to almost full meals and emblemize the community that Spaniards hold so dear. Eating out is different in Spain than in the U.S. Americans are used to go-go-go dinner culture, but in Spain we take our time. Meals are an opportunity to grow community, have conversations with friends, and meet new people. In Madrid, tapas aren't just about the food; they're practically a way of life. Tapas culture is SO big in Madrid that practically every street as at least one bar that will serve tapas where locals and visitors alike gather to eat, drink, and chat.

Picture this: you and your friends are strolling through Madrid's winding streets, adorned with historic architecture, and you stumble upon a tavern brimming with the aroma of sizzling chorizo, patatas bravas, and garlic-infused gambas al ajillo. Every tapa tells a story of Spanish culinary heritage, inviting us to savor its delicious flavors and unique story. Some of my favorite memories in Madrid are eating tapas with friends; don’t be afraid to put yourself out there!

From the iconic Mercado de San Miguel, a paradise for food enthusiasts offering a myriad of tapas options, to the hidden gems in neighborhoods like La Latina and Malasaña, Madrid offers a diverse tapestry of tapas experiences. You'll encounter traditional favorites like tortilla española (Spanish omelet) and croquetas (creamy croquettes) alongside innovative fusion tapas that reflect the city's modern gastronomic scene.

My tips:

1. Go Off the Beaten Path: While iconic spots are a must-visit, don't be scared of trying lesser-known bars in Madrid's neighborhoods like La Latina and Lavapiés

2. Embrace the Culture: Adopt the Spanish custom of dining leisurely— TAKE YOUR TIME and enjoy the small bites. Relish the experience. You only get it once.

3. Ask Locals for Recommendations: If you’re not living with a host family, ask professors, shop owners, or waiters where their favorite tapas places are. They are guaranteed to know the best spots. 

Madrid's tapas culture isn't just about the food; it's a gateway to immerse yourself in the culinary of Spain! As a study abroad student, embracing this tradition offers a taste of local life, fostering cultural understanding, and creating unforgettable memories. ¡Buena suerte! 

So, as you embark on your educational journey to Madrid, be prepared to indulge your senses, expand your palate, and delight in the richness of tapas culture—a true gastronomic adventure awaits!