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As the largest city in Spain, Madrid draws international families and their children from all corners of the globe.
Expat mothers and fathers moving to the Spanish capital can take comfort in the warm-natured approach that Spanish residents have towards children in Madrid.
The city's climate also makes for great family outings. Long spells of sunny skies and dry seasons are perfect for enjoying outdoor play dates and easy activity planning for the budget-conscious.
Education and schools in Madrid
Madrid is not short of private international schools and houses German, French, English and even Swedish schools. Parents who would prefer to integrate their children into a Spanish public school will, on the other hand, have to come to grips with the points system used for applications.
The Ministry of Education also introduced a bilingual programme a few years ago, and some Spanish schools now operate as bilingual schools. In principle, bilingual schools offer a few more hours of English a week and the bilingual teacher is responsible for teaching English language, art, science, arts and crafts, and physical education while other subjects are taught in Spanish. This is not always the case, however, as many of the teachers in these schools do not speak English fluently and classes are therefore either taught mainly in Spanish or broken English.
Expats who have children younger than three years of age may wish to take them along to one of the English-speaking playgroups in Madrid. These playgroups are usually formed by international and Spanish parents wanting to introduce their little ones to English at an early age. These are great places to start meeting other international residents, swapping advice and making friends.
Eating with children in Madrid
Cooking for children can become difficult if the little ones happen to be hung up on their favourite foods from home. Luckily for expats, there are many international shops in Madrid, including English stores, American delis, Swedish, Arabic, Hindi, Asian and Italian shops. Some stores, such as the Food Hall, even have online purchasing available.
Family restaurants in Madrid abound. For a taste of nostalgia, visit any of the themed restaurants, such as the Hard Rock Café and Foster’s Hollywood, which cater to Westerners craving the familiar.
Activities for children in Madrid
There are plenty of attractions both nearby and just outside the city limits for parents who would prefer to take their children on a field trip to explore the surrounding countryside. Not to mention, Madrid is a mere 45-minute drive from several winter ski resorts if a family holiday is on the cards.
Parque de Atracciones
The Parque de Atracciones (Amusement Park of Madrid) is in Casa de Campo, well within the city limits. It can be reached by metro, bus or car. Even though it is labelled as a theme park, it is valued for its classic fairground atmosphere. The great thing about the amusement park is that parents can pay a small fee to accompany and observe their children having fun or pay for a full-price ticket and participate in some of the many gravity-defying rides.
La Cripta Magica
La Cripta Magica, located close to Atocha, captivates adult audiences during the week with magnificent magic shows, but on weekends it dedicates two shows in the afternoons specifically for children aged two to 12 years. Children can sit right in the centre of the theatre for a full view and a truly magical experience.
Expat parents who would prefer their children to experience a more educational attraction should head to CosmoCaixa. This science museum in Alcobendas allows children to take part in an extraordinary journey of the solar system in a 3D planetarium. They can also get up close to some of the planet’s plants and animals or experiment with specially adapted scientific instruments.
El Tren de la Fresa
For something a little out of the ordinary, expat parents can take their children on one of the themed train rides that run from several different train stations in Madrid. One of the favourites is El Tren de la Fresa, which allows children and their parents to enjoy local strawberries en-route while listening to tales of the past all the way to Aranjuez in medieval style.
The Golden Triangle of Art
The art walk is one activity in Madrid that is as enjoyable for adults as children. The Reina Sofia, El Prado, and Thyssen museums are all within a five-minute walk of each other, each offering guided tours as well as family workshops that can be booked in advance.
Royal Tapestry of Madrid
Expat families can even visit places such as the Royal Tapestry of Madrid. If arriving at the right time, one might just catch a glimpse of elegant tapestries being woven on the premises.
Parks in Madrid
Children can burn off some of their ample energy with a picnic and some playtime in any of Madrid’s beautiful parks.
Madrid’s most emblematic park, El Retiro, is located in the city centre. Casa de Campo is a lot of fun for kids, not only because of the zoo and amusement park, but also because of the lake, ice stands and playgrounds. There is always plenty going on at the park, such as free puppet shows for children on weekends, seasonal rowing on the lake, as well as several exhibition halls showcasing interesting and unusual sculptures and art installations throughout the year.