French tourists in Madrid: "This is the life"

The city fills with visitors fleeing the strict restrictions in France, where bars and museums are closed

Laia Forès
3 min
A group of tourists, mostly French, enjoying the sun on a terrace this Friday in Madrid.

MadridParis Match, one of the most widely read French weekly newspapers, dedicated a few weeks ago a multi-page article to the Spanish capital entitled "Madrid, the fear and the party". The text narrated with large doses of disbelief that bars, restaurants, museums, theaters and even nightclubs are open in Madrid. It also spoke of the contagions in Spain and the "defiance" of Madrid's president, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, towards the Spanish government. This magazine is not the only one to write about Madrid's laxity. The French press has echoed it widely. The result: the city - despite having the highest rate of contagion in Spain - has filled up with French tourists seeking to escape the harsh restrictions in force in their country and do things as simple as having a beer on the street.

"We've come to do everything you can't do there: party, go to shows, go to museums, and sit outside in a bar" explains Chantal, a tourist from Strasbourg who has come to spend a few days in Madrid, as she leaves Prado. "This is the life", she says with a smile. "Everything is open". She explains that she has decided to travel because she is vaccinated and has been surprised to see how here everyone wears a face mask: "People are much more disciplined".

De facto' lockdown

In France, one of the countries that have applied the most restrictions to curb the coronavirus, restaurants and museums have been completely closed for months. After the Christmas holidays, Emmanuel Macron's government also tightened the curfew: now from six o'clock in the evening no one can be on the street without just cause. It is a de facto lockdown that only allows people to leave the house to go to work, to study or to go shopping.

It is eight o'clock in the evening and in Barcelona street in Madrid, near Sol, the bars' outdoor spaces are full of young people drinking and having a bite to eat. A few tables are occupied by French people. Some are on Erasmus and others have come to visit friends. "We take advantage of it to come to the bars. We'd be home by now", explains Olivier. Next to him, Antoin - who studies in Madrid - says that his friends in Paris are "sad" with so many restrictions. "I tell them to come here, they'll be amazed by the bars". The airlines make it easy with affordable tickets: travelling from Paris to Madrid any weekend in April costs around 100 euros.

The street, full of people without masks, is reminiscent of any pre-Pandemic evening. Even the club, New Manama Disco, is open. But the doorman confesses that they have few customers: "Since you can't dance and customers have to be seated, few people come". At 10 p.m. no one will be able to enter and at 11 p.m. the shutters will have to come down. "Before the coronavirus we used to close at six in the morning", he says resignedly.

Fewer customers

Despite the arrival of French, restaurateurs say they do not have half as many customers as before. In the Plaza Santa Ana, in the heart of Madrid, the bars that a little over a year ago were packed in the early evening are now completely empty. In the Cervecería Alemana there is not a single customer inside. Outside, only three tables are occupied. "The French tourists cheer us up a bit in the evenings, but they don't save our business", says the manager. The hotels in Madrid are also half empty. "We only have some national clients and some French", regrets the owner of the Hotel Cervantes, located very close to Neptuno.