From the Art Deco esplanade of Gran Via to the myriad bustling streets made for bar-hopping between mouthwatering tabernas, Madrid has a rich history of attracting artists from all over the world—long before Ernest Hemingway sipped his first sangria here. American-born dancers Daphne Binioris, 31, and Delaney Conway, 24, joined the exclusive club of cultural expats when they relocated to the sunny capital due to its thriving dance scene and welcoming vibe.
Binioris moved from New York City to Madrid in 2008 at the age of 18 to study and has had a passion for dance—especially jazz, contemporary and salsa—her whole life. Conway has been in the Spanish capital since 2016 when she was studying abroad at the Maria de Ávila Conservatory of Dance where she trained in ballet and contemporary dance.
The vibrant metropolis offered both expats cultural and professional opportunities galore. When they’re not putting on their dancing shoes, one of their favourite pastimes is taking the train or bus to nearby destinations.
From Alcalá de Henares, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to Zaragoza, the hometown of painter Francisco de Goya, get footloose and fancy-free with Binioris and Conway as we take a day trip from Madrid.
Lisa Davidsson Weiertz: What are the coolest things about being a dancer in Madrid?
Delaney Conway: The circle of professional dancers is very small, so if you just give it time and trust, you will begin to make meaningful connections with a lot of different people, and that’s what ultimately leads you to jobs. The dancers here are also really down to earth and kind. Dance in the States is very commercialised, then I realised when I came to Madrid that the possibilities are just more expansive here. You can do musicals here, you can do certain small gigs and choreographic projects but you can also explore the different styles that you like and you can connect with different choreographers.
Dance has brought me across the entire country and led me through all of Spain. I’ve taken classes with choreographers in Valencia, I’ve done auditions in San Sebastian, in Zaragoza and, of course, Madrid is huge for meeting choreographers and auditioning.
Daphne Binioris: For me, what’s great about Madrid is that you can go out dancing every night of the week, whether you like salsa, tango or swing (in my case, I like all three). I’ve also had the chance to meet so many dedicated professionals and talented artists who are working hard to make new things happen in Madrid’s dance scene.
LDW: What made you fall in love with Madrid?
DC: Madrid is a huge city and definitely feels like one, but its accessibility and vulnerability were what made me swoon. You can walk anywhere and feel comfortable and safe, and you wouldn’t even notice the time passing because the weather is so good.
DB: It was actually love at first sight. The first time I visited Madrid I just knew it was where I wanted to live. I think it’s because the city is so alive and welcoming at the same time.
LDW: What is the one under-the-radar thing you can’t miss when visiting Madrid?
DB: I think something really special and representative of Madrid is its neighbourhood food markets, like Mercado de San Fernando, Mercado de la Cebada and Mercado de Antón Martín, just to name a few.
DC: Many people don’t know that Madrid has a river, the Manzanares, which has a beautiful path great for riding bikes. Along the river you have to stop by Matadero, once a slaughterhouse and now a major cultural centre. It has art expositions, a botanic garden and is home to two of the most important dance companies in Spain: the Compañía Nacional de Danza and the Ballet Nacional de Espãna.
LDW: What about Madrid makes it a great starting point for day trips?
DC: There are also a lot of gorgeous spots surrounding the capital that are worth checking out. Toledo tells rich stories about Spain’s medieval past, and the endless tapas options in Alcalá de Henares will make you want to stay in Spain forever! For nature lovers, the Sierra de Guadarrama offers refreshing hikes in the summer and skiing adventures in the winter.
LDW: What is your advice for getting around and seeing more of this region?
DB: Although Madrid’s most famous nearby cities, like Toledo and Segovia, are beautiful and definitely worth a visit, I’d highly recommend exploring the region’s lesser-known cities and towns as well, like El Escorial, Alcalá de Henares and Aranjuez. There are also many mountains and hiking trails near Madrid that are great for a day spent outside the city. You’ll be surprised just how easy and fast it is to get to all these places by bus or train.
DC: My advice would be to ask locals for their recommendations on restaurants and things to do, and don’t be afraid to practice your Spanish!
LDW: What makes Alcalá de Henares a good day trip from Madrid?
DC: Alcalá de Henares is a great day trip from Madrid. When we went to Alcalá we went to the bar that started Spanish tapas, it was owned by two men who had the original idea to give you a small sandwich or free plate of food with every drink you order which has now developed into this whole elaborate thing. We even went to this small convent where the nuns working there sell these candied almonds. Then we visited the birthplace of [Miguel de] Cervantes.
LDW: You also took us to Zaragoza, what are the highlights there?
DC: Zaragoza was very enjoyable for us and the tapas there definitely exceeded our expectations. There’s this street that is called El Tubo and it’s just lined with different tapas bars. Then we went to the Catedral-Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar. We took the elevator to the top where you can see the entire city of Zaragoza.
LDW: What are your top three essentials for travel?
DC: I do everything on my phone, from emails to paying bills, so I have to bring that. I bring a hat everywhere for sun protection, and I always have a journal to jot down my thoughts and clear my head.
*This article was produced pre-COVID-19. Since the pandemic, travel regulations are in constant flux. Borders and businesses may close temporarily or permanently. Please travel safely and check out the Open Travel Index for up-to-date information on restrictions and regulations.