Seeing a bullfight in Madrid

by Will H.
Stripes Europe

Bullfights are a controversial part of Spain’s heritage. They involve the killing of animals, which can be disturbing to viewers. If you are interested in experiencing this annual event, keep reading for my tips.

First and foremost, get to Madrid between May 15 and June 15.

The best time to see a bullfight in Madrid is in May and June during the world famous San Isidro Bullfighting Festival. One of the most celebrated holidays of Madrid is held on May 15, the Feast Day of San Isidro, who is the city's patron saint as well as the patron saint of farmers.

Second, order your tickets in advance.

Prior to arriving in Madrid I purchased my bullfighting tickets online. The site provides all the times for the bullfight and is in English. There is also a seating chart of the arena. Tickets prices are based not only the location of the seats but the location of the sun as well. The seating chart shows the location of the sun (sol) in comparison to the shade (sombra). Bullfights last about 90 minutes, so the sun does move, also indicated on the seating chart. Pick wisely. The fights start at 7 p.m., so sitting in the sunny area will leave you sweaty and sunburned.

Prices also fluctuate based upon the matador. After all, would you want to see UFC fighter Connor McGregor or your next door neighbor in a fight? Prestige and performance do have a dollar value. I picked a bullfight based upon my availability, and I hoped for a historic performance during my attendance. There are a few options for picking up the tickets. The real ticket is necessary, not a printout of your receipt. You can either pick up your ticket at the Las Ventas box office, which you are going to anyway, or if you are staying locally, they can be delivered to your hotel.

Acquire your tickets.

Two weeks later, I arrived in Madrid. At check-in, I was handed a non-descript plain yellow envelope. Surely, any markings would have motivated pilfering. I opened the envelope to discover another smaller envelope that was adorned in Spanish with red and yellow seals.  I paused, took a deep breath, and slowly opened the envelope. The envelope contained a colorful pamphlet but no visible tickets. Like Charlie, it wasn’t the chocolate I was after but a much bigger prize.  I unfolded the envelope and discovered my golden ticket to the bullfight!

The customer rep leaned in, a bit too inquisitive, “Is that a bullfighting ticket?”

My glee turned to suspicion, “How did you know?”

She quickly replied, “You’ve been staring at it for 5 minutes, and it is written in Spanish, a language I’m very familiar with. Plus, it says it on the envelope, and ticket you are clutching … oh, and the guy who delivered them also told me they were bullfighting tickets.”

She whipped out a map and circled our location and the direction to the Las Ventas arena. She inquired, “What time is the bullfight?” 

“Didn’t your buddy who delivered them tell you?” I asked.

She paused with a smirk, “I want to make sure I give you the correct train information so you make it there on time.” 

I countered, “Or perhaps you want to ensure you are at the right place at the right time with the right instrument to ensure you see the bullfight. I assure you madam, my punctuality is of no concern to you. Obviously, you know too much already.”

I slid the ticket into my inside pocket, and offered a curt smile and farewell.

Get to the arena with time to spare.

Traveling from any metro station to the Las Ventas arena is a matter of your location, but it sits on one of the main lines. I boarded the metro, took a seat, and maintained a vigilant stance for a certain customer rep. The closer the metro moved to Las Ventas, the more crowded it became. I was seated at the end of a row of seats with two ladies next to me, a city map unfolded between their laps as they bickered in a foreign tongue. I watched the entertainment unfold as the map was pulled, turned and flipped between them.

One of them boldly leaned over to me, pointed to the map, “Is this the stop for the bullfighting ring?”

The other offered a piercing glance, as if we were in a relationship and any answer not in support of her position would be met with dire consequences. Classic distraction tactic.

I put my hand over my ticket that still resided in my pocket as a precautionary measure and replied to their tactic with another. “Are you going to the bullfight?” 

One girl pulled out two tickets that looked similar to mine, “Yes, we are going. Are you?” 

I pointed to the map with a diplomatic response, “You want to get off at Ventas stop, and the bullfighting ring is supposed to be right outside the metro.” 

They introduced themselves as, Enyo and Dino from Greece. They explained that in order to truly appreciate Spain they had to experience a bullfight and flamenco. During the train ride, the tone turned from deliberate to neighborly. Enyo stated she wasn’t fond of watching the bulls be killed but wanted to experience the totality of the event, “It would be unwise to knock something unless you try it first.”

I countered, “That’s not true of everything. I don’t like green eggs and ham, I don’t like them in the rain, I don’t like them on a train, perhaps I should try them with two Greeks in Spain.” Dull silence, they looked at each other then back at me with curious eyes.

I exhaled. “Dr. Seuss. Sort of like your Hippocrates, only he’s a doctor of comedy and not medicine.” 

Still oblivious to the reference. We exchanged and compared other travel itineraries, and they asked if I ever planned to visit Greece. 

“I have to start training for that run from Marathon to Athens because according to you two, that’s one way to show appreciation to the Greek culture. Plus, that run sure does beat doing any of those 12 labors of Hercules.” A smile and something in Greek between them, followed by head nods and a laugh. They were starting to get it.   

We reached our final destination and parted ways. By this point, the train was full and the exiting platform a mass of humanity. I trudged to the top of the metro exit and saw the Las Ventas arena in all its glory.

Buy snacks and a cushion beforehand.

Outside the arena, vendors sell selling everything from refreshments to souvenirs. I was convinced I’d be paying American movie theater prices. Yet, I picked up some peanut M&Ms, Pringles and sodas for only 5 euros. I also bought a padded cushion for 2 euros. There are no true seats, only numbered stone benches. Do yourself a favor and bring your own cushion or rent one. There are no seats just a stamped number in stone.

Take it all in.

As I looked around, I noticed all sorts of people. I assumed this would be a male-dominated audience, but I found myself seated next to my grandma on one side and a slew of teenage girls on the other.  In front of me were well dressed older gentleman who looked respectable enough to fit in at the grand stands of the Kentucky Derby. I heard English from behind me and was greeted by some exchange students from the University of Texas. 

I will refrain from describing the experience of the show, but it lasted about 90 minutes and in that time it was not one, but six bulls who met their untimely demise. I was under the impression it was one bullfight.  I saw three matadors, each fighting bulls in 15-minute rounds. Because each matador went twice, I could appreciate what was supposed to happen — including the booing and clapping of the crowd.

Seeing a bullfight in Madrid is akin to being in Times Square during New Year’s Eve. It only happens one place in the world.  

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