Madrid is an excellent choice for a weekend getaway, or a place to base yourself for a full week exploring central Spain! There is definitely enough to keep you busy, but there are also some very important things to know before you go. Here are the best tips to help you travel to and around Madrid with ease!
Getting There and Getting Around
If you’re flying to Madrid, you’ll come through MAD, or Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas Airport. It’s a major international airport, so you may also be flying through here on the way to other destinations in Spain, Europe, or Northern Africa.
Essential info: 8 Things You Forgot to Pack for Europe
Train vs. Metro
Aside from Uber, taxis, or hotel transfers, you’ll have two main options to get from the airport to the Madrid city center.
The train is the easiest, least expensive, and most direct way to get to the city center. You can only pick it up at Terminal 4, which primarily serves One World airline alliance members. If you’re flying with most any other airline, you can take a free bus from Terminals 1, 2, or 3, which takes about 15 minutes. We did this upon arrival, and it was very easy! There was even someone working at the ticket kiosk to help us buy the correct tickets.
Also helpful: The 10 Best Things to Do in Madrid
We took the Metro while in Madrid and on our way back to the airport. It’s very fast and efficient, and while we did have to change metro trains, it was no problem at all.
The important thing to know about the Metro is that you can put multiple people’s fares on one metro card. For example, Steve and I paid for two fares from Chueca Metro to Las Ventas Metro, but only one metro card came out. We both used it with no problem; we just had to let one of us go through the turnstile, hand it to the other, and use the same card to let the second person go through.
Like all old cities, Madrid was originally set up to be walkable! For that reason, Madrid is best explored on foot. Bring your sturdy shoes and leave the heels at home, though! There are cobblestones, uneven sidewalks, and other trip hazards that come along with older cities, so be safe there!
Read on: The Best Places to Eat in Madrid
Madrid was a surprisingly affordable destination to visit! Many museums offer FREE admission during certain hours or a certain day of the week, including the very popular Prado Museum. Other popular spots, like Retiro Park, are always FREE. Do a quick Google Search for “free things to do in Madrid” for specifics.
Also notable is the affordable food options. Don’t spend $25 per person on your hotel’s breakfast. You can eat out for a quarter of that and actually eat where the locals eat.
Additionally, the Metro, as mentioned above, is very easy to use and affordable! If you want to visit sites farther afield, or just at opposite sides of the city, this is the best way to get around affordably.
More here: The Best Money Saving Tips for Madrid
I felt very safe as a female in Madrid. I never got a scary vibe while walking around, and never felt concerned that someone was going to pickpocket me on the Metro or in even the most crowded tourist areas. I was visiting with my husband, but I would not hesitate to go back to Madrid solo!
Essential info: How to Travel Safely
Need to Know
Here are your quick facts!
Keep your translator app handy.
You may be surprised at how few locals speak English, especially in the touristy areas. Download a Translator App and keep it handy! It’ll be useful for reading menus (even the restaurants in the city center and touristy places don’t always have menus available in English), asking for help, and reading signage. I don’t know about you, but my high school Spanish is not as ingrained in my memory as I wish it was—sorry, Señor Smith!
I definitely think there are some words you always need to learn in the local language out of respect for the country you’re visiting. However, even my friends from other countries whose first language is not English agree that English is the unofficial international language of travel. I’m not trying to be an “ugly American” here, just offering this info so you can be more prepared than we were!
Also helpful: The Ultimate Best Apps for Travelers
The green walk sign blinks when the light is about to change.
This is very important! Sometimes, the car’s light changes even before the green walk sign stops blinking. Be careful crossing streets, look both ways, and only start crossing if the green walk sign is still solid—and hustle across!
Churros don’t automatically come with chocolate.
I’ve been lied to all my life! You have to ask for chocolate with your churros if you want it! And they don’t automatically come with cinnamon and sugar either. Read the menu carefully (with that Translator App if needed!), and make sure you ask for what you want, if it’s available!
Keep eating on my World Foods Page!
No photos at the Prado Museum.
Sorry! You can take photos of the building, but not inside! If you were hoping to get some epic artistic pics (say, for your travel blog), you’ll be out of luck. It also might be worth waiting to go until the last two hours of the day, as the museum is FREE those last two hours.
Workout at Retiro Park or Templo de Debod.
These are the best places to workout (and fight jet lag!) because there is plenty of open space. You’ll see lots of others doing the same, both locals and tourists. Retiro Park is larger, with miles and miles of trails, but Templo de Debod is also popular if you’re on the other side of Madrid. The city is pretty spread out, especially for an older, European city (usually they’re much smaller in area), so it will largely depend on which park is closer to your accommodation.
More here: How to Run Anywhere on Travel
Need more? Check out all you need to know on my dedicated Spain Page!
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