You can walk most places in central Madrid, and it’s the best way to experience the city. To save time, it’s a good idea to take public transport to a neighborhood and then set off on foot to explore. Madrid was sited on the high ground to command the modest valley of the Manzanares River. The difference in elevation between popular areas of the city is fairly minor, but you will encounter uphill grades between Sol and Las Letras, and between the major art museums and Sol.
By Public Transit
Madrid has some of the most thorough and least-expensive public transit in Europe. For a full overview, check the website for Consorcio Transportes Madrid (www.ctm-madrid.es). This site, available in Spanish and English, has a very useful tool that recommends ways to get from one place to another using any combination of public transit and walking.
By Metro (Subway)
The Metro system (tel. 90-244-44-03; www.metromadrid.es) is easy to learn and use. The fare is 1.50€ for the first five stations one-way; the price goes up 0.10€ for each additional station up to a 2€ maximum in central Madrid. (Don’t expect to game the system—you have to insert your ticket to exit as well as enter the Metro.) There are a couple of options for saving money. If your stay is short and you have to move around the city quickly, an Abono Transportes Turístico provides unlimited rides on the Metro and buses. The passes, which are available at Metro stations and tourist offices, are sold for 1, 2, 3, 5, and 7 days (for 8.40€, 14€, 18€, 27€, and 35€, respectively). The Abono is valid only for the ticket holder and you have to show photo ID when you buy it. Unless you’ll be a heavy user of the transport systems, a 10-trip Metrobus ticket is usually a better buy at 12.30€, especially since two people can share a single ticket.
The Metro operates from 6am to 2am (try to avoid rush hours). Twelve main Metro lines and three additional short lines to connect hub stations cover most of the city. Don’t overlook using the Circular (which circles around the edges of Old Madrid) as a quick connector among the other lines. Be forewarned that Madrileños are very aggressive when entering and exiting the subway cars. He who hesitates is lost, so push right through. Ever wonder how they manage to stay out late at night and still put in a full day’s work? Look for nappers among the lucky few who snag a seat.
The public buses, marked emt, are most useful for moving around the circular roads, or rondas, such as getting from Atocha to Puerta de Toledo, or for moving quickly up and down the Paseos. They run 6am to 11pm. Tickets for single bus rides are 1.50€, but riders can use a Metrobus ticket or an Abono.
Madrid City Tour is the city’s hop-on, hop-off double-decker sightseeing bus. Recorded commentary is available through headphones in 14 languages, and separate narration is available for children. The buses’ two routes cover most of the city’s major attractions. Both start at Calle Felipe IV next to the Museo del Prado. From Nov-Feb, buses operate 10am-6pm, passing each stop about every 14 minutes. From March-Oct, they operate 9am-10pm and pass each stop every 8-9 minutes. Tickets can be purchased for 1 or 2 days. Adults pay 21€ for 1 day, 25€ for 2 days; ages 7–15 and over 65 pay 9€ for 1 day, 12€ for 2 days. Children 6 and under are free. The City Tour has the advantage of letting you get around without having to deal with public transportation. It is, however, more expensive. For more information, call tel. 90-202-47-58 or visit www.madridcitytour.es.
By Commuter Rail
The Cercanía (www.renfe.com/viajeros/cercanias/index.html) train network, designed as suburban commuter rail, is also a convenient way to visit El Escorial (from Chamartín station), or Alcalá de Henares (from Atocha station). Fares on the cercanías run 1.60€ to 8.40€, depending on zone. Note: Cercanías are not included in the Abono Transportes Turistico or the Metrobus pass.
Cab fares are pretty reasonable. When you flag down a taxi, the meter should register 2.10€ 6am to 9pm or 2.20€ 9pm to 6am; for every kilometer thereafter, the fare increases between 1€ and 1.20€. A supplement is charged for trips to the railway station, the bullring, or the football stadiums. The ride to Barajas Airport carries a 5.50€ surcharge, and there is a 2.95€ supplement from railway stations and to or from Juan Carlos I Trade Fair. In addition, a 1.20€ supplement is charged on Sundays and holidays. It’s customary to tip at least 10 percent of the fare. Taxis can be hailed on the street or at taxi ranks near attractions and hotels. To call a taxi, dial tel. 91-547-82-00 or 91-405-12-13.
Tip: Be sure that the meter is turned on when you get into a taxi. Drivers prefer to estimate the cost of the ride, which will almost always cost more than the metered fare. You’ll also find unmetered taxis that hire out for the day or the afternoon. They are legal, but sometimes charge exorbitant rates. To avoid them, always take a black taxi with horizontal red bands or a white one with diagonal red bands.
If you take a taxi outside the city limits, the driver is entitled to charge you twice the rate shown on the meter.
Public transit is so good that inside the city you should leave the driving to Madrileños. They’re the ones who grew up watching bullfights and understand the balance of aggression and aversion necessary to navigate Madrid’s nonsensical intersections.
Renting a car for excursions is another matter, as pickup points are usually at train stations or the airport, where it’s easy to reach outlying highways. Citizens of non-EU countries should obtain an International Drivers Permit before arriving in Spain. Without one, some agencies may refuse to rent you a car. Car rentals at the airport include Avis (tel. 91-743-88-67; www.avis-europe.com), Hertz (tel. 91-746-60-04; www.hertz.es), Europcar (tel. 91-743-87-58; www.europcar.com), and National Atesa (tel. 91-746-60-60 www.atesa.es). Prices vary little among companies, so stick with whichever one dovetails with your frequent-flyer program. Most can also arrange downtown pickup and drop-off.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.