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Spain’s largest capital is home to a safe, clean and efficient public transportation network.
Not only is the city extremely walkable, but it’s also very easy to get from point A to point B by metro, bus and more! If you’re new to using public transportation in Madrid, here’s all you need to know. Soon you’ll be making your way around town like a born and bred madrileño!
A single journey on public transportation in Madrid will normally only set you back between €1.50 and €2, making it incredibly budget-friendly. If you’ll be relying a lot on public transport, consider a 10-trip ticket pack. This costs just €12.20, works on both the bus and the metro, and tickets can be shared among several people. And if you’ll be in town for 24 hours, 2 days, 3 days, 4 days, 5 days, or one week, consider buying the corresponding public transport tourist pass!
With 13 lines traveling between more than 300 stations, the metro is one of the fastest and most efficient forms of public transportation in Madrid. Each line has a corresponding color, making maps easy to read and figure out routes. Catch the metro daily from 6 a.m. until 1:30 a.m., with trains coming sometimes as frequently as every 3 or 4 minutes. Frequency depends on the line and time of day. At night, be prepared to wait up to 15 minutes between trains. Be aware that trains will be especially crowded at rush hour. The metro is generally safe, but always be alert and aware that pickpockets tend to target the trains and stations, especially in major tourist areas.
You can buy tickets for the metro in each of the stations at the machines available. Simply select your language and the instructions on the screen will prompt you through the rest. Metro trains stop at all stations, so there’s no need to press a button to signal your need to stop.
Madrid’s local bus company is known as EMT. They offer 2,000 blue buses serving more than 200 lines between the downtown area and residential neighborhoods. Normal buses run daily from 6 a.m. until 23:30, every 5 to 15 minutes depending on the line and time of day. At night, a limited service of nocturnal buses known as búhos (“owls”) runs from 23:45 until 6 a.m. the next morning, every 15-30 minutes. This is the ideal option for public transportation in Madrid if you’ll be out and about until the wee hours of the morning!
Single-journey tickets for the bus must be purchased on the bus itself. All buses are air conditioned and wheelchair-equipped, and many of the newer buses also feature seats for young children. When you need to get off, simply push the button to alert the driver as your stop is approaching.
Madrid’s commuter train system, known as cercanías, connects the entire Madrid autonomous community. Renfe, the national rail service, operates these punctual and efficient trains. Most of its stations in downtown Madrid also have metro connections. Trains run daily from 6 a.m. until 23:00, every 10 to 30 minutes. This is a great option for public transportation in Madrid if you want to explore more of the region outside the capital! Just be aware that the further away you go from Madrid proper, the more your ticket will cost (though it won’t hurt your wallet at all).
You can buy your ticket from the electronic machines in any of the cercanías stations. Like the metro ticket machines, simply follow the instructions as prompted.
Getting to and from the airport
One of the most common uses of public transportation in Madrid among visitors is to get from the city center to the airport and vice versa. Luckily, there are several options for doing so. Pick whichever works best for you, your budget and schedule.
From the Atocha train station and Plaza de Cibeles, take the yellow Airport Express bus. The bus runs every 15-20 minutes during the day and every 35 minutes at night (the nighttime bus does not go to Atocha, only Cibeles). The bus features plenty of luggage space and seating. Tickets are €5 and you can purchase it on the bus itself. It stops at each of the airport terminals as well. If you’re going from the airport into the city, this option is available as well.
You can also get to the airport via metro and cercanías. On the metro, take line 8 (the pink line), which starts at Nuevos Ministerios. Be aware that there is a special airport fare for the metro, so tickets cost slightly more than a normal ride. On the cercanías, take the C1 line, which starts at the Príncipe Pío station. Note that the cercanías only stops at terminal 4, so you’ll need to take the airport shuttle bus from there to get to any of the other terminals.
Insider’s Tip: If you have a long-distance or high-speed (AVE) train ticket, you can take the cercanías to the airport for free!
Finally, if you know you’ll be too jet-lagged to navigate public transportation right after coming off a long flight, consider a private transfer to the city. With Welcome Pickups, you can secure your ride in advance, giving you one less thing to worry about. After you reserve online, you’ll get an email with your driver’s photo, contact details and the meeting point a few days before your flight, and once you arrive in Madrid, they’ll be waiting for you with a sign with your name on it. Drivers even monitor your flight status in case of delays. And all this comes at an affordable price—just a little bit more than an airport taxi!
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Life is too short to speak one language and stay in one place. In 2015, this philosophy took her from familiar Ohio to sunny southern Spain. Usually drinking tinto de verano, reading Lorca, or attempting to dance flamenco (not all at once). Follow her blog, Viatic Couture, for more.