Madrid: What you need to know before visiting

Essential city information that everyone should know before traveling to Madrid.

This guide will include helpful tips and info covering what you need to know about Madrid:

  • Madrid facts
  • Arriving in Madrid
  • Getting around Madrid
  • Madrid barrios
  • Madrid attractions
  • Spanish language basics
  • Average food & drink costs
  • Things to be aware of
  • Useful websites and maps

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Madrid facts

  • Madrid is the 3rd largest city in Europe
  • Over 3 million people live in Madrid
  • Over 6 million tourists visit Madrid each year
  • Madrid is the capital of Spain
  • The language spoken is Spanish
  • The city centre is called “Centro Madrid” and is split into different “Barrios”
  • The airport is called Adolfo Suarez Madrid Barajas and is North East of the city centre
  • It gets very hot in the summer, temperatures are between 30-40°c
  • It gets very cold in the winter, temperatures are between 1-10°c

Arriving in Madrid

By Plane

Madrid airport is huge and there are 4 terminals. Terminal 1, 2 & 3 are connected and you can walk between them. Terminal 4 is in a separate building and is accessible by a free transit bus. I recommend that you check which terminal you arrive in before trying to make your way into the city centre.

There are several options for airport to city transportation:

  • Airport Metro: The Metro Line 8 stops at Terminal 2 & 4. You can buy tickets at the machine and they run approx every 6-8 mins. You will need to change at Nuevos Ministerios station and continue your journey from there. The Metro is well connected all over Madrid city. A single journey including airport supplement to zone A is €4.50 and takes 30 mins. *Update Dec 2017 – Madrid Metro no longer issues paper tickets so you will be issued with a plastic card, which costs an additional €2. It is re-loadable and you must scan it on the reader at the barriers to enter.
  • Airport Train: The Renfe Cercanias (urban train) station is at Terminal 4. This line goes to the big train stations Chamartin and Atocha plus other residential stations. You can buy tickets at the machine and there is a customer service desk.  They leave the airport approximately every 30 mins. A single journey to Atocha costs €2.60 and takes 30-40 mins.
  • Airport taxi: All terminals have a registered taxi rank outside arrivals, the cars are white with a red stripe on the door. A journey to the city centre will cost a flat rate of €30 (if your destination is within the M-30 city ring road). They are all standard size cars that seat 4 people, if you are traveling in a group and have large luggage you may need to split 2-3 people per car. Make sure you have cash to pay the driver as not all drivers can accept card payments. The journey takes approximately 20 mins.
  • Airport private shuttles: There are many companies that offer private cars or mini-bus shuttles. You will need to book and pay for these in advance and follow the instructions they give you on where to meet your driver. Prices usually range from €30-70 depending on the quality of the vehicle.
  • Airport bus: The airport Express bus goes directly to Atocha from the airport 24 hours a day 365 days a year. You can take it from the public bus stop outside arrivals at Terminal 1, 2 or 4. It takes approx 40 mins and costs €5, you buy the ticket from the driver. Bus’s come very 20-30 mins.

By Train

Atocha and Chamartin are the main stations that connect Madrid to the rest of Spain and Europe by train. Both stations are large and are well-connected to the city by Metro or bus.

By Coach

Alsa and Avanza are the two main companies that run National and International coach journeys into Madrid. They both stop at Mendez Alvaro Estacion Sur de Autobuses, which is the big bus station south of the city centre.

By Car

There are lots of good car rental companies across Spain and you can rent a car quite cheaply. A road trip across Spain that includes Madrid is a really nice way to explore the country. Road conditions are very good quality and the drive is always scenic. Check with your chosen car rental company beforehand what licence and id you must present to hire a car.

*RELATED article: For more info about driving and renting a car read – Traveling by car in Spain

MADRID need to know - aiport

Getting around Madrid


You can walk anywhere in Central Madrid really easily. It’s a great way to see all the city sights and explore.


The Metro is well connected, easy to use and pretty cheap with a tourist multi-travel pass. There are tickets machines in every station, just change the language and select for how many days you want access. Prices for zone A are 1 day €8.40, 2 days €14.20, 5 days €26.80. Or you can buy a 10 journey ticket for €15 but that will not included access to the airport.

*Update Dec 2017 – Madrid Metro no longer issues paper single use tickets so you will be issued with a plastic card that is re-loadable and you scan it on the reader at the barriers to enter.


There is an extensive bus service in Madrid, most stops have maps and timetables. A single journey is €1.50 and you can buy tickets from the driver.


Registered, metered taxis are easy to hail in Madrid. They are white cars with a red stripe across the front doors.


Roads are busy so it can get quite congested and parking can be difficult. I would not recommend driving in Central Madrid.


Bike hire is easy, there are lots of companies that offer daily rental for approximately €10-20. Or you can pick up a BiciMAD public bike from one the roadside collection points.

*RELATED article: For a list of sights to see read – 30 things you cannot miss in Madrid

MADRID need to know - metro

Madrid barrios 

The main neighbourhoods of Madrid, known locally as barrios, you are likely to visit as a tourist are:

  • Retiro
  • Atocha
  • Sol
  • La Latina
  • Chueca
  • Malasaña
  • Lavapiés
  • Las Letras
  • Salamanca
  • Princesa

*RELATED article: If you are interested in where the best nightlife is in Madrid, check out this post – Madrid’s most lively barrios and where to have a great night out

Madrid attractions

The main must-see sights in Madrid are:

  • Palacio Real
  • Prado museum
  • Plaza Mayor
  • El Rastro market
  • Park de Attraciones
  • Zoo Aquarium
  • Casa de Campo Park
  • Real Madrid Bernabeu Stadium
  • Mercado San Miguel
  • Gran Via
  • Temple de Debod
  • Reina Sofia museum
  • Retiro Park

*RELATED article: If you want an itinerary covering the best sights, read this – A Weekend in Madrid

MADRID need to know - plaza mayor

Spanish language basics

Hola – Hello

Gracias – Thank you
Por favor – Please
De Nada – You’re welcome
Si – Yes
No – No
¿Que tal? – How are you?
Bien gracias – I’m fine thanks
Disculpe – Excuse me
¿Habla Ingles? – Do you speak English
No entiendo – I don’t understand
Lo siento – I’m sorry

Adios – Bye

*RELATED article: Useful Spanish phrases for traveling in Spain

Madrid average food & drink costs 

Prices will vary from place to place but this is a rough guide to give you an idea of the approximate costs:

Small bottle of water = €1

Sandwich “bocadillo” = €3-5
Ice cream = €2-3
Beer = €3
Glass of wine = €3-4
Cocktail = €8
Breakfast = €4-5
Tapas = €4-7
3 course menu of the day “menu del dia” = €12-15
*RELATED article: There are lots of great food markets in Madrid to find out where they are, check out this post – Madrid’s best food markets

MADRID need to know - food & drink

Things to be aware of 

  • Banks close at 2pm and are not open on the weekends
  • There are ATM’s everywhere but if you want to exchange money you must find a currency exchange desk
  • The time zone is 1 hour +GMT
  • Be careful of pick pockets particularly in tourist spots
  • Most supermarkets close for siesta in the afternoon 2pm-4pm
  • Sunday is a very popular day for locals to go out, so you might need to make a reservation or wait for a table
  • Lots of museums offer free entry on Sundays
  • Churros is eaten for breakfast so most places won’t serve it after lunch because they have run out
  • Tapas is mostly eaten for dinner so some of the traditional bars might not open for lunch
  • There are lots of fiestas in Madrid throughout the year, check before traveling because it may affect your trip plans

Useful websites and maps

Madrid Metro

Madrid Buses 

Madrid Airport 

Madrid Tourist Information

Madrid maps and guides

Airbnb discount

I hope this practical guide to Madrid has been helpful for your trip. Other great articles from Seeking the Spanish Sun you might find useful…

What you need to know before visiting Barcelona

What you need to know before visiting Valencia

Why Spain is the perfect holiday destination


Looking for more inside information on what to expect in Madrid? Read these other Seeking the Spanish Sun travel guides…

What to eat in Madrid

Madrid’s hidden rooftop bars

Where to go shopping in Madrid

What to drink in Madrid and how to order like a local

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  1. 30th October 2017 / 2:15 pm

    Thank you for the helpful tips! I have only been to Barcelona, but can’t wait to visit Madrid! I need to plan a Spain trip soon!


    • 30th October 2017 / 5:31 pm

      Thanks for reading my blog Annie! Barcelona is a lovely city but try Madrid when you next visit Spain. It’s definitely worth going to.

  2. 29th October 2017 / 8:02 pm

    I love how much information you shared about the public transportation! When I’m in a new country, that’s the scariest factor for me, even greater than the language barrier. Thank you for sharing!

    • 30th October 2017 / 10:11 am

      Thanks Sarah! Getting the public transport in a new city can be really scary, I hope this info helps to make things a little easier 🙂

  3. 29th October 2017 / 1:48 pm

    Hi there, great informative post! I’m loving the blog and would like to share the love. I would like to nominated you for a Liebster Award. If you are interested in accepting, please check out my blog – – for the scheduled post on Saturday 4th. Keep blogging! 😉

    • 29th October 2017 / 2:30 pm

      Thank you so much Mayi, I’m glad you enjoy reading my blog 🙂 Congratulations on your nomination and thank you for sharing the love!

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