To really get to know Madrid, it's best to explore on foot. Most of the main attractions are within walking distance of each other and for orientation purposes think of Puerta del Sol as the centre. Street numbers in Madrid all run outwards from Sol.
Public transport is cheap and efficient – both bus and metro will get you where you want to go within half an hour, although it's best to avoid the buses during rush hour. Note: all transport and taxi fares are subject to revision in January.
The metro is the quickest and simplest means of travelling to most parts of the city. Each of its 13 lines (including the new Metrosur and Ramal lines) is identified by a number and a colour on maps and at stations. Metro stations also make essential reference points, and 'metro Sevilla', 'metro Goya' and so on will often be given to you as tags with addresses.
The metro is open 6am-2am daily. Tickets are available at all stations from coin-operated machines and staffed ticket booths. Trains run every three to five minutes during weekdays, and about every 10-15mins after 11pm and on Sundays. The metro can get packed in rush hours (7.30-9.30am, 1-2.30pm, 7.30-9pm). Night buses (L1 to L11) run along the metro routes. See below Night buses.
C/Cavanilles 58, Salamanca & the Retiro (902 44 44 03/www.metromadrid.es). Metro Conde de Casal. Open 6am-1.30am daily. There are customer service points at the airport, Atocha, Chamartín, Avenida de América, Nuevos Ministerios and Alto de Arenal stations.
Run by Empresa Municipal de Transportes (EMT; information 902 50 78 50, www.emtmadrid.es). Most run from about 6am-11.30pm daily, with buses every 10-15mins (more often on more popular routes). Night buses then take over. You board buses at the front, and get off via the middle or rear doors. The fare is the same for each journey (€1), however far you go. Officially, there is a limit to how much luggage you can take on city buses, and trying to board with luggage during rush hours is almost impossible. Drivers are not obliged to give you the change if they don't have it (and if what you give them is more than five times the price of the ticket), nor will they allow you to travel for free. But they must write down your contact details for the bus company to send you the change later on.
Useful bus routes
- No.2 From Avda Reina Victoria, above Moncloa, to Plaza de España, then along Gran Vía to Cibeles, the Retiro and Plaza Manuel Becerra.
- No.3 From Puerta de Toledo up Gran Vía de San Francisco and C/Mayor to Sol, then up C/Hortaleza to Cuatro Caminos, C/Bravo Murillo; ends close to the Estadio Bernabéu.
- No.5 From Puerta del Sol via the Plaza de Cibeles, Plaza de Colón and the Castellana to Chamartín station.
- No.14 From Conde de Casal along Paseo Reina Cristina to Atocha, then along Paseo del Prado, Recoletos and the Castellana to Chamartín.
- No.27 A frequent service all the way up and down the Castellana from Embajadores via Atocha to Plaza Castilla.
- C1 and C2 The 'Circular' route runs in a wide circuit around the city, via Atocha, Embajadores, Plaza de España, Moncloa, Cuatro Caminos, Plaza Manuel Becerra and the Retiro.
Between midnight and around 5am there are 24 night routes in operation – N1 to N24 – called Búho (Owl) buses. All begin from Plaza de Cibeles and run out to the suburbs, and are numbered in a clockwise sequence. Although the Metro closes at nights, at the weekends special buses, called Metro Búho, cover the routes of the 11 central metro lines (L1-L11). The buses alight at the bus stop nearest to each metro station. The timetable for each line varies, but generally the buses run from 12.45am until 5.45am. L1-L11 buses run every 15 to 20 minutes. There are three buses that cover the L12 Metrosur route, which connects Alcorcón, Leganés, Getafe, Fuenlabrada and Móstoles. The L12 buses run every 30 minutes, from 1.15am to 5.30am.
The highly efficient cercanías or local network of railways for the Madrid area consists of 12 lines converging on Atocha, several of which connect with metro lines along their routes. They are most useful for trips to the suburbs, or to the Guadarrama and towns near Madrid such as Aranjuez or El Escorial.
Also, lines C-7a and C-7b combine (with one change at Príncipe Pío) to form a circle line within Madrid that is quicker than the metro for some journeys, and the RENFE line between Chamartín and Atocha is the fastest link between the two main stations. Cercanías lines run from 5-6am to 11pm-midnight daily, with trains on most lines about every 10-30mins. Fares vary with distance, but the lines are included in the monthly season ticket.
Madrid taxis are white, with a diagonal red stripe on the front doors. The city has more than 15,000 taxis, so they are rarely hard to find, except late at night at the weekend or on days when it's raining heavily. When a taxi is free there is a 'Libre' (free) sign behind the windscreen, and a green light on the roof. If there is also a sign with the name of a district in red, it means the driver is on his way home, and is not obliged to take you anywhere that isn't near that particular route.
There are taxi ranks, marked by a blue sign with a white T, throughout the centre of Madrid. At the airport and rail and bus stations, it's always best to take a taxi from the official ranks; within the city, however, those in the know flag cabs down in the street, thereby avoiding the risk both of scams, and of station supplements. To avoid being swindled by a non-official taxi, make sure the driver has their licence number visible on the front and a meter, and always ask for the approximate fare before getting in.
Official fare rates and supplements are shown inside each cab (in English and Spanish), on the right-hand sun visor and/or the rear windows. The minimum fare is €1.85, which is what the meter should show when you first set off. The minimum fare is the same at all times, but the additional charge increases at a higher rate at night (11pm-6am) and on Sundays and public holidays, and there are extra supplements for trips starting from the bus and train stations (€2.50); to and from the trade fair complex (€2.50), and to and from the airport (€5).
Also, the fare rate is higher for journeys to suburban towns in the outer tariff zone (zone B). Drivers are not officially required to carry more than €12 in change, and some accept credit cards.
Receipts & complaints
To get a receipt, ask for 'un recibo, por favor'. If you think you've been overcharged or have any other complaint, insist the receipt is made out in full, with details of the journey and the driver's signature, NIF number and licence plate, and the date. Make a note of the taxi number, displayed on a plaque on the dashboard.
Take or send the receipt, keeping a copy, with a complaints form to the city taxi office at the address below. The form is included in the Taxi Information leaflet available from tourist offices. You can present the form at any Junta office and they will send it on (information 011, 91 588 10 00); one central office is Plaza Mayor 3, Los Austrias (91 588 23 43).
Sección de Autotaxi y Vehículos de Alquiler: Ayuntamiento de Madrid, C/Albarracín 31, 3º, 28022, Eastern suburbs (91 480 46 27)
You can call for a cab from any of the companies listed below. Operators will rarely speak much English, so if you aren't at a specific address give the name of the street and a restaurant or bar that makes a suitable place to wait, or position yourself near a street corner and say, for example, 'San Agustín, esquina Prado' (San Agustín, corner of Prado). The operator will also ask you your name. Phone cabs start the meter from the point when a call is answered. Very few cabs will take credit cards.
- Radio-Taxi Asociación Gremial 91 447 32 32/91 447 51 80.
- Radio-Taxi Independiente 91 405 12 13/91 405 55 00.
- Radio Teléfono Taxi/Euro Taxi 91 547 85 00/91 547 82 00.
- Teletaxi 91 371 21 31/91 371 37 11.
Cycling in Madrid is only for the truly experienced (or the utterly insane) in view of the heavy traffic and lack of cycle lanes on any of the city's central streets (there are a few in parks and by the river). However, bike lanes are gradually improving, and bikes are a great idea for trips to the larger city parks (Retiro, Casa de Campo) and especially the Madrid Sierras.
Bikes can be taken free of charge on some cercanías lines and on the metro at weekends. Cycle hire shops often ask that you leave proof of identity (take a photocopy to avoid having to leave your passport) as well as a cash deposit. There are an increasing number of companies and associations in Madrid that are dedicated to cycling, including Pedalibre (www.pedalibre.org) and Ciclos Otero (www.oterociclos.es).
Driving in the city is rarely a quick way of getting anywhere thanks to traffic jams, and finding a parking space is another headache. However, a car is an asset for trips outside the city. If you do decide to drive, bear these points in mind:
A licence to drive
You can drive here with a valid driving licence from most countries, but an international licence, available in Britain from the AA or RAC, is also useful. Keep your licence, passport, vehicle documents and insurance papers with you at all times.
It is compulsory to wear seat belts and carry two warning triangles, spares and tools to fit them, a reflective jacket, spare headlight bulbs and spare glasses if you wear them. Children under 12 may not travel in the front seats of a car.
That's the limit
The speed limit is 50kmph in towns, 90kmph on most highways and 120kmph on motorways. Speeding fines imposed on motorways (autopistas) and highways are paid on the spot. In general, drivers go as fast as they can, irrespective of the speed limit. At traffic lights many will follow through on the amber light as it changes between green and red. Do not stop sharply when you see a light begin to change, as you may be hit from behind.
Spanish drivers often drink and drive, but the legal alcohol limits are similar to those in most EU countries.
Do not leave anything of value, including a car radio, in your car, and do not leave bags or coats in view on the seats. Foreign numberplates are particularly tempting.
When oncoming drivers flash lights at you it means they will not slow down (contrary to the usual practice in Britain). On a major highways the flashing of lights is usually a helpful warning there's a speed trap ahead.
Car & motorbike hire
Car hire can be pricey, so shop around; there are often good weekend deals. Most companies have a minimum age limit (usually 21) and require you to have had a licence for over a year. You will also need a credit card (as opposed to a debit card), or leave a big cash deposit (sometimes up to €500). Check if IVA (VAT), at 16 per cent, and unlimited mileage are included. All the companies listed require you to take out a seguro franquicia – a fixed amount you have to pay in the event of an accident or any damage caused to the vehicle, and which is put on your credit card when you take the car (usually around half the hire cost – it is only charged if you return the vehicle damaged).
Car hire companies
- Avis C/Agustin de Foxa 25, Chamartín (91 733 32 30/www.avis.es).
- Easycar www.easycar.com.
- Econocar C/Felix Boix 2, Chamartín (91 359 14 firstname.lastname@example.org). Local company with good rates.
- Europcar Avda del Partenón 16-18, Eastern suburbs (91 722 62 26/reservations 902 10 50 30/www.europcar.es). Other locations: Barajas airport (91 393 72 35); Atocha station (91 530 01 94); Chamartín station (91 323 17 21); C/San Leonardo 8, Malasaña (91 541 88 92); Tetuán (91 555 99 30); Nuevos Ministerios metro (91 411 80 54).
- Motoalquiler C/Conde Duque 13, Malasaña (91 542 06 57) motorcycle specialists.
- National-Atesa Paseo de la Castellana 130, Chamartín (91 782 01 30/902 10 01 01) also in Barajas airport (91 393 72 32).
- PlanCar C/Embajadores 216, South of centre (91 530 27 23) a local agency that's convenient for those staying in the south of the city.
If you are planning to take a car to Spain it's advisable to join a motoring organisation such as the AA or RAC, which have reciprocal arrangements with their Spanish equivalent, RACE (Real Automóvil Club de España) Assistance 902 300 505/information 902 40 45 45/91 592 74 00/www.racc.es.
The RACE has English-speaking staff and will send immediate 24hr breakdown assistance. If you are outside Madrid, call the emergency freephone number, but you will be referred on to a local number. Repairs are carried out on the spot when possible; if not, your vehicle will be towed to the nearest suitable garage. Members of affiliated organisations abroad are not charged for call-outs, but non-members pay around €115 (on-the-spot membership) for the basic breakdown service.
For car-owning madrileños parking is a daily trauma. The city police (Policía Municipal) give out tickets readily (many locals never pay them). Be careful not to park in front of doorways with the sign 'vado permanente', indicating an entry with 24-hour right of access. The ORA (Operación Regulación Aparcamiento) system now applies (see below) to the whole city centre (roughly between Moncloa, C/José Abascal, C/Doctor Esquerdo and Atocha). Residents park for free if they have an annual sticker.
Paying Parking zones: ORA
Non-residents must pay to park in zones painted in blue or green from 9am to 8pm Mon-Fri and 9am to 3pm Sat (9am-3pm Mon-Sat in August). Pay-and-display machines are located on pavements. Maximum validity of tickets is two hours in blue zones and one hour in green, after which a new card must be used, and the car parked in a new spot. Cars parked in the ORA zone without a card can be towed away (see below). In the blue areas, tickets cost up to €2.55 for two hours and in the green areas, €1.80 for one hour. All streets in this zone that have no additional restrictions posted are ORA parking areas.
Central car parks Plaza de las Cortes, Plaza Santa Ana, C/Sevilla, Plaza Jacinto Benavente, Plaza Mayor, Plaza Descalzas, C/Tudescos, Plaza de España. Open 24hrs daily. Rates €1 per 30mins, then 15¢-20¢ per min to maximum of €25.60 for 24hrs. There are some 50 municipal car parks around Madrid, indicated by a white 'P'-on-blue sign. It's especially advisable to use a car park if your car has foreign plates. Car parks have disabled access. See also www.madridmovilidad.es for more details.
If your car has been towed away, call the central number 91 787 72 90/91 787 72 92 and quote your number plate to be told which pound it has gone to. Or, locate it on the website: www.madridmovilidad.es.
Unleaded petrol is sin plomo; regular is súper, and diesel fuel is gas-oil.
Getting to Madrid
Madrid fast facts A-Z
When to go to Madrid