For those traveling on Air Europa or Iberia, chances are that you will get a long layover at Madrid International Airport of Barajas, if you are lucky enough and that’s your case, don’t miss the opportunity of visiting the city! Better than traveling somewhere, is getting the chance to visit another city for free!
Some of you may ask if it is possible to visit Madrid during a long layover, but don’t worry, it is completely doable. Although it is a big city like any other capital, a stopover in Madrid is enough to visit the most important tourist attractions in Madrid.
In this guide, you will learn what to do on a layover in Madrid and get from Madrid airport to Downtown.
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Long Layover in Madrid: What to do on a Layover in Madrid
First of all, don’t worry about getting from Madrid airport to the city center. Barajas airport is located kind of far away, however, it is pretty simple to move around.
The city has great infrastructure and it is pretty easy to come and go, so it won’t be hard to enjoy your long layover in Madrid, and it will be totally worth it.
You may be wondering if you can leave the airport during a layover, the truth is, if you have a short layover, no, however, if you are a lucky one and good a long layover, you can definitely leave the airport to visit the city.
For short layovers, like a 3-hours layover in Madrid, I would recommend staying at the airport and enjoying the facilities, there are things to do, don’t worry. They are listed below.
If you have between 3 and 5 hours layover you can visit the nearby places, I also included a list of attractions near Madrid airport, in case of a short layover.
👉 How much time do I need to visit Madrid in a Long layover? I would say that a short layover would be anything less than 6 hours. Barajas is kind of far from the city center so less than a 6-hour layover in Madrid would be risky. Bear in mind that on international flights the ideal time for check-ins is 3 hours before departure, so keep an eye on your watch. With at least 5 or 6 hours, you can pretty much visit the most important attractions of Madrid, if you make a good logistic of your time.
Madrid Airport – Madrid Barajas Airport
Barajas is the international airport in Madrid and this is probably the airport you will arrive at. Although it is super easy to get to Madrid’s downtown from the Barajas airport, you must bear in mind that this is one of the five biggest and busiest airports in the world, and boy, it is HUGE!
The airport has four terminals and going from one side to the other can take up to 20 minutes so if you have a short layover in Madrid, don’t distract yourself, because it can take a while till you figure out and get to your gate.
Barajas is situated 12 km away from the city center, but it is really easy to get to the city center thanks to how well connected everything is, both the airport and the city are entirely organized to make it easier for tourists to come from the city center to the airport and vice versa.
🧳 Luggage Storage: If you are planning to visit Madrid during your layover, you can use the luggage storage located in terminals 1, 2, and 4.
Madrid Airport to Downtown
Madrid taxi service
This may sound convenient and comfortable, but as you probably may know, taxis can get pretty expensive, especially if they notice you are a tourist. The price for the taxi from the airport to the city center can vary from €30 to €50 depending on where you are going and the time.
If you are looking for a convenient and reliable option to get from Barajas airport to Madrid city center, my suggestion is to take a transfer.
Transfers are as comfortable as taxis, and definitely far more convenient and reliable than them. Their prices are fixed, and you can hire a transfer online, independently of where you are going within the city center, which helps when planning your trip properly and save you the stress of trying to bargain with the taxi driver.
This transfer works 24/7 and offers the routes from the airport to Madrid city center and vice versa, you just need to fix the right time and it will pick you up at your agreed meeting place.
Madrid airport bus
Madrid airport bus, known as Airport Express is probably the best option if you want a comfortable and cheap means to get to the city center, the price for its ticket is around €5 and the trip takes 40 minutes until the last stop.
The bus makes three stops after the airport: O’Donnell (which is close to a metro station), Plaza de Cibeles, and Atocha (a train station). If you want to visit the tourist points, you can alight at Plaza de Cibeles.
You can take the bus at the entrance of terminals T1, T2 and T4 it is a 24-hours service and the buses run every 15 minutes during the day or every 35 at night. The tickets can be bought on board.
This option can be a bit complicated especially if you are new to the city and don’t speak Spanish. Madrid is a big city and so is its metro system. Buying the tickets and taking the metro, at least for the first time, can be a bit challenging.
You can hop on metro line 8 in terminal 2 or terminal 4. If you arrive at Terminal 1 or 3 you can take a free bus inside the airport to change terminals or simply walk there.
The metro runs every 5 minutes during the day and 10 minutes during the night and the time of the trip to Nuevos Ministerios (Madrid’s central station) takes only 15 minutes.
The tickets can be purchased from the ticket machine at the toll entry in the airport and metro stations and the price with the airport supplement starts at €4.50 depending on your destination.
What to do on a Long Layover in Madrid
Plaza de Cibeles
Plaza de Cibeles is located as one of the most famous monuments of the city, a fountain of the goddess Cybele riding a lion-drawn chariot.
Behind it is the Palace de Cibeles, the building was first a mail-post then the city hall and now it is a cultural center, hosting art exhibitions and workshops, etc. The cafe at the top of the building has a beautiful view of the city.
Puerta de Alcala
Nearby, in the Plaza de Independencia, is located the Puerta de Alcala. Older than the Arc Triomphe and the Brandenburg Gate, it is considered the first modern post-roman triumphal arch build in Europe and used to be one of the old gates of Madrid.
Going down the avenue Calle de Alcala, there is a beautiful building that used to be the headquarters of the National Bank of Spain.
Nowadays it is the Instituto Cervantes, a cultural institution that promotes the Spanish culture and language.
Puerta del Sol
Going further, until the end of Calle del Alcala, is the famous pedestrian square Puerta del Sol, a huge open area full of street artists and lotteries.
In the center of the square is a plaque on the ground marking Kilometré Cero, the center of Spain.
Puerta del Sol is the house of another famous monument in Madrid, the Estatua del Oso Y El Madroño (The Bear and the Strawberry Tree) representing the official Coat of Arms of Madrid.
In Puerta del Sol, look for the only orange building, this is Madrid’s city hall, in front of this building is celebrated the New Year and try to eat a dozen grapes, one for each chime, a tradition dating from 1895.
It is said that the one who manages to eat all twelve grapes, which is almost impossible, has the chance to make a New Year wish!
Following the avenue in front of the square, the Calle Mayor, will bring you to another important public square in the city of Madrid, the Plaza Mayor, a big square surrounded by a beautiful buildings.
The most impressive building is the Casa de la Panaderia, built to be the main bakery of the town, nowadays it is occupied by the Madrid Tourist Board while the ground floor houses the Madrid Tourism Center, you can take maps and magazines for free here.
In the middle of the Plaza Mayor is located a bronze statue of Philip III, the king who planned the construction of the square.
Plaza Mayor was the stage for big events in the city during the centuries, including bullfighting, the city’s inquisition court, and three fires: 1631, 1672, and 1790.
All these events are recorded in the four light poles, come closer and take a look to see the details.
Catedral de Almudena
Back to the Calle Mayor, following it until the very end o the avenue, is the Catedral de Almudena, the main Cathedral of the city.
Take your time to admire the architecture and the art inside it, it is possible to climb on the top of the cathedral to have one of the best views of the city.
Right in front of the Catedral de Almudena is the royal palace of Madrid, the Palacio Real or Palacio de Oriente. The building is very impressive, clearly inspired by Versailles.
It is possible to visit the interior of the palace and I really recommend it if you have time, there are many rooms to visit, including the stunning throne room.
All rooms are richly decorated, with many arts and interesting items like porcelains, beautiful paintings, well-detailed frescos, armors, etc.
To fully enjoy the palace, and be able to pay attention to the details, you would need around 2 hours to visit its interior.
If you don’t have this time, skip the interior visit and head straight to the Palace’s gardens.
On the side of the palace, are located the Jardins de Sabatini and behind the palace, the Jardins Campo del Moro, to get to this last one you will need to walk a little bit more, but it totally worth it.
The visit to the gardens is completely free.
To come back to the Plaza de Cibeles, you can take the metro behind the Teatro Real (Royal Theater). Take Line 2 to Banco de España, it will leave you right in front of the fountain, where you can take the Airport Express back to the airport.
Perfect tours for a long layover in Madrid
A layover may sound like a short time to visit a city, but if you organize your trip and follow the schedule, you will be able to make the most of your few hours in the city.
To make sure that you will be able to see everything, without taking the risk to get lost in the city or getting late for your flight, I suggest taking one of these tours below, which are specially designed for those who have a short time in Madrid:
- 1 – Private Customized Tour in Madrid – Short time in Madrid? Don’t worry, with this customized tour you are able to plan the perfect visit on your own time. See the best of Madrid with the number of hours that are best for you.
- 2 – 4-Hours Walking Tour – Enjoy the best of the historical center of Madrid with this short tour, perfect for long layovers.
- 3 – 4-Hours Walking Tour with Private Guide – Get the most out of your visit to Madrid with this walking tour perfect for long layovers, learn more about the history of the city and enjoy some tapas at the end of the tour, traditional dish.
What to do at Madrid Airport
For those who have a short time in Madrid, not enough to make your way to the city center and back in time to catch your next flight, don’t worry. As I said, Barajas airport is really big and has a variety of things to do and ways to distract yourself until the next flight.
Both buildings offer many shops where you can wander through and go shopping if you like this kind of thing. There are many good clothing shops, as well as souvenirs.
For the hungry ones, there are cafes and restaurants as well, and of course, the lottery, after all, we are in Spain, and Spanish people love a lottery opportunity!
Attractions near Madrid airport
As I said, Barajas airport is kind of far from the city center, consequently, there is not much to do around the Airport in Madrid.
Parque Juan Carlos I
But if you don’t have time to go to the central area of Madrid, but still want to have a taste of the city, head to the Parque Juan Carlos I. There are beautiful views, gardens, and some monuments.
Castillo de la Alameda
Crossing the road, on the Park’s corner, there is a ruin of a castle, known as Castillo de la Alameda. It dates back to the 12th century. It has also been a prison, and after a partial restoration, it is now open to the public.
Parque El Capricho
Down the road, there is the Parque El Capricho, with beautiful flowers in the Flores de El Capricho Garden, and beautiful monuments and artificial ruins such as the Fortin de El Capricho, which was built at the beginning of the 19th century, like most of the monuments and ruins in the park.
The Fortin was built on the site of an old fortified tower, but it was only built to simulate a fortress, for landscaping reasons.
Other notable monuments are the Ermita de El Capricho, Temple of Bacchus, Casa del Artillero, and Salon de Baile
The Spanish nobility created the park in the 18th century to be their personal green oasis. It is important to note that it is prohibited to enter with food, animals, or wheeled gadgets in this specific park, so don’t forget to leave your belongings in the airport’s Luggage storage.
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This text was originally written and posted in August 2017, and updated in May 2021. New information has been added and links have been updated so that it could offer a better experience to the reader.