Spain City Guides

Long Layover in Madrid: What to do on a Layover in Madrid

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, you better not do it, but if you are a lucky one and get a more than 6-hour layover, do take advantage of that and explore the city.

👉 How much time do I need to visit Madrid on 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.

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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.

layover in Madrid
Image by Armando G Alonso
layover in Madrid
mbell1975 via Flickr

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 at Madrid Airport: 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 City Center

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 Madrid 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 saves you the stress of trying to bargain with the taxi driver.

This transfer works 24/7 and offers 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-hour 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 in a long layover in Madrid

Plaza de Cibeles
Plaza de Cibeles

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.

Instituto Cervantes
Instituto Cervantes

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 built in Europe and used to be one of the old gates of Madrid.

Going down the avenue of 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.

Estatua del Oso Y El Madroño

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!

layover in Madrid

Plaza Mayor

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 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.

layover in Madrid

Catedral de Almudena

Back to the Calle Mayor, following it until the very end of 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 to the top of the cathedral to have one of the best views of the city.

layover in Madrid

Palacio Real

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, armor, 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.

Best Layover in Madrid Tours

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 of getting 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-Hour Walking Tour in Madrid – Enjoy the best of the historical center of Madrid with this short tour, perfect for long layovers.
  • 3 – 4-Hour Highlights of Madrid 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, a traditional dish.

What to do in 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!

Things to do 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.

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  • Reply
    30 de August de 2017 at 11:05

    Somehow I’ve never been to Spain, and I love your photos! I’m thinking I may need to brush up on my Spanish and do some planning. Thanks for the tips.

  • Reply
    Gingey Bites
    31 de August de 2017 at 13:34

    I really love Madrid and have been a couple of times. To be honest, whenever I’ve had long layovers anywhere I’ve not considered leaving the airport unless it’s over night! Maybe I’m missing out!

    • Reply
      1 de September de 2017 at 13:00

      Oh girl, you really are! I always take advantage of long layovers!! You get the chance to visit alot of places including places that you have never been before, which is great! And sometimes you get to visit places that you actually wouldnt even visit if not for the long layover! lol

  • Reply
    1 de September de 2017 at 12:29

    I’ve never been to Madrid. It looks amazing. Just wonder how reliable is the public transport. Like you say the bus is 40 minutes but do buses often arrive on time or late? Factoring all in, how long is a long layover to see the city and not too stressed out rushing back for your next flight?

  • Reply
    1 de September de 2017 at 12:39

    I’m bookmarking this! SO Helpful!

  • Reply
    Radif Rahman
    1 de September de 2017 at 13:12

    Madrid is one of my favorite places to visit, wonderful guideline and very informative post. Photos are excellent.

    • Reply
      1 de September de 2017 at 21:48

      Thank you so much Radif 😀

  • Reply
    1 de September de 2017 at 14:04

    Very practical! Will be useful to have in case of a layover there. I loved the photo with “Refugees welcome” sign.

    • Reply
      1 de September de 2017 at 21:52

      I love that one too! <3

  • Reply
    1 de September de 2017 at 15:46

    I have been to Madrid 3 yers ago. Unfortuntely, I stayed there only for 3 days, but I had time to visit it.
    it`s a nice city.

  • Reply
    Maninder Kaur
    2 de September de 2017 at 00:35

    I plan to visit Spain next year, very helpful guide!

  • Reply
    3 de September de 2017 at 12:16

    This is great! You’ve really thought of everything. Spain has always been some where I’ve wanted to go. Maybe I’ll have to plan a long layover. 😉

  • Reply
    3 de September de 2017 at 12:46

    I love doing long layovers! Great advice, as I’m always looking to know where to store by baggage and how to get back & forth between the airport and city area. Thank you for sharing!

  • Reply
    Loretta Widen
    4 de September de 2017 at 21:32

    I’m dying to go to Madrid!! Thanks so much for sharing all this!

  • Reply
    9 de September de 2017 at 12:30

    Madrid is on my bucket list. Great share of info, and those pictures are amazing 🙂

  • Reply
    15 de July de 2018 at 00:53

    Thank you! We had a long layover in Madrid and while I did find sites to help, none were as detailed as yours. You made out layover so easy. Thank goodness for the recommended Aeroport express bus. That made things so much easier. None of the other sites I visited mentioned you could buy tickets on board.
    You really helped us have a seamless day!
    Many thanks 🙂

    • Reply
      15 de July de 2018 at 17:59

      Hello Jennifer, I’m so happy to hear that!! I try my best to make the guides as detailed as possible exactly because I want you guys to have an easier trip as I did! 😀 I’m so happy to know that it indeed helped, thank you so much for your kind msg and feedback, I hope your visit to Madrid was amazing! Have a great day and week! 🙂
      Thank you so much!

  • Reply
    Welcome to the Real Madrid Club in Madrid, Spain!
    8 de July de 2019 at 23:31

    […] of Real Madrid club), which is the most successful and perhaps the richest club in the world when I visited Madrid, the capital of […]

  • Reply
    Bogna Burska
    10 de March de 2020 at 08:57

    You are very positive) I have been to many European countries, but Spain is not on this list. I was going this year, but I think we will all travel a little this summer because of events in the world. I will read travel blogs and plan trips for the next year)) Thanks. Very good photos.

    • Reply
      10 de March de 2020 at 15:27

      Unfortunately, this is the best to do. I was planning a trip for this year too, but I’m afraid I will have to leave it to the next year. Hopefully, the situation will be better until then!

      • Reply
        Bogna Burska
        11 de March de 2020 at 06:04

        Isadora, thanks a lot. Please write more. I read your posts with great pleasure))

  • Reply
    22 de May de 2020 at 13:16

    I have been to Madrid and loved it. And, I actually did have a 7-hour layover there last year but was too timid to leave the airport. Now I’m regretting that and will definitely take the airport bus into the city next time

  • Reply
    31 de March de 2023 at 15:44

    Wondering if there’s a “Visa upon arrival” or any sort of short-term tourist visa required to leave the airport during a layover? I’ve been looking all over, and the best info I could find was for the Schengen area 90-day+ visa requirements. Do you happen to know if any documents are needed to explore during a layover?

    • Reply
      10 de April de 2023 at 14:21

      Well, it depends on the country you are from, and if it needs a visa or not, here is the list of countries that can enter Spain without a visa: If that’s not the case, and you indeed need a visa, I suggest contacting the embassy or the airport, however, I don’t think you can get a visa upon arrival, as far as I know, you have to submit an application 90 days in advance to your trip.

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