Madrid is a large city. Nevertheless, it has the advantage of having the majority of its monuments, museums and points of interest concentrated within a relatively small central area. This means you can explore on foot. If you walk from one end of this tourist area to another without stopping, at a good pace, it will take about two hours. Nevertheless, Madrid's extensive public transport system means you can get to any point in the city quickly and comfortably.
Access to the historic centre from Barajas airport and Madrid's main train and bus stations is quick and easy using the metro underground service (for information on how to get into the city from the airport, see the How to get there section). It runs every day from 6am to 1:30am, and the metro station entrances are marked with the letter "M".
Buses are also a good option. They operate from approximately 6am to 11:30pm and run on special bus lanes in the city's principal streets. Bus routes and frequency are displayed at the stops. You can travel with rucksacks (as long as they are held in the hand and not on the back), with suitcases (the same size as airline hand luggage) and with folding bicycles. To get around by night there are night buses, popularly known as "búhos" (owls), which run from Thursday to Sunday from 11.30pm to 5.30am. They depart from Plaza de Cibeles square and have an "N" in front of the route number. On Fridays, Saturdays and the days before public holidays there is also a "búho-metro" service: night buses that cover the same routes as the underground lines, but on the surface. They can be distinguished by the letter "L" and the number corresponding to the underground route in question. They run from 12.45-5.45am, and can be boarded at bus stops close to the underground stations.
Nevertheless, many people prefer the comfort of taxis when travelling by night. They run all day and night. They are white with a red stripe, and have the city's crest and their licence number on the side. They can be hailed in the street when the green light is on. Otherwise they can be found at taxi ranks or you can order them by telephone using the radio taxi service. Tariffs are displayed inside the taxis and comprise the minimum fare, flag-down charge, kilometre charge and other extras such as night service, public holidays, and station or airport service. The total cost is displayed on a meter.
To get to Madrid's suburbs and surrounding areas, in addition to the buses you can also take the train. The RENFE Cercanias (suburban passenger service) run from 6am to 11:55pm (approx.) and offer frequent daily services to places of interest for tourists such as Alcalá de Henares, El Escorial and Aranjuez.
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How much does transport cost?
There are various tickets and passes available. On the metro, single tickets cost €1.50 and can be purchased at the ticket windows and vending machines in stations. On the bus, they also cost €1.50 and can be purchased from the driver. Another option is to use the combined ticket, valid throughout the Madrid Region metro network, costing €3, and the Metrobus card, valid for both metro and bus services. It costs €12.20 and is valid for 10 journeys. They can be purchased at estancos (tobacconists), newspaper stands and in metro stations.
Another option is the tourist pass. These can be used by the holder only and offer unlimited use of the metro, buses and regional train services. They are available for one, two, three, five or seven days, and prices range from €8 to €66.80. Children under 11 receive 50% discount. There are two types: for travel within the city of Madrid only; and for travel throughout the whole region (T-Zone), including towns such as Alcalá de Henares, Aranjuez, El Escorial, Toledo and Guadalajara. Among other points, they can be purchased from the Regional Transport Consortium, in underground stations, at the Passenger Service Centre in the metro station at the airport, or via the Internet.
Finally there is also the Madrid Card, which not only gives unlimited access to the Tourist Bus, but also includes admission to the main museums, along with discounts for shops, leisure attractions, shows and restaurants. There are cards available for two, three or four days, costing €42-€72. They can be purchased at various outlets, as well as online at www.madridcard.com, and at some tourist offices. Which is the best option?
The best option will depend on where you are staying, the number of journeys you wish to make, and the number of people travelling. The central tourist area has excellent communications, with numerous metro stops and bus routes. The vast majority of local people get about using the Metrobus pass. Not only does it offer substantial discounts compared with single tickets, but it also allows access to both bus and metro services, has no time limit for use and is transferable, meaning it can be shared by more than one person.
Tourist passes and the Madrid Card are only valid for one person and offer unlimited use of public transport during a specified period.
The Tourist Bus runs to the city's most emblematic spots and monuments. Tickets are valid for one or two days, and cost €21 and €25. There are discounts for under 16s and over 65s, and the Madrid Card also offers free access to this service. It is free for children under six, and there are discounts for families. Another original trip to make is on the cable car which runs from Pintor Rosales Avenue to the Casa de Campo park. Prices range from €3.85 to €5.60.