Getting to Madrid and around Madrid - Spain's Capital City - has never been easier or more comfortable than it is now. It is extremely well-connected by airplane with other major (and many not-so-major) cities in the world and is easily traversed within itself from all four corners, including Barajas Airport and several suburbs, utilizing several different modes of transportation.
For countless personal reviews and information on TRANSPORTATION in Madrid and Spain
please visit our forum of the same name on MadridMan's ALL SPAIN Message Board
The most common arrival method to Madrid is by airplane but YOU may be arriving by bus, train, or even by car. These items will be discussed in more detail further down in their own dedicated sections.
Arriving by Airplane
The vast majority of persons visiting Madrid arrive by airplane at Barajas Airport, located east of the city. A newer, larger, more modern airport is currently being built further away. Barajas Airport, the international airport serving Madrid since before dictator General Franco died, has gone through a number of changes over the past few years and has succeded in making travelers a bit more comfortable and deinitely more entertained.
Upon landing in Barajas Airport, passengers will first follow the herd to customs. APPROXIMATE WAIT TIME FOR CUSTOMS is 30-60 minutes and you should see restrooms soon after exiting airplanes. Choose your customs line carefully. This can often be difficult as signs can be far in the distance due to the potential for large crowds reaching customs at the same time. If traveling as a couple or with a group, choose the most likely line and send someone else as close as possible to verify the proper line. There will be multiple lines but for two different groups: European Union ("Union Europeano" or "UE" in Spanish) Residents and NON European Union Residents. Choose the most appropriate line and have your passports and entry cards at the ready. You likely filled out the Entry Cards on the airplane before landing and included such information as your name, passport number, flight number, and where you'll be staying in Madrid/Spain. Upon nearing the entrypoint, be sure to wait your turn behind the STOP line until waved forward by the attendant and then hand your passport and entry card to the person behind the glass. He won't likely ask you any question as he checks your documents.
Next, secure your passport and make your way down the steps to the Baggage Claim ("Recogida de equipajes") area and look for your airline company and flight number on the display monitors. This CAN be difficult as there are several luggage belts which combine a number of flights. Be aware that your flight MAY NOT BE SHOWN (immediately or not at all) on the monitors. DO NOT PANIC. This happens from time to time. SUGGESTION: BEFORE getting your luggage, make currency exchanges at the different currency booths (not really recommended) and use the restrooms located adjacent to the luggage claim belts - it may be an hour or more before you reach your hotel or destination in Madrid.
AFTER getting your luggage, pass through the appropriate police-guarded exit doors which may or may not be NOTHING TO DECLARE or "Nada de Declarar". Upon passing through the doors you'll likely find a LARGE crowd awaiting passengers. Finding YOUR contact can be very difficult so hopefully they'll find you. Now you're in the public area. Here, I recommend finding the tourist office/booth/stand if you have questions and also get money/Euros at an ATM for transportation and spending money for the first few days. You'll need some cash for transportation into the city. We'll discuss transportation into the city soon but immediately below you'll find a list of airlines which fly into Madrid Barajas Airport:
USA Carriers: American Airlines, Continental , Delta, Northwest, United
UK-based Carriers: British Airways, Easyjet, Ryan Air
Spain-based Carriers: Air Europa, Iberia, Spanair, Vueling
Other Carriers: Air France, Air Portugal, Alitalia, KLM, Scandinavian Air, Swiss Air
Okay. You've just exited the baggage claim area, visited the tourist information booth, taken money from the ATM or currency exchange counters, and gone to the restroom. NOW you're ready to find transportation into the city of Madrid. There are a number of options: Metro, Taxi, Bus, and Airport Shuttle.
Entering Madrid by METRO (SUBWAY)
Madrid Barajas airport now has two metro stations. One is located in Terminal 2 (T2) and is simply called "Aeropuerto T-1, T-2, T-3". The other metro station is in the new Terminal 4 (T4) and is called "Aeropuerto T-4". Upon leaving the baggage claim area, you'll find the Metro station graphic on a sign overhead. If you've arrived at T1, T2, or T3 you'll have to walk to T2 to find the metro. NOTE: Do not be confused thinking you are at the "Barajas" station the "Barajas" station is in the town of "Barajas", the second to last stop in this metro Line 8 (the last is Aeropuerto T-4). You want to go towards the station named NUEVOS MINISTERIOS, the last stop in Line 8. Here, you'll need change metro trains. Before your trip to Madrid, be sure to consult the official Madrid metro website @ MetroMadrid.es (English version available) for suggested metro itineraries and to see which, if any, metro lines are closed for renovations. If you don't have a chance to consult the website before arriving in Madrid, metro maps are available and abundant throughout the metro stations and on each metro car. You'll likely have to change metro trains 2-4 times to reach your ultimate destination in Madrid. Remember: We in the USA call it the SUBWAY but in Europe they call it the METRO.
NOTE: to leave the airport on the metro or enter the airport from the metro you'll have to buy an additional supplement ticket for 1 Euro. So if you're at the airport and going to downtown Madrid you'll buy a single-use metro ticket for 1 Euro PLUS a 1 Euro Airport Supplement ticket - all on one ticket.
(View Madrid Metro Map HERE: 1MB .pdf file)
Entering Madrid by TAXI
NOTE: You'll find THIS section particularly informative for ENTERING Madrid by taxi. However, If you are looking for within-Madrid TAXI information please CLICK HERE or scroll DOWN to the TAXI section.
Entering Madrid by Taxi is probably the most popular mode of transportation into the capital city - but is also the most expensive. After exiting baggage claim and exiting the airport you'll find a long (and I mean LONG!) line of taxis waiting to serve you. You're (practically) required to take the first taxi in line. BE SURE to ask how much the ride to your hotel/destination will cost before getting into any taxi. Ask, "¿Cuanto cuesta para llevarme a HOTEL XYZ?" ("How much does it cost to go to Hotel XYZ?") It's not certain you'll understand the answer but it may simply be something like, "¡Depende!" ("It depends!") The cost really should not be much more than 35 Euros to go to the city center. While there is no additional fee for number of bags you have there is an airport pick-up/drop-off supplemental fee of 5.50 Euros. This amount is added on to the meter total (using brain power) at the end of the journey. If you think you're being "taken for a ride" (cheated) ask for a receipt from the driver and be sure it includes his name or I.D. number. Also, if you don't speak Spanish and you think you're being cheated, upon arriving at your hotel, you can go inside to the hotel and ask them to speak to the driver for you but BE SURE TO GET YOUR LUGGAGE OUT OF THE TAXI FIRST and before you pay. The taxi ride into the city could take 20-60 minutes depending on traffic and to where you're going. Finally, be sure the driver turns on the taxi meter soon after he starts driving.
Calculate your estimated taxi fare in Madrid (and Barcelona) via WorldTaxiMeter.com.
Entering Madrid by BUS
The traditional bus from Madrid Barajas Airport to the Plaza de Colón has been discontinued as of February 1, 2005. This bus has been substituted by the new line #200 which ends at Avenida de América (not very central). The #200 bus has the same fares as any normal bus line in Madrid and the Metrobus 1-trip ticket can be used for this route as well as on any other bus or metro. At Avenida de América, one can also reach destinations by way of the metro station Avenida de América utilizing metro lines 4, 6 and 9. There are also other buses available for land-transport.
Entering Madrid by SHUTTLE
A few companies offer Airport Shuttle services to centrally located hotels with prices usually less than that of a taxi. Information about these shuttle services can be found through the information desk located INSIDE the airport (next to the windows) but just outside of the secure luggage claim area. Consider booking your PRIVATE Madrid Airport Shuttle through MadridMan's affiliate, Viator.com. Other available services include (but are not limited to) AeroCity airport shuttle service.
Fortunately, most of Old Madrid can be reached within itself by foot. But when one chooses to cross-town or when one needs to rest after being onfoot after a long day of sight-seeing, Madrid's public transportation is at the ready. Whether going by metro, bus, or taxi you can be sure you'll have a safe, comfortable ride at reasonable prices.
Madrid's metro system (web: MetroMadrid.es - English version available) is an efficient, inexpensive, and quite comfortable way to cross-town. With all air conditioned cars, one can travel from Madrid Barajas Airport to downtown, Móstoles suburb, and throughout the city, reaching all 4-corners.
(View Madrid Metro Map HERE: 1MB .pdf file)
Metro cars are typically quite clean, very safe, and often entertaining with the occasional "car shows" for tips. The biggest problem in taking the metros is getting on the line in the correct direction. It's easy to look quickly at signs as you and all the other "fish" are swimming upstream but TAKE YOUR TIME. Once you get on the platform and you're waiting for your metro train to arrive there are fewer indicators as to which direction you're going. The direction of the train is indicated by the END STATION on that line.
There's reason to have caution in metro stations while going up/down stairs and escalators, while waiting on platforms, and while entering/exiting/waiting for metro cars. With so many people pressed together and brushing by one another there's always the chance that a pickpocket or purse-snatcher is looking for a potential victim. Always keep your valuables in sight, in front of you, and secured. I usually try to have my back against the wall whenever possible. When seated, have your bag on your lap and arms through any straps. Be cautious of distractions to draw your attention away from your pockets or your property.
Single-trip "MetroBus" metro tickets cost 1?. If you expect to be in Madrid for more than 2 days and will be using local transportation it is recommended that you purchase the 10-trip "MetroBus" ticket for 9.00 Euros?. All metro tickets can be purchased at any metro station - look for the vending machines just inside the station and before entering the turnstiles or you may buy them at the ticket window with the Spanish-only-speaking human attendant. Keep in mind that "MetroBus" tickets are, hence their name, good for BOTH metro AND bus trips.
Accessing metro trains from street-level can be an issue for those whom have difficulties walking. At a few stations there are street-level elevators but these are rare. Most stations are only accessible by stairs down to (at least) the first landing and further down by stairs OR escalators. At some stations you may feel as if you're traveling to the center of the earth upon seeing the depth of some of these metro stations.
Entering/Exiting the individual metro cars while waiting for the metro train to stop can be confusing for the first-time metro traveler. Some metro cars' doors open/close automatically at each stop without touching them but others require pressing a button or "twisting" a kind of toggles-switch handle to activate the door.
On nearly all metro cars, each upcoming stop will be announced over the speakers as "Próxima Estación...(pause): SOL" - which means "Next Stop...(pause): SOL". ("SOL", of course, is short for "Puerta del Sol") Any announcement other than "Próxima Estación..." can be information about being careful with the doors, being careful in the metro station because of renovations, or other similar announcements.
While "equality for the sexes" is "Politically Correct", it's still very much appreciated if able-bodied men relinquish their seats to women, particularly older women, whom may be standing in metro cars AND buses. They'll be pleasantly suprised with your generosity and very much appreciated, I assure you. Unfortunately (my opinion) this custom is slowly escaping historically sexist Spain.
WARNING ABOUT SAFETY: Metro stations, platforms, and metro cars are "target-rich environments" for would-be Pick-Pockets and (less often) purse-snatchers. NEVER carry a wallet in an un-buttoned back pocket or loose front pockets. Never carry money, important documents (like passports), or other valuables in an external pocket of a bookbag, backpack, or purse while you may carry on your bag. Be AWARE of those standing next to you and behind you at all times. Be AWARE of those attempting to draw your attention away from your bags or distract you with "diversions". Most thieves are absolute professionals at what they do - THEY'RE GOOD - and everyone in Madrid knows someone who has had their pocketbook or wallet "lifted" from their person.
For more information on Saftey & Security in Madrid and Spain,
please visit our forum of the same name on MadridMan's ALL SPAIN Message Board.
By city BUS
Madrid's web of bus routes (web: EMTMadrid.es - English version available) covers the city more completely than metro but can be more confusing and slower too. However, when in a neighborhood where the metro station is further than the bus stop one may consider the bus as a better alternative. Bus fare is the same as metro, 1?, and the same 10-trip MetroBus pass (9.00 Euros) used on metros can be used on Buses - hence its name "Metro - Bus"! Easy!
Remember that "queing" is very important in Spain and the same holds true when waiting in line for the bus. At times it is unclear where the END of the line is and might be confused with the BEGINNING of the line. Well, when unclear just ask in a somewhat raised voice, "¿Quienes la última?" ("Who's last?") and someone will nod or say "¡Yo!". If you don't speak Spanish you might think to yourself, "Wow. These madrileños are really street-hip people and use the "YO!" expression just like us in New York!". No. "¡Yo!" means "Me!" or "I am!"
Upon getting on the bus and reaching the driver, if you're paying by cash tell the driver, "Un sencillo, por favor" ("One ticket, please"), and you put your money on the very small counter between you and the driver or give it directly to him. (I say "him" because I don't believe I have YET seen a female bus driver in Madrid but they no doubt exist but in a extreme minority) Then, he'll give you your ticket AND a receipt and likely put your change on the same counter for you to pick up. Keep in mind that you can buy single tickets from the bus driver but they do NOT sell the 10-trip MetroBus tickets. If you're paying with a ticket or MetroBus ticket, you'll put your ticket, with ARROW POINTING DOWN, into the orange/red ticket-reading box (usually just LEFT of the driver) where it will read the ticket and return to you in a couple of seconds. Take your seat (if/when available) and press the STOP buttons BEFORE your intended bus stop. Most people press the STOP button upon leaving the most previous bus stop.
"Bus Passenger Etiquette", while sounding silly, is an important part of having a smooth ride on buses. Different bus lines and different hours of the day determine the number of passengers on any given bus. Sometimes the buses are absolutely and completely FULL with all seats occupied and seemingly not a single inch of space in which to stand. When buses are not able to accomodate another passenger the bus driver will not stop at subsequent bus stops to pick up more passengers but will continue on to the next stop where passengers has requested a stop. When buses are THIS full, passengers HOPING to exit the bus must become somewhat aggressive and literally push their way through the bodies to exit through the BACK/REAR door. SO, upon entering any bus that is full-ish (somewhat full), as the opportunity arises, make your way TOWARDS the back of the bus and prepare for exit. If you've already pushed the STOP button the rear doors will upon at (or near) the intended bus stop. Passengers may ONLY exit through the rear doors. NO passengers will be allow to exit through the front door except, possibly, at the very END of a bus route where no passengers are entering. Bus entry/exit only flows in one direction: from front to back. Finally, when seats are available, take them. But when an elder/older person has no place to sit and you're "able bodied" yourself, please offer your seat to them, telling them "Sientese, por favor" ("Sit down, please") and they'll certainly be appreciative.
Buses are popular forms of transportation with all ages and income levels because often they're more convenient than metros. They're also very safe and clean in general. As always, stay alert when waiting in line for the bus, exiting, while smashed together like sardines, and while looking out the window. Also, bus route maps are located at MOST bus stops, often showing not only the bus route at that location but of the entire area. Finally, bus stops will have a sign showing ALL the bus numbers which pass through that bus stop. Be sure you get on the proper bus and you'll get to where you're going more easily. On that note, be sure you have SOME idea where and HOW you're going because, unlike on the metro, there's no recorded voice that tells you what bus stop you're approaching.... OR PASSING! THIS alone can be stressful and make many shy away from using the buses. Have a good city street map with you at all times and don't be embarrassed to use it while on the bus, taking note of the cross streets as your bus continues on its route. Better to look like a tourist than getting lost or missing your stop!
Buses in Madrid do not operate 24 hours a day. Most nearly all of the busier lines run from 6:00 a.m. until midnight. With few exceptions, after midnight only a few buses, called "Buhos" ("Owl" in English) operate. These "Buhos" leave from Plaza de Cibeles and go to nearly all districts of Madrid. There is no regular schedule for departure as buses often wait until a certain number of passengers board.
NOTE: You'll find THIS section particularly informative for general use of Taxis. However, If you are looking for TAXI information specifically about entering Madrid from Barajas airport, CLICK HERE or scroll UP to the ENTERING MADRID section.
Taxis in Madrid are ALWAYS colored white with a red, diagonal banner across the front doors and also has the city's "crest" ("Escudo" in Spanish). Taxis can be found THROUGHOUT Madrid, even in the most remote parts of the city, albeit less frequently than in busier parts, and at most any hour. Downtown has more taxi traffic than the outlying neighborhoods but you rarely have to wait long before you see one coming with its - as seen at night - green, glowing light on its roof shining brightly when it's available (light turns OFF when the taxi is occupied or "rented") and the yellow "LIBRE" ("AVAILABLE" in English) sign in the front window. Just lift one arm over your head, maybe SLIGHTLY & CAREFULLY stepping into the street, and gift a gentle wave in the direction of the oncoming taxi. "Taxistas" (Taxi drivers) usually have keen eyesight in searching the sidewalks and streets for the next potential passenger who's "hailing a taxi".
So the taxi has stopped for you. Sometimes they stop IN traffic and sometimes they can pull over. You get in the back seat. NOW the challenge begins. It's extremely likely the driver will not speak more than a few words of English. So unless you speak some Spanish you may have a problem - and a bigger problem if the FARE you're asked to pay doesn't seem FAIR to you. If you speak no Spanish at all, simply tell the driver to take you to the nearest landmark, plaza, or metro station to intended destination and from there you can walk. For example, you get in the taxi and say, simply, "Plaza Mayor, por favor" or "Puerta del Sol, por favor" or "Museo del Prado, por favor." This is easy. If you want to be taken to a specific address you may consider writing down the address (have it prepared ahead of time) on a piece of paper which you can hand to the driver. If he doesn't know the street he'll either consult his Taxi Map or call dispatch via radio for directions.
Remember that taxis are the MOST expensive form of public transportation in Spain - apart from chauffeur-driven transportation, that is. And taxis in Madrid (in Spain, in general) are more economical than taxis in, say, New York City or London. Within the city, taxis do not charge the fees and supplimental add-ons that routes to/from the airport do. Be aware that while most taxi drivers are honest, hard-working people there are always a few unscrupulous ones which overcharge unsuspecting tourists who aren't aware of the taxi rates, city layout, and/or language. When in doubt, while en-route, write down the name and ID number of the driver and car and then ask for an official receipt. (say, "Quisiera un recibo oficial, por favor" - "I would like an official receipt, please.") This receipt SHOULD SHOW the price, date, time, and driver ID number. Finally, be sure the driver turns on the taxi meter soon after (s)he starts driving.
Cars & Car Rentals
There really is no need for a personal car in Madrid - at least not for the average traveler. In fact, having a car in Madrid CAN BE more trouble than its worth. Driving a car in Madrid can be risky or even dangerous if you don't know the city, its streets, or traffic etiquette & laws well.
Traffic in Madrid city can be extremely heavy almost all the time and aggressive drivers, most often TAXI drivers, and daredevil-like moped & motorcycle drivers can be frightening. During the month of August, the month when MANY madrileños leave on vacation, the streets are MUCH more quiet, there's less traffic, and parking is much easier. Morning rush hours, generally between 7 AM and 10 AM, and evening rush hours, between 7 PM and 9 PM, can test ones nerves and patience, particularly when stuck in the frequent traffic jams (called "atascos"). Avoid driving in Madrid during these hours. It's not at all uncommon to find a traffic jam at midnight on a weeknight in and around Madrid.
Driving is on the right just like in the USA and most of Europe (except in the U.K.). And while using horns are prohibited from use in the city, you'll hear them frequently exercised. All children under 10 years old must ride in the back seats and seat belts are required for everyone. City speed limits are 50 km per hour (37 mph), 100 km per hour (62 mph) on national (N) roads, 120 km per hour (74 mph) on autopistas & autovias, and 90 km per hour (56 mph) unless otherwise signposted on other roads.
On-Street parking in Madrid city is difficult at best and nearly impossible at worst. Usually the most challenges arise in the old city center or busy commercial or professional zones. New parking meters have been installed throughout the city and particularly in the old city center. In the very very recent past (within 2 years) one could park legally & for free in nearly any place in the city but administrators have now decided to make money from the increased traffic and competition for parking spaces. I'm surprised it took them this long. An alternative to street-parking is here are always the underground parking garages but these can be very expensive at an hourly rate and one can easily pay 20+ Euros for parking just while you're having dinner at a restaurant. You won't find any above ground parking garages in the old city center, only underground parking garages and they exist UNDER the Plaza Mayor, UNDER the Plaza Santa Ana and many other places. Consult any Madrid city map (or online city maps such as those @ QDQ.com) and look for the symbol for PARKING garages.
Some important notes about driving on highways outside of Madrid and the cities: it is an experience that not everyone SHOULD experience unless drivers are alert, responsive, & "defensive" behind the wheel. As stated before, autopistas & autovias have a 120 km per hour limit but.... it's NOT at all uncommon to see high-end cars such as BMWs or Mercedes traveling at MUCH higher speeds, often in excess of 180 km per hour (more than 100 mph!!). ONLY use the left-lane to pass and PASS QUICKLY!. Check ALL mirrors before passing and EXPECT very fast-moving traffic coming up from behind. If you find a car in the lefthand lane and you intend to pass using that lefthand lane, it's perfect acceptable to flash your headlights twice, "asking" the driver to kindly change to the righthand lanes and allow you to pass. NO DODDLING IN THE LEFTHAND LANE! Or you'll soon see a fast-growing BMW in your rearview mirro about to ram you from behind, flashing its lights and honking its horn... and the driver will likely be shaking his/her fist and shooting nasty stares your way for not driving or staying in the righthand lane. MANY of the more expensive cars in Spain/Europe are built with power and for speed and drivers use it, usually expertly. Drivers, in general, are excellent but drive fast. The highways too, thank goodness, are some of the best Europe and they accommodate the higher rate of speed better than in, say, the USA.
MadridMan Recommends getting yourself an International Driving Permit from your local AAA or Auto Club. These permits (they are NOT licenses) clearly show that you hold a valid drivers license in your home country and explains such in Spanish (and other languages), shows your photo, your address, your birthplace and birthdate, and your signature. At the AAA office, the cost is low (less than $20, I believe) and could save the driver lots of problems if stopped in rural Spain. Remember the police nor Guardia Civil are likely to speak English. One MUST carry his/her valid, home state/country drivers license when operating any motor vehicle in Spain. Having the international driving permit is an added and economical document of support and piece of mind.
Where are you going and how to get there? Visit the English (and other languages) website ViaMichelin.com for destination routes, highway maps, directions, timetables, and distances within Spain and throughout Europe.
CAR RENTALS ("Car Hire")
A number of car rental companies, both local and international, exist in Madrid and throughout Spain. Which to choose?? This can be a difficult decision, indeed. The local companies often have better rates but...... if you're not sure about all the details, add-ons, the language, etcetera, you may want to consider one of the companies which serves your own country.
The big, USA-based Car Rental ("Car Hire") companies like HERTZ, AVIS, ALAMO RENT A CAR, & NATIONAL CAR RENTAL all have branch locations either at Madrid Barajas Airport or in Madrid city itself. You can use EasyTerra's Car Rental Madrid website to compare a number of car rental companies with a single click. Reserving a rental car online from one of these companies can often be more hassle-free and MAY even offer auto club discounts (like AAA) when reserving through them.
Other European & Spain-based Car Rental ("Car Hire") companies which have branches in Madrid would include CarJet, EasyCar & AeroCITY to name a few.
IMPORTANT NOTES ABOUT CAR RENTALS: Closely inspect the car you have rented BEFORE leaving the rental location. Be certain there is no pre-existing damage such as dents, scratches, or the like. If so, return to the rental office and make them aware of it. Otherwise, YOU may be charged for it! To get the insurance or not? Good question. If you are CERTAIN your own car insurance covers you while driving rental cars in SPAIN then you may consider not getting the insurance. However, if you're NOT CERTAIN then it is recommended you get it just to give you piece of mind. UNFORTUNATELY, that "piece of mind" will cost you quite a bit, in some cases it could cost you up to 50% more daily than the price of the rental itself. If you don't get plan to get the insurance, check with your own personal car insurance agent before attempting to rent cars in Spain or anywhere abroad. Standard Shift or Automatic? You'll find that the vast majority of available rental cars only have 4-speed or 5-speed transmissions. Hope you can drive a stick! If not, you may be forced to "upgrade" to a higher-end model which comes with automatic transmission.
Chauffeurs: They're not for everyone but some may find them a welcome alternative to taxis or public transportation. Chauffeured cars most often offer HIGH-end cars such as BMW, Mercedes, & Audi. These cars are often large enough for a large family, have leather interiors, and large trunks ("boots") for more luggage than a taxi could accommodate. Also, chauffeurs most often speak several languages including English and Spanish.
TRANSPORT FROM MADRID -> OUTWARD
Thanks to Spain's extensive and effective countrywide transportation system, one can easily travel to all corners with very little expense. Train & Bus routes will take the curious traveler to all of the larger cities and many of the smaller towns but the most remote and rural villages are only accessible by car. Fortunately, train and bus fares are very very affordable, quite comfortable in general, and used by spaniards of all classes. Airplane is also an option used by many who need a faster option although it's more expensive.
Regional and cross-country bus transportation in Spain is the most economical form there is. Buses are very modern vehicles, well-maintained, very clean & comfortable, safe - definitely safer than car travel, AND PROMPT. Most often bus tickets are sold with a seat number and you are expected to sit there unless the bus is nearly empty and other seats are available after departure. Small bags can be carried on and put on the overhad shelves but larger bags must be left by the side of the bus where they'll be loaded into "the belly". Be SURE your bags are clearly recognizable as bags stowed in "the belly" are not tagged or marked in any way and are quickly put on the sidewalk/curb upon arriving at the bus station. Buses departing FROM MADRID do so from several bus stations: Estación Sur de Autobuses (METRO: Méndez Alvaro), Paseo de Florida (METRO: Princípe Pío), Conde Casal (METRO: Conde Casal), & Avenida de América (METRO: Avenida de América). See the table below to find your destination, bus company & its website, and station of departure from Madrid.
Regional Buses: Regional buses, those mainly used for DAYTRIPS, are usually CHEAP and are more "basic" than Long-Distance Buses (see next section). Since Regional Buses are only used for SHORT trips, usually lasting no longer than 2 hours, they don't have many of the "comforts" which the Long-Distance Buses have but are still comfortable. The spacious seats recline and leg room is good. Curtains are provided if sunlight is bothersome or if you're trying to sleep. NOTICE: Most regional buses DO NOT have bathrooms onboard so be sure to "take care of business" before departing the bus station. YOU MAY BRING YOUR OWN FOOD/DRINKS ON THE BUS.
Typical daytrips from Madrid would include: Toledo, Segovia, Chinchón, Avila, Siguenza, and POSSIBLY Salamanca (but that's stretching it).
Long-Distance Buses: Long Distance Buses are built for comfort and typically offer the passenger a free bottle of bottle as well as free headphones which they can plug into the audio jacks located on/near the seat. These headphones can be used to listen to 2 or 3 pre-recorded music/audio "stations" or to hear audio of movies sometimes shown on the 1 or 2 video monitors on the bus. On longer routes there MAY be a "snack cart service" offered during the trip. Prices are usually high but if you're desperate you may consider it. YOU MAY BRING YOUR OWN FOOD/DRINKS ON THE BUS. Seats DO recline and are relatively comfortable. Unlike on airplanes, there is much more legroom so reclining your seat will not bother (as much) the passenger behind you. I believe ALL have one EXTREMELY small, broom-closet-sized bathroom (toilet) for emergencies but I have yet to see anyone use them - these are typically located along one side of the EXIT stairs. Buses making longer-distance trip will make a 15-20 minute "pit stop" every 3 hours or so. These stops are usually as large, modern facilities which have a gas station, café/bar/restaurant, many restrooms, game room, merchandise for purchase, and telephones. Just be sure you're not left behind when the time comes for the bus to leave. Finally, give yourself some piece of mind by knowing whether or not YOUR stop is the LAST STOP of the trip or not and prepare for it. When in a foreign country and/or if you don't speak the language, NOT KNOWNING exactly when to get off the bus can be a stress-point. If you have a watch-alarm, set it for 20 minutes before your expected time of arrival.
Typical long-distance bus trips would include the following cities: Barcelona, Sevilla/Seville, Málaga, Valencia, Santiago de Compostela, Santander, Cádiz, and maybe Salamanca.
A good website which shows nearly all bus routes, their rates, timetables, and companies,
is Movelia @ http://www.Movelia.es. (website only in Spanish) One can buy tickets, make reservations, and oftentimes choose your seats through this excellent nearly-All-in-One bus websites. NOT ALL bus companies participate in the reservation system.