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9 Things To Do in Madrid, Spain During a Long Layover

Madrid has so many attractions to offer to every type of traveler from foodies, backpackers, historians, and luxurious travelers. Even if you do not have much time to explore the capital city of Spain, Madrid will still surprise you! We lived in Madrid for a year and have visited a handful of other times including several long layovers, so we can safely say we know our way around this cosmopolitan city and that is why we want to share the best things to do in Madrid in short period of time.

If you are flying on Air Europa or Iberia, chances are that you will get a long layover in Madrid, so do not miss the opportunity of visiting another city for free while you wait for your connecting flight. 

On my last trip to Europe, I made a quick stop in Madrid to say hi to some friends and family and that is when I decided to visit all the main spots and visit the best things to do in Madrid within a 12 hours period. I have selected my favorite landmarks and what I think makes Madrid unique and special.

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During a layover the best advice is to get an Uber or taxi from the airport to Sol, where our walking guide will start. Taxis in Madrid have a flat rate of 30 euros from the airport anywhere in the city. If money is an issue then you can take the bus or the metro. Sol, also known as La Puerta del Sol, is a public square in the city centre.

The guide starts in Sol and ends in El Retiro Park. It is a 6 km walking Guide that can take you up to 8 to 9 hours, excluding any extra time exploring in Gran Vía, El Retiro Park and La Puerta del Sol area.

If you want to see as much of Madrid as possible keep in mind that you will be visiting a lot of places so try to be fast! You can also take a metro between several stops to save time, but the beauty of Madrid is to walk the city so you can appreciate more of its buildings and relaxed atmosphere. Let’s start with the best things to do in Madrid in less than 24 hours. 

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How to get to from Barajas Airport to Madrid’s City Center

As I mentioned before the fastest way to get to Madrid’s City Center might be by taxi but there are so many other ways you can get from Barajas Airport to Puerta del Sol, where this guide begins.

  • Taxi: Taxis might be the most convenient and comfortable but most expensive way to get to Puerta del Sol. It takes 30 minutes to get from the Airport to La Puerta del Sol and there is the flat fee of €30.
  • The Airport Express: The Airport Express is a comfortable yet cheap mean to get to the city center from the airport. It takes almost 40 minutes to get to Plaza de Cibeles and it only costs €5. It will not drop you off at Sol but you can rearrange the order of this guide to fit your schedule. 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).
  • Bus: At the entrance of terminals T1, T2 and T4 it is a 24-hours service bus, it runs every 15 minutes during the day and every 35 at night. The tickets can be bought on board and they cost about €2.
  • Metro: You will have to switch lines and honestly it is more complicated especially if you do not speak the language. It can take you at least one hour. I will avoid this option. Line 8 in terminal 2 or terminal 4. The metro runs every 5 minutes during the day and 10 minutes during the night and the time of the trip till Nuevos Ministerios (Madrid’s central station) takes only 15 minutes and then you need to switch to C3 or line 10 and then line 3. The tickets can be purchased from the tickets machine at the toll entry in the airport and metro stations and the price with the airport supplement starts at €5 depending on your destination.

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What to do in Madrid in a layover travel map:

9 Things to do in Madrid during a long layover:

1. La Puerta del Sol

Things To Do in Madrid: La Puerta del Sol

Puerta del Sol is the most famous pedestrian square in Madrid. It is where from 1895 the clock tower marks the new year, much like a Spanish version of Times Square in NYC. The iconic Tio Pepe neon sign and the emblematic Madrid’s bear statue, El Oso Y El Madroño, are located in this square.

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2. Plaza Mayor

 Things To see in Madrid: Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor is one of our favorite places in all of Madrid. This large and beautiful plaza has 237 balconies facing the square and the statue of King Felipe III sitting atop his horse. The square is full of outdoors cafe and restaurants geared towards tourists, so it is not the best place for food.

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3. Mercado San Miguel

Things To Do in Madrid: Mercado San Miguel

For a taste of true Spanish cuisine you must visit the Mercado San Miguel! Here you find many stalls filled Jamón Serrano, Manchego Cheese, ice cream, croquettes and anything you can imagine. This indoor market is the perfect stop no matter the weather. Locals and tourist fill the Mercado San Miguel day and night to enjoy a bite or cool drink.

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4. The Almudena Cathedral

Things To Do in Madrid: The Almudena Cathedral

The The Almudena Cathedral is one of Madrid’s most beautiful churches. Construction began in 1883, but fully completed until over 100 years later in 1993. The church has several hidden gems that are not to be missed. The first stop should be the Neo Romanesque Crypt, which has 400 columns with uniquely carved capitals depicting Spanish Symbols, nature, and Biblical figures. It also has beautiful stained glass windows, breathtaking arches and a spectacular shrine. If you go at the right time you can even attend to a mass and make your experience even more complete.

Then make sure to go inside the church to see where the current King, Felipe and Queen Letizia of Spain were married and witness its beautiful painted ceilings. 

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After visiting the Crypt and the Cathedral climb your way up to the dome. Before going to the dome, you go through a museum with artifacts that explain the religion and the history of the cathedral. At the top of the dome, you will get a panoramic view of the city, a great view of the palace and the Arab Walls behind he cathedral. Make sure to check out these four spots before moving on to the next stop!

Tip: The entrance to the Cathedral and the crypt is free and donations are accepted. The entrance for the Dome has a fee but it is worth the view and the museum.

Things To Do in Madrid: The Crypt at the Almudena Cathedral

Opening Hours: The Cathedral is open daily from 9AM to 8:30 PM during the Fall, Winter and Spring. During Summer the Cathedral is open from 10AM to 9PM. The Museum of the Cathedral is open from Monday to Saturday from 10AM to 2:30 PM. It is closed on holidays, Sundays and religious holidays. The Crypt is open from daily from 10AM to 1:30 PM and from 5:30 PM to 8PM.

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5. The Royal Palace and the Sabatini Gardens

Things To Do in Madrid: The Royal Palace and the Sabatini Gardens

The Palacio Real is the largest royal palace in Europe with over 3000 rooms. If the line is not so long you can go inside the palace and take a nearly hour long guided tour. After the tour you cannot miss the Sabatini Gardens in front of the north façade of the Royal Palace. It is the perfect place to take a stroll and enjoy the view of the Palace with a maze like feeling.

Tip: The admission fee is normally 10 euros but is free on Monday through Thursday from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM (October to March) or from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM (April to September) if you are a European Union resident or from a Latin America country.

Opening Hours: The Palace is open in October to March from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM and in April to September from 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM.

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6. Templo de Debod + Plaza de España

Things To Do in Madrid: Templo de Debod

The 2nd century BC Debod Temple was a gift from Egypt to Madrid as part of a dam building project in Egypt. The entire temple was moved and rebuilt stone by stone in its current home.

If you are walking from the Royal Palace to the Debod Temple you will go though the Plaza de España. Make a quick stop to take a photo of the big statue of Miguel de Cervantes, one of the greatest Spanish authors, most well known for Don Quixote. Currently a section of Plaza de España is under construction but you can still see and take a good shot of the statue in the park.

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7. La Gran Vía + Círculo de Bellas Artes

Things To Do in Madrid: La Gran Vía

The Gran Vía is Madrid’s main shopping and tourist street. It is an stunning avenue with impressive early 20th century architecture. Gran Vía in Madrid is comparable to Fifth Avenue of NYC or Champs-Élysées in Paris.

Tip: The best photo of the Gran Vía is from the 9th Floor of the El Corte Inglés in Callao. There you can also get a delicious ice cream in shape of a rose. For a different view of Gran Vía head to the rooftop bar of the Circulo de Bellas Artes. The views are stunning!

Some of the best views over Madrid are from the rooftop bar of the Círculo de Bellas Artes at the end of the Gran Vía.

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8. El ayuntamiento y la Fuente de Cibeles

Things To Do in Madrid: El ayuntamiento

The Cibeles Plaza is where people get together to celebrate all the soccer wins. It is also where the beautiful Palacio de Cibeles and the goddess Cybele riding a lion-drawn chariot fountain are located. If you are not done with panoramic views of Madrid, make sure to check out the rooftop terrace of the Palace. From here you can see Gran Vía, Calle Alcalá, the Bank of Spain and even the avenue of el Paseo de La Castellana, where the Gate of Europe towers, the four towers and the Bernabeu Stadium are located.

The Palacio de Cibeles was the first post office then the city hall and now it is a cultural center, hosting art exhibitions and workshops, etc.

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9. La puerta de Alcalá y el Parque el Retiro

Things To Do in Madrid: La puerta de Alcalá

El Retiro Park is the most beautiful and famous park in Madrid. At first glance it might not look that exciting but after visiting all the hidden gems this park has, I honestly fell in love. You need to rent a row boat on the lake, visit the Crystal Palace, a building made mostly of glass, and explore the Queen’s Gardens, where you can find peacocks.

What to do in Madrid: La puerta de Alcalá cerca del retiro parkLa Puerta de Alcalá is one of the five doors to the city, dating back to when Madrid was a walled city. It is beautiful and if you go through the sidewalk there is a perfect stop for you to take a good photograph of the gate. La Puerta de Alcalá is older than the Arc Triomphe and the Brandenburg Gate and it is considered as the first modern post-roman triumphal arch build in Europe.

If you have more free time make sure to visit Bernabeu Stadium and the Gate of Europe Towers. They are both in Paseo de la Castellana Avenue, even though it is a nice stroll you might be tired or running out of time, so take the metro and make two stops in line 10 (blue).

You can walk back to the Cibeles Square and take a bus that goes to the airport or take the metro ending a long and attraction filled layover in Madrid.

More articles from Spain that might interest you:

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