A lot of people flying into Europe from the Americas, first land in Madrid and wait for their connecting flight. But not everyone makes use of their potential layover in Madrid. As Spain’s capital and largest city, Madrid is a great place to learn about Spain. The architecture in Madrid is truly a sight to behold. And, of course, Madrid houses one of the world’s most famous museums, the Prado.
No city can be explored fully if you only have a few hours to visit. But if you have a layover of a few hours, before flying out to the Spanish Canary Islands, why not make use of it and at least get an introduction to the city? Madrid’s airport is not far from the city center and well connected to public transport. So if you have at least six hours to spare you can definitely do some exploring in the city.
Since Spain is part of the Schengen area chances are pretty good that if you’re a citizen of a North or South American country you will not even need a visa. All the more reason to store your bags at the airport and take the airport express bus to Madrid. And while you will not be able to see everything there are some things you can fit in if you have only a few hours in Madrid. Here are some tips for things to see and do during your layover in Madrid.
Table of Contents
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, we will earn commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Guest Post By Nina
Getting Around Madrid
Most of the major things to see and do in Madrid are located in the center so once you’re there you can either walk to all the sights or take public transport if you prefer. Madrid has one of the best public transportation systems in the world. Because the metro network is the second-largest in Europe you will most likely not need the bus and can stick to the metro.
A single ticket costs €1.50. Sadly, the metro doesn’t run all night even on weekends. So if you are spending the night in Madrid you will need to use one of the night buses if you don’t want to walk. The main bus stop for night buses is Plaza de Cibeles where you can also get the airport express bus back to the airport.
What to See and Do on Your Layover in Madrid
Marvel at the Plaza de Cibeles
If you take the airport express bus to Madrid you will arrive at Cibeles Square. And what a perfect way to start discovering Madrid! The Plaza de Cibeles is where you will see a gorgeous fountain and the breathtaking Cibeles Palace. The Cibeles Palace used to be the city’s main post office, and I have honestly never seen anything like it. It’s now the seat of the City Hall for which it seems the perfect building.
Take a Walk Through the Parque del Buen Retiro
Just a few minutes from the Plaza de Cibeles you will find the Retiro Park. If the weather is any good during your layover in Madrid you’ll definitely want to go here for a stroll through the beautiful gardens. El Retiro is one of the largest parks in Madrid and home to the gorgeous Crystal Palace which sits on a pond. Furthermore, there are statues and galleries in the park for those who are interested. If it’s warm and sunny you could even have a picnic or rent a boat on the lake.
Visit One of Madrid's Museums
Honestly, you could spend days in each of Madrid’s three most popular museums (Prado, Reina Sofía, Thyssen-Bornemisza). Whether or not you want to visit one of the museums really depends on your interests and maybe the weather. But I would choose only one of the main museums to allow for enough time to see more of Madrid. The Prado Museum is considered one of the best art museums in the world housing paintings by Goya, Velázquez, and El Greco. But if you want to see Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica you should opt for the Reina Sofía museum. The Thyssen-Bornemisza may not be as famous as the former two museums but still houses an impressive art collection.
The Gran Vía is one of Madrid’s most popular shopping streets if you want to buy something during your Madrid layover. But the impressive architecture will appeal to non-shoppers as well. Most of the buildings here are from the early 20th century which gives the Gran Vía a very elegant feel despite all the modern billboards. Some of the most impressive buildings here are the Metropolis Building from 1911 and the Edificio Grassy from 1917.
Take a Break and Eat Some Delicious Food
After so much exploring, you will definitely want to rest for a bit. This is an excellent chance to try out one of the many vegan restaurants in Madrid most of which are centrally located. But no Madrid layover would be complete without trying the traditional Spanish snack, churros. These delicious pastries are available all over the city. If you’re vegan make sure the chocolate you get with them is vegan. Churros themselves are vegan by default.
See the Royal Palace of Madrid
The Royal Palace of Madrid is the world’s largest royal palace by floor space and would take hours to visit. Since you’re only in Madrid for a layover it’s best you simply admire the beautiful exterior. While it is the official residence of the Spanish royal family they don’t actually live here. For gorgeous views and photo ops, head to the square and the adjacent gardens.
Visit the Almudena Cathedral
The Almudena Cathedral is right across from the Royal Palace and the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Madrid. It took more than 100 years to build this beautiful cathedral with a baroque exterior and neo-gothic interior. The current King and Queen of Spain got married here in 2004 which was the first royal wedding in the Almudena Cathedral.
See the Plaza Mayor
This is one of Madrid’s biggest squares and a must-see on your Madrid layover. The square has ten large entrances with nine gates. 237 balconies of the buildings surrounding the rectangular square face the Plaza Mayor. At the center of the square, you will see a statue of King Felipe III which was only moved here in the 19th century. The square is perfect for a stroll and maybe some more churros! From the end of November, the Plaza Mayor houses a very cute Christmas market that is well worth a visit.
See the Puerta del Sol
Another famous square in Madrid is the Puerta del Sol. This is where thousands of people gather on New Year’s Eve but also where many protests take place. It is the symbolic center of Spain and where the Kilometer Zero of the Spanish road network is. But the Puerta del Sol also has a historical significance as the place where the revolution against the French started as well as other relevant events in Spanish history took place.
These are just some of the major points of interest that you might want to see on your layover in Madrid. But you will probably want to come back another time to see more of this stunning Spanish city.
About The Author
Nina is a 30-something cosmopolitan vegan traveler who grew up in Germany and now lives in Greece. She is the voice behind Lemons and Luggage, a travel blog dedicated to illustrating diversity in travel. As a female traveler of Muslim heritage, Nina wants to encourage women from marginalized communities to travel the world. You can follow her on Instagram or Facebook.