Although Madrid is a big city, the centre is pretty walkable, with museums, shops, bars and restaurants within a 2km radius of the Puerta del Sol.
That said, you may well want to jump on the metro or the bus for short hops at the end of a long day’s sightseeing, and fortunately the public transport system is easy to negotiate and reasonably priced.
The metro (www.metromadrid.es), which is pretty extensive and expanding all the time, runs from 6am to 2am. A single ticket costs one euro. A 10-ride metrobus ticket costs 9.30 euros and is valid on the metro and bus.
The metrobus ticket can be shared between two or more people. I know this sounds a bit dodgy, but it’s perfectly legal. Just go through the turnstile then pass the ticket back to your companion to use.
As well as at stations, metrobus tickets are available from EMT kiosks at major transport hubs such as Sol, Callao and Cibeles, and also from tobacconists (estancos) and some newsstands (quioscos).
Buses (www.emtmadrid.es) run from 6am to around 11pm, when the night buses kick in and run until 4am weekdays and 5.30am on weekends. Either pay one euro on the bus or ping your metrobus ticket in the machine when you get on.
Useful routes include the number 2, which goes through Plaza de España, Gran Vía and Cibeles to the Retiro park, and the number 3, which goes along the Calle Mayor, through Sol and up Calle Hortaleza (for Calle Fuencarral and Chueca).
There are also very cute little buses with just five seats which wiggle around the narrow streets of the centre, which are worth getting for the entertainment value alone. The M1 leaves from Calle Alcala at Sevilla metro station and heads south to La Latina, Tirso de Molina and Lavapiés, Madrid’s most traditional areas. The M2 goes north from Sevilla up through bohemian Malasaña and Conde Duque to Argüelles, where there is a Corte Inglés department store and lots of other shops.
Madrid tourist bus
The company that runs this service has had a few problems, so until July 2011 the buses will be operated under the umbrella of the EMT municipal transport system until it all gets sorted out. There are two routes: Historical Madrid and Modern Madrid. Buses run about every 20 minutes and it is a hop-on, hop-off service. Tickets are available on the bus and at various tourist information points, and cost for one day 17.50 euros for adults and 9 euros for ages 6-16 and over 65s. For two days, the price is 22 euros for adults and 11.50 euros for kids and seniors. Children under 6 travel free.
Taxis are plentiful and reasonably cheap in Madrid. They are white with a red diagonal stripe on the side, and are available when the green light on the roof is on. Taxi ranks are marked by a blue sign with a white ‘T’, but you can just hail them in the street. Flagfall is 2.10 euros, slightly higher after 9pm and on Sundays. There is a 5.50 euros supplement if you get a cab to or from the airport, and a 2.95 euros supplement from a train or bus station, but this is not applicable going to stations.
Drivers often have scant knowledge of the city, so it helps to know the actual address and a nearby landmark or junction if you are going to a restaurant.
Available for one to seven days, from 6 euros for one day, this gives you unlimited travel in the central area (www.madridcard.com/en/AT.aspx). You can buy them online, from all metro stations, from tourist offices, from the metro information centres at terminals T1, T2 and T3 at the airport, from some newsstands and from some hotels.
You might also be interested in a Madrid Card (same website as above), which gives free entrance to lots of museums, discounts at sights, restaurants and shops. Prices are 32 euros for 24 hours, 42 euros for 48 hours and 52 euros for 72 hours, with a five per cent discount if booked online.
For advice on transport to and from the airports, see Madrid flights.