Turns out public transportation in Madrid is cheap and efficient from Barajas International Airport. Getting into the city center below ground has the advantage of both saving time and money. But, first, you have to figure out how to get out at this large and chopped up airport. I had to ask someone to be sure I was on the right track (no pun intended).
If you decide to take public transport into the city here are some helpful tips. Both the Renfe Trains and the Metro Subway systems are underground and they are obviously different. When I bought my “all day all ways” ticket (as I am calling it because you can use the same ticket to ride all forms of transport, all day) at the airport I was given a poor map of some of the city sights and a Metro map, which does not show all the train lines only some of the connection points. It was enough to make due.
My advice. If you don’t have any experience navigating a system like this (having lived in NYC I wasn’t daunted, but still had some trouble) and if you have limited time, you might just want to hop in a taxi, if you have the money to spend. I thought it was worth the effort to take the Metro and Train, and I enjoyed the challenge it posed. I ended up taking the Metro 8 from the airport to the Nuevo Ministerios stop, then switching to the Renfe C3 or C4 one stop getting off at Sol (take the train heading toward Atoche). Again, I asked someone to be sure.
Exiting right in the middle of Puerta del Sol square, I was met with warm sun and quiet streets. Madrid was just waking at nearly 10am on a Saturday. I grabbed some mineral water and a latte at the first open café and enjoyed sitting quietly watching and listening. I had made it!
Onward to find Plaza Mayor walking along the cobblestone streets (I asked the waiter to point me in the right direction). Luckily for me, most folks I encountered seemed to tolerate my Spanglish. To be frank, Plaza Mayor was a letdown. For one, most of it was shrouded and surrounded by scaffolding. There were a couple of cafes open, but the square was sort of deadsville, so other than taking in the dancing light of the rising sun, I decided to move on.
Mindful of the time, I just kept meandering. I had been warned a few times of the amazing skill of pickpockets so I was a little more conscious of my backpack (which screamed tourist, and American tourist at that) but no one ever bothered me. I was also really interested in seeing Mercado de San Miguel and I knew it was close by. Friendly passersby were always happy to point me on around another bend.
If you are a foodie, or if you like to eat, the Market is marvelous. I can’t speak for other days of the week, but on Saturday it was buzzing! It seemed to me that this is a gathering place for locals and tourists alike. I decided to try some of the food, which all looked amazing. Narrowing down my choices difficult. I chose 3 tapas all from different vendors – chapata de lomo iberica con manchego, a “pickle sandwich” and bacalao (codfish) on toast with honey mustard. Each was unique and delicious! I plan to visit again one day – con appetite!
Wine and beer options were aplenty, but I thought it best to stick with water. For the record, I was charged nearly €4 for a bottle of water, the same water I later purchased for €0.8 at a corner shop! Beware of the “water”way robbery at the market.
On their website states that it strives to be a center for gastronomical culture, entertainment, a gathering place for people to shop but also learn about food. I’d say they are doing just that. And for nearly 100 years. Bravisimo!
Having seen what I had hoped to, and having eaten a few bites, I was satisfied and satiated. Content to wander, knowing how to find my way back to the Metro station, I was feeling quite proud of myself. I hopped in and out of a few shops, half-heartedly looking for mementos. In the end, I decided the journey was memento enough.
Happily I went subterranean again, with enough time to get back the airport without being rushed. Not knowing how long it would take to get back, allotting for error, and not knowing how long it would take to get back through security at the airport, I erred on the side of caution. Once I was safely in the right terminal again, I had time for some relaxation! All I needed after that was some food, I opted for sushi, and before I knew it, it was time to head to my gate. Buenos noches y gracias Espana. Hola Portugal!
Let’s add it up:
- €60 (9am) – Ride all day all ways ticket for the day.
- €80 + €2.20 tip (10am) – Water and latte at Café & Tapas in Puerto del Sol.
- €50 (12pm) – Water and tapas at Mercado de San Miguel.
- €.80 (1pm) – Water at the corner shop in Puerto del Sol.
- €48 + €10 tip (2:30pm) – Thirty minute deep tissue massage at Esenza T4 terminal.
- €18 + €2 tip (3:30pm) – Sushi dinner at Kirei by Kabuki T4 Terminal (not a great value but tasty).
The upshot. I was very happy to save on taxi fare, which would have cost about €60, maybe more, to get to the city and back to the airport again. Although it took asking some passersby for help navigating the Metro and Train, I think it was about the same amount of time. The only benefit to being above ground in a bus or taxi, would have been to see more of Madrid. Mercado de San Miguel was worth seeking out and walking everywhere from the Puerta del Sol plaza was the perfect way to spend my time.
8 Hours + €107.10 = Another Excellent Adventure