Madrid's fast and efficient metro is the best way to get around the city, with buses and regional trains ( cercanías ) filling in the gaps. With such good public transport, you don't need a car to sightsee. If you really want to rent a car, driving is comparatively less hair-raising than in other Latin cities, and the rental options range from big-name agencies to smaller, local operators.
By Subway (Metro)
The Metro system is perfectly straightforward to learn and use. The fare is 1.25€ for a one-way trip, and the central converging point is Sol station. The Metro operates 6am to 1:30am, and you should try to avoid rush hours. For information, call tel. 91-429-31-77. You can save money on public transportation by purchasing a 10-trip ticket known as a bonos -- it costs 5.35€ and can be bought in any metro ticket office.
Of all Europe's major cities, Madrid boasts one of the most efficient and reliable public bus systems. The system is divided into common red buses (1.25€ per ticket) and the smaller yellow microbuses. A ten-ride Bonobus ticket costs $6 and can be bought at the local EMT kiosks.
By Cercanías Train
This excellent provincial train service operates economically and punctually to a variety of key towns radiating outwards from the capital, from Aranjuez to San Lorenzo de El Escorial. Atocha station (Glorieta del Emperador Carlos V; Metro: Atocha RENFE) is the best departure point for southerly destinations and Chamartín station (Calle Agustín de Foxá; Metro: Chamartín) for northerly ones, though trains run between the two stations and either can, in practice, be used for all destinations. Tickets (one-way or round-trip) are obtainable from station ticket offices or from machines on which the destinations are clearly marked.
Madrid has more taxis than any other European city, so hailing one is never a problem. Taxis are white with a red stripe on the front doors. There are several taxi ranks, including at the Puerta de Sol or near the metro station at Opera. Prices are reasonable; a taxi from the Prado to the Palacio Real on the other side of the city will cost around 4€, for example. There are supplements, however, for luggage, pets, travel after 22:00 and at weekends.
Also, there are unmetered taxis that hire out for the day or the afternoon. They are legitimate, but some drivers operate as gypsy cabs. Since they're not metered, they can charge high rates. They are easy to avoid -- always take either a black taxi with horizontal red bands or a white one with diagonal red bands.
If you take a taxi outside the city limits, the driver is entitled to charge you twice the rate shown on the meter.
To call a taxi, dial tel. 91-447-51-80.
Driving in congested Madrid is a nightmare and potentially dangerous. It always feels like rush hour, although theoretically, these are from 8 to 10am, 1 to 2pm, and 4 to 6pm Monday through Saturday. Parking is next to impossible except in expensive garages. About the only time you can drive around Madrid with a minimum of hassle is in August, when thousands of Madrileños have taken their cars and headed for Spain's vacation oases.
You can hire a car on presentation of a passport and valid driving license held for at least one year. A valid international insurance policy is also necessary and full insurance is advised. There is wide range of car rental companies running at the airport or around the city. Rates start at approximately 65€ for one day of car hire.
Ever wonder why you see so few people riding bicycles in Madrid? Those who tried were overcome by the traffic pollution. It's better to walk.
Madrid is a delightful city to walk around; the centre is relatively small and most of the sights are within easy walking distance of each other. It takes about 15 minutes to walk from the Prado Museum to Plaza Mayor and about another 15 minutes to walk from Plaza Mayor to the Palacio Real. It's easy to get lost – but that is half the charm. Free maps are provided by the tourist information offices and there's a good selection of better maps at most bookstores.
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