Madrid is a fairly easy city to travel around once you know the metros well.
LIKE Barcelona, Bilbao and Valencia, the quickest way to get around the city is using the metros, although they are fairly crowded during rush hours. No smoking is permitted on metro trains or in stations, which are clean and fairly safe.
Crime is generally rare on Spanish metros, although you should watch out for pickpockets especially on the Madrid system.
Madrid has the largest and oldest metro system in Spain with 12 lines and more than 160 stations covering most of the city, operating from 6.05am, through the clock, until 2am and used by some 565 million people a year.
Eight lines run within Zone A only and three of them run between Zone A and Zone B (B1, B2, B3) and one line (Line 12) runs only between Zone B1 and B2.
On Friday and Saturday nights, a night bus service runs on the same routes as the Metro lines once these have closed for the evening. This service, inaugurated in 2006, is known as the BuhoMetro. The BuhoMetro is easy to spot and relatively easy for first-time Buho riders – bus number L4 will run the same route as Metro Line 4.
A single trip fare within Madrid city (zone A) is EUR 1 and EUR 6.70 for a 10-journey ticket. In addition, 1-day, 2-day, 3-day, 5-day and 7-day tourist tickets are also available.
You can buy these tickets at Metro stations and tobaccos (tobacconists). You can use them on the Metro, EMT red city buses and the Buhos.
Monthly or annual season tickets are available for young people aged under 21 (abono joven), commuters (abono normal) and for pensioners over 64 (abono tercera edad). Season tickets offer exceptionally good savings for unlimited travel on public transport including the underground, city buses and local trains (cercanías). Pensioners who pay only EUR 9 a month for unlimited travel get a particularly good deal.
The monthly tickets can be bought at the tobaccos. If you are purchasing them for the first time and are a foreigner, you will need a passport photo and your passport for registration purposes.
A free map (plano del metro) showing the lines in different colours is available from ticket offices.
The metro is easy to use; simply note the end station of the line you want and follow the signs. When entering or leaving a train, car doors must be opened manually by pressing a button or pushing up the knob on the doors for older trains.
Apart from Sundays and late at night, trains run around every five to eight minutes (more frequently during rush hour). Check out for the train schedule at the ticketing office of every station and also along the platforms. If you can read or speak Spanish and would like to learn more about the metro timetable, call 902-444 403 from 7am to 11pm or log on to www.metromadrid.es for more information.
Buses and trams There are excellent bus (autobús) services in all major cities and towns in Spain and comprehensive long-distance ‘coach’ (autocar) services between major cities. Buses are the cheapest and most common form of public transport in Spain and most coastal towns and rural villages are accessible only by bus. The quality and age of buses vary considerable from luxurious modern vehicles in most cities to old ramshackle relics in some rural areas.
Private bus services are often confusing and uncoordinated, and buses may leave from different locations rather than a central bus station (estación de autobuses).
Madrid has eight bus stations and most cities have two or more (possibly located on the outskirts of town). There are left luggage offices (consignas) at central bus stations. Note that smoking isn’t permitted on buses.
Before boarding a bus at a bus terminal you must usually buy a ticket from the ticket office or a machine.
Otherwise you can buy a single ticket from the driver or conductor as you enter the bus (they usually give change for small banknotes). Passengers usually enter a bus from a front door (marked entrada) and dismount from a centre or side exit (salida).
Most buses are driver-only operated. You must usually signal before the stop (parada) where you wish to get off by pressing a button (which activates a bell in the driver’s cab).
City buses Most bus services in cities run from around 6am until between 11pm and midnight before the Buho comes into operation.
There’s usually a ten-minute service on the most popular routes during peak hours and an hourly night service, although services are considerably reduced on Sundays and public holidays.
City buses are often very crowded and buses that aren’t air-conditioned can be uncomfortable in the summer (rest assured that most buses are air-conditioned). Most city buses have few seats, so as to provide maximum standing room.
There are numerous bus routes in major cities and it can be difficult to find your way around by bus. Urban buses are generally very slow and although there are special bus and taxi lanes in Madrid, there are still frequent traffic jams.
Consequently, many people prefer to use the metro in the city or taxis (which are inexpensive – depending on your budget).
Long-distance buses In addition to local city and rural bus companies, there are many long-distance bus companies in Spain including Alsa-Enatcar (the largest), Auto Res and Continental-Auto. Inter-city buses are usually faster than trains and cost less.
Fares on long-distance routes are reasonable and typical return fares are Madrid-Alicante around EUR 42 and Madrid-Barcelona around EUR 56.
Long-distance bus companies are usually privately owned and their fares are quite competitive. The most luxurious buses are comfortable and offer air-conditioning, films and sometimes free soft drinks.
All the main companies have both telephone and Internet information and booking services. Further information can be obtained from Alsa-Enatcar (902-422 242, www.alsa.es), Auto Res (902-020 603, www.auto-res.net) and Continental-Auto (902-330 400, www.continental-auto.es).
International buses There are regular international bus services between Spain’s major cities and many European cities. For example, Eurolines runs coach services from Britain to some 45 destinations in Spain. Journeys are very long, e.g. from London it’s 26 hours to Barcelona and 28 hours to Madrid, and fares are often little cheaper than flying (it’s worth comparing bus fares with the cheapest charter flights).
Unless you have a fear of flying or a love of coach travel, you may find one or two days spent on a bus a nightmare.
Buses are, however, comfortable, air-conditioned, and equipped with toilets and video entertainment. Most services operate daily during the summer holiday season and two or three times a week out of season. Discounts are provided for students and youths on some routes. Bookings can be made at travel agents in Spain and abroad.
Typical return fares with Eurolines are Barcelona-London around EUR 120 and Madrid-London around EUR 150. Apex returns are considerably cheaper.
This article is an extract from Living and Working in Spain, by David Hampshire. Published by Survival Books. It has also been updated by Madrid resident Jasmine Hong.