How to Spend a Day in Madrid, Spain: Airport Layover Edition

Stuck in Madrid Barajas airport for more than 5 hours? I was too… and then I left! Here’s how to explore the city of Madrid with only a few hours or a day!

Check out this piece at GoWonder, a community of women with wanderlust who I wrote this for!! 

Where Are You?!

First, figure out where you are. Seems simple, until you get off your plane and see this beautifully daunting architecture:

Yes, the whole place is like this! Every building, including maintenance!

If you’re flying internationally to Madrid, you will probably end up in terminal 4s. There are 5 terminals, 1, 2, & 3 are two metro stops away from terminal 4 & 4s. 4s is just one of those cool airport metro trains from 4 (where you want to be). So just follow the crowd out of the empty 4s terminal until you reach a place where everyone splits. Exit through whichever passport lane correspond to your country. Then (you guessed it) keep following everyone. Save this map in case you get lost:

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SAVE THIS, you’ll want it later.

You’ve reached terminal 4, now start looking for the place to check your baggage for the day.

Follow the “Left Luggage/Consigna” symbol.20160616_093627.jpg

It’s going to cost 10 Euros per bag. So consolidate. The people at the desk do not speak good English, my friend and I thought we could check 2 bags for 10 Euros… we found out that we only saved paper by putting them on one check for 20 euros. It is worth it though. You don’t want your legs to be more tired than they already will be. ESPECIALLY if you have rolling carry-ons. Don’t end up like these guys:


Now to the Metro!

Keep following the Metro signs down and down until you are confronted by big scary machines. Approach the machines and buy your ticket!

  1. Select your language (bottom right)
  2. Click tourist passes (I’m sorry but today we won’t be living like a local)
  3. 1 day, Adult passes to ZONE A are 8,40 Euros
      1. This will get you to Puerta del Sol 🙂

How to Get to Puerta del Sol by Metro

First, download this map. I know it looks scary, but it won’t be. You just want this on you all the time- the metro can be crowded and you don’t want the smelly bearded guy to be right beside the map you’re consulting.

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Also screenshot these instructions after reading them:

  1. PINK
    1. Hop on your only choice, the Pink Line headed towards Nuevos Ministerios (if it is green inside don’t run off like we did, just trust it)
    2. Ride the Pink Line all the way to Nuevos Ministerios
    3. Get off at Nuevos Ministerios. If you can’t deconstruct the spanish over the intercom, look on the walls outside of the windows.
    1. Follow signs towards the Dark Blue Line and get on it in the direction of Puerta del Sul
    2. Stay on the Dark Blue Line until Tribunal
    1. Follow the signs for Light Blue in the direction of Valdecarros
    2. Get off at Puerta del Sol

Puerta Del Sol

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My number 1 advice for you is to get lost.

Just walk.

Before doing that, though, find the map in the square, locate Calle de Mayor, and do the following prior to getting lost!

Of course, take a selfie with the bear:

Shout out to the best city partner a girl could ask for!

Visit Plaza Mayor on your way to Mercado de San Miguel

Mercado de San Miguel is beautiful inside.

Grab some fresh treats (Macaroons, Espresso, Stromboli, anything) and Sangria (3 Euros a glass) while you’re there!!


Now keep walking on Calle de Mayor until you see something through the trees- oh wait, its a Palace!!!!


I recommend walking around here a bit but don’t wait in the huge line to get inside unless you have more than just a few hours- then I would say it might be worth it if that is your thing!

After the Palace, it’s time to get lost! But don’t forget to leave time for the following things before leaving:

  • Grab some Churros and Hot Chocolate!! I recommend the famous Chocolateria San Gines, but if you can’t find it- there is a great Cafe right beside Mercado de San Miguel from earlier! The hot cocoa is so thick you have to eat it by dipping the churros in it!

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  • Find a rooftop restaurant! This has become the recent trend in Madrid, so there are many to choose from. I recommend The Hat – which is also a Hostel in case your flight is delayed!

Hostel Madrid - Foto terraza desde arriba - The Hat
Check out their image gallery:


Overall, in Madrid I felt very safe. I would definitely recommend choosing a layover in the city if you can- it’s beautiful! If you’re traveling alone, try to find someone else with a layover who also wants to explore. It isn’t hard, and in the words of my wise travel companion, “Just eavesdrop on peoples conversations then ask them if they want to travel with you.” It worked for me!

If you arrive back at the airport and have time before your flight, check out your airline’s lounge! If you are flying Iberia, I recommend reading this post.

“Just eavesdrop on peoples conversations then ask them if they want to travel with you.”

If you have any questions, fell free to contact me on my “contact me” page on my blog! I would love to help you have the best day ever!

Buenos viajes!


  1. Oghh that is such a great post 🙂 I am going to Madrid in September 🙂 and I will definetely use some of your tips. As I can see your trip began, wish you to enjoy it and I will make sure to stop on your blog for more news 🙂

  2. I love your guide for this! It’s straightforward and clear with great pictures. If I’m ever in Madrid, I will take your suggestions with me.

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