By public transit – Madrid proudly sports one of the best public transportation networks in the world and the second largest metro network in Europe, second only to London’s. Buses and subways form an integrated network and work with the same tickets.
The Metro de Madrid (Madrid’s Subway/Underground) is one of the best and less expensive metros in Europe. In addition, the underground tunnels of the Metro provide relief from the sun on hot days. Ticket machines are bilingual with instructions in both Spanish and English. Signs are bilingual in Spanish and English.
Bus – Whatever the Metro doesn’t cover, the buses do.
Night buses (Búhos, “night owls”), have their main hub at Plaza de Cibeles, covering most of the city at roughly 20-minute intervals.
Buses are equipped with free wi-fi facility (EMTmadrid), easy to use with any type of laptop or netbook.
Train – Madrid has a system of local trains (Cercanías) that connect outlying suburbs and villages with the city center. Although most useful for visiting historic or outdoor destinations outside the city core, they are also useful for quickly getting from the north end of the city (Chamartin and Nuevos Ministros) to the south end of the city (Sol and Atocha) and, as of Sept 2011, Barajas airport (terminal 4).
By taxi – Taxis can be hard to find during late hours on weekends, especially if there is some rain. Unlike in other European cities, there are few taxi stands; just stand by the side of a major road or bus stop and wave your hand to signal an available taxi passing by. Available taxis have a green libre sign in the windshield and a green light on top.
By car – Transportation by private automobile in Madrid can be a nightmare. The Spanish capital suffers from the typical problems of most big cities; far too many cars and not enough space to accommodate them. Sometimes there can even be traffic jams in the Paseo de la Castellana at 3:00 AM (early to some Madrileños). The problem is compounded by the narrow streets in the old town, where a lorry delivering beer barrels to a local bar can cause a huge tailback. Finding a parking space can be very time consuming, and difficult if one is not skilled in the art of close proximity parallel parking.
In short, renting a car is not only unnecessary, but not recommended for getting around downtown Madrid, and a car is likely to be more of a liability than an asset. Visitors should make use of Madrid’s excellent public transportation instead. Renting a car only makes sense if you are planning to leave Madrid and drive to the nearby towns.
By bicycle – Although Madrid does not appear as a bike-friendly city at a first sight, things are changing slowly to make bike experience more comfortable. Several streets in historical downtown have been transformed into mixed-traffic spaces where pedestrians and bikes have priority over cars. There are new easy-bike paths all along the river and connecting important parks.
It is also possible to use a lot of narrow easy streets where traffic is slow and calm to travel along the city without dependig on exclusive bike paths. There are some official and unofficial publications with these streets along the web.
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