Long layover in Madrid? Here’s what you need to know

Oct 23, 2019

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Almost 58 million passengers flew through the Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD) in 2018 — and we’re willing to bet 2019 will top that. Barajas is Spain’s largest airport in terms of size, operations and passenger traffic and the airport is located just 12 miles from the city centre.

The name of the airport was previously just “Madrid-Barajas”, but it got its newer, longer title in 2014, to honour the late Adolfo Suárez, the first prime minister of Spain after the reintroduction of democracy.

Terminal 4. Photo by Lori Zaino / The Points Guy
Terminal 4 at Madrid airport. (Photo by Lori Zaino / The Points Guy)

If you’re one of the lucky flyers transiting through the Spanish hub (it’s a popular stopover for European travellers heading to South, Central and North America) here’s everything you need to know for your layover.

The layout

Madrid has four main passenger terminals: T1, T2, T3 and T4 and a satellite terminal, T4S. While T1, T2 and T3 (this terminal is mainly an extension of T2) are all connected, T4 and its satellite terminal, T4S (both serving Oneworld), are the newest terminals and opened in 2006.

Getting between terminals

While T1,T2 and T3 are connected and walkable, you can’t get from there to T4 on foot. Instead, you’ll have to drive, take a ride-hailing service or a taxi. There’s also a free shuttle bus that runs 24 hours-a-day between the terminals. You can catch the bus in the arrivals area of each terminal — just look for an Alsa bus with the digital screen in the front saying T1-T2-T3-T4. The frequency is as follows:

  • From 6:30 a.m. – 23:30 p.m. every five minutes.
  • From 23:30 p.m. – 2:30 a.m. every 10 minutes.
  • From 2:30 a.m. – 6:30 a.m. every 20 minutes.

Terminals 1, 2 and 3

You can walk between these three terminals, though it may take you some time to get from one to the other. You’ll likely be flying out of T1 or T2, as T3 is rarely used. T1 operates mostly non-Oneworld international flights that are outside the Schengen countries. Most flights within the EU/Schengen countries fly out of T2. If you do fly out of T3, it will likely be on a regional flight.

There are Priority Pass lounges in all three terminals:

  • T1 has the Cibeles Lounge after passport control near gate B26. This one features a sun terrace, so make sure to go outside if the weather is nice.
  • T2/T3 has Puerta de Alcala Lounge near Gate D62 upstairs and the Puerta Del Sol Lounge near Gate E69 upstairs (this one has a small nap area).
Snacks, wine and plane watching on the Cibeles VIP lounge terrace in T1. Photo by Lori Zaino / The Points Guy UK.
Snacks, wine and plane watching on the Cibeles VIP lounge terrace in T1. (Photo by Lori Zaino/The Points Guy UK)

Note that the Priority Pass lounges at Madrid airport only allow you to bring in one guest. If you don’t have a Priority Pass Membership, you can pay to access to the lounge — rates range from €33-35/£29-31.

These terminals have a large collection of shops and restaurants — you can find the full list here. Highlights are the Mama Framboise pastry shop in T1 after passport control and the Sibarium Delicatessen for traditional Spanish products like ham, olive oil or cheese. You can also find Duty Free shops within the terminals.

Read more: 9 things to know about Iberia Avios 

Duty free shopping. Photo by Lori Zaino / The Points Guy UK.
Duty free shopping. (Photo by Lori Zaino/The Points Guy)
Stroller rental. Photo by Lori Zaino / The Points Guy UK.
Stroller rental. (Photo by Lori Zaino/The Points Guy)

A variety of services are also available in these terminals:

  • Luggage storage facilities are available in the arrival hall of both T1 and T2. Rates start at €6/£5.30 per piece for up to two hours.
  • Currency exchange and ATMs are located in the arrival halls and other various spots within the terminals.
  • Play areas for children are located throughout T1 and T2. A breastfeeding lounge is available near the D gates in T2. Pram rental is available after security in T1, T2 and T3.
  • Pharmacies are located in the public areas of both T1 and T2.
  • Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the airport but you have to register your name and email address.
  • Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Chapel is located in the public area of T1, and the Nuestra Señora de Loreto Chapel is in the public area of T2.
  • If you’ve forgotten to print your Ryanair boarding pass out and can’t get it on the app, you can print it at the post office in the arrivals hall in T1.
The Botero statue outside of T2. Photo by Lori Zaino / The Points Guy UK.
The Botero statue outside T2. (Photo by Lori Zaino/The Points Guy)
An airport model. Photo by Lori Zaino / The Points Guy UK.
An airport model. (Photo by Lori Zaino/The Points Guy)

AvGeeks should make sure to check out the miniature scale model of T2 near the D gate, while art enthusiasts should go and see a statue by Colombian artist Fernando Botero outdoors in the arrival area of T2.

Terminals 4 and 4S

T4 and T4S are the newest additions to the airport. Oneworld long-haul flights on wide-body aircraft on airlines like American, Iberia, Royal Jordanian and Qatar leave from T4S, while Iberia or British Airways flights to Milan or London leave out of T4.

To get to T4S you need to get on a short mini-train that’s located within the airport. After going through security in T4, follow the signs for T4S, where you’ll have to go downstairs. The train comes every couple of minutes and takes about five minutes. Once you arrive, have your passport ready as you’ll need to go through passport control.

Photo by Lori Zaino / The Points Guy UK.
The Neptuno VIP lounge in T4S. (Photo by Lori Zaino/The Points Guy)

There are Priority Pass lounges in both T4 and T4S:

  • T4 has Plaza Mayor Lounge near the McDonalds (Schengen flights only).
  • T4S has Neptuno Lounge on the second floor after exiting passport control (non-Schengen flights only).

There are Iberia VIP lounges in both T4 and T4S too — both of which have been recently renovated. Access is limited to those flying business class on Iberia or another Oneworld carrier, or those holding Oneworld Emerald or Sapphire elite status. Those flying Iberia business class on flights longer than four hours and who hold certain Iberia (not Oneworld) elite status can also access the lounge.

Iberia seating in the lounge. Photo by Lori Zaino / The Points Guy UK.
Iberia seating in the lounge post-renovation. Photo by Lori Zaino / The Points Guy UK.
  • T4 has the Dalí Premium Lounge, which is just past security.
  • T4S has the Velázquez Premium Lounge, which is just adjacent to the Duty Free shop after passport control.
  • The Arrivals Lounge is located in the Arrivals Hall on Floor -1 near the Metro (look for Premium Air Rooms Madrid).

The Iberia Arrivals Lounge is actually located in the Premium Air Rooms Madrid, which is a “hotel” that offers 22 guest rooms available for day or overnight use. Non-Iberia elite flyers can access this space by paying either a day (this may include a shower room and breakfast) or overnight rate. Iberia elite customers or business flyers that meet the aforementioned requirements can use the space to shower or have breakfast. Breakfast and shower rates start at €45/£39.50, day rates at €75/£66 and overnight rates at €142/£125.

T4 has many high-end shops like Carolina Herrera and MaxMara, as well as more affordable brands like Zara and Victoria’s Secret, as well as a number of Duty Free shops. For a fancier dining experience, eat sushi at Kirei by Kabuki.

T4S. Photo by Lori Zaino / The Points Guy UK.
T4S. (Photo by Lori Zaino/The Points Guy)

A variety of services are also available in these terminals:

  • Luggage storage facilities are available in the arrival hall of T4. Rates start at €6/£5.30 per piece for up to two hours.
  • Currency exchange and ATMs are located in the arrival hall and other various spots within the terminals.
  • Play areas for children are located throughout T4. Pram rental is available after security.
  • Pharmacies are located in the public area of T4 and the passenger-only area after security.
  • Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the airport but you have to register your name and email address.
  • The Chapel of Santiago is located in the public area of T4.
  • Ensenza by SHA spa has locations in both T4 near Gate J55 and T4S near Gate S24.

Getting from the airport to the city centre

It’s fairly easy to get from the airport to the city centre. Taxis cost a flat rate of €30/£26 (remember, tipping taxis isn’t customary in Spain), but you can usually do it for about €20-25/£17.50-22 using a ride-hailing service like Uber or Cabify, depending on traffic and exact destination. The Metro system is easy to use and a one-way ticket costs €4.50/£4, which includes the added airport supplement. You can also take the bus 200 to Avenida America for €1.50/£1.50, or the Express Airport Bus for €5/£4.40, which runs 24-hours and makes just three stops: O’Donnell, Cibeles and Atocha.

Renfe trains also have a line C1 which runs to T4 only, stopping at Fuente de la Mora, Chamartín, Nuevos Ministerios, Recoletos and Atocha. If you hold a Renfe AVE or Larga Distancia ticket with a same-day departure or arrival, your ticket between any of the aforementioned stops to or from the airport is free. If not, a one-way ticket costs €2.60/£2.30.

If you have a day

Madrid
Madrid’s Cibeles Square. Photo by Lori Zaino / The Points Guy UK.

If you have more than a seven-hour layover, it’s enough time to see Madrid and make it back in time for your next flight. Here are some ideas to spend a few hours seeing the sites of Madrid:

  • Madrid’s green spaces and rooftops: Hop on the Express bus to Cibeles and get off to admire Cibeles Square. Head inside the Cibeles Palace to the rooftop, where you can enjoy views of the famous Cibeles fountain, Bank of Spain and the iconic Metropolis Building. Afterward, walk up Calle Alcalá to see the Puerta de Alcalá monument and into Retiro Park. Wander through the canopies of trees to see the lake, the Chrystal Palace (made almost entirely of glass) and the peacocks roaming the Jardines de Cecilio Rodríguez. Then, stop at Florida Park, a bar/restaurant inside the park for a snack, or one of the many tapas bars along the nearby Avenida Menéndez Pelayo like Arzábal Retiro.
The lake at the Retiro Park. Photo by Lori Zaino / The Points Guy UK.
The lake at the Retiro Park. (Photo by Lori Zaino/The Points Guy)
  • Madrid’s history and architecture: Take the Renfe train to Sol, hopping out to admire the city’s most central square. Then, using Google Maps, do a self-guided walking tour, starting with Plaza Mayor, where 237 balconies face a central statue of Felipe III on his horse. Continue on to the touristy-but-wonderful Mercado de San Miguel, where you can grab a snack and drink — a cone of Iberian ham, cured Manchego cheese or Spanish olives. Then, head down Calle Mayor until you arrive at the towering Almudena Cathedral and the Palacio Real — home to almost 3,500 rooms.
Madrid
Madrid’s Almudena Cathedral. (Photo by Lori Zaino/The Points Guy UK)
  • Madrid’s art triangle: Take the Express bus to Atocha, and walk to the nearby Reina Sofia museum, home to modern-art masterpieces by Picasso and Dalí. For a more classical art experience, walk past the famous Plaza Neptuno and its epic fountain of Greek gods to the Prado Museum, where you can view works by Goya, El Greco and Velázquez. Or, visit the Thyssen-Bornemisza, which is home to an eclectic private collection of art with paintings by Caravaggio, Degas, Manet, Van Gogh and more.
Neptuno Plaza during Madrid
Neptuno Plaza during Madrid’s Pride celebrations. (Photo by Lori Zaino/The Points Guy)
  • Madrid’s shopping: Take the metro, changing from the pink to the brown line at Mar de Cristal. Get off at Serrano and peruse some of Spain’s most popular shops: Roberto Verino, Bimba y Lola, Uterque, Aristocrazy, Sito Murt, Lladro and more, including one of Madrid’s largest Zara stores that’s four floors high. Finish up with drinks and tapas at trendy food market Platea, housed in a former theatre.
(Photo courtesy of Platea Madrid)
(Photo courtesy of Platea Madrid)

If you spend the night

Madrid has a number of hotels where you can use points, and here are some of the top picks for a quick stay:

A sunset at the Hyatt Centric Madrid. Photo by Lori Zaino / The Points Guy UK.
A sunset at the Hyatt Centric Madrid. (Photo by Lori Zaino/The Points Guy)
  • The Westin Palace Madrid is perfectly located across from the Prado Museum. Rates start at €251/£219 or 50,000 Bonvoy points per night.
  • The Hyatt Centric is ideal for those wanting to explore the famous Gran Vía and has a rooftop overlooking the street. Rates start at €221/£193 or 20,000 points per night.
  • The Hilton Madrid Airport is near the airport for those with a short layover — and it has a large swimming pool. Rates start at €170/£148 or 40,000 points per night.

For those looking for something smaller and more personal, check out these boutique hotels:

The rooftop of the Dear Hotel. Photo by Lori Zaino / The Points Guy UK.
The rooftop of the Dear Hotel. (Photo by Lori Zaino/The Points Guy)
  • The Dear Hotel has a rooftop with some of the most impressive views of Madrid. Room rates start at €117/£102 per night.
  • The Only You Boutique is a designer hotel with chic, sophisticated decor in one of Madrid’s coolest neighborhoods — Chueca. Room rates start at €220/£192 per night.
  • Bless Hotel Madrid features a stunning rooftop pool/bar and a secret bowling alley in the basement. Room rates start at €298/£260 per night.

Featured photo by ManuelVelasco/Getty Images.

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