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Madrid is the capital of the Mediterranean nation of Spain. Think of Spain and what crosses your mind? Flamenco dancing? Tapas? The great artistic works of Dali, Picasso and Velazquez? All these things are waiting to be discovered here in the bustling modern city of Madrid. Spain’s capital has a history dating back to the 2nd century AD. It has grown to be the EU’s third largest city, yet with a population of around 3.3 million and a modern road network, navigating its streets by car is pleasurable.
Who to Book With
Being a large, thriving city, Madrid has several hundred places to rent vehicles. At the international airport alone, you will find the top firms of Avis, Hertz and Sixt. It is recommended that you book online in advance to secure the best price and to locate the most convenient rental depot.
Best Time to Go
Madrid sees extremely hot summers, with temperatures reaching 40°C. Spring and autumn provide more pleasant weather and plenty of sunshine. That being said, cosmopolitan Madrid is a year-round destination, although do not be surprised to experience snowfall here if visiting during the winter.
Need to Know Essentials
To pick up your rental car, you must provide the following documents:
- An EU driving licence or a valid International Driving Permit
- A second form of picture ID, such as your passport
- The credit card you used to make your booking
- Printed confirmation of your booking or a written reference number
Driving around some of the older streets of Madrid can be a bit treacherous, with long tail-backs when traffic builds up. This is because, as with most European cities, such routes were built before the age of the motor car and are therefore not designed for modern traffic. Otherwise, Madrid has a good system of arterial roads and an orbital motorway, but nonetheless you can expect traffic jams on these routes at any time of the day.
The airport is located in the northeast of the city, and from here you’ll need to follow the Avenida de Americas major road to reach the centre of the city. To by-pass the city, you’ll need to get onto the A40 orbital road, although this route can be confusing as the road number changes sometimes since the old allocation remains. Road signage in the city can be misleading and taking a wrong turn in Madrid can be a nightmare, so it is recommended you request SatNav with your rental vehicle.
Madrid has a useful underground metro system which is complemented by the urban bus network and suburban rail system. Tickets for public transport are reasonably priced, and if you intend on using the system a lot you should buy a tourist travel pass to get the best deal.
Helpfully, the Madrid public transit authority offers a tourist travel pass which allows you to make unlimited trips on all rail, metro and bus services. These passes can be purchased at all metro stations, at the airport and at municipal tourist offices.
Trains and Metro
Many national network trains from around the country operated by RENFE terminate in Madrid, but the city also has a system of suburban trains known as Cercanias. This system spiders out from a loop in the city centre and is mainly used by Spanish commuters, but can be useful for tourists who wish to cut across the city or travel into the city from the airport. Madrid has the underground Madrid Metro system, which is constantly being improved.
There are plenty of licensed metered taxis roaming the streets of Madrid. You can recognise them as they are white vehicles with a red stripe on the front door. If they are available, the green light on top will display ‘libre’ (which means ‘free’). The tariff increases during the night time, although during any time of day taxis in Madrid are fairly expensive to use. Beware of a typical scam where the driver takes you the long way to your destination in order to run up the meter.
Buses run by EMT cover all of the Madrid metropolitan area. Areas where the rail system does not go are served by bus. Also useful are the night buses, known as ‘buhos’ (‘night owls’) which run at 20-minute intervals along popular routes. Buses are reasonably priced, and you can buy a combined ticket to connect with the rail services of the city. All buses are equipped with free Wi-Fi.
It makes sense that while visiting the great capital city of Madrid, you may wish to discover a little more of Spain. There are several decent daytrips heading out of Madrid in all directions. The below are only a few of the many places you can reach by car in just an hour.
Segovia - This is an ancient town and a UNESCO World Heritage site that is noted for its preserved architecture from all through the ages, at which the centerpiece must be the Roman aqueduct that runs right through the centre. It is just an hour northwest of Madrid via the A6 motorway.
Aranjuez - This is another UNESCO World Heritage site that is easily accessible from Madrid. It makes an excellent daytrip. Highlights include the Royal Palace and the summer home of the Bourbon Royal Family. To get here, head south out of Madrid on the A4 for 45 minutes.
Toledo - Originally the capital of Spain until it was officially moved to Madrid, the city is yet another UNESCO World Heritage site that is within easy reach of Madrid. Here, you will find plenty of artwork and splendid architecture to keep you impressed. Head southwest out of the city on the A42 for an hour.