I recently went to Spain on a mileage run, but while I was there I figured I should actually go into the city and see some stuff, giving me a 6 hour layover in Madrid. I’d been to Madrid when I was much younger with my family, but I don’t remember much of it, so I was excited to reacquaint myself with the city. Unfortunately, I had horrid weather with strong winds and even stronger rain, but just as I was about to give up and head back to the airport it cleared up!
For many people, layovers are totally not ideal and they’d rather get straight to their destination, especially if it’s a long one. I think many people miss out because they don’t think they’ve got enough time to experience a city in just a few hours, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
It’s totally possible to see some great parts of cities in a handful of hours and seeing some of the city is better than sitting cooped up in an airport. So, for this post I’ll talk about what you can see in Madrid on a 6-hour layover. If you haven’t got a layover in Madrid and you’re simply visiting, then you can consider this post a fly-by introduction to the city in an afternoon.
From Madrid Barajas Airport, you can take line 8 directly into the city, however, it is closed until April 18th. If you’re visiting before this time, you’ll need to take a replacement bus to Mar de Cristal and from there you can take line 4 directly to Plaza España, which is where I suggest you start your day.
Although you’ll mainly be walking, it’s a good idea to get a day ticket because that way you can take any transport quickly if you find yourself running out of time or just simply tired. A day ticket is €8 and you can buy it from the lower level of the airport on your way out. This is good for the metro, buses and trams.
9 Sights For Your 6 hour Madrid Layover Itinerary
This is the first stop on your Madrid layover itinerary and it’s the very end of the main boulevard Gran Vía, but you’ll see that later on. This large square features a monument to Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra and one of the city’s most prominent and well-known skyscrapers–also one of the few skyscrapers in the entire city.
This square would have been much more enjoyable for me if it hadn’t been absolutely pouring, so hopefully when you’re there you have better weather.
The Royal Palace is just a short walk from Plaza España and it’s the official residence of the Spanish royal family, but like many other royal palaces, it’s only used for official ceremonies and they actually live elsewhere.
The palace was built in 1764 and contains a shocking 3,418 rooms. If you want to go inside and see it, it costs €11. I didn’t bother, but one day I’d like to go back and see what it’s like.
This cathedral is the seat of the Church of Spain and construction began in 1879, however, it wasn’t actually finished until 1993. Once construction began it was slow going and then it stopped completely due to the Spanish Civil War. Although the Spanish Civil War ended in 1939, construction didn’t start up again until 11 years later.
The coolest thing about the cathedral for me is the fact that it was built on the site of a medieval mosque that was destroyed in 1083. Although that building no longer stands, I just loved knowing the history of this particular bit of ground.
Plaza de Villa
This is said to be the most beautiful plaza in all of Madrid, but also the most under appreciated. I came across it totally by accident and at the time didn’t really know what it was except that it was just a nice, quiet square. As it turns out, this square has the former town hall and prison and also has some of the oldest buildings in Madrid.
The Casa de Cisneros dates back to 1537 at the request of architect Benito Jiménez de Cisneros. In nicer weather, I imagine this is a lovely square to just sit outside and enjoy.
This square was probably one of my favorite parts of Madrid because it’s just massive in scale and the architecture is beautiful. There are tons of restaurants and cafes to enjoy and lots of shopping in the side streets. It was built in 1619, has a total of nine entrances and the buildings that surround it are residential buildings with a total of 237 balconies – no, I’m not a fool who stood in the pouring rain counting, I looked it up like every other Google-obsessed millennial these days).
Because this square is quite so old, it’s been used to a huge variety of things from bullfights to executions.
Plaza de Santa Ana
At this point, I did things in a very illogical order because I’d walked to the end of Calle de Atocha and stopped into McDonalds for a snack and some coffee because of the pouring rain and the fact my feet were wet. I then got on the metro there and decided to get off at Gran Vía, where I proceeded to do everything backward. However, because that makes no sense, doing things in this order make much more sense.
This square features Teatro Español, which is the oldest theater in Madrid and was built in the 17th century. The luxury hotel in this square, now ME Madrid Reina Victoria, was a famous hotel in the 19th century because it’s where all the popular bullfighters stayed.
Plaza de las Cortes
A few minutes walk from Plaza de Santa Ana you’ll find this quiet little square and the Congress of Deputies building, which is the lower house of the Spanish Parliament. The congress building isn’t nearly as old as some of the others in the city, having only been built in 1843.
San Jerónimo el Real
This stunning church immediately caught my eye because it’s so unique looking. I don’t know much about architecture (by much I mean really nothing), but I loved everything about this church from its unusual color to the many tiny crosses and spokes that stick off of nearly every ledge.
It’s apparently Isabelline Gothic style, which was very popular in Spain in the 15th and 16th centuries and I imagine derives from the reign of Isabelle I.
It was built in 1505 and has an interesting history because for many centuries this church acted as the royal church. Since the main Cathedral, Almudena wasn’t finished until 1993, the Church of San Isidro was considered the city’s cathedral, but because St. Isidore was the patron saint of manual laborers, it was inappropriate for it to also be the royal church. Therefore, San Jerónimo el Real became the de facto royal church until the completion of Cathedral Almudena.
Saving the best for last, the last stop on this 6 hour Madrid layover itinerary for your layover is the main boulevard of Madrid. This street consists primarily of high-end shops, but it’s lots of fun to browse and look at the incredible architecture.
The idea for Gran Vía, the Great Road, came about in the mid 19th century because officials believed that Madrid needed a new thoroughfare and construction began in 1904. The architecture along this boulevard is quite varied. You’ll see some art deco styles as well as Viennese succession and others.
Although it might sound like these don’t go together, the street is seamless and beautiful and you can’t come to Madrid without seeing it.
If You Have Extra Time
If this Madrid itinerary doesn’t take up all of your time, you may want to do some extra stuff as well. In that case, here are some additional things to do if you find yourself with a couple more hours. Also, be sure to check out this comprehensive post on 20 things to do in Madrid.
The Prado Museum
This is the national museum and contains the best collection of European art from the 12th century to the 20th century. You’ll see works by Velázquez, Goya, Rubens and more. You could easily spend a whole day here, but it’s a great way to kill a few hours. The general entry price is €15 and it’s located right by the San Jerónimo el Real.
The Botanical Garden
Located near the Prado Museum is the 8-hectare botanical garden and in nice weather it’s fun to wander around and feel like you’re in a complete oasis in the middle of the city. Entry is €4.
These nine sights are some of the best things to see in the city and walking it all should only take you a few hours, giving you plenty of time to enjoy them. This itinerary proves that you can see tons of a city, even if you’re only passing through and I hope this Madrid layover guide convinces you to do something more with your layovers in the future!
Why sit in an airport when you could be looking at buildings from the 16th century? Have you been to Madrid? What was your favorite thing to do?