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Expats worried about getting around in Madrid can safely shelve their concerns. The city is simply marvellous when it comes to moving about easily and efficiently – it is central and equipped with an excellent metro system.
Add Spain's famous high-speed train network to the mix, and expats have no excuse not to explore the wider region and the country as a whole.
Public transport in Madrid
Madrid’s metro reaches from the city centre into the outskirts and is one of the largest of its kind in the world. Stations are well distributed around the city and surrounding areas. There’s also a light rail system called the Cercanias, which works in conjunction with the underground metro but is a quicker option for getting around outside the city centre. To move around the city on the Metro, expats can buy a Multi card to top-up as they travel, and multiple people can also travel on one top-up card.
There is a highly effective system of trains in Madrid that extends all the way to the country's extremities, but also to closer areas and suburbs. These local trains are often quicker than the metro.
When it comes to longer journeys, living in Madrid puts expat residents at the epicentre of domestic travel. One advantage of this is the AVE, Spain's high-speed train, which travels to and from several of the country's largest cities.
The trip isn't cheap, but the amount of time saved from not having to check bags or go through security lines makes it a sensible alternative to flying.
The bus network is a great alternative for getting to destinations the metro doesn't cover. Metro and bus tickets are interchangeable in the city centre and, similar to the train system, buses depart from Madrid’s centre and head in all directions. Madrid also has a night bus that covers most of the city and runs right through the night. Expats must keep in mind that single-ride tickets can be bought on the bus, but multiple-ride tickets are only available at metro stations. While they might be the most economical means of travelling outside of Madrid, buses often aren’t as comfortable or efficient as other options.
Taxis in Madrid
Taxis are a popular way to get around in Madrid. They are reasonably priced, but to avoid getting 'taken for a ride' it is important for new arrivals to know where they are going and the best way to get there. While most taxi drivers do their job with integrity, by law a taxi is only obliged to take the cheapest route if the passenger indicates which route that is.
There are multiple taxi ranks in the city, but taxis can also be hailed on the street. Alternatively, expats can book taxis in advance.
Ride-hailing applications such as Uber and Cabify are also widely available in Madrid. These may be the best option for new arrivals who cannot speak Spanish or any of the local languages, as they mitigate the language barrier.
Cycling in Madrid
While Madrid may not be quite as bike-friendly as other European destinations, things are changing to make commuting more comfortable for cyclists. Parts of the historic centre have become mixed-traffic spaces where pedestrians and cyclists have priority over cars. There is also a growing network of cycle paths running along the river and through the city's parks.
Despite some restrictions during rush hour, bikes are also allowed on public transport.
In addition to BiciMAD, Madrid's electric bike-sharing service, there are plenty of bike rental shops throughout the city.
Driving in Madrid
Driving in Spain can be harrowing, as many local drivers don’t follow the rules of the road and drive quite aggressively. There’s also limited parking, and most expats living here find it far easier to get around on public transport.
Expats who do choose to drive and buy a car in Madrid should expect to deal with mountains of paperwork and challenges when driving in the city. Spain is infamous for its bureaucracy, and expats will need to secure an NIE number and driving permit or licence before hitting the road to enjoy their new set of wheels. See Transport and Driving in Spain for more on obtaining a driving licence in Spain.
When parking, people generally bump their way into parking spaces and care less for the condition of their car or that of others than one might be used to. Expect scrapes, scratches and dents – they are inevitable. Expats should also never leave anything of value visible in their car, or it may be broken into.