Traveling to Madrid, Spain? How to Save Money, Time, and Eat Well (Part 2)

Have you ever gotten a tip about a place you were about to visit that just didn’t make sense? I have. And it taught me a great travel lesson. When someone gives me tips about a place I’m visiting, I’ll always ask them, “When was the last time you were there?” I just prefer tips to be as recent as possible. So having recently returned from a really wonderful time in Madrid, Spain, I’ve got a variety of tips I’m hoping you’ll enjoying knowing about. Please make sure to read part one where I offer restaurant tips!

I learned a trick when using a credit card in a machine in Spain, particularly at the metro stations. It saved me a lot of frustration and also enabled me to earn miles/points from my spend instead of having to pay with cash. It’s very easy to buy metro tickets in both Madrid and Barcelona, however, when you use a credit card there’s often a glitch. You’ll get to a point in the transaction when the machine will ask you for a PIN number. I don’t know about you but my credit cards that I use overseas don’t have PIN numbers. When the machine requests a PIN number, just press the green button to continue the transaction and viola, the transaction keeps going and you’ll be issued your ticket. Also, don’t pull out your credit card before you get the little green light or the transaction will fail. While standing in line to get metro tickets from the machines, I would notice confused tourists taking a long time with their transaction. I’d help them out and show them this trick and it worked every time!

If you have any interest in public transportation and metro stations, this little metro museum is a fun one to visit. It’s in the Chamberi neighborhood, which coincidentally is where a lot of the great coffee houses are as well :)

Metro Museum in Madrid, Spain. Image source: https://forgottenbytheworld.blogspot.com/2013/04/abandoned-metro-station-in-madrid-legal.html

This station functioned at first like any other Madrid Metro station. In fact, it was one of the original stations of Linea 1 that ran from Cuatro Camino to Puerto del Sol. However, for whatever reason, the early administration of the train system had to close it down. Fast forward to current times, and the metro is now a museum. It is called the Ghost station of Madrid. While this metro stop is not useful anymore as a station, it served well in the past. It acted as a major shelter for civilians who needed a safe place to stay during the Spanish Civil War. It was also used as a warehouse where supplies were hidden. This museum started in 2008, when the railway management decided to reopen it, but as a museum. Everything in it, specifically the design and display, was the work of Spanish architect Antonio Palacios, the same man who was commissioned to design the Palacio de Cibeles. He was also responsible for creating the interior areas of the early station. Metro Museum in Madrid is compact and its area is similar to that of the current modern stations. In fact, you can explore the place and finish the tour in under thirty minutes. It’s free to visit, but do call first to see if it’s open and keeping regular hours.

Madrid is a museum goers heaven! Depending on how many days you spend in Madrid and how much museum going energy you can muster, there’s a museum for everyone. The great thing is that the museums have nights, and sometimes days too, where admission is free. Free admission is usually for a few hours, which I felt was enough time to take in what I wanted to see at each museum. The three museums I recommend, Prado, Museo Reina Sofia, and Thyssen all have free admission nights. There are often hundreds of people in line, but don’t let the long lines deter you. Once they start letting people in, the lines move quickly and the crowds do tend to scatter throughout the museum so I didn’t think it ever felt overcrowded.

Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain. Image source: https://www.klook.com/activity/6495-prado-museum-reina-sofia-museum-guided-half-day-tour-madrid/

After landing in Madrid, I experienced the easiest time getting into the city center by taxi I’ve had anywhere in the world. I’ll often treat myself to a taxi to my lodging, rather than using the metro, especially if I’ve had a long flight, am feeling tired, and it’s not rush hour. In Madrid, taxis have a flat rate fee of 30 Euro from the airport to city center. The taxis seemed to be new so they were super clean. It didn’t matter how many people or how much luggage, the driver took a credit card and the machine worked with no issue, and the whole experience was quick and easy with no fuss. I sure do wish every taxi experience was like this one when I need to get from the airport to the city center!

Here’s a piece of advice on train travel in Spain. It’s likely you’ll take day trips from Madrid or go by train to your next destination. There are two major train stations in Madrid, both of which are easy to navigate and user friendly. However, I’d suggest getting your tickets ahead of time. I showed up at the station one day thinking I could get a ticket to Toledo. There were many trains to choose from but most of the trains going from Madrid to Toledo were sold out and even if I had gotten to Toledo that day, the return trains were all sold out. Struck me as strange, but when I finally did make my day trips I saw that many of the trains don’t have many cars. Maybe they use 4 or 5 cars, so that coupled with the idea that most Spaniards and other tourists probably make their plans ahead of time, means if you’re used to being spontaneous with plans the way I am, in this case get those tickets ahead of time!

Train to Toledo, Spain. Image source: http://visual-wanderings.com/traveling-spain-by-train/

I hope you find these travel tips helpful. I always think of what I would have liked someone to tell me before I travel somewhere, so that’s why I’m sharing them with you! Any tips you’d like to share?

8 thoughts on “Traveling to Madrid, Spain? How to Save Money, Time, and Eat Well (Part 2)

  1. Mike

    Thanks much. Very timely for those of us with whole binders full of newly minted Iberia Avios. Going to MAD in October myself.

    Reply
  2. Lauren

    Loving these tips on Madrid, as we will be traveling there in June 2019. Just curious if you might have any insight as to how easy/difficulty it might be for someone with mobility difficulty to get around the train stations? My husband has MS & uses a very small travel scooter. We’ve traveled by train in the US, but never abroad.

    Reply
    1. Shelli Post author

      HI Lauren, Glad you’re finding the tips useful. I did use the trains both within Madrid and for day trips outside the city. I did notice people in wheelchairs heading to what I assumed would be elevators. I didn’t use the elevators, only the escalators. Sorry I can’t be of more help. Madrid is a wonderful destination…….enjoy!

      Reply
  3. WAE

    Nice post about one of my favorite cities! Madrid has so much to offer and there are ways to save money.

    Re: using a no-PIN card
    Pressing the green button when prompted for a PIN worked for me in Portugal as well as Spain! However, it has not always worked in all locations (e.g., Milan, Copenhagen) when trying to buy tickets from machines. I got a free online bank account at Schwab and an ATM card with a PIN. I have always gotten fair exchange rates, any ATM charges are automatically refunded, and you can get cash from any machine with the Visa logo. It can also be a life-saver if a ticketing machine requires a card with a PIN.

    Re: museums
    The “big three” you mentioned are all worth visiting, especially when free! If you have time, do not overlook the numerous smaller museums with fewer crowds and often very low admission prices. For example, the Museo Cerralbo has an amazing collection and costs only 3 euros; it is housed in the 19th-century mansion of the collector, and his home is a work of art in itself. Similarly, the Museo Sorolla has an incredible collection of the Spanish Impressionist painter’s work in his home/studio/garden and also costs only 3 euros. Both also have free visits; check their websites for days/times.

    Re: transportation
    To save the most money, it is hard to beat the Airport Express bus which operates 24 hours a day (https://www.esmadrid.com/en/airport-express). It only costs 5 euros and you buy the ticket directly from the driver, who can make change. It is especially cost-effective if you are traveling solo or as a pair, even if you need to take a short taxi ride once you arrive at one of the stops in Madrid.

    Re: buying a train ticket ahead of time
    Booking ahead is always a good idea, and there are websites that allow you to avoid a service charge depending on which service you take. Just check the location of the destination train station relative to where you are going. For example, taking the high-speed train to Segovia and its famous Roman aqueduct is fast, but you need to pay for a taxi to get from the train station to/from town. There is a bus station from which you can walk to some mid-range hotels in about five minutes and the aqueduct in fewer than 10 minutes. For many cities near Madrid, the bus stations are more conveniently located and taking the bus can be a lot cheaper than the train (and sometimes actually faster). It pays to do your research.

    I just spent three weeks in Spain in May, so I hope this is useful to folks. Buen viaje!

    Reply
    1. Shelli Post author

      Thank you so much for adding such great tips to the conversation. I hope readers take advantage of the suggestions you made! Three weeks in Spain, how wonderful!

      Reply

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