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Your Layover Guide To Madrid (MAD)

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The “Your Layover Guide” series features airports and destinations around the world where you’re likely to be stuck between flights, offering tips on navigating and spending time in the airport, as well as suggesting things to do if you have time to explore the nearby city. TPG International Contributor Lori Zaino guides us through her home airport, Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas (MAD), located in central Spain. (All photos are by the author, unless otherwise specified.)

The Madrid Barajas Adolfo Suarez Airport T4. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas (MAD) is Spain’s largest airport in terms of size, operations and passenger traffic, serving over 39 million passengers per year. Located just eight miles from central Madrid, MAD consists of four terminals, but note that T3 is mainly used for cargo.

Previously named Madrid-Barajas after a nearby village, the airport’s newer, longer name honors the late Adolfo Suárez, the first Primer Minister of Spain after the restoration of democracy in the wake of Franco’s dictatorship. Terminals 1, 2 and 3 were inaugurated back in 1933, but Terminal 4 is a more recent edition; it was built in 2006, doubling the size of the airport.

At the Airport

T4 at MAD
T4 at MAD. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

The first three terminals are together in one building, while Terminal 4 (and its satellite terminal, 4S) is in a separate building.

You can access various Salas VIP (aka airport lounges) in all terminals by paying a fee for one-time access. Adults are €26.50 (approx. $30) and children are €12.75 (approx. $14).

Terminals 1 and 2  (Terminal 3 is used for domestic flights)

Practical Information

These terminals are used for Skyteam and Star Alliance airlines, as well as low-cost carriers such as Ryanair and EasyJet. You can get 30 free minutes of Wi-Fi in all terminals, but you’ll have to pay for longer periods. There are pharmacies in Terminals 1 and 2 and lottery tickets are available in Terminal 2 (Spain rarely lets you miss an opportunity to play the lottery). Chapels are located in T1 and T2, and a mosque can be found in T1.

Special Features

Don’t expect yoga rooms, spas and trendy features at Barajas; like the city of Madrid itself, the airport is a rather traditional space. However, there has recently been a lot of renovation going on throughout these terminals to improve restaurants and shopping in order to catch up with the flashier Terminal 4.

Parfois is a great shop for jewelry, bags and sunglasses
Parfois is a great shop for jewelry, bags and accessories

Shopping & Dining 

You can enjoy loads of Duty Free shopping in any of the the passenger terminals, and for cute jewelry and trendy accessories, visit Parfois (T1—B gates and T3). Spanish department store chain El Corte Ingles also has some small airport outposts where you can get designer-brand items, some of which are made in Spain, like jewelry brand Aristocrazy. If you’re hoping to bring back some Spanish snacks, Sibarium (found at T1—B gates and T2—D gates, as well as T4—J gates) offers Iberian ham, Manchego cheese, Rioja wines and more; just be aware that the US doesn’t allow Iberian ham to be brought into the country.

Mama Framboise has a small stand in T1
Mama Framboise has a small stand in T1

Terminal 1 has a recently opened Mama Framboise, offering delicate pastries and macarons. Terminal 2 features the famous Spanish tapas restaurant Cien Montaditos, where you can get small montaditos (mini sandwiches) for as little as one euro.

Luggage Storage

Baggage storage is available in T1 near the arrivals hall. Each bag will cost you €6 ($6.75) for 0-2 hours and €10 for 2-24 hours.

Terminal 4 (and 4S)

Practical Information

This particular terminal typically handles flights in the Oneworld alliance, so if you plan on flying American, British Airways or Iberia from the US to Spain, you will most likely land here. Logistically speaking, this terminal is slightly further away from the city center, so be prepared to spend a few extra minutes on transport if you’re heading to T4. If your flight lands or departs from the 4S Satellite terminal in T4, make sure to plan a little time getting to your gate, because the 4S gates are almost a mile away from the main T4 building. There’s an easy tram service available that takes you to and from these gates (allow about 5-10 minutes) and it’s actually the first driverless transit system in Spain.

You can obtain 30 free minutes of Wi-Fi in all terminals, but for longer periods you’ll have to pay. There are pharmacies and lottery ticket stands located throughout T4. Both chapels and a mosque are also located in T4.

T4 is considered to be an architectural marvel. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Special Features

T4 is considered to be architectural gem, and has won the Stirling Prize of the Royal Institute of British Architects, the most prestigious of Great Britain in architecture as well as the International RIBA European Awards 2006, Best Engineering Project 2005 by the Institute of Engineering Spain and the Design Award T + L 2006 in the Best Public Space category. Characterized by its corrugated roofs and yellow beams, T4 is a delight to look at, as well as being spacious and filled with natural light.

Shopping & Dining

Besides being awesome to look at, T4 is great for last minute shopping and snacks. The terminal has an array of mid-priced shops like Zara and Victoria Secret, as well as upscale shopping like Hugo Boss, Loewe, Longchamp, Burberry and more (J gates). Salvatore Ferragamo, Bulgari and Michael Kors can be found in the 4S area. Kirei by Kabuki is a yummy sushi place that is located near the J gates, appropriate for a sit-down meal or quick takeaway.

T4 is a bit far away from T1, 2 and 3
T4 is a bit far away from T1, 2 and 3

Luggage Storage

Baggage storage is available in T4 near arrivals hall. Each bag will cost you €6 (about $7) for 0-2 hours and €10 (about $11) for 2-24 hours.

Getting From T1, 2 and 3 To T4

Arriving to T4 from the other three terminals is a 5-10 minute drive away, and definitely not walkable. For connections where you have to switch to or from T4, you will have to exit the airport in the arrivals area and catch a free bus that goes between the four terminals (look for the green ones), departing about every 10 minutes 24 hours a day.

Travel to the City Center

The Madrid metro system is clean, safe and user-friendly. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

You can catch the metro or various buses from any of the terminals. The pink Metro line 10 makes separate stops at Aeropuerto-T123 and Aeropuerto-T4. Be careful not to get off at the Barajas stop located between the two airport stops, because that is referring to the small village of Barajas, not the airport itself. From this Metro line, you can switch lines at various stops to get you to different points in the city (€5/$5.50, including an airport surcharge).

The 200 bus will get you to Avenida America, which is a bus and metro station on the central Eastern side of the city (€1.50/$1.70) connecting many different bus and metro lines, or you can take the Express Airport Bus (available 24 hours a day) for €5 ($5.50) which stops in just three spots: O’Donnell, Cibeles (city center) and Atocha (the main train station if you are connecting to a RENFE train).

RENFE trains are available to/from T4 only and will take you to various points in the city. The ticket typically costs about €2.50 ($2.80) but it’s free if you can show proof of a connecting AVE high-speed train. Taxis will cost about €30 (about $33) to most places in the city center, and tipping is not customary.

If You Have a Half Day

The Crystal Palace in the Retiro Park.
The Crystal Palace in the Retiro Park.

Take the Airport Express bus and get off at Cibeles. Admire the famous Cibeles fountain and beautiful surrounding buildings, which include the Palacio Cibeles, a post-office-turned-government-building and the Banco De España (the Bank of Spain). Wander up Calle Alcalá until you see the Puerta de Alcalá, a huge monument perfect for photo ops on sunny morning. Just behind, you’ll spot the glistening treetops towering over black Spanish railings: the famous Parque de Buen Retiro. Stroll through the gorgeous gardens, making sure to visit the lake and the Palacio de Cristal, a beautiful building built entirely of glass in 1887 as an exhibition hall for flora and fauna.

If You Have a Whole Day

Cheeses galore at the San Miguel market.
Cheeses galore at the San Miguel market.

Start with the half-day itinerary, then add on: Walk a few blocks from the Retiro to Spain’s most famous art museum, the Museo del Prado (€14/about $15). Make sure to see highlights like Goya’s masterpieces, Diego Velazquez’s royal court painting Las Meninas and the celestial paintings by El Greco.

The Plaza Mayor is one of Madrid's most famous squares.
The Plaza Mayor is one of Madrid’s most famous squares.

Then walk on toward Puerta Del Sol, the city center of Madrid, and visit the Plaza Mayor, which dates back to 1577. Once used as an execution spot for heretics during the Inquisition, it’s now frequented by tourists and locals wandering around, snapping photos and enjoying coffees or beers in the sunshine. Tapa your way through the nearby Mercado de San Miguel market, or head over to Emma Cocina if you’d prefer a sit-down meal with plates of jamon y queso. End your day with a sunset visit to the Palacio Real, the royal palace. You can go inside (€10/about $11), or just enjoy the outside architecture, the views of the neighboring Almudena Cathedral and the perfectly manicured palace gardens.

If You Have the Night

The Westin Palace Madrid. Photo courtesy of the hotel.
The Westin Palace Madrid. Photo courtesy of the hotel.

Use your Starwood points at the famous Westin Palace Madrid, a gorgeous, regal property situated in the Plaza Neptuno. Rooms are flooded with natural light and include a desk and chair, the Heavenly Westin bed and shower. You can also enjoy the opera brunch here, sampling Spanish breakfast delights while listening to live opera and zarzuela. July rates for this SPG category 5 property start at €232 (about $257) or as little as 12,000 Starpoints per night, but there is very limited redemption availability.

Finally, if smaller and trendier is more your thing, TPG loves the ME Melia Reina Victoria in Plaza Santa Ana for its central location and chic decor. July rates start at €166.50 (about $184) per night.

Since the airport is so close and easy to get to from the city center, it’s not really neccesary to stay close to the airport, but if you do have an early flight and prefer to be nearby, check out the Hilton Madrid Airport, which has an excellent swimming pool. July rates start at €97 (about $107) or 30,000 HHonors points per night.

For more information on enjoying Madrid, check out these posts:

Six Great Places To Get Tapas in Madrid
My Madrid: Eat, Drink, Amor
Destination of the Week: Madrid
Seven Reasons Why I Love Madrid

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