When we booked our flights to go to Switzerland for me to attend a work event, we discovered, to our great delight, that we could get very reasonable flights via Madrid, Spain. Neither of us has been to Madrid before, so we thought it would be a great opportunity to spend a few hours exploring the city during our layover in Madrid.
How long was our layover in Madrid?
We had a 7-hour layover going there and again coming back. Going there, the layover started early in the morning until late afternoon, while the layover coming back began in the late afternoon until about midnight.
Our top things to do during a layover in Madrid
Since we had two layovers in Madrid, we will share our top picks from each one. One can easily combine them, depending on the length of a layover.
Highlights from our first layover in Madrid
Our first layover in Madrid started very early as we landed just after 6:00 in the morning. Since we did not have to fetch our luggage, we were on the train from the Madrid-Barajas Airport to Madrid’s city just after 7:00.
Taking the train from the Airport to Madrid is very convenient and does not take that long. It took us 40 minutes to get to the station we wanted. Unfortunately, we got off at the wrong station (Opera Station) and only realized this when we could not find what we were looking for outside the station. Lucky, we could walk to where we wanted to be.
Taking a walk outside so early was lovely. The roads were quiet except for cleaning crews everywhere.
We decided to go for Churros Con Chocolate for breakfast. According to Lonely Planet’s Madrid guide, it was the one dish anyone going to Spain for the first time should try and there was also one particular place to have it.
We managed to get lost on the way there, and then suddenly we found ourselves in front of Plaza Mayor.
Plaza Mayor is a beautiful square in the middle of Madrid’s city center. The square is apparently used for events such as bullfights. Lucky we did not have to endure this!
In the middle of the square or plaza is a statue of King Phillips III on his horse.
On the sides of the Plaza are many restaurants and a tourist office. The decorations of the municipal and cultural building are beautiful. It is one of the most beautiful buildings I have seen and worth getting lost for!
Since nothing here was open, we decided to see if we could find the best place to have Churros Con Chocolate. We ended up at Puerta Del Sol and asked for directions.
Chocolateria de San Gines
We did not have far to walk from Puerta Del Sol before we reached the Chocolateria de San Gines. Even though it was still early in the morning, there was a queue outside the entrance. We were not the only people having such a decadent breakfast!
The Chocolateria has menus in a variety of languages on the wall. We each ordered the standard Churros Con Chocolate. We were lucky when someone just left, and we could sit in the main seating area. The place was packed, as people finished and left, newcomers sat down.
The Churros Con Chocolate portion was quite large. Each of us had the cup of chocolate and six churros! And they were not little ones!
The churros reminded me of deep-fried donuts. Dipping them into the chocolate was lovely, but it was such a creamy dish. Lucky, an unlimited supply of cold water was available.
In hindsight, we should have ordered two chocolates with one portion of churros. One portion each was just too much!
After breakfast, it was still only 10:00 in the morning. We were a little lost about what to do during the next few hours we had before returning to the Airport for our flight to Basel.
The sightseeing bus
We spotted some brochures for the sightseeing buses. There were two different bus companies. The red tour bus offered two routes, and the yellow tour bus provided just one route. We considered the time we had available as well as the duration of the routes. Then, we realized that we should be able to fit both routes of the red sightseeing bus into the time we had available before returning to the airport.
After buying our tickets from one of the kiosks on Puerta Del Sol, we went to the nearest bus stop. Once again we were lucky – the bus arrived at the same time as us!
We spent the next few hours on the sightseeing bus, learning about the history of Madrid and the many sights along the way. Mentally we were keeping track of the sights we would like to return to during our second layover.
Later on, when we were on the train back to the Airport, my partner and I were unanimous in the sights we wanted to see during our second layover in Madrid a few days later.
The Royal Palace of Madrid
Our second layover in Madrid started off much more smoothly than the first. We took the train from the airport to the Opera Station where we had mistakenly got off the previous time. From there it was a short walk to the Royal Palace of Madrid.
We both had spotted the Royal Palace of Madrid and the Cathedral opposite it from the sightseeing bus. These two buildings were impressive and stunning from a distance; we wanted to explore them from up close.
We decided to visit the Royal Palace first. Luck was on our side again, and when we got to the entrance, there was no queue.
We first explored the Royal Armory, which had the royal armory outfits for soldiers and the royal family on display. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures.
When we exited the Royal Armory, there was a show going on outside. Afterward, we realized it was not an actual show, but a practice round for an event that would take place later. We stood and watched the horseriders and carriages for almost an hour. It felt so fitting to have the horses and carriages in the courtyard of the Royal Palace; this was most surely a tradition from the past. We felt honored to witness the practicing session.
Main palace building
We then entered the main palace. What a building it was! The rooms were so large and lavish, perfect for a Royal Family. Imagine the events that must have taken place inside the palace in throughout its history.
The Spanish Royal Family still uses a portion on the Royal Palace, but they live in a different palace. A section of the palace was open for tourists. Unfortunately, photographs were not allowed in most of the rooms. Pity, but we had to respect this request.
From here we went to an art show in one of the side buildings of the passage. I am not usually a fan of art, but I found it quite impressive how vibrant and realistic some of the paintings and tapestries were considering how old they were.
We spent about 4 hours exploring the Royal Palace and its grounds and could easily have spent more time there, but we were getting hungry and still wanted to see the inside of the Cathedral opposite the Royal Palace.
Catedral de Santa María la Real de la Almudena
We found the cathedral closed when we arrived there, which was disappointing. We took a few pictures of its great exterior and went looking for supper.
By this time it was almost 19:00 and we were tired and hungry. We saw a restaurant opposite the Royal Palace selling Paella with a salad and a drink for a very reasonable price. Not feeling like looking further, we decided just to have supper there.
It was my first time eating Paella. I am not much of a rice eater, but I found the dish quite pleasant and filling. We tried Spanish beer with the Paella and sat there watching the people walking past. No matter what country you are visiting, people-watching is a fascinating thing to do!
And so, our second layover in Madrid ended, and we had to return to the Airport.
These were the highlights from our two layovers in Madrid. It was too short to see much of the city, but it was long enough for me to know that I would have to return to Madrid to see more. I found the Spanish people friendly and Madrid beautiful.
Have you ever had a layover in Madrid? How did you spend it? What else would you recommend doing during a layover in Madrid?