What to do during a layover in Madrid

This post contains affiliate links. If you click on any of these links to make a purchase, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

When I booked my flight to go to Switzerland for me to attend a work event, I discovered to my great delight, that I could get very reasonable flights via Madrid, Spain. I had not been to Madrid before, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to spend a few hours exploring the city during our layover in Madrid.

This post contains affiliate links. I may earn compensation when you click on the links at no additional cost to you.

Compare hotels and AirBnBs in Madrid

How long was our layover in Madrid?

I 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.

Layover in Madrid

My top things to do during a layover in Madrid

Since I had two layovers in Madrid, I will share my top picks from each one. One can easily combine them, depending on the length of a layover.

Highlights from our first layover in Madrid

My first layover in Madrid started very early as we landed just after 6:00 in the morning. Since I did not have to fetch my luggage, I was on the train from 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 me 40 minutes to get to the station I wanted. Unfortunately, I got off at the wrong station (Opera Station) and only realised this when I could not find what I was looking for outside the station. Luckily, I could walk to where I wanted to be.

Taking a walk outside so early was lovely. The roads were quiet except for cleaning crews everywhere.

I went 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.

I got lost on the way there, and then suddenly I found myself in front of Plaza Mayor.

Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor is a beautiful square in the middle of Madrid’s city centre. They apparently use the square for events such as bullfights. Luckily, I did not have to endure this!

In the middle of the square, or plaza, is a statue of King Phillips III on his horse.

Layover in Madrid - King Phillips III-2

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!

Layover in Madrid - Plaza Mayor
Layover in Madrid - detail Plaza Mayor

Since nothing here was open, I wanted to see if I could find the best place to have Churros Con Chocolate. I ended up at Puerta Del Sol and asked for directions.


Chocolateria de San Gines

I did not have far to walk from Puerta Del Sol before reaching the Chocolateria de San Gines. Even though it was still early in the morning, there was a queue outside the entrance. I was not the only one having such a decadent breakfast!

The Chocolateria has menus in a variety of languages on the wall. I ordered the standard Churros Con Chocolate. I was lucky when someone just left, and I could sit in the main seating area. The place was packed – as people finished and left, newcomers sat down.

Layover in Madrid - Churros Con Chocolate

The Churros Con Chocolate portion was quite large. I had a cup of chocolate and six churros! And they were not little ones!

The churros reminded me of deep-fried doughnuts. Dipping them into the chocolate was lovely, but it was such a creamy dish. Luckily, an unlimited supply of cold water was available.

After breakfast, it was still only 10:00 in the morning. I was a little lost about what to do during the next few hours I had before returning to the airport for my flight to Basel.

The sightseeing bus

I spotted 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. I considered the time I had available and the duration of the routes. Then, I realised I should be able to fit both routes of the red sightseeing bus into the time I had available before returning to the airport.

After buying my tickets from the one kiosk on Puerta Del Sol, I went to the nearest bus stop. Once again I was lucky – the bus arrived at the same time as I did!

I spent the next few hours on the sightseeing bus, learning about the history of Madrid and the many sights along the way. Mentally, I was keeping track of the sights I would like to return to during my second layover.

The Royal Palace of Madrid

My second layover in Madrid started off much more smoothly than the first. I took the train from the airport to the Opera Station where I had mistakenly got off the previous time. From there it was a short walk to the Royal Palace of Madrid.

I 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; I wanted to explore them from up close.

I visited the Royal Palace first. Luck was on my side again, and when I got to the entrance, there was no queue.

I first explored the Royal Armoury, which had the royal armoury outfits for soldiers and the royal family on display. Unfortunately, I could not take pictures.

When I exited the Royal Armoury, there was a horse show going on outside. Afterwards, I realised it was not an actual show, but a practice round for an event that would take place later. I stood and watched the horse riders 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. I felt honoured to witness the practising session.

Layover in Madrid - horserider show

Main palace building

I 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, they did not allow photographs to be taken in most of the rooms. Pity, but I had to respect this request.

From here I 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 impressive how vibrant and realistic some paintings and tapestries were considering how old they were.

Layover in Madrid - Tapestry

I spent about 4 hours exploring the Royal Palace and its grounds and could easily have spent more time there, but I was 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

Layover in Madrid - Royal Palace of Madrid

I found the cathedral closed when I arrived there, which was disappointing. I took a few pictures of its great exterior and went looking for supper.

Eating Paella

By this time it was almost 19:00 and we were tired and hungry. I 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, I decided just to have supper there.

Layover in Madrid - Paella

It was my first time eating Paella. I am not much of a rice eater, but I found the dish quite pleasant and filling. I 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, my second layover in Madrid ended, and I had to return to the Airport.

These were the highlights of 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?

16 thoughts on “What to do during a layover in Madrid”

  1. I love the hot chocolate in Spain – it’s ‘proper’, as I say. I’ve never been to Madrid, but there’s some great advice here on what to do during a layover – thanks.

  2. I’m a HUGE fan of paella. Crispy rice with amazing sauce is perfection and that image makes my mouth water looks fantastic.

  3. It’s always nice having a second go at it. Having things be familiar, but probably pretty exciting the first time. The palace looks amazing! I am going to have to figure out how to have a layover there or just go!

  4. Looked like you were able to pack in quite a lot! I love churros, especially on a cold winter’s day. I haven’t been to Madrid in a while, but it reminded me of some of the great things to see and do. Thank you!

  5. Wow! You packed a lot of great stuff into your layover. Madrid looks incredible. I really want to try some Churros Con Chocolate now.

  6. It was my first time having paella. I would like to try some of the other varieties as well, apparently, the seafood paella is the best!

  7. Wow, you packed a lot in to your 7 hour layover! And it’s not a trip to Spain without paella! I’ve only visited Barcelona, dying to go to Madrid, it looks like such a beautiful city

  8. Great suggestions for a layover! So much to see and do in the city. I’ll keep these in mind when we visit Madrid.

  9. So, convenient there is a train from Airport to main City. That chocolate soup is just too much, one portion of it with those dips would have been good. But well done, you spent your time in Madrid well in your layover time, most of us would have wasted it sitting in the airport and reading a book or sleeping after searching for nice breakfast, but you spent your time well exploring Madrid City.

  10. I will never miss an opportunity to see a new city or even just explore a city I have seen before, some more!

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.