What To Do During a Layover in Madrid

Have a few hours to kill during your layover in Madrid? Fear not! Activities abound just beyond the airport’s walls.

While it’s hard to become a pro at Spain’s capital in a day, there are plenty of gorgeous parks, amazing tapas bars and delicious local dishes you can devour in just a few hours. Drop off your luggage, take advantage of your layover in Madrid, and check these quick (but classic!) hot-spots off your list.

Have just a few hours to spend in Madrid? Don't waste them in the airport! Follow our guide of the best things to do to make the most of your layover in Madrid.

Photo Credit: Brianne Garrett

Take a Quick Trip to Puerta del Sol

Sol is Madrid’s most famous square and it’s just a quick ride from the airport on the Cercanías train. With such easy access from the airport, there’s no excuse not to visit Sol during your layover in Madrid.

Step out of the station and into the heart of downtown Madrid. Snap a photo in front of Madrid’s most iconic statue, the bear and strawberry tree, or join crowds of people watching street performers in action around the square.

If you’re looking for something more low-key, you’re in luck. When you know where to look, you can walk to a variety of quality bars and restaurants in no time.

But keep in mind—as this is the heart of downtown, there are a few too many tourist traps around! Our Ultimate Spanish Cuisine Tour takes you to some of this area’s best kept secrets.

Take a selfie with the bear and the strawberry tree in Sol!

Have a Pastry at La Mallorquina

Take a few moments to indulge in a flaky napolitana or a sweet and fruity rosquilla right on the edge of the Puerta del Sol plaza. La Mallorquina is known for its traditional desserts and is a great stop during a layover in Madrid. This pastry shop is a must-try for all those with an insatiable sweet tooth.

Pick up a chocolate-filled croissant to snack on as you explore the enchanting streets of the city center or stay awhile and order a café con leche to go along with your mouthwatering pastry. Other favorites are brazo de trufa, a truffle cake roll, or palmeras, crispy, thin puff pastries often topped with chocolate. If you’re not into sweets, go for a savory croissant filled with ham and cheese!

Pro Tip: While La Mallorquina is busy at all times of the day, trust us when we say it’s worth the wait. Grab a number near the stairs in order to snag a table upstairs! Our favorite thing to order? A thin croissant stuffed full of heavenly dark chocolate. You can even ask if they have one fresh out of the oven (they usually do!).

Address: Calle Mayor, 2

Indulge in a flaky napolitana de chocolate from La Mallorquina!

Take a Food Tour

If you’ve got limited time in Madrid, one of the best ways to maximize your experience is ask for a bit of help in what to see! Food tours are the perfect way to get an inside look at all Madrid has to offer.

With our Tapas, Taverns & History tour, for example, you’ll get a taste of four of the city’s best tapas bars and a fascinating and entertaining historical walking tour of Old Madrid—all in just a few hours!

Another great option is the Behind-The-Scenes Botin Lunch & Prado Museum Tour. Anyone with limited time in Madrid knows what two of the must-visit places are: the Prado Museum and Botin, the oldest restaurant in the world! Combine both during your layover in Madrid in this exclusive small-group tour of six people. You’ll save time with us by skipping the line at the Prado. Once inside, you’ll get so much more out of our guided 1.5 hour tour with an expert than you would wandering around by yourself. Finish off this essential Madrid experience with a classic vermouth in a tavern followed by an unbelievable three-course meal at Botin. And just like that, in around four hours you’ll be able to call yourself a true Madrid expert!

Cheers to making new friends and trying new food on one of our tours!

Stretch Your Legs at Retiro Park

Retiro offers the best of both worlds: nature and art, all in one. Escape the busy city streets to experience the monuments, sculptures, and galleries that rival museum exhibits worldwide. The park also houses a peaceful lake where you’ll find many visitors relaxing with a good book, enjoying the nice view or taking a rowboat for a spin. As the most famous park in the city and a great free activity to boot, it’s a great place to visit during a layover in Madrid.

Don’t leave Retiro without taking a walk inside the Crystal Palace. It’s as elaborate and eye-catching as it sounds, and is one of the true gems of Retiro. Even better—it’s free to enter!

The Alfonso XII monument is one of the highlights of Retiro Park! Photo Credit: Gregorio Puga Bailón

Have a Caña at a Classic Tapas Bar

You just can’t visit Madrid without enjoying a refreshing cañaa small draft beer. This favorite Madrileño pastime is a fantastic way to experience the city just like the locals do. Raise your glass for a toast to your short-but-enjoyable layover in Madrid before you have to catch your next flight.

Pro tip: Pair that caña with one of the many delicious dishes Madrid is known for!

Toast to Madrid in classic Madrid style, with a cool caña!

Stroll Through Mercado de San Miguel

Mercado de San Miguel is easily the most famous market in Madrid and is absolutely worth a visit—especially if you’re only in the city for a few hours. Endless selections of tapas, wine, fruits, cheeses and desserts are beautifully displayed, making it pleasantly difficult to decide what to try first. No matter the time of day, the San Miguel Market is always buzzing with people from all over the world anxious to sample both its local and international products. Open continuously from 10:00 am to midnight (2:00 am on weekends), it’s a great option for a visit during a layover in Madrid, day or night. Our advice? Try a refreshing glass of vermouth right at the bar with our friends La Hora del Vermut. It’s the quintessential Spanish aperitif, and it’s certainly making a comeback right now.  

Address: Plaza de San Miguel

Sample some local meat at Mercado de San Miguel!

Craving more? Our Madrid food tours are the perfect way to get to know the city. Our tours offer a two-fold experience: a chance to learn about the rich culture and history of Spain while enjoying some of the best food and drinks in the city—and we do it all in just a few hours!

Featured Image Credit: Brianne Garrett

11 Comment

  1. AUNTIE3 says
    February 12, 2017 at 8:19 pm

    Love the article Bri! Congratulations!

  2. Ryan L. Gautier says
    June 1, 2019 at 12:39 pm

    We Are arriving tonight at 1030pm and we have to be back again at 7am (flight at 10am) Are there places to go during this time? Are restaurants open all night? I’d rather not just to a hotel and sleep. I’m ok paying for cab fair if necessary both ways. I will have a backpack only and not really a club person. Thanks

    1. Devour Tours says
      June 3, 2019 at 1:05 pm

      Hey Ryan! Most places aren’t open all night. Here are a few options for late night bites in Madrid: https://madridfoodtour.com/restaurants-open-late-in-madrid/

  3. Krystal Hughes says
    August 16, 2019 at 3:37 pm

    Thanks sis! Have a long layover there and you gave me tons of ideas! Keep writing

    1. Devour Tours says
      August 20, 2019 at 9:17 am

      Hope you’re able to make the most of it!

  4. Mo says
    November 5, 2019 at 5:20 pm

    I’m very heartened to read your piece! A friend of mine told me Madrid airport is a mess, complicated, etc. and not to even think about going in to town. We have just 6 hours (arr. 2:00 pm, depart (9:00 pm), so really only 4…is it doable?? Thanks!

    1. Devour Tours says
      November 6, 2019 at 10:31 am

      Hi Mo—Madrid’s airport is quite large, which can make it confusing to navigate. 4 hours may be cutting it close, but if you do go into town, stay close to the Atocha train station so you can easily take the train or bus back to the airport. You’ll be close to the Reina Sofia art museum, and not too far from Retiro Park, either. Enjoy Madrid!

  5. Jeff says
    December 26, 2019 at 5:48 pm

    Arriving in Madrid at 8 AM and have a flight out at 5 PM. Any recommends on a short tour of the city maybe a main area? Is this possible with our time? We are planning to check our carry on at the airport and take the metro to the city center with our backpacks. Our outgoing flight is to Tel Aviv so assuming extra security we have to account for. Thanks in advance

    1. Devour Tours says
      December 27, 2019 at 12:20 pm

      Our Huertas Neighborhood Food & Market Tour starts at 10 am and ends at 1 pm! It’s a morning where you can experience day-to-day life the way a Madrid local does, with stops at a market and food shops. For sightseeing tours, we like the company Walks. Enjoy your layover!

  6. Kelly says
    January 31, 2020 at 6:46 am

    So my husband and daughter will be arriving in Madrid at 1:40 p.m. and flying out at 8:50? Does this give them ample time to get through customs and into Madrid? Do you recommend train or taxi? And what time do you think they would need to head back to the airport? Any afternoon activities you suggest?

    1. Devour Tours says
      February 3, 2020 at 8:43 am

      Hi Kelly,
      Thanks so much for reading! We’d say your family should be good on time if they’d like to spend a few hours exploring Madrid during the layover. The best way to get downtown would be via the Airport Express bus (https://www.emtmadrid.es/Bloques-EMT/Aeropuerto.aspx?lang=en-GB), where they can get off at either Plaza de Cibeles or Atocha. Both are close to Retiro Park, which is a lovely place for a walk. Cibeles will give them easy access to Gran Via and Puerta del Sol, while Atocha is near the CaixaForum museum and the botanical gardens. They can take the same bus from either Cibeles or Atocha back to the airport—we’d recommend they give themselves at least two hours, especially if they’re flying out of the larger Terminal 4.
      We hope this helps and that your family enjoys Madrid!

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