Transportation in Madrid
You should fly to Madrid-Barajas airport. After you land, there are several options to get to your hotel or apartment. The most common choices are by metro and/or Cercanías commuter train, taxi, or a shuttle service.
Metro and Cercanías Commuter Train
To use the metro or Cercanías train, you will either need to buy a single metro ticket or a multi-day tourist ticket. All tickets can be bought at machines in the metro station (in English). It is easiest to use cash (euros) to pay at the machines. You probably will not be able to use your debit, credit, or ATM card at the machines. It’s a good idea to get some euros at a bank in the U.S. before you leave for Spain so you don’t have to immediately worry about getting money when you land.
A single metro ticket to or from the airport requires the payment of an airport supplement of three euros. The total cost for a single metro ticket, including the supplement, to travel within Zone A (all of central Madrid, including Vicálvaro) is 4.50-5.00 euros (price depends on how many stations are on your route). For a single ticket outside Zone A, that goes up to 6.00 euros. See Madrid Single Metro Ticket Information.
For most people, it is probably more economical to buy a public transportation tourist pass for the first day or two. Information about these passes is available at Metro Madrid. These passes are available at the regular metro machines. With a tourist pass, you get unlimited transportation (buses, metros, and Cercanías) in the entire zone of the pass for the number of days that you buy. As an added benefit you do not need to pay the airport supplement with a tourist pass. As you will see at the above website, a one-day tourist pass in Zone A (all you are likely to need) costs 8 euros, a two-day pass costs 13.40 euros, a three-day pass costs 17.40, etc.
The metro station can be found in Terminals 2 and 4 of the airport. You can walk to Terminal 2 from Terminals 1 and 3. The airport is on Line 8. Once you are on the metro, just follow the Madrid Metro Map to your destination.
The Cercanías trains can be found in Terminal 4. If you arrive in another terminal, you can take an airport shuttle to Terminal 4, but sometimes shuttles take a very long time to travel between terminals because the airport is so big. The Cercanías trains are more comfortable and make fewer stops than the metro. There is a relatively quick Cercanías train to the main Atocha train station. It makes about three stops en route (one at the Chamartín train station). Trains leave the airport about every half hour, and they take about half an hour to get to Atocha. From Atocha, you can take another Cercanías train to Vicálvaro or you can take a metro or bus to wherever you plan to stay. See the “Maps” page at this website for more information.
Monthly Transportation Pass. Regardless of how you initially get to your apartment, it is advisable that you buy a transportation pass for the month of June as soon as you are able to. If you will be staying in Zone A (which includes Vicálvaro and all of central Madrid), just buy a Zone A pass. This metro pass covers travel to the airport as well (no airport supplement needed).
The regular Monthly Metro Pass for unlimited use of all public transportation in Zone A costs 52.20 euros, plus a small fee for issuing the card. To buy a pass for the month of June, you need to bring a passport photo (Spanish size) and your passport to a tobacco stand. Although it seems odd to people from the U.S., tobacco stands handle a lot more than just tobacco in Europe. You will see them all over the place in Madrid. Note that they are often called Estancos. You can either get a Spanish-size passport photo at a Walgreens before you leave the U.S. or at a photography store or a photo machine (in many metro stations) once you are in Madrid.
Of course single trip tickets are available for regular travel (not just to or from the airport), as are tickets valid for 10 journeys. We anticipate that for most people, the monthly pass will be the most economical.
You can always take a taxi from the airport to your hotel or apartment. Taxis are abundant and safe in Madrid. Find the nearest taxicab stand and tell the driver your destination. If you don’t speak Spanish, write the destination on a paper and show it to the driver. The fare depends on how long it takes to get to your destination, but the fare from the airport to Vicálvaro should be somewhere around 20-30 euros. See this website to estimate your Taxi Fare.
You can regularly use taxis to get around Madrid, although public transportation with a monthly pass is generally much cheaper. Note that people generally don’t tip taxi drivers in Madrid, although it is common to round up to the nearest euro.
Another convenient option for the day you arrive is to take a shuttle service to your hotel or apartment. These can be arranged in advance (or sometimes upon arrival in Madrid if vans are available). If you are going this route, it’s best to arrange it in advance.
These services are nice because they are often cheaper than taxis, they give you door-to-door service, and you will likely have a shuttle waiting for you when you arrive. If you think you might want to go this route, take a look at AeroCity.