Tickets are available in metro stations from cashiers or automated machines, from authorized news kiosks and tobacco shops (estancos) or you can buy a ticket on the bus. If you buy a multi-trip ticket, it can be used on either the subway or the bus. You have to validate your ticket on each trip by putting it through a slot in the turnstile. Take care of your multi-trip ticket to keep the magnetic strip on the back from being damaged. If you still have rides and your ticket won't pass through the slot to be validated, you can take it to the cashier and show it to him or her.
Although you should try to use exact change on the bus, the driver will give you change if necessary. If you use a large bill, however, the driver is not required to give you change; rather, he will take your name and address and the change will be mailed to you.
The website for the bus system is http://www.emtmadrid.es/ and there is even an English-language version of the site. The site is easy to use, easier than the maps posted on the bus-stops, so it's probably a good idea to check it out before your trip, locating your residence in Madrid and places you may wish to visit in order to find out the numbers of the bus lines you will need. It is especially important to know about the bus system if you are a night person, because the subway stops running at 1:30 a.m. It can be difficult to find a taxi late at night, as well as expensive, so if you're planning to sip rioja with your new Spanish friends until deep into the night, be sure you know where to catch the bus home.
However, you will probably use the subway more frequently, due to its speed and ease of use.. Each train has a route map so you won't miss your stop; the map also shows which lines connect at each station.
With a ticket of the month you can ride an unlimited number of times on subways and buses. Such a ticket consists of two components: a ticket (tarjeta mensual) and a magnetic coupon (abono mensual). The monthly ticket is available from the 20th of the preceding month until the 15th of the current month. It can be purchased from metro agents in the stations or at authorized news kiosks or tobacconists (who also sell postage stamps -- €.78 to send a postcard to the US).
A tourist ticket is available at the Centro de Información de Turismo de Madrid in Plaza Mayor, as well as at certain licensed newstands and tobacco vendors. It is available in units from 1, 2, 3, 5 and 7 days, from midnight to midnight, and for Zone A (metropolitan Madrid) and Zone T (which will get you as far as Guadalajara and Toledo). The price varies, of course, with the length of time you buy and the zone you choose. A 7-day ticket for Zone A costs €19.80 and includes unlimited travel on the metro and buses. You must show your passport at the time of purchase and the ticket is not transferable. This cost is slightly more than three times the rate for a ten-trip ticket, so you would need to use public transportation more than thirty-one times per week for this ticket to save you money. However, if you will be spending a weekend exploring Madrid and its surroundings, it may be worthwhile to invest in a 2- or 3-day tourist ticket. This website will allow you to check the prices to make a good decision; it provides information in Spanish and English.
The monthly ticket is not a 30-day ticket; it is good for a calendar month. If you purchase a monthly ticket at the end of May, it will be good for the month of June. If you are leaving Madrid on the 18th of June, you will have to ride the metro more than 61 times to save money with the monthly ticket, that is about 3 to 4 times per day, every day. If you are under 21, however, the deal is a bit better: you will have to ride the metro more than 41 times to save money, about 2.3 trips daily. If you live far from the Institute and need to ride the metro to and from class, plus use the metro to go out at night, this may be a good idea. However, most likely your best bet is going to be the 10-trip ticket at €6.40.
Remember when traveling on the metro that it will be very crowded at rush hour and often at other times as well. It's especially important to watch your belongings on the metro because the crowded conditions make it very easy for someone to bump up against you "accidentally" and take your wallet or slip their hand into your purse. One trick is for a person to drape a sweater or jacket over his or her arm in order to conceal the fact that he or she is slyly unzipping your bag. Thieves in Madrid are very accomplished and manage to rob not only tourists but also Madrileños with distressing frequency. You really can't be too careful! This is a situation where a little paranoia wouldn't hurt.
Getting a cab in Madrid is a very varied experience. It's best to be prepared with some information. The cabbie could be anything from warm and friendly to rude and dishonest. Cabbies will not stop and pick you up if you look drunk or if you have a buddy with you who is passing out or looks intoxicated.
Free cabs have a green light on top; if the light is out there is already a fare in the cab. Prices are higher from 10 at night to 6 in the morning and on holidays. The number next to the green light as well as the meter in the cab indicates the fare, Tariff 1 for the lower fare, and 2 for the higher. For some trips there is an extra fee, for example, from a taxi stand or the airport. If you get stuck in traffic, there is an hourly fee of €13.30 for each hour you travel less than 19 km./hour (about 6 ½ miles per hour).
The fare to or from the airport should not exceed €25, unless there is simply horrendous traffic. Check the meter when you get into and out of the cab in order to assure that you are being charged fairly. If you suspect you are being ripped off, refuse to pay and ask to speak to a police officer (after you have gotten your bags out of the cab). If the cabbie is trying to cheat you, he will probably just take off at that point. Cabbies are required to give you a receipt if you ask for one; if you wish to register a complaint at the Oficina Municipal del Taxi you should also write down the driver's ID number or Tax Identification Number and the official number of the cab displayed on the dashboard, as well as the date and time of your trip.
You need to be on your guard but do not hesitate to take a cab if all your friends have left and you need to go home alone very late at night. If it's very late ask the bartender or your host / hostess to call a cab for you. If you call a cab, the driver starts the meter when he receives the call and sets off to pick you up.
If you are separated from your group on a field trip and everyone leaves without you, don't panic. Trains travel frequently to and from Madrid and don't cost much. For example, if you are left behind in Segovia, it will cost you less than €6 to get back to Madrid and there is a train every 2 hours from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. From Toledo the schedule is similar and the price is under €10.
If you decide to spend a weekend in gorgeous Valencia, trains leave about every hour (some faster, some slower) and the cost varies with the speed of the trip. You can get there in about three hours for about €43 or in a first-class seat for €70.
For more information on traveling by train, check out the website.
About.com's "Spain for Visitors" website has a wealth of valuable information on all kinds of topics including transportation, things to do in Madrid, a photo gallery and many more practical and useful links.
Advice from UNCG students from the Summer in Spain 2007 program