Madrid by car: Ultimate guide to get to the city (2024)

madrid by car

You may be considering travel to Madrid by car as part of a road trip around Spain. Cool! It’s a fun and independent way of seeing the country.

If your plan is to travel by car, you should book your car rental online. Check this complete guide to book yours in a couple of minutes.

But first, let’s see how you can get to Madrid. Then, how it is to drive around Madrid

Getting to Madrid by car: highway network

As the capital of Spain, Madrid is the central hub to which all roads lead. In fact, there’s a plaque in Puerta del Sol indicating the center (km 0 or kilometer zero) of the radial network of Spanish road.

Being located in the center of the country, Madrid is not more than 6-7 hours driving from the furthest Spanish town (except those outside the Iberian Peninsula, of course).

Free to use highways

The main highways (autovía) linking Madrid to other important cities are:

  • A-1 (Autovía del Norte) with 371 km (231 mi) connects Madrid to Irún, next to the western part of the French border.
  • A-2 (Autovía del Nordeste) with 504 km (313 mi) connects Madrid to Barcelona.
  • A-3 (Autovía del Este) with 355 km (221 mi) connects Madrid to Valencia.
  • A-4 (Autovía del Sur) with 660 km (410 mi) connects Madrid to Cádiz.
  • A-5 (Autovía del Suroeste) with 408 km (254 mi) connects Madrid to Badajoz, next to the Portuguese border.
  • A-6 (Autovía del Noroeste) with 590 km (370 mi) connects Madrid to Arteixo, next to La Coruña.


Additionally, Madrid has 3 orbital highways or road rings:

  • The M-30 which stretches for 33 km around Madrid and is now almost inside the city.
  • The M-40 has a total length of 63.3 km (39.3 mi) and it’s Madrid’s main orbital highway. During the morning and afternoon rush hours the circulation on this highway can collapse.
  • The M-50 orbital highway is the outermost ring road of Madrid. It has a length of 85 km (53 mi) and, unlike the other ring roads, doesn’t form a closed ring, lacking a connection in the northwest between A-6 and A-1.

Tolled interurban highways

The radiales (R-2, R-3, R-4, R-5) are interurban highways complementary to the old radial autovías departing from Madrid. There are tolled highways forming a new system of accesses to the capital that merges with their autovía counterparts far from Madrid.

The main advantage to these roads is that they allow true fast travel from the first kilometer, while the free to use highways near Madrid (among the oldest autovía stretches in Spain) frequently go through populations, have constant entries and exits and suffer several other conditions which both jam them and make their first kilometers limited to speeds well under the normal 120 km/h (75 mph) limit.

You should definitely take these roads especially if you’re traveling on days when traffic jams are expected like Friday and Sunday afternoon, the start of the summer holiday or long bank holiday weekends when many Madrileños head elsewhere for a short break.

Driving on Madrid’s beltways

Quick recap.

The Madrid beltways are the M-30 (inside Madrid), the M-40 and M-50 (both further away the main metropolitan area).

These 3 main ring roads allow you to travel to different parts of the city without having to cross through the middle of it.

Furthermore given Madrid’s geographical position in the center of the country you’ll take these highways in order to travel between different cities without having to cross it (from Barcelona to Seville for example).

Unfortunately, driving on these highways can be stressful because of the high volume of traffic.

Driving along the M-30

Don’t count on an easy drive along the M-30.

This beltway is now almost inside the city given that the city has spread outwards since the ring road was built. And this comes with some difficulties:

  • The density of traffic is incredibly high. It’s the busiest road in Spain with approximately 600,000 cars using it everyday…
  • A large portion of it is full of road works especially the southern section around Madrid Río (where the old Estadio Vicente Calderón used to be), which is in the process of being renovated and placed underground. The provisional roads are deficient with confusing signs and making it quite a dangerous drive even for the most experienced driver.

Driving along the M-40 and the M-50

Bear in mind that during the morning and afternoon rush hours the circulation on these roads can collapse for any reason like an accident, road works, bad weather…

The best piece of advice that I can give you is to allow plenty of extra time for your journey if you’re planning to drive on one of these roads. There are often problems around Alcobendas, Boadilla del Monte, Alcorcón or Leganés in the morning rush hour and at other points where there are companies with a large workforce.

Don’t become a speed driver

Speeding is a significant issue in Spain, contributing heavily to traffic accidents.

To combat this, the Directorate General of Traffic (DGT) frequently steps up road monitoring efforts to catch speed limit violators. If you’re caught speeding, fines can range from 100€ to 600€, depending on how much you exceed the speed limit.

A practical tip for drivers in Spain is to use the Social Drive app. Available for both iOS and Android, Social Drive is a real-time social network designed specifically for drivers. It’s a legal and effective way to stay updated on the road conditions and avoid speeding tickets. As a user you can share and receive updates about speed cameras, checkpoints, and other road incidents across Spain.

The app keeps you informed with real-time notifications on your phone, which is completely free of charge. Moreover, Social Drive ensures reliability; all traffic updates provided by users are verified by the app’s administrators. This verification process ensures that the information remains accurate, and the notifications are effectively distributed to the relevant areas.

By using Social Drive, you can navigate the roads more safely and efficiently, staying informed of any potential hazards or law enforcement activities. And you’ll avoid fines.

Driving inside Madrid

Before you embark on your journey through Madrid by car, make sure to familiarize yourself with the local traffic laws to ensure a smooth experience.

Here’s some advice on driving within the city itself.

  1. Driving around Madrid is complex if you don’t have a good sense of direction and aren’t familiar with the city’s roads. For instance, the old city center consists of a complex maze of streets and if you need to drive through this area you should use the main roads that cross it such as the Gran Vía.
  2. Having said that, be careful and respect the traffic limitations of Madrid Central.
  3. If you get lost, the best thing is to find somewhere to stop, get clear instructions and start again.
  4. Using Google Maps, Apple Maps or Waze can be a great help in a city like Madrid.

Like in any other major Spanish cities, drivers can get very impatient, don’t tolerate cautious (or lost) drivers very well and and will protest loudly when behind a slow or unsure driver. Unfortunately, most Spanish drivers can (and do) use their horn at their will and sometimes very aggressively.

Some basic directions inside Madrid

The Paseo de la Castellana is the main axis as it crosses the city from North to South. Further South, it becomes the Paseo del Prado and later the Paseo de las Delicias. But it’s always the same avenue.

Some important streets in Madrid run parallel to the Paseo de la Castellana. These are:

  • To the East, Príncipe de Vergara and Serrano.
  • The the West, Bravo Murillo and Santa Engracia.

Conversely, some important street run perpendicular to the Paseo de la Castellana. These are:

  • To the East, Alcalá, Avenida de América (airport exit) and Costa Rica.
  • To the West, Gran Vía, Sagasta, Cea Bermúdez and Reina Victoria.

The center of the Madrid is now called Madrid Central. Make sure you know about the current restrictions to avoid fines.

This article is part of a complete tutorial about car rental in Madrid where you can read all the information you need to organize your road trip around the country.

Here is a complete summary of all the guide:

1. Madrid by car: ultimate guide to get to the city
2. How to book a car rental in Madrid
3. How to find cheap rental rates?
4. Do you need an International Driver’s Licence?
5. Guide for getting around Madrid: rental car
6. 6 tips for driving in Madrid: navigating the city like a pro
7. Guide to car parking in Madrid: best tips & spots

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