Here I go...

Finding magic under the stars of the Camino Santiago de Compostela

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Getting from Madrid to Pamplona and more on Pickpockets

Getting to Pamplona From Madrid

FROM MADRID, you can fly, take the train, or take a bus.

Arriving in Madrid is a treat! 

The airport is very modern and beautiful! 

Madrid Airport

Flying is nice, but Spain really is a bus country. Many bus companies offer good, clean and safe service across the country, and most of the buses are beautiful Mercedes Benz buses! Nothing like the old broken down Greyhounds you find in the USA!


There are both regional bus companies and a few national ones. Alsa is one of the national companies, and one way to get from the airport to Pamplona when you first arrive.

 Conda is another bus company that takes people from the Madrid airport to Pamplona.

If you fly into Madrid, there are buses that leave directly from Terminal 4 at Barajas. There is a machine where you can buy a ticket 
at the exit near the taxi parking  The machine takes credit cards or cash (euros). 

On ALSA, you have change buses, usually in Burgos or Zaragoza, which makes the trip a bit longer. However, it is not a difficult change, especially if you speak a bit of Spanish. 

The Conda buses go direction from Madrid to Pamplona with no change. This option is the also cheapest, coming in around 23-35€.

Arrivals from North America, Asia, South America or Australia are better served from Madrid. Catch a bus directly from the airport to Pamplona or take the metro (or Circanius train) from Madrid airport to Atocha metro station where you can connect with the high-speed train (AVE) to Pamplona in 3 hours.

Arrivals from Europe, fly directly to Bilbao, Biarritz or Zaragoza then travel by bus or rental car to Pamplona in less than 2 hour drive.


There are ALSA buses to Pamplona several times a day.
You must change buses once.Check schedules at 

There are CONDA buses going directly to Pamplona. 
No stops, no changes.
Check schedules at

The prices between ALSA and CONDA buses differ by 10-30 euros. You can purchase your ticket online or at the airport. 


Your ticket should tell you which terminal you are flying into.
If you are purchasing online, be sure to give yourself enough time to get off the plane, go through customs, pick up your baggage (not suggested to check bags), and get to the T4 terminal.
It will say T1, T2, etc.

There is a bus going from terminal to terminal in Madrid. It costs less than 2 euros and can be caught downstairs and out front of your arrival terminal. Last time I took it, it was a blue/green bus and to the RIGHT after you walked out of the terminal.


Find someone wearing a GREEN jacket and ask if they can help you. Or find the Information desk. They will speak English there. You will recognize it because there is a large yellow "i" above it.
Information Desk
Tell them you are looking for the ticket office for the CONDA or ALSA bus to Pamplona. (whichever you decide on) They will direct you. 

Most of the signs in the Madrid airport are in English as well as Spanish. So it's really easy to find your way around - it's just LARGE!  They also give you the time it will take you to walk to the gate which is helpful.

Getting to Other Terminals

I find the bus the easiest and safest. To get a shuttle bus, the boarding platform is just outside the exit. They often allow you to purchase tickets right there next to the bus – so watch for that. This bus also goes into downtown Madrid. ASK. Sometimes the line is long, but it goes fast. 

The bus from T1 to T4 takes about 20 minutes. 

Going in direction T1 to T4, you want to be on the 1st Floor at the departures level.

(Going direction T4 to T1, you have to be on the Arrivals level, which is the Planta Baja, Lower level)

The terminal to terminal bus runs every 5 minutes between 6:30 a.m. and 23:30. From 23:30 - 1:50 a.m. it runs every 20 minutes; from 1:50 -6:30, every 40 minutes

Getting to your gate at T4 could be a long haul. But it's very well marked, with lots of indication about how much time it will take (though the times posted are very generous and you usually arrive in much less time than they indicate).

A tip -- The elevators in T4 are usually much quicker than the escalators because of the distances between upper and lower levels. 

There is an excellent blog on taking the shuttle into the city at this link:

Madridman's Blog

Taking the Train from Madrid to Pamplona 


When I was there last year, the Circanius RENFRE office was downstairs right next to where you go through the stiles to catch the train. It was very tiny and could have been a temporary office. Honestly, I'm not sure. But you can ask at the info desk in the airport and they will direct you.

In the airport, at the RENFRE Circanius station you can purchase a Tarjeta Dorada card for 5 euros. Then you can just show it to bus or train agents and possibly get nice discounts. Here is a link to more information about that card:

This card is mainly for train travel, but I even got a discount at the museum in Merida with my card. It never hurts to ask! 

When you arrive in Madrid, you will arrive at either terminal T2 or T4.  You can take the METRO to Atocha Metro Station and walk to the Renfre Station. Or you can take the Circanius to Atocha Station. It takes you right into the train station.

Atocha is the main train station in Madrid. There, you will find trains to destinations all over Europe. It's a big place and is beautiful inside. 

Atocha Station
The Circanius is a train that goes from the airport to Atocha and back all day long. You catch it on the lower floor of T4. Get your ticket from the tiny Renfre office right at the entrance to the train, or from the kiosks. 

There are signs in the airport that will lead you to both the Metro and the Circanius. 

If you are traveling by train, BE AWARE OF WHERE YOU ARE. They do not announce the stops. This is not such a problem during the daytime. You can watch for signs out your window.  But at night, the signs are difficult to see. Don't be afraid to ASK people sitting near you. They are used to tourists and are generally very helpful.

If you do decide to take the train, here are a few videos that will help you become familiar with the territory. Sorry, they're in Spanish, but you can stop them and study the screens on the ticket machine. 

(Often if there is a local, they will help you. Look for young people who may speak English.)

You want to choose ADULTO IDA  (Adult one way) and then your destination.

It is like being in a sardine can and the pickpockets are working!
Be sure your money, cards, cameras are really secure.
If you have zippers, I close them with a safety pin or even wire until I get to my destination. Hold your hand over your purse or pocket.  Be AWARE. 

I know I harp on this, but it can save you some grief. 
Last year in Barcelona, Joe and I got slimed with the "bird poop" scam. We knew what was going on and as soon as the guy approached, we yelled at him. He ran. If we had not know about it, we would have thought he was just a nice man in a business suit wanting to help us.  And we could have lost a lot.

Read my blog on pickpockets.  Know their schemes.
I'm going to post photos at the bottom of this blog to remind you.

Getting to Pamplona From Other Cities:

From Bilbao (169km)

Train No trains available to Pamplona.
Car (1.5 hours) Direction Bilbao-San Sebastian-Pamplona. Take tha A15 from San Sebastian direct to Pamplona. You can also go via Bilbao-Vitoria-Pamplona, 2.2 hrs. We don t́ recommend this route as it has lots of curves and it’s not free either!
Bus (1.5 hours) Arrive to Bilbao ś Central Bus Station and take La Burundesa Tel: +34 944 271111.

From Biarritz (128km)

Train No train available to Pamplona.
Car (1.5 hours) Take the A63/E70 & cross the border into Spain. Stay on the E70/A8 direction Biarritz- Irún-San Sebastian-Pamplona.
Bus (1 hours) Bus from Biarritz to San Sebastian 12 noon and 6 pm then change for a 2nd bus to Pamplona with La Conda there are 7 daily buses starting at 7:15am and last bus at 8:30 pm. Telephone +34 943 461064

From San Sebastian (85km)

Train (1 hour 45) Train services from San Sebastian take about 1
hour 45 min to the Pamplona station, which is about 2km north of the old town. Tickets can be booked online in advance (strongly recommended) at
Car (1 hour) Take the A15 direct to Pamplona and enjoy the scenery. Bus (1 hour) La Conda there are 7 daily buses starting at 7:15am & last bus at 8:30 pm. Telephone +34 943 461064.

From Zaragoza (181km)

Train (2 hours) When you arrive at Zaragoza Train Station to connect to the High Speed Train (AVE). Tickets can be booked online in advance (strongly recommended) at
Car (2 hours) Take the A2/E90 AP68 (toll roads) A68 direction Zaragoza-Tudela-Pamplona.

Bus (2 hours) La Conda there are 7 daily buses starting at 7.15am & last bus at 8.30 pm. Tel: (0034) 976 333 372

Sometimes buses to Pamplona will leave from the Avenida de America bus station in Madrid.  Here is their address:

Intercambiador de Avda. de América
Dirección: Avda de America, 9. Planta -1 C.P: 28028 Andén: 27 (Salidas y Llegadas) Planta -1
Horario: 5:30 h. a 01:30 h. (Largo recorrido) 

There are buses going regularly all day long from Madrid T4 to this station. You catch the bus outside the T4 terminal and it costs between 2-3 euros. The bus station is usually the last stop, but ASK the bus driver to please tell you when you arrive. 

How to Read an Horario (schedule)
If you are over 60, look for a box that says “Edad Dorada” which means “Golden Age.” This will get you a nice discount from 30 euros down to about 23 euros, depending on the day of the week.

IDA means "One-Way." 
IDA y VUELTA means “there and return.” 
SALIDA = Departure Time 
LLEGADA = Arrival Time 
ORIGEN = Origen 
DESTINO = Destination 
DURACION = Duration of Trip 
PRECIO = Price 
PRECIO PROMO – Promotional Price* 
Sometimes there is a special price war going on

PLAZAS – LIBRE = This means places are not assigned. You can sit anywhere. Some have assigned seats, so check your ticket when you get it.

LMXJVSD – These are the days of the week this bus/train runs: Lunes (Monday), Martes (Tuesday), Miercoles (Wednesay), etc.
Learn the days of the weeks in Spanish. It will make your trip much simpler. 

Be aware that unlike USA calendars, calendars in Spain begin on MONDAY and end on SUNDAY, so it can be confusing.

If you have updated information or questions, please post them in the comment section.

Buen Camino, Peregrinos!

A few photos to enlighten you!

The above photo shows a common scam along the Camino as well as in the large cities of Europe. Bright eyed, beautiful teenagers will approach you with a folder, or a clipboard, wanting to tell you about deaf people or some political issue. As soon as you see them approaching, WAVE THEM OFF AND SHOUT "NO!"  And be very aware of your pockets. See the girl picking the pocket of the man listening to the other pretty lady?

A girl watching for your pin number. She has the pad positions memorized.
If someone is standing too closely when you are at the ATM, wave them back and even yell at them if they don't move!  It's best to do banking in the larger cities with a partner who can stand back to back with you and watch your surroundings. Be aware of quick handed money grabbers. Keep your hand over the slot that distributes the cash and the card.  Don't be paranoid, but don't let your guard down. They watch for distracted tourists.  If someone wants to talk to you while you're at the ATM, shout them away!  No need to be polite. They count on that!


I have seen this scam in action on stairs and escalators.
Someone in front of you will drop a bunch of change, 
or a package, and items will scatter.
They count on your help picking things up.
While you are helping, their partner is helping themselves to your goods.
I know it's tough, but walk on by.

Yes, they DO!

I"m just reading the paper… and making some money!

This is not the Madrid Metro, but this is how crowded it can be.

Don't trust anyone. Even nice old grandpa types, and ESPECIALLY if they're holding a sweater or jacket over their arm!  Move away from them! Put your back against the wall if you can.

Distracted by a Street Performer while the pickpocket's partner gets the goods.

How they work with a jacket over their arm.

It's not just men. It's women like your sister, mom, or child.
So sorry to have to post these photos, but you need to be aware.
Please read my blog on pickpockets.
These folks don't think like you do.
They are proud of what they do and have no shame in getting caught.

Know what to expect.
Stay alert.
Then relax and have a Buen Camino.


  1. This is so very helpful! My flight is scheduled to arrive August 26th in Madrid at 8AM at Terminal 1. We will have our hiking poles checked through baggage and so will need to pick them up and go through customs. Will we have enough time to make the 10:45 AM bus to Pamplona?

    1. You should have plenty of time. But if not, there'll be another bus soon.

  2. Excellent and comprehensive information. Thank you 😃

  3. The bus from the airport in Madrid to Pamplona requires switching from an Alsa bus to one operated by Conda in Soria. With only 5 minutes to make this switch, will I be able to retrieve my luggage and make the transfer successfully?

    1. I have never been on a bus from the airport in Madrid to Pamplona that required a switch of bus. There are MANY buses from the airport to Pamplona every day. I would choose a bus not requiring a switch.

    2. To to to find a bus schedule from Madrid airport to Pampmlona.


All comments are moderated.