Even in Spain, one of Europe’s cheapest destinations, costs can mount up if you don’t watch the cents and Madrid, with its stylish rooftop bars and high-end shops can prove pretty pricey.
But not if you know where to go. The Spanish capital has plenty of free attractions and more affordable places to eat than you can shake a chunk of chorizo at. Here are 11 stops that you should put on your budget-friendly tour of Madrid.
Top 10 things to do in Madrid on a budget
1. Gourmet Experience
Don’t let the cheesy name put you off, or the fact that this is the food court of El Corte Ingles department store. Gourmet Experience has everything, from your breakfast coffee and tostada, to pizzas and burgers for lunch or dinner – not to mention a rooftop terrace with views across the city skyline. Great for a sunny breakfast or sunset drink.
2. Retiro Park
Madrid’s best place to promenade is this expansive park, with some 330 acres of formal gardens, manicured woodland and walking trails. Take a stroll around the boating lake to stand in the shade of the way-over-the-top statue to Alfonso XII and pay a visit to the Palacio de Cristal, home to rotating free exhibitions.
Travel inspiration: The best places to visit in Spain: 10 must-see destinations
3. The Prado
You’d expect an afternoon at Madrid’s premier tourist attraction and one of the world’s leading art collections, the Prado, to be an expensive outing, and yes, normally it’s a whopping €15 per person. However, visit between 6pm and 8pm (5pm and 7pm Sundays and holidays) and it’s completely free. You’ll face immense queues of course so get here early and be prepared to wait. It’s worth it though, not least to see Goya’s Black Paintings and Diego Velazquez’s masterpiece, Las Meninas.
4. La Sanabresa
It doesn’t look much from the outside, but step into the brightly-lit interior of this long-running restaurant and you’ll find the best value plate of food in Spain. Try the delicious three-course Menu of the Day, accompanied by beer or wine. It will cost you a little over €10!
5. Palacio Real
Intricate frescos, solid gold furnishings and swirling marble floors; no expense was spared when Felipe V (who grew up in Versailles) commissioned his new palace, the Palacio Real, in the 18th century. If you visit during normal hours it’s €10 to get inside. If you’re an EU citizen though (bring your passport) it’s free from 4pm to 6pm every day, Monday to Thursday, October to March (6-8pm April-September). Queues off-putting? Stick to the adjacent and always free Jardines de Sabatini instead.
6. El Oso y El Madroño
Madrid’s most famous (and endlessly photographed) sight might just be this statue, out in the open for all to see in Puerta del Sol square. The 20-ton bear and strawberry tree was constructed in 1967 by sculptor Antonio Navarro Santa Fe and has become the city’s emblem. Also visible from the square is another Spanish emblem, the giant neon Tio Pepe sign much adored by locals.
7. Templo de Debod
A present from the Egyptians in 1968, the Templo de Debod is today a welcome gift for cash-strapped visitors seeking free sites. This Egyptian temple was reconstructed in the Parque del Oeste, stone by stone, to thank Spain for helping save archaeological treasures during the building of the Aswan Dam. Today you can visit for nowt and see a multimedia exhibition of the culture of Ancient Egypt.
8. Atocha Station tropical garden
Bored waiting for your train? Not at Atocha Station, Madrid’s largest and home to a 4,000 square metre tropical botanic garden, free to stroll at all times. There are more than 7,000 species of plant here as well as plenty of turtles reclining in the ponds beneath them.
Travel inspiration: 17 unmissable places to visit in the Balearic Islands
9. La Gastrocroqueteria
The humble croquet rarely gets the press it deserves, and yet it is said to be the most popular tapas dish. Affordable but stylish, La Gastrocroqueteria elevates it to the status it deserves, serving up a whole range of delicious bites of breaded joy; from those like mum used to make (jamon, of course) through to the more inventive Thai style or caramelised tomato and parmesan.
Travel inspiration: Explore Costa del Sol: 7 amazing places to visit on your next holiday to Spain
10. El Rastro
Can’t afford the prices in the designer boutiques along Madrid’s fashionable Gran Via? Take a Sunday stroll down to El Rastro, Spain’s most popular open air flea market, where you’ll find all the trinkets and holiday momentos you can possibly stuff in to your cabin bag. From antiques to jewellery, clothing to handbags; get haggling if you want to save even more cash.
Travel inspiration: 15 of the most beautiful castles in Spain
10 cheap things to do in Madrid
|1. Gourmet Experience|
|2. Retiro Park|
|3. The Prado|
|4. La Sanabresa|
|5. Palacio Real|
|6. El Oso y El Madroño|
|7. Templo de Debod|
|8. Atocha Station tropical garden|
|9. La Gastrocroqueteria|
|10. El Rastro|
*Revised October 2019. Prices correct at the time of publication but are subject to change and/or availability.