Madrid is a surprisingly easy city to explore on a budget. The abundance of free, or very low cost, attractions means that with some careful planning and being savvy, you can have great times in this fantastic Spanish city without breaking the bank. Weekdays are often cheaper than weekend, with accommodation and entrance fees to attractions often being discounted.
There are several backpacker hostels in Madrid, which will cost you a lot less than a hotel or guesthouse. They attract a mixed age crowd, and have decent facilities. If you are staying for more than a few days in Madrid and really want the luxury of a hotel, shop around online for deals and compare a few places before booking. You may also consider mixing nights in hotels with nights in Madrid hostels, so that you lower your overall accommodation costs.
Eating and Drinking
If your accommodation has a fridge, stock up on fruit, milk, and cereal and make your own breakfast. If you eat out, follow the locals – they will be going to the cheaper places! Have a small breakfast and a large lunch.
Lunch menus are cheaper than dinner menus, so enjoy a big hearty lunch, and have a smaller bite in the evening. Eat in cafes and bars rather than restaurants, and look for signs for Menu Del Dia – this is a three course lunch deal that will cost less than €10. Tapas bars are a great way to eat inexpensively in the evenings. Be aware, it is more expensive to eat tapas or drink at a table than it is to stand at the bar. Also, where there are indoor and outdoor seating options, many places will charge more to sit outside on terraces.
Madrid has a vibrant cafe culture. Relax in inexpensive cafes, great for people watching, and watch life in Madrid pass you by.
Drink locally produced beer rather than imported brands.
Don’t leave excessive tips.
There are some great spots offering free admission and free local entertainment, ranging from flamenco to up and coming local bands. Just buy a drink.
Don’t use public transport or taxis; walk around the city. There is a wealth of things to see, and walking not only saves money, but also allows you to see things that you may otherwise miss.
The metro is efficient and inexpensive and covers all areas of the city. If you know will be making several metro journeys, consider buying a multi-ticket; this will be cheaper than paying for individual journeys.
If you do need to taxi, find one on the street rather than calling for one, as the meter starts from the moment the call is ended.
Keep your receipts; you may be able to claim tax back at the airport when you leave.
Have a rummage at Madrid’s most famous flea market, Rastro, on Sunday mornings.
Some attractions have free entry all the time, whereas others operate free admissions at set periods. Avoid higher priced attractions, and time your visits for free entry periods, or choose places that have lower entry costs. Some attractions where you must pay offer discounts for students or older citizens; make sure you have relevant proff to take advantage of discounted fees.
Many of Madrid’s museums have free, or low cost, admission. Some are free only at certain periods. Here are top of Madrid museums:
- Reina Sofia – free every evening except Tuesdays, and most of the weekend
- Museo del Praido – free every evening except Mondays
- Contemporary Art Museum – free entry
- Blind Museum – free entry
- Sculpture Museum – free entry
- Archaeology Museum – free entry
- Museo de San Isidro – free entry
- CaixaForum – free entry
- Sorolla Museum – free on Sundays
- Museum of the Americas – free on Sundays
- Garment Museum – free entry on Saturday afternoons and Sundays
- Lazero Galdiano Museum – free admission every day between 3.30pm and 4.30pm and all day on Sundays
- Planetarium – low cost entry fees
There are some nice churches in Madrid that can be admired for free from the outside. Admission costs are low if you do want to look inside. Madrid’s Cathedral offers free entry, but small donations are welcome. Entrace to San Antonio de le Florida Chapel is fee. Inside, there are some fabulous frescoes on the grand domes, which were painted by the famous Francisco de Goya.
The Temple of Debod is a genuine Egyptian building, free to go inside between Tuesdays and Sundays.
At El Retiro Park you can watch a delightful free puppet show and enjoy the grassy areas and lake of Madrid’s most famous park. At certain times of the year there are wonderful outside orchestra performances, which can be enjoyed for free from surrounding areas. The tree lined plaza of Plaza Espana is a public outdoor space, surrounded by some of Spain’s oldest skyscrapers. It costs nothing to admire the stunning Post Office building from the outside, arguably one of Madrid’s most beautiful buildings.
Other interesting outdoor places where anyone can stroll around with no cost include:
- Gran Via – Madrid’s most famous boulevard
- Plaza Mayor – the grandest plaza in the city
- Arab Wall – Madrid’s oldest remains
- Calle Segovia – pretty and impressive viaduct
- Calle Huertas – lined with street musicians
- Casa del Campo Park – beautiful shimmering lake
EU Citizens can enjoy free admission to the Royal Palace on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons. Other National Heritage sites that are free for EU citizens at the same times are the Royal Monastery of the Encarnacion, the Royal Palce of El Pardo and Descalzes Reales Monastery.
A small fee will allow you to go to the top of Faro for good views out across the city. It is also inexpensive to ride the cable car and take in the views below from the centre of Madrid to Casa del Campo Park.