Planning a budget city break to Madrid and need some ideas on cheap things to do in Spanish capital? Let's start with grand buildings to admire, spacious parks to explore and more bargain tapas to eat through than you could manage on a month-long holiday. Read on for 11 more stops and tips for you to put on your list for a budget-friendly tour of Madrid.
1. Rent a bike and explore the city on two wheels
The BiciMAD bicycle hire scheme is a great way to explore Madrid on a budget. These electric and environmentally friendly bikes can be picked up from stands all around the city. You’ll have to leave a refundable card deposit the first time you register, but at only €2* an hour they make for a fun way to zip around some of Madrid’s finest attractions, including Plaza Mayor, The Royal Palace and the nature filled ride along Madrid Rio whilst enjoying that free Spanish sunshine.
2. Enjoy discount drinks at San Anton rooftop bar
Rooftop bars in Madrid are usually known for expensive cocktails and over-priced snacks. Not at San Anton’s. Ok, so it’s views might not be the best, but this classy joint more than makes up for it with bargain drinks prices. Located atop of a market with the same name, this quaint rooftop terrace is a short walk from Cheuca station. Serving up glasses of wine from only €2.75, it makes for an ideal place to settle into a comfy sofa and enjoy a nightcap on a warm or even wintery evening.
3. Admire the skyline at Azotea rooftop
For some of the most breathtaking open air views of the city you will have to drop a few euros. The central Azotea rooftop offers a fixed price entrance of €4 to access its 360 panoramic views of the city. Although the restaurant and bar are pricey, the entrance fee means you don’t have to buy an expensive cocktail to snap the perfect aerial Instagram. For only €1 more you can get a combined ticket giving you access to the five floors of exhibitions below, including work by Picasso.
4. Tour the Templo de Debod
This odd attraction and its fascinating story is one of the best free things to see Madrid, especially at sunset. The ancient Egyptian temple was donated as a thank you gift by the Egyptian government to Spain for their help saving temples from ruin following the construction of the Aswan High Dam. Flown from Egypt, the Temple of Debod was lovingly reconstructed in Madrid’s Park del Oeste in 1960, where you’ll find it today and can visit for free. Accompanied by a daily interactive exhibition, audiovisual information and facts are projected onto a nearby wall which makes it a great attraction for both kids and adults.
5. Explore El Retiro Park
In Madrid you are spoilt for choice when it comes to parks, but by far the most famous and central is El Retiro. With over 300 acres of well-groomed gardens and walking paths, it’s a great budget way to spend an afternoon in Madrid. With regular, free exhibitions housed in the Palacio de Cristal and rowing boats to hire on the park’s lake from €5.80, this city oasis will keep you entertained for hours.
6. Get your fill of free tapas
Looking for cheap eats? You’ll find most bars in Madrid will offer you some kind of small tapas every time you order a drink – usually your typical bars snacks, but some will stretch to a slice of tortilla or even a small bowl of paella. But if you really want to fill your boots for free then head to El Tigre on Calle de las Infantas. Just a few minutes walk from Gran Via, down an unassuming side street, this bar may look like a hole in the wall but step inside and you will see why it’s packed very night with locals and city breakers. This small bar, with cheerful service and lively atmosphere, dishes out heaving mounds of free tapas to accompany your tipple of choice. With a range of snacks and hearty pans of paella on the menu, for the price of few cervezas you’ll likely leave with no need for a formal dinner. Get here early if you want to bag a seat though, it fills up quickly.
7. Take advantage of free museums
Whether you love contemporary art, grand classics or exploring palaces, Madrid has got you covered. Tickets to individual exhibitions can cost a pretty penny, but many of the city’s best museums and galleries offer free admission to holders of an EU passport at certain times of the week. The impressive Palacio Real opens its doors for nada between 6-8pm and the famous modern art gallery, The Reina Sofia, offers their bargain entry on Sunday mornings, as well as some weekday evenings. Check with individual museums for particular free to visit hours.
8. Relax in Atocha Station gardens
Public transport in much of the world can be a nightmare: Madrid however offers a great value and well connected Metro and Train system. Not content with simply moving you about the city, Atocha station is also home to an impressive and free indoor tropical garden. The large roof houses 4000 square metres of plants and even boasts ponds full of turtles. It certainly beats reading a paper whilst waiting for your next train.
9. Grab a bargain breakfast from Mercado de la Reina
This trendy restaurant on Gran Via is highly rated for its creative cuisine. If you feel like splashing out then head to the mercado for truffled prawn carpaccio and grilled octopus starting from €13. But if you’re watching your euro then check out their breakfast menu. With drinks combos such as hot chocolate and churros, or fresh coffee and Spanish omelette coming in at around €3, it’s the perfect fuel for a day of sightseeing and won’t blow your city break budget.
10. Feast for cheap at 100 Montaditos
This cheap and cheerful chain restaurant can be found dotted around Madrid and is a perfect way to feast on a budget. Whether you’re after a quick snack or want a whole table of tapas, this could be your answer. As the name suggests, they serve up to a hundred different sandwiches and snacks at only €1 a pop. With a beer at the same price and a glass of vino at €1.50, you certainly won’t feel guilty or be pushing the purse strings when you order seconds (or thirds…)
11. Shop for bargains at El Rastro and the street markets
If your budget break to Madrid brings you here on a Sunday, then the local flea market at El Rastro is the place to discover some bargain souvenirs. Forget the high end stores around Sol and hunt out clothing, unique jewellery and antiques to fill your luggage with here. Even if you’re not in town on a Sunday, there are plenty of other markets which pop up on various days throughout Madrid. The second hand book stalls located near the Retiro are ideal for book worms looking for that perfect holiday read.
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*Published March 2017. Any prices are lowest estimated prices only, for flights in February, and are correct at the time of publication and are subject to change and/or availability.