Madrid is a wonderfully diverse city with so much to see and do. I called this place home for almost a year, and during that time, I personally constructed a list of the best things to do for cheap or free, because let’s be honest, we all want to do as many free things as possible while traveling.
Luckily, if you’re looking to save some money while traveling in Madrid, you shouldn’t have a tough time doing so. Most of the food in Spain is delicious and very cheap and there’s plenty of things that you can see for free or get discounts on.
If you’re looking for even more ways to save money when traveling, check out my post for simple tips to save money on travel. Another great resource is my recent post about building your travel fund. All super important when we want to do lots of traveling!
If you’re going to Madrid soon, or plan to go in the future, this list will help you have the best time and see the most that you can on a budget.
1. Prado Museum during free times
Like many attractions in Europe, the Prado Museum offers discounts for students and even free entrance hours. Every evening from 6-8 pm, you can enter the museum for free. Be advised, though, that there are usually long lines at this time, so get there a little early.
I’ve been to the Prado Museum three times and still haven’t managed to see everything inside. If you love art, culture or history, this stop is a must while traveling in Madrid.
2. Row boating in Retiro Park
This one isn’t free but it’s about 6 euros for 45 minutes of time in one of the famous row boats in Retiro Park. I’ve done this a few times and I think it’s absolutely worth it, especially if the weather is nice.
Retiro Park is the most famous park in Madrid and a place that everyone needs to see. Make the memory even more special by renting a row boat and hanging out in the water. We’ve taken a few of our guests to do this while they were here and it’s always a big hit!
3. Shop at El Rastro flea market
El Rastro is a famous flea market that takes place in the barrio of La Latina on Sunday mornings and holidays. It has become a beloved tradition in Madrid to get up early and head to the market to find good deals on anything from clothes and jewelry, to household items. The market is quite large and stretches down several streets for many blocks.
It is free to walk around the market, but I highly recommend arriving between 9 and 10 in the morning to beat the crowds. Also, be wary of pick-pockets when you go to there!
4. Eat at Mercado de San Miguel
One of the most famous food markets in Spain is the Mercado de San Miguel. Luckily, this market is fairly close to El Rastro, so you can swing by for some nice lunch after shopping all morning.
It is an indoor market with dozens of various food stands and many different options. You’re sure to find something for everyone here, for an affordable price.
5. Walk around Plaza Mayor
Probably the most well known tourist spot in Madrid is Plaza Mayor. Here you will find hundreds of people on any given day strolling around the square, shopping or eating at one of the many cafes in the area.
The surrounding streets are very picturesque with their narrow cobblestone walkways and the walls lined with balconies. It is one of my favorite places in all of Madrid because of its beauty.
6. Shop on Gran Via
Gran Via is one of the main roads in Madrid, containing many high end shopping stores and restaurants. It is the busiest street in the city and welcomes tourists to admire the architecture of the buildings and all the commotion.
Much of Madrid has a very small and quaint feel, but Gran Via is where you’ll begin to realize that Madrid is actually quite a big city. You’ll find many attractions and things to see here.
7. Check out the Royal Palace and Cathedral
The Royal Palace and Cathedral of Madrid are very beautiful and large structures that sit on top if a hill in the city, making them visible from many places. You can walk up to them and view the outsides or take a tour of the inside for a small fee.
When I went inside the palace, it was 13 euros for adults and 7 euros for students. Behind the palace, you can sit and relax in a garden area and take in the beauty of this large former home of the King and Queen of Spain.
8. Ride the Teleférico cable cars
The cable cars go over the largest park in Madrid, Casa de Campo, and into the edge of the city. While riding, you can see spectacular views of the city and the green areas of the Park. In the distance, you’ll also notice some beautiful (maybe snow-capped) mountains.
A round trip ride will cost you 6 euros and it takes about 11 minutes to get from one station to the next. Side note: if you’re afraid of heights, give this a try anyway. I’ve gone with several people who aren’t lovers of being off the ground and they said it wasn’t scary and it was worth the trip.
9. Walk up to the Temple of Debod
Sitting on top of a cliff near the Principe Pio metro station is a 2nd century Egyptian temple gifted to Madrid by the Egyptian government. There is a slight hike up stairs involved, but once you arrive, you’ll see the magnificent temple and a pretty great view of the city.
It is free to tour the temple, but there are usually long lines. I recommend heading up there to catch the sunset as it’s the best place in Madrid to do so.
10. Stroll around Puerta del Sol
Another famous plaza in Madrid is Puerta del Sol. Here you can see the exact center point of Spain as well as many shops and restaurants. Starting here, you can walk in many different directions as all streets lead into the open plaza area.
There’s so much to see from here, but make sure you’ve got comfortable shoes on so you can do lots of walking around.
11. Take a free walking tour
Many people don’t realize that most European cities have free walking tours available to tourists. Typically, you would donate a small amount to the guide at the end of the tour as a tip. This is a great way to see the city and get some exercise.
Anyone can take these tours and I recommend doing so as it is a great way to learn more about the history of your surroundings.
12. Bike through Casa de Campo
If you’re a nature and exercise lover, rent a bike by the hour and hit the trails in Madrid’s largest public park. There are many hills and pathways you can ride on, but if you’re looking for a smoother ride, you can stay on the paved road.
The views from the park are absolutely stunning. If you don’t mind getting a little sweaty, you will have a wonderful time checking out all of the scenery in this park.