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We all know that visiting Europe’s capital cities can be an expensive and daunting affair. Madrid in particular is renowned for its gourmet restaurants and and general gastronomic delight. However, with a little inside knowledge, you’d would be surprised how affordable the city can be. Here is our budget guide on things to do in Madrid:
A looming and impressive square, almost reminiscent of St Marks in Venice. Plaza Mayor used to be the city’s main square, and the history behind it ranges from the amusing to the downright bloody. Sometimes you’ll find markets set up here, but really it’s a great place for people watching. Do not eat at any of the restaurants lining the square here (overpriced and bad food), but relax with a drink or coffee on one of the outdoor terraces instead.
Puerta del Sol
This famous and busy city square is the heart and soul of Madrid and serves as the centre point from which to get to anywhere in Madrid. It is a great spot for people watching as locals and tourist gather together during the day and at night. you will most likely encounter small groups of protesters and numerous street performers.
Retiro Park is a beautiful park to explore and is a great spot to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. It is huge at over 350 acres, and includes many lakes, gardens and museums. My personal highlights include the stunning Glass Palace (Palacio de Cristal del Retiro) and the large scenic lake where you can rent rowing boats. Also check out the many art museums and spot the turtles in the pond immediately behind the Glass Palace.
Royal Palace (Palacio Real)
The beautiful Palacio Real is the largest palace in Europe with over 2,800 rooms! It is open to the public and the entry fee is €10, but EU Residents can get free entry on Monday – Thursday from 6-8 pm (April to September), and Monday – Thursday at 4-6 pm (October to March). The surrounding grounds and gardens however are always free to explore. Calle de Bailén, s/n, 28071 Madrid
Free entry into museums in the evenings
Madrid is home to many excellent art museums. Budget travellers can avoid the admission fees by visiting free of charge at certain hours.
The main Spanish national art museum with artwork by Goya.
Free of charge hours: Monday to Saturday 6 pm – 8 p.m. Sundays and holidays 5pm – 7 pm
Paseo del Prado, s/n, 28014 Madrid
Reina Sofia Museum
Spain’s national museum of 20th-century art.
Free of charge hours: Monday from 7pm to 9pm, Wednesday to Saturday from 7pm to 9pm, Sunday from 1.30pm to 7pm. Address: Calle de Santa Isabel, 52, 28012 Madrid
An overview of art from the 13th century to the late 20th century
Free of charge hours: Monday from 12pm to 4pm
Paseo del Prado, 8, 28014 Madrid
Mercado San Miguel
Mercado San Miguel is a large covered market and the most famous in Madrid. Located next to the Plaza Major, this historic wrought-iron-and-glass market sells some incredibly delicious and high quality Spanish seafood, tapas and pinchos, plus alcoholic beverages. Visit in the morning when they open at 10am to avoid the crowds and lines, or go after 10pm to mingle with the locals. Prices are quite varied from €1 for tapas through to €17 for a cone of calamari. A glass of good rioja can also be yours for €3. It can also be hard to get tables at busy times and there are no toilets onsite. Plaza de San Miguel, s/n, 28005 Madrid
Plaza de Santa Ana and Huertas neighbourhood
Las Huertas is a lively and popular entertainment neighbourhood, where you will find heaps of restaurants, bars and clubs. The Plaza Santa Ana square is lined with terraces where you can enjoy a drink (tip – prices are cheaper here before 8pm). The area starts getting more livelier later at night, as Spaniards normally have dinner between 9pm-11pm, so many places won’t be busy until after then.
Free Madrid walking tours
An excellent and cheap way to see the city and learn about the history is to take one of Madrid’s many free walking tours. I booked in advance online with Sandemans which runs 2.5 hour tours several times a day. They take you through many old parts of the city, covering several major landmarks. Tipping is expected at the end.
Círculo de Bellas Artes rooftop bar
For one of the best views of Madrid head to the 7th floor of this cultural centre for 360 degree views of the city. Entry is €4 (€3 for students) but the drink prices are fairly reasonable for a rooftop bar (€4 for a bottle of heineken). Go early so you can also grab a recliner, although everyone was asked to leave at 5.45pm to make way for reservations / bookings.
Eat and drink at one of Madrid’s many historic bars
Madrid has heaps of wonderful historic bars. I would have loved to have visited them all but here are the two that I managed to swing by during my weekend break:
Bodega de la Ardosa
This charming historic bar has been open since 1892 and offer a variety of delicious tapas dishes. However they are most famous for serving the best tortilla de patatas (spanish omelette) in Madrid, and yes, it was incredible! Prices are pretty cheap here with our bill for 2 beers and 1 portion of spanish omelette (including bread and olives) coming to just under €10. This place is extremely popular and you will find it hard to get a space inside at peak times. Further seating is available at the back but to access it you need to duck under the counter to get there! Calle de Colón, 13, 28004 Madrid
Very popular with tourists and locals alike, this bar is just a stone’s throw from the main shopping streets and oozes history – the only disappointment is that the main beer on tap appears to imported Amstel, but go for the cheap and delicious seafood tapas (the €1 cod croquettes are amazing). Calle de Tetuán, 12, 28013 Madrid
El Rastro Sunday Market
This is Madrid’s largest open air market and attracts both locals and tourists alike. It is open every Sunday from 8am – 3pm and runs along Plaza de Cascorro and Calle Ribera de Curtidores (and many of the neighbouring side streets). There are hundreds of stalls here selling cheap souvenirs, clothing, accessories and antiques. Watch your belongings as pickpockets lurk, and arrive early as it get very busy from 11am onwards.
Tapas bar evening food tour
I joined a ‘Picoteo Lover’ tapas bar crawl with Food Lover Tour on the Saturday evening of my weekend trip. The experience lasts 3.5 hours and takes you to 5 different stops in trendy and non-touristy tapas areas. The tour costs €57 which is quite good value considering the amount of wonderful food and alcohol you consume during the tour! Click here to read about our Madrid food tour.
Cheap budget eats in Madrid
This small bar is located just off Plaza Mayor and is famous for selling one of Madrid’s signature dishes – the bocadillos de calamares (a baguette filled with deep fried calamari rings) for a small price of €2.75. Calle Botoneras, 6, 28012 Madrid
Pinchos is a small finger food snack that is typically eaten in bars. Expect a variety of different toppings that are attached to a slice of bread with a cocktail stick, usually costing around €1-2 each (maybe more for fancier places). You can find these at a handful of restaurants/bar across the city and in most food markets in Madrid.
Menu del dia
Many restaurants offer a discounted ‘menu del dia’ (fixed-price lunch) for around €10-15 which is excellent value. This will usually include a starter (primero), a main (segundo), a dessert (postre) or coffee, one drink (bebida) and some bread (pan). The menu is usually written on a blackboard outside the restaurant and are usually only available on weekdays.
This is a chain restaurant with several branches across Madrid, where the prices are super cheap (€1.5 for a Cruzcampo beer), and has an extensive menu of small tapas style dishes. You will find mini bocadillo’s with a huge variety of fillings, plus other dishes such as deep fried cheese balls and loaded fries. There is a special promotion every Wednesday and Sunday where most food is only €1. A great spot for a very cheap lunch.
Chocolatería San Ginés
Madrid’s oldest chocolatería has been open since 1894. Here you can purchase 6 churros with a cup of thick hot chocolate for only €4. Pasadizo de San Ginés, 5, 28013 Madrid
Visiting some of the numerous food markets is one of the best ways to experience eating out in Madrid. You will be able to pick up a variety of very cheap tapas dishes, cones of cured meats, pinchos and cheap glasses of wine. Here are some of the ones you should check out during your visit:
- Mercado De San Miguel Plaza de San Miguel, s/n, 28005 Madrid
- Mercado De San Antón Calle de Augusto Figueroa, 24B, 28004 Madrid
- Mercado De Antón Martin Calle de Santa Isabel, 5, 28012 Madrid
- Mercado de San Ildefonso Calle de Fuencarral, 57, 28004 Madrid
- Platea Calle de Goya, 5-7, 28001 Madrid
El Tigre is one of the few bars in Madrid that still carry the tradition of serving drinks with a free large plate of tapas. You can expect to receive croquettes, Spanish tortillas or patatas bravas with a €6 drink. This place is pretty famous so expect many crowds. Calle de las Infantas, 30, 28004 Madrid
Gourmet Experience – El Cortes Inglés food court
Fairly new and located on the top-floor of the El Cortes Inglés department store on Gran Via, this food court contains heaps of bars and restaurants and is well worth a visit. There is outdoor seating with glorious views of the city (although most of the better views are to be had in the indoor seating area). Drinks prices are fairly expensive compared to other bars in the city. Centro Comercial El Corte Inglés, Plaza del Callao, 2, 28013 Madrid
Museo del Jamón
This is not a museum but a chain restaurant/bar that is devoted to Iberian ham and is very popular with the locals. Beers are around €2 and plates of jamon serrano are around €3.
Madrid budget accommodation
We stayed at Hostal Santo Domingo which is a cheap and cheerful budget hotel in a great location just a few minutes walk from Gran Via and many places of interest. It cost us around €45 a night for a double room (without breakfast or a fridge) in the month of August (booking well in advance). Check out Hostal Santo Domingo rates here >
Getting around Madrid on a budget
Central Madrid is quite compact and easily walkable. The public transport system however is very simple to use, cheap and extends all the way to the airport. A single journey costs €1.50 (5 stations) or €2 (10 or more stations), or you can purchase a book of 10 for €12.20. Note: for journeys to the airport there is a €6 surcharge.
Other Europe blog posts
- Seville travel guide, Spain
- Best things to do in Lisbon, Portugal
- Budapest travel guide, Hungary
- Vienna budget travel guide, Austria
- Sofia travel guide, Bulgaria
- The best Rooftop Bars in Lisbon, Portugal
- Riga travel guide, Latvia
Things to do in Madrid – add to Pinterest!
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