Planning a trip to Madrid but want to keep to a strict budget? In this travel feature we take a look at fifteen things to do for free in Madrid, including a walk through Retiro Park, free entry into world class museums and lots more.
1. Enjoy the outdoors in Parque del Buen Retiro
Madrid’s Parque del Buen Retiro, or just Retiro Park as it is known locally, is the city’s best loved park, as well as being one of Madrid’s top attractions. Retiro Park is the perfect place to enjoy the great summer days that Madrid gets plenty of. In this city park you will find many beautiful sculptures and monuments as well as a boating lake. There are also some free outdoor concerts that take place in Retiro Park during the summer.
2. Free entry into world class museums
Madrid prides itself on the variety of art and culture on offer in the city. It is also home to some of the world’s top museums, housing some top class art works. Two of Madrid’s most famous museums are the Reina Sofia Museum and the Prado Museum both of which charge an admission fee. However, if you plan your visit to either museum beforehand you can get in free of charge. For free admission to the Prado Museum visit Tuesday to Sunday from 6pm to 8pm, or Sundays from 5pm to 8pm. For free admission to the Reina Sofia Museum visit Monday to Friday from 7pm to 9pm, Saturday from 2.30pm to 9pm, or Sunday from 10am to 2.30pm.
Location: Edificio Villanueva, Paseo del Prado
3. Sit back in Plaza Mayor
Madrid is packed full of beautiful squares or plazas as they are known locally, with the main city square being Plaza Mayor. This Madrid square is steeped in history and has seen public executions, royal ceremonies, bullfights, Inquisition trials and many celebrations. Today it is surrounded by three-storey buildings, many cafes and restaurants with terraces to sit out in and take in this busy square.
4. Walk around Madrid’s Royal Palace
The Palacio Real is Madrid’s Royal Palace and is also the largest palace in Europe with over 2,800 rooms. It is the official residence of the Royal family; however it is only used for state ceremonies these days. The palace is open to the public but even just a walk around its grounds and courtyard is a great free thing to do in Madrid. The Royal Palace is a beautiful building to look at and once you have taken in this architectural splendour, check out the view from the side of courtyard.
Location: 5 minute walk from Opera metro station
5. Get tropical at the Atocha Railway Station
It may be hard to believe, but one of Madrid’s most talked about attractions can be found in the city’s main train station. A tropical garden lies in the old atrium of Atocha Railway Station and you can take a walk through this small botanic area while waiting to catch your train. This train station garden is home to tropical plants and fauna, as well as a little turtle pool that draws many onlookers.
6. Soak up the sun in Plaza de España
One of Madrid’s busiest traffic intersections is also where you will find one of the city’s most beautiful squares. Plaza de España is home to a beautiful large fountain and a breath-taking monument to Cervantes, who is best known for writing "Don Quixote". The fictional character of Don Quixote and his sweetheart Dulcinea also feature in this dominant fixture in the square. Plaza de España is especially popular on sunny days for sunbathers and it’s also where you will find many street vendors.
7. Take a stroll down Gran Via
If you take a stroll along Madrid’s Gran Via you will be taking a walk down the city’s most famous street. Gran Via has been referenced in everything from operas to films, and it is also steeped in history. This street is one of Madrid’s busiest as it is lined with shops and restaurants. It is also architecturally beautiful to look at with many buildings on Gran Via classed as landmarks.
8. Go to see the Templo de Debod
This Egyptian temple once stood in the village of Debod but today resides in Madrid in the Parque del Oeste. This piece of Egyptian heritage came to Spain when a dam was being developed in Egypt and many historic pieces were at risk of being ruined. Spanish engineers helped the Egyptian government to move these monuments and in return, Egypt donated the Templo de Debod to Spain as a thank you. It’s a popular attraction today and lies in one of Madrid’s popular parks. Just behind it you will be greeted with some stunning views.
10. Madrid’s largest open air flea market ‘El Rastro’
If you are spending a Sunday in Madrid make sure you pay a visit to ‘El Rastro’ – Madrid’s largest open air market. This popular flea market is packed full of locals and tourists every week and you can pick up all kinds of bargains from antiques to clothes amongst the 3500 stalls. A visit to ‘El Rastro’ is highly recommended even if you don’t want to buy anything as the atmosphere here is worth the trip alone.
11. Follow the Old City Walls
Madrid was once upon a time a walled city and today you can see the remains of what once protected a 9th century Moorish settlement. This free attraction can be found just behind the Cathedral. Originally these city walls surrounded just over 4 hectares, but parts of the walls also date from the 12th and 13th century. They were declared a national monument in 1954 to protect them from local construction. A stroll around these city walls make for a great walk through a historical part of Madrid.
12. Spend an evening in Puerta del Sol
This popular city square was once the home of Madrid’s city gates. This is also Madrid’s most central location and where you will find a stone slab marking ‘Kilometre Zero’ – the official starting point for Spain’s 6 National Roads. There are many noteworthy aspects to Puerta del Sol such as the monument of "El Oso y El Madroño" - the Bear and the Strawberry Tree, a statue of King Carlos III and two fountains where people gather to sit around, especially in the evenings. Puerta del Sol comes alive at dusk with people going through the square as well as stopping off in one of the cafes or restaurants in the area. It’s a great place to watch the city go by.
13. Madrid's Museo Taurino (Bullfighting Museum)
If you cannot afford the price of a ticket to see the bullfighting for real, then take advantage of the free admission to Madrid's Museo Taurino – The Bullfighting Museum. The museum offers an account of Spain’s bullfighting history with costumes of previous matadors and even a painting by Goya depicting a bull fighting scene. There are also many photographs and relics detailing this controversial tradition from its origins to the present day.
Location: Plaza de Toros Monumental de las Ventas
14. Museo Arte Público
This museum certainly makes use of unused spaces as you will find this outdoor museum underneath a bypass. This free thing to do in Madrid is well worth a visit even if it is just to witness how this space is beautifully utilised. The collection is mainly made up of abstract sculptures with works by Joan Miró and Eduardo Chillida also included.
Location: Paseo de la Castellana, 41
15. Anden 0
If you want to see what an old Madrid Metro station looked like in the 1960s, then visit Anden O. This free Madrid attraction showcases an old Madrid Metro station, and while it is a small museum it is definitely worth a look, especially as it is free to enter.
Location: Plaza Chamberi
Opening hours: Tues-Fri: 11 am – 7 pm, Sat, Sun and holidays: 11 am – 3 pm