Visiting Madrid on a budget

Visiting Madrid on a budget

Barcelona has Gaudi, Granada has the Alhambra, Santiago has its pilgrims – but if you’re looking for the perfect Spanish city break, Madrid has a bit of everything. This vibrant, energetic city has plenty of different sides – whether you’re a football fan visiting for the Champion’s League Final or just looking for a great city break. Soak up the culture in the city’s museums and galleries, or drink cocktails on a rooftop terrace and dance until dawn. Fill up on plates of tasty tapas or feast your eyes on its beautiful architecture. Spain’s a good-value destination, but city break costs can still add up. So here are my tips for making the most of Madrid on a budget.

Read more: Winter in Seville: A Spanish city break

Temple of Debod in Madrid's Parque del Oeste

The Egyptian Temple of Debod

Things to see and do

Madrid has plenty of free sights and a walk around the city’s plazas and streets will show off some of its highlights. Admire the architecture in the Plaza Mayor, walk down the city’s most famous street the Gran Via, or people watch as the sun goes down in the Puerta del Sol.

The ornate Palacio Real is Europe’s largest palace. It’s the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family, with interiors that are dripping with gold, marble and intricate frescoes. Entry costs €11–13 (depending on the time of year), or it’s free for EU citizens (make sure to bring ID) on Monday to Thursday between 6pm and 8pm (4pm to 6pm from October to March).

Walking tours are a perfect introduction to the city, and several companies offer free tours where you just tip your guide. Ogo Tours do a 2.5-hour tour of the historic Madrid de los Austrias neighborhood starting from Puerta del Sol at 10.45am daily. Pancho Tours do a 3-hour tour every day at 11am also from Puerta del Sol. Or Sandeman’s New Madrid Tours do a city highlights tour departing from the Plaza Mayor at 10am, 11am, 2pm and 4pm every day.

Madrid's Palacio Real

Inside and outside the Palacio Real

Madrid’s parks make a great escape from the city streets – and some welcome shade on a hot summer’s day. Retiro Park stretches across 330 acres with a boating lake, fountains, sculptures and monuments, including the glass Palacio de Cristal which hosts free exhibitions.

There’s also the huge Casa del Campo park which has an amusement park and zoo as well as hiking routes. And the Parque del Oeste where you’ll find an Egyptian temple, the Temple of Debod. It was donated by the Egyptians after Spain helped save their archaeological treasures when the Aswan Dam was built and is a great place to watch sunset.

If you’re in Madrid on a Sunday, don’t miss El Rastro flea market. It’s one of the largest in Europe and sprawls through the streets between Plaza Mayor and Puerta de Toledo. Nearly 1000 stalls sell antiques, books, jewellery and clothes. It starts at 7am and goes on until 2.30pm.

The Palacio de Cristal in Retiro Park

Retiro Park’s Palacio de Cristal

Museums and galleries

Many of Madrid’s museums and galleries are free at certain times. The world-famous Prado art gallery has free entry to its permanent collections from 6pm–8pm on Monday to Saturday and 5pm–7pm on Sundays (with 50% off entry to the temporary exhibitions). Get there early though as there are big queues. The Reina Sofia modern art museum is free from 7pm–9pm on Mondays and Wednesday to Saturday (closed on Tuesdays) and from 1.30pm–7pm on Sundays.

Both museums are always free for under 18s and students aged 18–25. Over 65s get half-price entry to the Prado and free entry to the Reina Sofia. Also free at certain times are the Museo Arqueológico Nacional archaeological museum, which is free on Saturdays from 2pm and Sunday mornings. And the Thyssen-Bornemisza art museum is free on Mondays from 12pm–4pm.

Tio Pepe sign in Madrid

Tio Pepe sign

Other museums are always free to enter. Like the Museo Taurino about the history of bullfighting, the Museo Arte Público outdoor sculpture gallery, the CaixaForum museum and cultural centre, and Andén O, which is a 1960s underground railway station turned museum.

Museums and galleries are free on 12 October (Spain’s national day), 6 December (Constitution Day) and 18 May (International Museum Day). There’s also a Museum Night on the Saturday before or after International Museum Day, with late-night opening and special arts events.

The Madrid City Pass gives you skip-the-queue access to the Prado and the Real Madrid Stadium Tour, as well as taxi transfers to and from the airport, a 24-hour Hop-On Hop-Off Bus ticket and a 20% discount on lots of other attractions. The pass costs €97 for adults (€55 for children aged for 5–14 and free for under 5s), and there’s no time limit.

Madrid city view from the Circulo de Bellas Artes

The view from the Circulo de Bellas Artes

Top city views

One of the city’s best views is from on top of the Círculo de Bellas Artes arts and cultural centre. It costs €4 for the lift to the 7th floor where there’s a rooftop terrace bar overlooking the city that’s open until 1.30am (2.30am weekends). Nearby is the grand white Palacio de Cibeles. It’s home to Madrid City Council but also has a viewing platform (closed Tuesdays). Entry costs €3 for adults or €1.50 for under 12s. Or for a meal with a view, the food stalls on the 9th floor of the El Corte Inglés department store serve everything from pintxos to ice cream.

If you want to get up even higher, the futuristic – and slightly bizarre looking – Faro de Moncloa transmission tower rises up 110 metres high. It was built for Madrid’s year as European Capital of Culture in 1992 and from the viewing platform at 92 metres high you can see for up to 60 miles around. Entry costs €3 for adults, or €1.50 for 7–14 year olds and over 65s.

Or for something a bit different, Madrid has its own cable car. The Teleférico de Madrid runs between Paseo del Pintor Rosales and the Casa del Campo park. It takes 10 minutes and crosses rivers, railway lines and parkland, costing €6 for a return trip or €4.50 one way.

Teleférico de Madrid cable car

Madrid’s cable car

Eating and drinking

Spain means tapas, small plates of food that often come free when you order a drink. One of the best-known free tapas spots in Madrid is El Tigre, where a €5 beer or sangria will get you a plate piled with tapas. Dishes vary with each round but include patatas bravas, tortilla and serrano ham. It’s a popular place, so if it’s full try El Respiro next door. Other tapas bargains include Copas Rotas and Indalo Tapas, a small chain with several branches across Madrid.

For a budget lunch, pick up picnic supplies from one of Madrid’s food markets. Most famous is the Mercado de San Miguel, in a beautiful building next to Plaza Mayor. It’s more food court than traditional market, with stalls selling local ham, olives and cheeses and tapas dishes. There are tables if you want to eat in, or grab a bottle of wine from a supermarket and head to the park.

There’s also the Mercado San Ildefonso, which is a street food market located in the trendy Malasaña district. Or for more traditional, cheaper locals’ markets try the Mercado Antón Martin near the Retiro Park or the Mercado de Maravillas.

Madrid on a budget – tapas

Tapas in the Mercado de San Miguel

Travelling around

Central Madrid is very walkable, but if you’re travelling further afield the Metro is modern and fast, and runs from 6am to 1.30am. A single Metrobús ticket (valid on the Metro or buses) costs €1.50–€2, or you can get a 10-journey ticket for €18.30. There’s also a Abono Turístico travel card for various different durations, from €8.40 for one day up to €35.40 for a week.

You can get to the airport by Metro, train or bus – each takes 30–40 minutes. If you take the Metro you need to pay a €3 supplement on top of the usual ticket price. The Exprés Aeropuerto (Airport Express) bus costs €5 single or there are various cheaper local buses.

Cercanías overland trains run from Terminal 4 (which you can reach from other terminals by shuttle bus) and cost €2.60. Whether you’re catching a train or not, it’s worth calling in at Madrid’s Atocha Station. The entrance hall has 4000 square metres of tropical botanic garden to wander around, with ponds full of turtles and 700 different plant species.

Madrid budget city guide

Vintage Madrid

So those are my tips for seeing Madrid on a budget – do you know of any more Madrid bargains or have any money-saving tips?

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Madrid on a budget – how to save money on sightseeing, museums and galleries, food and drink, city views and transport on an Madrid city break, Spain #Madrid #Spain #budgettravel #budgetMadridA budget city guide to Madrid – money-saving tips to cut your costs on sights, museums, food and travel #Madrid #Spain #budgettravel #budgetMadrid

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  • Reply
    September 15, 2016 at 9:05 pm

    Great guide! I’m hoping to do a Surprise Trip next year.But how do you plan what to do…or is that part of the fun? Did you buy a guide book at the airport.;)

    • Reply
      September 15, 2016 at 9:36 pm

      I am such a planner I don’t think I could totally wing it, so I did buy a guidebook before we got on the plane, and did a bit of Googling to find out where the hotel was and how to get from the airport. After that it was a case of picking some highlights we definitely wanted to see and seeing what we found for the rest of time. It was really fun though!

  • Reply
    September 16, 2016 at 4:50 am

    Spain, has always on my bucket list. Good you got me this!!!! Thank you!

    • Reply
      September 18, 2016 at 9:33 pm

      Hope it comes in useful!

  • Reply
    September 16, 2016 at 6:09 pm

    Surely you didn’t do all this in a few days’ city break?! I think I spent the four months I lived there and then a second and third trip fitting all this in! But you did cover many of my favorite things!

    • Reply
      September 18, 2016 at 9:32 pm

      Haha no I didn’t do it all! I’ve still got a big list to go back and do next time (and probably a third and fourth trip too).

  • Reply
    Ella - Wide-Eyed Wanderer
    September 17, 2016 at 11:54 am

    Sounds like there’s quite a lot to do in Madrid. I’ll be there in a few weeks, but only for a nighttime layover and I probably won’t be able to explore the city at all. Oh well… I’ll just have to go back at some point 🙂

    • Reply
      September 18, 2016 at 9:29 pm

      Good excuse for a return trip definitely!

  • Reply
    Culture Passport
    September 17, 2016 at 8:55 pm

    There is so much to do in Madrid! I went for 8 days this summer and found it wasn’t nearly enough! 🙂

    • Reply
      September 18, 2016 at 9:14 pm

      We only just have time for a taster but there was so much more I’d like to see!

  • Reply
    September 21, 2016 at 1:59 am

    Madrid has so much offer! I always forget about it when I think about the top places I want to return to, but your post has reminded me a) how much there is to do there and b) how much I loved it the first time around. Glad your first Surprise Trip was a success!

    • Reply
      September 21, 2016 at 7:48 pm

      I was really pleasantly surprised by Madrid, we had a great weekend and I’m a real convert to the city now!

  • Reply
    October 2, 2016 at 10:07 am

    Would love to go to Madrid. I have a plan to do lots of Spanish cities as I barely seem to have seen any apart from Granada and a bit of Barcelona in the rain.

    • Reply
      October 3, 2016 at 2:08 pm

      Spain’s been such an oversight in my travels for ages so I have a lot of catching up to do (Granada looks lovely so that’s possibly next).

  • Reply
    Kara // Heels In My Backpack
    October 4, 2016 at 8:09 pm

    Madrid looks lovely, it’s on my list! Love your photos!

    • Reply
      October 5, 2016 at 6:09 pm

      Thanks so much, it’s a great city, hope you get to make the trip someday!

  • Reply
    October 7, 2016 at 1:20 am

    Madrid is one of the most sought after destinations and I love the city after just one visit! Great guide on squeezing a cheap budget to have a full experience of Madrid.

    • Reply
      October 7, 2016 at 3:42 pm

      Thanks so much, Madrid’s a great place!

  • Reply
    October 14, 2016 at 4:44 pm

    Madrid looks incredible on your photos! I want to travel to a warmer place soon, and somewhere that isn’t too expensive. Working for an events promotion company in London where travel and trips is a quite popular category, I am sometimes overwhelmed about all the possibilities in traveling and where to go next! You definitely made me consider Madrid!

    • Reply
      October 16, 2016 at 9:17 pm

      It’s always hard to narrow it down! Madrid is really good value though so would be a great place for a not too expensive weekend.

  • Reply
    January 7, 2018 at 10:03 pm

    The free museum entrance is seriously the best thing that could have happened to me! Love it 🙂

    • Reply
      January 10, 2018 at 7:31 pm

      Such a good excuse to explore lots of museums!

  • Reply
    Ernesto Maitim
    March 8, 2018 at 11:21 am

    Not every museum, unfortunately, is for free. Still, you can enjoy visiting a great number of them, some free throughout the days of the week like the Historical Museum of Madrid (near the Tribunal Metro Station), and others, you can enjoy free entrance on certain days of the week.

    • Reply
      March 9, 2018 at 9:10 pm

      Yes you do need to time it right but it’s a good way to save if you do!

  • Reply
    Khanjan Somaiya
    March 20, 2018 at 5:12 am

    How many days are enough to stay in Madrid. I’ve like 3-4 days with me will it be enough

    • Reply
      March 23, 2018 at 7:51 pm

      Hi, I was there for a similar amount of time and it was enough to get a good overview of the city and see the main sights.

  • Reply
    June 4, 2018 at 12:08 pm

    I’m hitting up Madrid this September with my family, I cannot wait to explore this city. Thanks for your great tips!

    • Reply
      June 6, 2018 at 11:18 am

      Hope you have a fantastic trip!

  • Reply
    Ivana Adamova
    May 31, 2019 at 3:59 pm

    Okay, so this is the ultimate best guide a read in a long time. Such a great tips and I think I´m going to try visit everything I could during my trip. Thank you very much for this inspiration 🙂 Best luck 🙂

    • Reply
      June 3, 2019 at 8:31 pm

      Thanks so much – and brilliant to hear that it was useful!

  • Reply
    Rachel Wuest
    June 2, 2019 at 2:23 am

    I saved money by staying with my boyfriend’s family, who live a few metro stops away from the airport just a bit outside the city. I was only there for a few days so we didn’t get up to too much, but microdosing on tapas throughout the day is certainly the way to go.

    • Reply
      June 3, 2019 at 8:33 pm

      Tapas is always a good idea!

  • Reply
    June 2, 2019 at 1:22 pm

    Madrid looks absolutely breathtaking! Definitely on my list to visit!

    The Crown Wings | UK Travel & Lifestyle Blog

    • Reply
      June 3, 2019 at 8:35 pm

      Such a great city!

  • Reply
    June 2, 2019 at 3:27 pm

    This comes at the perfect time for me! I’m really hoping to make Madrid my next destination. Your tips have certainly motivated me to visit soon 🙂

    • Reply
      June 3, 2019 at 8:36 pm

      It’s definitely worth a trip! Hope you enjoy it.

  • Reply
    Christy Oliphant
    June 6, 2019 at 11:43 pm

    I’m going to Madrid next summer. Can’t wait to try your tips!

    • Reply
      June 11, 2019 at 12:24 pm

      Hope you have a wonderful trip!

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