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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 – 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: Tiles and tapas: Things to do in winter in Seville, Spain

Temple of Debod in Madrid's Parque del Oeste

The Egyptian Temple of Debod

Things to do in Madrid on a budget

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 €12–13 (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. Or Sandeman’s do a 3-hour city highlights tour departing from the Plaza Mayor at 10am, 11am, 2pm and 4pm every day.

Inside and outside the Palacio Real, Madrid

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

Money-saving 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.

If you’re planning on visiting a lot of attractions, a discount card can save you money. The Go City Madrid Pass gives you free entry to famous spots including the Prado Museum, Royal Palace, Bernabeu Stadium, Reina Sofía Museum and Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, as well as Segway and hop-on-hop-off bus tours.

There are a couple of different versions – an All-Inclusive Pass for 1-5 days (which ranges from €77–€159, with discounts for children aged 12 and under). Or an Explorer Pass if you’re only planning on visiting a few places, where you can pick and mix 3–7 attractions of your choice (€69–€149).

Madrid bookstore

Madrid bookstore

Top Madrid views

One of Madrid’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 on 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.

Madrid city view from the Circulo de Bellas Artes

The view from the Circulo de Bellas Artes

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 children aged 7–14 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

Budget food and drink

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.

Tapas in the Mercado de San Miguel

Tapas in the Mercado de San Miguel

Low-cost Madrid transport

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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Visiting Madrid on a budget, Spain – how to save money on sightseeing, museums, city views, food and transport on an Madrid budget break #Madrid #Spain #budgetA budget city guide to Madrid – money-saving tips to cut your costs on sights, museums, food and travel in Madrid #Madrid #Spain #budget

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Dayton Barkley

Monday 4th of May 2020

I want to see those beautiful views!

Christy Oliphant

Thursday 6th of June 2019

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


Tuesday 11th of June 2019

Hope you have a wonderful trip!


Sunday 2nd of June 2019

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 :)


Monday 3rd of June 2019

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


Sunday 2nd of June 2019

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

xoxo Jess The Crown Wings | UK Travel & Lifestyle Blog


Monday 3rd of June 2019

Such a great city!

Rachel Wuest

Sunday 2nd of June 2019

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.


Monday 3rd of June 2019

Tapas is always a good idea!