Madrid is an amazing city to explore with a rich history that is on full display throughout the city. It is a great city but not necessarily the cheapest. World-class shopping, fine dining, nightlife, and art galleries are just a few of the incredible but costly things you will discover.
But what if you are on a budget? Can you still have a good time and explore the spirit and culture of Madrid? The answer is a resounding YES! You just have to know where to look, and it doesn't matter what your interests are, you will be able to satisfy and expand them, even on a budget. So here is a list of some of the best free things to do in Madrid.
But before you head out on your "free things" tour, you will need to store your luggage someplace safe and secure. Unfortunately, they won't let you store it at the Royal Palace, so the next best place is one of our convenient luggage storage locations Madrid.
Visit the Parks
Of the free things to do in Madrid, one of the best is the parks. There are over 40 parks in the city, but there are few that stand out from the others.
Casa de Campo - Not only is Casa de Campo the largest park in the city, but it also has the most attractions. There are some attractions that you have to pay to enter, like Madrid Zoo Aquarium, the Parque de Attraciones amusement park, and Cable Car. But this park is huge and has plenty of green space for picnics, forests to explore, and recreational areas like tennis courts, soccer fields, and a lake. In the summertime, one of the most popular spots is the outdoor public pool.
Parque del Oeste - Right at the start of the park, you will find an authentic Egyptian temple of the ancient world that was brought from Egypt to the Spanish capital stone by stone. The Temple de Debod was a gift from the Egyptian government for saving it from being submerged by rising waters.
The Egyptian temple might be the highlight, but it is not the only great structure to check out. There are also three bunkers and an old barracks of the Spanish Civil War, a 600-meter artificial river, and the Roe Garden Ramón Ortiz. The tranquil design of the park will leave you feeling relaxed and ready to take on the rest of Madrid.
Parque de Berlin - In the district of Chanartín is where you will find this beautifully landscaped park. And as the name would suggest, it is dedicated to the city of Berlin. Within it, you will find several remnants of the Berlin Wall displayed in ponds and fountains and a monument dedicated to the famous composer Beethoven. There are also a lot of playgrounds and open spaces for children to play in.
El Retiro park - Once limited to Spanish royalty, this park near the city center is now an excellent spot for families. There is so much to see and do in Madrid's most famous park. The paths of El Retiro wind through a forest of over 15,000 trees and will lead you to children's playgrounds and a lake where you will find two palaces. The Glass Palace (Palacio de Cristal), a beautiful structure of wrought iron and glass, and the colorful Valàzquez Palace, which houses some great exhibitions.
On most Saturdays and Sundays, the puppet theatre has some great shows, and the actors walk around dressed up as cartoon characters. Boats can be rented for rowing on the lake or you or head over to La Chopera to play tennis or soccer. The best time to go is during the week as the weekends get very busy.
Walk the many paths, watch a puppet show, check out the sculptures and gardens, play some sports, or simply relax on the lawns. El Retiro park has it all and more.
See the Royal Palace
Going to Madrid's Royal Palace, the official residence of the Spanish royal family, is an incredible experience. It is the largest palace in Western Europe and one of the largest in the world. There is a charge to enter the palace except for Monday to Thursday between 4 pm and 6 pm in the winter and the summer between 5 pm and 7 pm, if you hold an EU passport, EU work permit, or you are a citizen of an Ibero-American country.
However, you can watch the Changing of the Guard, Wednesday and Saturday between 11 am and 2 pm, and the Solemn Changing of the Guard, the first Wednesday of every month at noon (except for Jan., Aug., & Sept.) for free. The Solemn Changing of the Guard is a spectacular event in which the members of the Spanish Navy take part; the performance is as it was 150 years ago.
Fifes, drums, 400 soldiers, and 100 horses all participate in this magnificent ceremony at the Royal Palace, and it truly is a don't-miss event.
Check out a Museum
Madrid has some great museums, quirky ones, children friendly, ones that feature art masterpieces, cool science ones, and more. While most museums charge a fee, there are some that have free admission.
Museo del Prado- Housing one of the world's finest collections of European art, the Prado Museum, on Paseo del Prado, is the most famous museum in Spain. With the most extensive collection of famous Spanish artists like Goya and Velázquez, plus works from Rembrandt, Titan, and Caravaggio, you could spend an entire day or two here. But if you want free entry, you will have to go in the evening between 6 pm and 8 pm Monday to Saturday or Sunday 5 pm to 7 pm, which will only give you a couple of hours.
Reina Sofia Museum - The contemporary art museum holds some of the best Spanish art from the great artists Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso. In addition, there are two other sites run by the museum, which house temporary exhibits - the Velázquez Palace and the Crystal Palace in El Retiro Park. Free admission to the facilities is offered Mon. & Wed. - Sat. 7 pm to 9 pm and on Sunday between 1.30 pm and 2.30 pm.
Biblioteca Nacional & Museo del Libro - Found at the Plaza del Colón, this is not just a place that booklovers will want to see, but anyone who likes something different and interesting. The library and museum consist of 8 rooms all with different themes, starting from the history of how media has evolved from writing on tortoise shells to the internet. There are even two rooms for kids with literary workshops and puppet shows. This is a great museum for families and it is always free entry.
Museo de San Isidro - Named for the patron saint of Madrid, San IsidroLabrador, it is believed the saint lived and died on this site. The museum tells the fascinating story of Madrid and the land it stands on, from prehistoric times to the present day. Located on Plaza de San Andrés in the La Latina neighborhood is where you will find this unique museum of history.
Casa de Lope de Vega - The house of the great Spanish writer, on Calle Cervantes in the Literary District, was originally built in the sixteenth century and has stood for over 400 years. Although the rooms have been recreated, much of the furniture, art, and kitchenware was actually owned by the writer. You do have to book a tour to see the inside of the house; the tours are conducted in several languages, including English.
Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida - Don't be fooled by the outer appearance of this chapel (now a museum); the sober neoclassic building's interior is a sight to behold. The frescos that adorn it were painted by the famous artist Goya in the 18th century and still reign as one of his greatest masterpieces. In fact, the chapel, found on Glorieta San Antonio de la Florida in the Princesa district, is his final resting place.
Visit the Markets
One of the best ways to experience food in Madrid is to head to one of the public markets. You will find yourself surrounded by a whole host of fresh food, restaurants, cafes, and souvenir shops. Even if you don't buy anything, check out these markets, and you will enjoy your time wandering around and people watching.
Mercado de San Miguel - By far the most popular market in Madrid, it sees over 10 million visitors a year. It has over 20 stalls where you can get some of the best food in Madrid, Michelin star cafes, street food, even fresh produce, fish, and meats can all be found here. It is located in the heart of Madrid de Los Austrias near the Plaza Mayor, another great place to check out.
Mercado de Motores - This one is kind of like a traveling market - it pops up on the second weekend of every month at the Museo del Ferrocarril (the Railway Museum). It is a great mix of artists, local designers, and food stands. After looking around the market, you may want to hit the museum, it is a small charge for adults to enter but has free entry for kids under 4 years old.
Mercado de San Anton - You will find this more modern style market in the Chueca neighborhood. Whereas you find more traditional foods at Mercado de San Miguel, here it is about international cuisine. The market itself dates back to the 19th century but was rebuilt in 2011 as an eco-friendly sustainable building.
Browse in the Plazas
Of the many plazas within the Spanish capital, two are must-visits. The first is Puerta del Sol. This plaza is where you will see the famous bear and tree statue, the symbols of Madrid. You will also be standing at the exact geographic center of Spain, how cool is that?
Plaza Mayor is the next must-visit plaza in Madrid. Through the centuries, the iconic area has been the site of events like bullfights, coronations, and a few "auto de fe" (heretic burnings during the Spanish Inquisition). Both plazas are in central Madrid and relatively close to each other. You can book a spot at one of the many free walking tours where the guides will tell you all about the history of the areas.
Explore Estación de Chamberí
Take a walk underground into Madrid's original subway. When the "new" subway system was installed in 1966, Chamberí was left out. But thanks to a movie, it was brought back to life with all its grandeur and colorful decor. Under the Plaza Chanberí, you can have a look at the 1919 platform and learn about the Madrid metro history.
Eat Free Tapas
Okay, this one is a bit of a cheat but believe it or not, you can eat for free in quite a few bars around Madrid. So what's the catch? Well, you do have to order at least one drink. It is becoming a little harder to find bars that serve free tapas. Sidrería El Tigre on Calle de las Infantas is the most famous, but here is a quick list of other places too.
- Taberna La Nueva - Calle de Arapile
- Petisqueira - Calle Cherruca
- La Pequeña Graná - Calle de Enbajadores
- La Blanca Paloma - Calle del Espíritu Santo
- Pepe el Guarro - Calle Celanova
- Mareas Vivas - Calle Veneras
- Malaspina - Calle de Cádiz
Catch a Free Concert
Many bars throughout Madrid offer free live music. The bars themselves are free to enter, however, you may be required to buy one drink. If you like your blues, La Coquette Good is the place to be. There is one place, in particular, La Tabacalera in Palos de la Frontera, where entry is completely free, and they offer everything from live music to art exhibitions.
Museo del Prado to Start
So know you are armed with free information on free things to do in Madrid like interesting museums and sampling some Spanish cuisine. And if you still can't decide where to go there is one last suggestion, take a free walking tour. These tours are conducted by locals that love their city and know all the great free places to go. So what are you waiting for?