Madrid on a Budget: Free Things to Do & Cheap Restaurants

Nothing compares to the sheer elegance and grandeur of Madrid. There’s beauty at every corner, complimented by the aromatic smells wafting out of the city’s tabernas. The Spanish capital prides itself on being a favourite destination among art lovers and foodies, but it is also a great city to explore if you’re a shoestring traveller.
From feasting on churros and calamari sandwiches to popping into museums at the right time, here’s how to get the most out of your stay in Madrid without spending too much money.
GETTING AROUND
Madrid is a very walkable city with a compact historic centre, so you don’t really need to buy any metro or bus tickets to get around. If you’re planning to take a few day trips to nearby cities, like Segovia or Toledo, make sure to buy your train tickets well in advance for cheaper fares.
WHERE TO STAY
I highly recommend booking a room at Hostal Inn. This cosy guesthouse is bang in the city centre, located in a side street just off Gran Via. Prices are reasonable – we paid €30 per night and had a fairly large room with a private bathroom – and the staff is wonderful.
WHERE TO EAT
For cheap seafood dishes and paella, head to La Sirena Verde in Gran Via. This cheap and cheerful restaurant was recommended to us by our receptionist at Hostal Inn and it was teeming with local diners when we got there.
One thing you must have when in Madrid is bocadillo de calamares; a fried calamari sandwich. The best place for this much-loved snack is La Campana, just off Plaza Mayor. For €2.75 you get a big bread roll loaded with deep fried calamari rings.
If you’re travelling to Madrid on a shoestring budget, Cien Montaditos serves 100 types of sandwiches starting at €1 each. Their sandwiches are quite filling and they’re prepared on the spot.
Finally, make sure you try the famous churros before leaving Madrid. At Chocolatería San Ginés you can get 6 freshly-baked churros with a cup of thick, melted chocolate for just €4.
FREE THINGS TO DO
Madrid is an amazing destination for budget travellers. You can simply spend your days in the city just wandering through the streets and you won’t get bored, especially if you’re an avid photographer and Instagrammer.
Whether you’re into art and architecture or just want to immerse yourself in la vida madrileña, here are the top free things to do in Madrid.
1. Go on a free walking tour
If you really want to get to know Madrid inside out, I highly recommend joining a free walking tour with Ogo Tours. Our guide, Tatiana, walked us through the history of the city with engaging stories and little-known facts. She even took us inside Sobrino de Botin, the oldest running restaurant in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records.
If you really want to get to know Madrid inside out, I highly recommend joining a free walking tour with Ogo Tours. Our guide, Tatiana, walked us through the history of the city with engaging stories and little-known facts. She even took us inside Sobrino de Botin, the oldest running restaurant in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records.
The free walking tours normally start in Puerta del Sol. If you’re visiting Madrid during peak season, it might be wise to pre-book a place on a free walking tour as some companies only allow a limited number of people on each tour.
2. Take a stroll through El Retiro
This gorgeous park in the heart of Madrid is possibly the most popular attraction in the city. You can easily spend an hour strolling through El Retiro, especially on a warm day. Throughout the summer, El Retiro plays host to various events and activities, including free concerts and firework shows.
3. Walk around the Royal Palace grounds
Madrid’s Royal Palace has over 2,800 rooms, making it the oldest palace in Europe. The palace is the official residence of the Royal Family, but parts of it are open to the public. If you don’t want to spend a big chunk of your days inside the palace, you can just take a walk around the palace grounds and admire its stunning architecture from different sides.
4. Visit the museums in the evening
Madrid boasts some of the world’s top artworks, the majority of which are housed in the Reina Sofia Museum and the Prado Museum. There is an admission fee for both museums, but not if you visit in the evening. You can get free admission into the Prado Museum if you visit Tuesday to Sunday from 6pm to 8pm, or Sundays from 5pm to 8pm.
Meanwhile, you can visit the Reina Sofia Museum free of charge from Monday to Friday between 7pm and 9pm, Saturday from 2.30pm to 9pm, or Sunday from 10am to 2.30pm.
5. Marvel at the beautiful buildings in Gran Via
Known as the Spanish Broadway, Gran Via is the most famous street in Madrid. Lined with ornate, twentieth-century edificios, which include shopping centres, hotels and theatres, Gran Via is the pulsing heart of the city. The most famous architectural masterpiece in the street is the Edificio Metrópolis, which was built between 1907 and 1911. Keep your camera at the ready when walking through this lively, never-ending street of lavish, grand buildings.
6. Hang out in Plaza Mayor
Steeped in history, Plaza Mayor is without doubt the most most beautiful square in Madrid. In the past, the square was used for public executions, bullfights and royal ceremonies. Nowadays it is a popular meeting place thanks to the numerous cafes and restaurants skirting the square. If you want to give your feet a rest, sit down in Plaza Mayor and just watch the world go by while admiring the exquisite frescoes on the façade of Casa de la Panadería.
7. See the Templo de Debod at sunset
This ancient Egyptian temple in Parque del Oeste, near the Royal Palace, seems a bit out of place. In fact, the temple was dismantled from a city in Upper Egypt and rebuilt in Madrid in the 1960s. It was donated by the Egyptian government as a sign of gratitude for the help provided by Spanish engineers in preserving the Abu Simbel temples in southern Egypt.
For some stunning shots of the temple, head to Parque del Oeste at sunset. Walk along the temple and stop right behind it, where you get some staggering views of the Cathedral and Royal Palace.
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Daniela Frendo

Daniela Frendo

Hi! I'm a Maltese blogger based in Scotland. I created Grumpy Camel to help travellers connect with places through culture, history and cuisine.

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