With so many items to cross out from your bucket list (most of which involve visiting places), traveling on a shoestring budget could be the only way to go about it. For those who still haven’t gotten Spain out of the way, you’ll be relieved to hear about a myriad of free things to do in Madrid this year.
As you’re about to find out, Madrid is a city with an affinity for culture and all things art. There’s a pinch of history here and a hint of tapas there, but overall, this city breathes culture. Whether it’s museums under the bridge or in former slaughterhouses and tobacco factories – the capital of Spain and its people have a way of transforming bare ugliness into something altogether different.
1. Visit Palacio de Cristal
With its impressive height and set in the most relaxed park of Madrid, Palacio de Cristal, or Glass Palace, is often visited by tourists. It’s one of the best places to see in Buen Retiro Park, a huge conservatory made of glass, holding onto an iron frame. Great spot for a picnic really!
2. Find Anden 0
Estación de Chamberí and Motores de Pacífico generator building are historic parts of Madrid Metro and part of the exhibit known as Platform 0, or Anden 0. This metro has been out of service since 1966 but serves to this day as a place where people come to see the history of Madrid unfold for free.
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3. Stop by La Tabacalera
Interestingly enough, this place started off as a tobacco factory, showcasing the industrial period of Madrid with its massive four stories and simple shapes. In 2003, it was turned into a cultural center where people can express their creativity through workshops, concerts, or even graffiti. You can even catch a play or two, and there is no entrance fee.
4. Visit Museo Taurino
This museum might not be up everyone’s alley, but regardless of how the world views bullfighting, it’s a cultural heritage of Spain and the Bullfighting Museum showcases every little detail of it. You’ll see paintings tackling the sport, toreador attire, posters, and even bullheads belonging to some of the toughest specimens.
5. See Puerta del Sol
If there’s a single place that could be considered as the very heart of Spain then that’s Puerta del Sol square. Since you’ll most likely be wandering the main areas of Madrid, it will be impossible for you to miss the square and its imposing bear statue, or Tio Pepe looking down at you from one of the rooftops.
6. Stand on Kilometer Zero
While still at the main square of Madrid (and Spain), you should try and find the Kilometer Zero plaque. It symbolizes the starting point for all radial measurement of Spain’s roads and is by far one of the more unusual free things to do in Madrid, and great for taking photos of your feet standing at the center of Spain.
7. Visit Espacio Conde Duque
You’ll recognize Espacio Conde Duque by its unique design and pink facade. It is the crowning jewel of culture and arts in Madrid where many performances are held. Visit Biblioteca Digital Memoria of Madrid and Archivo de la Villa while you’re here. The huge auditorium and theater are the place to be for any cultural events.
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8. Hike Casa de Campo
Casa de Campo is the largest park Madrid has to offer, a former royal hunting ground that’s earned it the title of ‘Country House’. The 4,260 acres of the park are located in west Madrid and are a great place to go on an easy hike. It’s one of the best locations to visit on a hot, sunny afternoon.
9. Take Photos of Plaza Mayor
Just a couple of blocks from Puerta del Sol is another square, but this one belonging to a more historic Madrid. It was the former main square, known for its spaciousness and uniformity of buildings surrounding it. There are more than two hundred balconies gazing at Plaza Mayor, lovely for some photos at dusk.
10. Sense Mercado de San Miguel
Only a short walk away from Plaza Mayor, you’ll find the best place to try local cuisine in Madrid – Mercado, or market, of San Miguel. It’s the best place to try some exquisite delicacies such as tapas, pastries, olives and all kinds of drinks. If you’re hellbent on keeping it ‘free’, then just enjoy the scents emanating from all over.
11. Check out Mercado de Motores
Mercado de Motores is all around fun, no matter how old you are and what you’re interested in. They invite entrepreneurs, artisans, and many others to display their creations and ideas, while at the same time providing its visitors with food tasting, Kararocker (yes, like Karaoke), and other great treats. All of this takes place at the Railway Museum.
12. Visit Museo del Prado
If you’ve ever thought about seeing some of the finest works of art by masterminds such as Titian, Albrecht Durer and El Greco (just to name some), you can do so for free in Madrid, so long as you arrive from 6 pm to 8 pm, Monday to Saturday, or from 5 pm to 7pm on Sunday.
13. Bargain at El Rastro Flea Market
Well, it’s hard to truly experience any place without visiting one of its bustling markets where locals meet to trade, haggle and discuss the goings-on. El Rastro Flea Market is overflowing with items discarded by the locals hoping to sell them for at least some profit. You might even find a souvenir to take home.
14. Drop by Triskel Tavern
For those keen on discovering a genuine Irish pub in Madrid, look no further than Triskel Tavern. While there are no free drinks to be had here, they regularly host open mic nights that you can enjoy free of charge. You can hear some decent comedy here, or maybe even a local band playing.
15. Stop by Palacio de Cibeles
One of the most gorgeous places in the historic part of Madrid is Palacio de Cibeles, a former post offices and telecommunications building, now hosting government offices and beautiful rooftop terraces. In its Centro Cultural, you may relax, view an exhibit or just enjoy the precious, free WiFi. Free entrance on the first Wednesday of the month, May 2 and 15, or October 12.
16. Stroll Calle Gran Via
What used to be freely called the ‘Spanish Broadway’ and attracted a lot of tourists to amazing theatres has slowly declined over the last couple of years. Calle Gran Via mostly features shopping centers these days, but there is still a theater or two to be found, and great architecture to behold.
17. Visit Templo de Debod
Temple of Debod originates from Aswan in Egypt. It was dismantled in the 1960s and delivered to Madrid as a gift. It has been reassembled in Parque del Osto in Madrid and open to visitors in 1972. While the temple has been properly put together, for the most part, the gateways don’t follow the original pattern.
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18. Visit Casa de Velasquez
Casa de Velasquez was designed using the Roman Villa Medici as a model. This French school has seen a lot of use by French artists since 1929. It often hosts temporary exhibits that are completely free, attracting local and foreign visitors alike.
19. Visit Casa de Vacas
You’ll find Casa de Vacas in the Retiro neighborhood of Madrid. What started off as a cowshed in 1874 has undergone several changes over its long course of history, at one point even being the best nightlife venue in Madrid called Pavillón, before becoming a cultural center that it is today. See an exhibit or a play free of charge in this great house in Madrid.
20. Stroll Madrid Rio
Madrid Rio is a recreational area and a walkway following the course of the Manzanares River. It’s seen much love from both the tourists and local families that make good use of over 15 play areas. There’s also a beach that you can visit if you’d like to catch some sun and relax or find shade in the Hall of Pines on the right bank of the river.
21. Enjoy Parque del Retiro
Parque Buen del Retiro is just a short hike west from the city center, and while we’ve already mentioned Palacio de Cristal, we feel that there’s so much more to this park that it deserves its own spot on the list. So, make sure to see some great street art while you’re here, or greet bikers and skaters as they pass you by. Find the Rosaleda, the most seductive rose garden you’ve ever seen, and walk Paseo de las Estatuas. Finally, check out Bosque del Recuerdo, or ‘Forest of Remembrance’.
22. Visit Las Cortes
The Spanish parliament building resides on a former monastery ground, which was expanded to meet the need of an ever-expanding bureaucracy. The portico is what you’d expect, but bronze lions guarding the parliament are a great photo op! It is definitely worth a visit, even to just gaze at its exterior.
23. Dance Salsa
It would be a shame if you don’t take the opportunity to learn Salsa while you’re in Madrid. There are many schools that offer free courses, so get out there and show how awesome your moves are. One of these places is the Le Boutique Club that teaches people how to dance for free on Mondays.
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24. Climb El Corte Inglés
El Corte Inglés is the largest department store group in all of Europe, filled to the brim with restaurants, shops, bars and other places of little relevance to your visit to Madrid, and not free at all. However, if you climb to the top floor, you’ll be able to take in the view of Madrid, at least for a little while.
25. Visit San Jerónimo el Real
Despite the fact that the church you can see here today is a reconstruction of a building devastated during Napoleonic Wars, it still emanates history through all its pores. It was already rebuilt once in the 16th century for Queen Isabella and is the place that monarchs would often choose for ceremonies. There is no admission fee, so you should consider visiting it.
26. Travel in Parque Europa
When we say travel in this recreational park, we really mean it, as Parque Europa is, simply put, a Little Europe inside of Madrid. Located in Torrejón de Ardoz, the park features replicas of some of the more prominent European landmarks such as Brandenburg Gate, the Eiffel Tower, the Trevi Fountain, Tower Bridge, and even a genuine chunk of Berlin Wall.
27. Visit Museo Nacional Centro de Reina Sofia
Another brilliant and culturally elevating museum to visit, Museo Nacional Centro de Reina Sofia is going to take up the most of your free time. It’s got a specific schedule of free admission that you should follow: The entrance is free on Monday and from Wednesday to Saturday, from 7 pm to 9 pm. Sunday is a bit different, they’ll charge you nothing from 1.30 pm to 7 pm. No admission dates: April and May 18, and October 12.
28. Check out Palacio Real
Similar to the Buckingham Palace of London, Palacio Real is the official residence of the Spanish royal family. However, they’re not really leaving here, instead, they’re currently living a bit outside of Madrid. The palace is just used for ceremonies, but nevertheless, it’s an impressive piece of architecture so make sure to check it out.
29. Wander Sabatini Gardens
Next to the Royal Palace of Madrid are Sabatini Gardens, a neoclassical paradise of geometric precision, well-maintained hedges, pools and other decorations. Enjoy wandering the spacious gardens and keep in mind that this would not have been possible just a couple of decades ago as the gardens were closed to the public.
30. Muse at El Matadero
Once upon a time, El Matadero was nothing more than a slaughterhouse. It goes to show how creative the people of Madrid have been in turning the decrepit places in their city into thriving hubs of cinemas, theaters, art exhibitions, and other great venues. Have no doubt about it – Madrid is the city of high culture and free spirit!
31. Gorge at Mercado San Antón
While it technically is a market, Mercado San Antón would better fit the food court category. It’s one of the last places where you can come across free tapas to enjoy, but other than that, you will need to spend some cash to try most of the delicacies. Or, you could just get to the top and enjoy divine views of Madrid.
32. Pay Respects at Atocha Station
If you plan on visiting Madrid, make sure to stop by Atocha railway station that was the site of 2004 bombings. Pay your respects to 191 people who’ve lost their lives on that horrible day. Moreover, the cylindrical monument that stands at the location of bombings also commemorates a special agent who lost his life during a raid on terrorists’ hideout.
33. Visit Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza
The last angle of the famous ‘Golden Triangle of Art’ along with Prado and Museo Reina Sofia, Thyssen showcases more than 1,600 paintings from some of the most renowned artists. You’ll also find some of the earliest European paintings here, but the entrance is free only on Monday from noon to 4 pm.
34. Gaze at Basílica de San Francisco
Real Basílica de San Francisco el Grande originated in the second half of the 18th century. This neoclassical Roman Catholic church is located in the very heart of Madrid, with paintings inside done by none other than Francisco Goya. Visiting this architectural masterpiece is one of the best free things to do in Madrid.
35. See a Movie at El Campo de la Cebada
You might feel as if you’ve had enough of art exhibitions for one lifetime during your one visit to Madrid, but El Campo de la Cebada is going to prove you wrong. Yet another open-air center where people from all walks of life come to view brilliant art exhibits, chat (and skate), showing a much different face of Spain which is otherwise known for amazing beaches.
36. Feel the Museo Tiflológico
One of the more educational places you can visit in Madrid for free is the museum for the blind. Opened back in 1992, it exhibits paintings and models for those with visual impairment to touch. All the works are spread across four room and include documents that iterate the history of struggles that blind people face.
37. Visit Catedral de Almudena
Located in Asturias, you’ll find one of the few remaining cathedrals in Madrid you can enter for free. La Almudena is really a magnificent sight to behold, and it’s important to note that it is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Madrid, which makes it an important item on the itinerary for most people. Donations are always welcome.
38. Visit Museo Arte Público
If you follow the road until you get under the Enrique de la Mata Gorostizaga bridge, you’ll come upon the Public Art Museum of Madrid. Featured here are seventeen sculptures from Spanish artists, one of the more famous ones being Units-Yunta by Pablo Serrano. Being one of the places that are free in Madrid, it naturally garners a lot of attention.
39. Stop by Café de Chinitas
Also one of the last places to serve free tapas, Café de Chinitas has always had a reputation as being forthcoming towards young artists and Flamenco dancers. So, come here while it’s still possible to list Café de Chinitas among free places to visit, as it might change that status soon.
40. Observe Bolsa de Madrid
You may or may not be interested in trading on the stock market, but regardless of your preferences, it’s hard to deny the architectural beauty of Bolsa de Madrid. One of the four regional stock exchanges in Spain, it’s located inside a historic building called Palacio de la Bolsa de Madrid.
That’s quite a selection of places to visit in Madrid! Take it upon yourself to visit as many as possible during your next trip to Spain. Make it into a challenge! Also, while we were focusing on places that are completely free, spending a bit of money will do you a lot of good and get you much farther. Be mindful of your spending, but don’t let it ruin an otherwise excellent vacation.