10 Best Free Things to Do in Madrid

Felipe Gabaldon/Flickr
Felipe Gabaldon/Flickr
Lori Zaino

Madrid can be a relatively economical city, offering many dining, nightlife and activity options for those on a budget. But why spend money when you don’t have to? Here’s a list of some of the best free things to do in Madrid.

Visit One of Madrid’s Many Parks: Casa de Campo, Retiro or Parque Europa

Walk around the lake or visit the Palacio de Cristal, a palace made of glass in Madrid’s Parque del Buen Retiro. It’s probably one of the best spots in the city for a picnic on a sunny afternoon. Casa de Campo on the west side of Madrid is almost eight square miles, great for a bike ride or even some light hiking (it was once a hunting estate many years back). The Parque Europa offers a tour of Europe without leaving Spain. Located just a few miles outside of the city in the suburb of Torrejón de Ardoz, the park features giant replicas of 18 European monuments such as the Eiffel Tower, Trevi Fountain and Tower Bridge.

A replica of London’s Tower Bridge in Parque Europa

Head up to the El Corte Inglés Gourmet

Situated on the ninth floor of the El Corte Inglés department store in the Callao plaza, this cafe/market/gourmet food shop has incredible views of Madrid’s famous Gran Via and surroundings. You won’t be able to enjoy the views for too long without having to sit and pay to order a drink or snack, but you can at least pop up for a quick panoramic shot of the city, perfect for your Instagram.

Visit Madrid’s Best Landmarks

Grab your sneakers and give yourself a DIY walking tour of some of Madrid’s most famous spots. Start in the Puerta del Sol, the main plaza in the center of Madrid. Check out the famous bear statue and the giant Tio Pepe atop of one of the buildings, an emblematic landmark in Madrid. Make sure to stand on the Kilometer Zero (KM0) plaque on the ground, which is allegedly the exact center of Spain. Continue down Calle Mayor until you end up in the massive Plaza Mayor, which has 237 balconies facing the cobblestone square. Then, head over to the Mercado de San Miguel, a market where you can window shop the food stalls. Take in the scents and sights of aged cheeses, giant legs of ham, fresh seafood and enjoy the bustling atmosphere.

Tour the Outside of the Palace and the Cathedral

If you’re not too tired by now, you can continue your walking tour down Calle Mayor to visit the Catedral de Almudena and the Palacio Real. Both spots are tremendous monuments where you can spend quite a bit of time walking around the outside and seeing the buildings from every angle. The nearby Sabantini gardens located next to the palace will give you the perfect photo opportunity: snap the north wall of the palace from the front of the pond in between the manicured trees and bushes.

A view of Madrid’s cathedral

Hit Up a Museum On a Free Day

Madrid is a city full of museums and most offer a day or several afternoons where you can enter free. Many smaller museums and galleries allow free entrance on Sundays, but make sure to check each individual website to confirm. Here’s a list of the free days at some of the most popular museums.

Museo del Prado: Free from Monday to Saturday 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm and on Sundays and holidays from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm.

Museo Nacional Centro del Reina Sofia: Free on Monday and Wednesday to Saturday from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm. Free on Sundays from 1:30 to 7:00 pm and free all day on April 18, May 18 and October 12.

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza: Free on Mondays between 12:00 and 4:00 pm.

1. Relax Inside the Palacio de Cibeles

Post Office

Once the town post office, the Palacio de Cibeles is now home to the mayor’s office, as well as a gorgeous rooftop terrace, the occasional art or food event or exhibit and more. The ground floor offers a small space, the Centro Cultural, with couches, tables and free Wi-Fi where locals and tourists alike can stop in to escape the cold or simply take a little break to read the newspaper or surf the web.

The grand Palacio Cibeles has a small indoor area where you can hang out for free. | © Lori Zaino.

Window Shop on Calle Gran Via

Gran Via is the 5th avenue of Madrid. Bright lights, theaters and endless shops line the energetic street. Leisurely walk down from Plaza España, stopping in Spanish stores like Zara or Mango to check out the latest fashions. When you reach Calle de Fuencarral, turn left and wander up this less hectic shopping street for smaller shops like Rituals or one-of-a-kind boutiques like Herself.

2. Visit the Egyptian Templo de Debod

Cathedral, Park

Egyptian temples aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Spain, but the Templo de Debod is from Aswan, Egypt, and was dismantled to be sent to Madrid as a gift in 1968. It was then reconstructed stone by stone in the Parque de Oeste in Madrid. While there’s not an excessive amount to see inside the temple, it’s free to enter, and walking around the park and outside of the temple/pond is a great way to check out views of the Cathedral, Royal Palace and Casa de Campo park.

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3. Check out a Free Art Exhibit

Park

You can almost always find small free temporary art exhibits in the Palacio de Cristal, Casa de Velazquez and the Casa de Vacas, which are all buildings located inside the Retiro Park. Occasionally, the Fundación Mapfre or the Fundación Canal will offer free entrance to a special exhibit.

4. Hang out Along the River

Madrid Rio is the newly revamped river walk where you can jog, roller-blade, bike, stroll and hang out along the Manzanares River. There’s even a small beach-like area where you can relax during sunny and warm days. Family’s searching for free activities will love the river walk as there are 17 different play areas for kids. If you do feel like spending a little bit of money, there’s several bars and restaurants lining the river too, and you can get a drink for under two dollars at most places (beer, wine, soda, coffee or water) as you sit back on the terrace and soak in the scene.

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