How to Spend a Weekend In Madrid on a Budget

Boating in Parque del Buen Retiro is just one of many things to do in Madrid on a budget
Boating in Parque del Buen Retiro is just one of many things to do in Madrid on a budget | © Alex Segre / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Rebecca Cairns
9 February 2017

It’s a renowned cultural hub, and a perfect place to spend a weekend – Madrid has it all. Experience the Spanish capital all year round without breaking the bank as we explore places to stay, food to eat and things to do for a budget traveller in Madrid.

Madrid, Retiro Park | © Rebecca Cairns

Where to Stay

For the budget or solo traveller, hostels are a great option. Based in an 18th century palace, Cat’s Hostel is centrally located and offers a variety of activities in the hostel and around Madrid, from morning walking tours to evening pub crawls. Their sister hostel, Mad Hostel, is another cheap option, also featuring a roof terrace. If you are looking for something a little more luxurious, check out these budget-friendly hotels: The Artrip Hotel is central and comes highly rated and both Hostal Zamora and Hostal Persal are based in great locations for nightlife. It is easy to get around central Madrid by foot, but if you want to venture further, their metro system is cheap and easy to use.

Cat’s Hostel Courtyard, Madrid | © Rebecca Cairns

Where to Eat

Close to the aforementioned hostels and hotels are a number of amazing restaurants. Be sure to visit Copas Rotas near to Atocha station. It’s sleek and simple and its 1€ tapas menu is a great way to sample local dishes. This venue fills up quick, so if you can’t get a seat, pop into Pecaditos just next door, a similarly priced tapas bar who create fantastic churros. Both these bars are chains, so watch out for similar venues around the city.

An absolute must is El Tigre. A fantastic, informal free tapas bar. Buy a round of drinks, massive beers, sangrias, or mojitos, and then watch as the plates of free food follow. It’s enough to fill you up and delicious to boot. There are three different bars, and all are cosy and predominantly standing. The locals love it, and you will too.

Copas Rotas, Madrid | © Rebecca Cairns
El Tigre, Madrid | © Rebecca Cairns

When you are out and about seeing the sights of weekend Madrid, there is no better place to stop for a sandwich than Rodilla. Established in 1939, they have built a reputation for quality and taste. Their foccacia are particularly good and reasonably priced. There are three things you have to try at least once when you are in Madrid. Rabas (squid), sangria, and paella. You can take care of the first two almost everywhere, but paella is a little more specialized. Try La Fragua de Vulcano, a traditional-looking tavern which serves individual portions for an incredibly reasonable 6€. Check out their amazing selection of cold meats too.

If you are looking for something more formal, look out for restaurants with a set menu or menú del día. These usually include a choice of starter and main, bread, a drink and desert. Good places to look, away from the central tourist haunts, are Calle Atocha, or Plaza de Santa Ana.

Beer, Madrid | © Rebecca Cairns
Museo del Prado, Madrid | © Rebecca Cairns

Where to Drink

Madrid is renowned for its all-night parties and buzzing bar scene. The Chueca area is populated with lively gay bars and home to many of the best night clubs. Check out the popular Kapital near Atocha, or for a slightly cheaper night, Gris and Tupperware. These clubs are often put on pub crawl routes, so it might be worthwhile combining the two.

If clubs aren’t your thing, there are still plenty of great bars to have a drink with friends. Taberna San Jose is just off the Gran Via, and gives you all the pros of being centrally located without the con of over-pricing. Beer and wine are cheap at 1.30€ for a small glass, and like many bars they offer free nibbles to all. They also do great breakfast deals, so you can visit the morning after as well.

The Bulevart Heineken Bar is another cheap option for beer lovers. 5€ for five Heineken bottles is a bargain anywhere. The cocktails here are a little pricier than other nearby places, but they are large and spectacular to look at.
Kapital, Calle de Atocha, 125, Madrid, Spain, +34 914 20 29 06

Glasshouse in Retiro Park, Madrid | © Rebecca Cairns

What to See

Unlike other cities, there is no one thing that people come to see. When in Paris, visit the Eiffel Tower, when in Rome, see the Colosseum – it will take a lot less than a weekend. Madrid’s attractions are as varied as the food and nightlife. There is something for everyone.

Palacio Real de Madrid | © Rebecca Cairns

Being a cultural hub, museums are in abundance. The Museo del Prado is generally considered the crown-jewel of Madrid tourism, and their massive galleries featuring European art from the last 1000 years are fantastic. If you are short of time, check out the impressive collection of Spanish works from 18th-19th century in rooms 60-75. However, the modern gallery, Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia, is a real gem with lots of hard-hitting contemporary political exhibitions and fascinating post-war art from around the world, plus, the opportunity to see Picasso’s Guernica is the cherry on top. Both of these museums are free to students 18-25, or free certain evenings to all. Check out their websites (Prado and Sofia) for exact days and times.

Temple de Debod, Madrid | © Rebecca Cairns

If museums aren’t really your thing, take a walk in the beautiful Parque del Buen Retiro. These gardens are host to a number of quirky free art exhibitions, pond-side cafes and monuments. If the weather is right, you could easily wile away an afternoon in the sunshine here.

To learn more about Madrid’s past, visit the Royal Palace. It’s free on Wednesdays, and you won’t regret exploring this stunning venue. Next to it is the Cathedral Almudena. It is well worth a look in, and there is a museum tucked around the side.

The Bear and the Strawberry Tree, Madrid | © Rebecca Cairns

Two free must-sees are the Templo de Debod, and El Oso y El Madrono statue (The Bear and the Strawberry Tree). The former is a gift from Egypt, and this ancient monument make for a fantastic photo opportunity, as well as the hill offering great views over the city. The Bear and the Strawberry Tree has become synonymous with Madrid, features on the coat of arms, and is where Madrid gets its name. A big hit on the walking tours, you are bound to pass this statue many times.

No trip to Madrid would be complete without a visit to San Gines Chocolateria. Popular with locals, tourists and celebrities, this quaint café serves divine churros and chocolate, and it is surprisingly cheap. The portions are huge, so if you are going solo get the mini portion for 2€. This place is open 24hours, so drop in whenever you please.

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