Madrid is easy to navigate, whether on foot, using public transportation, taxi, Uber or joining a tour. Much of my time in Madrid is on foot. I love to walk the broad boulevards and check out the local food as I wander past interesting shops, cafes and restaurants. And there is always some music to be seen like a live performance in a plaza or an impromptu concert by one of hundreds of street artists.
I’ve pulled together some of my best tips for experiencing this world-class city, including my favorite 11 free things to do in Madrid for those on a budget! You will find there are many free things to do in Madrid.
While in Madrid, I stayed at the gorgeous DoubleTree Hilton Madrid Prado.
11 Free Things to Do in Madrid
Not only does Madrid have a lot of activities, museums and sights to see, it also has many which can be experienced absolutely free. So let me offer you ideas and suggestions for free things to do in Madrid.
1. Stroll Along the Parque del Retiro
Covering more than 300 acres and containing more than 15,000 trees, El Retiro Park is a green retreat in the center of Madrid. Visit its unique gardens such as the Vivaces Garden, Herrero Palacios Garden, Cecilio Rodríguez Garden, plus the Rosaleda (a huge collection of roses). Free guided tours of the park are available on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 5:00 p.m. through October 2nd.
There’s also the French Parterre with the Calvo Cypress, said to be the oldest tree in Madrid — around 400 years old.
2. Enter the Cathedral de Almudena
You will find that most churches in Spain charge an entrance fee. One of the few (and best) exceptions is the Almudena Cathedral in Madrid. Entrance to the church and the crypt are completely free, although donations are suggested. The crypt is home to a 16th century image of the Almudena Virgin.
3. Enjoy the Views at Palacio de Cibeles
On the first Wednesday of each month, you can pay a visit to the top of the Palacio de Cibeles for free. Explore the large glass-domed courtyard and take in the panoramic views from the rooftop terrace.
4. Learn a New Language
Now this is really a treat. I found out about this on my most recent trip to Madrid. Intercambios, or language exchanges, can be found all around the city. I found that J and J Books and Coffee holds a language exchange on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 8-11:30pm. You might check them out or find one yourself. Aprende algo Nuevo!
5. Learn About Bullfighting at the Museo Taurino
Although you won’t get to see an actual bullfight, you can get a free museum visit out of it. Visitors will find paintings, famous bull heads, and matador suits on display.
6. Cool Off at Madrid Río
Madrid recently renovated its riverwalk area. It’s now one of the best spots in the city to cool off for free. There’s no sand there but locals still refer to it as “the beach.” There’s a grassy area to relax in and feel free to wade in the fountains, as many locals do.
7. Shop the (Almost Free) Deals at El Rastro Flea Market
The El Rastro Flea Market is such a great way to pass your time in the city. At the very least, experience the market for free. The boulevard fills with city residents and tourists seeking out the latest bargains. It’s located in the La Latina neighborhood and is biggest open-air flea market in Madrid. You’ll find thousands of stalls lining the streets here from where you can pick up various vintage accessories, clothes, home goods, and locally-made items.
8. Visit the Palacio de Cristal
A magnificent glass palace awaits inside the grounds of Parque de El Retiro. The Palacio is a work of art itself and a destination in its own right. The impressive structure also holds free exhibitions on a regular basis, so check with their website.
9. Learn to Salsa Dance
While there are no 100% free places to learn Salsa in Madrid, you can get an hour of dance for free with a drink purchase at F**kin’ Monday (seriously that’s what it’s called) on Mondays at 10pm.
10. Walk Around the Royal Palace Grounds
While there is a small admission price to tour the inside of the Royal Palace, you can tour the grounds for free. Explore the maze-like hedges of the Sabatini Gardens, watch the changing of the guards at noon on Wednesdays, and enjoy the bustling city life in the Palace courtyard.
11. Check Out Street Art at La Tabacalera
Once a tobacco factory, La Tabacalera’s renovated building is now an open space for theater, music, dance, and art. The center’s tunnels are covered in dramatic graffiti and colorful murals. It’s a great photo opportunity for some travel photos and selfies.
Related: Madrid is also where I got my first and only SSSS on my boarding pass.
Madrid is a great, sometimes overlooked, European capital and a world-class city. It’s a perfect mixture of modern framed against the backdrop of centuries of history which make it appealing to so many travelers. Although many activities and sights cost money, it’s always a great idea to mix it up with some free things to do in Madrid.
Admittedly, I find myself eating too much when I am in Europe…and that’s where most of my money goes. Do you have any free things to do in Madrid that you have experienced?
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