Edited by Matthew Wears
If I had to pick a sentence that best described Madrid it would be; a city for all tastes. Whether you want to spend time enjoying all of the lavish bars and restaurants or want a more budget friendly trip exploring some of the lesser known sights then the city has it all. If you’re part of the second group and looking for cheap things to do in Madrid, then this one is for you. There is such a wealth of free things to do in Madrid, from the major festivals such as the three Kings Parade or even just chilling out in one of the many green spaces around the city. Hopefully this list will inspire you to try some of the best free things to do in Madrid, Spain.
We start the list off with one of the iconic Madrid landmarks and an absolute must see; the ever-beautiful Retiro Park. In a city as fast moving and intense as Madrid, finding a quiet space to relax is crucial. But with its three hundred and fifty acres, you can be sure that in Retiro Park you will feel as far away from the bustle of Gran Vía as possible. One of the largest parks in the whole city and certainly one of the most important, the space is made up of monuments, galleries, avenues and a larger lake area. The main attractions are the monument of Alfonso XII and of course the elegant Crystal Palace, one of the best examples of nineteenth century iron and glass architecture in the entire city. The park can be reached on foot from the center or via Metro at the Retiro stop on line 2.
Free Museum Days
If you want to escape the heat of the midday sun experience some of the world-class art and culture that the city has to offer, why not try one of the many free museums in Madrid. Whilst some don’t require a charge at any time, many museums in the city such as the Prado or the Reina Sofia have free admission periods. For the Prado Museum, visit on a Tuesday to Sunday from 6 PM to 8 PM, or on Sundays from 5 PM to 8 PM. For the Reina Sofia Museum visit Monday to Friday from 7 PM to 9 PM, Saturday from 2:30 PM to 9 PM, then Sundays from 10 AM to 2:30 PM. Alternatively, if you want to learn more about the long and sometimes turbulent story of how the city came to be, then The Museum of the History of Madrid offers free admittance at all times.
Experience a Festival or Celebration
Madrid residents have a word that is used to describe something typical of that area; Castizo. If you want to experience something that is truly Madrid, then there is no better way than to attend one of the many festivals that are held year-round. One of the most important of the entire calendar is the Day of Madrid, a day that celebrates the rebellion of the people of Madrid against the occupying French troops. Held on the 2nd of May, Madrid comes alive with activity with street parties, parades and speeches happening across the city. There is also the Three Kings Parade that takes place on the 5th of January, just one day before Three Kings Day. Elaborately decorated floats are towed through the city and throw candy to excited children below in one of the most spectacular events of the year.
El Rastro Market
One of the most popular free things to do in Madrid is to visit the sprawling and chaotic El Rastro street market. Held every Sunday and public holiday of the year, the market is made up of hundreds of stalls selling second-hand clothes and furniture alongside the increasingly popular independent boutique retailers. The main street is where most of the stalls are located, but it is down the many side streets that you will find the best treasures. The easiest way to get to El Rastro is by metro, with La Latina station on Line 5 being the closest. It is recommended that you arrive as early as possible to grab the best bargains and stalls generally begin selling at 9 AM.
Atocha Railway Station
It might seem strange that a list of things to do would contain a railway station, but the city’s largest station, Atocha, is certainly one of the most unique things to do in Madrid for free. The building itself is one of the most architecturally impressive in the entire city, with the main concourse being contained within a stunning steel and glass roof. This space is no longer used as a train station and instead has been filled with cool cafes and bars, a nightclub and even a four thousand square meter tropical oasis. This greenhouse section is filled with an incredible seven thousand species of plants and even features a pond with twenty-two species of fish alongside turtles. Not your average train station.
Free City Views
A great way to save money when going to any city is to simply enjoy the views. Madrid offers a selection of great look-out spots, one of the best being the Templo de Debod. The sight is one of the only places in the world that has an Egyptian building outside of Egypt and the only one in all of Spain. Add to that views of Madrid landmarks such as the Royal Palace and Almudena Cathedral and this becomes a must visit location. One of the more alternative things to do in Madrid with stunning city views is to visit the terraza at the top of El Corte Inglés. The platform offers views of Gran Vía on one side and then overlooks Plaza Major on the other and is completely free to go to.
Walk through Central Madrid at night
If you want some ideas for when the sun goes down, simply taking a walk around the city center is one of the best free things to do in Madrid at night. Here you will see many of the iconic Madrid landmarks illuminated such as the Royal Palace and the Almudena Cathedral, as well as seeing a stunning mixture of both Medieval and baroque architecture. A trip to Madrid would be incomplete without a visit to Plaza Major after dark, where the square becomes a hive of activity as people go for night-time food and drinks. This area has some of the most important sights in the Spanish capital and even if you only have one or two days, this is a must see.
Tour the Madrid Architecture
The architecture of Madrid is undoubtedly some of the most interesting and unique in the entire world. Buildings from as far back as the 16th Century often sit alongside contemporary buildings that showcase some of the most innovative and experimental architecture in Europe. One of the most impressive is CaixaForum, an event space made out of an old power station that features a spectacular vertical garden across an entire side of the building. Another example of ground-breaking Spanish design is the Telefónica building located on Gran Vía. Built in the 1920’s and at 89 meters high it became one of the first skyscrapers in the whole of Europe.
Join a ‘Dances of the World’ class
If you have seen all of the major sights and want some alternative things to do in Madrid, then joining a ‘Dances of the World’ class might just be for you. Spanish folk group Raksedonia perform music from across the globe alongside dances that are briefly explained to the audience beforehand so that they to can participate in the show. The event attracts dancers both young and old and it is completely free to join in. It is held in the Templo de Debod gardens and takes place on the second Sunday of every month at different times but always in the morning. This one is feel good fun guaranteed.
Explore Madrid’s Río Park
Opened in 2011, Río Park Madrid is a vast green space where locals come to relax, play sport and explore all of the hidden gems that the area has to offer. This regenerated space is absolutely one of the non-touristy things to do in Madrid as it often left out guidebooks despite only being a few kilometres south of the center. During summertime one section of the park becomes an inner-city beach and many locals bring a towel and lounge around the water. Another highlight is The Matadero, an ex-slaughterhouse that has been converted into a social hub with a cinema, restaurant and a design marketplace that is constantly growing and evolving. There is also the option to rent bikes for a small fee and explore the park that way.
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