By: Brooke Matta
Traveling in Europe doesn’t have to burn a hole in your pocket, especially not in Spain. After living in Spain for six months and traveling extensively around the charming country, I figured out just how affordable it can be by Western standards. If you’re traveling on a budget, your first instinct might be to shy away from metropolitan capital cities like Madrid. However, there are plenty of fun activities in Madrid that are very reasonably-priced or even free. Whether you’re just passing through or making the city your home, there are countless opportunities to create memories without breaking your bank.
Here are my 10 favorite activities for under 10 euros in Madrid, Spain:
Note: 10€ = $11.45 USD (exchange rates do fluctuate)
1) Go on a free walking tour
Go on a free walking tour. In my opinion, this is an absolute must when you arrive in any large city. I had no idea that free or cheap walking tours even existed until I had been in Madrid for a few weeks, and I happily took advantage of them in other cities as well. In fact, the ones in Madrid were so worthwhile that I went back multiple times with friends and family members as they visited me! Walking tours are perfect for seeing the major sights and getting your bearings in a new city. Most tours are offered by hostels, although you don’t have to be staying there to sign up - simply search online for walking tours in your city and peruse the options. My favorite tour in Madrid was through MADride Travel. Please keep in mind that even though the tours are advertised as “free,” you should always tip your hardworking guide!
2) Spend an afternoon at Parque del Retiro.
Disclaimer: I’m not exaggerating here, but this park may or may not change your life. Some of my best memories were made there, and it drastically altered my understanding of parks. Especially if you’re from the United States, where we don’t have many “epic” parks, then you have to go spend time in Retiro. The park is enormous and the energy is palpable; it’s full of melodic music, leisurely strolling, impromptu sporting sessions, book reading, sun tanning, yoga practicing, and an overall sense of happiness and contentment.
3) Rent a boat at Retiro’s lake.
Speaking of happiness, a quick way to boost your happy levels is to rent a small “barca” at the lake in the center of Retiro. On any nice day, you’ll see a crop of boats floating lazily around the water, and people lounging peacefully in the sun. Of course, you’re also sure to see a few boats stuck in corners, with their paddlers struggling to steer backwards, as well as the occasional rogue boat that speeds around bumping into the others.
Cost: 5-8€ per boat, depending on the day
4) Eat at El Tigre and Cien Montaditos.
If you want to feast on cheap food in Madrid, then make a stop at these two restaurants. Trust me, there’s nothing better to fill yourself up while dining on a budget. El Tigre is located in between the Gran Via and Chueca metro stops, and for every 6€ drink you purchase (sangria or mohito, anyone?), you also receive a heaping plate of greasy, delicious tapas. Cien Montaditos, on the other hand, is slightly classier. People at least sit down at tables and eat their food with a measure of decency. Translated literally, the restaurant name means “100 Small Sandwiches,” which is exactly what the menu offers. Each sandwich only costs between 1-2€, so you can order a handful and leave with a happy belly. You also need to order the “tinto de verano” (red wine plus lemon soda) and the olives. I must have consumed my body weight in them while I was in Madrid, and it wasn’t nearly enough.
Cost: Dependent on what you order, but easily under 10€
5) Watch the sunset at Circulo de Bellas Artes.
Once you’re done hanging out at Retiro, swing by Bellas Artes to catch the sunset. The building itself is an arts and cultural center, and it has a lovely rooftop (“azotea”) with gorgeous views of the city. Upon entering, you are whisked up to the rooftop and left to enjoy it for as long as you please. Although it can get crowded, there are plenty of chairs, lounge beds, and spots along the railings to soak up the view. There’s also a rooftop bar if you feel like rewarding yourself after a hard day of meandering around the city, riding in boats, and eating tapas.
6) Take a cable car ride to Casa de Campo.
To see more of Madrid from a bird’s eye view, ride the “Teleferico” for a ten-minute journey that covers a mile and a half of the city, and travels right over the Manzanares River. As if it weren’t already cool enough, the cable car ride begins at “Paseo del Pintor Rosales,” which is a big, picturesque rose garden. For an especially memorable day, plan to take a blanket and a picnic lunch to Casa de Campo, which is Madrid’s biggest park. When I say “big,” I mean 4,000+ acres. It is not developed like Retiro, and there are far fewer people. You can spend time walking around the various paths and enjoying the natural sights.
Cost: 6€ round-trip
7) Explore El Rastro Market on Sundays.
Located in the hip La Latina neighborhood of Madrid, El Rastro is a must-see for everyone who loves outdoor markets, bohemian clothing and decor, funky art, antiques, and other trinkets. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to catch some live music as well! The market is actually quite dense, with small side streets stemming off the main street, so you can easily spend an hour or two wandering around. There are a plethora of lovely little restaurants and bars scattered around La Latina, so go reward yourself with a drink after spending time in the market!
8) Visit Templo de Debod, especially if you can catch it for a sunset.
I bet you didn’t expect to find an Egyptian temple in the heart of Madrid - especially not one that’s over 2,000 years old! Egypt donated the temple to Spain in the 1960s as a token of its gratitude for Spain’s help in saving two other Egyptian temples. Originally constructed near the Nile in about 200 B.C., the temple is a beautiful structure complete with Egyptian hieroglyphics inside. Templo de Debod is especially breathtaking to behold during sunset, and many people gather to see it on warm nights. I recommend bringing snacks, music, and making an evening out of it!
9) Check out Madrid’s museums during free hours!
Or, you can bring your student ID for a generous discount. Madrid has three famous museums: Reina Sofia, Prado, and Thyssen, all of which boast impressive art collections and interesting exhibitions. They are conveniently located on the “Paseo del Arte,” and you can walk between all three in under 15 minutes. This is an especially appealing option if you’re spending time in Madrid during the sweltering summer, and are looking for activities with cool air and shade. Each museum has weekly free hours that are easy to locate on their websites, but keep in mind that the hours are different, so you may not be able to do all three at the same time.
Cost: Free or under 10€ with student ID
10) Go tapas tasting in Mercado de San Miguel.
Once you’ve enjoyed the “regular” tapas of Madrid, you have to check out the gourmet options at San Miguel! San Miguel is the most famous food market in all of Madrid, with over 30 vendors selling interesting food concoctions and mouth-watering delicacies. My favorites include the olive bar (juicy green olives stuffed with smoked salmon and cheese, anyone?), the paella (try the black paella made with squid ink), and the various dessert vendors! Does all of this sound expensive? Well, it is if you’re hoping to eat a huge meal - but it’s quite reasonable if you’re planning to sample a few tapas in between meals.
Cost: 2-4€ per tapa
As you can see, there are plenty of opportunities to explore the history, culture, and entertainment of Madrid on a budget. The activities in this list aren’t only good for pinching pennies; they’re genuinely valuable and absolutely worth your time. The best part about experiencing these activities is that you will be “doing as the locals do.” If there’s one thing Spaniards know how to do, it’s taking their time to truly enjoy the little things. You will frequently see groups of Madrilenos savoring glasses of tinto de verano on terrazas in the sun, contentedly paddling around Retiro lake on the weekends, and soaking up the sunset views all over the city. So if you’re planning to pass over Madrid for the sake of your wallet, think again. The real value of Madrid lies in its budget activities.
And if you’re trying to take the first step and actually get to Madrid affordably, then check out International TEFL Academy’s Online Course. The TEFL certification will allow you to find enough work to offset your living expenses in Madrid, or in any other city!
Brooke is a 23 year old native of Virginia who loves spending time at home as much as she loves to travel. Wherever she is, you can probably find her hiking, trying new recipes, playing outside, teaching herself yoga, and reading. She hopes to work and teach abroad many more times, and ultimately build a career in International Education and Development. Check out her blog at chasinglifemaps.com. For more on Brooke's experience in Spain, check out her article Why It's Important to Pick a Teach Abroad Destination Based on Your Overall Goals.