Free Things to do in Madrid

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Who doesn’t love a freebie? If you’re staying with us in Madrid, you’ll be pleased to hear that there’re lots of things to do in the city that don’t cost a penny. In fact, it can be a relatively cheap place to holiday for those on a budget. Whether you’re a culture vulture, a history buff or just looking for some of the most Instagrammable spots in Madrid, there’s plenty to peak your interest in the Spanish capital – and some of the best stuff to see is free!

Enjoy the Great Outdoors
Madrid is home to some of the prettiest and most expansive city parks in Europe. Arguably the most famous of these is El Retiro Park, which covers over 125 hectares. Originally belonging to the Spanish monarchy, it opened to the public in the late 1700s; since then, locals and tourists alike have enjoyed this green oasis just east of Madrid’s centre. It features a manmade boating lake and a rose garden, but one of the park’s most striking features is the Palacio de Cristal (the Crystal Palace); an iconic glass building in the centre, which currently operates as an arts venue. It’s also worth venturing to the Jardines de Cecilio Rodríguez whilst you’re at El Retiro; it’s a quieter spot set off to the side, but it’s got some pretty special inhabitants – a muster of peacocks.

Casa de Campo, Madrid’s largest park (it’s just over 1,722 hectares), is another popular spot. If you’re after some entertainment (and willing to spend a bit of loose change), it’s got its own zoo, amusement park and boating lake. The park was once exclusively used by the Spanish royal family, but it’s been open to visitors since the Second Republic in 1931. Many battles were fought in the park during the Spanish Civil War and you can still find the remnants of this today; if you look closely enough, you’ll see remains of bunkers, machine gun nests, trench lines and bomb impacts.

Visit Plaza Mayor & Puerta del Sol
There are a handful of beautiful squares (or plazas, as their known locally) in Madrid, but Plaza Mayor is one of its prettiest. Steeped in history, it dates back to the 15th century and was once the centre of Old Madrid. Today, the area is surrounded by many cafés and restaurants, with terraces for diners to sit out and take in the sights; in the centre of the square, you’ll see the famous statue of King Philip III on horseback. It’s a bustling place, but well worth a visit.



Make a Beeline for the Museums
Madrid is chock-full of museums and art galleries, and many of them offer free entry. The ‘Golden Triangle of Art’ – an umbrella term used to describe three of Madrid’s most important museums – can be found in the centre of the city.

The Museo del Prado, which is located just west of El Retiro Park, is the main Spanish national art museum. It’s thought to house one of the finest collections of European art, with works dating from the 12th to the early 20th century. Entrance is free from 6-8pm, Monday to Saturday, and from 5-7pm on Sundays. Queues can be long during these hours though, so you should expect a bit of a wait before getting in.

Spain’s national museum of 20th century art, the Museo Nacional Centro del Reina Sofia, offers ‘free of charge days’ for exhibitions (these can’t be booked in advance). You can visit the museum for free between 7 and 9pm on Mondays, and at the same time from Wednesday to Saturday. On Sundays, entrance is free from 1.30-7pm.

Just north of these galleries stands the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. It houses over 1,600 paintings from some of history’s greatest artists, including Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Francis Bacon. Entrance is free every Monday between 12 and 4pm; if you’re nearby at that time, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Aside from the main museums in Madrid, there are plenty of smaller exhibition spaces dotted around too. Better yet, most of them are totally free to visit.

Spain’s national library, the Biblioteca Nacional, can be found in the glossy Salamanca district; the library’s palatial premises are certainly in-keeping with the surrounding architecture. Founded in 1712 by King Philip V, it holds every book published in Spain, including work by Miguel de Cervantes.

If art’s your thing, head to the ABC Museum in the hip Conde Duque district – just 11 minutes north of Generator Madrid. Set in a former brewery – the first Mahou beer brewery in Madrid, no less – this museum of drawing and illustration features almost 200,000 pieces by 1,500 artists. Work dates from 1890 right up until the present day; the space is expansive, dynamic and yes, completely free (though donations are accepted).

Walk 15 minutes in the opposite direction and you’ll find the San Isidro Museum. This permanent exhibition tells the story of Madrid’s evolution, from prehistoric times right up until the establishment of the Court. This free museum gives visitors a fascinating insight into the city and its patron saint, San Isidro.

Walk Around Madrid’s Royal Palace
Though it’s no longer the home of Spain’s royal family, Madrid’s Royal Palace remains an important site for the monarchy. Inside, there are more than 2,000 rooms and a majestic staircase (with over 70 steps); the building itself looks out onto a large courtyard and gardens.

During winter (October to March), admission is free from 4-6pm, Monday-Thursday; in summer (April to September), entry is free from 6-8pm, Monday-Thursday. It’s worth noting that free entry is only permitted at these times to EU citizens and residents, or to those with a European work permit; Latin American citizens or holders of a Latin American work permit can also get into the palace for free during these hours.

Whilst you’re in the area, you can visit the Almudena Cathedral. Entrance to the cathedral is technically free, though you’ll be asked for a €1 donation to go towards the upkeep of the building.

Peruse the Palacio de Cibeles
Until the 90s, this striking building functioned as the headquarters of the Spanish Post Office and Telegraph company. Today, Palacio de Cibeles is home to the Mayor’s Office, though it’s used as an events and exhibitions space too. Head up to the rooftop terrace for a cocktail, or simply sit back and take in views of the city.

Madrid is a beautiful, historic city that’s great for weekend breaks and long-term vacays alike. And as we’ve proved, you don’t need to fork out big bucks to enjoy yourself whilst you’re there.