Madrid was the last point of my 3 weeks in Spain. Naturally, money was scarce already :), so I had to think of ways to minimize my expenses, especially considering that I intended to spend 4 days there. Madrid is expensive when it comes to accommodation, but its main tourist attractions are more or less affordable. And, luckily, there are many free things to do in Madrid, and here is my list.
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Free things to do in Madrid
Visiting the Rosaleda is my absolutely favorite one of the free things to do in Madrid. This small garden full of magnificent roses of every color and sort is not far from the Temple of Debod. The Rosaleda is right in the city center in the Oeste Park next to the Teleferico that takes to Casa de Campo. Despite its central location, few people come here; the place is quiet and serene.
Every May a contest is held in this neatly laid out garden: the winning rose takes its place in the Rosaleda, so you may be sure that you will see the most beautiful flowers here.
The Temple of Debod
I bet you did not expect to see an Egyptian temple in the center of Madrid 🙂
But it is a real Egyptian temple. It was built not far from Aswan in the 2nd century BC. When the Aswan dam construction started, it threatened to destroy many historical monuments, so this temple was donated to Spain to save it. How they moved it? The temple was dismantled and brought to Spain where it was rebuilt.
Now it is probably the best of the free things to do in Madrid. It is surrounded by water and looks very mysterious. And it is especially imposing at night when it is lit up.
And the best thing is that you can actually go inside the temple, and it is free. I didn’t, as the line was long, and I did not want to wait. They start letting in at 10 AM and close at 8 PM.
Sabatini Gardens, named to honour one of the Royal Palace architects, are adjacent to the palace itself. They were planted after the royal stables were taken away.
I love this garden for the pool, statues of the former Spanish kings and the geometrical layout. And for the nice view of the Royal Palace, of course. And, trust me, you will love this place, when it is 35 degrees outside 🙂
Dalieda de San Francisco
Dalieda de San Francisco is a cute little rose garden next to San Francisco el Grande Cathedral. I bet you have already guessed I have a weakness for rose gardens 🙂
Views over Madrid open from here. There are a couple of benches in the dalieda, but not much shade.
Frankly, it is a not place to look for specifically, but if you are there to visit San Francisco Grande Cathedral, you might have a look.
Emir Mohamed Park with Moorish walls
Another cute little garden with geometrical layout and a six-pointed star in the center. There is not much greenery in this garden, but it is quiet and I saw just two people when I was there.
In addition, here you can see probably the oldest buildings in Madrid: the Arab Walls of Madrid. They were erected in the 9th century when the Muslim ruled in the peninsula.
The park itself is next to Almudena Cathedral, so it is hard to miss. To get in just go from Calle Mayor in the direction of Calle de Segovia.
The Church San Jerónimo el Real
Built in the 16th century, this church was one of the most important cathedrals in Madrid. Of course, during the many years of its existence it was repaired and restored often, especially considering that during the Napoleonic wars it was used as a quarter for the French troops which almost destroyed it.
I first saw this Gothic masterpiece at night and it looked really imposing and mysterious with its domes and mighty walls. When I saw it during the daytime, it was not that impressive but still very beautiful. The interior with stain glass windows is modest, far from the lavish Baroque churches.
Anyway, I think that the cathedral is definitely worth a visit, better when it is dark outside 🙂 Just keep in mind that I was in Madrid in November, when it gets darker earlier. You can check here for more info.
Segovia Bridge and the Manzanares River view
I am not going to claim that I have seen all bridges in Madrid, but I can say for sure that I like this one 🙂 And you have to visit it: after all, built in the 16th century, it is the oldest bridge in Madrid.
The Manzanares River is far from being the deepest one, it is more like a stream with small heaps of land at the Segovia Bridge. But this is exactly what makes the view from the bridge so interesting and picturesque. And, in addition to the fancy river and fountains, you can see the Almudena Cathedral and the Royal Palace.
Undoubtedly, this is the main street in Madrid and it is quite long. Gran Via is full of fancy shops and restaurants, magnificent buildings, lively armosphere, and crowds of people, of course. If you don’t plan buying anything, I would still advise you to have a walk here and enjoy the beauty of its buildings.
Plazas are very important in the Spanish urban architecture: every city and town, however small it is, will definitely have in its center a plaza with restaurants. Madrid is not an exception and the best part is that its plazas are different in color and layout, but one thing is always the same: the buildings around the plazas are simply magnificent! Take a look at these plazas: Plaza Mayor, Plaza de Cibeles, Puerta de Alcala, Plaza de Colon, Plaza de Espana, Plaza de Oriente.
Free views from el Corte Ingles and the Lookout Mountain Principe Pio
Who would not want to see Madrid from above? While the view from the Almudena Cathedral’s domes is not free, but picturesque, you may opt for some free viewpoints.
One of them is the last floor of El Corte Ingles in Calle de la Abada. It is a food court, so in addition to the views you can have a nice meal and drink here. But, honestly, the view from here is not something to die for and is limited.
Another place for views of the Almudena Cathedral and the Royal Palace is the Lookout Mountain Principe Pio next to the Temple of Debod. While it does not offer a view from above, I liked it anyway.
Retiro is by far the most famous park in Madrid. It is huge with a big pond with boats for rent and hundreds of trees which look amazing when leaves turn red and yellow.
My advice: do not miss Cecilio Rodriguez Garden with peacocks and the Rosaleda. I still regret that I did not go to these gardens, but after entering the park from the opposite side and seeing only trees I did not suppose that there might be something interesting on its other end, so I just left. Silly me 🙁
You can have a look at the Crystal Palace in the center of the park, but, frankly, I don’t understand all the fuss about it: it is just a glass building. Probably, it looks better when it is not empty.
Well, the entrance is free to the markets, the rest depends on you 🙂 But, frankly, I doubt you will be able to refrain from buying anything there.
The Market of San Miguel is in the very center of Madrid and, as the most famous one, it is always crowded. And when I say crowded I mean that every inch of space inside will be occupied by someone. The only thing I managed to do when I was at the Mercado de San Miguel was to take a couple of pictures, and that’s it. I saw people sitting outside on a few steps with food in their hands as everything inside was occupied. Naturally, being a tourist attraction, it is quite expensive, but it is an experience, after all.
The Market of San Anton is farther from the city center and, compared to Mercado de San Miguel, it was almost empty when I was there. This one has two floors: the first one is a proper market with a wide selection of jamon, cheese, fish, fruit and vegetables. The second floor is where the food stalls are and the cooking is done. Being honest, I can’t really compare the prices of San Anton to San Miguel as I did not see many similar dishes, but it was my impression that the former is slightly cheaper.
My knowledge of Madrid’s market scene is limited by these two markets. I am sure there are many more, and I would appreciate your insight in the comments 🙂
The National Archaeological Museum
Technically, the Archaeological Museum of Madrid is not free: the entrance fee is 3 EUR. But on Saturdays after 2 PM and Sunday mornings everyone can visit it for free.
If you like history and archaeology, this museum is a must. They have a wide collection of prehistorical artefacts, Ancient Roman and Egyptian objects, and, of course, the objects relating to the history of the country.
They have a money exhibition as well, which was really interesting: it tells the history of, you guessed it, money 🙂 Did you know that tobacco leaves and boar tusks were used as money?
And while you are nearby, stroll along the street with many fancy shops, go to the Plaza de Colon and take a selfie with the giant frog.
Just like the National Archaeological Museum of Madrid, Prado Museum is not free, but the entrance fee is much higher – 15 EUR, and this one is always crowded. Nevertheless, from Monday till Saturday from 6 PM to 8 PM and on Sundays and holidays from 5 PM to 7 PM everybody can enter the museum for free.
As you can see, you will not have much time to see the whole collection of paintings by Goya, Rubens, Titian, Velazquez, etc, but you can come here every evening.
Keep in mind that you will have to wait first in the line at the ticket office (you will need a ticket anyway), then at the entrance to the museum itself where all visitors’ belongings and visitors themselves are scanned.
I am not a fan of arts, so I went there just once and it was enough for me 🙂
Almudena Cathedral and the crypt
Almudena, or how it is officially called Santa Maria la Real de la Almudena, is the main cathedral in Madrid. Considering the history of other cathedrals, specifically those of Andalusia, one would expect it to be at least a couple of hundreds of years old. Well, I will surprise you: the construction of Almudena Cathedral finished in 1993. It would be fair, so, to say that it took a century to build it. The main reason is that Spain’s rulers considered expanding the empire more important than building a church in Madrid.
The entrance to the cathedral and its crypt is free and visitors are allowed in between the services: the opening times are here.
They ask for a donation of 1 EUR but I did not see anyone checking it, so it is up to you.
NB: while the cathedral and the crypt are free, if you want to climb the domes, it will cost you 6 EUR.
I bet, you, my dear readers, know other free things to do in Madrid. A comment with the place would be nice 🙂
Where to stay in Madrid?
Here below are some hotels that have high scores on Booking.com, are relatively cheap (depends on the season) and close to the touristic attractions of Madrid. What I advise you to do is to read the reviews first:
Hostal Delfina – a hotel offering rooms with private bathrooms right in Gran Via.
Fuencarall Rooms – a hotel offering rooms with private bathrooms not far from Gran Via.
Hostal Las Murallas – a hotel offering rooms with private and shared bathrooms not far from Gran Via.
Far Home Plaza Mayor – a hotel with private and shared bathrooms at Tirso de Molina subway station.
Hostal Mayor – a hotel with private bathrooms close to the Royal Palace.
Hostal Oriente – a hotel with private bathrooms close to the Royal Palace.
Hostal Inn Madrid – a hotel offering rooms with private bathrooms not far from Gran Via.
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