With over 3 million inhabitants, Madrid is not only the capital of Spain but also the biggest city of the Iberian peninsula. Still many travellers, who’d rather spend a weekend at sea, are skipping the city in favor of Barcelona, Valencia, the Canary Islands or the Balearic Islands. But the beach isn’t everything! Madrid is not just a ridiculously beautiful and vibrant city with hardly any mass tourism, it’s also very affordable! Explorista picked 9 (almost) free activities for you which will turn your city trip to the heart of Spain into a success.
Free walking tour
There it is again: the free walking tour! In Madrid you can find no less than three tour operators who offer all sorts of tours all day every day: Ogotours, Panchotours and of course the well known Sandeman’s New Europe. 365 days a year (even during Christmas or New Year’s Eve, when other touristic attractions are closed) motivated guides are waiting to show you as many beautiful spots as possible in 3 hours time, while you even learn about history and culture. Naturally, it’s expected that you reward them with a small tip, but you’re the one deciding how much you’ll pay them! The tours start at 10 am, 10:45 am, 11 am and 2 pm from central locations like Plaza Mayor or the Puerta del Sol. And from personal experience, we know that the most handsome tour guides can be found here in Spain ;-)
With nearly 3 million visitors every year, the Museo del Prado is the biggest museum in the country and keeper of one of the most important European art collections in the world. Usually an entry ticket will cost you €14, but every day you can visit the museum for free between 6 pm and 10 pm (and on Sundays from 5 pm to 7 pm)! With a collection of 20.000 objects you won’t stand a chance seeing everything in 2 hours, but no one’s stopping you if you want to visit the museum multiple days in a row, so you can admire the beautiful paintings of Rafaël, Rubens, Velázquez, Rembrandt and Caravaggio. We recommend getting in line at 5:30 pm though, because you’ll definitely won’t be the only one taking advantage of the free opening hours!
The cathedral of Madrid
Plans to build a cathedral in Madrid can be traced back all the way to the 16th century, but since ‘hurry’ is an unknown concept in the Mediterranean area, the Spanish didn’t start building until 1879. Mind you, this was a slow process: it wasn’t until 1993 that the cathedral of Almudena was finally finished and blessed by the Pope. Nowadays you can visit the masterpiece for free every day between 9 am and 8:30 pm and decide for yourself if the construction time of 114 years has been worth it.
Looking for more reasons to visit Madrid? My friend Samantha has written a post with 50 compelling reasons!
The palace gardens
Opposite the cathedral you’ll find Palacio Real, the Royal Palace of Madrid. Unfortunately, you’ll have to pay if you want to go inside, and although €5 for students and €10 for adults is still quite alright – it’s not free. On the other hand you can visit Casa del Campo and Campo del Moro for free! These are the surrounding palace gardens which extend until 4 kilometers behind the palace, and are open daily from 10 am to 6 pm (during the summer even until 8 pm). At the park you’ll see loads of rabbits and squirrels running around, so if you’re a lover of city nature it won’t get any better than this!
Or does it? Parque Retiro, also known as the Park of Relaxation, is located close to the Museo del Prado in the centre of Madrid, and is one of the most loved spots in the city – by tourists as well as by locals. Until the 19th century the park belonged to the crown, but when Queen Isabella II got dethroned during a revolution, new leaders luckily made the park available to the general public. Nowadays it’s like a fairytale with all its monuments, ponds, beautifully designed footpaths, perfected bushes and public gyms. The real gems here are the Palacio de Cristal and the Palaceo de Veláquez: these are free entry dependances of the Reina Sofia Museum which are located inside the park.
National Queen Sofia Museum
Fans of modern art really need to visit the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. It’s quite a mouthful, but you’ll understand why when you see the collection: from Dalí to Picasso and from Kandinsky to Klee, almost all important modern artists are represented here. Just like the Museo del Prado you can visit the museum for free for two hours (expect on Tuesdays, when it’s closed) between 5pm and 7 pm. And on Sundays it’s free all afternoon! Next to that, the museum has its own public library with over 100.000 books. I’m not sure how many of those are in Spanish, but you can always just look at the pictures. ;-)
Temple of Debod
There’s no lack of Egyptian art in Europe, but since the lion’s share got stolen by grave robbers and moved to, for example, the British Museum in London and Museo Egizio in Turin, it still has a bit of a nasty colonial taste to it. Luckily there’s Templo de Debod in Madrid, which was a gift from Egypt to Spain in the 60s. It’s been moved stone by stone as a way of thanking the Spanish for their help with moving the priceless historic monuments which were threatened by the construction of Aswandam. Opening hours vary every season and the temple is closed during siesta – but it’s totally free!
The Spanish Congress
Every Saturday (except in August) there’s free tours through the Congreso de los Diputados (the Spanish House of commons) every morning between 10:30 am and 12:30 pm. There’s no better way to get to know a country than by her political history, and what place is better to do so than a 150 year old monumental building?
Shopping at the Gran Via and the Mercado San Miguel
The Gran Via is the Champs-Elysees of Madrid and therefore the perfect place to exceed both your credit card and luggage limit. Shop till you drop, and afterwards stroll along the beautiful Puerta del Sol to the Marcado San Miguel, an indoor market from 1916 where all your food porn dreams come true!