If you are planning to visit Madrid but you have a tight budget, here you have 6 activities you can experience for free:
SUNSET AT DEBOD TEMPLE
If you want to enjoy the best sunset in the city, don’t miss it!
This magical Egyptian temple situated in a park near Plaza España is my favourite place in Madrid. It is a popular picnic spot for locals and it has stunning views of Western Madrid and Casa de Campo. Many tourists don’t even know it exists and it is more than recommended to dedicate some time.
Admission is completely free (Monday closed).
It was built in the early 2nd century BC in Upper Egypt and now it is the oldest building in Madrid.
In 1968 the Egyptian state donated the temple of Debod to Spain as a sign of gratitude for the help provided after the international call made by UNESCO to save some historical heritage, as Abu Simbel temples, due to the construction of the Aswan Dam. Other 3 temples were also donated (Temple of Dendur – Metropolitan Museum of NYC, Temple of Taffeh – Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam and Temple of Ellesyia – Museo Egizio, Turin) but Debod is the biggest one and it is the only one you can find outdoors and for free!
GREAT VIEWS FOR FREE
Madrid is not a city known for its famous skyline or a turistic attraction where you can enjoy an amazing panoramic of the city, but if you are an amateur photographer and you are looking for great views, there are still some places where you can shoot really nice pictures from the top.
- City Hall Tower: This architectonic masterpiece, built in the early 20th century, was until 2007 the headquarters of postal and telecommunication services in the country. The palace houses also a cultural center (free entrance) and its tower has a viewing point with delightfull panoramic of Paseo Recoletos and Cibeles fountain, the symbol of the city and the place where Real Madrid fans celebrate their triumphs. It has free admission on the first Wednesday of each month, anyway normal admission is only 2€.
- Corte Inglés-Callao Rooftop: It is a big department store (like Macy’s, Harrods, Galleries Laffayete..) and there are thousands of them in Spain. But this one has a rooftop terrace where you can enjoy one of the most iconic views of Gran Vía, the most commercial and beautiful avenue in the city, full of lights and big theatres which frequently host movie premieres. Besides, the rooftop is located in a food court where David Muñoz, a 3 Michellin starred chef, has a restaurant which, surprisingly, is quite cheap.
MUSEUMS FOR FREE
Madrid is home of some of the best museums in the world. It vast art collection makes the city an atractive destination for art lovers. Most museums have free admission hours, so you can delight in stunning art and save money at the same time!
The Golden Triangle of Art includes the top 3 museums which you can’t miss:
- Prado Museum: A MUST. It is consider the most important museum in European painting and it hosts the largest Spanish art collection existing, dating from 12th to 19th centuries: Velazquez, Goya, Titian, El Greco, Bosch, Rubens…
Free admission: Monday – Saturday from 18.00 to 20.00 and Sundays from 17.00 to 19.00.
- Reina Sofia Museum: 20th century art: Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró… The building used to be a hospital before becoming a museum, there you can find one of Picasso’s masterpieces: Guernica, but I definitely prefer Dali’s surrealist paintings. Totally worthy.
Free admission: From 19.00 to 21.00, except on Sunday: 13.30 to 19.00. Tuesday closed.
- Thyssen- Bornemisza Museum: A private collection started on 1920s by Thyssen aristocratic family. It features masterpices of European art from Reinaissance to Pop Art (13th to 20th century): Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, Munch, Picasso, Kandinsky, Bacon… It is actually my favourite one.
Free admission: Monday from 12.00 to 16.00.
You may be also interested in visiting the Royal Palace, which can be visited for free too if you are a European or Latin American citizen from 16.00 to 18.00 in winter and from 18.00 to 20.00 in summer.
Additionally you can enjoy the Solemn Changing of the Guard for free on the fist Wednesday of each month at 12.00, 100 guards and 100 horses and live classical mussic. Don’t miss it if you have the chance!
If you are not lucky enough to attend it, you can go to the standard Changing the Guard every Wednesday and Saturday from 11.00 to 14.00.
HAVE A WALK IN RETIRO PARK
The largest park in Madrid city center. It exists since 17th century when it belonged to the Spanish Monarchy as a part of one of their summer palaces. In 19th century it became a public park. Nowadays the park is the green heart of the city and it is a very famous point for meeting specially during weekends.
The park has wide avenues filled with beautiful sculptures, a main lake whit ducks and enormous fishes where you can rent rowboats for about 6€/hour. There is also a solar powered boat which is mainly for tourist people (locals go paddling). Beside the lake there is a big neoclassical monument with huge columns where people sit down and chill.
One of my favourite spot in the park is the Crystal Palace, a metal and glass structure built to exhibit fauna and flora from the Philippiness back in 19th century, now it hosts cultural exhibitions. It is surrounded by a fairytale lake where you can take atonishing photographs.
There are lots of free cultural activities specially on Sundays: a puppet theatre for children, concerts by the Municipal Symphony Band during spring, temporary art exhibitions…
It is a perfect place for having a walk and get lost in nature and forget about city bustle.
CATHEDRAL AND CHURCHES
Whether you a religious person or not, if you want to get deeper into a country culture you must visit their temples. In fact, religious buildings have as good art samples as museums, specially in Spain, where population has always been very devoted. Here you have a good selection:
- Almudena Cathedral: A Baroque dome, a Neo-Romanesque crypt, Neo-Gothic on the inside and Neoclassical on the outside: one of a kind! It is situated in front of the Royal Palace and it was finally finished and consecrated by Pope John Paul II in 1993. It is uniquely modern, I totally recommend to have a look at the colourful stained glasses and the apse wall paintings, but my favourite ones are the geometrical multicoloured ceiling paintings.
- Colegiata San Isidro: A good example of Spanish Baroque art, it was the temporary cathedral until 1993. It is known for holding the remains of the patron saint of the city, Isidore the Laborer (11th century). It is said he performed more than 100 miracles and that he lived for more than 100 years. His body remains incorrupt and it can be visited on his feast day, celebrated on 15th May.
- San Antonio de la Florida: Two neoclassical twin chapels situated at 10 minutes walking from Principe Pio station. Not many people know them, but the reason why you should go there is their ceiling and dome frescos are painted by Francisco Goya, who is buired in one of them.
- San Antonio de los Alemanes: This small church situated behind Gran Vía is a very special one, its baroque style is completely exquisite. The outside goes unnoticed, but the inside is impressive, it is entirely covered by frescos by Italian artists.
GO WALKING, AVOID METRO IF POSSIBLE
Despite Madrid Metro is consider one of the best in the world, it is not particularly expensive (1,50€ to 2€ single ticket depending on the lenght of the journey). You can even save some money with the 10 trip ticket, which can be purchased for about 12€ .
Anyway, unless you want to go to the north bussiness area (Plaza Castilla) or Bernabeu Stadium, Madrid city center can be visited by foot. From Plaza España to Retiro Park, Barrio Salamanca, Royal Palace… Those places can be reached in a 30 minutes walk among great avenues and ancient squares, but of course, if you want to experience the real Madrid, get lost in the historical district: Austrias, Huertas, Malasaña, La Latina, Chueca…
I totally recommend go walking if you don’t want to miss Madrid’s secrets.