Touring European capital cities is hard to beat, which is especially true for Madrid. Madrid is a fantastic city with so much to offer visitors: good food, great shopping, beautiful museums, fun nightlife, and fabulous outdoor spaces. There is enough to keep you busy in this city for weeks! The best part? You don’t have to spend a penny if you don’t want to!
Many of the world-class sights that you will find throughout Spain’s largest city are completely free! Whether you are traveling on a budget or just want to save a few pennies while in Madrid, this list of free things to do in Madrid has you covered!
During our recent visit to Madrid, I was amazed at all the city had to offer. I must admit that the 4 days I spent in Madrid weren’t nearly enough!
1. Retiro Park
King Felipe IV established El Retiro Park in the 17th century as a garden for Spanish royalty to enjoy. The park’s opulence that originated at this time can still be seen today despite much of its beauty being destroyed during the War of Independence when it was a fortress and barracks for Napoleon’s troops.
The centerpiece of Retiro Park is a lovely man-made lake located on the park’s east side. Set on the edge of the lake is the massive Monument to King Alfonso XII, which depicts King Alfonso XII on a horse surrounded by towering marble columns. While renting a boat costs money, you don’t have to pay anything to enjoy the park.
Other highlights of the park include the remains of the Ermita de San Pelayo y San Isidro. This small country chapel is noted to be a fabulous example of Romanesque architecture. While exploring the park, don’t miss the Palacio de Cristal (Glass Palace), the rose garden, and the Fallen Angel statue.
Retiro Park is one of the best things to do in Madrid for sure!
Pro Tip: Retiro Park is quite large, 292 acres to be exact. Look at a park map before visiting to determine precisely what you want.
2. Temple Of Debod
While visiting Madrid, you can see a piece of Ancient Egypt for free. Just head to the Temple of Debod, about a 10-minute walk from the Royal Palace. The Temple of Debod was a gift from the Egyptian government in the late 1960s and is just one of four ancient Egyptian temples located outside Egypt. The temple is a unique monument worth a bit of your vacation in Madrid.
The Temple of Debod is one of the many free things in Madrid that make it a fabulous European city to visit!
Pro Tip: Visit at sunset and wait until after dark to see the beautiful temple lit up.
3. Royal Palace of Madrid
The Royal Palace of Madrid is a tribute to the rich history of Spain. Constructed in the mid-1700s for King Philip V, the opulent palace was home to many Spanish monarchs until the monarchy was abolished in 1931. The Royal Palace of Madrid contains over 3,400 rooms spread over 135,000 square meters and is a remarkable example of Baroque and Neoclassical architecture.
You usually have to pay a fee to visit the palace’s interior, but you can visit for free during the early evening hours on weekdays. Of course, you can roam around the exterior of the palace grounds for free any time of day to take in the gorgeous architecture of the palace and to see the adjacent palace gardens.
For complete information, please visit the Royal Palace of Madrid website.
Pro Tip: Watch the changing of guards at the Royal Palace of Madrid for a fun, free treat. The changing of the guards takes place every Wednesday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. except for July 1 through August 31, when it takes place from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. due to the heat.
4. Almudena Cathedral
The gorgeous Almudena Cathedral originated as a pantheon for Queen Marea de las Mercedes, the wife of King Alfonso XII. This beautiful cathedral took over 100 years to transform into a complete complex. In total, six different architects worked on the cathedral giving it the mix of architectural styles you see before you today. This is evident when you see the mix of Baroque, Neo-Romantic, and Neo-Gothic styles.
You can visit the cathedral’s interior and view the colorful stained-glass windows for free. If you want to see the crypt area, which houses over 500 columns, or visit the museum, you have to pay a small fee.
For more information, please visit the Almudena Cathedral website.
5. Plaza Mayor
Taking a stroll around Madrid’s Plaza Mayor is another budget-friendly activity. Mayor Plaza was built in the 15th century during the reign of King Phillip III. This once-bustling market was the center of Old Madrid. The plaza you see before you today was constructed in the late 1700s after a fire destroyed most of the structures surrounding the plaza.
Take time to enjoy the hustle and bustle surrounding you in the gorgeous plaza as you gaze upon the gorgeous architecture of the buildings. The oldest building at Plaza Mayor is the Casa de la Panaderia (Bakery House), which served as a model for the rest of the buildings. Today, only the cellar and ground floor of the original building remains, but you can go inside since the Madrid tourist information center is housed here.
6. Madrid Museums
Madrid is known for the world-class museums that call it home, specifically, the “Golden Triangle of Art,” which consists of the Prado, the Reina Sofia, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza. Granted, these museums usually charge an entrance fee, but if you time your visit just right, you may visit them for free! Each of these museums offers free entrance hours throughout the week.
Please visit the museum websites noted above for the most up-to-date information.
Pro Tip: It is important to note that the lines for the museum’s free hours can get extremely long. Be sure to arrive early to secure yourself a spot in line.
7. El Corte Ingles Gourmet
For a fantastic view of Madrid’s famous Gran Via, head up to the ninth floor of the El Corte Ingles Gourmet department store located in the Plaza del Callao. Now, you won’t be able to stay for long without sitting and buying a drink or snack, but you can at least sneak a quick picture of the glorious view.
For operating hours, please visit the El Corte Ingles Gourmet website.
8. Gran Via
Don’t wander too far from the El Corte Ingles Gourmet before taking a stroll down Madrid’s most famous street, the Gran Via. Constructed between 1910 and 1929, this bustling street is lined with bars, restaurants, and big-name department stores, making it a shopper’s dream! While walking down the Gran Via, take in the lively atmosphere and gorgeous architecture surrounding you.
9. Oeste Park
Oeste Park is located in the heart of Madrid and is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a few minutes. The main reason to visit Oeste Park is to enjoy the park’s rose garden. The City Council’s head gardener designed the rose garden in the mid-1950s and included over 600 varieties. The garden is a little oasis in the heart of the big city.
10. Madrid History Museum
To delve into the history of Madrid, you must visit the Museo de Historia (Madrid History Museum). The museum is housed in an incredible Baroque building and houses a fabulous collection of artifacts and paintings outlining the city’s history from the mid-16th century until now. The museum is entirely accessible, making it an excellent place for everyone to visit!
Please visit the Madrid History Museum website for information, including operating hours.
11. Puerto Del Sol
Puerto del Sol is the central plaza located in the city center. Here, you can see several of the city’s top landmarks. Take in the famous bear statue and the giant Tio Pepe before standing on top of the Kilometer Zero, which is the alleged center of Spain; just look for the plaque on the ground that says KMO.
12. Mercado De San Miguel
The Mercado de San Miguel is an incredible experience, even if you are only “window shopping” the food vendors. This food market has existed for over 100 years and is considered one of the top gastronomic markets in the world. Here you can find delicacies ranging from mouth-watering pastries to aged cheeses and fresh seafood.
You can find more information on the Mercado de San Miguel website.
Pro Tip: Try to visit when the market opens, as this place gets crowded quickly!
13. Madrid Rio
Head to one of Madrid’s newest parks, the Madrid Rio, if you are craving a little more time outdoors while in the city. Madrid Rio is home to miles of cycling and running paths, a playground area for kids, a load of green space, and a small man-made “beach.” This park is excellent for resting and relaxing while touring the city.
14. El Rastro Flea Market
What started as a meat market in the 17th century has become one of Madrid’s most famous flea markets. Every Sunday, the market springs to life with loads of vendors selling everything from vintage t-shirts to modern electronics. Spend the morning browsing through the good, looking for the perfect lost treasure you can take home as a souvenir from your time in Madrid. El Rastro Flea Market is located at Celle de la Ribera de los Curtidores and is open from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m.
Pro Tip: Watch your belonging during your visit. This is a popular place for pickpockets.