Retiro is one of the best spots in Madrid, and worth dedicating an entire afternoon to on your next visit. In 2021, this 125-hectare park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Inside, there are two palaces, monuments, a rose garden, restaurants, a library, and lots of green spaces for picnics! There’s even a lake and rowboats for rent. Additionally, there are always different events happening here, like cultural festivals, book fairs, and concerts.
Right in the middle of Retiro is the Palacio de Cristal. A glass palace in the middle of a lush garden, overlooking a lake - it can’t get more picturesque than that! As the walls are made of glass, Retiro’s greenery can be seen from the inside and provide the perfect backdrop for the temporary art exhibits it hosts. Most importantly, it’s always free to visit!
The Royal Palace in Madrid is actually one of the largest currently-functioning palaces in the world. Built in 1738 on the site of a former Moorish castle, it's now the official residence of the Spanish royal family. Visitors can walk through the throne room, armory, and, best of all, the grand staircase. I highly recommend wearing the biggest, fanciest dress you own when you go to the palace because you feel like you’re in a Disney movie when you walk down that staircase. Plan to spend about an hour inside the castle, and be sure to check out the Sabatini gardens afterward! While normally you'd have to pay to get in, there is free admission Mondays to Thursdays from 5:00 - 7:00 pm. Entry to the palace closes at 7:00 pm sharp, so plan to arrive long before then.
The Prado Museum is one of the largest and most visited museums in all of Spain. It hosts the most comprehensive collection of traditional Spanish art. Here, you’ll find works from El Greco, Goya, Veláquez, and many others. Like the Royal Palace, they offer free hours during the week. You can visit for free Monday to Saturday from 6:00 - 8:00 pm, and Sundays from 5:00 - 7:00 pm.
Reina Sofía Museum
While the Prado focuses on works created during the 19th century and earlier, the Reina Sofía Museum is all about modern art. It opened in 1991 and features artists like Picasso, Dalí, and Míro. Most notably, this museum has Picasso’s famous “Guernica” on display. The Reina Sofía Museum is an art lover's paradise and is completely free on Mondays from 7:00 - 9:00 pm, Wednesdays through Saturdays from 7:00 - 9:00 pm, and Sundays from 1:30 - 7:30 pm.
Templo de Debod
Believe it or not, there is an actual Egyptian temple in the middle of Spain. The Egyptian government gave it to Spain as a thank-you gift after the Spanish government helped restore the Abu Simbel temples in Upper Egypt. The temple dates back to the 2nd century B.C. and was dedicated to the Egyptian gods Amun and Isis. Inside you’ll find an audiovisual exhibit explaining the temple’s history and cultural significance. After you've explored the temple, the park surrounding the temple is the absolute best place in the city to have a picnic and watch the sunset. Entry to the temple is always free.
Last on this list is the Chamberí "ghost station". First opened in 1919, this was one of Madrid’s first metro stations. As time went on Madrid’s metro system grew, and many other stations were being expanded to accommodate the city’s needs, but expanding Chamberí was difficult because it was built on a curve. It was decided that it would be easier to just close it in 1966. It was abandoned for decades. Now, the station has been fully restored and converted into a museum about the history of the Madrid Metro. Entry is always free.