Everyone who has ever met me knows my love of Madrid runs deep. The food, the culture, the parties - what’s not to love? Maybe best of all is the level of safety that I experienced in Madrid as a solo traveler. In all my travels around the United States and Europe, I’ve never felt as safe and free as I did in Madrid.
Madrid can have a reputation for being expensive, but it doesn’t have to be! If done right, Madrid can be explored on any traveler's budget. Let’s dive into how to have a great time in Madrid without breaking the bank.
Budget-Friendly Things to Do in Madrid
Free Walking Tours
First and foremost - free walking tours! Okay, they’re not technically free - at the end of the tour you pay the guide “what you think is fair”. But they’re an affordable way to see the city and a great way to make friends while traveling solo.
Free Museum Hours
Many of the museums in Madrid have free hours throughout the week. They’re all different, but usually in the early afternoon. The tradeoff to it being free, of course, is that it’s more crowded. But if you’re looking to make your euros stretch as far as possible, it’s a worthy trade.
While dozens of museums in the city do free hours, here are some of the biggest ones, and what they have to offer:
Reina Sofia Museum for Modern Art
The Prado Museum for Classical Art
Royal Palace of Madrid for 1700’s architecture
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum for Picasso, Monet, and Chagall
Akin to New York’s Central Park, Retiro Park is the colossal public park in the center of Madrid.
Greenery to set the background for your picnics, photo shoots, or afternoon walks. Inside the park, there is a rose garden, palaces, and several cafes.
While you’re there, check out the Crystal Palace! It’s exactly what it sounds like - a castle made of glass. They have constantly rotating exhibitions from the Reina Sofia Museum. And the best part? It’s totally free!
And by far my favorite budget-friendly Madrid activity is renting a rowboat on a lake! In the center of Retiro, you can find a man-made lake lined with historic monuments and filled with koi fish. The price varies by the day of the week, but it’s within the €6-8 range.
The Rastro is a sprawling flea market in La Latina neighborhood. Here you can find everything from vintage clothing, jewelry, and any other nicknacks you could possibly want. It happens every Sunday morning, and I strongly suggest anyone who plans on going to get there bright and early before the crowd arrives.
Temple of Debod
The center of Madrid is an unlikely spot for a genuine Egyptian temple, but the Temple of Debod is exactly that. It was given as a gift by the Egyptian government after Spain donated to help restore some of Egypt’s historic sites in the 1960s. Now, you can visit for free!
The temple is in a park that’s known amongst locals as the best sunset spot in Madrid. So why not grab a blanket and a bottle of tinto de verano and have a little picnic as the night in Madrid comes alive?
Day Trip to Toledo or Segovia
This might be cheating because it is outside of the city, but it’s my blog, I make the rules. Another budget-friendly way to have fun in Madrid is to take a day trip to Toledo or Segovia.
Both of these cities are roughly an hour bus ride outside of Madrid.
Segovia has a Roman Aquaduct and a castle that was used as inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.
Toledo is one of the oldest cities in Spain and is home to a picture-perfect Alcazar, a Gothic cathedral, and even a zipline over Old Town.
If you have to choose between the two cities, know that there is no ‘wrong’ option. They’re both beautiful medieval cities with centuries of history, stunning architecture, and amazing food.
Spain’s cuisine is criminally underrated on an international level. It’s the home to paella, sangria, and tapas. I dive into the best tapas and where to get them in Madrid on my tapas guide. But if budget is your primary concern, then here are some spots to check out:
100 Montaditios - the saving grace of every broke student. On Wednesdays and Sundays, everything on the menu is only a euro. Mini sandwiches, beers, and sangria.
Tiki Taco - 1 euro tacos. Need I say more? Once upon a time, my friend and I had a bi-weekly tradition involving mango margaritas and al-pastor tacos. This was our go-to spot.
San Ginés - Churros are an essential part of any Spanish food tour. And there’s no better place to go in Madrid than San Ginés Open 24/7 since 1894. Perfect for a late-night snack or a midday brunch.
Getting Around Madrid
This brings us to my favorite thing about Madrid. No area feels unsafe to walk around in. Even as a solo woman, and even at night. I took so many solo walks at 2am when I lived in Madrid, just because it was the first time in my life that I could.
Madrid is extremely walkable. If you wanted to, you could walk from one end of the center to the other in about an hour.
But if walking isn’t an option, Madrid also has a robust public transit system. It’s cheap, fast, and most importantly, reliable. The metro has 13 different lines and countless bus routes go all throughout the center and into the surrounding suburbs.
Madrid Accommodation on a Budget
The biggest cost when traveling anywhere is inevitably accommodation. What’s the tried and true budget-friendly accommodation option?
For safety and peace of mind, I always choose to stay in female-only dorms. They tend to be more expensive than mixed dorms, but after staying in a mixed dorm, it’s a fee I’m happy to pay.
If possible, I try to always choose a hostel that has activities that make it easy to meet people. This can be anything from happy hour to a walking tour or some sort of excursion.