Top 10: Best Free Things to Do in Madrid

Brian Schæfer Dreyer • 4 Feb, 2015

Our Madrid local Brian has shared his top 10 free things to do in the Spanish capital.

1. Admire impressive architecture along Gran Vía

A stroll along Gran Vía is highly entertaining – day or night. It’s always buzzing and is lined with hundreds of shops, cafés and restaurants. What makes it unique, however, is its many historical theatres and cinemas. Gran Vía is Madrid’s very own Broadway, and its New York-inspired architecture is worth the walk alone. Stretching from Plaza de España to the iconic Metropolis building, it offers plenty of fabulous photo opportunities.

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Photo credit: Brian Schæfer Dreyer

2. Enjoy stunning views at The Gourmet Experience

Head to the top floor of the nine-storey El Corte Inglés shopping complex, located midway along Gran Vía at Plaza del Callao, to get one of the best views of Madrid for free. Besides being packed with delicious deli items and tasty tapas, The Gourmet Experience offers panoramic views of the Royal Palace and Almudena Cathedral, as well as a bird’s-eye view of the bustling traffic of Gran Vía.

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Photo credit: Brian Schæfer Dreyer

3. Discover Madrid’s Egyptian temple

Do your best Indiana Jones impression as you discover Madrid’s own Egyptian temple, found on a hill in Parque del Oeste. This prestigious gift was given to Spain for helping to preserve temples along the Nile. It’s free to explore in small groups during opening hours. The area around the temple is a popular picnic and chill out spot among locals, and is one of the best places in Madrid to watch the sun set, with views to the Royal Palace and Casa de Campo.

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Photo credit: Brian Schæfer Dreyer 

4. Visit the magnificent Palacio de Cibeles

This marvellous palace is the town hall of Madrid, and Plaza de Cibeles, the square outside, is an iconic backdrop for many events throughout the year. The bright white stone against the blue sky offers a picture-perfect shot for many tourists, but few go inside to enjoy its beautiful interior. It’s partly run by the cultural organisation CentroCentro, which regularly offers free art exhibitions and events.

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Photo credit: Brian Schæfer Dreyer 

5. Get into the local rhythm at El Rastro

On Sundays, locals head to the historic neighbourhood of La Latina for one specific event – El Rastro. It’s the biggest open-air flea market in Madrid and one of the largest in Spain, with thousands of stalls crowding the streets. It’s a perfect place to soak up the authentic Spanish market atmosphere.

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Photo credit: Joe Lomas

6. Chill out with locals at Parque del Retiro

Skaters, cyclists, dog walkers, street artists and musicians can be seen and heard along the paths of Parque del Retiro – Madrid’s greatest park. Locals flock here all year round to exercise, chill out or visit free exhibition spaces such as Palacio de Cristal. There’s also a huge boating lake and plenty of cafés.

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Photo credit: Brian Schæfer Dreyer 

7. Appreciate modern art at Reina Sofia

You can enjoy several of Madrid’s museums for free at specific times, including the 20th-century collections of Reina Sofia. Formerly a hospital, it now houses masterpieces by Spanish superstars such as Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí, though it’s worth visiting for the buildings alone. Free admission Monday to Saturday 7–9 pm and Sundays 1:30–7:30 pm (closed Tuesdays).

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Photo credit: Brian Schæfer Dreyer 

8. Take in the atmosphere at Mercado de San Miguel

If you’re not already hungry, you definitely will be after taking in the atmosphere of Madrid’s most popular tapas market – Mercado de San Miguel. You’ll find it in the heart of the city in a stunning historic market building neighbouring Plaza Mayor. All of your senses will be awakened with the sights, smel
ls and sounds of this buzzing market.

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9. Enjoy a riverside walk at Madrid Río

When Madrid’s tasty tapas begin to weigh you down, tie your shoelaces and head to the river! The completely renovated riverbanks of the Manzanares offer plenty of sights for an entertaining power-walk or an easy stroll. Beautifully landscaped parkland, creative playgrounds and artistic bridges lead you on your way, while skaters and cyclists whoosh by.

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Photo credit: madrid.es 

10. Listen to live music at Café Jazz Populart 

What better way to round off a good day than to listen to some free live music at one of Madrid’s local jazz hotspots? Set in the Huertas area, Café Jazz Populart is a classy little place with the right atmosphere. Many shows are free, so check the calendar on their website and turn up in good time as space is limited. You only pay for your drinks!

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Photo credit: Brian Schæfer Dreyer 

Brian Schæfer Dreyer
I describe myself as a "travelooney". A person obsessed with travelling and with a passion for inspiring others to do the same. My focus is Europe, where I love to experience the contrasts between buzzing capital cities, intimate villages and stunning natural scenery. My travel blog can be found here: www.travelooney.dk.

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    Great stuff, Brian. Thanks. Putting together an itinerary for a visit in September and will work a bunch of these in!
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