Madrid is the capital of Spain and it is the third-largest city in the European Union. Modern and sophisticated and yet able to retain its cultural ambience, Madrid ranks as one of the most frequently visited destinations in Spain and indeed, in Europe.
Travelling in Madrid can sometimes be a little bit tricky if you’re trying to get the best out of your time in a particular place while managing a tight budget. But don’t fret if you find yourself strapped for cash because there’s actually quite a lot to do on the cheap while in the beautiful city and here’s a list of 5 activities to get you started!
1. Visit the Museo Del Prado…when the time is right
The Museo Del Prado is the national art museum of Spain and is widely recognised as one of the greatest art museums in the world. It houses countless European paintings and sculptures in its multi-level building, some of which date as far back as the 12th century.
Surely admission into such a prestigious museum would be ridiculously costly, right? Well, actually, it’s not…if you know when to visit. The museum opens its doors from 10.00am to 8.00pm from Mondays to Saturdays, and it closes an hour earlier on Sundays. Each standard ticket typically costs 14.00 EUR (15.22 USD). If you are a student, regardless of where you are currently based, as long as you have a valid ID, or if you have an International Student Identity Card, you are entitled to a 50% price reduction.
But the real trick here is to visit the museum 2 hours before it closes. That means 6.00pm from Mondays to Saturdays and 5.00pm on Sundays. This is when admission to Museo Del Prado is completely free. There are also certain days when admission to the museum is free for the entire day, so it’s advisable to plan ahead to ensure you get the best out of the Prado Museum.
2. Spend a relaxing day at Buen Retiro Park
Madrid’s own version of New York’s Central Park, the Parque del Buen Retiro (or El Retiro for short) used to belong to the Spanish royal family before it was converted into one of the city’s largest public parks in 1868.
Apart from the many different colourful flowers and statues which can be found throughout the park, an iconic structure within El Retiro is the semicircular colonnade featuring a monument of King Alfonso the XII. It overlooks an artificial pond upon which visitors to the park may rent a rowing boat to go on a romantic boating trip.
There are also several museums and exhibitions throughout the serene park designed to offer visitors a break from the city life of Madrid. Another particularly unique attraction in El Retiro is the Palacio De Cristal, a pavilion made of glass and styled after The Crystal Palace in London. The park is best suited for couples looking for a romantic stroll but it is just as fun for any other traveller in Madrid.
3. Visit the majestic Palacio Real
The Palacio Real (which means royal palace) is the official residence of the Spanish royal family. But don’t expect to meet the king or queen of Spain while you’re there though. These days, the Palacio Real is more of a ceremonious building, used for official ceremonies and events.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a visit. The Palacio Real is the largest palace in Europe, containing well over 2,000 rooms. Although a standard entry fee of 10.00 EUR (10.87 USD) is required to enter the palace proper (the fee is waived or reduced for certain individuals on certain days), the exterior is open to the public and that is in itself a majestic sight to behold.
Do note that as the Palacio Real is an official state building, you will be required to pass through security checks at the entrances to the courtyard and palace interior.
4. Stuff yourself with tapas at the Mercado de San Miguel
A trip to Madrid, nay, a trip to Spain is never complete without a tapas adventure. For those who are unfamiliar, tapas are Spanish snacks or appetisers served in small portions, much like the way dim sum is served in Hong Kong.
While tapas bars are plentiful in any major Spanish city, when in Madrid, it is a worthwhile detour to visit the Mercado de San Miguel. Originally built in 1916 before undergoing extensive renovation in 2003, the market of San Miguel reopened in 2009 as a gourmet tapas paradise.
While you will find a few vendors selling fresh produce, tapas and Spanish traditional snacks are the order of the day in San Miguel. Costing between 2.00 and 3.00 EUR (2.18 USD and 3.26 USD) on average per item, you will find almost infinite variations of cured meats, traditional Spanish paellas (wet rice), beers, desserts and even some international fusion cuisine like sushi with Spanish ingredients.
At the Mercado de San Miguel, you’ll probably spend more time (filling your tummy) than money as you navigate through the many stalls and bars within the market, so make sure to bring an appetite!
5. Take a walk through the Gran Via, Madrid's busiest street
The Gran Via, which literally translates to Great Way, is THE heartbeat of Madrid. It is known as the Broadway of Spain and is listed as the street with the liveliest nightlife in Europe. It is also the city’s most important and dynamic shopping district, featuring upscale shopping outlets and many pubs, clubs and restaurants.
The Gran Via stretches 1.5km in total, starting from Calle de Alcala and ending at the Plaza de España (not to be confused with the one in Sevilla). It is a busy street popular among locals and tourists and one of the best ways to get close to the urban life of the people in Madrid.
If it is your last night in Spain, one personal recommendation is to throng the Gran Via with a few friends and hit up some of the rooftop bars around the area. Good music, classy ambience and a beautiful view of the city at night: perfecto.
You don't need to break the bank to enjoy Madrid
From its modern cityscape to beautiful parks and colourful cultural festivals, Madrid is truly one of the nicest cities to visit in Spain and one which often leaves travellers craving more.
Not everything in Madrid costs a fortune. In fact, some of its best experiences cost close to nothing. If you’ve ever thought of visiting Madrid only to be put off by potentially extravagant costs, perhaps this article has changed your mind! Plan well and you’ll receive more than your money’s worth in fun and enjoyment when you visit Madrid!
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