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Palacio de Velázquez
Palacio de Velázquez

The best free things to do in Madrid right now

Madrid is a pricey city, but you don't have to break the bank to have fun. Here are our favorite free things in town

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The capital city is one of the most expensive in Spain, but that doesn’t mean you have to empty your pockets to enjoy all the city has to offer. This is our comprehensive guide filled with museums, clubs, parks, landmarks, monuments and much more that you can visit without spending a single euro. 

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Madrid

Places of interest

Palacio de Cristal

Attractions Historic buildings and sites Retiro

This venue is a great spot to put your finger on the pulse of Madrid’s art scene. Constructed in 1887, it is an outpost of the Reina Sofía museum and is one of our favorite places in the city to take check out new exhibits. It’s right in the middle of the Retiro park, so you can stop in as while you take a stroll. The space is light-filled, and most often showcases larger installation pieces, sculptures and shows specifically designed to complement the atrium-like space.

Bolsa de Madrid

Attractions Historic buildings and sites Retiro

Located in the same square as the Ritz Hotel, the Bolsa de Madrid is both a cultural landmark and a bustling center of business. Its neo-classical style was chosen to reflect the facade of the nearby Prado museum, and inside the building are two distinct areas. One part is the functioning trading section and the other is open for the public to view an exhibit about the market’s history. 

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Congreso de los Diputados (Las Cortes)

Attractions Historic buildings and sites Centro

Spain’s parliament, the Cortes, was built in the mid-1800s. The classic facade lends the destination an official, imposing air, and you can recognize the Cortes from the huge bronze lions guarding the entrance. Take a guided tour of the building any day of the week, but we recommend you hop on one of the free Saturday tours.

Basílica de San Francisco el Grande

Attractions Religious buildings and sites La Latina

You truly can’t miss this gigantic church situated between Puerta de Toleda and the Palacio Real. The neo-classical destination is topped by a dome of 33m (108ft), which has recently been restored. This is a trend within the church, and don’t be surprised if some parts are covered in scaffolding when you visit. Things you can’t miss: an early Goya, 'The Sermon of San Bernardino of Siena' (1781), and several frescoes by other artists dating from the 17th to the 19th century.

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Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida

Attractions Religious buildings and sites Moncloa-Aravaca

Don’t be fooled by the longish metro ride to this plain-looking chapel – this is as much of a destination as anything else. It’s famous for being the burial place of Goya and for housing some of his luminous, recently restored frescoes inside. There are free guided tours of the Ermita, in Spanish and English, at 11am and noon on Saturdays. 

Templo de Debod

Attractions Historic buildings and sites Argüelles

This Egyptian temple honoring Isis and Amun is located on the edge of the Parque del Oeste. It dates back over 2,000 years and was sent in painstaking stages by the Egyptian government in 1968. We recomment you take a stroll at sunset to get the full experience.

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San Jerónimo el Real

Attractions Historic buildings and sites Retiro

This church, though largely reconstructed in the 19th century, has a formidable history dating back to the 1400s. It was a favorite of the Spanish monarchy for centuries and has been used for important state ceremonies like the religious crowning of King Juan Carlos. 

Museums, galleries and cultural centres

Museo del Prado

Museums Art and design Retiro

Spain’s most important collection of paintings isn’t usually free to see, but there are certain times when it won’t cost you a cent to appreciate the permament exhibition. Be prepared to wait in line, but we think it’s worth it for such an amazing museum. Get in for free Mon-Sat from 6pm to 8pm and Sun and holidays from 5pm to 7pm. You can also visit for free on November 19 (the anniversary of the Prado) and the 18th of May (International Museum Day).

Museo Reina Sofía
© Museo Reina Sofía

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía

Museums Lavapiés

It’ll usually cost you €8 to get in to the Reina Sofía, but we’re here to tell you about the freebie days. Like with the Prado, there are certain days and times when – in exchange for waiting in line – you get to marvel at art without spending any money. Head over for free admission Mon-Sat (except Tue, when the museum is closed) from 7pm to 9pm as well as Sun from 3pm to 7pm. Entry is also free on April 18 and 27, May 17 and 18, October 12, and December 6.

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Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

Museums Centro

The private art collection of the late Baron Hans-Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza is considered one of the most important in the world, which is why general admission is usually €10. On Mondays from noon to 4pm, however, you can get access to the permanent collection absolutely free. 

La Casa Encendida

Museums Lavapiés

This venue is a one-stop-shop for your free art fix. It’s a multidisciplinary center designed to be a space for cultural exchange between emerging artists. You can find all genres of art, including performance art, music and video art, and there’s always something fun available for kids to enjoy. The centre also includes a fair-trade shop, a cafe, a library and classrooms.

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Centro Cultural Conde Duque

Attractions Historic buildings and sites Conde Duque

The Conde Duque is one of Madrid's most important cultural centres. Here, you’ll find shows, exhibitions, talks, book days and workshops of all sorts. Summertime brings outdoor concerts and theater productions, and many of the city’s important cultural institutions are headquartered here. 

Fernán Gómez Centro Cultural de la Villa

Attractions Recoletos

Behind the waterfall in Plaza Colónand below the Columbus monument, this cultural centre offers attractions of all colors. Think theatre productions, puppet shows, operas and zarzuelas in the summer, as well as art exhibitions, usually featuring important Hispanic artists.

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Moriarty

Art Chueca

Since its establishment in 1981, Lola Moriarty’s gallery has been a hotspot for artists on the Movida scene and a haven for the Spanish avant-garde and contemporary art. She features a lot of photographers, but you can also find video art, paintings and video art that adds a splash of freshness to Madrid’s sometimes-staid art world.

Observatorio Astronómico

Attractions Retiro

This observatory is Madrid’s finest neo-classical building and was designed by Juan de Villanueva. It’s free and open to the public on Fridays, and still contains a working telescope.

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Centro de Arte Moderno

Art Moncloa

A gallery, bookshop, publishing house and cultural centre all in one? Sign us up. Check out all this modern arte center and how it promotes artistic exchanges between Spain and Latin America through artistic endeavors.

Marlborough
© Marlborough

Marlborough

Art Alonso Martínez

Since opening in 1992, this museum has housed exhibits featuring many major Spanish artists, including Martín Chirino, Antonio López García, Blanca Muñoz and Luis Gordillo. With branches in London, New York, Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Santiago, this expansive space is not to be missed. 

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Fundación Juan March

Attractions

This cultural foundation was established by the wealthy financier Juan March in 1955 and remains one of the most formidable in Europe. The foundation hosts a few major exhibitions, and many works of contemporary art are also on permanent display. The foundation also schedules free concerts, jazz cycles, conferences and readings that are definitely worth a visit. 

Palacio de Velázquez

Attractions Historic buildings and sites Retiro

This brick and tile building is nestled amongst the trees of the Retiro and crowned by large iron and glass vaults. Similarly to the Palacio de Cristal, it’s a Reina Sofía annexe and boasts airy, natural galleries. You can always good temporary shows by different arists like Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin, Juan Muñoz and José Manuel Broto.

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Arnés y Röpke

Art Retiro

Owned by a Spanish/German duo, this gallery promotes abstract and figurative art and has brought European contemporary art into Spain while spreading Spain’s avant-garde art across the world. 

Nightclubs with no cover charge

Tupperware

Music Malasaña

Does a bar decorated with fake fur, Star Wars posters and 1970s psychedelia sound like your cup of tea? If so, read on. Tupperware is a lowkey bar serving up resonably priced drinks without a cover charge, and there’s always different kinds of music playing.

Tempo

Music Centro

A café by day and music venue at night, Tempo is one of our favourites for live acts and DJ sets in Madrid. Check out the club's website to find out about upcoming events or to purchase tickets for a show.   

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Honky Tonk

Music

Honky Tonk brings local country, blues and rock acts to Mdrid , and its own Gary Moore/Rolling Stones-influenced band performs regularly. Get here early (or elbow your way to the front), as you’ll want a good view of groups playing music from the 70s, 80s and 90s. 

La Fontana de Oro

Music Sol

The city’s oldest bar, La Fontana de Oro used to be one of the most iconic spots in Madrid. These days, it's an Irish pub. Although it isn’t anything special during the day, everything changes after nightfall. The room fills, energy builds and live music acts take the stage, making this a worthy stop on your night out. 

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The Passenger

Music Malasaña

Step inside the Passenger and you might be confused. You came in for a drink, but all the sudden you find yourself on a train. Don’t fret – the wide wooden seats and screens flashing landscapes were made to give the impression that you’re hurtling throught the countryside. Some evenings feature live music to accompany your drinks, and on Thursday evenings you can see all kinds of performances in this odd little spot.

Black Star

Music Barrio de Salamanca

At the end of Calle Serrano, practically on the corner of Príncipe de Vergara, you’ll find this classic bar for young, middle class kids who head here for hot music and unhinged fun. It doesn’t charge cover (unlike most of the other spots in the neighborhood) and drinks are reasonably priced.  

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Gris

Music Chueca

If you remember the 80s with a sort of melancholy nostalgia, a night at Gris will take you all the way back. Think cheap drinks, rock/punk concerts and techno vibes. It can get crowded on weekends, but don’t let that stop you from reveling in tunes that transport you to the era of John Hughes. 

Outdoor venues

El Retiro

Things to do

This 118-hectare park is one of our favorites in the city for a leisurely stroll, a picnic or a tour of the many monuments and museums within its limits. Check out the monument to Alfonso XII, the Casón del Buen Retiro, and the Palacio de Cristal, built for the 1887 Philippine Exposition. The gardens of the Retiro also boast a rose garden, the Casa de Vacas cultural centre, and numerous fountains and statues, including the famous Fallen Angel (Ángel Caído).

Madrid Río

Things to do Walks and tours Madrid

The roadworks everyone thought would never end to move the the M-30 motorway out of sight have finally been completed, and now it’s a pleasure to walk along the banks of the Manzanares. Loads of parks with swings, slides and the usual kiddie attractions are dotted along the five miles of this green space. There are jet fountains the little ones can play in and cool off in summer. Parents can take a break from all the commotion at the bars with terraces that line Madrid Río. Don't forget your bikes or skates – this is the perfect place to break ‘em out. 

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Casa de Campo

Things to do Casa de Campo

At over 1,722 acres, the Casa de Campo is Spain's largest green space. It dates back to 1553, when Felipe II moved his court to Madrid and bought the Vargas family’s country estate, which was later expanded through with the addition of surrounding farms. During the reign of Fernando VI it was declared a Royal Forest and continued to be crown land until the days of the Second Republic, when it became a place for public use.

The park has a large lake, where you can hire a boat or a kayak, sports facilities, numerous paths through the trees and bushes for running and cycling, and various leisure facilities like the famous cable car, an amusement park, the Zoo Aquarium, a fairground and the Madrid Arena. There are plenty of restaurants scattered throughout the park, mainly around the lake.

La Quinta de los Molinos

Things to do Walks and tours Ciudad Lineal

There is a park in Madrid that is unknown, even to many locals, where the almond trees bloom each spring. It's the Quinta de Los Molinos, in the El Salvador neighbourhood. Its 21.5 acres are home to a large number of olive, pine and eucalyptus trees, as well as various fountains and a lake. But the real stars of the show are the white and pink flowers on the almond trees, which give off a heady scent.

This garden once belonged to the Count of Torre Arias, but in 1920 became part of the estate of César Cort Boti, an engineer and architect. It was categorised as a historical park in 1997 and fills up with families playing ball games, couples of all ages, and groups of friends taking photos of the colourful trees with their mobile phones.

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El Capricho de la Alameda de Osuna

Attractions Parks and gardens Alameda de Osuna

In Alameda de Osuna in the district of Barajas, you'll find El Capricho (literally, 'The Whim'), a garden that is a jewel of Romanticism and a monument to 18th-century taste. Within its 14 hectares lie an artificial river, lakes, woods, gardens, simulations of temples and other surprising nooks. Building work was begun in 1780 on order of the Duke and Duchess of Osuna, the most cultivated couple among the aristocracy of their time, supporters of the ideas of the enlightenment and patrons to many artists. Jean-Baptiste Mulot, a French gardener who had worked for Marie Antoinette, was the head architect, though most of El Capricho is in the English style.

Jardines del Campo del Moro

Attractions Historic buildings and sites Centro

This vast garden was named after a Muslim leader in the Middle Ages, Ali Ben Yusut, who attempted to capture the fortress that is now the Palacio Real. Unfortunately, it is only accessible from the Paseo de la Virgen del Puerto side, requiring a fairly long walk down Cuesta de San Vicente or Cuesta de la Vega. As a reward, however, you'll find a quiet, leafy garden (in complete contrast to its surroundings) with two fine monumental fountains where you can see peacocks and forget about the outside world. The fountain nearest the palace is Los Tritones, originally made in 1657 for the palace in Aranjuez; the other is Las Conchas, designed in the 18th century by Ventura Rodríguez. Both were moved here in the 1890s.

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Parque Juan Carlos I

Attractions Parks and gardens Campo de las Naciones

This huge park, which was opened as a green space when Madrid became the European Capital of Culture in 1992, lies between the airport and the Feria de Madrid trade fair centre. Although its trees have taken some time to grow enough to offer shade, the different gardens here, like Tres Culturas, the artificial river, the attractions for children and the fountains, have all made it a favourite place at weekends in good weather. It's an especially good option on summer evenings when you can take a dip in running water and enjoy the show at its fountains.

Top Madrid restaurants

Restaurants

A selection of a dozen of the best Madrid restaurants with creative cuisine prepared by the city's top chefs Recommended restaurants La Cochera Even before you go inside, this place has a lot going for it, being located on a corner very near El Retiro. It’s run by the same folks behind the Commercial Salamanca gourmet store and is in one of the most interesting areas for tapas in Madrid. The restaurant's speciality is grilled meat, while the bar offers a balanced menu of tapas and small dishes. Weekday set lunch menu. El Pimiento Verde Next door to the touristy Mercado de San Miguel you’ll find a new representative of this much-loved restaurant chain. With an approach based on tradition and looking to the north of Spain for inspiration, this restaurant offers good value for money while serving well-prepared seasonal dishes. Make sure you try the artichoke flowers and look out for the dishes of the day. Jaleo Diners come here for a good time out and for what the menu calls 'Delicias'. Unpretentious but well-made dishes based on Spanish cuisine ranging from baby broad beans with octopus to an assortment of specialities from Cantabria. Takeaway and home-delivery services available. La Cantina de La Máquina The prestigious La Máquina group has been serving excellent products delivered straight from the country’s fishing ports for 30 years now. That’s why this establishment blending the characteristics of a bar, a restaurant and an Asturian cider house has won over a faithful clie

Best burgers in Madrid

Restaurants Burgers

Hamburgers aren't just fast food anymore but can be a true gastronomic delight. Find the restaurants and burger joints that make the best hamburgers in Madrid. The American import par excellence has undergone a huge transformation in recent years. So when in Madrid, don't settle for global fast food joints or giant themed restaurants casting shadows on Gran Vía in your quest for a great burger. Our hunt for perfect patties and fantastic fries turned up more than just those or snooty gourmet versions of the American classic (though a few of them as well). The obsession with fine ingredients that has gripped burger-makers in New York and London for the last few years has caught on in the Spanish capital too, with happy results: our list of the best burgers in Madrid (and where to get them) includes 1950s-style American diners, signature restaurant versions, and even experiments with (gulp!) zebra, proving that Spanish versions of US cuisines are much more than just a load of old carne picada. Zombie Bar Even if you're not hungry, it's worth stopping in for a drink if only for the decor and happy hipster fauna that inhabit Zombie Bar. If you add the large windows, tasty burgers and sandwiches, and ultra tempting cocktails to your anthropological study, you'd know it'd be a mistake not to approach. Also vegetarian- and vegan-friendly. Home Burger Bar If you're into organic food, you no longer have an excuse to avoid hamburgers. The meat and the bread used for buns

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Traditional cuisine

Restaurants Spanish

Find the best traditional restaurants in Madrid, where you can dig into local cuisine in authentic surroundings Recommended restaurants La Cochera Even before you go inside, this place has a lot going for it, being located on a corner very near El Retiro. It’s run by the same folks behind the Commercial Salamanca gourmet store and is in one of the most interesting areas for tapas in Madrid. The restaurant's speciality is grilled meat, while the bar offers a balanced menu of tapas and small dishes. Weekday set lunch menu. El Pimiento Verde Next door to the touristy Mercado de San Miguel you’ll find a new representative of this much-loved restaurant chain. With an approach based on tradition and looking to the north of Spain for inspiration, this restaurant offers good value for money while serving well-prepared seasonal dishes. Make sure you try the artichoke flowers and look out for the dishes of the day. Jaleo Diners come here for a good time out and for what the menu calls 'Delicias'. Unpretentious but well-made dishes based on Spanish cuisine ranging from baby broad beans with octopus to an assortment of specialities from Cantabria. Takeaway and home-delivery services available. La Cantina de La Máquina The prestigious La Máquina group has been serving excellent products delivered straight from the country’s fishing ports for 30 years now. That’s why this establishment blending the characteristics of a bar, a restaurant and an Asturian cider house has won over a faithful c

Best steakhouses

Restaurants Grills

Meat lovers, take note! When nothing else will do but a juicy steak or a barbecue done to perfection, turn to one of Madrid's best steakhouses. Most popular features 20 great things to do in Madrid Festivals, culture, cuisine… discover all the capital has to offer! 1. Walk along the Gran Vía The city's main tourist artery runs the famous Metrópolis building to the Plaza de España. Shops, bars and even a casino line this wide street that stretches for more than a kilometre. If you start walking at the Metrópolis building, with its stunning dome crowned by a bronze statue, the next landmark you'll come to is at Gran Vía 1, the address for Grassy jewellers since 1952. A bit further on, the Hotel de las Letras deserves a peek inside before you're wowed by the window display at the Loewe shop or stop to have a drink in the legendary Museo Chicote, which, despite its name, isn't a museum at all, though there is some art on the walls in the form of photos of celebrities who have passed through the swinging doors. The impressive Telefónica building kicks off the next leg, where clothing shops compete with each other to grab the eye, and the euros, of a wide variety of clientele. Look carefully ­- some of the shops are inside old cinemas that have long had to close their doors. Still showing films on the big screen, however, are the Palacio de la Prensa, Capital and Callao cinemas, in the square that divides this celebrated street. From here to Plaza de España theatres such as the Lo

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