Top 5 Activities in Madrid for Budget Travellers

Spain’s capital city, Madrid, is also the country’s largest city. Although very much a cosmopolitan and modern city; its look and feel is that of a magnificent historical city, with fascinating architecture, historic city gates, and public squares.

Part of Madrid’s allure is that regardless of your budget, there is no shortage of activities and attractions to visit. The attractions here are more specifically the top five attractions for budget travellers, as they are all free to visit. So this virtual tour of Madrid will include some background information, followed by a quick tour of Parque del Buen Retiro (Retiro Park), Almudena Cathedral, Plaza de la Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor and Gran Via.

Madrid is very easily accessible by air and train: Madrid’s Barajas Airport is linked to the metro (Linea 8) and city buses also stop at the airport. If you are travelling by train, Madrid is well served by two train stations; Atocha and Chamartin; which are connected to the metro system. If you plan on driving to Madrid, note that although the A1, A2, A3, A4, A5, A6 and A42 lead to Madrid, it’s best not to drive in the capital.
From Barajas Airport, one can use the metro to travel to the Puerta del Sol area of Old Madrid. Here you can get around very well on foot, or by using the metro, as well as the hop-on-hop-off bus; which covers both old and new Madrid.

Two very feasible day trips from Madrid include Toledo, which is about a 30 minute train ride south, and Segovia, which is also about a 30minute train ride, but north.

Crystal Palace, Retiro Park, Madrid
Within the boundaries of Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid’s most popular park; you will find walking paths, gardens, monuments, fountains, play areas, cafes, a lake, a pond, and the renowned Crystal Palace; which is its crowning jewel. It’s also possible to rent row boats in the lake facing the monument to Alfonso XII. If you love roses, you should visit the Rosaleda; a rose garden located in the southern area, and the park’s most beautiful garden.

You can spend an afternoon strolling along the lake and visiting the monument to Alfonso XII, an art exhibit, the Rosaleda and the Crystal Palace. There are quite a few benches along the walking paths if you feel like enjoying a picnic, or a coffee from one of the numerous cafes. It’s a great spot to enjoy the outdoors and perhaps listen to a few of the street musicians. Visiting Retiro Park is Madrid’s top budget activity and you can reach it on foot from the Puerta del Sol area. Needless to say, the photo ops here are literally everywhere you look.

La Catedral de la Almudena – Madrid’s Cathedral
Madrid’s Almudena Cathedral, officially “la Catedral de la Almudena”, is located across from the Royal Palace. The contemporary interior is of the Neo-Gothic style, while the exterior echoes the Baroque style of the Royal Palace. Completed in 1993, the construction of the cathedral took approximately 100 years.

Visitors will be struck by the magnificence of the cathedral, both inside and out, and enjoy the music being played on the Cathedral’s organ; to really enrich an experience, although just taking in the artwork and architecture would be fine.
You will be impressed by the immensity of the organ’s pipes, as well as the beauty of the colour and style of the Cathedral’s décor.

One can easily reach the Cathedral on foot from the Puerta del Sol area of Madrid, which is about a fifteen-minute walk from the heart of Old Madrid. There is no entrance fee to visit the Cathedral, making it a popular activity for visitors.

Puerta del Sol
Puerta del Sol; Madrid’s most well-known public square, is the heart of the city’s historical centre. If you are looking for a plaza in which to spend a bit of time; this is the place to be; you can take in the architecture (some of it French neo-classical), enjoy a snack or a coffee while watching the passers-by, or simply use it as a starting point for walks to other attractions. While you’re there, you can also see the equestrian statue of Carlos III. If you are looking for somewhere to have lunch or dinner; there are restaurants catering to all budgets and palates within steps of the plaza; just explore some of the cobblestone streets. There are also a lot of shops in the vicinity, including the renowned El Corte Ingles department store.

La Plaza de la Puerta del Sol is also a stop on one of the routes of the hop-on-hop-off bus tour and city buses also stop here. In the metro system, this stop is referred to as “Sol”. I highly recommend staying in this area if you’re planning a trip to Madrid, as it is very convenient, both in terms of public transit and walking distances to other attractions.

Historic Centre, Old Madrid
Plaza Mayor, a well-known public square in Madrid’s historic centre, is another spot where you can possibly enjoy listening to street musicians, or simply take advantage of the photo ops and watch the passers-by. It is located within a short walk from Puerta del Sol, making it easy to visit both plazas on the same day. Compared to Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor is not as busy and crowded. You can also see the equestrian statue of Felipe III.

Plaza Mayor, or Main Square; There are a lot of restaurants, upscale shops, and cafes around the plaza, but they are definitely not of the “budget” variety; that is, if you are looking for budget restaurants, you are better off heading to the area around Puerta del Sol.

La Gran Via
Madrid’s most well-known street is without a doubt La Gran Via (the Great Way), which stretches from Plaza de Alcala to Plaza de Espana. Although Gran Via is lined with all types of businesses including cafes, restaurants, theatres, ATMs and shops, the architecture is particularly interesting and alluring, with decorative features and statues. The renown Metropolis and Telefonica buildings are both on Gran Via.

The hop-on-hop-off tour buses make several stops along Gran Via, metro lines 1 and 5 each include a stop, and it is also part of the city bus network. It is easily accessible on foot from the Plaza de la Puerta del Sol. Note that although Gran Via is considered a “must-see”, traffic there is somewhat chaotic so pedestrians need to be particularly attentive.

Apart from the attractions mentioned here, there are also city gates, fountains, and statues, as well as other parks that you can visit free of charge.