Want to fall in love with the fashion capital of Spain on a budget? With this collection of places to go and experiences to dive into, it won’t be long before you are saying Madrid, te quiero!
The most expensive part of a European vacation for Americans is the plane ticket. Even with the cost, it still causes anxiety for a lot of people to make the voyage across the entire Atlantic Ocean! For the best prices on airfare from the States, check out:
- The Clark Howard website This site is fantastic–it is always up to date, and has a long list of flight deals and for how long they last. Often there is a great deal to Madrid for around $800-$900 round trip from Atlanta.
- Kayak is another great resource. Some of the deals are cheap because there is an extra long layover, or because there are only a few seats left, and if you see a deal, snag it immediately! Prices fluctuate quickly.
Where to stay
The Hat Hostel Madrid is an excellent blend of comfort, chic, and cheap–great for travelers of all ages who want the fun atmosphere of a hostel, but the quiet and cleanliness of a hotel. It is the only hotel in Spain that is run on biomass, meaning that it is eco-friendly and cute. The best part is a complimentary complete breakfast buffet of various breads, fruits, and yogurts with your pick of nutella or guava spreads. (And of course, coffee and tea!) You can make reservations through a third party site like Hostelworld.com, but if you book directly on The Hat’s website, they give you a voucher for a free drink on their rooftop bar upon your arrival.
What to do (under $5)
The best part about Madrid is that there is so much to do on a budget. And with the euro being about equal to the American dollar (bad news for Europe, great for travelers!), spending money hurts a little less. Here are some ideas for saving money and seeing the city:
- Want a FREE walking tour that shows you the key parts of the city and explains the history? Meet in Puerta del Sol at 11am OR 5pm every day to go on a MADRide Free walking tour. The tours are given in English or Spanish at 11am, and only English at 5pm, but the guides are usually from another country, so you might get a guide that speaks another language if English or Spanish is not what you want to hear. The guides are excellent and they have a knack for storytelling. They want you to love the city as much as they do. There is a break in the middle of the three hour tour for a famous Spanish shot of alcohol in a chocolate cup. (Free, tips recommended.)
- Sandeman’s New Europe is another free walking tour company that has branches in Madrid, London, Paris, and a few other European cities. Their tours are always fun, and the guides really know their history. They have other tours as well, like a tapas crawl, a a pub crawl, and niche tours, like a Spanish Inquisition tour that are priced between $5 and $12. (Walking tour Free, tips recommended.)
- El Retiro Park is an enormous chunk of green space and trails in the center of Madrid. Meander along the park and find ice cream for $1, then head over to the lake and rent a row boat for $7 for 45 minutes(per boat–so grab it with two or three people). Then go on the search for the crystal palace, an annex of the famous Reina Sofia Museum, hidden among the trees. There is usually a free exhibit inside.
- Museo Reina Sofia is one of my favorite museums. Even for people who do not
enjoy museums, it is difficult not to “feel” something with the passionate and creative exhibits of politically charged art. Each section of floor is dedicated to a country or region and has art related to struggles that society has faced. In the America section, there is a heart wrenching portrayal of racism and social class through photography and mixed media. The museum is also home to a few Pablo Picasso paintings, including the famous Guernica that is a depiction of the Spanish civil war. This is a must see. (Free Mon., Wed. through Sat. 7pm-9pm, Sun. 1:30pm-7pm. Closed Tuesday.)
- Prado Museum is a massive collection of art history. Home to Spanish and
international art from before America was even thought of, the uniqueness of fine are can be overwhelming. While most of the masterpieces have a religious meaning, the brushstrokes and colors are provocative and inviting up close.Home to pieces by Picasso and El Greco, it is amazing that art this old can still be impressionable and relevant in today’s time. The Prado is also home to Las Meninas, a famous oil painting by Velazquez, depicting a young girl being tended to. The artist plays with perspective, creating layers of the story using the depiction of light. Must see for art lovers and anyone who calls themselves an artist. (Free 6pm-8pm, Sundays 5pm-8pm.)
What to do (under $20)
Want to see the tourist attractions without shelling buckets of money to third party companies? Here is a list of touristic experiences without the big red bus and half-working audio guides.
- See the ancient tradition of bullfighting at the famous bullfight ring of Las Ventas in Madrid. It is the most amazing piece of theatre I have ever seen, with an active crowd and shiny costumes, it feels like you have gone back in time to watch a game of literal life and death. Nervous about watching your steak get tortured and killed? Check out my emotional bullfight post and then decide if it is right for you. Tickets range from 5euros to 100euros and with the controversy of animal rights, the fights are almost never sold out. You can buy cheap tickets in the shade right before the fight at the Las Ventas bullring. As it is father from the rest of Madrid, take the metro to the stop “Las Ventas” on line 1 or 2. Metro tickets are about $2. ($5-$100; seat cushions available for 2euros at the event.)
Where to shop
Shopping is excellent for short people in Madrid–because everyone is short there! As someone who is 5’2”, I have some serious issued finding cute clothes that fit me in America. So the first time I went shopping in Madrid, I was overjoyed at the fact that something actually fit me! As Madrid is the fashion capital of Spain, it is easy to blow a lot of money on cute clothes if you are not careful, but there are hundreds of options to shop without singlehandedly regenerating Spain’s economy!
- There are loads of cute independent boutiques (tiendas) lining all the major streets in Madrid. They sell dresses and blouses for 5-10 euros and are unique and chic. Make sure you brush up on your Spanish so that you can ask to try them on.
- La Casa Hernanz is one of the best kept shopping secrets. Located right off Plaza
Mayor, it is easy to miss this small espadrille shop, but there is usually a line out the door later in the day. Each pair of shoes is handmade and easy to wear, and they are only priced 5-10euros. They sell all sizes and colors, and some are wedges or have Spanish national colors.
- Gran Via is the main shopping street in Madrid. There are stores side-by-side for as far as the eye can see, and I personally have never started on one end and made it to the other in one day. There are expensive stores, but there are also prêt-à-porter stores like H&M and Zara.
- H&M (Hennes & Maurtiz) might be in America, but it is astonishingly more fabulous in Europe. With several locations in Madrid, the one on Gran Via is a whopping three stories high with cute, affordable clothes. It is laid out well and easy to get around, but also easy to lose your friends in!
- Zara also has several locations in Madrid, and is a Spanish company. Zara organizes its clothes by price, so certain floors will be expensive, but other floors will be affordable. Great for business casual.
- El Corte Ingles is the craziest place you will step foot into. With the feel of a small store, it is actually a huge department store. It takes up an entire block on Puerta del Sol, and prices are hit or miss. It is uniquely Spanish, so even if you are overwhelmed with the amount of merchandise or crowds of people, you have to step in and see it.
- (Sfera) is cheap and perfect for finding business casual clothes. Similar to H&M and Zara, it has a boutique feel but a big selection. There is one right across from El Corte Ingles.
Where to eat and drink
- El Tigre is a cheap place to eat and drink, according to the locals. Locals love it, backpackers love it, why not enjoy a cheap meal and beer? Tip: The Spanish drink beer, one of the favorite brands being San Miguel. At El Tigre, order a beer (una cerveza) and lots of tapas and be prepared to talk to some Madrileñas!
- Secret Rooftop Bar at the Hat Hostel is a perfect place to escape from the hot
and bustling streets of Madrid while still remaining in the heart of Plaza Mayor, near the city center. Enjoy some Sangria, which is a mix of red wine, white wine, tequila, fruit, and sugar stirred together and served over ice. Relax among the rooftops and unwind after your day.
- There are many tapas restauarants lining the streets of Madrid. Avoid major places of attraction like Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol where they charge way too much, and search for smaller restaurants in smaller streets. Some places do specials where everything on the menu is 1euro, including drinks. Tapas is a Spanish specialty, where everyone orders a small plate of something and then it is shared, family style. In Spain, the restaurants do not do “split checks,” so be prepared to share and keep a running tab of who pays for what meal. The must-have tapas are:
- Patatas Bravas: chunks of potatoes fried and served with a creamy, subtle white sauce and a spicy red sauce.
- Pan Catalan: pieces of baguette bread with a gazpacho spread, drizzled with some fresh Spanish olive oil.
- Jamon Iberico: thin slices of delicious Iberian ham, usually served with slices of cheese.
- Chocolateria de San Gines is a heaven for sugar lovers and a must-do for food
lovers! Built in Madrid in 1894, this chocolateria is famous for its chocolate con churros. The recipe is the oldest in Spain and the place is always crowded with locals and tourists alike. It is open 24hours a day (excellent after a night out!) and is always classy. You can find it on the calle San Gines near Puerta del Sol.
- Need something to wash all this delicious food down? If you would like tap water, order agua del grifo. If you just say “agua” then they will bring you $7 sparkling water. However, it is cheaper to drink beer or wine than water in Spain, so here is a list of must-try drinks:
- Cerveza San Miguel: This classic Spanish beer is a staple in all restaurants in Madrid. It is not “great” beer, but it satisfies.
- Tinto de Verrano: Sparkling red wine that comes out of a tap is both refreshing and comforting in the heat of the Iberian sun.