Madrid on a budget

Madrid on a budget

Lately, I’ve come across numerous offers of cheap flights to Madrid and they’re especially low from autumn through to spring. It’d be a shame not to make the most of this, right? You can catch a flight to Madrid from many airports in Europe for less than 50. Of course, don’t get me wrong – you can spend all the money you have once you’re in Madrid – but it’s not at all necessary. I also think that a short trip to Madrid can turn out to be less expensive than say visiting Barcelona or other, super-popular European cities. I’m convinced that a pleasant weekend that doesn’t break your household budget is within reach and so I’ve prepared a few tips to you started.

1. Accommodation

Maybe this is going to come as a disappointment, but I can’t recommend any specific hotel. For the last 2 years, I have not had to stay in one and so any recommendations could turn out to be outdated. Of course, I suggest you take a traditional look at – there are hostels with private bathrooms right in the heart of the city for very reasonable prices. I guarantee that you’ll not be spending much time in your room in any case – life in Madrid is all about being on the street! There is also AirBnb, but do make sure to double check the reviews first! Also, consider mad4rent where you can find various apartments dotted around the city at reasonable prices, especially if you’re travelling as a family. Public transport in Madrid is excellent, and so don’t worry too much if you can’t find something really central, but note that it will cost you a few more € in transportation. The metro runs until 02:00, which means that the final trains leave around 01:30. That’s quite early per Madrid standards and so getting home via public transport could be a little problematic. And don’t worry too much about accommodation breakfast. In Spain, they tend to be quite basic and cheap, so you can eat anywhere.

Madrid on a budget

2. Transfers & transportation

Good news – Madrid Barajas Airport is actually in Madrid. This means that you can get to the city center for €2.60 (one way) using the suburban train, “Cercanías” (the train leaves terminal T4, but if you land at any other of the terminals, there is a free internal shuttle which quickly gets you to where you need to be) or for about €5 if you decide to go via Metro. If you arrive outside of the operating hours of either Cercanias or the Metro, but are staying in the center of town, you can use bus line 203 (overnight N27 Exprés Aeropuerto) to Cibeles or there is a €30 flat fee for taxis to and from Barajas airport. If you end up staying in the city center, you really won’t need to use public transport too much, as you can walk to most places, although in some cases this will be more for those who genuinely like to wander around the city. Personally, I think it’s a shame to go down in to the Metro, as there is so much to see over-ground! In the era of free roaming and google maps, you can’t get lost.

Whilst not strictly transport related, note that the “Opera” metro station includes the Caños del Peral Museum of Archaeology, which is accessible for free if you have a valid metro ticket. Open from Friday to Sunday, 11.00 – 13.00 and 17.00-19.00.

Madrid on a budget

3. Food

As mentioned, the traditional Spanish breakfast is quite basic. Usually, this will be toast with olive oil and tomatoes as well as coffee or churros with hot chocolate. Both versions should cost you no more than €3-4. The most important meal for those on a budget is the famous “meal of the day” (Spanish: “menú del día”) set menu, which is offered in most places from Monday to Friday at lunch time (around 13:00/14:00). For about €10-15 you’ll get a two course meal with a drink (water, wine or beer) as well as a desert or coffee. I really recommend that you give this consideration, as a la carte dining will cost you at least twice as much. Most meals of the day will offer 3 options for starter and main course (usually meet and fish). The bad news for vegetarians is that you really have to go to a vegan restaurant (I recommend “Vega”) as typical bars will have limited options for you. Many restaurants and bars do not, however, offer meal of the day over the weekend, but those that do normally charge a little more (€15-20).

Being in Madrid, you have to try seafood. The budget approach would be to try it in the form of tapas in one of the several food markets dotted around the city (you select small portions from the options they have available – and the selection is quite huge and not just limited to seafood). A second option would be to order several dishes in the traditional “para compartir” (English: “To share”) format. This is the way in which Spaniards usually eat when they go to dinner – you pick several dishes which are set out in the middle of the table so that everyone can try (in these cases, the bill is usually then split equally between the participants). In our case, we usually end up with “Pulpo a la Gallega” (Gallegan style octopus – slices laid out on a bed of potatoes, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with paprika and coarse sea salt), “Chipirones” (small cuttlefish, usually fried with garlic and onions) and vegetarian “Patatas Bravas” (Fried potatoes with a lightly spicy tomato and/or garlic sauce) as well as an “Ensalada queso de cabra” (Goat’s cheese salad, usually served with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and a thick balsamic dressing). Also, the traditional and much loved Spanish “Tortilla Española” is well worth a try (fried potatoes which are then cooked together with beaten eggs) and often available as a “Tapa” or “Pincho” (“piece” or “slice”).

A glass of wine or beer will cost you around €2-3,5 and when you order, you’ll usually get a free tapa in the form of olives and/or crisps, although some bars will be more generous and serve a small sandwich or rice dish. Make sure to set aside a good budget for this as hopping from bar to bar and plaza to plaza for a drink and tapa is all part of the Madrid experience, which you just can’t miss!

If, for whatever reason, you take the drastic decision to stick to fast food, give the Spanish chain “100 Montaditos” a go – small sandwiches and beers even for every budget, with special offers on different days.

Madrid on a budget

4. Visiting

A lot of the visiting that you’ll do in Madrid involves walking and admiring its architecture and parks. The museums, however, can’t be missed. Ticket prices average around €10 per person, but many of the largest attractions can be visited for free, provided you know when to go and are willing to stand in line. For example:

The Royal Palace offers free entry from Monday to Thursday from 16:00-18:00 (October – March) and 18:00-20:00 (April – September);

The Prado art museum from Monday to Saturday from 18:00-20:00 and 17:00-19:0 on Sundays and public holidays;

The Museo de Reina Sofía on Mondays and from Wednesday to Saturday from 19:00-21:00 as well as on Sundays from 13:30-19:00.

Remember to take an ID card or passport, as free entry is only for EU citizens. If you’re interested in going to other museums, their websites will provide you with information if and when free entry is available. If you decide to buy a ticket for any attraction, it’s worthwhile getting them online, as that way you won’t waste unnecessary time waiting in line.

It’s well worthwhile admiring the Madrid from above, and the terrace of the Palacio Cibeles, right in the heart of the city, is a good option with an entry fee of only €2. Free views can be admired from the Parque de las Siete Tetas (most beautiful at sunset), although its located somewhat away from the city center and so it’s best to take the metro there. On the other side of the city, you can enjoy panoramic views of the Royal Palace and Cathedral from the hilltops of the Casa de Campo park.

Madrid on a budget

5. Trips

The most popular places to visit around Madrid are Toledo and Segovia. Getting to Toledo by bus costs only around €6 one way and €8 to Segovia. The Cercanías suburban train will get you to Alcalá de Henares (the hometown of Cervantes, see more here) for around €4 or to Aranjuez (Royal estates and gardens) for a similar fare.

I’m guessing that I’ve convinced you that a few days in Madrid shouldn’t break the bank. Are you buying your tickets yet?

Madrid on a budget


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