Picking a favorite European capital is hard, but Madrid definitely tops our list.
Spain's biggest and most happening city has it all: great shopping, fabulous food, and enough monuments and museums to keep you busy all day long. The best part? You don't even need to spend any money to enjoy some of the city's greatest treasures.
Whether you're traveling on a shoestring budget or just want to enjoy a casual no-spend day, here are some of the best free things to do in Madrid that will take your stay from "good" to "absolutely unforgettable."
Relax in Retiro Park
Renting a boat in the grandiose lake that forms the centerpiece of Retiro Park will obviously cost you, but you don't need to pay a cent to enjoy the park itself.
Located just east of the city center at the end of Calle Alcalá, Madrid's most famous green space draws thousands of visitors each year for good reason. But don't let the number of people scare you off if you're looking to escape the crowds. The park is large enough that it doesn't feel too overwhelming, and you'll be able to enjoy a relaxing walk in relative peace.
Learn Something New at a Museum
Madrid is famous for its trio of museums known as the "Golden Triangle of Art": the Prado, the Reina Sofía, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza. While all three charge an entry fee most of the time, they each have special free hours throughout the week. Lines can be quite long, so be sure to show up early to get a spot at the front.
Additionally, several other Madrid museums offer free entry all the time. Check out our complete guide to free museums in Madrid and start planning your route.
Explore a Famous Plaza
Madrid—and Spain in general—is full of picturesque plazas. Luckily, both of Madrid's two most famous squares are easily within reach of each other.
First up is Puerta del Sol, home to the famous bear and tree statue as well as Kilometer 0, which marks the exact geographic center of Spain. If you're craving a sweet pick-me-up, swing by Pastelería La Mallorquina on the western edge of the square for one of their famous chocolate napolitanas. It's not free, but trust us—it's worth it.
As you eat your pastry, make your way down Calle Mayor to the second of Madrid's must-visit squares. Plaza Mayor is perhaps the most iconic symbol of Madrid there is. While it's more of a tourist hangout than a local space these days, the impressive design of the square will take your breath away.
Go Back in Time at Metro Chamberi
The Chamberí station of the Madrid metro was inaugurated in 1919. For the next few decades, it remained a crucial stop on the city's original subway line.
Until it fell into gradual disuse, that is. The station was closed in the 1960s and remained abandoned for decades.
A restoration project in the 2000s transformed the station to its former glory. Today, it's open as a living reminder of what public transportation in Madrid was like in the 1920s. Also known as Andén Cero, the Chamberí station is free to visit and provides a fun, off-the-beaten-path alternative to the typical tourist sights.
Window Shop in Barrio Salamanca
Anyone who knows anything about Madrid's elegant Barrio Salamanca will tell you that it's the city's top shopping district. Indeed, most of the major fashion houses in the world have stores here, making it the undisputed king of style when it comes to Madrid barrios.
Obviously, buying something at one of these major fashion retailers is far from free. But window shopping here can be a fun way to spend an afternoon away from the crowds of central Madrid. The neighborhood is located north of the center and is mainly residential, so you'll be joined on your stroll by Spanish families enjoying the fabulous Madrid weather.
Visit a Piece of Ancient Egypt at the Temple of Debod
Yes, you read that right. A verifiable treasure of the ancient world can be found right here in Madrid.
The Temple of Debod was given to Spain as a gift from the Egyptian government in 1968. As a result, it was completely deconstructed, moved piece by piece to Madrid, and rebuilt. It's one of just four Ancient Egyptian temples in the world located outside its ancestral homeland, and it's absolutely free.
The temple is located about a 10-minute walk north of the Royal Palace. Come at sunset for an especially stunning view you'll remember for years to come.
Go Treasure Hunting At El Rastro
Calle de la Ribera de Curtidores and the surrounding streets become a massive open-air secondhand shop, with vendors selling all kinds of unique knickknacks and antiques. You don't even need to buy anything to enjoy your time here. Just spend an hour or two wandering among the stalls and checking out the bizarre finds—this place is proof that one man's trash is another man's treasure.
See a Stunning View at El Corte Inglés
Just down the street, hundreds of eager visitors flock to the Círculo de Bellas Artes building and its famous rooftop terrace. The problem: it's crowded, and even just getting up to the top costs four euros (that's before you even buy one of the pricy drinks).
That's not the case at the El Corte Inglés department store in Plaza Callao. Head up to the ninth floor, where you'll find not only the massive Gourmet Experience—a foodie paradise unlike any other—but a terrace offering similar views over Gran Vía. You can certainly grab a bite to eat or a drink if you'd like, but access to the terrace itself is absolutely free.
Stroll Down Gran Vía
Don't go too far after you've experienced that amazing view. You're right in the heart of Madrid's most happening street: Gran Vía itself.
It's busy, loud, and crowded, but a trip to Madrid wouldn't be complete without a stroll down its most central avenue. The architecture lining both sides of the street is breathtaking, and well worth braving the masses of people to marvel at.
Check Out a New Park
Everyone loves Retiro, but let's head south of the city center for a moment. In the few years it's been open, Madrid Río has become the place to spend a casual Saturday afternoon among the local crowd.
The park—named after the river it's built alongside—is impeccably designed, and provides plenty of fun for visitors of all ages. Part of it even becomes a "beach" in warmer months—a welcome solution to the only real complaint madrileños have about their inland city.
See What’s On at La Tabacalera
A onetime tobacco factory that's been converted into one of Madrid's coolest cultural spaces, La Tabacalera is a must-visit. This unique locale hosts everything from art exhibitions to live performances, and entrance is completely free.
You'll find this fascinating center in the Palos de la Frontera neighborhood, just north of Metro Embajadores.
Learn About Spain's Government at the Congreso de los Diputados
The Palacio Real may be the official residence of Spain's royal family, but when it comes to official government matters, look to the Congreso de los Diputados.
Built in the mid-19th century and easily recognizable thanks to the famous lions that flank its front entrance, this distinguished building is proof that government headquarters don't have to be stuffy and stale. If you're up for learning something new, join one of the free guided group tours offered throughout the week.