Magical Madrid, a Surprising Budget Destination

Madrid Skyline

One of the most shocking things about Madrid is how affordable it is, especially for a major Western European city. Compared with places like Paris, London, and even some of the surrounding cities in Spain, Madrid struck us as an absolute bargain.


Art Hostal Madrid Hotel Room

We couldn’t have asked for a more centrally located hotel than the Art Hostal Madrid. A 15 minute walk in one direction gets you to the world-class Prado Museum. A 15 minute walk in the other takes you to the Royal Palace.

For more distant excursions, the Tirso de Molina metro stop is only a half-block away. The Number 1 line that stops there directly connects both of Madrid’s train stations. You can also use that line to go to the airport with a couple of transfers.

Our quaint and clean double room ran us only 40 Euros per night for a mid-week (and possibly off-season) rate.

Dining In

Great wine, dirt cheap in Madrid's Supermarcados

Great wine at dirt cheap prices on Madrid’s supermarket shelves.

There’s no better way to save a buck when traveling than to prepare your own meals. Even when your accommodations lack a kitchen, or even a refrigerator – as ours did – it’s still possible to utilize local markets.

We found two grocery stores brimming with inexpensive food just a block away from our hotel. We grabbed a €2 bottle of wine, a €0.70 baguette, €1.50 package of salami & chorizo, some fruit and had an awesome picnic dinner for two for under €6. Some yogurt, grapefruit and a bag of muesli we are still eating a week later made a delicious €1 per person breakfast.

Dining Out

Wine and Tapas in Madrid

Small tapas served gratis with drink orders at Malaspina and elsewhere, but not necessarily everywhere.

One of our travel hang-ups is that we have high standards when it comes to restaurant meals. We want them to be healthy. We want them to be cheap. And we want them to be awesome. Basically we want everything we can get from our own kitchen. Finding any one of those things at restaurants in an unfamiliar city is difficult. Finding all three is nearly impossible.

At first we struck out completely. Following Lonely Planet’s advice we went to Madrid’s La Latina quarter where we encountered brightly lit, very fashionable, and fairly expensive tapas joints that weren’t really our speed. We had better luck in an area just south of Puerta del Sol. There we found darker taverns that seemed more at home among Madrid’s ancient streets.   

We can’t say we achieved total success here either, but we did find food both cheap and awesome at Taberna Malaspina (wanting something absolutely healthy as well may be asking a bit much in the land of salted pork).

Pallea Mixta

It’s at Malaspina where we discovered the caña, a small draught beer served only at the bar. The beauty of la caña is that it is often accompanied by an appetizer sized portion of food. A bite and a beverage for €1.10 is hard to beat.  

We eventually graduated to wine (€1.60-€3.00 per glass, also delivered with a complementary appetizer) and were delighted by Malaspina’s healthy pours. We were similarly surprised by the size of their tapas (€3-€5), three of which easily made a dinner for two.

A better deal, though, are some of Malaspina’s meals. We had an entire half-chicken, deliciously prepared, with a side of fried potatoes for €5.50. Or some mixed paella, overflowing with shellfish and assorted meats, for €6.50. That’s about half the price we’ve seen elsewhere.

Free Nights at the Prado

Free night at the Prado

Ticket stub confirming my €0 admission price to the world famous Prado museum

Every night is a free night at one of Europe’s premier art museums. Museo del Prado’s normally steep €14 general admission fee is waived Monday through Saturday from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM and on Sundays from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM.

We arrived on a weeknight a few minutes before 6:00 and were originally dismayed by a line that stretched around the building. At the stroke of six, though, the line began to move at surprising speed. Our original dismay turned into amazement at the efficiency with which the Prado’s staff distributed tickets, screened bags, and got us into the museum maybe ten minutes past the hour.

Oh, and the art. The Prado only contains one of the world’s best Goya collections and possibly the best Spanish art collection anywhere. For that level of quality you really can’t beat the price, especially when that price is free.

Free Nights at the Reina Sofia

If Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali and other 20th century masters are more to your liking, then the Reina Sofía has got just what you’re looking for. And every night from 7:00-9:00 general admission is free (except Tuesdays when the museum is closed and Sundays when free entry is between 3:00 and 7:00).

Madrid Architecture and Street Life – Free Every Day

Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor

Just wandering the age-old streets of Madrid is an event worth savoring. We spent five days in Madrid and never tired of just walking its crooked avenues, marveling at its architecture, and enjoying its plazas.  

The Buen Retiro Park

King Alfonso XII Statue in Buen Retiro Park, Madrid

King Alfonso XII Statue in Buen Retiro Park, Madrid

You don’t need a lot of money, or any money for that mater, to while away your days in a royal garden. That’s especially true now that the Spanish monarchy turned one of its best into Madrid’s Buen Retiro public park.

Landscaped to fit a royal palace, the park is crisscrossed with well-manicured paths and speckled with rose gardens and beds of other assorted flowers. The greenery is pretty enough to keep you occupied for an afternoon, but several structures also vie for attention.

A Walk in Buen Retiro Park

A towering tribute to King Alfonso XII, and its spectacular colonnade, looms over an artificial pond. It’s hard to tell from ground level whether the lofty king’s expression is altogether approving of the mass of commoners rowing boats in the pond beneath him and his steed.

Another nearby pond reflects a steel and glass pavilion inspired by London’s Crystal Palace.

Buen Retiro Park Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace

In between the two ponds sits our favorite building in the park, the Palacio de Valezquez. Its neoclassical, red-brick-and-tile façade belies a modern interior of pure white. Colorful contemporary artwork adorns those blazing white walls in what is yet another free museum.

Art at Madrid's Palacio de Valezquez

Art and arches at Madrid’s Palacio de Valezquez

It turns out that Western Europe doesn’t have to bust your budget. In Madrid we found a magnificent city of wonderfully welcoming people surrounded by the great sights and world-class attractions you’d expect from any major European city, only at prices you can afford.

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20 Comments on “Magical Madrid, a Surprising Budget Destination”

  1. Sam April 11, 2014 at 9:51 am #

    I absolutely agree! Madrid really is a pleasant surprise in this way. I really like the idea of visiting a museum like the Prado in the evening, as I think I’d have much more energy to appreciate it then rather than mid afternoon after lunch when I would’ve done such things in the past, but I’d rather just have a nap…and it being free just makes it more enticing!


  2. Dianne Burns April 11, 2014 at 10:02 am #

    Great, informative post with super pics! Thanks for letting me tag along. Madrid is on my bucket list and thanks to you I know it’s also within my budget.


  3. digger666 April 11, 2014 at 12:38 pm #

    Reblogged this on digger666.


  4. Forget the Viagra...Pass me a Carrot! April 11, 2014 at 12:41 pm #

    We live in Madrid and certainly eating out and having coffee can be very reasonable. Also food prices in supermarkets are about a third less than in the UK and a lot less than in Ireland – however utilities if you live here such as gas, electric, broadband and water are more expensive – great for a weekend and lots to see in the city and in a 30 kilometre radius with very cheap train fares.


    • Brian April 15, 2014 at 6:31 am #

      A carrot, huh? Nice improv. 😉

      We get your point about the cost of utilities and such – things that we don’t really encounter as travelers. But at least mobile service is reasonable. We picked up an Orange SIM card wth 1GB of data for 15 Euro per month. Back in the states we paid 40 euros for our cell service.


  5. danceofdemocracyindia April 11, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

    Great Pics, be it food, outdoor or indoor. Not being in Madrid, looks like missing a lot.
    ‘dod’ Rangers


    • Brian April 15, 2014 at 6:32 am #

      It was the perfect place to start for us.


  6. writecrites April 11, 2014 at 5:07 pm #

    I hope you’re planning to write a travel book—giving us all these great tips—as you go through your European adventure. Better start now. I’ll need it in a couple of years when we come to live in Europe after retirement.


    • Brian April 15, 2014 at 6:33 am #

      A book is a definite possibility. We just need to take a break from all the great stuff we’re doing and actually work on it.


      • writecrites April 19, 2014 at 4:59 pm #

        And therein lies the conundrum. Please just have it ready for our trip. lol


  7. Reveries of Forevers April 12, 2014 at 8:35 am #

    I agree. I miss Madrid!


  8. hermitsdoor April 12, 2014 at 5:40 pm #

    We stayed in about the same neighborhood in Madrid, by your description. We laughed every morning (being early rises) to hear the garbage truck banging away at the dumpster bins in the back alley. Yes, the parks, museums, historic buildings are worth the visits, though we did not do the evening free-be’s as you did. We even enjoyed a bottle of wine and meal in Plaza Mayor, with that same decorative wall above us.


  9. Carol Balawyder April 12, 2014 at 10:33 pm #

    Thanks for the beautiful memories. 🙂


  10. The Earth Beneath My Feet April 14, 2014 at 7:18 am #

    An awesome post. I’ll have to stop in Madrid when I do the Camino one day 🙂


  11. jmeyersforeman April 17, 2014 at 3:14 am #

    we are off to Madrid on Friday, thanks for the recommendations. We have spent a week in Salamanca, also a beautiful city!


    • Brian April 17, 2014 at 4:57 am #

      We didn’t make it to Salamanca on this trip 😦 tough choices need to be made with so much to do and so little time. Something to look forward to, though. 🙂



  1. La Almudena Cathedral | Everywhere Once - April 16, 2014

    […] Almudena Cathedral is another place that should have appeared in our Madrid on a Budget post. The church has no set admission but asks visitors for a 2 Euro donation. It’s well […]


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