Free can be fun! Put away your wallet and get ready to have an amazing time exploring Spain’s capital city. Here are 10 absolutely amazing free things to do in Madrid. See the top sites in the city, experience the culture, history and some of the best art museums in the world without spending a cent. Note: We visited Madrid as part of a G Adventures tour. We loved that they give you an orientation and a short tour and then leave plenty of time for exploring on your own.
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Related: Check out our post about hiking Mount Vesuvius near Naples, Italy – an amazing experience that is also almost free.
Explore Puerta del Sol
Puerta del Sol is one of the busiest public squares in all of Spain and exploring it is one of the best free things to do in Madrid. Day or night there is always something going on. Street performers and musicians perform in the square and it’s a great place for people watching. Be sure to take a picture of the Bear and the Madrono Tree Statue at the corner of the square. It’s the iconic symbol of Madrid. Puerta del Sol is the very heart of the city. You’ll also want to put your feet on the tile that marks “kilometre 0” on the floor of the square. All roads in Spain are measured from this point. You’ll find the tile in front of the regional government building on the south side of the square.
Take a Selfie with Phillip III
A few blocks from Puerto del Sol is the original Main Square of Old Madrid. In the 15th century, Plaza Mayor was home to the main market in town. In 1561, when King Phillip II moved his court to Madrid, he ordered the square to be renovated as part of a plan to make Madrid the new capital city of Spain. Construction on the new square did not begin until 1617 during Phillip III’s rein. A bronze statue of Phillip III that was created in 1616 by Jean Bologne sits in the middle of the square. Did you know? Toledo was the first capital of Spain.
Watch the Changing of the Guard at the Royal Palace
The Palacio Real de Madrid or Royal Palace of Madrid is the largest functioning royal palace in Europe. Watching the changing of the guard ceremony is one of the best free things to do in Madrid. There are two versions – the Solemn Changing of the Guard and the Weekly Changing of the Guard. The Solemn Changing of the Guard is a massive ceremony that takes place the first Wednesday of the month at noon (most months). The Weekly Changing of the Guard takes place every Wednesday and Saturday at 11:00 am. There are sentries and horses, drummers and pipers and all the pomp and ceremony on a smaller scale.
Explore the Grounds – Royal Palace and Catedral de la Almudena
If you want to go inside the Royal Palace of Madrid or the Almudena Cathedral behind it, you have to pay a fee. Strolling the grounds of both sites is high on our list of free things to do in Madrid. You can get great pictures of the palace from the grounds and feel like royalty when you explore the beautiful Sabotini Gardens.
Make Like a Foodie at Mercado de San Miguel
The Market of San Miguel was originally built in 1916, but today it is a gourmet tapas market that is very popular with tourists. Buying food and wine in the market will cost money, but wandering through it is completely free. You can get great food pictures along the way.
Explore Retiro Park
One of the largest public parks in Madrid, the Spanish name of this park is quite a mouthful – Parque del Buen Retiro. In English it means “Park of the Pleasant Retreat” and this park definitely lives up to its name. It belonged to the Spanish monarchy until the late 19th century when it became a public park. The park covers 125 hectares and contains more than 15,000 trees -including what is believed to be the oldest tree in Madrid. There are shady trails, a large lake, lovely gardens, statues and architectural elements. It’s one of the city’s top attractions and one of the best free things to do in Madrid.
Visit the Prado Museum
The Spanish National Art Museum is one of the finest art museums in the entire world. It contains the best collection of Spanish art in the world and important works from other European artists from the 12th century to the early 20th century. Museo Nacional del Prado offers free admission Monday to Saturday from 6 pm to 8 pm and on Sundays and holidays from 5 pm to 7 pm. Lineups for free tickets are very long, but the line moves quickly. It only took us 15 minutes to get our tickets and get inside the museum during July. It was even faster when we visited in April. This tops our list of the best free things to do in Madrid.
Pose by a Living Wall
There are many random free things to do in Madrid and this is one of them. We found this wall on the side of a building when we were walking between the Prado Museum and the Reina Sofia Museum. It’s on the side of the road opposite the park.
Explore the Reina Sofia Museum
Spain’s national museum of 20th century art is free from 7 pm to 9 pm on Mondays and Wednesday to Saturday. On Sundays, entrance is free from 1:30 to 7 pm. It’s also free all day on April 18, May 18 and October 12. This museum contains one of the world’s largest collections of modern and contemporary art. Visiting the Reina Sofia Museum is an amazing free thing to do in Madrid, because you can see works by Pablo Piccasso, Salvador Dali and many more world-renowned artists. Don’t miss seeing Picasso’s Guernica. Some people believe it is his greatest work. It depicts an important and sad event in Spanish history. Did You Know? Former US President Barack Obama visited the Reina Sofia museum with Spain’s King Felipe VI in 2018. The king gave the former president a book about Guernica with a personal dedication.
Stroll Gran Via
The Gran Via is Madrid’s most famous street. It’s often depicted in films or mentioned in books. Translated the street name means “The Great Way.” The street is lined with numerous shops and is one of Madrid’s most important shopping districts.
Celebrate the Free Things to do in Madrid with Something That’s Almost Free
In Madrid, you must try churros and chocolate. It’s a rule. The best place to have this delicious combination is at Chocolatería San Ginés, This is Madrid’s oldest chocolateria and it has been in business since 1894. A cup of steamy hot, thick chocolate and six churros will cost less than 5 euros – a good way to spend some of the money you saved completing our list of free things to do in Madrid.
Helpful Gadgets – European Travel
Don’t forget to bring a universal travel adapter, so you can plug in your devices. I like the one below, because it also has USB ports to recharge smartphones and other tech. A portable charger can also be very handy – I always travel with one.