10 Free Things to do in Madrid

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.

An image of the zero km tile marker in Puerto del Sol, Spain - Free things to do in Madrid.
Puerto del Sol is in the heart of Madrid and the heart of Spain for that matter. The zero km tile marks the spot from which all roads are measured in Spain. Photo by Debbie Olsen.
Photo of the Bear and the Modrono Tree statue in Puerto del Sol in Madrid, Spain.
This bear statue is an important symbol of Spain. You will find it in Puerta del Sol. Photo by Greg Olsen.

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.

An image of two people standing in front of the statue of Phillip III in the centre of Plaza Mayor in Madrid, Spain.
A statue of Phillip III sits in the middle of the Plaza Mayor in Madrid.

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.

An image of the changing of the guard ceremony in front of the Royal Castle Madrid, Spain.
Watching the changing of the guard ceremony at the largest castle in Europe is a highlight of any visit to Madrid. Photo by Greg Olsen.

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.

An image of Catedral de la Almudena in Madrid, Spain.
Exploring the grounds of the Royal Palace and the adjacent Catedral de la Almudena is free to do in Madrid. The people standing in line are waiting to buy tickets to tour the Royal Palace. Photo by Greg Olsen.

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.

An image of a tapas vendor standing behind a counter at the Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid, Spain.
There are many vendors and many types of gourmet tapas at Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid. Photo by Debbie Olsen.

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.

An image of two young lovers kissing on a park bench in Retirio Park in Madrid, Spain - Free things to do in Madrid.
Retirio Park is filled with quiet lanes where lovers can walk or sit and talk. Photo by Greg Olsen.
An image of the lake with boats on it at Retirio Park in Madrid, Spain - free things to do in Madrid.
There is a large lake in Retirio Park where you can paddle rented boats. Photo by Greg Olsen.

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.

An image of the front of the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain - free things to do in Madrid.
The Prado Museum is one of the best art museums in the world and there are certain times when you can get in free. Photo by Debbie Olsen.

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.

An image of a living wall covered with plants in Madrid, Spain - Free things to do in Madrid.
This living wall makes a great backdrop for a picture an it’s one of those fantastic free things to do in Madrid. Photo by Greg Olsen.

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.

An image of the exterior of the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, Spain - Free things to do in Madrid.
The Reina Sofia is a world-renowned contemporary art museum in Madrid and it’s free at certain times every week. Photo by Greg Olsen.

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.

An image of a busy side street in Madrid, Spain.
Wandering around Madrid is a fun way to take in all the action of a very lively city. This photo was taken at 11 pm. Photo by Debbie Olsen.

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.

An image of two workers at Chocolateria San Giles in Madrid, Spain.
Chocolateria San Giles is the oldest and best chocolateria in Madrid. Photo by Debbie Olsen.
An image of a man sitting in front of a plate of churros and a cu pof hot chocolate in Madrid, Spain.
Churros and chocolate are a must-eat food item in Madrid, Spain. You dip the churros in the chocolate and enjoy! Photo by Debbie Olsen.

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.

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