The capital of Spain is a city filled with ancient palaces, historical museums, large parks and shop lined streets. There are many cheap alternatives to the costly tours around the city, and travellers on a budget will be able to enjoy the city without paying an ojo de la cara, an eye, as the locals say.
The city's three main museums, the Prado, the Reina Sofía and the Thyssen Bornemisza, form the Golden Triangle. The permanent exhibit at the Prado has free admission from 18.00 until 20.00 on weekdays, and from 17.00 until 19.00 on weekends. The Reina Sofia has free admission from 19.00 until 21.00 during the weekdays and is free during the weekend afternoons. There are discounts available for students and teachers.
A short walk from Madrid's geographical centre, the Plaza del Sol, and a couple of minutes from the touristy Plaza Mayor, visitors will find the Royal Palace. The Palace's gardens are the Sabatini Gardens, where during the summer months locals and visitors can enjoy many live concerts for free.
Around the City
Madrid is a large city, and the high concentration of historical landmarks near the city centre makes it an easy destination for walking tours. Most visitors choose to stay at a hotel near the centre and then walk along the Gran Vía, one of the city's main streets, towards the Mayor and Plaza de España, and from there enjoy a walk in the Debod Temple, a park with an ancient Egyptian temple.
The Retiro is the city's largest park. These ancient Royal gardens are located in the centre of the city, between Atocha station and the Puerta de Alcalá. Access to the park is free and there are many gardens, fountains and statues to explore. A boat ride in the park's pond costs around 4.65€ for 45 minutes, and bikes can rented at a rate of 10€ per two hours.
Madrid's transport system links the city with the small historical towns in the region. Taking a train and renting a car may be out of the budget for a day trip, and buses are cheaper and take around an hour to most destinations. There are buses that cost 3.20€ one way from the city to the ancient monastery of San Lorenzo del Escorial, and a round trip ticket to Segovia costs 12€.
The centre is filled with tourist traps that charge high prices for authentic food, which does not mean that local restaurants should be avoided. In the smaller streets in the historical centre visitors will find traditional restaurants where the menu del día, a lunch that includes a starter, a main course with a side dish and bread, drinks and dessert, costs between 10 and 12€. One place to check however is Sobrino de Botin Restaurant, listed in the Guinness Book as the oldest restaurant in the world (you can read a very good review of it here). And if your budget stretches a bit more, a Madrid food tour is fun to join too, as are other Madrid tours what might greatly help you put things into perspective.
Breakfasts in traditional bars cost around 2.50€ for a coffee and pan con tomate, bread with olive oil and fresh tomato. For those who want to enjoy some cañas with appetizers in the afternoon, there are several 100 Montaditos restaurants around the city, where there is large selection of montaditos, small baguettes, which cost around 1€ each.
One cannot visit the city without enjoying its nightlife, which starts with the traditional tapas. Tapas come free with drinks, and the more beers and sangrías one buys, the wider the selection of tapas, which range from olives to chopitos, tiny fried cuttlefish.