With over 6 million tourists visiting Madrid each year, the capital of Spain is one of the most visited cities in Europe. Its central location makes it a great base for traveling to other cities in Spain such as Barcelona, Sevilla, Malaga, Valencia, Pamplona, Bilbao, and many others. But Madrid itself has plenty of cultural, natural, and magical places to offer. Students and those traveling on a budget will love to know that most of these places are free to the public, free for students, or may cost a small fee. Let’s take a look at these 7 amazing places to see in Madrid:
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7. Temple of Debod
The Temple of Debod is a second-century B.C. Egyptian temple located in the Cuartel de la Montaña Park. In 1968, the Egyptian government gave the temple as a gift to the city of Madrid to save it from the threat of the Aswan High Dam. It was later rebuilt stone by stone in its current location near the Royal Palace and opened to the public in 1972. At the Temple of Debod you can experience Egyptian art, history, and architecture in a beautiful park setting. In fact, some of the best views are at sunset when the sun creates a magical spectacle illuminating the temple.
Cost: Free to the public
How to get there: Metro Plaza de España, Metro Príncipe Pío
6. Gran Vía
Gran Vía is the busiest and most popular street in Madrid. For one thing, it’s lined with shops, hotels, restaurants, and everything in between. Take a stroll down the street, and you will find popular Spanish brands such as Stradivarius, Zara, and Berksha, as well as several international brands and retail stores. Book lovers will love La Casa del Libro, a bookstore that is almost 100 years old and offers a wide variety of fiction, non-fiction, and academic books. Foodies will also love all the food options, coffee shops, and terrazas available on this buzzing street. Take a stroll or grab a bike to explore Gran Vía and experience the magic of Madrid city life.
How to get there: Metro Gran Vía
5. Casa de Campo
Covering 4,257 acres (about 5 times the size of Central Park in New York City), Casa de Campo or country house is considered Madrid’s largest park. Its history dates back to the mid-16th century when King Phillip II moved his court to Madrid. Notably, it was used by the royal family until the 1930s when it was opened to the public.
Fast forward to 2022, and Casa de Campo has become one of the most popular places in Madrid for outdoor and leisure activities. In fact, you’ll find an amusement park, the Madrid Zoo and Aquarium, the Madrid Arena, a cable car, conference centers, and bars and restaurants surrounding the lake. While some of these activities require a small fee, the park itself is free to the public. So, go ahead and rent a kayak, go for a bike ride, play some tennis, or go for a swim at the large public pool. The options at Casa de Campo are endless!
Cost: Free to the public (5 EUR for pool access)
How to get there: Metro Batán, Metro Casa de Campo, Metro Lago, Metro Puerta del Ángel
4. Royal Palace and Almudena Cathedral
Completed in 1755, the Royal Palace in Madrid was the residence of Kings and Queens until 1931 when King Alfonso III left Spain to avoid a civil war. Nowadays, the Royal Palace is no longer the home of the royal family, but it is still considered their official residence. Officially, the Royal Palace is used for state and cultural events, and it is open for public tours. Millions of tourists visit the Palace, which is considered the largest palace in western Europe with over 3,000 rooms and over 1,450,000 sq ft.
Next to the Royal Palace, you will find the Almudena Cathedral. This Cathedral’s majestic building can be seen from Casa de Campo and miles away. Built in 1883, the Almudena Cathedral serves as the seat of the Catholic Archdioceses in Madrid where several royal events have taken place throughout the years. In fact, the wedding of the current monarchs, King Phillip VI and Queen Letizia of Spain, was performed at the Almudena Cathedral.
Visit the Cathedral to experience its beautiful architecture, art, and history. Additionally, you can tour the cathedral’s crypt, the final resting place for some of Spain’s most noble families.
Cost: Visiting the Royal Palace is free for EU and IberoAmerican citizens/residents Monday-Thursday 5pm-7pm. Students up to 25 years of age are offered a reduced rate between 6-7 EUR. Regular tickets cost between 12-13 EUR per person.
The Almudena Cathedral is free to visit, however, a small 1 EUR donation is suggested.
How to get there: Metro Plaza de España, Metro Ópera
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3. Puerta del Sol
Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun in Spanish) is one of Madrid’s most popular public squares. It’s the starting point for all the radial roads in Spain, and the converging point for many main streets in Madrid. Significantly, it’s a special place for locals who gather here to welcome the new year by eating 12 lucky grapes, as they listen to the 12 chimes of the midnight clock.
Around Puerta del Sol, you will find deli shops (including the famous Museo del Jamón) selling traditional products such as Iberico ham, Spanish cheese, and freshly-baked bread. If you want to grab a bite to eat, go for some bocadillos (Sandwiches usually made with Spanish bread, olive oil, Serrano ham, Manchego cheese, and tomatoes or peppers), which cost between 2 and 6 EUR. A couple of blocks away, you will find stores such as “El Corte Inglés” where you can find quality clothing, accessories, and jewelry items for all kinds of budgets.
However, the best thing about Puerta del Sol is free — its positive vibes created by locals and tourists interacting and enjoying their time in Madrid.
How to get there: Metro Sol
2. Prado Museum
The Prado Museum, opened in 1819, hosts the largest collection of Spanish art. In fact, the museum includes 8,600 paintings and over 700 sculptures (including sculptures from Rome and Greece). Because of its wide selection, you may want to plan ahead and select which paintings you might want to visit before your visit.
Notably, the Prado Museum offers a collection that starts with 11th-century art, and from there advances to later centuries reaching the early 20th century. Among its most famous pieces, you will find Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez, The Third of May 1808 in Madrid by Francisco de Goya, The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hiëronymus Bosch, The Holy Trinity by El Greco, The Cardinal by Raphael, and more. The Prado Museum’s website offers 3 itineraries that can be completed in 1, 2 and 3 hours covering its most famous paintings.
Cost: Visit to the collection is free from Monday to Saturday, from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm, and Sundays and holidays, from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm. It’s also free for students between 18-25 years old, and for fine arts undergraduate and graduate students over 25 years of age. Regular tickets cost 15 EUR/person.
How to get there: Metro Banco de España, Metro Estación del Arte
1. El Retiro Park
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, El Retiro park is a popular and large park measuring approximately 350 acres. Notably, El Retiro features a wide variety of gardens, statues, fountains, monuments, lakes, and galleries hosting several cultural events. In fact, the Crytal Palace (Palacio de Cristal) is one of the most majestic buildings at the park along with the Velazquez Palace (Palacio de Velázquez). Both buildings usually function as art galleries where you will find several rotating exhibits.
Additionally, you will find several green areas for fitness, leisure, and relaxation. Here are some of the things you can do during your visit: Boat at the lake, jog around the park, yoga or meditate at one of the gardens, enjoy an art exhibit, or grab some lunch and people-watch at one of the many “terrazas” (outdoor bars/cafes) at El Retiro park. There is something for everyone in this magical place.
Cost: Free to the public
How to get there: Metro Atocha, Metro Ibiza, Metro Retiro
Note: If you are interested in visiting Madrid, you might also be interested in studying in Spain. The following lists include colleges and universities in Madrid and other parts of Spain.
About the Author: Denisse Romero is an international educator with experience in global communications and education. She provides advice and resources that help international students and travelers achieve their educational and personal goals. She holds a Master’s in Education from Harvard University and loves to travel and meet people from all corners of the world.