12 of the best free things to do in Madrid

Tiempo de lectura: 9 minutos
The sun shining on Madrid, Spain's capital.
You are here:

Good times await in Spain’s cosmopolitan capital, Madrid. But you’d better bring a fistful of euros because this city will drain your wallet quicker than you can say Juan Robinson! With this in mind, we’ve put together a handy list of free things to do in Madrid so that you can paint the town red without ending up in the red.

So, read on for our list of fantastic things to do in Madrid for absolutamente nada!

1. Art after dark

The Prado is Madrid's most famous art museum.

Let’s kick off our ultimate list of free things to do in Madrid with a bit of culture. Numero uno: ogle art in the evening at Madrid’s famed Golden Triangle of Art.

Marvel at masterpieces at the Prado. Go crazy for contemporary art at the Reina Sofia. Then fill in the gaps at the once-privately owned Thyssen.

Many find that they need several hours to really relish these works, but if you’re on a budget and don’t mind a quick peek, you can see them for free at these times:

  • Prado: Monday to Saturday: 18:00 to 20:00, and Sunday: 17:00 to 19:00.
  • Reina Sofia: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday: 19:00–21:00, and Sunday: 12:30–14:30.
  • Thyssen: Monday: 12:00–16:00

2. Templo de Debod

The Templo de Debod is a famous Egyptian temple in the middle of Madrid.

Now, this one is something special. A surprisingly little-known fact about Madrid is that there is a 2200-year-old Egyptian temple smack bang in the middle of the city!

The Templo de Debod was built in 2200 BC and was gifted to Spain by Egypt in the 1970s. Why? In 1960s Egypt, the ancient temples of Nubia were nearly destroyed after flooding. Spain swooped in to help restore the temples. And the grateful Egyptians responded with this extravagant offering.

  • The temple is completely free to visit. Opening hours: Tuesdays to Sundays and public holidays: 10:00 – 20:00

3. Park life in the capital

El Retiro park is one of the best free things to do in Madrid.

A classic free activity in any city? Park yourself in a park. Madrid has quite a few, but the pick of the bunch is Parque del Buen Retiro, known to locals as El Retiro.

Enjoy a “retreat” from the bustle of the Spanish capital in this vast, verdant space, conveniently located just a few minutes’ walk from the Triangle of Art.

El Retiro has it all: cafes, rose gardens, the oldest tree in the city and a boating lake. You can even find peacocks preening in a walled garden and a free puppet theatre for the little ones almost every weekend. This is one of the best free things to do in Madrid, especially if you’re in Madrid with kids.

  • El Retiro is open and free to visit every day from October to March: 06:00 – 22:00 and from April to September: 06:00 – 00:00.

4. Lope de Vega’s house

Lope de Vega’s house is where the famous playwright lived.

Lope de Vega is one of Spain’s most celebrated playwrights. He was a prolific writer during the Spanish Golden Age, with around 1,000 plays to his name.

And he was equally well-known for his abundance of lovers! You can learn all about the scandalous details of this colourful cad’s life at the Casa de Lope de Vega, one of our most original and unique free things to do in Madrid.

From sailing to the Azores to having an affair with a famous actor’s wife and being imprisoned and then exiled from Madrid to kidnapping one of his future wives, de Vega’s life is truly fascinating.

At the end of his life, he’d been living in his house, which he’d shared with his mistress and four children from three different women, for 25 years. Visit de Vega’s house of ill-repute and get all the salacious details for free!

  • Casa de Lope de Vega is open Tuesdays to Sundays: 10:00 to 18:00. It is free to enter, although you need to book in advance.

5. Almudena, a youthful cathedral

Almudena Cathedral is only just over 140 years old and is one of the top free things to do in Madrid.

Madrid’s main cathedral, at just over 140 years old, is a young whippersnapper of a cathedral. Construction began in 1883 and wasn’t completed until 1993! Just over a hundred years in the making.

In its relatively short life, Almudena has made its mark. It was inaugurated by none other than Pope John Paul II. It was even chosen as the venue for the star-studded royal wedding between King Felipe and Queen Letizia.

  • Almudena Cathedral is free to enter and is open from 10:00 – 20:30 every day.

6. Browse bric-a-brac at El Rastro

El Rastro is an enormous open-air flea market in the centre of Madrid.

Stuck for something to do on a Sunday in Madrid? Get yourself down to El Rastro, the city’s enormous open-air flea market. Unbelievably, this market dates all the way back to 1740.

It has grown in popularity over the years, and there are now a staggering 3000+ open-air stalls. Get ready to perambulate, peruse, and, of course, purchase to your heart’s content!

You can buy just about anything in this charmingly chaotic place. Bargain hunters will be able to spend a happy morning rummaging through the wares. From vintage postcards to vinyl and flamenco accessories to fake fur, you can find anything and everything here.

And when you start getting peckish, make a stop for some tasty tapas and a glass of local vermouth. Yum!

  • El Rastro opens every Sunday from 09:00 to 15:00. We recommend arriving early to beat the crowds. Bring cash (not many vendors accept cards) and your best bargaining skills!

7. All roads lead to Sol

Sol is completely free of charge and is one of the best free things to do in Madrid.

Another place to soak up some serious city vibes is Puerta del Sol, or, as it’s often known, Sol. Sol, quite simply, is Madrid.

The large, attractive plaza is the city’s official centre. It is where the gates to the city once stood and is Spain’s “kilometre zero,” meaning that all roads in the country are measured from here. Literally, all roads lead to Sol! Having said that, in 2020, the area was pedestrianised and is now closed to almost all traffic.

Puerta del Sol translates as the rather lovely-sounding Gate of the Sun, although the reality is somewhat less tranquil. It’s jam-packed with locals, tourists, souvenir stalls and bars.

Even if you’re not partial to the pandemonium of a capital, you have to visit Sol. It’s the heart and soul of this buzzing city and one of the most unmissable free things to do in Madrid!

  • Puerta del Sol is a free, public square.

8. Pomp at the Palace

The changing of the guard takes place twice a week in Madrid and is free.

Thought the changing of the guard was a peculiarly British thing? You thought wrong! At Madrid’s Royal Palace, they also have a solemn ceremony to mark the Royal Guards being relieved of their positions.

You’ll see soldiers marching to the beat of the music, military drummers drumming and soldiers on horseback dressed in red, white and blue uniforms.

If you’re lucky enough to be in Madrid on the first Wednesday of each month, you can catch the extra-special Solemn Changing of the Guard. Similar to the Changing of the Guard, but with an extra dose of pomp, this ceremony involves 400 guard members and operetta and paso doble music. Olé!

  • The Changing of the Guard takes place every Wednesday and Saturday at 11:00 outside Puerta del Príncipe at the Royal Palace.
  • The Solemn Changing of the Guard takes place on the first Wednesday of each month (except January, August, and September) at 12:00. Both ceremonies are completely free!
  • Important: when the weather is bad, these events may be cancelled.
  • If you only want to make like a monarch without seeing the guards, you can get free entry to the Royal Palace every Monday – Thursday: 17:00 to 19:00.

9. Mercado San Miguel

The Mercado San Miguel is free to walk around.

You’ll be in foodie heaven at the mouthwatering Mercado San Miguel. Is the food free? Sadly, no. BUT if you’re anything like us, you’ll love wandering around the place and taking in the sights, sounds and smells of Spain’s premium eatables and drinkables.

The market has stood the test of time at over 100 years old. You’ll find cuisine from every corner of Spain. From the best-quality Iberian ham to shellfish from Galicia and the finest cheeses from as far as Asturias and the Basque Country, this market represents the whole of Spain.

  • Mercado San Miguel is free to enter (food and drink, sadly, are not provided!) It’s open Sunday to Thursday from 10:00 to 00:00 and Fridays, Saturdays and holidays from 10:00 to 01:00.

10. Welcome to the jungle at Atocha

Atocha Station has a jungle inside it and is one of the top free things to do in Madrid.

If you’ve got a spare couple of hours, you could do worse than saying wotcha to Atocha! Now, a train station might seem like a rather strange addition to a list of things to do in a city, but this is no ordinary station.

Madrid’s first train station, Atocha, was built in 1851. It was designed by Alberto de Palacio, a pupil of none other than Gustave Eiffel, who clearly influenced its iron look. Atocha’s enormous central nave epitomises late-nineteenth-century iron architecture and is recognised all over Spain.

Atocha is known for being the site of the tragic Madrid train bombings in 2004, killing nearly 200 people. Inside the train station stands a memorial to its victims.

Another of its defining features is a lush, expansive, covered tropical garden growing in the central nave. This was built by renowned architect Rafael Moneo during a remodel of Atocha in the 80s and 90s.

  • Atocha Station is open 24 hours a day and is free to enter.

11. Sculptures on the house

See 17 large sculptures at the Museo de Escultura al Aire Libre de La Castellana.

Think you need to head to a stuffy museum to appreciate art? Think again! The excellent Museo de Escultura al Aire Libre de La Castellana has an impressive outdoor sculpture collection.

It features 17 large sculptures by a diverse group of sculptors, including some big names, such as the eminent Joan Miró and the Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida.

The phrase “hidden gem” is bandied about a bit too much these days, but this secretive sculpture park really is a hidden gem! It’s tucked away under an overpass and is very much off the usual tourist trail.

Oh, and best of all? This museum might be outdoors, but it is very much on the house!

  • The Museo de Escultura al Aire Libre de La Castellana is open every day, 24 hours a day, and is free to enter.
  • You’ll find it under the puente de Enrique de la Mata Gorostizaga.

12. Marvel at a muralla without spending moolah

So now we’re nearing the end of our low-cost list of free things to do in Madrid. If you’re in the mood for a bit of history, track down the Muralla Árabe, the city wall that was built by Madrid’s Muslim rulers.

Incredibly, some sections of the wall date back to the 9th century, during the time of Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsula. This is probably the oldest construction in all of Madrid.

Other sections of the wall only (!) date back to the 12th century. By this point, Madrid was under Christian rule. 

And the price to visit this significant piece of Spanish history? Gratis, of course! So, head to this ancient Arab wall to see the last vestiges of Islamic rule in Madrid.

  • The Arab Wall is on a public street; it is open all day, every day, and is completely free!

Cheer on the cheap in Spain’s costly capital

We’ve come to the end of our penny-pinching list of free things to do in Madrid! It’s true that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but we hope we’ve shown that there are ways to find free fun and frolics, even in expensive capitals.

So get your ticket to Madrid, plan how to get around the city and see what the city has to offer without spending a single euro!

Like? Share this post with your friends


Sign up to our newsletter

Get all the latest news, travel tips and recommendations from The Explorer and receive exclusive discounts!

Frequently Asked Questions

Every year, Madrid hosts a variety of free events and festivals. Some popular ones include the San Isidro Festival, celebrated in May, with music, dancing, and various activities. Another is the Fiestas de la Paloma in August, featuring street performances, concerts, and fireworks. Additionally, during summer, there are open-air film screenings, like the Cinema Garden festival, offering free movie experiences.

Yes, several attractions in Madrid offer free admission on certain days or times. Here are a few examples:

  • Museo del Prado
  • Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
  • Thyssen Museum (Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza)
  • Royal Palace of Madrid

Madrid offers numerous free local experiences and traditions that shouldn’t be missed. Here are a few:

  • Enjoying a leisurely stroll through Retiro Park, one of Madrid’s most beautiful green spaces.
  • Exploring the vibrant neighborhoods like Malasaña and La Latina, known for their lively atmosphere and traditional tapas bars.
  • Witnessing the changing of the guards ceremony outside the Royal Palace.
  • Visiting Mercado de San Miguel, where you can sample local delicacies and soak in the bustling atmosphere.