Being smack-dab in the middle of the country, and also surrounded by plenty other popular destinations, Madrid sometimes gets lost in the shadows of Spain itineraries. Barcelona, Valencia and Sevilla all take slices out of what would be a blissful few days in the city. It’s sad really, because if you do Madrid right, you’d have a fabulous time.
Nonetheless, even if you only have 24 hours here, and a tight budget, there are many ways in which you can make the most of it. Find a buddy for the day in which you can split a few costs with and set off around the land of tapas and siestas. Here are my recommendations for an ideal day under €25 (excluding accommodation)!
Start the day with chocolate decadence at San Gines
Known for their ¨crispy-on-the outside-doughy-on-the-inside¨ fried churros and thick rich chocolate, Sin Gines is one of Madrid’s most famous restaurants. Six churros will seem like a heavy breakfast to most of us, so just order one plate of “churros con chocolate” for you and a friend to share. Once you’ve got them, tear pieces off, roll them in sugar, then dip them in the cup of hot melted chocolate. The decadence should keep you full for a while!
Cost: €3.8 total, €1.9 each.
Take your own walking tour of the center
From San Gines walk to Puerta del Sol, the modern center of Madrid since the 17th century. In the southern part of the square you can find the 0 kilometer mark where all highways in Spain are measured. To the eastern side is the symbol of Madrid, the bear with the madrone tree. If you are ready for a coffee, head the to western side where you will find La Mallorquina, an old and famous bakery, for a cafe con leche (€1.20).
After a caffeine fix, head to Plaza Mayor, the main plaza from the Habsburg period in the 1600’s. Although it’s now full of overpriced cafes and people dressed in costumes fighting to attract tourist money, try and imagine what it was like hundreds of years ago. Back then, the square would have been the stage for bullfights, soccer games, markets and public executions. Exit at the southwest corner through the Arco de Cuchilleros. Continue straight, reaching Restaurante Botin on the left, the world’s oldest restaurant! If you happen to pass by while it is open, you are allowed to browse around inside (shh, it’s kind of a secret). Just ask politely, then take a peak at the rows of roast suckling piglets about to consumed in the open fire oven. Next, take the narrow staircase downstairs and check out the old wine cellar in the back. Hundreds of old wine bottles now just remain as part of history, laying there blanketed in a thick coating of dust.
From Botin, make your way to Plaza de la Villa, Madrid’s first main square from the 15th century. In that plaza you can see what Madrid would have looked like when it first became the capital. One of Madrid’s oldest buildings is on the eastern side and was constructed in the late 1400’s. From there it is a short walk to the Palacio Real. Walk to the northernmost side and wander through the Jardines de Sabatini.
Lunch at Mercado de San Miguel
After you’ve walked up enough of an appetite, head back toward the Plaza Mayor. Outside the western edge of the plaza is the Mercado de San Miguel. Once inside pick up a beverage and browse the offerings. Once you have an idea of what’s out there, choose 4-5 tapa-sized bites for lunch.
I’d recommend getting a small sangria or vermouth and then stopping at the olive stand. The ¨croquetas¨ are also fabulous, but of course a fried ball of cheese and ham would be. Keep an eye out for a small counter towards the western side of the market which serves up many tapas on small pieces of bread. I recommend either the goat cheese on a bed of caramelized onions or the foie gras with blueberry sauce.
Cost: €11-15 depending on the amount of dishes and price of beverage.
Spend the afternoon in Retiro Park
The walk from the market to Retiro is a bit far, but on a clear day it can be a great way to see the city. In about 25 minutes you’ll make it to the oasis of shady trees and green fields of grass. Take a seat somewhere and just enjoy the park, or head to the lake directly in the center and rent a boat for an hour.
Cost: €5 per boat. (€2.5 each)
Free admission at the Prado
Around 5pm you’ll want to head to the nearby Prado museum if you fancy seeing one of Europe’s most prestigious collections of art while in Madrid. Just in case you aren’t the biggest museum fan, or don’t want to spend the entire day indoors, go during the free entry times. These are Monday to Saturday, from 6pm to 8pm, (and Sundays and holidays from 5pm to 7pm). Since it is free at this time, the line gets long pretty quickly so you’ll want to be there a bit early.
Enjoy Madrid’s nightlife
Spaniards love to enjoy the night, but don’t go out early. Around 7pm they will have a small snack with a drink, and then around 10pm (or even later) dinner starts. Dinner can run a pretty high bill if you aren’t careful, but there are still bargains to be found if you know where to look. One such place is called Museo del Jamón, and you can find them all around Madrid. Here you can get a bocadillo de jamón (Spanish ham sandwich) and a caña (small beer) for €2. Upgrade the ham and it’ll only cost a euro or two more. If you are still hungry, order some of the “raciones” for a few euros.
From 10pm onwards, any night of the week, you can expect people to be congregating in Huertas, near Plaza Santa Ana, over drinks or food. Head in that direction and stop somewhere offering “cubos”. These are buckets of 5 small Spanish beers for around 5-6 euros each. It is a great way to have a drink with friends without spending too much money. One place nearby which offers these ice cold buckets is called Bulevart. Past midnight (and on) expect to see many young Spaniards taking advantages of the cheap frosty brews.
Madrid never sleeps, but if you want to stay within budget it’ll probably be about time for you to head to bed. Madrid is also safe at night (as long as you keep your valuables out of reach and out of sight) so take advantage of the breezy night air and walk back. Regardless of the hour, it’s unlikely that you will ever find yourself alone, since some people might just be beginning their night!
Cost: Around €7 (including dinner and splitting the cost of a bucket with at least one person).
Total cost per person: €23.60! This is if you decide to rent the boat in Retiro. If you skip that, have a few more tapas at the Mercado de San Miguel or pitch in for another cubo, and you still come in around €25!
How would you fancy a day like this?
Ever since college graduation, Jessica has been on a continuous journey to see the world through the eyes of an expat. She first moved to South Korea to teach English for two years. She now calls Spain, the land of vino and siestas, home. When she isn’t trying new tapas in Madrid, you will probably find her in the Asian supermarkets searching for authentic ingredients to make Pad Thai or Korean bipimbap. You can follow the journey via her blog, Curiosity Travels. You can also follow along on Facebook, Twitter or her favorite, Instagram.
46 thoughts on “A Day In Madrid For Less Than €25”
I totally agree with you Jessica. I was so impressed by Madrid and didn’t understand why people often do not go there. It is great!
And everyone going there, should have a ham sandwich at Museo Jamon as you mentioned it. It’s so cheap and so tasty!
I hope Madrid will surprise me with some great things next summer!! :)
Love this post! Madrid is so full of great stuff to do. I could spend a week in its museums alone. The Reina Sofia is also free sometimes (although I’m not sure when) and you can go see Picasso’s Guernica there. The Retiro park is also one of my faves, and of course Spanish nightlife is awesome. Nice work, Jessica!
Hey Jessica. We totally agree. Madrid has a lot to offer for tourists and backpackers. We can’t wait to finally make it there!
Thanks Jess! I need to get myself back to the museums one of these days. I went years ago when I was visiting but not during this stay! :)
Thanks for sharing my thoughts Agness! Hopefully more people make it to Madrid and see why it’s such a great place :)
It’s been our pleasure Jessica. Thanks for such a great article! I’ve been craving some Spanish food all day long!
You’re making me nostalgic about my holiday in Madrid. I loved the food and the museums there. I had such a great time!
Great suggestions! I love Madrid, though I have to admit that I love Sevilla and Barcelona more :) Madrid certainly deserves at least a day though. Churros con chocolate is my favorite!
Once I make it to Madrid, then Sevilla and Barcelona I will be able to compare :D!
I would love to see Madrid!! And any big city where I can roam around at night is a winner for me. I would love to blame my weight gain in Honduras on never being able to walk anywhere (at any time of day) but I think the rum might have something to do with it too :)
Me too! Can’t wait to go there!
I wasn’t sure if this was a guest post by Jessica or not and it appears that it is? I love it! It’s such a no-brainer that just never occurred in my noggin’ about having a travel partner to share costs. Thank you! The Restaurant Botin would absolutely be on my itinerary. The suckling pig sounds mouth watering. Hot chocolate with fried churros, yes please! Fried ham and cheese balls? OMG! I think posts that are written where my stomach is roaring with wanting afterwards – that the writer should mail samplers to the readers, Jessica! :)
Hey Mike. Yes, the article was written by Jessica for us. It’s a guest post. Thank you so much for such an amazing comment and I bet it will make Jess smile :).
It might get a little messy, but I’ll pop some croquetas and churros in an envelope soon and send them just for you! ;)
Great suggestions! I loved my time in Madrid and while I did spend more time in Barcelona and Seville, I would love to go back and spend some more time in Spain’s capital. Love your restaurant suggestions – I will be using them next time!
Hey Bridget. Glad you liked it! Was Seville nice?
Thanks for the amazing suggestions. I’ve been to Madrid years ago and I’d love to take Dale too one day so these tips will be very handy since we are always on a tight budget. I love Churros con chocolate, I can have them all day long :)
You should definitely take Dale with you France. He would love the city, I bet!
Luckily for you San Gines is open 24/7 so you actually CAN have them all day long ;)
I am glad your keeping up the high standards. Curiosity travels has a lot of quality info…
How is the teaching going anyway? When I was in China they could not understand me, I am from Liverpool. They understood an Austrian guy easier than myself. Do you Europeans speak better English than me?
Yes, Jessica always provides a good quality of articles.
The teaching goes great, we are still having a lot of fun! We are teaching kindergarten students so they don’t understand us much but it’s because of their age not our English I guess. The rest of the staff also seem to understand us :), but you never know. Maybe you spoke too fast :P.
Love the colors, and those churros look to die for. WOW. thanks. ;o)
Yes, churros are delicious with nutella on top <3!
I love the idea of the walking tour, not only because it’s free, but seeing a city on foot is easily the best way to discover it!! Not to mention the healthiest…
Some of my best travel memories have been made when I came across an unexpected fork in the road and wandered off the beaten track – something I couldn’t do if I was zipping around in a taxi!
That’s why I always went couchsurfing. I could explore the city like a local, not like a tourist and it requires a lot of walking :).
Great guide! I was recently in Madrid for just two days and went to most of these places (San Gines, Botin, Mercado de San Miguel) and had a great time. Madrid is definitely a cool city and I’d love to go back.
That’s seriously so awesome to heart. You really guys make me wanna hit this city next summer!
I haven’t been to Madrid since the 80’s, when I was a kid, I’m sure a lot has changed since. I’ve lived in Barcelona for 7 years, but as you might know, people in Barna rarely go to Madrid on vacation, we’re spoiled with the Mediterranean sea, the beach, the mountains and the forests in Catalunya. I should visit the city one of these days :)
Thanks Yara for sharing. I have not been to Madrid yet, visited only Malaga 3 years ago, but I should definitely make it there next summer.
Malaga used to be great when I was a kid, there were very few buildings, I can imagine it became super commercial nowadays, catering for the German and British tourists. I love the south, Andalucia is magical when we skip the high built commercial areas. I have to write a few posts about some secret spots (without revealing the location :) )
Yes, it was pretty commercial, so we decided to rent a car and drove to the countryside where we had a lot of fun with locals. Totally different experience. We slept on the beach, in a car and somewhere in the forest, had authentic Spanish sandwiches and paella – so much fun!
I bet a ton has changed. You’ll have to make the trip soon!
I’m constantly looking for budget posts like these, this one is really well written! Thank you for the specifics and pointers, can’t believe one actually gets a boat ride included in this!
Great to hear that Annie. Madrid does not seem to be that expensive, huh? :)
Thanks Annie! You’ll have to come over to Madrid soon :)
I personally prefer Barcelona, but Madrid does have some great things to do to. I love churros (and I find them wherever I am – even here in Korea!). I love wandering around the streets, because its all so colourful. Also, “goat cheese on a bed of caramelized onions or the foie gras with blueberry sauce” sounds absolutely devine!!
Thanks Lily for sharing. I had some churros when in Brussels and I wonder how they taste like in Spain.
I haven’t been to Barcelona in years but I’ll make the trip in spring. Yes, the goat cheese is absolutely fabulous! :)
Me too! Love at first sight!
Reading this one reminded me just how cheaply I managed to do Madrid when I was there last year: I visited both the Reina Sofia & the Prado for free, spent a great afternoon in El Retiro, and sat down for a very tasty three course menu del dia for dinner – which cost less than 10 euros! Oh and laughed at the guy dressed as Puss in Boots on Plaza Mayor. So it can definitely be done cheaply! Top post Jessica!
That said I didn’t enjoy Madrid as much as Barcelona, Valencia & Bilbao, but it was definitely worth a visit, and I was glad I finally made it there.
Thanks Carl for sharing. I’m planning to visit Madrid this summer. It would be awesome to get a nice dinner for me and my mom on a budget. Where did you dine out? Maybe I’ll find the same place!
Woah, those are cool ideas! Anyway, there are many more things to do that can be cheap, for example watching sunset in Debot temple (it is for free), renting bikes or going to flea market. It is possible to visit other museums for free, either, not only Prado. I wrote about it once as well, interesting topic.
Thanks Laima!! <3