Free Things To Do in Madrid
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This square, located in the heart of Madrid, is more a must-experience attraction than a must-see one. Surrounded by cafes and bars, Plaza Mayor practically begs passersby to take a seat, order a coffee or glass of wine (depending on the time of day) and people-watch. Not only do throngs of tourists pass through, but multiple street performers plant their feet here to entertain. The square starts getting busy around 2 p.m. and will grow increasingly busy as night falls. If you find yourself in Madrid during the holidays, locals recommend visiting the holiday markets held in the plaza.
Recent travelers acknowledge the touristy nature of Plaza Mayor – the souvenir shops, the less-than-gourmet yet overpriced restaurants, for instance – but for most travelers, Plaza Mayor still affords a lovely ambience. If you want to learn more about the history behind Plaza Mayor, which dates back to 1617, reviewers suggest you sign up for a walking tour. One of the city's most emblematic pieces of public art, the statue of Philip III on horseback, can also be found here.
- #2View all Photos#2 in MadridParks and Gardens, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDParks and Gardens, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
To the east of central Madrid, Parque del Buen Retiro (Buen Retiro Park) can be translated as "Park of the Pleasant Retreat," and that's what it is – a sprawling swath of lush greenery filled with formal gardens, lakes, cafes, playgrounds and more. This 300-some-acre park previously housed Felipe IV's palace and gardens, and didn't become open to the public until the late 19th century.
Today, you can still rent a rowboat to the Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace), which holds regular art exhibitions or stop and smell the roses in the Rosaleda (Rose Garden), which has more than 4,000 roses. Plus, for those traveling with little ones, the Teatro de Titeres hosts puppet shows most weekends.
- #4View all Photos#4 in MadridSightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDSightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDRead More
The true center of Madrid – kilometer zero – Puerta del Sol fills with spurting fountains, shops, restaurants and lots of people. If you're looking for a place to rest your feet after a long day of touring, or a quiet place to stay, Sol is not the place. The area is always crowded, especially at night when the city comes alive with people passing through the square looking to party at some of Madrid's hottest bars and nightclubs (many of which are situated in Sol). However, it is the best place to taste Madrid's life and vibrancy, so even if you're going out to dinner, don't pass up the opportunity to walk through and take in the area.
Recent travelers said it's a great destination to people-watch considering the concentration of street performers. And if you're visiting over the New Year, you'll find Puerta del Sol is Spain's Times Square. Step off the Sol metro stop, and you'll be right in the thick of things. Access is free 24/7.
- #7View all Photos#7 in MadridShopping, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDShopping, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDRead More
Mercado San Miguel, a market built of beautifully ornate glass and cast iron, is a popular stop for tourists to Madrid, especially since it is located right outside of Plaza Mayor. Here, visitors can purchase some wine, grab a cocktail, juice or coffee, snack on a variety of ready-to-eat tapas, or pick up some ingredients for lunch or dinner from the fruit, seafood and meat stalls.
Recent visitors loved the vast selection of food offered, as well as the fun, vibrant atmosphere and described the market as a "must-see," especially for foodies. Some travelers, however, felt the market was too expensive and too touristy, lacking the character found at other markets, such as Mercado San Anton in Chueca. Others warned of pickpockets and reminded future visitors that you'll need to present a receipt from a vendor to use any of the restrooms free of charge.
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Plaza de Cibeles is considered to be the most famous plaza in Madrid. Located at the intersection of Calle de Alcalá (which leads into Sol) and adjacent to Paseo del Prado/Paseo de Recoletos, the plaza and its stunning architecture are big draws for tourists. The main building in the square, the Cibeles Palace, was formerly a post office but now serves as Madrid's City Hall. The plaza's fountain features the Roman goddess Cybele, "the Great Mother" who represents fertility. The goddess has unofficially been adopted by the city's fútbol (soccer) team, Real Madrid. When Real Madrid, or the Spanish National team, win a title, the city holds a parade that ends in Cibeles with one of the players fastening the team's flag to Cybele.
Visitors are allowed in select areas of the palace, including the observation deck, which affords panoramic views of the city. And what's more, it costs only 2 euros to get in. But travelers should note that the palace is currently undergoing renovations and is closed to the public.