Free Things To Do in Madrid
- #1View all Photos
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 Madrid2.7 miles to city centerFree, Parks and GardensTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND2.7 miles to city centerFree, Parks and GardensTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
To the east of central Madrid, Parque del Buen Retiro (El 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 Madrid2.6 miles to city centerFree, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND2.6 miles to city centerFree, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
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.
- #8View all Photos#8 in Madrid2.7 miles to city centerFree, ShoppingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND2.7 miles to city centerFree, ShoppingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Mercado de 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 de 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.
- #9View all PhotosfreeGran Vía#9 in Madrid2.4 miles to city centerFree, Neighborhood/Area, ShoppingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND2.4 miles to city centerFree, Neighborhood/Area, ShoppingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Madrid's bustling Gran Vía is at the heart of the city, and it's a prime spot for avid shoppers and architecture buffs. Built in the early 1900s to make traveling to and from the city center easier, Gran Vía spans nearly a mile and is jampacked with shops and restaurants. Try a traditional bocadillo de calamares (calamari sandwich), buy a new outfit from the second largest of all Primark chain clothing stores in the world or catch a show at Teatro Lope de Vega, all while admiring the street's ornate buildings.
Start your journey down Gran Vía where the street intersects Calle de Alcalá. There you'll find Círculo de Bellas Artes, a cultural center best known for its sweeping rooftop views. You'll have to pay 4 euros (about $4.50) to get to the top, but once there, you can enjoy a drink while soaking in a sunset over the Metropolis Building– one of the most famous buildings in Madrid. You may have to wait in line, but previous visitors agreed the views are worth it.
- #10View all PhotosfreeMatadero Madrid#10 in Madrid4.2 miles to city centerFree, RecreationTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND4.2 miles to city centerFree, RecreationTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
What was once an old slaughterhouse is now a hub of art and culture in Madrid's Arganzuela neighborhood. Matadero Madrid offers travelers a chance to see many creative facets of the city all in one place, as artists can install or perform their work in the nearly 700,000-square-foot space.
Construction of the slaughterhouse began in 1908, and the finished product, with its red brick Moorish-style exterior, is something to admire. The attraction consists of many different buildings – originally used as livestock markets, administration offices and equipment storage – connected by one large outdoor area.
- #12View all PhotosfreeCasa de Campo#12 in Madrid4.1 miles to city centerAmusement Parks, Zoos and Aquariums, Free, Parks and Gardens, RecreationTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND4.1 miles to city centerAmusement Parks, Zoos and Aquariums, Free, Parks and Gardens, RecreationTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
While Buen Retiro Park may be more famous, Casa de Campo is Madrid's largest public park and boasts almost 7 square miles of natural space. Originally used as hunting ground by the Spanish royal family, it's now the perfect place to relax when you need a break from the vibrant city life.
Many people enjoy simply strolling around the park or having picnics on the grass, but there are also plenty of activities in the park. In the southeast corner of Casa de Campo there's a large lake with boat and kayak rentals available. When you work up an appetite from boating, there are restaurants located around the lake. The park also features a large outdoor pool perfect if you need to escape Spain's summer heat.
- #14View all Photos
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.
- #16View all PhotosfreeEl Rastro Market#16 in Madrid3.2 miles to city centerFree, ShoppingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND3.2 miles to city centerFree, ShoppingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Exit the La Latina metro station and wander down Calle de las Maldonadas to one of Spain's most popular flea markets, El Rastro. Dating back to the 15th century, the market starts at Plaza de Cascorro and is primarily concentrated on Calle de la Ribera de Curtidores, ending at Ronda de Toledo. The streets, also including Calle San Cayetano, are lined with hundreds of merchants selling everything from kitschy souvenirs to art and antiques and even everyday household items.
Recent visitors' reactions to El Rastro varied: some loved the atmosphere, especially the live music, and others found the market to be mediocre, with very few bargains or finds. Some travelers warned of pickpockets, also saying that because of the crowds, it's not the best place for children or the elderly.
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