Is it possible to do Madrid on the cheap? Even though the American dollar is 84 cents to the Euro? Yes! I called in local expertise to learn about $36 Airbnbs in hip neighborhoods, $8 entrees, free museums, and amazing day trips!
Hi all! My name is Claire and I’m a British girl, who has found her home in the mesmerizing city of Madrid for the last five years. I’m here to tell you all about the food, the places, and lest we forget, the food of my city.
I love travelling but I equally enjoy being a tourist in my own city, and I am over the moon to put Madrid on the map for you all!
Cheap lodging in Madrid
Madrid is host to an array of hotels, hostels, bedrooms for rent, couches and not to forget, the ubiquitous Spanish hostal. This is a cheap room, with breakfast occasionally included, straddling the line of hotel and hostel. Air BnB has really taken off in the city and there is a huge range of options for all budgets.
Mola Hostel– $19/night
This hostel has a great central location close to Atocha train station and is incredibly popular with tourists, locals and anyone who needs a place to lay their head. They also include free city tours and the building is stunning.
This also has a great location in the super hip, World Gay Pride host barrio of Chueca. You can choose to share, or if you value your privacy, they also have private rooms with en-suite.
Hostal Don Diego-$55/night
A slightly more up-market hostal in barrio Salamanca, home to many a designer store, historical buildings and pavement cafes. Breakfast is included, as well as the Wi-Fi.
The city is also home to some great choices of apartments and rooms for rent. Almost all include WiFi, are centrally located and some even offer guided city tours.
This cute studio apartment comes with a washing machine so you can pack lighter. This studio apartment (with a cute lofted office space!), is a five-minute walk from Plaza Chueca and this incredibly cute room (pictured above) sleeps two people for $36 a night!
If you’ve never used Airbnb before, you can make your trip even cheaper with this $40 credit towards your first booking!
Cheap food in Madrid
I gained around six kilos when I first moved to Madrid. I’m not sure any other testimony is needed.
Madrid is home to many Mexican, Caribbean and South American restaurants, all of which offering enormous portions for pequeño prices. Madrid also offers daily menus for around €10, which include a drink, starter, main, dessert and bread. These can be found at any restaurant, and are a great way to fill up for very little.
Melo’s -$10 for a huge sandwich for 3, $4 for smaller plates
Melo’s was a revelation when I discovered it. You can order a huge pork sandwich or some of the smaller tapas sized plates which include Galician-style pork, roasted pimientos de padron (watch out for the spicy one) or the best croquetas (made from ham and bechamel sauce) that you will ever taste.
Entre Cáceres y Badajoz – free tapas if you order a drink, $8 larger plates
All the seafood. Order a plate of fried fish with lemon and you’ll never look back. If you order an alcoholic drink, you’ll also receive quite a significant portion of tapas, which range from paella, calamari or fried potatoes with chorizo.
La Maleta – $20 brunch or $10 for lunch
I love the decor of this place, and the staff are extremely helpful. It’s located in Malasaña, one of the coolest areas in Madrid and they offer a fantastic brunch menu, which guarantees you won’t eat for the rest of the day. They also have excellent tacos and desserts.
La Catrina-$15 for huge portions to be shared
Also located in Malasaña is this excellent Mexican restaurant whose unique selling point is the mountainous pile of nachos you can share with friends. Or not. No judgement here.
Dos Vela’s-$8 for a main
This is hands-down my favorite restaurant in Madrid. Try the cinnamon hummus with duck and pomegranate sauce and finish with Bulgarian yoghurt.
Pho26-$10 for an enormous bowl of pho
This is a great choice if you are shopping or sightseeing in the center as it is minutes from Plaza de España. I was full for a week after eating here.
Cafe Racer-$15 for a three course menu
This Ukrainian cafe is owned by an extremely friendly local who will ply you with his homemade vodka. If you can stay awake long enough, the menu del Día is excellent quality. Bonus points for the interior decor.
EcoCentro-$7 for lunch
The cafe in organic, vegetarian health spot EcoCentro has an excellent system based on the weight of your food.
El Tigre-$3 for a beer and free tapas
I couldn’t leave this place off the list, even if it is permanently packed. Order a drink and you’ll be rewarded with huge plates of free tapas.
Cheap things to do in Madrid
Templo De Debod-free
Climb up here to watch the sunset (or rise) and take Instagram worthy photos of this genuine Egyptian temple.
Museo de Sorrolla-$5 or free Saturdays after 2pm and all day Sunday
This beautiful little museum is tucked behind a fantastic Andalus patio and an extremely peaceful garden full of flowers and fountains. The artwork inside is also spectacular and is a way to feel cultural whilst avoiding the crowds of Museo Reina Sofia and El Prado. Having said that…
Museo Del Prado/Reina Sofia- free Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 19.00-21.00
These are two very different art museums but due to their proximity to each other, I have included them together. Prepare for huge queues and plenty of people but the artistic contributions are unparalleled in Spain and you can also view Picasso’s Guernica as well as work by Goya and Velazquez.
El Buen Retiró– free
Madrid’s green space comes thanks to Retiro, a park filled with hidden pathways, a crystal palace, a lake and often, music. Perfect to walk off the calories after eating free tapas.
El Rastro– free
Visit Spain’s largest outdoor market, filled with food, handmade goods and occasionally, junk. The atmosphere is priceless as musicians line the streets and people demonstrate the fine art of day-drinking and tapas eating.
Mercado de Motores-free
If you want to buy artesian souvenirs without the crowds of Rastro, then head south to this market which takes place in the Museo Ferrocarril (a railway museum). The stalls are inside railway cars and you can find one of a kind products. Not to mention food.
For the more macabre among us, visit Spain’s largest cementery. There are several notable graves, as well as being incredibly atmospheric and a cool tonic to the heat of the afternoon sun. Look upwards to spot The Angel of Death (a statue, not the real thing).
This stunning bookshop is a must-see if you’re in Madrid. They have books in several languages, a children’s area and also host regular readings and events for around $5.
Palacio de Cibeles-$7 entry
This impressive palace sits on Plaza de Cibeles and for just €5, you can access the rooftop terrace to watch people go by in the twilight. A drink is included in the price.
If you want to get off the beaten track but don’t have time to venture outside of Madrid, this beautiful but often forgotten park is a strong contender to El Retiro. Excellent for kids with a strong fairytale vibe, it’s perfect for reading and watching clouds float across a flawless blue sky.
Cine Verdi-$5 Thursday’s
This independent cinema has classic movies in their original language every Thursday. Think Day of the Dead, Band Aparte, and Tokyo Story.
If you have time you can also leave Madrid to visit some beautiful towns close by. The best three are Segovia, Toledo, and Avila. However, if you’re short on time, Madrid has more than enough to offer, day or night.
Thanks so much for sharing your insights, Claire! If you guys have tips for cheap Madrid travel, please share them in the comments!