Madrid on a budget
Spain's capital city Madrid, is very catholic but also lively, cultured and full of young people and families. We'd never really thought about visiting Madrid until my friend moved there in 2017. To be honest, we didn't even know what there was to do in Madrid apart from eating lots of tapas. There are so many shops, cafes, bars, museums, galleries and parks. It's a really social city.
Planning a weekend full of sightseeing, eating and drinking tends to need a large budget, so we had put off going to visit for ages. Madrid can actually be very cheap though and you can still spend time trying all the foods, and drinking beers in the sun, without breaking the bank.
Our main reason for going was to visit my friends before heading off to America for six months, but we also wanted to explore and make the most of our time in the city. Between the two of us we had a budget of £400 for a weekend. I relayed this information to my friend before we arrived so she didn't plan in too many pricey activities and she reassured me this would be plenty. With the right planning it's easy to enjoy a full weekend of sightseeing and make the most of Madrid without spending too much.
Here's how we had a great weekend on a small budget:
Booking in advance with a budget airline is the best way to save money. We use Skyscanner several months before our travel date and monitor prices over a few weeks to try and predict when the costs will be lowest. It's important to then check the final costs with all the fees added from the flight operator's own website and compare with the other operators on skyscanner again once you have the final price. Some budget airlines add on extra fees at the booking stage which end up making the flight more expensive than if you chose a slightly better airline. For example Ryanair make you pay more for hold baggage or seats together, whereas other airlines will include this already.
The time you fly also makes a difference. If you can travel on a Thursday this tends to be cheaper than a Friday, but our Friday flight was still relatively cheap because it was mid afternoon when most people would still be working. Also, If you can book your flights several months in advance they will be much cheaper than a month before.
Our flights cost £90 for both of us.
Air bnb is great for finding somewhere to stay, but can be less reliable than chain hotels. Finding a whole property or hotel-style room on air bnb will cost more than finding a spare room in someones house, but it's personal preference. If we were on a longer holiday we would look for a private apartment or space, without the host being there all the time as its nice to have privacy. However, as it was just 3 nights, we rented a spare room in a ladies flat. If you're going to be out sightseeing all day it doesn't really matter where you're sleeping.
We chose a flat that was within a 2 minute walk from my friends, so was super convenient. It was on the fourth floor with no lift though, and the floorboards were really creaky so I was slightly worried we were waking everyone up as we returned in the evenings. The host was lovely and gave us a map, teas/coffees and beers. She was out for most of the weekend so we only saw her when we checked in, but the air bnb app is really easy to use so we messaged each other to communicate our check-out plans. The flat also came with a cat called Lisa, who we tried to befriend. Unfortunately Lisa had some emotional issues and flitted between meowing amicably to hissing and backing away from us. We always find it sad when an animal doesn't like us, but I guess you can't win them all!
Our air bnb for 3 nights cost £102 including the air bnb fees.
TRANSPORT TO AND FROM THE AIRPORT
The cheapest way to get into the city centre from the airport is by Metro. My friend had given us ticket-buying instructions beforehand and the ticket machines had an English option, but they were still pretty confusing so we asked for assistance. I knew we needed to buy a travel card and top it up with the journeys, but I didnt realise we could share one card between us until the assistant explained. And actually finding the journey on the machine, then putting it onto the card was a challenge. For two people the cost was just under £10. Using the metro was really straightforward and only took 30 minutes into the city.
The other option is to get a taxi. There is a flat rate of €30 from the airport into town, which is around £26. The journey takes roughly 25 minutes, so isn't much quicker than the Metro but is easier if you have alot of lugguage or are travelling at an awkward time.
We got the Metro into the city, but our return flight on the Monday was too early so we needed a taxi back to the airport. Our taxi at 4am was £40. Madrid also has Uber, which provide cheaper taxis than the other firms, but you can't book Uber in advance and we didn't want to risk not being able to find a cab in time.
Our total transfer costs were £50.
FREE WALKING TOUR
We were lucky to have a local to give us a tour around the city, but most European cities have free walking tours which you can look up online. I've been on free walking tours in several cities including Berlin and Copenhagen and they have all been great. They tend to last for 3 hours and they'll give you a good account of the cities history. The guides only earn money from tips, so please make sure you pay them, but you don't have too pay much if you can't afford it.
If you prefer to walk without a tour, you can take a map and create your own route winding around the main sites. We love the Lonely Planet maps; you can get their map of Madrid here. Its nice to roam the backstreets a bit too as you often stumble across something that would have been skipped from an organised tour.
I loved wandering around the little tree-lined streets full of grafitti and cute coffee shops. Madrid has some great architecture and most of the buildings have been really well considered, matching in style with shutters on the windows. It's said that Gaudi took inspiration from some of Madrid's architects when he designed the iconic swirly buildings in Barcelona. Madrid is quite small so its easy to walk around the city without needing public transport.
We spent the Saturday in the West of the city where the palace, cathedral, shopping centres and markets are. We wandered round taking lots of pictures and stopped every hour or so to sit outside with a drink and some nibbles. As we didn't go into any of the sights, we didn't pay anything to see them.
One of the highlights of the day wasn't planned at all; we stumbled across a military wedding that had just finished in a beautiful brick church. We watched as the groomsmen held swords up to form a tunnel which the bride and groom passed through. They all looked very glamorous.
On the Sunday we walked around the East of the city, focusing mainly on Independence Square with the Peurta de Alcala, a neo-classical archway similar to the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, and the Parque de Buen Retiro. This is a lovely park with lots of formal symmetrical gardens, a boating lake and a little river. Whilst we strolled down the middle of the park, the sun came out and suddenly warmed us up, so we sat by the lake for a while, people watching and enjoying the new Spring climate. It had actually snowed on the Saturday morning, so this sudden warmth was quite a shock!
Cost of our two days sightseeing: £0.
FOOD AND DRINK
There is definitely a relaxed culture of eating little and often in Madrid, which is very different to the 3 meals a day culture at home in the UK. Spaniards also seem to drink alot during the day and like to sit outside socialising. Back in England this would get very pricey, however we were pleasantly surprised at how little we spent.
A meal for two in a regular restaurant with a couple of drinks each cost around £25. In bars, beers cost around £3.50 each and usually come with a small plate of tapas or nibbles for free. Breakfast cafes can be ridiculously cheap, offering toasted bagettes with tomatoes, a glass of orange juice and a coffee all for around £3. Tostades con tomate, or toasted bagettes with crushed tomatoes, are delicious! You drizzle olive oil onto the bread, then spread your tomato, add a little salt and some more oil to top it off. Amazing. I had the same breakfast two days in a row and felt very proud at myself for ordering in Spanish. I'm pretty terrible at picking up languages, so like to celebrate when I can form a whole sentence.
How much did we spend on food? Well... Arriving late on the first evening, we opted for takeaway at my friends for dinner, costing around £20 for two meals. The second night we ate dinner at a taco restaurant, which was £25 for 6 tacos and 4 beers. On the final night my friend cooked us dinner, which saved alot of money. Breakfast in a cafe each morning cost us around £15 in total. Then tapas or sandwiches for lunch cost around £16 for two days. So in total, we spent around £76 on food and ate out alot.
If we'd made the most of the kitchen at our air bnb flat we could have saved even more, but then we wouldn't have fully experienced the Madrid culinary culture. And we've been refraining from takeaways and meals for months to save money for our America trip, so it was nice to treat ourselves for a weekend.
The total amount we spent for the entire trip was £318. Under budget!
That's not bad for a weekend packed full of sightseeing, culture, food and drink. We'd love to hear if anyone else has money-saving ideas for city breaks! Please let us know in the comments below!
*Disclaimer - This post includes affiliate links*