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Feature photo by cuellar. Photo above by _Lev_.

Think Europe is expensive these days? Remember these two little magic words: Madrid, Spain.
Cheap Eats

Fixed-price lunch/menu del día

Lunch is the biggest meal of the day in Madrid. Most restaurants offer a fixed-price lunch on weekdays (called the menu del día); for 9-10 euros you get a first course, a main course, bread, drink, dessert, and coffee or tea.

If you eat breakfast and then fill up with everything on your menu del día plate, you might just forget about dinner.

University cafeterias and canteens

For hearty, budget-friendly food and a slice of local life, head to the cafeterias of Madrid’s facultades (university departments) and colegios mayores (residence halls). You don’t even have to be a student.

Photo by kellyandapril.

When in doubt about where to go, just show up in Ciudad Universitaria and ask someone to point out a cafeteria. Each building has its own, so you’ll find one easily and probably meet up with some cool university folk. (Metro stop: Ciudad Universitaria)

Hare Krishna Restaurant

As an alternative to student cafeterias, try the all-you-can-eat vegetarian lunches of the Hare Krishna Restaurant (Calle del Espíritu Santo 19, Metro stop: Tribunal). In fact, they offer free dinner on Sundays.

Cafes & Bars

Madrid’s infinite assortment of cafes and bars deliver reasonably-priced fare of varying quality and atmospheres: from your Spanish grandpa cafe to the hip, hot breakfast nook on the corner.

For breakfast, try the combinations on offer: pastry, toast, pan con tomate, or churros with tea, coffee, or pudding-thick hot chocolate. For lunch or dinner, try a bocadillo sandwich and a drink.

Self-catering

If you want the freedom to choose what you eat and don’t mind a scavenger hunt, then try self-catering. Head to the supermarket (the Día chain is the cheapest) for your main items, but buy your greens from the Ay! Madre chain (or another cheap frutería).

Photo by lecercle.

A whole week’s worth of seasonal fruits and vegetables is so shockingly cheap you might be tempted to subsist on bread and salads alone.


Expert tip: If kitchen facilities are unavailable, wash greens at the drinking fountains in the parks, buy plastic plates (and reuse if you want), make use of a Swiss Army knife, and dine al fresco. Add a bottle of wine and you’re set.

Cheap Nightlife

Photo by Daquella manera.

Cheap bars and open-air cafes

For a good time on a budget, stick to these areas: Malasaña (Metro stop: Tribunal), Argüelles (Metro stop: Argüelles), and Lavapiés (Metro stop: Lavapiés), where you’ll find a mix of bohemian and student crowds.

If you’re here in summer, be prepared for the treat of terrazas (open-air cafes/bars). Terrazas combine the best of the cafe with the best of the street. Note that prices are slightly higher outside than if you sit inside.

El paseo y el botellón

The paseo (a leisurely stroll) is indispensable to Madrid residents of a certain age, and the botellón (an outdoor drinking party) is equally common among its youth.

Simply grab some wine, spirits and friends, head for the nearest park, square, or street corner, and voila! A portable party.

Free drinks and clubs

If you don’t mind working the nightlife industry for a few drinks, then get ready to party. Just cruise Madrid’s nightlife districts (Huertas, Chueca, Malasaña) and soak up the ambiance.

You will inevitably be stopped in the streets by promoters (many speak English). Some may hand you flyers for drink specials or discounts on clubs, but what you’re really looking for is an offer of a free drink or free entrance to a club.

The promoter will walk you to the place, make sure you get what you were offered (usually a cheap shot of liqueur), and then go off to lure someone else to the bar.

The idea is that you’ll stay on and order more drinks, but no one will make you. So rinse, repeat, and feel free to have a night out on them.

Photo by dustpuppy.

Cheap Accommodation

Hostels

For a hostel bed in Madrid, plan to spend around 15-30 euros a night. A good, fun choice – among many – is Cat’s Hostel (Calle Cañizares 6, Metro stop: Antón Martín).

Accommodation swap

With some ingenuity, you can exchange your digs with someone who lives in Madrid for the duration of your holiday. To give it a go, put up an online classified ad on Loquo.

Couchsurfing

Need I say more? If you’ve read this far in this article, you really must visit www.couchsurfing.com.

Photo by Sam Kelly.

Culture

Luckily, a good number of museums are free or have free entrance days (usually weekend afternoons).

These include the Museo del Prado (art), Museo del Traje (historical costume), Museo Nacional Antropológico (anthropology), Museo Municipal de Arte Contemporáneo (contemporary art), Museo del Ferrocarril (trains), Museo Naval (ships), and La Casa Encendida (art expositions), among many other options.

Parks

Not all of Madrid’s sights are limited to its museums. For old Madrid, head to the Plaza Mayor and Madrid de los Austrias (Metro stop: La Latina/Opera).

For some flora, go to Madrid’s parks and gardens (the Retiro, Campo del Moro, Casa de Campo, Rosaleda Ramón Ortiz – Metro stops: Retiro, Príncipe Pío, Lago, and Argüelles, respectively).

Sunday strolls (and drum circles) at Retiro Park are an institution. For fauna, head to Madrid’s squares for some serious people-watching. Try the Plaza de Santa Ana (Metro stop: Sol), Plaza de Chueca (Metro stop: Chueca), and the Plaza del Dos de Mayo (Metro stop: Bilbao).

Community Connection:

For more trip planning information about Madrid and Spain, check out Matador’s “Where In Spain Should I Study Abroad?” And be sure to check out our lists of the world’s best rooftop bars and world’s sexiest men; Madrid gets a nod on both lists.

Health + LifestyleBudget + Backpacker


 

About The Author

Sarah E. Rogers

Sarah E. Rogers is an American writer, editor, proofreader, researcher, and translator who lives in Madrid, Spain and loves to plot and conspire.

  • Maria

    Thank you for advices!!!! you should post it on traveltipcenter.com!!!!! Again Thank you for that article!!!!! Cheers, Maria =)

  • Lea

    So nice to read this – brought good memories back of my year in Madrid!! But should perhaps mention that botellon is technically illegal, so watch out for the police – they can and will fine you if they see you!!

  • Ursula

    I wouldnt stay at Cat´s, the NASTIEST thing I had ever been to, and that is saying alot compared to Hostels in South Africa. Go to Ways Hostel or even Mad´s Hostel which is owned by the same people as Cats…

    Overall great Ideas! I loved Madrid!

  • Stephanie

    I stayed but one night in Cat’s hostel, the WORSE hostel I’ve ever stayed in, compared to the others I’ve stayed in other parts of Spain, Europe at large, Israel and Egypt.
    Our private twin room had the smell of garbage, prob. since it was facing an alleyway. The room had a feeling of layer of grime, it was def. NOT cleaned before we came in, there was bits of rubbish on the floor.

    We ended up going around the corner to a pension that was maybe $2 extra dollars, got beds, instead of bunk beds, WIFI in the room, a private shower with towels, soap etc.

    Cat’s Hostel in contrast has showers that you have to press for water which lasts about 2 min. and just felt dirty. I’ve stayed in the middle east, in “developing” country of Egypt, and even in the cheapest hostel didn’t feel as dirty.

  • Stephanie

    def. great tips otherwise, I like Madrid a lot.

    I’d like to add in, there’s a nice market within the squares (which are walking distance of each other), I think it’s called St. Antonio’s? Great way to sample lots of cuisine.

  • http://www.internationalrentals.com abi

    Ive been here before and all i can say is this place is totally awesome! i am planning to coma back here soon..

  • Carlos

    Nice article but needs an update…there are 5 or 6 places where you can eat, drink and have lots of fun for around 6 euros…yes u readt right food and drinks included for 6 euros…fun its as a dessert…

  • http://www.spanishsabores.com Lauren (Spanish Sabores)

    Excellent tips (although I can’t speak on the hostel situation) I would also recommend that people try to venture out of the city center a little to some of the other neighborhoods. I live in the Pacifico neighborhood which is walking distance from Atocha Station and Retiro Park but I feel it has a lot of cheaper options– especially its market (Mercado Municipal de Pacifico) which is a more neighborhood (and cheaper) version of the famous San Miguel Market near Sol. 

  • Adam Van Dyke

    Solid article but you can’t forget Museo del Jamon and 100 Montaditos if you are talking about cheap food/beer. Both have 1 Euro small beers (cañas ~8 or 9oz), or 2 Euros for a pint (Jarra) every day and night. They also have 1-2 Euro tapas all the time, with 100 Montaditos having every tapa 1 Euro every Wednesday. Perfect place for afternoon beers/tapas, or to pregame before heading to bars/clubs. I think they are usually open till about midnight. There are several Museo del Jamons (ex. Plaza del Sol, Sol metro stop; or near Plaza de España) and 100 Montaditos near Goya or I believe on Gran Via as well. Also-Box Wine/Sangria from convenience stores or Corte Ingles (large department store chain) can be as low as 50 cents for 1 Liter! And it really tastes pretty good considering the price. Can’t beat 5 drinks for less than a Euro.

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