I recently got the chance to spend three entire days in Madrid, a gorgeous and culturally rich city in the heart of Spain. As usual, the name of my game was "nothing pricey, nothing stuffy, nothing structured." I like to live like a local, wander, and discover things as I happen upon them.
Here's a quick guide to doing just that:
Delightful! This is a total no-brainer in Madrid, especially if you are staying near the center. The city is full of parks, squares, coffee shops, eateries and bars. There are a number of walking tours available, but for free spirited types, it's a pleasure getting lost on most any street.
- Renting a Bike
I recommend choosing one of the many "mom & pop" or private rental shops, since sign-up can take weeks for the city bikes. Better yet, check out the free bike rental at Juan Carlos I Park.
- Riding the Awesome Public Transit
Underground & Bus - The clean and quick Metro de Madrid has easy-to-understand ticketing, and clearly marked stops. Notes: Your ticket will be labeled "METROBUS" and, as you might imagine, it works on the bus and the train. Also, inside the subway cars, the color coordination is a little tricky. There are numerous routes and lines represented by their color on the panels above, but, frankly, it's not obvious how it's broken down. I recommend getting a paper or smartphone route map and listening for your stops. Metro de Madrid's website offers a sweet Tourist Map PDF detailing all the hot spots along the subway.
Bus Tour - We didn't do this, but I heard secondhand that it's fantastic. Throughout the city center you'll find places to sign up for bus tours. They take you to most of the best spots, and many of the tickets will get you discounts at restaurants and bars, and attractions–plus you can get on and off the bus for the duration of the pass.
- Hailing a Taxi
During the weekend of our visit, we stayed out pretty late. We opted to take a cab home, since our meandering had led us quite far afield. Hailing a cab in Madrid is fairly straightforward, and there seemed to be a number of taxi services running at all hours. I recommend knowing your address, cross streets and the names of any landmarks near your home, since not all taxis are equipped with a GPS.
A Place To Call Home
Once again, our old friend airbnb.com did the trick, here. We stayed three nights in a small but awesome flat. The host offered a bit of food, toiletries and wifi passwords. The interior was clean, simple, and boasted a brightly colored decor, full kitchen and bath, as well as a large fluffy bed. The total rental price was less than half that of a hotel, plus it was a slice of real life in the heart of the Madrid city center.
Free Stuff To Do
- Long walks in the parks
Check out El Retiro (Parque del Buen Retiro) ...they have a glass palace. Seriously.
- Window shopping
We checked out the La Latina neighborhood near Plaza Mayor. It's "real deal Europe".
- Street music
There are plenty of musicians and street performers to delight you - top-notch talent!
- Go in a cathedral
We wandered into a beautiful old cathedral with open doors and admired the bejeezus out of it... well, er... you know what I mean... It was old and pretty!
- People watching
Did I mention parks and squares yet? What's great is there are benches and patches of grass everywhere, where you can stop and take it all in!
Cheap Stuff To Do
- Tapas with drinks
If you fancy a drink, keep eyes peeled for "ofertas". Many bars offer a free nibble with your drink purchase. Furthermore, many tapas come with a small side of bread! Average drink prices range from 0.75 euro (local beers and wines) to 5 euro (cocktails and special beers). Tapas range from 0.50 to 4.50 euro depending.
- Step inside some Roman ruins
The Temple of Debod is rad. Admission is cheap/free.
- Row a boat in a Parque del Buen Retiro
From what I understood, prices were less than 5 euro for 45 mins!
- Flea markets
Perfect deal-hunting weather. Make sure to bring small cash (many vendors don't take cards).
- Ride a gondola!
Seriously sexy views less than 6 euros!