1. A view to a thrill. Walk through Plaza de Oriente (Metro: Opera.) Any guide book will point you in this direction, walking from the Teatro Real through the Gardens, all the while looking at the Palacio Real. To the right there is a fantastic view over Casa de Campo and the mountains outside of Madrid, and if you go down the steps and walk through Campo de Moro, complete with peacocks, it is a lovely way to spend any sunny day. Google image it, and you’ll get the idea.
2. Tapas and beer. Buy a caña (a small beer costing around €1.50) and you can get a lot of free tapas. The more beer, the more food. Simples. And the food is most likely homemade too.
3. Museums are free for EU students! On the whole.
- For the Reina Sofia (Metro: Atocha) you can find the famous ‘Guernica’ and other temporary exhibitions too. Take the lift up to the 4th floor of the Edificio Nuevo to get on the roof with a great view over Madrid. If you aren’t a student or don’t have a valid student card to present, the whole museum is free for everyone between 7pm and 9pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and for the whole of Sunday.
- The Prado Museum is also free entry for EU students under 25, and for everyone else 6pm-8pm Monday- Saturday, and 5pm-7pm Sundays and holidays. Warning: it is an incredibly popular museum, so there is always a queue if anyone has a chance to go for free.
- Other good museums that won’t cost you a euro to get in are the Museo Sorolla (Metro: Iglesia, Rubén Dario or Gregorio Marañón), the Museo de America (Metro: Moncloa) El Museo del Traje (Metro: Ciudad de Universidad), and El Museo Naval de Madrid (Metro: Banco de España) The Palacio Real (Metro: Opera) is free on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons for all EU citizens. Two things: you will need proof. So take something to say that you are a student and/or EU citizen. But if all else fails, public holidays are also a great time to get free entry into a lot of these museums too. The main ones are: 18th May, International Museum Day. 12th October, National Day of Spain. 6th December, Constitution Day.
4. Abono. If you are using public transport then it is worth getting the abono, which for students is a lot cheaper. This grants you unlimited transport throughout the city, depending on the zones that you want to access. To obtain the abono you need to fill out a special form that any of the ‘Tabacos’ have, complete with passport photo and your passport details. Then it gets sent off to eventually reward you with a nice laminated travel pass. It’s always nice to take a bus trip through the city because you can.
5. Free jazz. Madrid is famous for its jazz, and you don’t necessarily have to fork out for it. Many bars have free jazz or free music evenings, so all it would cost you is a drink. (I’d get there early though.) Also, the annual Madrid Jazz Festival in November until early December is also certainly something to check out and again, a lot of them are free.
6. Cheaper cinema. Many cinemas have a día del espectador, a day with cheap cinema tickets. So go along to save some money and practice your Spanish at the same time.
7. Get out and about. Madrid is one of the greenest cities in the world, with 16m² of the green stuff for each person. You always see the lovely street and park maintenance people buzzing around the city in the little cars, or walking around with rakes. So make their job worthwhile and use the parks! It may be cold or windy, but you can bet it will be sunny. So wrap up warm and have a stroll through a park with your iPod or a book. And in summer, you’ve got no excuse, just be prepared to fight off any madrileño for that patch of grass.
8. Embrace the Madrid shopping experience. It takes a while to get used to, but there is one department chain in Spain, El Corte Inglés, and for what it offers it is expensive. Also, supermarkets don’t stock everything from butternut squash to bikinis to blenders, so if you want fruit and vegetables: go to the local Fruteria, if you want some ibuprofen: go to a Farmacia, if you want some rope: got to Casa Hernanz next to Plaza Mayor on Calle de Toledo, if you want some mannequins for a shop window go to Gama Stand Sa on Calle de Segovia. Madrid is the home of specialised shops. Not only will it be cheaper, but also of better quality and with more variety.
9. Skype. Whether you're using it between two computers (free!) with the delights of webcam, or to any fixed number (1.4p a minute), it has never been easier to keep in touch with people and tell them about all the things you’ve been up to in Madrid.
10. Free music. El Real Conservatorio Superior de Música de Madrid, right next to the Reina Sofia, is apparently the first conservatoire in Spain. It is also home of incredibly talented students doing a multitude of (free) music events. Look on their website to keep up to date with music concerts, from pianists to flautists to whole orchestras, to even a cinema showing. Even though it’s a very old-fashioned looking website (the institution is over 100 years old), click on the link to Agenda Cultural to find out about all the recitals and events being held by the music school.
11. Menú del día. A wonderful invention that allowed people to still have a proper meal at lunchtime without having to drive home. Three courses, a drink and bread for about €10. For the majority of places, don’t pay more than €15.
12. Sundays. You can’t beat the atmosphere through the streets of Madrid on the Sabbath. They say that La Latina is the best as El Rastro spills out into all the streets either side of the original hill. But in general at about 2pm you’ll be fighting off a table at any bar in the city, especially if they have a terrace, especially if it’s sunny. Tip: if you’re in a hurry, don’t walk through the city on a Sunday. The pace of walking is almost slow motion, and with so many shops shut, window shopping is the favourite sport of the day.
13. Lastly, just keep your finger on the pulse. With Spain in a crisis, the local government have realised that few activities could survive if they weren’t free.
Some good websites are:
Es Madrid. The official website from Madrid’s government.
Le Cool. Something a little less off the beaten track; includes recommendations for events that week, restaurants, bars and interviews with a variety of personalities. Sign up and they send you an email every Thursday- just in time for the weekend.
Time Out. The worldwide publication that has a good article on ’20 great things to do in Madrid.’
In Madrid. An English Publication that gives updates on what is going on in the city, not as good as the others. It does have some good files under ‘Student Guide’ with advice for students, written by students on everything from cheap tapas to the best clubs to how to get out the city to how to find an intercambio. And if there are any budding journalists out there, get some experience by writing for them. You will have to know what you’re writing about though, so if that means trying 20 portions of churros, then duty calls....