Four things to see and do in Madrid for free—or almost free

For many, coming to Spain is a once in a lifetime trip and while they want to take in all the sights they possibly can, there is often that budget factor to consider.  Fortunately, Madrid has a lot of things to see that are either free or at least very accessible on a limited budget.

Free art exhibition and tour of a landmark building

City hall

The City Hall is housed in an iconic building at the famous Cibeles fountain. It has only recently become the home of the city hall. Up until 2007 is was the home of the post office in Madrid.  This magnificent structure, which is a landmark in Madrid, looks like a gothic cathedral. But it isn’t as historic as one might think compared to other structures in Spain. It was actually built in the early 20th century to house the Spanish postal and telegraph services. The building itself is still referred to as the “casa de comunicaciones”, or communication house

  IT IS FREE TO VISIT THE CITY HALL—AND WELL WORTH IT JUST TO SEE THE MAGNIFICENT  STRUCTURE FROM INSIDE.

IT IS FREE TO VISIT THE CITY HALL—AND WELL WORTH IT JUST TO SEE THE MAGNIFICENT  STRUCTURE FROM INSIDE.

 

The City Hall can be visited free of charge by the public. Just being able to go in and wander the corridors and see the immense patios and gilded ceilings is more than worth your time.  Be sure to have a look at the beautiful ceramic tiles on the walls of the spiral staircase. I have been to this palace more times than I can count, and I still marvel at the structure, especially the stunning vaulted ceiling. You can go to the top floor where there is a look-out area in which you can see Madrid from a bird’s eye view. There is a charge to go to the look-out area, but the there is no charge to visit the rest of the palace. Aside from just being able to see the building, the City Hall offers ongoing exhibitions that are constantly changing. These exhibitions are often interactive and fun even for children. They change every few months, so even if you have been to the City Hall once, it is worth a repeat visit to see what new exhibition is on display.

Where: Plaza de la Cibeles, (Cibeles plaza)

Metro: Banco de Espana (L2)

Cercanias:  (local trains) Recoletos station

Caixa Forum:

The Caixa is a financial institution in Spain that has a social forum in Madrid that acts as a museum bringing in art expositions from around the world. You can either visit the entire museum for 4 Euros or take in one of the temporary expositions—that are constantly changing—for free.

  THE CAIXA FORUM IS CONSTANTLY CHANGING ITS EXHIBITIONS

THE CAIXA FORUM IS CONSTANTLY CHANGING ITS EXHIBITIONS

The Caixa often offers interactive activities for children. The most expensive I have seen is only 4 Euros, and some are for 2 Euros or even free depending on the exposition.  Have a look on the web before you go to see if there might be an activity for children.

Even before entering the building you will find a fascinating exhibit on the steet.  It is a garden wall, which is exactly as it sounds—a garden growing on a wall. I often see walls with ivy or other creeping plants growing on it, but this garden wall is interesting in that it has numerous different types of plants, grasses and flowers covering the entire wall.

On the top floor of the Caixa building, there is a restaurant and coffee shop. If you happen to be ready for a break from all your touring the coffee shop is a very relaxing place that will help rejuvenate you for further sightseeing adventures.  

Where:  Paseo del Prado, 36 (Across the Paseo from the botanical garden)

Metro: Atocha (L1)

Cercanias (local trains) Atocha station

WebCaixa Forum  

Atocha train station:

If you aren’t catching a train to or from Atocha you will still want to visit the station. It is the oldest and largest train station in Madrid. The original structure, built in 1851, was almost completely destroyed by fire.  Architect Alberto de Palacio Elissagne worked in conjunction with Gustave Eifeel—yes, the architect who designed the Eiffel tower—to complete the design we are familiar with today. The Atocha train station is predominantly wrought iron and glass, making for a spacious, light and airy feel. 

If the design were not enough to attract your attention, you many enjoy a walk around the tropical botanical gardens housed in the central part of the station. Over 7,000 plants belonging to around 260 different species adorn the garden, including a pond with 22 species of fish and turtles. 

  THE ATOCHA TRAIN STATION IS WELL WORTH A VISIT EVEN IF YOU DON'T NEED TO CATCH A TRAIN

THE ATOCHA TRAIN STATION IS WELL WORTH A VISIT EVEN IF YOU DON'T NEED TO CATCH A TRAIN

 

The station also happens to house a mall, so if it is a little shopping you are looking for you have also come to the right place.

Where: Plaza Emperador Carlos V

Metro: Atocha (L1)

Cercanias (local trains) Atocha station

Cuckoo clock

Madrid’s largest—and perhaps the only— cuckoo clock is housed in the Plus Ultra Seguros. Even without the cuckoo clock this building is a beautiful sight to take in. The Seguros building is an ornate French style design with wrought iron balconies.

  FIVE EMBLEMATIC FIGURES FROM MADRID COME OUT TO ENTERTAIN IN THIS GIANT CUCKOO CLOCK

FIVE EMBLEMATIC FIGURES FROM MADRID COME OUT TO ENTERTAIN IN THIS GIANT CUCKOO CLOCK

Only four times a day will you get a chance to see something even more spectacular about this building. The cuckoo clock.  A cuckoo clock may not sound overly exciting, but this one is rather exceptional. At precisely noon, 3 p.m, 6 pm. And 8 p.m. you will hear music from the 18 bells that are alongside the clock. Then a large door opens up and five larger than life figures appear on the balcony of the first floor of the building and perform a number of movements.

The five figures are from right to left, the painter Francisco de Goya, the duchess of Alba along with her dog, King Carlos III, a women in a traditional dress of Madrid and the bull fighter Pedro Romero.  Each of the figures does a movement that characterizes who they are.  

The little show only lasts for three minutes, so make sure you are punctual.

Where:  Plaza de Cortes 8

When: At 12 noon, 3 p.m, 6 p.m and 8 p.m.  

Metro:  Sevilla (L 1)