Making the most of Madrid (on a budget)

City breaks in Europe are great option if you want to save some pennies (assuming your point of origin is also in Europe). Whilst it’s easy to go on holiday and spend lavishly, it’s often harder to go away on a shoestring, yet it needn’t be. Madrid is a city which I know pretty well and there are plenty of hidden cafes and restaurants, hilltop hideaways and basement bars that offer great value for money. So, if you want to explore the Spanish capital on a tight budget, stick with me…


The Hills of Parque del Cerro del Tio Pio

This park comprises of seven, what I can only assume are manmade, hills. It’s a little way out of the centre, but only by a short metro journey on line 1, to Portazgo in Vallecas. After a brief five-minute jaunt turning North-East out of the metro station (and very clear on Google maps) you’ll come across a wonderful park with seven big hills which look over the Madrid skyline. Locals and tourists alike flock to the park in the summer months, especially the evenings, to catch a glimpse of the sun escaping over the mountains to the West. Taking a picnic and a few drinks along with you is a great way to spend a night if you’re looking to save money. However, if you do want to push the boat out, there is a bar in the park with a lovely terrace which is often accompanied by a local dance ensemble.

Las Cuevas de Sésamo. Aka the Sangria bar. 

This bar, located in the underworld of Sol on Calle Principe, is quite underwhelming when you walk past it. So much so, if you didn’t know it existed you probably wouldn’t bother going down to see what all the fuss is about. However, now you have no reason to miss out what really is a gem in the hustle and bustle of Sol (not that it’s any less busy down there in the evenings). Yet it’s the busy sound of chatter, the clandestine entrance, and the bar staff donning the stall to take turns on the out-of-tune piano which makes this underground cave so appealing – it really is a great atmosphere. Whilst they do serve drinks other than (rather strong) sangria it’s definitely worth testing out what they are famous for. The sangria comes by the jug with small glasses and costs around €11, which is easily enough for a small group.

Francos Rodríguez swimming pool

A Summer trip to Madrid isn’t the same without a beach, which is a shame seeing as Madrid is smack bang in the centre of Spain (you can actually visit this ‘exact’ centre of the country in Sol where there is a plaque in the floor). So, the closest beach from my last calculations was Valencia, which is not only a three-hour train journey away, but also isn’t known for having the best beach, being a port city. Nevertheless, Madrid has got around its landlocked conundrum by creating some brilliant open-air swimming pools. There are loads to choose from, but my favourite, if you’re short on time and need a recommendation, is the one near to Francos Rodriguez metro, which is a short stroll from Estrecho metro stop. Along with a huge lido, it has a grass and beach volleyball area as well as a bar and café. It’s a great way to spend your day, and top up your tan, before an evening’s festivities. Tickets for adults are about €4.50 with discounts being applied if you’re under 26, a student or over 60. 

Plaza de Olavide, near Iglesia

This has to be my favourite plaza in Madrid, and there are a lot of them. Set in a tranquil circle, which is strange considering ‘plaza’ refers to a square, there are countless restaurants and bars aligned around a lovely fountain in the middle. Food and drinks vary in price here, but you can definitely get a bottle of white wine for around €11 which is pretty good for an evening out. As with most drinks orders in Spain, free, complimentary tapas normally accompany beverages.  

A day trip to Manzanares El Real

If you want to break away from the capital for a day then Madrid has numerous great day trip venues for its visitors. There’s Toledo and Segovia, which are two of the more popular options. One lesser known destination is the mountain town of Manzanares El Real which is an hour bus journey from Plaza de Castilla bus station in Madrid. Here you’ll find a beautiful market town with storks nesting in the church rooftops and eagles and other birds of prey flying overhead. You can with explore the town’s many bars and cafes or go for a mountain hike along the river. In the summer seasons you can swim in little pools and there are even some makeshift bars open along the way. There is a supermarket right where the bus drops you off so you can grab some supplies before heading off! The bus costs around €4 per person each way and leaves every hour.