I arrived in Madrid a few weeks ago with only a handful of hours on a Saturday to show my fiancé around town, so I wanted a way to pack in as much culture as we could, and if possible, do it on the cheap. Enter my colleague Meg Weaver’s excellent Free City Guide to Madrid, where I found a slew of cost-efficient ways to wander the city. With her list and a few of our own discoveries along the way, we were able to make our limited stay a memorable one, and save a few euros in the process.
Our first stop was the CaixaForum Madrid gallery, a former electric power station that’s now a funky art space situated along the Paseo del Prado, tucked among some of the city’s best museums. We wandered the current exhibit, took a break at the thoroughly modern cafe upstairs, then marveled at the living wall of plant life that’s overtaken the exterior of the building next door. The admission is always free, so it should certainly join the must-see list for those visiting the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia and Museo del Prado, which is where we were headed next.
Admission is free for visitors to the Reina Sofia after 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays and until 2:30 p.m. on Sundays, so we ducked in there first, taking the very-cool elevators up to see Picasso’s Guérnica, which is always captivating. We spent awhile wandering the halls of modern art before heading over to the historic stuff at the Prado, whose immense galleries filled with works by Goya, Reubens, and Velásques constituted an entire semester’s worth of study for one of my college roommates when she studied abroad in the city. But we only had two hours, as the Prado offers free admission from 6 p.m to 8 p.m. on Tuesday through Saturday (and from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday). Thankfully, that was more than enough time to take in some of the museum’s more famous works like Las Meninas and The 3rd of May 1808 in Madrid.
Of course, after all of our museum visits, my fiancé insisted we visit one more, the Museo del Jamón (above), which he claimed was his favorite museum of all. The name is a bit beguiling, as they’re not really a museum, but rather a chain of food counters spread across the city offering up a selection of amazing jamón serrano slices and bocadillos (sandwiches). As the sun set in the city, people flocked to these deli counters to grab a plate of meat freshly sawed off one of the many ham legs dangling from the ceiling, all while smoking and sipping beers as if in any other bar. With their cheap prices, it wasn’t hard to see why the crowds kept coming.
For a slightly more upscale eating experience, we visited the Mercado de San Miguel next, which is only a stone’s throw from Plaza Mayor. The glass-enclosed market has about two dozen food stalls, each offering something different, like fresh meats, breads, cheese, oysters, pastries, olives, etc. It was another hotspot that evening, packed with 30-somethings who made a urban picnic of the offerings on hand, all of which was washed down with ample glasses of wine. I really can’t recommend it enough, and wish that we had something like it here in D.C. We bought two glasses of vino for about six euros and felt deliciously hip.
Of course, before we could go to bed with enough time to catch our morning flight, I needed dessert, so I insisted we find one of Madrid’s finest offerings – the churro. We ended our evening at Chocolatería San Gines, dipping toasted dough strips into some of the richest melted cocoa around.
Check out Meg’s complete list for more cheap ideas for exploring Madrid. Have your own suggestions? Let us know.
Photos: Janelle Nanos