Madrid insider tips
How to save money plus other advice on Madrid
Enjoy Madrid, and save some money, by following my advice on:
- Tap water tastes fine and is perfectly safe to drink. There is no problem or stigma about ordering agua del grifo in a bar or restaurant - no matter how posh.
- You can just fill up your bottles in your hotel, but if you do want to buy bottled water, it costs next to nothing in a supermarket or small traditional shop.
- While it is cheaper to have a coffee, drink or tapas at the bar than sitting at a table (roughly 20 or 30 cents per item), when I have been traipsing around the city for hours, I think it’s well worth paying a bit more to sit down comfortably and plan my next move.
- Do what the locals do and eat a set lunch - menú del dia – for around 10 euros. You usually get three courses with wine or whatever you want to drink, and it will set you up for the day. It’s usually served pretty fast too, so you can be in and out in an hour or so.
- Tapas - ham and cheese can be surprisingly expensive, particularly if you get given a ración rather than a tapa. Don’t feel you have to order everything at once. Locals only ever order two or three dishes at a time at most, then see how they feel.
- All restaurants serve wine by the glass, although this is not always stated on the menu. If you only want a glass each, just ask for una copa de vino tinto/blanco. If you’re going to have two each, however, it’s probably cheaper to get a bottle.
- There’s no need to leave big tips - no matter how gorgeous the waiter or waitress is. Just rounding up to the next euro is fine for coffees, beers and bills under 10 euros - but a lot of locals leave nothing at all. Five per cent is more than enough for meals unless you’re somewhere really fancy or service has been exceptional.
- Breakfast is much cheaper in bars than hotels, provided you only want toast or a pastry and tea or coffee. Fresh orange juice - in the land of oranges - is good, but never cheap for some reason, and often doubles your breakfast bill.
- The pavement cafés in the Plaza Mayor are notorious for ripping-off tourists who have just arrived and may be unaware of prices. Check your change and if you’re not given a receipt, ask for el ticket.
- In summer, Madrilenians love tinto de verano - red wine and lemonade in a long glass over lots of ice - which is a cheap, refreshing drink and a good choice at a pavement café.
- A 10-ride Metrobus ticket costs 9.30 euros and you can share it between two or more people, provided you put it through the machine for each passenger. Read more advice about How to get around Madrid.
- Many museums are free at least once a week. The Prado Museum is free after 6pm Tue-Sat, and after 5pm on Sundays. The Reina Sofia Museum is free after 7pm weekdays, on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings.
- The Teatro Real opera house (www.teatro-real.es) offers a 60 per cent discount on some performances for the under 30s, and 90 per cent for the under 26s on unsold last-minute tickets for all performances (including concerts and ballet).
- Hotels often offer good deals in August as there is a big drop in business travellers.
- The tourist board runs a great programme of guided walks, most for just 3.90 euros.
- There is free WiFi in lots of cafés and bars - look out for stickers on the window. Plans are afoot to create WiFi hotspots throughout the city, but this only goes for the Plaza Mayor, the Plaza de Santo Domingo off the Gran Vía, and the Plaza de Olavide at the moment. There is free WiFi on buses, although the signal is a bit dodgy - at least that's been my experience so far, but presumably it will improve with time.
- Check the Agenda page of the Madrid section of El Pais for on-the-day details of free concerts, talks, exhibition openings and other stuff.
- Anyone can show up to gallery openings, which are always free and are often coordinated to take place on a particular night in key areas such as Chueca or around Calle Dr. Fourquet near the Reina Sofia museum. Pop into any gallery to pick up an information leaflet.
- During Architecture Week in early October, architecture students offer free guided visits to contemporary buildings and landmark monuments not usually open to the public.