There are so many bargain holidays around that you might be overwhelmed by the choice or worried about hidden extras but if youre looking for an exciting city break on a reasonable budget you could do much worse than Madrid. This fabulous city is choc a bloc with things to do and places to see that are completely free, and there are loads of cheap but clean and welcoming hotels across the city, along with numerous small pensions and hostels.
The main focus of Madrid is the magnificent Retiro Park, the so-called Green Capital. Although there are numerous other green spaces in the city, this is the biggest and best, located just on the outskirts of the city centre and easily reached from the main attractions, such as the Prado Museum and Atocha Railway Station. On sunny days this is where the citizens themselves love to hang out, especially around the central lake with its open-air cafes and boating. The park is criss-crossed with tree-lined boulevards and smaller footpaths, and you certainly dont have to keep off the grass! Bring a picnic along and enjoy an al fresco lunch in magnificent surroundings.
There are also lots of gorgeous plazas, or squares, which are popular with the locals, especially in the summer evenings. Theyre lined with cafes, bars and restaurants and you can while away a very pleasant few hours here over a coffee or bottle of wine. The Spanish love to promenade, chat and party into the small hours in their plazas, along with their small kids, even on weekdays. Thats because they recharge their batteries in afternoon siestas, which the EU is doing its level best to eradicate as blights on good, hard-working capitalism. But Spain is a deeply Catholic country, wedded to its age-old traditions, and the Protestant work ethic hasnt yet made serious inroads. Fingers crossed!
Youll find some of the best museums and art galleries in the world in Madrid, and although the likes of the Prado and Reiner Sofia do carry a small entry charge there are days each week when you can get in for free. You can, for instance, get in to the Prado to see its fabulous collections of Goya, Velasquez and other masters every evening between 6.00pm and 8.00pm completely free of charge, and on Sundays between 5.00pm and 8.00pm. At the Reiner Sofia you can gain free entry after 7.00pm every weekday, so check out all the times and if youre an art addict you could save a small fortune.
For such a great city, theres a huge range of cheap accommodation on offer, with good hostels right in the city centre and close to all the attractions. And on the travel side theres simply no comparison between Madrid and a city like London. On the Madrid Metro you buy a stack of vouchers for 1 Euro each and use them to get everywhere, each journey costing one voucher or 1 Euro. So landing at Madrid Airport and taking the tube right to the other end of the city to a station like Plaza Eliptica will cost you 1 Euro! Compare that with blowing most of your spending money just getting from Heathrow or Stansted to your hotel in central London, and youll take the point.
David Elliott is a freelance writer who loves to travel, especially in Europe and Turkey. Hes spent most of his adult life in a state of restless excitement but recently decided to settle in North London. He gets away whenever he can to immerse himself in foreign cultures and lap up the history of great cities.