Madrid, despite being the capital of Spain, is often overlooked. While it might not be near the Mediterranean, it does have a whole lot to offer — some of which you won't find in other parts of Spain either. Moreover, Madrid should be your first stop if you want to get a handle on Spanish culture, not to mention it's easy to get to, easy to get around, and easy to use as a base for traveling to pretty much anywhere else in Europe (or beyond).
I spent two nights in Madrid, breaking up a trip between Galicia and Corsica. I was able to sleep in style, see a lot, and try lots of great food for a total of $92.70. Wondering how you can do it, too? Then read on!
Do a basic search, and you'll find that the Prado Museum, Retiro Park, the Royal Palace, and Plaza Mayor (central plaza) will come up first. These are all worthwhile places to visit — you can even visit them all for free — but they're just the very tip of the iceberg of what Madrid has to offer. In fact, I spent an entire year living here in 2015, and on my recent two-night trip I still found new things to do.
Madrid has a different vibe than anywhere else in Spain. Sure, dinner is late and Spanish is the spoken language, but you won't find another big city in Spain with such a passion for — well — just about everything! From unique dining to a park so large you'll forget you're in a city, Madrid has something to interest everyone.
Madrid is also a great budget destination. You can stay at a nice Madrid hotel for less than a hostel in London, or have a great dinner out for less than takeout in the New York. During my stay, I had multiple meals out and spent a grand total of $45.10 on food. The museums have world-class collections, and you can use free visiting hours to see world-famous works by Dali, Picasso, Goya, Velázquez, Bosch, and thousands of other artists.
As for a place to stay, you can find a wide selection of hotels, bed and breakfasts, hostels, and other types of accommodations. With the exception of a few public holidays, you can almost always find a comfortable place for two for well under $100 a night, usually with breakfast included.
For my two-night trip, though, I paid exactly $0 and 52,000 Hilton Honors points to stay at the Hilton Madrid Airport. There are also Hilton properties downtown, but for this trip being close to the airport made the most sense for me — and the price was right! I booked the lowest category of room and was upgrades to a suite with a jacuzzi, was able to use the executive lounge when it was actually open, and had breakfast included.
Getting in and out of Madrid is easy, and usually cheap. There's just one large and pretty easy-to-navigate airport, and there are plenty of ways to get into the city quickly. Since I was already in Spain, I hopped on a domestic flight from A Coruña Airport in Northwestern Galicia, which cost me a little over $30 booked a few weeks before. Round-trip flights from the United States often start below $300 from many cities.
Within the city itself, transport is great. A metro ride costs about $2, and you can get anywhere in the city quickly. The city center is very pedestrian friendly, and you'll most likely want to walk within it. The trains to nearby towns are also great value. There's even a great high-speed train connection that gets you to the must-see city of Toledo in 30 minutes.
Unless you're extremely limited on time in Madrid, nearby Toledo is a must-see (not to be confused with the slightly less beautiful town in Ohio). You can take a fast train from Madrid Atocha, and be there in about 30 minutes. Alternatively, you could save a few bucks and take an hour-long bus ride. Either way, it's so close that you could have breakfast in Madrid, head down to Toledo early, and be back in time for a late lunch!
Toledo is a small, picturesque city on a hill that happens to also be a cradle of culture. At one point, large Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities all inhabited the city at the same time, something you can still feel there today. El Greco lived there, and there's a lot of history to learn about — you can do all this on a walk around the city. Toledo's also one of the main sword manufacturing cities in the world, and it's fun to browse all the impressive swords for sale in shop windows.
My grand total of $92.70 for my two-night trip to Madrid breaks down as follows:
$32.60 for transport (including train to/from Toledo)
$45.10 for food
$15 for a walking tour
$0 for my hotel stay (learn more about how to earn points to travel like a pirate)
To see more about my trip to Madrid and Toledo, check out our Instagram Account!