As one of the most vibrant capital cities in Western Europe, Madrid may not be as cheap to live in as other cities around the world but it’s a great place to study Spanish, with a thriving community of students. Providing you’re smart with your money and follow these tips, you can still enjoy the city and all it has to offer on a student budget.

Buy a pass for the metro, bus and train

Student travel by subway in Madrid — © santypan / iStock.
Student travel by subway in Madrid — © santypan / iStock.

Madrid has gone to great lengths to improve public transport in the city and keep it affordable. It’s all about the transport cards and you can apply for a monthly or annual transport card here that costs 4 euros. Once you’ve got that, you pay a monthly or annual fee and you’re free to switch between bus and metro and hop on and off at your leisure (which can come in handy when there are transport strikes in the city). Jumping on a random bus or metro train and riding it to the end of the line is also a fun way of exploring new parts of the city (providing you take note of how to get home again). If you’re under 26, the monthly, unlimited pass for students (abono jovén) is only 20 euros and is valid for all zones. If you’re over 26, it’s around 55 euros per month, which is still pretty good if you’re moving around the city a lot. For more info, consult the official transport website.

You can also sign up for the city’s Bicimad program and ride the city’s bicycles for cheap. If you want to go further afield, take advantage of the city’s car sharing apps that are becoming very popular and allow you to find the nearest car and rent it for several minutes or hours. Check out Share Now (19 centavos per minute).

Secrets to grocery shopping

One of the cheapest chain stores for grocery shopping in Madrid is Alcampo so do your big weekly shops there. Another tip is that some local supermarkets that close on Sundays will run special deals and discounts on a Saturday afternoon to get rid of perishable stock so keep your eyes out for that.

Partying on a shoestring

Student nights in Madrid — © El Chapandaz.
Student nights in Madrid — © El Chapandaz.

While entry to Madrid’s mega clubs isn’t cheap by any means (to get into the famous Teatro Kapital will set you back close to 20 euros, depending on the night) the city is full of cool night spots with free entry and if you stick to the right areas, you can have a fun night out without breaking the bank. Also look out for club reps on the streets handing out flyers and tickets on the streets offering special discounts and drinks deals. The student area of Moncloa is a popular hang out with students and there are lots of cheap bars there and people drinking on the streets, including El Chapandaz that’s open every night of the year and is famous for it’s milky leche de pantera that’ll get you killer drunk (and give you a killer hangover the following day).

Other cool bars to check out are +KCopas (MKC) for its drinks promotions that change daily (and six locations in the city) and 100 Montaditos for its cheap beer and 1 euro sandwiches and snacks.

Enjoy the free stuff

Egyptian temple in Madrid — © Jorge Rionegro / Pixabay.
Egyptian temple in Madrid — © Jorge Rionegro / Pixabay.

Before you start paying for things to do in Madrid, make the most of the free activities. Madrid is full of beautiful buildings, plazas, and parks to explore, where you can wander, people watch and spend time with friends without spending a cent.

Skip paying to get inside the Royal Palace (still the official residence of the Royal Family) and instead marvel the building’s beautiful facade from the pretty tree-lined Plaza de Oriente. If you do want to go inside and you’re a EU citizen, you can get in for free on Wednesday with your passport. You can also visit the palace’s beautiful Sabatini Gardens for free. Another one of the most striking (and unlikely) free sights to see in Madrid is the Egyptian Temple of Debod that was a gift from Egypt to thank Spain for helping them preserve their ancient treasures during the flooding brought about by the building of the Aswan Dam in the 1960s. It’s a great spot to hit up at sunset and enjoy views across the city.

For culture buffs wanting to enjoy the city’s world-renowned museums (without paying the steep entry fees), some of the best museums offer free entry at specific times. You can get into the uber-cool Prado on Monday to Saturday from 6pm to 8pm and Sunday from 5pm to 7pm, the Reina Sofia on Monday and Wednesday to Saturday from 7pm to 9pm and Sunday afternoon from 1.30pm to 7pm and the Thysssen-Bornemisza Museum on Monday from 12 to 4pm. You might also want to check out the lesser-known Fundacion Canal or the Espacio Fundación Telefónica in the iconic Telefónica Building, both of which are free entry and host a variety of interesting exhibitions and events.

Budget eats

Best budget eats in Madrid — © Charlie Phillips / Flickr.
Best budget eats in Madrid — © Charlie Phillips / Flickr.

Madrid is famous for its food scene and you can still enjoy it without having to spend a small fortune. For breakfast, La Duquesita (Calle Fernando VI, 2) does a fantastic croissant for less than 2 euros that’s perfectly flaky and soft. We know it’s not strictly Spanish fare but it’s not a bad way to start the day for just a handful of change.

At lunchtimes, order the menu del día in the local restaurants, a fixed menu that usually includes a starter, main course, dessert or coffee, and a beer or wine, all for around 10 euros. And at night, head to the tapas bars that give out free tapas with a drink and you’re guaranteed a good feed for the price of a couple of beers. One local favorite is El Tigre, where the purchase of a drink gets you a plate of Spanish favorites, be they croquetas, papas or bocadillos. If you’re craving some serious jamón, head to a branch of the Museo del Jamón that’s not a museum but a chain of charcuterías specializing in Iberian ham, where you can find a spot at the bar and stuff your face with jamón and cheese over a few drinks.

Eating at the city’s markets is another way to eat well on a budget and if there’s nowhere to sit, you can take your food to go and enjoy a makeshift picnic in the park or plaza. While the most famous Mercado San Miguel is full of tasty offerings, it’s more expensive than most so we suggest Mercado San Fernando that has an array of food stalls, from fresh produce to pizza slices and tacos, to be washed down with a glass of vino or craft beer. The café culture is also huge in Madrid and you can catch up with friends over a leisurely café con leche without ever feeling rushed or pressured to order another round.

Got any other tips for budget living in Madrid? Tell our readers about them in the comments section below.

Originally published on Ailola by Sophie Lloyd on March 4, 2019.