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Free tour Madrid & other experiences
What to do in Madrid for 3 days? Well, to get a well-rounded, reasonably priced Madrid experience, there are a couple routes you can take. There are free tour Madrid options (or close to free) like walking tours, bike tours, pub crawls, easy day trips…the opportunities are endless. But if you’re only there for a weekend, how do you make sure that you don’t miss any must-have experiences?
After spending a year living in Spain, I learned the best of the best: free walking tours in Madrid and out, good bike tours, tapas tastings, etc. Because it’s such a huge city with such a huge population, it’s easy to find one, even at the last second. So, you’ve got the weekend: do you go on a free tour in Madrid, or should you venture out to day-trips?
Free walking tours in Madrid, or almost free
Madrid tours come in all shapes and sizes, so feel free to pick and choose what you want to learn about. They range from touring what’s left of the Spanish Inquisition to a lighthearted overview of the local tapas culture. You’ve got some choices.
So, let’s start there. What kind of tour are you looking for? My suggestion: take one day to hit your bases. The first thing you’ll want to do is one of the historical tours, of course, because those will show you all of the important landmarks that you need to see in the city so you can go ahead and cross those off your list with minimal effort and maximum results.
Even if you decide to spend your weekend in Madrid just on learning its history, the first stop on your Madrid itinerary should definitely be the generic tourist tour. This is also generally the only time you’ll find free tours; niche tours tend to have more detailed information, and thus require a booking fee, but more about that later.
Sandeman Tours Madrid
Without a doubt, the Sandeman tours are my favorite. This company is home to the original free tour, and will walk you around the city’s most important attractions for free, in both English and Spanish (for those of you interested in learning some Spanish). All are welcome, and this tour runs every day at 10, 11, 2, and 4, which allows for whatever you may have in your schedule.
Sandeman Tours meets in Plaza Mayor, the city’s most popular meeting place, and continues for 3 hours, usually with a moment for a meal to fuel up. This tour is a great way to get in all the major highlights of Madrid in a day. It is free, but don’t forget to tip!
Sandeman’s other tours
After their free tour, I highly recommend spending the rest of your day in some of their more niche tours. While these other tours do come at a price (12 to 45 euros, depending on the experience) I must say they’re definitely worth it. They host tours you can’t find anywhere else, and they’re chock full of fascinating information, and therefore the best way to go about city sightseeing in Madrid.
For example, did you know that because the country is so ashamed of the Spanish Inquisition, you won’t find any museums or artifacts from the entire 400 year time frame? You’ve got to do some searching, and Sandeman’s there for you! For a measly 14 euros, they’ll take you around the city and show you where important symbols of the Inquisition took place that you would never know otherwise, like a metro stop.
I tell you, the feeling of standing in these places is surreal – they’ve since taken away any sign of the atrocities of this era of course, but you can stand in the exact places where they happened. Seeing old Madrid in this way is an experience that you should be upset about missing if you’re at all interested in history.
Madrid tapas tour
Although tapas culture is more of a southern Spain thing, no Madrid vacation would be complete without some authentic tapas! Madrid is not home to the “free tapas with the purchase of a beer” lifestyle (unless you go to El Tigre, a chain of restaurants that serve you a plate of free, but old and tasteless, tapas with your order of beer or sangria), but that doesn’t mean you should go without the experience.
Madrid tapas can be just as yummy as Grenada tapas, so worry not. Fortunately, Sandeman tours also hosts a tapas tour, so you don’t have to choose between the city’s endless tapas restaurants and risk a crappy meal; if you’ve only got 3 days in Madrid, or even 2 days in Madrid, you don’t want to waste a meal on a restaurant that’s just “meh”.
For 20 euros, your tour guide will spend two hours chauffeuring you to 3 traditional tapas bars in the city, where you’ll be able to taste typical foods like paella, croquettes, and more. Be aware that the tapas do not come with the price of the tour, but tapas are generally only 2-3 euros each anyways, and your tour comes with a special discount.
On top of this, you’ll also experience the traditional art of drinking from a wineskin and an Andalusian rebujito cocktail. This is a quick, efficient way of experiencing the best tapas in Madrid; when you only have three days in Madrid, you’ve got to check off all you can so you can actually, I don’t know, enjoy yourself!
Pub crawl Madrid
Would you believe it, Madrid’s most trusted tour company also hosts a pub crawl tour! If you’re only looking at a short weekend of two days in Madrid, make it a Friday and a Saturday, because that’s when Sandeman’s tours
For 12 euros, you’ll experience Madrid nightlife, when the locals are famous for staying out til sunrise. You’ll get a free drink at the first bar, free shots at all 3 bars you visit, VIP entry, and drink specials all night long. This is a great chance to party like a Spaniard – all night long!
I should note that Madrid’s most famous club,
Madrid bus tour
If you’re more into independent touristing, Madrid’s sightseeing bus is for you. Madrid’s city tour bus is a double decker that stops at all the major stops, so you can hop on, hop off whenever your heart desires. The City Tour Madrid website also gives you the opportunity to purchase your tickets at a discount ahead of time, so you pre-trip planners get a little reward!
On the site, you’ll get one of three options: one day bus ticket, two (consecutive) day tickets, or the attraction pass, which is a Madrid travel card that gives you access to 3 experiences of your choosing. Hint: if you’re only looking at a Madrid itinerary for 3 days, the attraction pass might not be for you; it’s 74 euros, and it’s active for 7 consecutive days, which is great for week-long trips…and that’s about it.
That being said, this option is great for Madrid day tours – maybe if you’re just stopping through for a couple days, or you want a flexible, you-driven day or two. Every Madrid tourist attraction on your list, and no thinking about how to get to them!
Madrid bike tour
Okay, so there’s lots and lots of options for a Madrid bike tour, but only two companies I would recommend. For one, Bravo Bike has the most flexible schedule, with tours beginning at different times; you can spend your whole day riding with them or only spend a couple hours, and pricing ranges from 20-85 euros, depending on your choice. These tours cover the general highlights of Madrid.
If you’re looking for a bit more variety in your content, but still want to stay in Madrid, check out Baja Bikes. This company hosts tours that are a bit more stringent when it comes to their schedule, but they do offer different tours for different interests. You can still opt for the basic tour, or you can try the Dictatorship & Democracy tour, the Real Madrid tour (for soccer/fútbol enthusiasts), the tapas tour, and more. Baja Bikes is like Sandeman on wheels!
Day trips from Madrid
Now, if you get all that done and you’re still looking for something to do, there’s plenty more where that came from. There are a few day trips from Madrid that you should absolutely consider, no matter how many days in Madrid, honestly. I realize that international travel is a lot, but figure out how to take some day tours from Madrid and I promise you won’t regret it.
For any and all Madrid excursions, there’s a right way and a dumb way to go about it. Walking down the more touristy parts of Madrid (which you probably will be), you’ll find all sorts of companies offering tours through all the major day-trip worthy cities, complete with transportation and a tour guide, for upwards of 50-60 euros. Don’t do that. Please. These companies are taking you for all you’re worth.
For one, 60 euros in the Spanish economy is a lot more than 60 dollars in the American economy. Save that kind of money for a really fancy hotel or something that’s actually worth that much money. For two, use GoEuro and you can book round trip tickets for less than 20 euros, and you can book them the same day.
Also, if you’re still interested in bike tours outside of Madrid, Bravo Bike and City Tour Madrid both host tours in a variety of good day trip cities!
In my opinion, the best of the best is Toledo. The whole town is an UNESCO site, which means it’s absolutely dripping in history. It was the capital of Spain up until the Catholics took over in the 1500s, and it hasn’t been touched since. So if you’re at all into walking through history, I highly recommend checking out Toledo tours from Madrid.
It is ripe with tourists, but Toledo is also where you go to get authentic souvenirs for your friends, walk ancient streets, and go into ancient, thousands-of-years-old castles. Make sure you bring some good walking shoes, though, because not only is the trek from the bus station to actual Toledo a serious commitment, but the town’s infrastructure is all cobblestone, and all hills. Wear anything but sneakers and you’ll break an ankle.
Segovia is another amazing city to commit a day trip to. Notably, the first really impressive thing you’ll see is the Aqueduct of Segovia. It’s no longer in use, but it is an authentic piece of Roman history, as it was the world’s first instance of plumbing. This one in particular is one of the most well-preserved aqueducts, and is also on Segovia’s coat of arms.
The other most important part of Segovia to take in (in my opinion) is Cochinillo Asado, or Suckling Pig. It’s the delicacy that Segovia is famous for, and I believe that everyone should experience it at least once in their life; I went back to the city twice just to eat more of it! I don’t believe that you need to go to any particular restaurant to experience it, as long as you eat it somewhere in Segovia, just to make sure you get the real deal.
Of course, there are quite a few more famous, historical cities, but after my extensive time in Spain, I feel like Toledo and Segovia are the cannot miss, best day trips from Madrid, especially for those with limited time.
Free tour Madrid, or something else?
So, there you have it. No matter how many days in Madrid you’re planning to have on your trip, that’s how to get the most important highlights in your vacation. A weekend isn’t much as far as Europe is concerned in general, but these experiences will get you a decent background in Spanish cuisine, history, and culture, and that’s what we’re all looking for.
What’s your favorite part of Madrid? Is it what I’ve mentioned, or do you think I missed something? Let me know in the comments!