Spain's capital has plenty of free distractions as Morwenna Evans reveals
The city's main park, El Retiro is a haven of tranquility amid the bustle of busy Madrid. Originally created as a royal park, the grounds once belonged to the Buen Retiro Palace, and existed as a retreat for the royal family. Still an ideal place to relax, this rather regal park is the perfect place to wile away an afternoon. Cool off by the park's lake and watch punters splash one another in rowing boats.
A lesser frequented spot can be found in the Parque del Oeste, which sits on top of Spanish Hill in Argüelles. Pack a picnic and take in the heady scent of the rose garden, or simply sit back and savour spectacular views of the city.
Madrid is overflowing with atmospheric barrios (neighbourhoods) ripe for exploration. For an authentic slice of contemporary Spain, head to La Latina, home to the Islamic citadel in the centre of Madrid. The narrow streets and large, lively squares that characterise this district are sure to excite, and if you head to the right taverna you may even get your hands on some free tapas.
About five minutes from the centre of Madrid, is the sumptuous Royal Palace. Head down between 3 and 6pm on Wednesdays for free admittance. Works by Caravaggio, Francisco de Goya and Corrado Giaquinto line the walls, chandeliers dangle from the ceiling, and plush red velvet upholstery adorns the furniture.
If you're not in the city on a Wednesday, do still make a trip to the palace, watch the changing of the guard and recline in the luxurious royal gardens.
On Sundays, join the locals and head to El Rastro. This expansive flea market has antique furniture and atmosphere a-plenty, so make your way down and take it all in. For something a little more upmarket, saunter through the Salamanca barrio, lined with high-end shops that serve rather well for a spot of window shopping.
The world famous Prado Museum is a treasure trove of Spanish art spanning from the 12th to the 19th century. The gallery is also home to Greco-Roman sculptures, Italian and German proponents of the Renaissance, and much more. This abundance of art can now be seen for free between 6 and 8pm Monday to Saturday, and 5 until 8pm on Sundays.
If modern art is more your bag, then don't miss the Centro de Arte de Reina Sofia, Spain's most renowned modern-art centre and hometo Picasso's celebrated masterpiece Guernica. After 7pm entrance is free.
The Plaza de Santa Ana is a vibrant little spot, with hundreds of tapas bars, terrace cafés and other busy eateries. If you come down in the evening you'll be sure to catch some entertainment from an enthusiastic street performer. The shows can be a little touristy, but take in the atmosphere and enjoy.
Football fans need look no further than the Bernabeu, the colossal home to Real Madrid FC. Tours around the stadium are ticketed; however turning up and taking a peak at this world-famous stadium is completely free.
For a slice of Madrid's architecture before it was influenced by the Italian Renaissance, explore the Espacio Conde Duque. Once a barracks, this unusual space has diversified and is now home to a modern art gallery, the city archives, libraries of history, music, newspapers and the artisan printing press.
Madrid's streets are laden with legendary churches, enveloped in myth and legend. You may not find faith, however touring the churches and cathedrals of Madrid is a rewarding experience nonetheless. The Cathedral de la Almudena (built on the site of Santa María la Mayor church, in turn built an old Arab mosque) is home to a statue of the Virgin Mary. Legend has it that the relic was lost during the Arab invasion in the 8th century, but revealed itself through a crumbling wall to pious Christians two centuries later.
If this whets your appetite for unusual saintly relics, head to the Convento de la Encarnacion. Here you can gaze over glass casements containing hundreds of holy pieces. Its pièce de résistance is the purportedly solidified blood of Saint Pantaleon.
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