Spain’s capital city (like the rest of the Iberian Peninsula) is a budget-travelers’ paradise. And dining out in Madrid offers a fun experience from tapas bars to cafes.
But even so, as in all popular European destinations, if you’re not careful, you may end up spending more than you’d like on a pretty lackluster dining experience. But fear not, we’ve got you covered with 8 tips to help you eat and drink better on a budget!
• Budget Guide: How to save on your trip to Madrid
• 10 Spanish phrases every traveler should know
• 50 Ways to save in Spain
Madrid cheap eats guide
Here are a few of our best tips to stretch your euros a little farther and feast on Madrid’s tastiest fare without breaking the bank.
1. Dine with the locals
There’s a reason you don’t see many Madrileños dining close to the Prado Museum, Plaza Mayor, or Puerta del Sol. The prices are higher for sub par fare. Follow the locals lead and limit your intake in the touristy areas to the necessities: coffee and beer.
Related: How to save time and money at the Prado Museum
Fortunately for the ravenous, you don’t have to venture too far — even wandering a few blocks down smaller side streets can usually save you a few euros and guarantee a better experience for less.
2. Try to eat on schedule
Eating on a Madrid schedule makes it easier to eat authentic fare at bars and restaurants aimed at locals. Trust us. The tapas will be freshly prepared, and sometimes strangely enough, cheaper, if you order them at the right time of day.
Here’s a rundown of a typical dining schedule for Madrid:
Around 8 am: Coffee and pastry
10 – 11 am: Mid-morning snack (beer and a sandwich)
2 pm: Lunch (many times a set menu for a three-course meal)
After 8 pm (at the very earliest): Tapas or dinner à la carte.
Tip: During Madrid’s summer heat, you may want to move your tapas (or dinner of any sort) back to 10 pm.
3. Do your research
There are lots of cheap restaurants and traditional hole-in-the-wall style bars scattered throughout the Spanish capital, but you probably won’t stumble on them without prior research. And let’s face it, even if you do, they’re likely to be full up, or worse still, closed for their weekly day off.
Doing a little research will make it easy to coordinate which restaurants and bars to look for in which neighborhoods — because no one wants to get “hangry” and end up eating fast food out of frustration, right? Especially not in Madrid, where for the cost of your McMenu, you can usually get a beer and calamari on a baguette.
Related: 5 Cheapo-friendly restaurants to try in Madrid
4. Splurge on lunch out
If you want to feast for less, save your money for a big lunch. Keep an eye out for restaurants that offer fixed price menus called the “menu del día.” A relic of the Franco administration that required restaurants to offer hearty fare to workers on the cheap, it’s the best bargain for your money, even in high-end restaurants.
At the lower end, prices start in the single digits from about €8. The offerings will vary but typically it includes an appetizer, main course, and dessert (or coffee), plus bread, water, or wine.
5. Head to neighborhood bars
While these “bares de siempre” or “always” bars, sometimes referred to as “grandpa” bars, aren’t the prettiest (or the even cleanest), they’re great places to have an authentic Spanish experience at a bargain price.
Most locals haunt at least two such bars — one near work and one near their home. These neighborhood bars are the perfect place for a morning coffee and croissant or deep-fried tapas washed down with beer before a night out. They might also offer free mini-tapas like olives or peanuts with a drink, while a few even break out more elaborate treats like meatballs or scoops of Russian salad.
Related: Cheapo night out in Madrid for tapas tasting and bar hopping
6. Order house wine
At most places around Madrid, ordering the house wine is a great way to save. A whole carafe starts at only €5 — not only do you get more than a bottle but you’ll save a bunch, too!
If you’re a little picky about your vino, wine by the bottle is usually far more reasonable in Madrid than elsewhere in Europe, with good bottles in nice restaurants starting at only €10.
7. Skip the hotel breakfast
Unless breakfast is included with your hotel in Madrid, you should probably skip the hotel breakfast. In Spain, they’re usually overpriced for what you get (pastries, coffee, cold cereal, lunch meat and the occasional hard-boiled egg).
Instead, head to a nearby bar or bakery for a coffee and a pastry for around €2 or a coffee with a hot sandwich for around €4. If you want a full English, expect to pay €7 and up, while American brunch-style offerings run the gamut but start around €12 and up.
Related: Our recommended cheap hotels in Madrid
8. Don’t overtip
In Madrid (and the rest of Spain), the tip for service workers is almost always included in your bill. That’s why anything more than a few coins is unnecessary.
Pro tip: When you’re really happy with a meal and plan to return to a restaurant, leave a gratuity of €1-2. At bakeries and self-service cafeterias, leave 10-20 cents if you like or nothing at all.
More budget travel tips for Madrid
Are you hungry yet? Check out more articles on eating in Madrid including our favorite cheap restaurant in Chueca and our favorite affordable foods in Spain.
And don’t forget to book your Madrid hotel on EuroCheapo!