Budget Dining in Madrid: The Mercado de San Miguel

Madrid is one of the best destinations for adventurous foodies on a budget. From the dizzying array of cheap tapas available at bars around the city to the inexpensive comforts of a simple jamon and cheese sandwich to the decadent delights of freshly-fried churros dipped in thick hot chocolate, the country packs a big culinary punch, even for those without a lot of euros to throw around.

One of the best tips for eating well on a small budget when traveling is to hit the local market, and in Madrid, it really holds true. If you’re in search of ingredients for a picnic lunch or to whip up a gourmet meal in your hostel, head to the Mercado de San Miguel. Originally opened in 1916, the market building fell into disrepair until 2003, when it was purchased by investors, renovated and reopened as the bustling home to 33 vendors. By day it’s the place to shop for fresh fish, meat, produce, bread, cheese, sauces, soups, desserts, cookbooks, wine and cooking supplies. But as night falls, it’s becomes a tapas hotspot, attracting locals and tourists to taste and tipple their way around the market.

Under one roof you can sample wines from Rioja and cava from Catalonia for just a euro or two each, order luscious strips of jamon Iberico or Serrano by the kilogram, or make your own plate of Spanish cheese to eat with crusty pieces of bread. Slurp down fresh oysters, nibble on 1 euro tapas of salmon, shrimp and cod, or head straight to the dessert vendor for some handmade pastries and candies.

You can stand at each vendor’s counter space while you gorge on cheap and tasty treats, or settle in for a while at one of the many long highboy tables scattered around the market. On a given night, you’ll see a mixed crowd: groups of locals meeting up before dinner, tourists marveling at the appetizing array before them, businessmen and women toasting to happy hours and parents enjoying a bite as their children play hide and seek among the stalls.

The market is open from 10am to midnight most days, with extended hours (until 2am) on weekends and is just one of the many free and cheap things to do in Madrid. If you combine some inexpensive eating options with a stay in one of the many cheap Madrid hotels available, you can actually enjoy a lovely (and delicious) time in Madrid on a very small budget.

by Katie Hammel of BootsnAll

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Image sources: Miguel. (respenda), jlastras, antociano, jlastras