Art exhibitions, concerts, quirky cafes, study spaces and gift shops: these cultural centres have it all; and what’s more, they’re usually free. Spain has made an effort to accommodate the vast number of students that live in the capital, making most exhibitions and galleries either free or irresistibly cheap for students and youth. And what came as a pleasant surprise to me and many other Erasmus students is that you’re considered a youth until you’re at least 21, some places even up to 26, making them the perfect place for a financially-challenged year abroad student to spend their weekends.
As you might have guessed, Telefónica is one of the biggest phone companies in Spain. Nestled behind their flagship store, this interesting architectural space and is home to four floors of interactive, thought-provoking, and unique exhibitions. The theme that ties them together is generally technology and its development. The curators of these exhibitions are talented story-tellers, exploring complex topics whilst still making them accessible and understandable to everyone. There’s even a little café here: the perfect little nook to escape from the chaos of Gran Vía.
What’s on: Nosotros Robots (‘Us, Robots’), Más Allá de 2001: Odiseas de la Intelegencia (‘Beyond 2001: Odysseys of Intelligence’), Una Ventana al Mundo: 130 años de National Geographic (‘A Window to the World: 130 years of National Geographic), Tesoros Ocultos: Al Archivo Audiovisual de Telefónica (‘Hidden Treasures: From Telefónica’s Audiovisual Archive’).
Metro: Gran Vía (or Sol whilst this station is under construction)
La Casa Encendida
La Casa Encendida is home to a concert hall, temporary exhibitions, library, study spaces, eco-friendly gift shop, even a little café. The exhibition space in La Casa Encendida is relatively small in comparison to others on this list, but with entry being free it’s a great excuse to visit whilst getting some work done in the library or study spaces that are open to the public here. Several floors filled with classrooms and the like surround the central concert hall of this building, where you can see everything from a comedy night to a classical music concert.
What’s on: Jeanne Tripier: Creación y Delirio (‘Jeanne Tripier: Creation and Delirium), Lua Cão: Alexandre Estrela y João Maria Gusmão + Pedro Paiva
Círculo de Bellas Artes
Situated on the grand Calle Alcalá, this is one the fancier cultural centres in Madrid. Because of this, you should expect to pay an entrance fee for most of the exhibitions. But there’s always a great discount available for students and young people, meaning entry is normally no more than €3. You can even pay an extra €1 and get access to the incredible rooftop bar here (and you won’t be expected to buy a drink). From this azotea you’ll get some breath-taking views of Madrid’s elegant downtown and beyond.
What’s on: Lars Lerip: Parque Móvil (Lars Lerip: Mobile Park), Psicodelia en la cultura visual de la era beat 1962-1972 (‘Psychedelia in visual culture from the beat era of 1962-1972), Andréi Tarkovski y el Espejo: Estudio de un Sueño (‘Andréi Tarkovski and the Mirror: Study of a dream’)
Metro: Banco de España
The simplistic interior of this building that was once a tobacco factory makes the installations on display here the main attraction. Completely open to the public, this is a great place to visit if you’re looking for things to do on a budget in Madrid. There’s usually something interactive to keep you busy, and plenty of projectors with some interesting videos playing at all hours of the day.
What’s on: Pilar Albarracín: Otras Perspectivas, Resistencia y Evolución (‘Pilar Albarracín: Other Perspectives, Resistance and Evolution’)
Much like Fundación Telefónica, this cultural space is funded by the Spanish bank Caixa. But this exhibition space aims to make culture, history and art accessible to everyone, with lots of exhibitions put on for people of all ages. Unfortunately, this is one you’ll have to pay for, but it’s still only €5 for entry to all of the displays.
What’s on: Faraón: Rey de Egipto (‘Pharaoh: Egyptian King’), Cristino de Vera: Al Silencio (Cristino de Vera: From the Silence)