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FOOD & DRINK

Top ten Madrid bars serving free tapas, one for each barrio

Save lots of money next time you’re in Spain’s capital with these delicious, free eats you get with every drink you order.

Top ten Madrid bars serving free tapas, one for each barrio
Madrid isn't one of the free tapas capitals of Spain, but it still houses a handful of bars that give generous amounts of grub completely 'gratis' (free). (Photo by GERARD JULIEN / AFP)

Stopping at a bar for a caña (small beer) and some tapas is an intrinsic part of the Spanish lifestyle, and one that’s often a lot cheaper than eating out in the conventional sense. 

If you’re not familiar with the drill, tapas are small plates of food that are traditionally served for free with every drink in bars and taverns.

The more cervezas or vinos your order, the more grub you get.

It’s a practice that’s steeped in myth, with old wives’ tales suggesting tapas were decreed by a Spanish king who wanted to stop his people from getting too drunk to not work, or that another Spanish royal was advised by his doctors to eat with every drink so that no one would notice how often he was drunk.

Tapas fables aside, many bars across Spain no longer offer free tapas, although a number of cities such as Granada, Salamanca and Badajoz do have a reputation for sticking to the gratis approach.

READ ALSO: Granada’s mayor stirs debate by calling for end of free tapas

Madrid unfortunately is not one of them, with the majority of bars not giving up the free tapas tradition fully, but still reducing portion sizes to a minor nibble that will hardly fill you up.

Photo: Maria Merleke/Flickr

However, in a city with 15,000 bars (one for every 211 residents) there were bound to be a few exceptions that have remained true to custom and where you can be wined and dined for under €10.

Here are ten tried and ‘tasted’ bars in Madrid where you get ample free tapas with your drink, one for each barrio (neighbourhood).

For quick access to Google Maps to find out where exactly they are, click on the neighbourhood name for each bar.

El Lagar, Argüelles

Cramped and often busy, this friendly bar in upmarket Argüelles offers Spanish classics ensaladilla rusa (Spanish potato salad), tortilla and cold meats for free with every drink. Make it an early lunch or dinner to have more space to move around.

Photo: Jorge Diaz/Flickr

Bar Quevedo, Las Letras

A five-minute walk from Spain’s Parliament is this cosy, slightly hidden corner bar in the historic Barrio de las Letras. Everything from the waiters to the tapas are ‘castizos’ (authentically Spanish).

 

El Tigre, Chueca 

They favour quantity over quality in this iconic spot in Madrid’s gay neighbourhood. The gargantuan free servings of food result in it often being packed to the brim but you can always head to the nearby El Respiro (The breather) for exactly that…and some patatas con salchichas y pimientos (potatoes, sausages and pepper mix), pollo al ajillo (garlic chicken), empanadillas (meat pies) and paella. 

Entre Cáceres y Badajoz, Goya

As the name suggests, this restaurant in Madrid’s affluent Goya has a marked southern Spanish feel to it, from the décor to the generosity of its portions. And the quality of the free tapas isn’t at all bad either (fried sardines, calamari, meatballs), making it a popular spot with young people and office workers in the area alike. 

 

Malaspina, Sol

Another tapas freebie option slap bang in the centre of la capi (the capital). The name sounds like the Spanish expression for “bad vibe” (mala espina) but nobody seems to be complaining about the huge free tapas of ensaladilla rusa, homemade meatballs, mussels, sausages, lacón (pork shoulder) and chicken wings.

 

La Pequeña Graná, Embajadores

Taking its name from the Andalusian city of Granada, where delicious free tapas are the norm, this restaurant offers free or dead cheap sides such as goats cheese and crispy bacon on toast, spicy meat wrap and boletus mushroom croquettes, making it a more refined choice than most other eateries on the list.

 

Peña Atlética de Legazpi, Legazpi

If you’re in the working-class neighbourhood of Legazpi and you’re feeling thirsty and peckish, head to this Atlético de Madrid-themed bar where the best free tapa on offer is roasted peppers with cumin.

Real Madrid fans might prefer grabbing some cañas and free tapas at Venta Matadero, right next door.

 

La Felicidad, Guzmán El Bueno

Not far from Madrid’s university district is this aptly named free tapas bar called “happiness”. It’s certainly put smiles on many young hungry faces with it’s free tapas which include paella and other classics.

 

Casa Pepe, El Pilar 

Casa Pepe, known as Pepe el Guarro (Pepe the pig) is one of the best known free tapas bars in the north of the city.

And it’s not because of the poor quality of the food that the bar owner has received this nickname but rather because the floor is routinely adorned with chicken bones that customers throw on the ground after finishing their free tapas serving.

Littering bar floors is somewhat of a national sport in Spanish bars, although usually it’s just paper serviettes. 

 

Pestiqueira, Malasaña

Madrid’s hipster haven is perhaps the barrio with most free tapas bars. Pestiqueira is a spacious bar offering free big portions that are fairly tasty.

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TRAVEL

TRAVEL: Tourists in Spain will also be eligible for free train tickets

In welcome news for tourists and travellers in Spain, holidaymakers will be eligible to take advantage of Spain's 100% discounts on train travel later in the year.

TRAVEL: Tourists in Spain will also be eligible for free train tickets

Tourists will be eligible for Spain’s free train ticket scheme that will be phased in later on this year, as confirmed to the Spanish press by sources in Spain’s Ministry of Transport this week.

“If a foreign tourist is a frequent user of the [train] network, he can make use of this subscription. If they want to complete the trips, they will not be asked for any type of card,” the source said.

Additionally, in further news of particular interest for British and American travellers, no differentiation will be made between tourists nor between EU and non-EU nationals for the discounts. Free train travel will be available to all tourists, regardless of where they’re from.

It is hoped that the free train travel will entice more visitors to Spain and continue the sector’s post-pandemic recovery, which for the first six months of the year exceeded pre-pandemic (2019) levels by 1.1 percent, according to figures from the association of Spanish tourism companies, Exceltur.

Tourism experts expect Spain to surpass the number of foreign visitors in the last four months of 2019 – over 20 million tourists – despite upwards inflationary pressures on the cost of flights and accommodation.

But like everything in life, there are terms and conditions. You won’t be able to waltz on any train in Spain for free, and it isn’t year-round.

When?

This eye-catching travel discount will be available from September 1st to December 31st 2022, during which multi-journey train tickets on the trains outlined below will be free.

Free train travel

The 100 percent discount scheme, which will cost public coffers a reported €200 million, will only be valid on certain lines and comes amid a series of measures put in place by the government to try and ease the pain of rising inflation and prices, but also to lower pressures on fuel following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and ensuing energy crisis. 

READ ALSO: How much can you save on public transport in Spain with the new state discount?

“The government will subsidise 100 percent of the public service of commuter trains operated by Renfe. We hope that the autonomous communities can complement this enormous effort made by the Spanish government,” Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said when announcing the scheme in the Spanish Congress.

But which trains will be free, when, and how can you take advantage of them?

Which trains are free?

Unfortunately, the Spanish government has not given everyone in Spain free train travel on every route and on every type of train.

There are rules.

Simply put, local and commuter trains will be free. Cercanías, Rodalies (Catalonia), and Media Distance (local and medium-distance journeys) will be 100 percent free of charge.

The policy is aimed at encouraging the use of trains as opposed to other fossil fuel intensive forms of transport, and it’s valid for journeys up to 300km.

That in mind, trips on long-distance or high-speed trains, such as AVE and Alvia, are not included in the plan.

Neither will the routes in Avlo, the low-cost AVE option established in 2021, nor the medium and high-speed Avants.

Avlo and Avants will instead have a 50 percent discount on the original price, as outlined by the government in June.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer free train trips: when, where and how?

The Spanish government are yet to announce in detail how exactly the discounts will work, or how to apply for them.

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