Madrid; Spain’s golden capital, a metropolitan sprawl of sultry city streets, perfectly manicured yet lush parks and all the classic charm of Europe. A city where the inhabitants have passion for living down to a fine art. Of course the exquisite boulevards, expansive green spaces, and collections of antique art are more than enough reason to visit, but what about those exciting and unexplored treasures that – with a bit of extra time – one might discover in the nooks of the city?
As a local of warm and vibrant Madrid, I have the luxury of time in the city to uncover those hidden gems in Madrid. While those of you with time constraints will not be in the least bit disappointed by the more popular and better known attractions, if you do have the opportunity to ditch the guidebooks and experience Madrid off the beaten path, it should be grabbed with both hands! Enter the secret life of this Madrileno – yours truly – and discover my favourite among the hidden gems of Madrid (some that not even all the locals are privy to).
La Tabacalera Cultural Center
In short, you could call it an art museum, but that doesn’t quite capture all that gives this space the enchanting twist you will come to expect from Madrid. Once upon a time a tobacco factory, the building has been converted into a space where the inspiration of modern art can be freely enjoyed by all. And when I say all, I mean it, because La Tabacalera one of the many free things to do in Madrid.
Here you can enjoy a huge variety of modern street art, join one of the fantastic and empowering workshops, or attend one of the many presentations and talks that take place – most of which are entirely free of charge! This generous and stimulating community space is one of the more alternative things to do in Madrid, and can be almost guaranteed to give you the kicks you need to feel creatively energized, and perhaps embark on a new creative project of your own.
Open from Tuesday to Friday (12 - 8pm) La Tabacalera also hosts concerts, dance classes, and photography courses. Be sure to keep an eye out online for upcoming events!
Mercado de San Fernando
While it might be the case that the most well-known market is Madrid is San Miguel, I personally prefer the more subdued and friendlier atmosphere of San Fernando.
When hunting for Madrid hidden restaurants or yummy eats, this is a sure bet with a little something for everyone and surprisingly extensive opening hours that run from 9 am to 9 pm most days, with slightly decreased times on Sundays and Mondays.
Being one of the more secret markets in Madrid, it caters predominantly to locals, so while the English spoken here might not be the best, the quality of the produce certainly is – you can be sure you’ll find some of the freshest, most delicious and well-priced cuisine in the city.
Madrid is a fantastic pull mull of people from every corner of the globe, which is well represented in this international market where you’ll be treated to some of the best eats in Madrid, originating from all over the world. You can find some other excellent markets dotted around Madrid including Mercado de la Cebada, one of the many great activities in La Latina, but if you’re in Lavapiés and wanting an authentic ambience, this is a winner!
Chamberi Ghost Station
When you hop aboard the Madrid Metro Line 1 there might come a spine-tingling moment when you spot an abandoned train platform that makes you have flashbacks to 1966. If you do happen to experience this, don’t worry – your sanity is intact, you’ve just caught sight of Platform 0 – the Chamberi Ghost Station.
When the metro experienced a substantial decrease in traffic it was deemed unprofitable, and this station was bricked up in 1966. Around 2006 efforts began to convert the station into a museum, to bring life back into this abandoned space, and to allow the public a bit of a peek into the past.
The old metro station is gaining a bit of attention, but the unusual nature of the destination makes it one of the more non-touristy things to do in Madrid. It allows its visitors to go back in time to feel the atmosphere of Anden 0 from the 19th Century, where every detail is kept as it used to be when the station was in working order.
If you are looking for Madrid off the beaten path be sure to try this one out before it gets too popular! And if you aren’t one to spook easily, it’s worth it just for the feeling you get of tripping and falling into the 1960s. It’s open Thursday (10 am to 1 pm), Friday (11 am to 7 pm), and over the weekend between 11 am and 3 pm. Best of all, it’s free!
*Please note that due to COVID-19 restrictions, there is currently a limit of 5 people per group. You can book a visit via museosmetromadrid.es
Go for a night out in TupperWare
It’s totally OTT and bordering the best side of kitsch (just like it’s once incredibly popular and fashionable namesake!) – but the iconic TupperWare nightclub remains the stuff of legend amongst the secret places in Madrid, one of my favorites and undoubtedly one of the best-hidden bars in Madrid.
Situated in the hip, student-friendly barrio of Malasaña, full of hipster bars and edgy rock clubs, this is a great place to start for travelers wondering where to go in Madrid at night. The bar itself is as strange and quirky as you might expect with a name like that and is an ode to alternative pop culture, filled with retro decorations from the 1970s and beyond – including Star Wars and Tim Burton memorabilia, fake-fur rugs and neon.
The music and clientele are as eclectic as the decor, and will keep you bopping to everything from Hip-Hop and electro to classic rock and jazz, while brushing shoulders with a crowd that covers all demographics.
El Rastro Market
Bustling with local patronage, and imbued with the scents of everything from sizzling street food to fresh coffee and leather goods, a visit to the sprawling and chaotic El Rastro street market remains one of the more unique things to do in Madrid and yet another free activity ideal for the budget traveler.
Perfect for a hot day thanks to the abundance of shade (common in the leafiest city in Europe), this market also makes for some decent retail therapy with hundreds of stalls selling a mishmash of goodies.
A veritable haven for thrift shoppers, the market is home to second-hand clothes and furniture stalls as well as increasingly popular independent boutique retailers, but the market also offers all the typical wares of a flea market of this size, with all sorts of memorabilia, books, and trinkets to discover.
The main street is where most of the stalls are located, but it is down the many side streets that you will find the best treasures. The market is held every Sunday and public holiday of the year and is super easy to get to by metro, with La Latina station on Line 5 being the closest; just make sure you arrive early (stalls open at 9am) to grab the best deals!
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