Madrid’s intoxicatingly sultry way of life is so palatable that it keeps world travelers renewing and extending their visas. Antique architecture, a welcoming population, seasonal foods and of course, the art of slowing down for a daily siesta are just a few of the factors that will have you hooked. Then, naturally, there is the brilliant spread of attractions to dazzle you – from the renowned likes of Plaza Mayor and the Crystal Palace to the lesser-known treasures sure to enchant. On the map, Madrid is a whole made up of many pieces – barrios - each bringing a unique essence to the dynamic makeup of this multifaceted city. Discovering the well known attractions within each neighborhood is just part of the reason people flock to the city, but it’s the hidden gems in Madrid that keep them coming back time and time again. There is always something new to uncover in Madrid; it’s why I’ve stayed for over five years! So ditch the crowds and prepare to savor a few secret Madrid places, frequented by Madrileños, using this guide to non-touristy things to do in Madrid.
Explore off the beaten path barrios
The barrios of Madrid are in and of themselves a unique aspect of the city that are well worth taking the time to explore. Use Madrid’s modern, user-friendly public transport system or rent a bicycle or segway to explore the avenues and back streets of Madrid because the best way to feel like a local is to travel with the locals! Set your eyes on a feast of architecture, each angle encapsulating a story of a bygone era. Absorb the where old meets new in barrio La Latina, where old-world Madrid meets cutting edge modernity. Here there are myriad trendy tapas bars and cultural centres to uncover. Alternatively cycle your way to hipster Madrid, found in the ever-rebellious, unfailingly obstreperous barrio Malasaña; full to bursting with quirky vintage shops, street art and effervescent nightlife. Soak in the colourful palettes of Chueca, or the diversity of multicultural Lavapiés – the street art centre of Madrid, which also boasts a thrilling globally influenced food scene. Indulge your bookish side with a visit to Barrio de las Letras – the literary capital of Madrid and home to some of Ernest Hemmingway’s famous haunts.
Visit Goyas forgotten murals and frescoes
If you know your art, the name Goya might be a familiar one, with his famously dark and somewhat disturbed works – perhaps the most famous of which depicts the effigy of the Titan Cronus (Saturn) devouring one of his children. Even travelers who find art galleries and museums on the whole quite boring will take pause in front of one of these strange and unsettling pieces. Spain is littered with the consternating works of Goya, showing an alternative Madrid and an alternative side to classical art, but many miss his greatest works housed at the Real Basílica de San Francisco el Grande and Iglesia de San Antonio. Situated in La Latina, the Real Basílica is in itself a work of art, it’s 33-meter tall dome punctuating the La Latina skyline, and inside you’ll discover a treasure trove of classic art. While Iglesia de San Antonio offers a more unassuming exterior, the quality of the art spanning the wall and ceiling are no less impressive.
Street art in and near La Tabacalera de Lavapies
Situated in Lavapies, a recently gentrified neighbourhood, you will find that the streets has transformed into a veritable canvas for the creative expression of the inhabitants. Well off the trodden path of your usual Madrid tour busses, these streets, avenues, and tunnels of art capture the zeitgeist of the city in a kaleidoscope of colour, introducing to visitors a quirky, and sometimes weird Madrid, that captivates the lens of every photographer passing through. La Tabacalera, The Old Tobacco Factory, in particular, is a must-see for anyone wishing to witness this cultural phenomenon, with dimly lit corridors covered wall to ceiling in street art, some of which has been created by world-renowned artists. In a perpetual flux of evolution, it is not uncommon in this barrio to witness new replace old, whether it comes to the ever-changing street art or the rejuvenation of the architecture and cultural fabric, meaning that a visit here is almost always an undiscovered experience.
Learn more about bullfighting at Campotoro
Of the images synonymous with Spain, one of the most prominent must be – apart perhaps from the form of a flamenco dancer – that of a matador preparing to face off against his eternal adversary; the bull. Of course nowadays the practise does not endear itself to a generally more animal-friendly global community, but to fully form an opinion, it might be worthwhile to take a closer look by embarking on one of the more unusual things to do in Madrid – the journey of a bull living in Spain! Learn more about the bull and its iconic role in Spanish culture and the traditions that surround it. CampoToro offers an enlightening experience that allows you to visit the place where bulls are reared, learn about how they are raised and revered by the Spanish and of course the history and current practices involved in bullfighting. You can even learn the techniques and participate in a safe (but no doubt adrenalin filled) mini-bullfight. The experience is ended off with an authentic Spanish BBQ, fascinating stories from local guides and while you might not walk away ready to attend the next bull fight, you will certainly have gleaned great insights into this aspect of Spanish culture.
Rock-climbing - with a shelter dog!
Far more appealing to those with a soft-spot for our four-legged friends is the opportunity to flee the beaten path and head for greener pastures beyond the confines of the busy city, in the company of a canine friend! Only one hour away from the central city hub by train lies the magnificent valley of Fuenfría de Cercedilla. As soon as you step out onto the train station platform it will feel as though you are in an almost unknown part of Spain. The picturesque Cercedilla is marked by its sweeping mountains, glistening waterways traversed by antique roman bridges and entirely saturated with tall trees and earthy scents. Rock Climbing Madrid offers many fun ways of communing – up close and personal – with nature, but the best of these must be the option of welcoming a shelter dog along for the walk! This adventure is a guaranteed non-touristy thing to do in Madrid, and offers great company in the form of a knowledgeable human guide and an enthusiastic dog, not to mention the bonus of amazing views!
Paraglide over the Somosierra Mountain Pass
If adventure in the great outdoors – and the unbeatable views they bring – are what you travel for, then this one was made for you! Soar from the greatest heights, achieving the best possible view of Madrid, as you paraglide over the mountain pass of Somosierra, gliding over vistas in all the shades of green and endless blue. Adrenaline and beauty are sure to come together in perfect balance as you fly 2000ft above sea level, leaving you with unforgettable memories, and the chance for some truly epic holiday footage! Not only one of the more unusual things to do in Madrid off the beaten path, but one that will have you flying high above it! Book with Outdoor Visit for a safe and reliable experience and the opportunity to choose areas of Madrid you would like to view from the air.
The secret side of Madrid
Whether you’re in Madrid for a few days, or a few weeks, there is something exciting to get up to; although if you’ve been here before, you already know that! Chances are that if you’ve ticked off the major sites and attractions in your guide book and are on the hunt for additional activities that might be a little offbeat and unusual, you could try a 7-story nighttime jaunt at Teatro Kapital, a picnic in a game reserve at Boca del asno, or (for even more!) check out this guide to some extra hidden gems in Madrid.
Photo Credit: http://teatro-kapital.mystrikingly.com/
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