When you travel to Madrid, you have to do the ‘touristy’ things. You have to eat bocadillos de calamares and tortillas de patata until your stomach can handle no more. However, what if you want to get a bit more of an ‘authentic’, local feel of what Madrid has to offer? These are some of our suggestions for off the beaten path things to do and see in Madrid.
This is where many madrileños and madrileñas come to charge their batteries when they need a mental break from the streets. You are instantly welcomed into 18th century palace gardens. It offers a true green escape right in the heart of the city. You can sit in the grass, enjoy the Crystal Palace and its surroundings, and aside from the annual Book Fair, there are fortunetellers, street performers, puppet shows, concerts, exhibitions, and activities in certain parts of the park. The palace itself has modern art exhibitions that might intrigue you as well.
Las Descalzas Reales
Las Descalzas Reales is a convent that is only five minutes from the Puerta del Sol on foot. This was once the home for King Charles I of Spain and Isabel of Portugal. It is an impressive-looking Renaissance building. Nowadays it is home to an impressive museum, 19 nuns, works by Brueghel the Elder and Titian, and the bones of Saint Sebastian.
Faunia Nature Park
Originally opened in 2001, but it was called Parque Biológico de Madrid at the time. This animal sanctuary now has a new name. It houses animals from the North and South Poles and is known as Europe’s largest polar ecosystem. This is perfect for those who want to stay on their feet or who would rather explore at their own leisure. There are restaurants and bars throughout the park and with 500 different species of animals and 1,000 species of plants, there is always something to see for everyone.
Calle del Pez
People say that good things come in small packages, and it is certainly true for this small street that is absolutely bustling with excitement. There are a number of great places to try here, but be aware that it might be quirky and a little crazy. The atmosphere is unbeatable, the music is always great, and the staff here is friendly.
Museo del Prado
If you are into art, chances are that you have heard of the world’s largest art gallery before. The Prado Museum is home to more than 9,000 works of art and it was opened in 1819. If you want to have a chance to look around without too many people around you, go in before 5 PM on weekday afternoons.
There are daily educational seminars or tours that give you information about the different works of art, but you do have to understand Spanish to be able to enjoy then. There are also temporary exhibitions of artworks by countless prestigious artists. If you have some time left to spare, you should also visit the nearby Archaeological, Reina Sofía, and Thyssen Museums as well.
Mercado de Motores
This market is always held on the second weekend of every month and it often includes jewelry, clothing, and food. The market is always held in the railway museum (Museo del Ferrocarril) at the Delicias metro stop. The museum itself is also worth visiting if you are interested in old trains. You can enjoy the wonderful interiors of these old trains or just relax in the large area at the back of the museum. Here you have ample refreshments and plenty of seating.
Plaza Santa Ana and Huertas
If you have an afternoon to yourself, you cannot go wrong with Plaza Santa Ana. If the weather is nice enough, the entire plaza is filled with café goers who want to enjoy a drink in the sunshine. The restaurants and bars will be bustling with patrons and servers. The little streets surrounding the plaza are designed in such an enticing way that they are made to be explored.
You can explore the literary quarter (the Barrio de las Letras) where quotes from some of the most famous Spanish authors are embedded into the grey, bricked streets in gold. The trendy neighborhood of Malasaña nearby offers a new mini-brewery where you can enjoy a selection of homemade beers. The vibe here is modern and makes for a great place to learn a bit more about the beer-making process while unwinding with friends.
Templo de Debod
This temple was a gift from Egypt to Spain in 1968. The Egyptian temple is almost 2200 years old and located on a hill overlooking Casa de Campo. The temple itself is dedicated to Isis and Amon. This is a perfect spot for pictures because you can capture breathtaking sunsets behind an illuminated temple, which are then reflected in the water. During the day, you have views of the Casa de Campo and the mountains on one side and the Palace and cathedral on the other. There is also a nice park around the temple, making this a great place to go for a picnic as well.