Secret Madrid: 6 things to do off the beaten track
Mulling over a mini-break in Madrid? While drinking a coffee in Plaza Mayor and strolling around El Prado are certainly musts when visiting the Spanish capital, there are loads of lesser-known things to see and do to get a more authentic experience. You just need to know where to look.
So, toss out the tourist map, get off the beaten track and check out these six ‘less touristy’ gems in Madrid.
1. Enjoy a cocktail with a view
Want a quiet glass of sangria with a mountain view in downtown Madrid? Then take the lift to the top of the Círculo de Bellas Artes cultural centre. Few people know that there are two funky rooftop bars, complete with chill-out music, comfy places to recline, and fabulous 360-degree views of the city.
If you’re craving a spot of culture after your drink, head downstairs and check out the centre’s extensive programme of exhibitions, concerts and book readings.
2. Buy freshly-baked cookies from cloistered nuns
This off-the-beaten-track activity in Madrid makes for a great travel story. A short walk from Plaza Mayor, there’s a small, elbow-shaped street, aptly named Elbow Street (Calle de Codo). You won’t find many people walking down it unless they know about the baking nuns. Intrigued?
These nuns, who have little interaction with the outside world, live in El Convento de Corpus Christi convent. To pay for the upkeep of the convent, they bake and sell traditional Spanish cakes and biscuits.
But this is no traditional cake shop. First, it’s a challenge to find it within Madrid’s maze of narrow streets, and you won’t actually see the nuns. They sell their treats via a lazy Susan. This one’s worth a visit – and the almond biscuits are heavenly.
3. Chug your way to the Mercado de Motores flea market
If you want a quirky souvenir of your off-the-beaten-path trip to Madrid, check out the city’s flea markets. El Rastro is where all the visitors to the city go. If you want something a little less touristy, Mercado de Motores is the ideal place to spend your Sunday.
Once a month, this fabulous flea market takes over an old train museum in downtown Madrid. Over 200 independent collectors and designers sell everything from antiques and second-hand clothes to jewellery and gourmet food. If you’re a fan of vintage trains and shopping, this is the perfect way to while away an afternoon.
4. Enjoy a churro con chocolate (or three)
Got a sweet tooth? A traditional Spanish churro is a must, and they’re a perfect winter warmer.
The best place to try these delicious fried-dough pastry snacks is the world-famous Chocolatería San Ginés. Open for almost a century, it serves up some of the finest churros in town. But there are plenty of lesser-known places that are more off the beaten track which serve up a mean finger-shaped doughnut.
Residents of the La Latina neighbourhood are partial to Muñiz, a modest bar whose owner, Matías, is one of the most seasoned churro makers in town. Order a plate of his ‘porras’ (thick-piped churros) with a sprinkling of sugar and a splash of Chinchón Dulce, a local anise liqueur. Your taste buds will thank you.
If you’re hungry for more, why not book yourself on a 1-hour segway tour with chocolate and churros? As well as seeing the sights, you’ll stop off for some chocolate and churros at San Onofre Bakery in the popular San Miguel Market.
5. Try some tapas on Calle Ponzano
Cava Baja is the quintessential tapas street in Madrid’s historic centre. But if you’re after a more authentic dinner, we recommend heading to a place that has a great vibe but is less frequented by tourists: Calle Ponzano. With its mix of classic tabernas and cool restaurants run by some of Madrid’s hottest chefs, you can spend hours bar-hopping with the locals there.
Start at Sala de Despiece. You can share a mouth-watering ribeye and some typical tapas with friends, and wash it down with a vermouth. Then move on to DeAtún for some melt-in-your-mouth line-caught tuna from the coast of Almadraba. Still peckish? Chow down on a slice of tantalising tortilla at Sylkar.
6. Relax in an Arab bath
Not many people know there are some stunning Arab baths in the centre of Madrid. If you fancy a spot of pampering, be sure to stop by Hammam Al Ándalus, where you can soak in the hot, warm and cold pools, sweat it out in the steam room or enjoy a relaxing massage.
A few metres from Puerta del Sol Square, this peaceful oasis is the ideal place for some ‘me time’ if you fancy a break from the hustle and bustle of the city.