An Alternative Guide to Madrid: Unusual Things to Do & See

One of Madrid's Botero masterpieces | © Lori Zaino
One of Madrid's Botero masterpieces | © Lori Zaino
Photo of Lori Zaino
17 February 2017

Madrid has some of the greatest museums and most beautiful squares, but they are frequently filled with hoards of tourists. If you want to explore Madrid but are keen to get off-the-beaten-track and away from the crowds, check out this alternative guide to the city.

View a Fernando Botero sculpture

Although Botero is actually a Colombian sculptor, you can find three of his statues right here in Madrid. So grab a bike and visit them all. You’ll stumble across La Mujer del Espejo in the Plaza de Colón, see La Mano in the Plaza de San Juan de la Cruz on the famous Castellana Street and when you’re heading home, check out El Rapto de Europa in Terminal 1 of the Madrid Barajas airport. You’ll love his signature style, Boterismo, which features people and figures in large, exaggerated form.

“The Hand” sculpture by Botero in Madrid | © Stefan Schmitz/Flickr

Shop at the Mercado de Motores

This quirky market happens once a month in the Museo del Ferrocarril, giving you the chance to shop for home decor, antiques, second-hand clothes, jewelry, gourmet foods and more, all while perusing vintage trains. The Mercado de Motores has both indoor and outdoor stands and plenty of snacks, if you need a break from all the shopping.

Check out the bunker in the Capricho Park

Park, Botanical Garden
Stumble upon Greek columns at the Parque de El Capricho
Stumble upon Greek columns at the Parque de El Capricho | © alexat25 / Alamy Stock Photo
Madrid’s best secret garden, the Parque de el Capricho, is already a quiet, romantic place to hang out, thanks to it’s labyrinthine gardens and floral paths. But those ready for something really different should visit the secret war bunker, hidden 15 meters beneath the gardens. The bunker was used during the Spanish Civil War to protect people from bombs and was kept locked shut for over 80 years after the war. It recently opened to the public, and visitors can see the bunker via a guided tour. Guided visits (for anyone over the age of eight) of the bunker are on Saturdays between 10:00 am and 11:30 am. Each tour lasts 30 minutes and a maximum of 20 people can do the tour at one time. You must reserve your tour by emailing or calling +34 916 397 869 Monday to Friday from 9:00 to 1:00 pm.

Hit up the MadrEAT Food Truck Festival

Once a month, food trucks gather and locals flock to eat, drink and hang out. The dates and location vary each month, so make sure to check out their website to see what’s on and where it’s at. This is the perfect spot to sample all types of international foods plus Madrid specialties, all while enjoying the Spanish sunshine.

MadrEAT | © Lori Zaino

Visit the lesser-known parts of the Parque del Buen Retiro

Everyone loves a visit to the lake or the famous glass Palacio de Cristal, but not nearly as many visitors get over to the rose garden or Los Jardines de Cecilio Rodríguez, the official enclosed peacock garden on the edge of the park. Exploring the Retiro is a great way to get away from the crowds. You can also check out the old petting zoo (even though its closed, the old structures and cages still stand) or the Casita de Pescador, a teeny tiny house on a mini-pond. If you want to break a sweat, try a rollerblading class along the Paseo Fernán Nunez, pump iron with the locals at the outdoor bars near the Estatua del Ángel Caído, try a Saturday boxing class with Jab Cross Training or zen out with a yoga class from The Natural Yogi.

Pabellón de los Jardines de Cecilio Rodríguez, Paseo Uruguay, 5, 28009 Madrid

Do a street art tour

For 5 euros, Madrid Street Art Project conducts tours called Safaris Urbanos that focus on street art in one specific area of town. For 15 euros, Cooltourspain will give you a guided tour of Madrid’s best street art, including a visit to La Neomudejar, a contemporary arts center, along with walks through areas such as Lavapies and Malasaña.

Some street art in Madrid | © Guillermo de la Madrid/Madrid Street Art Project

Take selfies in front of the Wall of Grass

If you need to find that perfect spot for your Instagram, check out the vertical wall of grass, designed by French botanist Patrick Blanc. Located next to the Caixa Forum entrance, the green wall was created to seamlessly blend in with the Botanical Gardens, which are just down the street. While the tourists wait in line for the Caixa Forum art exhibits, you can find that perfect angle and snap some photos.

Caixa Forum, Paseo del Prado, 36, 28014 Madrid, +34 913 30 73 00

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