As a blog that promotes healthy, walking holidays, Trampasaurus Treks knows you sometimes want to get off the hiking trails and explore the city. In our URBAN EXPLORING series, we invite you to put on your walking shoes, hit the streets, and discover the Hidden Gems of Madrid.
MADRID: the central hub in the middle of Spain’s vast, culturally rich landscape. A metropolitan sprawl of tawdry city streets. Having visited a few times, and led by some expert local guides, I have a collection of beautiful gems I can share with you.
Of course Madrid has some of the finest museums in Europe:
There are over 140 important museums in the city of Madrid. So why walk around Madrid looking for hidden cultural gems if world-renowned attractions are available?
I’m so glad you asked.
When I travel, I like to travel for extremely long periods of time. This means that whatever money I have, I have to make it last as long as I possibly can. If I can keep my daily budget down to around $35, it means that I can travel for much longer. Now consider that The Prado National Museum has a $25 admission fee to stand in long lines ($170 if you want to skip the lines).
By walking the streets and finding these hidden gems, you will be leaving the main tourist areas. This means that absolutely everything becomes cheaper. When you get hungry, you can pop into a local cafe and eat for a fraction of the price that you would be charged in the tourist area. (And the quality will probably be better as well.)
Chances are you have traveled a great distance to get to this city. A city overflowing with culture and an abundance of diverse neighborhoods, each offering their own, spicy slice of Madrid for you to taste. When you explore the streets, you not only have the opportunity to find these secret local attractions listed in this article, you also have the opportunity to make your own discoveries. The cultural fabric of Madrid is vibrant and ever changing. Take advantage of the fact you are IN MADRID and EXPLORE MADRID!
Finding your way through a foreign city gives you the chance to ask a local for directions. They might even tell you about other hidden gems in Madrid you should check out.
I’ve placed this URBAN EXPLORING / HIDDEN GEMS series in the ‘Trekking’ category for a reason. After exploring the city by foot, you will feel it.
Maybe you are in Madrid on your way to walk the Camino Francés. A day doing some urban exploring will help get your legs ready.
After doing some Urban Exploring:
Chances are, you’ll also have some colorful adventure stories of your time exploring this city. These are the things your friends want to hear when you get home.
Calle de Fernando VI 4 Madrid, Madrid 28004, Spain
While I was walking through one of Madrid’s northern neighborhoods, wandering through the streets, looking for a building that doesn’t exist anymore, I stumbled upon one of Madrid’s few, completely art nouveau buildings. Art Nouveau has got to be one of my very favorite artistic styles, and this building is on Art Nouveau Steroids.
Built by the financier Javier González Longoria as a family home and to house the offices of his banking business. The building is notable for its luxurious, highly ornamental external appearance, very much in line with art nouveau taste. The most important new feature of this building is the treatment given to the façade. Executed in artificial stone with smooth vegetable and organic forms that give a sense of spatial continuity to the surfaces, using interlinked decorative elements that cover them completely. The building is topped by an impressive iron and glass dome. Inside the building, the main staircase is a particularly striking feature. An imperial staircase with a circular outline, it takes its inspiration from French art nouveau architecture, like the rest of the décor.
The building is now the headquarters of the Spanish Society of Authors and Publishers, in the Malasaña district. The Society is an institution whose function is to defend writers and publishers. They do this by overseeing the rights for the reproduction, distribution and public transmission of literary, musical, theatrical, cinematographical and audiovisual works.
This is one the hidden gems of Madrid that might require a little work to get inside. This building isn’t on any tourism sites, nor is it offered as part of any packaged tours of the city.
The management of the building welcomes individual and not-for-profit groups for free tours, though you do have to arrange this in advance. But even if you can’t get inside, the facade alone is worth the trip.
To attempt a tour, contact the building management: firstname.lastname@example.org
As I was researching what to do during my 24 hours in Madrid, I received an email from my Camino friend Peter, who was also in town. During a quick lunchtime beer, I gave him my proposed itinerary of the hidden gems of Madrid that I wanted to see, including the world’s oldest restaurant, Botín.
Founded in 1725 by Frenchman Jean Botin and his wife, they named their restaurant Casa Botín. Later inherited by a nephew called Candido Remis the name changed to Sobrino de Botín, which survives to this day. Sobrino is the Spanish word for nephew.
Botín has four floors and the air of a traditional Spanish tavern. There are three dining rooms: the bodega (“cellar”), the Castilla room, and the Felipe IV room.
The artist Francisco de Goya (considered the most important Spanish artist of late 18th and early 19th centuries) worked in at the restaurant as a waiter while waiting to get accepted into the Royal Academy of Fine Arts.
The most famous dishes here are the cochinillo asado (“roast suckling pig”) and the cordero asado (“roast lamb”). The restaurant receives suckling pigs from Segovia and lambs from Sepúlveda three to four times per week. Both the lambs and pigs are roasted in the nearly 300-year-old original wood-fired oven made of cast iron. Crispy skin on the outside, tender meat on the inside, the suckling pig is served with a side of roast potatoes.
The restaurant and its specialty of cochinillo asado are mentioned in the final pages of Ernest Hemingway’s novel ‘The Sun Also Rises.’
We lunched upstairs at Botín’s. It is one of the best restaurants in the world. We had roast young suckling pig and drank rioja alta.”
(I had the roast suckling pig, and it is worthy of its place in literature!)
Botín is also mentioned in the book ‘Fortunata y Jacinta’ by Benito Pérez Galdós (published 1886-1887).
The restaurant’s other signature dish is sopa de ajo (an egg, poached in chicken broth, and laced with sherry and garlic): a favorite pick-me-up with Madrileño revelers.
Clams Botín, another popular dish, features a house sauce of onion, hot chili pepper, garlic, dry white wine, paprika, tomato purée, and laurel leaf.
Such an old place could possibly be nothing but a poorly run tourist trap. However, the service and the food were both excellent, and the waiters are very patient with tourists that want to look around and they tolerate curious visitors with lots of questions.
Very few tourists know that violet candies are the most iconic sweet treat of Madrid, and there is only one place in Madrid to get the most authentic of these very traditional of Madrid sweets: La Violeta.
In the busy plaza of Canalejas, just outside the Puerta del Sol – the center of Madrid and furthermore Spain – lies a tiny wooden framed candy store, that often goes unnoticed by those that pass it by. One of the hidden gems of Madrid, right in the middle of the city. Pressing one’s nose against the glass, and the color violet will make itself known, just as this primary color of a rainbow would reach you when least expecting it.
Plaza de Canalejas, 6 Madrid Spain
It is said that King Alfonso XIII often bought violets and violet candies for his “official” wife, Queen Victoria Eugenia. He also bought them for the “second” wife, Carmen Ruiz Moragas. He came and bought them from this very shop. Today the shop is run by Maria Gil, the third-generation descendant of the founder of the company.
In 1915, Mariano Gil Fernandez opened this shop in its current location. Born in Madrid, he belonged to a family that consisted entirely of bakers. However, he tried something different: sweets made of violet essence. It was a success from the very beginning. Nobody knows why he decided to make this special kind of sweets, but probably because there are many violets in the mountains located north of Madrid.
La Violeta specializes in violetas, as well as many other sweets like typical bonbons, marrons glacés (candied chestnuts) and caramels of assorted flavors.
There are other shops in town that also sell this type of product, but the original violet sweet can only be found in La Violeta. So why bother with a copy when you can get the original. The sweets are sold by weight, usually to regular clients including many celebrities and politicians. They also have extravagant packaging including custom-made porcelain bowls and cut-glass vases in case you really want to impress someone.
As I was about to fly home from Madrid, I took the opportunity to pick up the most iconic Madrilian souvenir possible. I got three tiny, 3€ decorated boxes of candies. A great souvenir for friends at a good price.
To me, they start out a bit like licorice and then gradually get sweeter.
An acquired taste? Perhaps. For the generation of elderly Spaniards, a time-warp to their childhood? Yes. A constant stream of locals and tourists, packing into the store just as tightly as the sweets themselves are tucked into their antique pill boxes or white to-go rectangles? Also yes. But does old have to mean over worn, outdated and obsolescent? Time will tell, but for the meantime, if you are curious at all to try one of Madrid’s famous and quintessential food stories, pick up a box and try for yourself. If all else fails, you could always carefully re-wrap the package, ever so gently retie the bow, and re-gift to your grandmother.
With only 24 hours to spend as a tourist in Madrid, I chose to bypass all of the hottest tourist attractions, and I researched and found some unique things in the city that would give me a richer appreciation for the city itself.
I had heard about the Lucifer fountain several years ago, and that was definitely going to be on the list of odd things to find in the city. The monument is located in the popular Retiro Park in the middle of the city.
Inspired by John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, the very dramatic work of art depicts Lucifer as he is cast out of heaven, falling to Earth, tormented by snakes.
Th’ infernal Serpent; he it was, whose guileJohn Milton – Paradise Lost
Stird up with Envy and Revenge, deceiv’d
The Mother of Mankind, what time his Pride
Had cast him out from Heav’n, with all his Host
Of Rebel Angels, by whose aid aspiring
To set himself in Glory above his Peers,
He trusted to have equal’d the most High,
If he oppos’d; and with ambitious aim
Against the Throne and Monarchy of God
Rais’d impious War in Heav’n and Battel proud
With vain attempt. Him the Almighty Power
Hurl’d headlong flaming from th’ Ethereal Skie
With hideous ruine and combustion down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In Adamantine Chains and penal Fire,
Who durst defie th’ Omnipotent to Arms.
Milton’s Paradise Lost is a curious work. An epic poem written in blank verse telling the story of how Satan, is cast out of Heaven. He then travels on an arduous journey to the Garden of Eden on a quest to tempt Adam and Eve to defy God’s Will and eat from the Tree of Knowledge.
Built in 1877 by Spanish sculptor Ricardo Bellver, The Fallen Angel is one of the most controversial monuments in Spain, and arguably the only public statue in the world dedicated to the devil himself.
When Duke of Fernán Núñez commissioned Ricardo Bellver to create this one-of-a-kind statue. It sparked a big scandal, but eventually the sculpture proved to be a great success obtaining the First Medal at the Spanish National Fine Arts Exhibition in 1878.
Bellver’s Fallen Angel is cast in bronze that year, for the grand Exposition Universelle, better known as the third Paris World’s Fair. A couple of years later the Prado Museum released it to The City of Madrid.
The statue of The Fallen Angel is displayed in the Parque del Buen Retiro. It stands on a beautiful pedestal flanked by gargoyles spouting water in a lovely fountain, unsurprisingly called Fountain of the Fallen Angel.
It later occurred to me that this statue actually presents a paradox in the biblical story timeline. The problem: it was a snake in which Satan possessed to tempt Eve, resulting in God cursing the snakes and removing their legs. However, in the statue, the snakes are already legless. Hmmm…
The black splatters of vandalism paint seem perfect on a monument dedicated to the prince of evil. I wondered if it was vandalism or part of the actual design.
An eerie coincidence is also the fact that this statue sits on an elevation exactly 666 meters above sea level.
You might want to take the metro to this one, but I wanted to include it anyways.
Ángeles Rodríguez Hidalgo was a granny in Madrid’s Vallecas barrio who discovered heavy metal in the autumn of her days. Immediately embraced with the affection of fans, audiences, and the general public. Often seen rocking out at AC/DC concerts and frequenting spots that were anything but nursing homes. She even wrote her own column in ‘Heavy Rock’ magazine.
Following her death in 1993, a bronze statue was erected in her honor. There she stands with her hand held high.
There have been times when vandals have broken off one or both fingers. Unfortunately this makes the grandma look like she is giving some kind of communist salute. They seem to repair the statue quickly when this happens.
If you do happen to make a pilgrimage out to see Rock and Roll Granny, take your time and explore the rest of this alternative neighborhood. Motorcycle shops, leather shops, tattoo parlors, and rock clubs are plentiful.
Do you have a secret, special place that you consider one of the Hidden Gems of Madrid? Let me know, I’d love to add it here.
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