So, you’ve visited each corner of the Golden Triangle and had your fill of calamari sandwiches. You’ve had a peek at the gargantuan Royal Palace, and gone for an oh-so-pleasant stroll through Retiro Park. These are all musts for your checklist – but what about the hidden gems in Madrid?
To really get a flavor of royal Madrid, you need to scout out the locals’ favorites: secret bars, little-known restaurants, buzzing mercados, and much-loved pastimes. Be tempted by tapas, clink your cañas (tiny beers), and see the side of the city locals experience every day!
1. Find sandy beaches in Madrid
Okay, so technically Madrid is landlocked. Quite frustratingly so, if you’re looking to get your tan on. There are a solid 350 kilometers between the Spanish capital and the nearest spot of ocean.
But, there are gorgeous beaches near Madrid where you can relax and unwind, and be buried from the neck down by a pack of unruly children *shakes fist at the sky*. Read the descriptions below and see if any of these beaches close to Madrid fit your itinerary.
The most accessible of the beaches in Madrid (almost) is Alberche. This riverside retreat is a picturesque escape from the urban haze of the city. Cool off with a swim, and bring a picnic if you’re trying to do Madrid on a budget. It’s one of the more idyllic hidden gems in Madrid, especially if you can avoid peak times.
La Lancha del Yelmo
Life’s a… reservoir? Wait, don’t scroll past La Lancha del Yelmo just yet! An hour’s drive from El Foro, it can be a pickle getting there, but intrepid travelers who are able to rent a car or brave public transport are richly rewarded. This nature-haven is a popular spot for swimming, biking, and hiking beside the San Juan Reservoir. It makes for a worthwhile adventure in some of Spain’s lesser-seen great outdoors.
Yes, Valencia is a long way from Madrid as the crow flies. But, did the crow ever think to board a high-speed train?
The autonomous community of Valencia is just 1 hour and 48 minutes from the capital by rail, giving you ample time to soak up the sun at one of the region’s beautiful seaside perches, even if you’re only able to make a day’s trip.
The easiest and most popular option is La Malvarrosa, the closest stretch of sand to the city. It’s a giant seaside space, lined with palm trees and frequented by joggers, cyclists, and local volleyball legends. Perfect if you like to people-watch while you chill.
For a quaint and quiet escapade, Port Saplaya is one of the numerous towns worldwide dubbed ‘Little Venice’, due to its perfectly pastel houses and weaving waterways. If long walks on the beach are your thing, you can actually mosey along the water from La Malvarosa up to Port Saplaya in around 45 minutes. Why not go for a stroll and stop in at one of the local restaurants along the way?
For a sandy retreat popular with locals, opt for the rolling dunes and blue water of El Saler; it’s only a bus ride out of the city in alluring Albufera. The birthplace of paella is also home to a sweeping, coastal nature reserve.
Like your beaches with a side of ancient history? The intriguing Roman town of Sagunto is a train ride north of Valencia if you don’t mind adding a little extra travel time to your day trip from Madrid!
2. Say “Salud!” at these secret bars
The world needs more dog-friendly cocktail bars, so kudos to the guys at Amalavida. Bark and Stormy, anyone? Maybe a Long Island Iced Beagle?
Head to the Malasaña neighborhood for a modern bar dressed in that recycled industrial chic look. Visit for trendy music and tasty food. A perfect way to start a night out in Madrid!
Further dog-cocktail jokes: French Bulldog Martini, Rex on the Beach, Dogmopolitan, Old Dachshund, Bloody Hairy, Cosmopoodleton, Bloodhound Mary.
El Jardín Secreto de Salvador Bachiller
Sometimes you just need to look up. Right in the mix, on busy Calle de la Montera, a miniature oasis exists to those in the know. What at first glance is just a store selling fashionably expensive bags, in fact, hosts a charming botanical hangout on the roof. You don’t stumble upon it by chance!
Find the elevator at the back of the store, and relax in garden-like tranquility with teas and specialty coffees. There’s quick and filling food, and a menu of ultra-refreshing, original cocktails. A security guard will show you the way up to this secret bar after dark.
Self-described as Madrid’s ‘last temple of blues’, this underground brick-decor venue is for fans of live music and dive-bar coziness. Artists from around the world pass through here every week, and in the absence of a billed performer, there are also epic jam sessions to accompany your chosen beverage.
Azotea del Círculo
We’ll be honest: This one’s less of a secret bar in Madrid. But, we’d be doing you all a disservice by not mentioning the Círculo’s sweeping city views and a menu designed by a Spanish cocktail champion (champion of making them rather than drinking them, we’re guessing, although we would be impressed either way).
3. Chow down at this Chinese restaurant in Madrid
No advertising, no website, no phone number. If you happened upon Cafeteria Yulong Zhou, aka The Underground, you probably wouldn’t look twice at its humble exterior in a subterranean car park. That’s what makes it one of Madrid’s hidden gems!
Thanks to a viral video made by the good folks at Great Big Story, which you can see above, people flock from around the world to sample the hometown favorites of Yulong Zhou and Liufeng Zhu.
Tuck into soups, dumplings, hand-pulled noodles and loads more authentic Chinese food from their hometown of Qingtang. There are no reservations, and there’s usually a queue of hungry people waiting for a spot to sit and eat.
To those of you questioning the thought behind including a Chinese restaurant in Madrid as part of a blog about hidden gems, relax. You can eat tapas every other meal of your stay. Maybe not for breakfast, but who are we to judge?
You can find this culinary secret by descending down an easy-to-miss staircase in Plaza de España, right in the center of things near the Gran Via.
4. Try these non-touristy things to do in Madrid
Trace the history of fashion and do some designer shopping
A museum trip and a spot of retail therapy in one experience. That sure sounds touristy. Except, Arts Meet Fashion at the Golden Triangle’s Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza is an altogether different experience.
Wander among priceless masterpieces to the tune of a themed audio guide, tracing the development of fashion through one of the largest art collections in the world. Explore the fabrics, textures, and colors depicted in famous paintings that have influenced renowned designers and contemporary fashion houses.
Art-loving fashionistas can then take all that inspiration (and a handy discount) over to the designer boutiques of Las Rozas Village. Be sure to save some of that holiday money!
See masters at work with a guided tour of Real Fabrica de Tapices
Continuing with the textile trend, ever heard of Real Fabrica de Tapices? This Madrid-based textile factory has been expertly weaving luxury rugs, tapestries, and Coats of Arms by Royal decree since 1721. Now the factory aims to keep old traditions alive through conservation and education.
The real treat of a tour around Real Fabrica de Tapices is exclusive access to view the historical tapestry and the chance to see modern-day weavers at work in carpet workshops. These skilled craftspeople can be working on anything from knotted-pile carpets to enormous tapestry restorations. See looms that are still working after hundreds of years, and listen to your guide explain the painstaking work as you go.
In terms of non-touristy things to do in Madrid, this is nice and niche. You have to reserve a spot – make sure to mention you’d like to take the tour in English if tu no hablas Español!
Sample real Spanish football
Madrid is well known for its footballing powers. There’s the money burning, _Galactico_ culture of Real Madrid and its iconic Estadio Bernebeu. Then there’s their fierce and stripey neighbors, Atletico Madrid, who have been chipping away at the status quo in Spanish football over recent years.
Both of these superclubs provide tours in which you can go behind the scenes and walk where futbolistas walk. Football-loving tourists will often find tickets for La Liga games by hook or by crook… or through an overpriced online reseller.
Away from the hullabaloo that follows the ‘Big Two’, other professional teams go about their footballing business in the shadows. Getafe, Leganés and Rayo Vallecano all play out of suburban Madrid with equally fanatic fan bases against their deep-pocketed city rivals. Tickets are easier and often cheaper to come by, and you’ll score way more hipster-football points with a visit to Leganes’ Estadio Municipal de Butarque or Rayo’s Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas.
Experience Cuesta de Moyano Book Market
There was once a fear that we were heading towards a dystopian future where second-hand book shops would sell old e-readers with the former owners’ entire collections on them. This was never going to happen. The romance of book shops, with eccentric owners and battered old classics, is still alive and well at Cuesta de Moyano.
Cuesta de Moyano, Madrid’s open-air book market, has been buying and selling its literary wares since 1925. Every rustic booth has a different specialty and it’s one of the most atmospheric spots in the city. Grab a coffee, barter for a book, give it a good sniff and let the hours drift away.
Get a taste for Madrid at Mercado de la Cebada
A lot may have changed over Mercado de la Cebada’s 138-year history, but the two-story market retains all of its traditional charms. Renovated in 2013, the market’s old-school fruit, fish, and meat vendors have been joined by fashion stalls, eco shops, food joints, and wine bars. It has become a vibrant area to hang, eat and drink.
Here, you’re just as likely to see a local doing their groceries as a student stopping for a quick beer. It’s also become something of a tapas focal point, and in terms of authentic street food, this really is one of the hidden gems in Madrid!
5. Visit the hangouts of hipster Madrid
Think colorful streets, busy with the sound of grinding coffee machines and dinging bicycles. The dog-to-people ratio is strong, there are no disapproving looks for taking aerial photos of your brunch, and even the pigeons walk with a swagger. If your hipster sense is tingling, these cool neighborhoods in Madrid will be right up your carre.
A bohemian square of cafe terraces, vibrant street art, and vintage fashion boutiques – you know the deal. Malasaña is the epitome of hipster Madrid and exudes an air of independence, providing its own thriving subculture just north of the busy center. Ideal for a late lunch that turns into a bar crawl.
Best bars in Malasaña: El Rincón, La Vía Láctea, Nice to Meet You.
Best tapas in Malasaña: La Carbonera, Casa Lucio Tapas, La Colmada.
Squeezing through the tight streets of La Latina, it’s impossible not to be charmed by its medieval-modern blend. Wander a trail of tantalizing tapas bars and terraces perfect for soaking up the sun… and the wine!
Best bars in La Latina: La Carolla, Marula Cafe, El Eucalipto.
Best tapas in La Latina:, El Viajero, Mercado de la Cebada, Juana la Loca.
The rainbow flag flies proudly all around Chueca, the most well-known gay area in Madrid. Once seen as a more run-down part of town, it’s been revitalized by investment from the gay community and is now awash with trendy bars, bookstores, and nightclubs.
Best bars in Chueca: Museo Chicote, Café Acuarela, Antigua Casa Ángel Sierra.
Best tapas in Chueca: Taberna La Carmencita, Baco y Beto, El Respiro.