Offbeat activities, alternative museums, cultural centers, nightlife, street art, plus local tips on the best viewpoints for stunning photos and most delicious food. Madrid has it all. The tricky part is knowing where in this sprawling city to look, especially if you have limited time. The best way to discover the top offbeat Madrid activities is to ask a local. Thankfully my buddy Javier Garcia is just such a local. You probably already guessed that by his name, but what you couldn’t know is that he’s also a local guide at Cooltours, which makes him just the person to talk with about Spain’s capital city.
Armed with local knowledge of the city, let’s take a look at the top 10 alternative sights and activities that visitors should check out on the next time they find themselves in Madrid.
The Best Panoramic Views In Town
Madrid is well known because of its architecture. Still, when observing buildings and monuments from the street level, you’ll get the same perspective again and again. That’s why I will offer you today the opportunity to locate the spots where to photograph the best panoramic views in town.
1. Parque de las Siete Tetas
Calle de Benjamín Palencia, 1
First up is a public green outdoors area located in Vallecas district. This working class neighborhood is just 20 minutes away from the city center.
Parque de las Siete Tetas — which literally translates as “Seven boobs” — is close to ‘Buenos Aires’ metro station (line #1). Formerly known as Parque del Cerro del Tio Pio, this park offers Madrid visitors a unique city perspective due to its suburbs’ location.
You’ll be able to photograph the most iconic monuments such as Almudena Cathedral, or the Royal Palace from the outskirts, above their level. Although it’s opened 24/7, it is best to visit it at sunset. If you are lucky enough, there might even be some local musicians playing the guitar at the park.
Bring some snacks and beverages with you as there are no convenience stores around.
2. Gran Via Street Rooftops
Madrid’s most renowned avenue is Gran Via. Walk along this golden mile from Puerta de Alcala towards Plaza de España. There are several monuments, important hotels, shops and theatres that will make you think you are on Broadway.
In our journey to discover the most alternative spots in town, there are several rooftops that I’d like to recommend to you. These are probably much better suited for your offbeat spirit. However unlike Parque de las Siete Tetas, these spectacular terraces charge a small fee to access:
– Hotel RIU Plaza España (Calle Gran Via, 84). The building reopened in 2019’s summer after a 10 years remodeling period. It features an incredible sky bar on the 27th floor where to observe Madrid’s largest park, Casa de Campo.
– Círculo de Bellas Artes (Calle del Marqués de Casa Riera, 2) One of the first rooftops in town. There is a nice view to Plaza Cibeles and Retiro Park.
Alternative Museums & Cultural Centers
El Prado and Reina Sofia are two of the most visited museums in the country. The former shows classic art from the 16th-19th centuries, whereas the latter exhibits contemporary art from the 20th century. However they are not alternative or offbeat at all.
There are other cultural spots that are not featured in nearly every Madrid city guide — those are the ones that we want to focus on. They are both located in the city center, separated from each other by walking distance.
3. La Tabacalera
Calle Embajadores, 53
Although most people who visit Tabacalera consider it a mecca for street art and post-graffiti in Madrid, this spot is more than that. It’s part of Spain’s union history! It was in this 16,000 square meter warehouse that more than 3,000 women worked in the labors of tobacco….chopping, cutting, rolling and repeating. It was one of the first industries where female workers became the largest workforce.
At this moment, Tabacalera is divided in two spaces. First of them is Tabacalera Promoción del arte, where national and international well known contemporary artists exhibit their artworks. The second is a self-sustained center with many workshops run by local emergent talents.
4. La Neomudejar
Likewise, La Neomudejar is another 19th century building which recently turned into an avant-garde venue. What is really surprising is the almost derelict atmosphere that welcomes guests as they enter the space.
‘La Neo’ features visual art festivals, queer shows and exhibitions which artists create at the residencies offered. It is definitely a unique place, conveniently located right behind Spain’s most important train station, Atocha.
Entrance costs €5 ($5.50 USD) and this former railway warehouse could be visited Wednesdays-Sundays in approximately 30 to 45 minutes. The address is Calle Antonio Nebrija s/n.
Now that covers the day-time activities, now let’s discuss where to find the best Madrid nightlife. If you didn’t already know, Spaniards absolutely love going out. Most of the night clubs are open until 5.00 or 6.00am. In other words, if you want to experience Spain like a local, get ready for some late nights 😉
One of the longest standing electronic music clubs in town is located in Calle Alcalá, 20. Thursday and Saturday nights feature the best international disk jockeys at Mondo Disko. The music always varies so guests will be able to dance electro, techno, house, deep or minimal.
6. Goya Social Club
If you are between 18 and 25 years old, interested in meeting local madrileños (people born and raised in the city) then this night club might be of your interest. Despite its small size, the house music played here is at the top of the electronic scene in the Spanish capital city. Definitely a favorite of the local youth.
Madrid’s Foodie Hotspots
This offbeat guide in Madrid wouldn’t be complete if culinary features weren’t included. Consequently, I want to introduce you to the two most famous tapas and dining areas for locals. Both are full of typical Spanish bars and restaurants and are a unique, offbeat thing to do in Madrid.
7. Mercado de la Cebada + La Latina Area
Let’s start with a traditional food market. One thing that any visitor in Spain should know is that these typical spots do not only feature stalls selling organic and fresh food, but they also count with modern restaurants. These gastronomic hot-spots are great examples of just how trendy ‘mercados’ (food markets) and the opened sloppy food restaurants inside them have become.
Close to Mercado de la Cebada (Plaza de la Cebada s/n) you’ll also find Cava Baja and Cava Alta. These two streets represent an alternative opportunity to enjoy regional dishes on Sunday afternoons. Have you ever heard about ‘El Rastro’? It is Madrid’s largest and most important flea market, which only takes place on the last day of the week.
8. Calle Ponzano
Discovering the off the beaten path neighborhoods in Madrid will inevitably lead you to Chamberi. Here you’ll find Calle Ponzano, one of the hottest places to eat delicious tapas and raciones. Do you know the difference between them?
A ‘tapa’ is a single side dish that you’d get when ordering a drink (usually on the house), while ‘raciones’ are plates to share between a group of people.
One thing to note about this street is that there is no limit on the budget. You could go cheap and delicious, or try any of the extravagant gastronomic experiences offered at places such as Sala de Despiece or El Invernadero.
Madrid Street Art & Areas For Graffiti Lovers
Last but not least is the street art of the capital city. Alongside Barcelona, Madrid is one of the most colored and painted cities in Spain. There are several street art festivals and post-graffiti fairs along the year, even contemporary art tours to explore the offbeat side of the modern art galleries. Don’t not miss out on the following districts, which despite a few newly gentrified areas still remain bohemian and trendy.
Lavapies is a multicultural area known for its many Senegalese, Moroccan and Indian restaurants. In addition to that, it’s also often the preferred neighborhood for international artists to leave their mark with paste-ups, stickers and throw-ups (graffiti big bubble or block letters).
One of my favorite offbeat spots in the district is Esta es una Plaza, a unique urban garden in the middle of the traffic. It opens on sunny days and if you are visiting Madrid with your family, the youngest ones will love it!
To find it, you just need to walk towards Calle Doctor Fourquet, 24. This street is full of contemporary art galleries such as Galeria Alegria or Delimbo, and guaranteed to be a treat for the eyes.
Expats love this area because of its great atmosphere. It’s the meeting point for hundreds of young Spaniards during the weekend, and famous for ‘La Movida Madrileña’. For those of you who haven’t heard about this term yet, this was a counter cultural movement that arose after Franco’s dictatorship in the 1980’s.
Pinta Malasaña is a yearly artistic event which usually takes place in Spring time. Thanks to this outdoor locally organized meet-up, over hundred stores and bars decorate their metal shutters and facades with street art decorations. Don’t skip it if you are visiting Madrid soon!