Madrid is a complex city that likes to reveal itself slowly, keeping you in constant awe of its depths, expanse and infinite detail. The forgotten secrets, concealed corners and vibrant subcultures in just this city alone could keep you exploring for a lifetime, but here’s a good starting point…
1. A FREE SECRET LIBRARY
Esta es una plaza, a guerrilla garden and community project in the heart of Lavapiés, is where you can find just one of Madrid’s many locally run free libraries. The little orange cupboard of used books relies on donations from anyone who wants to give. Come pick up an old book, sit on a makeshift bench and enjoy an unusual oasis within the surrounding urban jungle.
2. THE NARROW ABANDONED BUILDING ON CALLE MONTERA
Have you walked past this unusually narrow four-storey building a hundred times and never noticed it? Me too. It appears to be just a shell, but abandoned buildings in such a central location rarely remain unoccupied for long.
3. CHUECA’S CULT DOORLADY
Can you see her? This is Chueca’s most famous doorlady, but she’s made out of cardboard. We accidentally stumbled across her one afternoon and, upon doing a bit of digging, it seems she has quite a following. Here’s her very own Facebook page.
4. THE SECRET HEXAGONAL PATIO CAFÉ
Madrid’s old town is full of secret courtyards, but most of them are extremely difficult to access. This hexagonal patio, however, is open to all – and is actually home to a very cute little terrace belonging to Café del Patio, from which you can look up and see those iconic Spanish blue skies framed by the six perfectly equal interior sides of this 126-year-old building.
5. AN OLD WOODEN SPIRAL STAIRCASE
Just behind the Congress, in a part of Madrid that’s otherwise packed with frills, there’s a beautiful building with crumbling corners and dusty blinds, and inside lives Hostal Olga – a hotel that’s pleasant, no-frills and as kitsch as hell.
Step through the always-open doors, climb the stone steps, and sneak past the retro reception area on the right, following the natural light beaming down at the end of the corridor. Look up and you’ll find this stunning five-storey spiral staircase.
6. THE MOORISH FACADE OF A REFUGEE CENTRE
Just off Gran Vía lies an incredible Neo-Mudéjar building with an even more incredible use…
7. BEAUTIFUL VALLECAS FACADES FROM A BYGONE ERA
Walk down Avenida Monte Igueldo in Vallecas and make sure you take in every inch of the street – it’s packed with the old facades of its long-gone traditional high-street.
8. THE CHURCH THAT HOLDS MASS IN BASQUE
Just off Plaza Santa Ana lies another Madrid church that, unless you look up, you’ll probably never notice. The church of San Ignacio defiantly holds mass in Basque – a language that was banned during Franco’s rein. If you’re curious to know what this sounds like, anyone is welcome to sit in at one of their services.
9. A LITTLE BIT OF LISBON IN MADRID
At Calle Fuencarral 41, look up and spot this beautiful tiled facade, which is more typical of something you’d expect to find in Lisbon. And just opposite it stands a 305-year-old chapel…
10. THE TINY 305-YEAR-OLD CHAPEL
Built in 1712, this tiny one-storey chapel seems a little out of place on such a busy shopping street. In fact, the town hall consciously chose to preserve it, appreciating the importance of maintaining an eclectic collection of various periods of architecture in the centre. So Humilladero de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad remains, and there’s a little window onto the street providing a perfect view into the little 305-year-old prayer room.