We’ve all done it, getting locked into commuter mode and becoming completely focused on overtaking that impenetrable row of old ladies. It’s easy to get yourself into a routine of tunnel vision no matter where you live, so let this collection of offbeat finds inspire the new year’s resolution you never made: to slow down (or even stop) and look at the Madrid around you, and you might just see something you never knew was there.
1. THE PAKISTANI MOSQUE
Squares in Lavapiés have forever been a hub of multicultural activities in Madrid – especially Plaza Arturo Barea. On any given day, you can find Senegalese locals blasting reggae, groups of Bangladeshi boys playing football, and Madrileños (born and adopted) playing the guitar.
One Friday afternoon, I was passing this square and noticed a stream of traditionally dressed Muslim men spilling out from the back. I went against the current and stumbled across a tiny Pakistani mosque on the ground floor of the huge block of flats…
Secret address: Plaza Arturo Barea, Lavapiés (the far northwestern corner)
I’ve since discovered around six ‘secret’ mosques in Lavapiés, but that’s an article for another day.
2. THE SECRET GARDEN BEHIND PLAZA MAYOR
Tucked discreetly into an oblique corner of Plaza de Puerta Cerrada lives a tiny triangular oasis in the entrance to a residential building. Look closely and see if you can spot the miniature strawberries…
Secret address: Calle Latoneros, 3
3. THE REMAINS OF AN OLD WALL
Just in front of this secret garden, there’s a small chunk of wall that seems out of place…
4. EL RASTRO’S ANCIENT STREET NUMBERS
If you’ve only ever visited El Rastro on a Sunday, you won’t have been able to see these numbers, as they’re covered by the stalls. These old numerical floor tiles mark the areas allocated to the different stalls, most of which occupy several spaces.
But there’s one small stall that takes up only a single space…
5. THE SMALLEST STALL IN EL RASTRO
Allocated just one number, this tiny stall is sandwiched between a much larger clothes stall and a leather shop. You can find this miniature watch and jewellery stall at the top of Calle Ribera de Curtidores.
6. A RANDOMLY RITZY RESIDENTIAL RECEPTION
The door on the street was slightly ajar, so in I went…
Secret address: Calle de los Caños de Peral 5
7. MADRID’S “SAUNAS”
Madrid has dozens of male-only ‘saunas’, whose unusual abundance is a relic of the city’s post-dictatorship sexual revolution.
Saunas are intended as safe places for gay men to meet other gay men, but there’s sometimes a darker side to the business. Prostitution is strictly prohibited but difficult to monitor, and some saunas are said to be a front for illegal brothels. If you want to know which are regulated saunas and which show signs of shadier shenanigans, Google reviews and TripAdvisor are surprisingly helpful.
8. THE 104-YEAR-OLD BUTTON SHOP
If saunas aren’t your thing, perhaps buttons are. I was doing my usual “follow that abuela!” mission when two elderly ladies led me to Almacén de Pontejos – a huge haberdashery of granny-chic treasures just behind Puerta del Sol…
9. THE BULLFIGHTERS’ TAILOR
There’s one just off Sol called Justo Algaba, which sells and adjusts all the gear a matador could ever need…
10. MADRID’S KING OF FOOTBALL SELFIES
There’s at least one constant to the photos adorning this concierge’s office window: the concierge himself. He’s fanatical about football and keeps over 100 photographs of him and his heroes sellotaped to the windows of his booth. You can find his quirky shrine inside the shopping forum between Calle del Carretas 12 and Calle de la Paz, which is also a fascinating portal that leads you through the 1980s and back out again.
Discover even more things you’ve walked past 100 times in Ten no-frills finds in Madrid (Vol I).