Living Museums

10 rainy-day activities in Madrid (for people who don’t like museums)

14 September 2019
Rain, 1948

It’s raining but perhaps you’ve already been to all the museums, or maybe you just fancy something a bit less obvious such as spending the afternoon in a mercado, doing a no-frills bar crawl around a barrio you haven’t visited before, exploring the labyrinthine tunnels of the old tobacco factory or finally enjoying it being cool enough to eat hearty food again! Here are 10 rainy-day activities that you won’t find anywhere else on the Madrinternet…

1. SPEND THE AFTERNOON IN A MARKET

Madrid’s markets are like indoor villages. You can do your shopping and then stay for a coffee, lunch, dinner and drinks. You can get your watch repaired or shoes reheeled – and discover some historical sights at the same time, like the old stone sinks and stalls’ vintage facades.

Seafood Saturday (A5 €8)

Our favourite market is Mercado de la Cebada, which you can read about in its very own Madrid No Frills article.

2. EXPLORE THE OLD TOBACCO FACTORY

Built 225 years ago, this colossal industrial building called La Tabacalera is now a labyrinth of controversial street art, studios and two urban gardens. On a rainy day, and especially at night, it can feel a little dystopian adding to its beauty and charm: it’s a former squat and still maintains its deep, anarchistic subculture.

Basement tunnels of La Tabacalera

First floor art studios

The entrance to Sala de Proyecciones

Read more about La Tabacalera here, or visit its sister building, which is now an art gallery.

3. DO A RUTA DE TAPAS

Madrid’s Rutas de Tapas are a fantastic way to discover another dozen no-frills bars in one fell swoop. Join in the comradery of doing a good ol’ pub crawl with the rest of the neighbourhood, with a specially designed no-frills gourmet tapa to go with your caña.

Make sure you get a hold of a map at your first bar, which you can get stamped at every bar you visit on the ruta. Once you’ve got six stamps, you’re eligible to vote for the best tapa!

This weekend is the Ruta de Tapas de La Elipa, and 21 no-frills bars are participating!

Just be warned: this is a very efficient way to get drunk because the food-to-alcohol ratio is always tipped slightly more towards the drink (experience tells us).

4. FALL DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE INTO MADRID’S FASCINATING METRO NETWORK

This 100-year-old subterranean labyrinth is a living museum. Down here, Madrid’s history surrounds you: from centuries-old features and spooky stories to history in the making with futuristic technology and stunning street art adorning station walls.

Some of the station tunnels on line 1 feature vaulted ceilings and walls clad in shiny blue and white tiles, as well as ornate sculptures that have impressively stood the test of time.

The entrance to Tirso de Molina metro platforms

Little station offices are very much endangered, with most of them now being completely unused, but they can be spotted in almost every station – you just need to know what to look for.

The old station office cabin in Carabanchel metro

So buy yourself a €1.50 metro ticket and gain access to these 10 curious subterranean sights.

5. GO GHOST HUNTING ON GRAN VÍA

Why not escape the rain by sheltering inside Primark, H&M and Zara? Don’t worry: we haven’t sent you here to buy anything. Look up and around to admire some of Madrid’s most spectacular buildings, which are steeped in history.

The Madrid-Paris building, 1934

Many of these grand, turn-of-the-century buildings were used as temporary barracks during the Spanish Civil War and have undergone their fair share of conversions. Fortunately, these large retail stores have left their host buildings mostly untouched, respecting the original features throughout.

Before Primark, this building hosted a department store

The Madrid-Paris building today, inhabited by Primark

6. WARM UP WITH POLISH COMFORT FOOD

Allow yourself to be drawn in by austere expressionist paintings, mahogany furniture, dark red walls and white doily tablecloths. Restaurante La Polonesa’s old-world style is like a time traveller’s collection, and the piping-hot nostalgic food fits in perfectly.

La Polonesa's salon

Cheese and potato pierogi

Read all about the foodie delights of La Polonesa here.

7. SPEND THE EVENING IN THE ‘SECRET’ LAVAPIÉS JAZZ CLUB

Step back in time to 1981, order a drink at the splendid marble bar and take the time to admire your turn-of-the-century surroundings, which hark back to the spiritual era of this club.

Some of the city’s best jazz bands play here every night of the week in a charmingly intimate setting. Read more about Café El Despertar here, and find out why the owner is so worried about the police coming in.

8. GO BOWLING IN AN EERY ART DECO MALL

We stumbled across this ‘Miami post apocalypse’ shopping mall while on a stroll along the river. It was eerily quiet and half the mall was empty, with some corners of the building in complete darkness. The art deco-style floors are stunning though, and they led us to a retro bowling alley decked out in deep-red neon lights, making us feel like we were back inside Madrid’s old porn cinema.

The retro bowling alley

Location: Bowling La Ermita

9. SEE WHAT’S ON AT MADRID’S OLD PORN CINEMA

There’s just something about this once-seedy corner of Madrid, possibly because it survived as a fully functioning erotic cinema until so recently. I once tried to get in, but I suspect the staff figured out that I wasn’t there to watch a film. Two years later, however, it reopened as a hipster cinema, and apart from a few additional strobe lights and a deep clean, it doesn’t seem to have changed a bit.

The mezzanine bar

If you’ve got a soft spot for hopelessly vintage films, or you just want to know how the whole ‘watching porn’ thing worked, then grab a drink at the mezzanine bar of Sala Equis and head upstairs to the warm, cosy cinema.

Upstairs inside the cinema

10. BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES

And finally, if the weather is so bad that you don’t even want to go outside, you can still enjoy one of our favourite parts of Madrid, Vallecas, in Pedro Almodóvar’s most internationally known film, Volver.

Volver

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2 Comments

Ed 2 March 2018 at 1:28 pm

Where is the bowling alley? Thanks.

Reply
Madrid No Frills 2 March 2018 at 1:34 pm

Thanks for asking, Ed! It’s called Bowling La Ermita, on Calle Sepúlveda, 3.

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