Alternative Madrid

The Duck Church of Lavapiés

Unless you live on this quiet, narrow street in Lavapiés, there's almost no reason for you to walk down it – that is, unless you're going to the Duck Church. Nestled into the ground floor of a centenarian building lives a tiny temple devoted to the rubber duck, and its priest is Leo Bassi, a 66-year-old clown who was born on tour.

The ‘human zoo’ of Madrid

An entire village was built to exhibit these unfamiliar people in their 'natural habitat', with thousands of curious spectators paying for a glimpse into their exotic world. Welcome to the darkest corner of Retiro Park: Madrid's erstwhile 'human zoo'.

The story of Madrid’s most controversial prison

La cárcel de Carabanchel, Europe's biggest and most notorious prison until its closure in 1998, was built under General Franco's watch. Between 1940 and 1944, every wall was raised and every metal door was fitted by the same prisoners who would eventually do their time here. None dared lay a brick loosely or leave a screw untightened – this prison was a star-shaped fortress, and nobody was escaping.

Vallecas: The rebel town of Madrid

Vallecas is a working-class neighbourhood with an unstoppable fire in its belly. It emerged out of a slum, only to be beaten back to the bones again by the most brutal pummelling the Spanish Civil War could give. Since then, this hard-left barrio has become a close-knit community and home to thousands of immigrants from all around the world, making it one of the most mesmerising corners of Madrid.

Eight eccentric museum-worthy collections found only in El Rastro

There are few better ways to spend a Sunday in Madrid than strolling around El Rastro, but if you don't have time to explore this 400-year-old market as many times as we have (possibly into three figures), then let us help you hit the ground running with seven of our most eccentric finds.

Latest obsession: ghost buildings

We’re in a surreal time in Madrid, somewhere between crisis and post-crisis. With the economy in motion again, the city’s charming madrileño hum is being shattered by the crash-bang-drill-beep of construction work and, for a brief moment, a peculiar phenomenon is appearing.

Illustrations by a boy who grew up in Chueca

Growing up in Chueca was eye-opening for Miguel. He was exposed to things that some parents would do their best to protect their child from seeing. He was surrounded by drugs, sex, filth and death – the foundations upon which Chueca’s character is built.

The last toy hospital in Spain

Once upon a time in Madrid, in a neighbourhood named after the Pacific Ocean, there was a man named Antonio, who kept the child inside all of us alive. The Toy Hospital’s customers aren’t typically children. Antonio’s customers are adults – some are toy collectors or savvy antiques dealers, but many of them are nostalgic souls whose childhood is preserved in the peculiar object clutched in Antonio’s paint-stained hands.

Madrid’s city of the dead

Over five million people are buried, stacked and stored as ashes in Madrid’s biggest graveyard. La Almudena’s size and layout make it feel like more of a city than a cemetery: it has a historic centre, named streets, and neighbourhoods with different characters. You’ll find upmarket areas with mansions for the rich and famous, detached houses, workers’ apartment blocks, the poor neglected parts of the city and, last but not least, an anarchist squat.