10 Unique Local Things to Do in Madrid

Brian Schæfer Dreyer • 13 Feb, 2016

There are so many wonderful things to do when holidaying in Madrid. Naturally, there are tonnes of touristy options, but there’s also the possibility to follow in the footsteps of Madrileños and take advantage of the unique experiences the Spanish capital has to offer. Brian, our local ambassador for Madrid, recommends 10 unique things to do in his delightful city.

1. Go rollerblading in Parque del Retiro

While most tourists visit Parque del Retiro to rent rowing boats and paddle around the lake, there’s another way to enjoy Madrid’s most famous park that has become popular among locals – rollerblading! The park features wide asphalted streets between all the green, attracting hundreds of eight-wheeled Madrileños every day. So, bring your blades and explore the park in style! If you’re not an experienced blader, there are several beginners’ classes you can join that ironically gather around the sculpture known as “The Fallen Angel”. And it’s no problem if you can’t bring your own blades – you can rent a pair from the nearby Rent & Roll shop (Calle Salustiano 14) on an hourly basis.

Photo credit: Brian Schæfer Dreyer

2. Take a romantic stroll through the Rosaleda Gardens

Madrid is a great destination for a romantic trip with your partner. If you visit the city during spring or summer, you can’t miss a walk through the Rosaleda Gardens. You’ll discover a sea of colours, with 600 varieties of roses and around 20 000 flowers spread across 32 000 square metres. The Gardens are located on the edge of Parque del Oeste, just a short walk from Plaza de España. You’ll pass the Templo de Debod along the way. The best part is that relatively few tourists make it here.

Photo credit: M. Peinado

3. Eat a squid sandwich at Plaza Mayor

Seafood is surprisingly popular in Madrid, despite the city being so far from the coast. So, forget about tapas for a while and head to Plaza Mayor for a bocadillo de calamares. These squid sandwiches are simple yet tasty, and are loved by true Madrileños. Even though it’s a tourist hotspot, you’ll find some of the best squid sandwiches in the small restaurants around the majestic Plaza Mayor.

Photo credit: Brian Schæfer Dreyer

4. Attend an Atlético Madrid football match

While most football-obsessed tourists come to Madrid to watch Real Madrid or visit their stadium, Santiago Bernabeu, half of the capital’s residents support the city’s other team, Atlético Madrid. Atlético could therefore be considered a more local team, and despite its stadium being smaller, it might be easier to score yourself a ticket. Estadio Vicente Calderon holds around 55 000 spectators right on the banks of the Manzanares river, and oozes local pride when the red-and-white-striped “Indians” take on their opponents.

Photo credit: Nathan Rupert

5. Enjoy a cocktail with a view

Want a mountain view in downtown Madrid? Then head to the Tartan Roof at the top of the unique Bellas Artes building. For a small fee you can enter the museum and take the elevator to the top where you’ll find a bar and restaurant, as well as plenty of space to walk around and admire Madrid from above. From the magnificent skyline to the mountain peaks on the horizon, this is definitely one of the best views you’ll get in the Spanish capital.

Photo credit: Brian Schæfer Dreyer

6. Sip tinto de verano by the river

Sipping the ever-popular sangría is almost mandatory for tourists when visiting Spain, but for the Spanish, sipping tinto de verano is just as popular. It’s a fresh summer drink made with one part red wine and one part gaseosa (carbonated lemonade). The name translates to “red wine of summer”. In Madrid, there are few better places to enjoy it than by the Manzanares river on a sunny day. This river isn’t so much a tourist magnet like its equals in Paris and London, which therefore makes it a more popular recreational spot among locals. You’ll see Madrileños seeking shade on hot days in the small cafés and bars dotted along the banks.

Photo credit: Brian Schæfer Dreyer

7. Check out the shops along Calle Fuencarral

Whether you’re looking for the latest football shirt or more fashionable outfits, there are endless opportunities for shopping in Madrid. While Salamanca (north of Retiro Park) attracts wealthy customers, the stretch between Puerta del Sol and Gran Vía is the biggest magnet for the masses.

If you want a more laid-back shopping experience, however, take a stroll down Calle Fuencarral – the lively tree-lined street that splits the hip neighbourhoods of Malasaña and Chueca. Here you can shop ‘til you drop, or end up at the trendy Mercado de San Ildefonso food market.

Photo credit: Brian Schæfer Dreyer

8. Celebrate San Isidro like a real Madrileño

Spring is the perfect time to visit Madrid since the temperatures rise to siesta-demanding heights in July and August, and because one of the greatest fiestas of the year takes place on May 15th. The feast day of San Isidro, the patron saint of farmers and of Madrid, is celebrated in style at Pradera de San Isidro with tonnes of food, street music and traditional chotis dancing.

You should definitely try rosquillas – donut-like treats that come in two varieties, listas (“the clever”) and tontas (the stupid) – and stay hydrated with plenty of sangría. And don’t miss giant doll parade that takes place downtown the day before!

Photo credit: Brian Schæfer Dreyer

9. Shoot your favourite street corners in downtown Madrid

With a huge number of atmospheric streets and squares, Madrid is heaven for street photographers. If you pay attention to the street corners you’ll discover something unique to Madrid – painted tiles displaying the street names. These azulejos feature everything from symbols to the stories behind the street names. You might see a mirror indicating you’re on Calle del Espejo (Mirror Street), or a basket of strawberries on Calle de la Fresa (Strawberry Street). You can easily spend a day finding your favourites while exploring the city.

Photo credit: Brian Schæfer Dreyer

10. Sing along to Cortylandia at Christmas

Like many big cities, Madrid is beautifully decorated for Christmas in December. If you’re travelling with kids or are a goofy adult who loves soaking up the spirit of the holidays, don’t miss the very traditional Cortylandia show outside the El Corté Ingles department store in downtown Madrid. Each year it attracts thousands of families and nostalgic Madrileños who come to watch the giant cartoon-like characters perform and sing the Cortylandia theme song.

Photo credit: Brian Schæfer Dreyer

For more local recommendations read:

What locals like to do in Madrid
Where locals like to eat in Madrid
Where locals like to party in Madrid

Special tip:
For a more authentic Madrid experience, get the Like A Local mobile app

Opening photo credit: superblinkymac

Brian Schæfer Dreyer
I describe myself as a "travelooney". A person obsessed with travelling and with a passion for inspiring others to do the same. My focus is Europe, where I love to experience the contrasts between buzzing capital cities, intimate villages and stunning natural scenery. My travel blog can be found here: www.travelooney.dk.

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