Secret Madrid

From a hidden beach in Malasaña to a statue paying tribute to the city's biggest rock fan, we uncover 21 hidden gems in Madrid
1. C/Montera's secret Eden (©Iván Moreno)
©Iván MorenoAmong the flood of tourists, prostitutes and gold buyers in this central Madrid street is a small urban oasis where you can unwind from the bustle of the city. A tea room straight out of a fairy tale greets you on the top floor of the Salvador Bachiller shop, where you can grab a coffee for breakfast, something light for lunch, and relax with a drink in the evening. Open year-round.
2. A beach in Madrid? Yes!
Smack in the centre of the Malasaña barrio there's a beach, with a beach bar and everything, where you can take shelter in the winter cold. Recently remodelled, the bottom floor of the restaurant Ojalá becomes an improvised chill-out to make the Iberian Peninsula proud – a perfect place for beers with friends and relaxing around the low tables on fluffy cushions surrounded by dim lighting. It's cosy and exotic at the same time. And the menu features real culinary delights.
3. Natural fleeting beauty
Toward the end of C/Alcalá is a hidden park that plenty of locals and tourists have no idea is there. La Quinta de los Molinos would be just another park in the Spanish capital if it weren't for the fact that inside are 6,000 almond trees that create quite the spectacle for the senses when they're in bloom. Shades of pink and white paint the garden, and the intoxicating aromas float over walls and around the park during the months of February and March.
4. Rock is ageless (©Fresus)
©FresusÁngeles Rodríguez Hidalgo was a granny in Madrid's Vallecas barrio who discovered her love for heavy metal when she was already getting on in years. She immediately won the affection of fans, audiences and the general public when she was seen rocking out at AC/DC concerts and frequenting spots that were anything but nursing homes. She even managed to get her own section in 'Heavy Rock' magazine. Following her death in 1993, a bronze statue was erected in her honour at C/Peña Gorbea, 22, and there she stands with her hand held high in the shape of horns typical of metalheads. Today the statue is missing the index and little finger, so unfortunately she kind of looks more like a Communist grandma than a veteran rocker.
5. The sky over Lavapiés
At first glance, the Escuelas Pías (Pious Schools) de San Fernando is just another building that makes up the network UNED (National University of Distance Education) centres. But on the rooftop of this historic building you'll find one of the best terraces in the whole city to watch the sunset. Every weekend of the year, Gau&Café fills up with locals, groups of friends, and well-informed visitors who don't want to miss Mother Nature's show.
6. Among the dahlias (©Iván Moreno)
©Iván MorenoNext to the Basílica de San Francisco el Grande, in La Latina, lies this small park, divided into several beds of dahlias. Overshadowed by the majesty of the adjacent church, this viewpoint is one of the best and quietest places in Madrid to take in a beautiful sunset. The 'San Isidro' group of sculptures, designed by Santiago Costa, presides over the area. An ideal spot for a romantic rendezvous.
7. Gin & tonics & art (©Iván Moreno)
©Iván MorenoWhen you're strolling through Malasaña you'll come across plenty of galleries, but none like Kikekeller, a place where everyday objects merge with art to surprise you with unique pieces. But the real secret of this space reveals itself when the lights go out and night falls. In the back room is one of Madrid's trendiest secret bars, where the city's most modern and hip meet for a few G&Ts. Just bear in mind that exclusivity doesn't come cheap.
8. Sushi in a Japanese bunker
If you love Japanese food, take note. Allow us introduce you to a 'clandestine' restaurant dedicated to haute cuisine that's for members only, where you can try the best niguiri, sashimi and tataki, as well as taking a journey back in time. All these delicacies are served in a room decorated as a WWII Japanese bunker. And if it's a bit pricey for you, they also do takeaway.
9. Undisciplined culture
In early 2014, a flat in the Chueca neighbourhood (located at Válgame Dios, 4, flat number 3º izq.) was converted into a unique exhibition space, a meeting place that hosts workshops, meetings and talks related to contemporary art. Independent publications, fanzines, self-published materials and art books – anything goes for Eva Parra, Camilo Otero and Yuji Kawasima, founders of this collective which is an artistic breath of fresh air for Madrid.
10. Clandestine sandwich shop
A secret place with a capacity limited to 40 customers that you can't get into without a password. This underground sandwich shop is another great idea from Le Nómade Supper Club, a pop-up restaurant which does nomadic dinners that always pleasantly surprise. If you're one of the privileged, you can try exclusive sandwiches like the 'Crispy Ebai Furai' with marinated shrimp fried in panko, coconut and dragon sauce. They've also now got 'clandestine hot dogs' – don't miss your chance to get a Bratwurst carmelized in teriyaki, home-made tangy gaucha sauce, lettuce and dried onion bits (€4)! Be aware that in order to get the password and book a table, you need to contact them directly.
11. More than plant life
The Bosque Encantado ('Enchanted Forest') is a botanical garden that deserves more than one visit. Its originality doesn't lie in the more than 500 plant species from around the world that it houses, but in the sculptures of impossible sizes that they've managed to create with the greenery. From elephants, giraffes and dragons to horse-drawn carriages, locomotives and a rock band, dozens of green statues seem to be about to come to life throughout this magical park located in San Martín de Valdeiglesias, 75km from the centre of Madrid.
12. University pioneer (©Polidori)
©PolidoriMadrid is full of statues that, if you don't look closely, can appear to be sweeping the floor in Plaza Jacinto Benavente or taking a stroll near Plaza de San Ildefonso. But of all of them, the one with the best backstory is the statue of Julia, a young student who you'll find leaning against the stone wall of the Palacio Bauer (C/Pez, 42, at the corner of San Bernardo), in Malasaña. The bronze sculpture that shows a young woman in a skirt and blouse standing barefoot and holding schoolwork is a tribute by Antonio Santín to the first woman who, despite the ban of the time, disguised herself as a man to attend the University of Madrid in 1848. If your Spanish is up to it, check out the very short video (under nine minutes) depicting the story: 'Tras Julia'.
13. The façade of happiness (©Iván Moreno)
©Iván MorenoIt might look like a graffiti prank, but it's not. The façade of an 1886 building in the stately district of Justicia (at C/Campoamor, 16) shows off the original work of Jack Babiloni following the building's restoration. The painter worked with only four colours (yellow, black, blue and ochre) to create images of characters from Greek mythology such as Poseidon, Chiron and Athena, among others, in his own particular style. The result is a colourful façade entitled 'Todo es felicidá' ('Everything is happiness'). You'll have to look up from your smartphone to appreciate it.
14. Open since 1725
Although many locals don't know it, the oldest restaurant in the world is in La Latina, near Plaza Mayor. Casa Botín (aka El Sobrino de Botín) was founded in 1725 by Frenchman Jean Botin, although it later passed to the González Martín family. Customers of this nearly-300-year-old establishment include tourists looking for bona fide Spanish cuisine and celebrities such as Ernest Hemingway and Truman Capote.
15. A beauty of a courtyard
Crossing the threshold of the shop Federica&Co (C/Hermosilla, 26) is like entering the paradise of vintage décor. All the spaces are used to the maximum, including the carriage passage that gives access to the establishment, converted into a charming courtyard where Provençal-style wooden tables and wicker chairs show off hand-crafted cushions, glass bottles made into vases and handpainted tableware. A haven of peace and good taste away from the traffic in the Salamanca district.
16. Street poetry
The city's zebra crossings have become a whole lot more thought-provoking. The urban art collective BoaMistura has painted some of Madrid's streets with lyrics from songs by Rayden and Leiva, and micropoems by Ajo. While you're strolling through the city streets, keep your eyes peeled for phrases such as 'Duerme menos y sueña más' ('Sleep less and dream more'), 'Te comería a versos' ('I'll smother you with verses') and 'Perdona rápido, agradece lento' ('Forgive quickly, appreciate slowly'). If you want to play it safe, be sure to see their famous graffiti in Plaza de Alonso Martínez.
17. Sweet violet (©Iván Moreno)
©Iván MorenoYou may know that a typical 'cocido' (stew) is Madrid's signature dish, and churros with chocolate is the most traditional breakfast, but did you know that violet candies are the sweet hallmark of the city? Made with the essence of the flower and shaped into five purple petals, there's only one place in Madrid to buy the most authentic of these sweets: La Violeta. This small shop with a wooden façade that's easily passed by (at Plaza de Canalejas, 6) has been selling these candies since 1915. They're so good that, according to legend, Alfonso XIII gave them as gifts to his wife and his lovers.
18. Gold on the Wall  (©Iván Moreno)
©Iván MorenoMadrid's street art can grab you when you least expect it – while you're strolling through Lavapiés, wandering the streets of Chueca or, as in this case, having an innocent beer with friends. Naif is a bar-restaurant with a Malasaña spirit that not only has a great summer terrace but there's also a secret on the walls inside: a huge mural with the faces of the Black Keys, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, the work of Mr Hazelnut, welcomes the area's hip and cool passing by for a bite to eat.
19. Cold beer, two for one
With prices as they are these days, finding a bar where you can get two-for-one draught beers, glasses of wine and soft drinks year-round is something of a miracle in Madrid. En Busca del Tiempo, right next to the Puerta del Sol, is the perfect spot for a couple beers before moving the party elsewhere. Yes, there's a catch: the offer is only good on weekdays from 6pm to 8pm. And you have to be quick if you don't fancy warm beer, since you're getting two at a time.
20. The other fallen 'angel' (©M. Martín Vicente)
©M. Martín VicenteBesides the well-known fallen angel in the Retiro park, there's a statue in Madrid (on the rooftop at C/Milaneses, 3, at C/Mayor) that does a much better job of representing what it must really be like to smack into the ground. According to the sculptor, the work, called  'Accidente aéreo', is of a distracted aviator who crashes into the building. So it's not Icarus and it's not Lucifer – it's just sculptor Miguel Ángel Ruiz Beato turning an unfortunate accident into a work of art. 
21. Art between rails
An old train car storage building that belongs to Atoche station is home to La Neomudéjar (C/Antonio Nebrija, s/n), a leading arts centre and international artist residency that's not as well-known as other similar spaces like La Tabacalera or La Casa Encendida. Far from the conventional art circuit, La Neomudéjar aims to give an outlet for all disciplines that don't fit in other galleries, such as video art, performance art, street art, parkour, robotics and more.
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