Just about every visitor to Madrid hits up the Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor. Many may also tour the Royal Palace and dig into churros and chocolate at San Ginés.
But Madrid has so much more to offer. Paintings by artistic masters in unassuming chapels, a stunning outdoor paradise crisscrossed by hiking trails, tapas bars packed to the brim with locals…it’s all here.
These Madrid hidden gems will show you a side of the Spanish capital few—if any—visitors get the chance to see.
Madrid is home to world-class museums, lively food markets, and plenty of green space to help you disconnect from the busy city. It would take a lifetime to discover it all—just ask those of us who live here!
But while the bucket-list sites are obviously worth seeing, part of Madrid’s fun is experiencing it through a local’s eyes. These Madrid hidden gems aren’t in many guidebooks. In fact, the overwhelming majority of other visitors at these secret spots will be locals.
Get ready to head off the beaten path and let this insider’s guide to Madrid lead the way!
The Best Madrid Hidden Gems
1. See Non-Touristy Flamenco
There are lots of flamenco shows in Madrid. Unfortunately many of them place more emphasis on performing a flashy show for tourists rather than letting the passion of the art speak for itself.
That’s not the case at Cafetín La Quimera. Located north of the city center in the Las Ventas neighborhood, this lively tablao hosts some of the best performers in the city, drawing an overwhelmingly Spanish audience. The flamenco here is raw, real, and passionate. Plus, the space itself is intimate enough to let you get close to the action.
2. Have Lunch at the Lake in Casa de Campo
Would you believe us if we said there was an enormous, beautiful lake just outside Madrid’s city center?
The Casa de Campo park is a true oasis, with a stunning lake as its crown jewel. Easily accessible via metro, the lake is one of the best places in town for a relaxing al fresco lunch.
Bring picnic supplies from your favorite Madrid market, or head to one of the bars and restaurants surrounding the lake. (We especially love El Urogallo!)
3. Go Hiking at Casa de Campo
Get to Casa de Campo first thing in the morning—or stick around after lunch—and enjoy a nice hike without having to leave Madrid. In addition to the gorgeous lake, the park is also home to dozens of hiking and walking trails. Get close to nature while enjoying sweeping views of Madrid’s skyline along the way.
4. See Goya’s Frescoes at the San Antonio de la Florida Chapel
Plenty of tourists head to the Prado museum to get their Goya fix. But Spain’s most legendary painter of the late 18th century also has some masterpieces in a rather unexpected place.
San Antonio de la Florida is a quaint little chapel on the southern corner of Parque del Oeste. Step inside and you’ll be struck breathless by the intricate ceiling and dome frescoes, hand-painted by Goya himself. It’s a fascinating and unexpected way to experience the iconic artist’s masterpieces for free, with a fraction of the crowds of the Prado.
5. Explore Lavapiés
A colorful gem of a neighborhood between the city center and Atocha train station, Lavapiés is the beating heart of multicultural Madrid. Characterized by winding, maze-like streets and apartment blocks built around a large interior patio (known as corralas), thousands of people from across the world call Lavapiés home, keeping their cultures and traditions alive.
One can’t-miss spot here is the Mercado de San Fernando. A recent renovation has transformed it into a bright and modern gastronomic space that conserves the original spirit of a neighborhood market. Even if you’re not hungry, it’s worth a visit to explore the non-gastronomic stands hawking everything from clothing to books.
6. Take a Seafood-Focused Tapas Crawl at Mercado de la Cebada
One of the best Madrid hidden gems for foodies takes place every Saturday at lunchtime at the Mercado de la Cebada in La Latina.
When most other stalls are closing up shop for the weekend, the marisquerías (seafood stalls) transform into pop-up bars. The fishmongers themselves cook their fresh products to order. Even with the price of a drink added on, it’s much less than you would pay at a seafood restaurant.
While other La Latina-bound tourists head to Calle Cava Baja, make your way to the market to enjoy a one-of-a-kind seafood lunch among the locals.
7. Relax in Parque del Capricho
Few visitors to the Spanish capital make it up to Parque del Capricho, with its touches of 18th-century architecture and the almond blossoms that bloom in early spring. The park is divided into three sections—built in the French, English, and Italian styles. Each is equally beautiful, and together they make for one of the most unique green spaces in the city.
8. See the Peacocks at Retiro
Retiro itself may not be off the beaten path, but the colorful peacocks that call part of it home certainly are among the most fascinating Madrid hidden gems!
Head to the Cecilio Rodriguez Gardens in the southeast corner of the park to find dozens of the beautiful birds roaming freely. The gardens themselves are pristinely manicured and make for a gorgeous photo op, too!
9. Relax in the Rose Garden in Parque del Oeste
As you can see, Madrid is full of gorgeous green spaces. But this pretty little corner of Parque del Oeste is more than just green—it’s full of colorful roses!
The Rosaleda is considered to be one of the world’s best rose gardens by the World Federation of Rose Societies. Head into this peaceful Madrid hidden gem to wander among thousands of roses in every color you can imagine.
10. Eat Tapas on Calle Ponzano
When madrileños are in the mood for a tapas crawl, Calle Ponzano is the place to be. A local alternative to Calle Cava Baja, this street in Chamberí packs 30 tapas bars onto its 500-meter stretch. Micheladas and tacos, curated charcuterie and cheese plates, ramen and sake…you name it, you’ll find it on Calle Ponzano.
11. Try Peruvian Cuisine at Mercado de los Mostenses
Flavors from across the world have made their way to Madrid, and Mercado de los Mostenses is one of the most exciting places to try them. Italian, Asian, and Latin American stalls have found a home here among the vendors selling local Spanish products.
Where the market really shines, however, is with Peruvian fare. El Chiringuito Peruano and Cafeteria Lily are both excellent options for exploring the exciting flavors of the Andes right here in Madrid.
12. Devour Chinese Food in Usera
Madrid’s multicultural gastronomic scene doesn’t end there. Thousands of Chinese immigrants have made their home in the up-and-coming Usera neighborhood south of the river, bringing their homeland’s cuisine with them. Whether you’re craving spicy Sichuan dan dan noodles, piping hot xiao long bao or anything in between, you’ll be able to find it here in one of the best Madrid hidden gems for foodies.
13. Have a Beer with Locals at Plaza de Olavide
It doesn’t take much to stumble upon a happening outdoor terrace in Madrid. But few can boast the same authentic, local vibe that those in Plaza de Olavide offer.
Head north from Malasaña to find this lively, bustling circular plaza, where patrons at more than a dozen bars spill out onto al fresco terraces. Whether you’re in the mood for a simple caña of beer or a long, laid-back tapas meal, you’ll find it here—surrounded by like-minded madrileños enjoying the fresh air and good vibes.
14. Spend an Afternoon at Madrid Rio
Madrid Rio is one of the city’s newest parks, offering a world of activities and leisure. Head here to enjoy a bike ride on its excellent trails (there are plenty of well-priced bike rental options in Madrid) or simply find a quiet corner to sit back, relax, and take in the views of the Royal Palace.
15. Try Madrid’s Signature Sandwich
Plenty of tourists in the Spanish capital seek out paella and sangria—and while both can be delicious when done right, they’re not exactly representative of Madrid!
Madrid’s most popular local bite might not be as Instagram-friendly as either of the above, but trust us when we say it’s the best thing you’ll eat here. The humble bocadillo de calamares is a simple fried calamari sandwich served on crusty baguette-style bread, with a lemon wedge or two serving as the only garnish.
Get one to go from one of the bars just off of Plaza Mayor (our pick is La Campana, where we stop on one of our daytime food tours) and take your sandwich into the plaza to enjoy. It’s the best of both worlds: eating in Madrid’s most iconic plaza without paying exorbitant prices for mediocre food at the restaurants surrounding it!
16. Have Churros at a Neighborhood Bar
One of the most delicious Madrid hidden gems are churros—but not just any churros. Head to a neighborhood cafe that fries them fresh to order (like Chocolat in the Literary Quarter, a stop on our Huertas Neighborhood Tour). Paired with decadent Spanish-style hot chocolate, they make the perfect sweet breakfast or afternoon snack.
17. Discover Hipster Madrid in Malasaña and Conde Duque
Just north of Gran Via lies the happening district of Malasaña, where century-old Spanish tabernas stand alongside sleek brunch cafes and vegan donut shops. Along with the smaller sub-district of Conde Duque, which lies on its western edge, Malasaña is the place to experience the up-and-coming hipster side of Madrid.
Spend your morning checking out the art at the Conde Duque Cultural Center, followed by a late brunch at Carmencita complete with plenty of mimosas. Take some time to browse the boutiques and vintage shops east of Plaza Dos de Mayo, and be sure to head down to 1862 Dry Bar for a craft cocktail or two before or after dinner.
18. Get Off the Beaten Path at El Rastro
It’s easy to get sucked in by the pop-up stalls along the main drag of Madrid’s most famous flea market, but they’re not the only ones worth shopping at. Head off to the side streets surrounding El Rastro to discover the antique and vintage shops that house some of the lesser-known Madrid hidden gems.
19. Discover Hidden Gems at the Prado
Millions of visitors flock to the Prado every year to lay their eyes on such masterpieces as Velázquez’s “Las Meninas” and Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights.” If you want to get a bit off the beaten path, though, take some time to discover some of the Prado’s lesser-known gems. You’ll avoid the crowds and see some truly impressive works of art that offer a fascinating glimpse into a different side of Spanish and European art.
20. Visit a Lesser-Known Museum
Already checked all three of Madrid’s iconic art museums off your list? Head to one of the lesser-known galleries and museums that are themselves some of the best Madrid hidden gems. From a centuries-old convent housing some of the city’s greatest masterpieces to a maritime museum showcasing how Spain’s naval fleet all but conquered the world, you could easily spend your entire trip simply discovering these off-the-beaten-path spots.
Madrid Hidden Gems FAQs
The mild, often sunny weather we enjoy here for much of the year means that one of the most authentic ways to experience Madrid is by getting outside. Locals often head to nearby parks to walk and relax, or enjoy drinks with friends on outdoor terraces. Additionally, madrileños will head to their neighborhood markets to pick up food for the week and maybe even enjoy a meal at one of the market restaurants or bars.
Discovering where to eat among the local crowd in Madrid can be as easy as knowing what to look and listen for at a bar or restaurant. Keep your ears open for chatter in Spanish among the other patrons, and avoid place that have large photos of the food outside or on the menu (especially if paella is prominently featured). Locals don’t need to see what they’re ordering—they already know what everything is!
Yes! In fact, walking is one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to discover Madrid, especially once you start to explore the neighborhoods surrounding the center. However, if you need to get off your feet for a bit, the city also boasts one of Europe’s best public transportation systems.
Update Notice: This post was originally published on May 6, 2014 and was republished with new text and photos on March 23, 2021.
Discover some of the most delicious secret spots in Madrid with a local expert! Our Tapas, Taverns & History Tour will take you off the beaten path and into the historic local eateries that play an important role in Madrid’s story.
Life is too short to speak one language and stay in one place. In 2015, this philosophy took her from familiar Ohio to sunny southern Spain. Usually drinking tinto de verano, reading Lorca, or attempting to dance flamenco (not all at once). Follow her blog, Viatic Couture, for more.