Looking for a taste of the authentic Madrid life? While famous for its incredible art galleries and food, Madrid is a lively city, with many things to do for those who love to travel like a local and experience life off the beaten path.
This itinerary will let you travel off the beaten path in Madrid. You’ll experience the less common tourist activities in Madrid- they’re guaranteed to be exciting and help you understand the authentic Madrid life. If you’d like to mix your authentic Madrid activities up with more relaxing or touristic ones, see our Romantic guide and Art guide to Madrid.
Cycle your way around Madrid
Cycling is a great way to get your bearings in Madrid. Rent and Roll offer a few different tours, and bike rentals, so you can explore on your own. We enjoy cycling through Madrid’s Retiro and Casa de Campo parks. E-bike rentals are just €20 for a day, or you can hire by the hour. BiciMAD is the capital’s bike share program, so download the app before you arrive in Madrid if you’d like to casually cycle around the city.
Experience an original and authentic Madrid metro station
The Madrid metro system began in 1909, with a 4km route and is now one of the most comprehensive in the world. You can experience one of the original Madrid metro stations, restored to its old-fashioned glory at the Chamberi Ghost Station. This is a unique experience!
Chamberi isn’t part of the modern metro system, as it wasn’t possible to increase its capacity to accommodate longer trains. For years, the station was unused, but it is now home to an interesting museum to the Madrid metro and is often used for filming movies or tv-series set in the early 1900s. The highlight is seeing the old-fashioned treatments: hand-painted signs, mosaic advertisements and original ticketing booths.
Chamberi station is only open Thursday to Sunday, it’s free to enter and it takes roughly 45 minutes to explore. The experience starts in a metro staircase tunnel that is now a 30-person movie room. There’s a twenty-minute video in Spanish. There are no subtitles, but you get the gist of the history. After this, a short tour of the station is available- your guide may add information for you in English, just ask them!
Support the local Madrid team
If you’re in town while Real Madrid are playing at home, you’re in luck! Real Madrid is one of the finest football teams with excellent players. Football is a major part of local Madrid culture. Real Madrid play in La Liga, the top Spanish football league, arguably the best league in the world. Their home, the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, is designed so even seats at the top of the stadium have excellent views. In the colder months, the stadium has heaters, so you won’t need to worry about shivering.
It’s easy to book a seat:
- You don’t need to be a member, just head to their website.
- Regular La Liga tickets cost from €40 and are available to the public a week before the match. Become a club member to get ticket access two days earlier.
- Book a seat in the east or west stand near to the south stand to watch and get involved with the incessant and infectious chanting led by the Los Blancos (the whites) supporters.
At the stadium:
- The stadium has its own metro stop (Santiago Bernabeu) on metro line 10
- When you arrive, they will pat you down for security – guys and girls form separate lines.
- You can’t take cans or glass bottles into the stadium
- Learn the Hala Madrid anthem. Words are up on the screen so sing along, it’s catchy and you’ll feel the team pride!
- Wear white to the match to show your allegiance.
Even if you can’t get to a match, take a tour of the stadium for a backstage look around this famous team’s home ground and head to where the locals watch a Real Madrid match when they’re playing away; James Joyce Irish Pub or O’Neill’s Irish Pub. They’re both near the celebration spot for fans post-match, the Plaza de Cibeles.
Enjoy Madrid’s biggest park
Retiro gets the international fame but, with 4 acres of dirt tracks among a wide variety of vegetation, Casa de Campo is a great location for exercising and relaxing. Madrid, like all big cities, can have unpleasant smells, so the park is the perfect break to cleanse and enjoy a massive, natural, isolated environment. You can get there via the cable car (from Parque Oeste) or by metro (get off at Casa de Campo or Lago stops).
Learn Madrid’s history with a trip to Toledo
If you have two or more days in Madrid, a day trip to Toledo should be on your list. Toledo is the historical capital of Spain and is home to very interesting architecture and art. A day in Toledo will give you an of appreciation for the history of Madrid’s culture. It’s just 30 minutes on the train (about €20 euro return), or you can take an organised tour. You can leave your accommodation at 8:30am, have a full day in Toledo and be back in your hotel by 7pm to rest and freshen up before an evening of tapas and bar hopping.
Authentic bar hopping in Madrid
Madrid is a city of bars and we reckon the most vibrant scene is in the Chueca neighbourhood. If you’re looking for vibing bars popular with 20 and 30-something locals, we recommend Areia and Lola09. They’re both in Chueca and they are always full to the brim on Friday and Saturday nights. They have DJs and the lights are dim, but there’s no pressure to dance, people are just bopping and chatting.
What to wear to a bar? Nothing too flash. Jeans, a nice top and a leather jacket are pretty standard for both men and ladies in Madrid, with plenty of sneakers on show. Save the flashy minidress for Barcelona.
Clubbing like a local
If you want to continue the fun at a club, head to Joy Eslava around 1am. The club is a decent size but not huge like Kapital. Entrance is around €15 and will include a drink (get a Gin Tonic!). After the included drink, a Gin Tonic in the bar is €13, and other drinks are pricey by Madrid standards. Most clubbers are lightly tipsy rather than blind drunk, and you’ll find this a relaxing way to party. The club’s dancers come onto the stage around 2:30am, often one guy and one girl, on either side of the stage. The club is at its most full around 4am.
Not sure what to wear to a club in Madrid? A fail-safe outfit for the ladies is a long-sleeve dress with tights and ankle boots, or skinny jeans with a not-too-sexy top. For men, a pair of fashionable jeans and a smart t-shirt or a long sleeve shirt is perfect. Both men and women can get away with sneakers (heels aren’t too common). The expected standard of dressing up here is different to clubs in Sydney, London or New York, so you will look out of place if you wear a “clubbing outfit”. If you’re here in the cooler months, wear your coat to the club as it’s only 2 euro to check it.
Take an introductory Spanish class with an authentic Madrid language school
The people of Madrid (madrileños) generally will not speak in English to you. Why? Unlike many western European countries, Spaniards aren’t required to learn English, so many actually aren’t able to speak much of it. Spaniards learn castellano (Spanish) at school along with their local regional language as their second language.
We urge you to brush up on common phrases using Duolingo before your trip and, if time allows, attending an introductory Spanish class on your first morning in Madrid. It’ll give you the confidence to communicate the basics: greetings, ordering, paying and asking for help. AIL offer a three-hour or six-hour classes especially for kick-starting tourists’ Spanish speaking.
Enjoy your trip!
If you’re looking for more inspiration for your Madrid trip, see our guides for romance and art in Madrid. If you’re travelling with a gluten-free companion, see our tips for dining gluten free in Madrid here. For everything you need to pack in your carry-on, consult our checklist.
Have you got any questions or any tips for an authentic Madrid experience? Please share with us. Madrid is one our favourite places and we’d love to hear from you!