Non-touristy things to do in Madrid
If you want to travel to Madrid, but don’t want to fall for all the same ol’ tourist traps, you’re in the right place. Part of traveling is learning what it’s like to live in another culture. This is especially important in a place like Spain, whose culture is to sit back, relax, and enjoy life. That being said, the following are some non-touristy things to do in Madrid so you can enjoy la vida Madrileño.
Take a siesta
Ah yes, the stereotypical nap. This isn’t just in movies – real Madrileños take a good, long siesta every day, which means most of the city shuts down too. From 3-5 PM during the week, you can expect to get absolutely nothing done, so there’s no reason to avoid the pull of Spanish culture and keep yourself up through a hard-earned siesta!
The Spanish timetable is really great for this, as they generally have a nice big, late lunch; what better way to digest a huge, delicious meal than to sleep it off? Traditionally, Spaniards take siestas so they don’t have to deal with the hot midday sun, which is another great excuse to take a nap. Even though, let’s be honest, do we really need to find reasons to take a nap?
Although you can only do this around Christmastime, the lottery is one of Spain’s many traditions. In Spain, you don’t play the lottery in hopes of winning (necessarily), but because it’s tradition to do so! Around Christmas, you’ll find long lines of Madrileños waiting to purchase their ticket, or even several tickets for their families, friends, or coworkers.
The lottery is also a bonding experience for the Spanish. Madrileños will pool together money with several of their co-workers and hope for the best. This is one of the several traditions the Spanish have during Christmas, though most of the others include different desserts. If you ever wanted to play the lottery, Spain is the place to do it!
Loiter in a restaurant
Talking about the Spanish lifestyle of relaxation, one of the best, non-touristy things to do in Madrid is sitting at a restaurant around lunch time and not getting up for hours. Unlike American restaurants, the Spanish don’t really care how long you sit around, or even that you’re buying anything while you’re taking up space in their restaurant! As long as you grab yourself a cup of coffee when you first take a seat, you’ll be left alone by the waiters until you wave one down.
Loitering in a restaurant is a great eye into the Spanish way of life. Find a restaurant with outdoor seating in a populated area, park yourself in a chair, and enjoy watching life go by around you. People-watching is a great sport in Spain, and many Spaniards take part in it daily! This is also a great opportunity for you to eat a nice, big lunch to prepare for your siesta.
Order the menú del día
While you’re sitting around at the restaurant, the best way to accomplish a siesta-worthy meal is to order from the restaurant’s menú del día. This is a menu meant specifically for lunchtime, as it won’t be available at dinner. For one flat rate, you’ll be able to select from a list of a few appetizers, entrees, and desserts, and you’ll get a drink/coffee and bread. This is a great deal, as these items separately will cost you much more.
This is also a great look into the authentic culture of Spain as most tourists will spend their trip eating tapas all day. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but there’s an entire world of gastronomy waiting for you in a menú del día! Take a sit, relax, and enjoy the Spanish way.
If you want to blend in with the locals, you’re going to be trying your hand at Spanish. The easiest way to go about this is to greet everybody: bus drivers, waiters, store owners, etc. Madrileños are very friendly and social, and if you don’t initiate the greeting, they will.
To greet a Spaniard, a simple “buenas” will do, short for “buenos días” or “buenas noches”. This is typically how you’ll be greeted while in Madrid. “Hola” will work just fine as well, but if you really want to feel non-touristy, follow the way of the Spaniard! This is, of course, only one of a variety of ways to greet a Spaniard.
Drink tinto de verano
I know, I know – you’re in Spain, so you want to drink the sangria. While sangria is stereotypically Spanish, the locals don’t really partake so much. Instead, opt for a tinto de verano, which is red wine mixed with some fruity drink, like Sprite or Fanta. This is a great way for you to cool down, with the alcoholic wine and the refreshing soda. And trust me, if you’re in Madrid, it’s very possible you’ll want to cool down.
Go to the rooftop bar of Círculo de Bellas Artes
In Madrid, rooftop bars are a dime a dozen. While any one of them is a great place to spend a Friday night, there’s one special rooftop bar in Madrid which is known as the best view in the entire city: Círculo de Bellas Artes. This is a tall building right in Madrid Centro that isn’t necessarily unknown to tourists, but it comes with a price that many tourists would rather not pay, and instead go to another rooftop bar.
At Círculo de Bellas Artes, you’ll be charged a few euros to go up a few flights of stairs to get to the rooftop. Once there, you’ll find an extensive bar with elegant seating and a view unlike any other. The drinks are a bit pricey, but the experience is worth it. Make sure you bring warm enough clothes if you decide to visit during the colder months because the wind can get pretty intense up there!
Go for a stroll at Retiro Park
Yes, Retiro Park is also fairly touristy, being a huge, beautiful park right in the middle of Madrid. However, it is also where the locals go to get some exercise. You’ll find many locals walking their dogs, going for a run, or even rollerblading through the many long pathways that stretch throughout the park. It’s a place for tourists and locals alike and, honestly, if you go to Madrid and don’t go to this park, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
If you feel strongly about doing strictly non-touristy things in Madrid, all you really need to do is avoid the square where Alfonso XII’s monument is located. This monument, with the lake, rowing, music, and way overpriced food is a tourist hotspot. Instead, stick to the quieter parts of the park and you’ll be just fine.
Try a calamari sandwich
Forget the tapas, calamari sandwiches are a local favorite. They’re pretty simple: a bunch of calamari in a piece of bread. They’re delicious, though, and they’re easy to find. If you’re looking for a non-touristy experience, you may be avoiding Plaza Mayor, but that would be a bad choice. Not only because of the (yes, super touristy) history, but also the plethora of restaurants that serve calamari sandwiches.
Just head to a restaurant, get a sandwich and go. These restaurants that sell popular foods like this have mastered the art of quick delivery. If you’re not a fan of the big crowds, don’t worry – it’s likely you won’t spend more than a couple minutes waiting for your sandwich.
Go to the discoteca until sunrise
One important thing to know about the Spanish is that they know how to party. Siestas are a necessary part of Spanish culture, because how else could you survive the workday when you were out enjoying life until 6 in the morning? Going out at night, you won’t be alone; the city will be alive and happy, enjoying the night. While many tourists will take the 2 am curfew set by the metro, most locals will be out until the sun comes out!
When you go out, find a club or a bar that sounds interesting and go! At night, the tourists and locals intermingle in various places, depending on where they are and if they mesh with the atmosphere. One experience that many recommend to travelers, no matter the kind of experience they’re looking for, is a visit to Kapital. It’s pricey, but if you’re looking for memories, Kapital is the place to go!
Get out of Madrid Centro
Finally, the best thing you can do for yourself to have a non-touristy experience is to get out of Central Madrid. If you hop on the metro, you can get to the city’s outskirts and spend some time in the neighborhoods, partake in local restaurants, and shop in local stores. You can meet the people of Spain in these areas, where the rent is cheaper and the streets are kid-friendly.
I would suggest hopping on a metro and following it about halfway between Central Madrid and the end of the line. Pick a metro stop that you haven’t heard of before and get off. The people will be happy to talk to you and recommend places to go. The best way to find non-touristy things to do in Madrid is talk to the locals in madrid!