Visiting Madrid but sick of following those well-worn paths to the same old tourist traps? Every guidebook you read will mention the art museums, the palace, the bull ring and the tapas restaurant that only absolutely everyone visiting the city will know about, but what about the sights that make it truly unique? Here’s our alternative guide to the off-kilter gems of this one-of-a-kind city.
The turtles in Atocha train station
Atocha Station's Tropical Garden
(Almost) as good as going to the Madrid Zoo, the oldest part of the city’s Atocha train station has been provided with an indoor tropical garden and nature habitat following its redesign by architect Rafael Moneo. At the front of this garden area there’s a pool which is filled to the brim with turtles swimming in the water, crawling on the rocks, or more often than not sitting extremely – almost disturbingly – still. Whilst their health is frequently debated (you may find yourself wondering if some of them might in fact be, well, dead) this hasn’t stopped people gathering to observe them whilst waiting for their trains.
Apparently all the turtles in the pond have been brought there by the people of the city so whilst this could be a case of ‘a turtle’s for life, but someone else can take care of it after Christmas’ it has, at least, provided otherwise neglected turtles with an alternative habitat in this landlocked city.
Chamberí Metro Musuem
Olde Worlde charm at the Chamberí metro station
Or as you might be tempted to call it: the ghost station. Located on metro line 1 between the Bilbao and Iglesia stations, the Chamberí metro station closed in 1966 when the Ministry of Public Works realised they couldn’t modify the platform to accommodate modernised trains. It fell into disrepair and then decay though the track that ran through it was maintained because of its position on the metro line.
In 2008, 42 years after its closure, the station reopened as a public museum designed in the style of the train stations of old to commemorate the metro’s past. Entry is free and the station is open from 11am every day except Mondays. Whilst by no means a large place (the majority of the museum lies along the platform), it’s full of character, with old-style advertisements and original features giving visitors the curious sensation of being separated from reality and out of sync with the modern world. As the trains that whizz past get only a fleeting look at the station hopefully someone is looking out wondering if they just imagined you….
Another restored gem of the city is the Cine Doré, one of Madrid’s first cinemas and still where the Spanish National Film Library’s archives are screened. Its three screens offer an eclectic line-up of films in their original language as well as seasons dedicated to a specific director or film movement.
The beautifully maintained main auditorium, with its connected cafe and bookstore, is the best place to experience the theatre but its rooftop bar comes a close second – outdoor screenings are held here throughout the summer.
The cinema’s website is updated monthly with their programme; film tickets cost less than three euros.
The ‘Heavies’ of Gran Vía
Punk rockers and 'political activists' (!) Emilio and José
Madrid’s principal street Gran Vía is celebrating 100 years of existence this year but nothing on this famous street has made a deeper impression, locally at least, than the infamous ‘Heavies of Gran Vía’.
The 41-year-old twin brothers Emilio and José Alcázar have dedicated the past five years to standing outside the Bershka clothing store on Gran Vía every evening. Why you ask? Well, Bershka occupies the site where their favourite hangout, music store Madrid Rock, used to be. To keep the memory of the store alive they spend every day on the pavement outside the entrance. Think David engaging in a benign protest against the global Goliaths of homogenisation – in this case Spanish clothing chain Inditex – and you’ve got the idea.
Now as much a part of the landscape as the famous Schweppes sign that looms nearby, the brothers have a facebook fan page and Madrid tourism are asking for tourists’ pictures with the brothers via their social networking sites. Weird yet wonderful, and only in España!