We all know the big-name tourist spots in Madrid: the Royal Palace, Sol, the Prado Museum… But when your parents come to visit, they might want to see how you really live—a side of Madrid that only an insider like you could show them.
Maybe they’re not interested in hole-in-the-wall bars in Lavapiés or dancing ‘til the sun comes up in the center, but here are some ideas for showing them some spots that are off the tourist map and very visitor friendly.
Madrid is an incredible place to eat great food. But if you’re still getting to know the city, it can be tricky to avoid tourists traps that don’t do the city’s culinary talent justice. For a touristy show that still has some great products, try Mercado de San Miguel. But for some more authentic treats and to experience food shopping (and the newest yummy restaurants) like a real madrileño try Mercado de San Fernando or Mercado de Vallehermoso. Or if you’re looking for markets where you can buy more than great food, you can’t beat the famous Rastro for exciting knick-knacks right alongside beautiful antiques. If you think your parents might feel overwhelmed by the sea of shoppers at the Rastro, try Mercado de Motores (the second weekend of each month) for a slightly more modern flea and artisan market.
Smaller museums and cultural centers
It’s common knowledge that the Prado is one of the most impressive art museums in Europe, so it’s not a bad place to take visitors. But if you’re looking for something a little more low-key, try one of Madrid’s many cultural centers for various exhibitions. Check out edgier art and exhibitions at La Casa Encendida or La Tabacalera to get a feel for underground Madrid. Or take a stroll around El Matadero for a contemporary, but much more put-together sort of feel. The former slaughterhouse now is a huge space dedicated to cultural activities and exhibitions—from visual art, to music and theater, to food trucks and farmers’ markets. If you think museums might be more up your alley, the Thyssen has an incredible permanent collection and great exhibitions. Museo Sorolla is also a great, slightly off-the-beaten-path choice for a charming experience in Sorolla’s former residence.
Getting out of the city is an excellent way to show your parents a different side of Spain. Some of the small towns around Madrid are breathtaking (not to mention they’ll give you a breath of fresh air) and are easy to get to. Try the classics like Toledo (buy a sword or a knife) and Segovia (try cochinillo asado). Already been there? Check out El Escorial if you want to stay close (it’s only about an hour by train). Tour the incredible monastery and have lunch at the classic Spanish restaurant Charoles. Or wander a little further to see Cuenca (50 minutes via fast train or 2 hours 50 minutes on the medium distance train). Explore Cuenca’s hanging houses, and the incredible medieval Old Town, and try some tasty treats at a traditional bakery like Marisol.
See a show
The most classic show to see in the city is flamenco. Even though Madrid is not the home of the tradition, it’s home to some incredible talent. You can catch flamenco shows at theaters throughout the city, depending on their programming. But if you want to try something a little different, try a tablao. Check out Cardamomo or Casa Patas for a couple of Madrid favorites (be forewarned, they will be quite touristy, but they always put on a good show). If you’re looking for a taste of theater in Madrid not catered to tourists, but know your parents won’t be able to sit through an hour long performance they don’t understand, check out micro theater. These 10- to 15-minute performances in tiny theater spaces with tiny audiences make for an intense experience. Try Micro Teatro Por Dinero for an in-your-face show that will give your parents a real feel for out-on-the-town Madrid.
The fiesta of San Isidro
Are your parents coming to visit in May? Perfect! On May 15th every year, the people of Madrid (Madrileños) come together to celebrate the city’s patron saint, Isidore the Laborer (Spanish: San Isidro Labrador), with a jam-packed program of events. In fact, the celebrations last all-week long, with concerts, shows and activities for all ages celebrated throughout the city. It’s the perfect chance to witness authentic Spanish traditions as people dress up, dance to Spanish music, and unite to enjoy the festivities. A number of traditional religious acts are also held throughout the week, including a mass service and the blessing of the water from the fountain in honor of Saint Isidore. These events are held at the most emblematic places in Madrid, including the Temple of Debod and Plaza de Oriente, providing the perfect backdrop and making for an interesting sightseeing tour of the city. Your parents will soon come to see why Madrileños are so proud to call this place their home, and yours too!
In the early 1980s, the Malasaña neighborhood in Madrid was at the forefront of change. During this time, the district gave way to the movida madrileña, an underground movement which transformed this area forever. As you walk through the streets of Malasaña, you are able to feel the eclectic stories of contemporary visionaries who spearheaded this explosion of new artistic talent. Inspired by the likes of David Bowie and Andy Warhol, and after the repressive dictatorship of Franco, youngsters were ready to break tradition and change the scene totally. The area is filled with hipster shops, cafés, and bars. So, take your parents and spend the afternoon dotting around from café to café, taking in the history and inspiration that seeps through the streets here. In fact, you may even be able to teach them a thing of two about how Madrid has come to be the fascinating city we see today.