Jun 2015
In the Know in Madrid: 5 Hidden Gems to Add to Your Plan

Spain’s cultural and political capital, Madrid offers plenty of things to do and see to keep you pleasantly busy and entertained during your vacation. For a memorable Madrid itinerary away from the tourist crowds, consider exploring some of the city’s hidden gems.

1. Museo Sorolla

Museo Sorolla-Sale del Pintor by: juantiagues (CC)

If you’ve already explored Prado or simply wish to escape that museum’s long entry lines, head to Museo Sorolla, which offers a rewarding experience off the beaten path in Madrid. Dedicated to the life and career of Joaquin Sorolla, a celebrated Spanish painter known for his fine portraits and landscapes, the museum occupies a quiet mansion in which the artist created many of his best works. Sorolla designed the lush gardens surrounding the house, finding inspiration in the sun-kissed Mediterranean coastline he often painted. The mansion’s upstairs rooms contain a comprehensive collection of Sorolla’s works, including several of his famous Impressionist beach scenes.

2. Convent of the Royal Barefoot Nuns (Monasterios de las Descalzas Reales)

Convent of the Royal Barefoot Nuns by: Brian Snelson (CC)

Founded in 1559 by the daughter of King Charles I of Spain and Queen Isabel of Portugal, the Convent of the Royal Barefoot Nuns sits inside a palace complex that once belonged to this imperial family. Many foreigners find the former palace’s exterior unpromising and skip this attraction altogether, missing the chance to see the convent’s collection of priceless artifacts. In addition to 33 chapels, the convent boasts masterpiece paintings, ornate tapestries, grand sculptures, and major religious relics. Highlights include works by artists Hans de Beken and Brueghel the Elder, along with a set of 17th-century tapestries woven in Brussels to designs made by Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens. Because entry is by guided tour only, book your visit well in advance.

3. Museo del Aire

Canadair CL-215T at Museo del Aire by: Barcex (CC)

A good alternative to the city’s historical sites and lavish mansions filled with artistic treasures, Museo del Aire features six exhibit galleries and houses about 150 aircraft. Located on the outskirts of the city, the museum occupies Spain’s first military airfield, which is now used for both indoor and outdoor displays. Add this attraction to your Madrid trip planner to see dozens of historic airplanes and helicopters, many of which previously served in the Spanish Air Force. A big draw for aviation enthusiasts, the museum also houses hundreds of miniature aircraft models, military uniforms, engines, and weapons. Look for the display of the famous de Havilland Dragon Rapide, which flew Francisco Franco from the Canary Islands to Spanish Morocco in 1936.

4. Paseo de la Castellana

El Paseo de la Castellana by: Jose Manuel Segovia (CC)

Get a breath of fresh air and stretch your legs with a stroll down Paseo de la Castellana, one of the longest and widest avenues in Madrid. The tree-lined street serves as home to many government offices, international embassies, and banks, which help make this part of the city one of the most cosmopolitan neighborhoods in Spain. Look for souvenirs at the small shops located along the boulevard, or get the feel of the city at one of the terraced cafes frequented by locals living nearby.

5. Basilica de San Miguel

Basilica de San Miguel-Madrid by: Federico Jorda (CC)

Frequently overlooked by casual tourists, Basilica de San Miguel remains one of Madrid’s little-known Baroque landmarks. Completed in 1745, the church features a convex facade rarely seen in Spain, along with statues of the four virtues and reliefs of Justo and Pastor, the patron saints of the city. Include the building in your Madrid tour to discover several major wood sculptures, including one by noted Baroque artist Luis Salvador Carmona.

The Secret Side of Madrid

Although you can find dozens of world-famous galleries, parks, squares, shops, and restaurants in Madrid, the city’s secret gems allow you to experience the quieter side of this busy urban center. Avoid the long lines and jostling crowds, and take a little time to visit some of Madrid’s less-explored churches, museums, and neighborhoods.