Tour guide Lauren Klarfeld shares her pick of lesser known museums for those intrepid enough to seek out a quieter space and explore beyond the Paseo del Prado.
1. La Tabacalera Museum – a ruined factory that has become a temple to Graffiti Art:
This old abandoned tobacco factory was squatted by artists in the 1980s when most of Madrid was undergoing the effects of the economic crisis in the consequences of Post-Franco Spain. Operating since the 80s as a self-managed art and social centre, it is open for anyone who wants to spend an afternoon tucked away from the tourist bubble of Madrid.
Impressive graffiti art is plastered from top to bottom in a series of colourful underground galleries. Be aware though, that this is not your typical museum environment.
At the back of the factory you’ll find a small garden with skateboard ramps, and during the day you’ll likely come across people having a smoke and some beers.
The whole place has a vibe that is very reminiscent of the underground Berlin scene.
La Tabacalera - Calle de Embajadores 53 - open every day from 18:00 to 22:30. Closed on Mondays – free entry.
2. Museo del Ratoncito-Pérez – fairy tales coming to life!
I only heard about this small museum during a walking tour in the city centre.
Once I got there I found myself entering a small house dedicated entirely to the animal that in Spanish folklore is the one to take our milk teeth away and place a coin under our pillows. The museum is small, somewhat old looking and mostly for children, but weirdly enough holds a couple famous people’s milk teeth in exhibit that one wouldn’t expect like Isaac Newton or even Beethoven,
Museo del Ratoncito Perez, Calle Arenal 8, Piso 1. (Metro: Sol / Opera).
Opening times: Mon: 17:00 - 20:00 Tue - Fri: 11.00- 14.00 and 17:00pm - 20:00, Sat 11:00 - 15:00 and 16:00 to 20:00. Price: €3.
3 “Desert City” – A Museum celebrating the cactus
A stroll through the Malasaña neighborhood will quickly reveal which is Madrid’s favourite balcony plant. What I didn’t expect was to see it have its own museum in a beautiful outdoor setting that in no doubt could and should be used for a movie setting.
The project was started by a collective of architects placing the botanical garden in a unique urban setting outside of the city and only uses sustainable elements of energy consumption as the numerous solar panels indicate. You don’t need to be a cactus fan to go to this museum, but what you do need is a thirst for eerie places.
Desert City - Autovía A1, km. 25, San Sebastián de los Reyes – open every day from 10:00 to 19:00. Entrance free
4 Anden 0 Chamberi - The “Ghost” Metro Museum
Not all museums are visible to the public eye – as is the case of this museum dedicated to Madrid’s Metro service that you’ll only find if you, literally, go underground.
In fact, the whole museum is located in what used to be an abandoned Metro stop that until not so long ago was still used by homeless people as a sleeping spot.
Few commuters realize that they pass by it daily as their Line 1 train speeds between the stations of Bilbao and Iglesias.
Hence, why it is worth an actual lengthy stop. Inside the station you get offered a free guided tour and get to see some of the original advertising hoardings dating all the way from 1919 making it a definite worthy stop, not just for train spotter types but for students and aficionados of architecture and graphic design.
Andèn 0 - Chamberi Station in Plaza de Chamberi. Open Thursdays to Sundays from 11:00 to 15:00. Entry free.
5 El Bosque Encantado – The enchanted forest
I used to love the Edward Scissorhands movie and the enchanted sculptures he made. Which is why I got even more excited when I learned there was a forest in Madrid that sprouted with human sized sculptures of the animal kingdom and more.
The museum of sculpted bushes or as one says, dedicated to the art of topiary – is unusual not only because of its content but also because of its access.
Basically, to get there one needs to call a small mini van for a pick up and you will then be led to the magical forest. Some of the works could use some better upkeeping but all in all it is one of my tops on the unusual and authentic things to do in Madrid.
El Bosque Encantado: Camino de Marañones, 217, San Martín de Valdeiglesias - from Thursdays to Sundays from 10:30 until sunset. Price: €11
Photo : The Robot Museum
A year ago, Spain became the only country in the world to introduce its very own cyborg artist – a half man, half robot that goes under the name Neil Harbisson. Since then robotics and Spain have been in a tight knitted relation making it no surprise that Madrid received its own robotics museum. The small museum is situated in one of Madrid’s biggest robotics stores – which already is a museum in a way.
Visitors can enjoy viewing different robots, learn about the history of robotics and participate (though it is mostly for children) in magic shows. Bear in mind though that the visits are done only on specific hours as it needs to be done by a guide to make sure children don’t over manipulate the sophisticated machinery.
The Robot Museum – Calle Alberto Aguilera 1 (Metro San Bernardo)– Open from Tuesday to Friday from 13:00 to 20:00 - only by appointment – 4€
7 Museo Cerralbo – how the other half live!
Photo credit: chr_fer
I was told that if I ever wanted to know what it felt like to be a guest at a rich Spanish mansion of the 19th century– I should invite myself into the former home of the 17th Marquis of Cerralbo.
I never considered myself a fan of fine art, but I came out flabbergasted after spending an hour wandering into 52 different rooms, climbing royal staircases and admiring portraits of some of the marquis himself and friends.
The museum is small and allows only for a certain number of visitors, so it is less crowded than all the other museums, making it easier for the visitor to really live an atmosphere of richness and culture. It is best to be combined with a stroll through the Chamberi neighborhood up north to really get a feel of Madrid's classical high-end residential architecture.
Museo Cerralbo – Calle de Ventura Rodriguez 17 – open Tuesday to Sunday from 9:30 to 15:00 Price €3
8 Museo Sorolla - inside the family home of Spain's impressionist painter.
Photo: Alejandro/ Flickr
Joaquin Sorolla is for the Spanish, what Monet was for the French – an impressionist painter who knew how to bring light to his work.
Having lived in the city of Madrid, his home is now a small museum that has become a firm favourite with those art lovers in the know who want to seek out beauty away from the crowds of the Prado and Thyssen galleries.
When you walk into the main room, it is like walking into the Meninas painting of Velasquez – huge paintings adorn the walls, and in the middle of it his old work table is set, where we somehow feel that any minute he is going to come in and finish a portrait.
But, the real reason why Museo Sorolla is such a hidden gem is because of its indoor patio.
The sun carpets the Andalusian tiles with a layer of reflective light while the lack of crowds and the noise of the fountain make for a silent place of contemplation making us wonder if perhaps this is where Sorolla himself sat collecting inspiration for his future paintings?
Museo Sorolla - Paseo del General Martinez Campos 37 – open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9:30 to 20:00 Price: €3
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