So I have to admit something: the first time I went to Madrid, it didn’t impress me.

Now don’t all jump down my throat at once. I’ve since been corrected in my misunderstanding, and while I’m not sure it’s the right city for me to live in, it is a great city in and of itself. All it took was getting a bit of a behind the scenes tour, and that was all possible because yours truly has a friend who lives in Madrid–and who has lived in Madrid for the past four years, making her the perfect source for finding those great local places that make a city special.

One great place that we went in Madrid was to this arts center. They had a few photography exhibitions going on, but basically anywhere you can get a view of the city you can have the same experience.

Madrid SkylineIf you didn’t know, would you guess this was Madrid?

IMG_2060Yeah, me either. Getting up high in small towns, or in particular hill towns, is common, but sometimes in a big city we forget. Madrid might not have a super memorable skyline, but it is a pretty one nonetheless. And come on… did you know THIS existed in Madrid? Fun rooftop sculptures, anyone?

Rooftop horses MadridAnother fun fact: did you know that there are turtles in Atocha Metro/ train station? Yes, turtles.

Madrid turtles AtochaAtocha is where the bombings occurred in Madrid, and the memorial has now opened. We stopped by to see it; it’s an interesting representation. I’d recommend reading up on why they chose the design they did if possible before visiting.

The best part about visiting a friend? Not having to be responsible for planning anything. Still, I couldn’t help but google “free things to do in Madrid.” Seriously, try this–even with your own city. I’ve been doing this with my hometown area recently and have found some cool things. But one thing I found while looking at Madrid was that there is an old Metro station that has been turned into a museum. My friend had never heard of it before, and we went one morning together to check it out. It’s small, but definitely worth a visit. Below you can see the metro map from the time. It hasn’t held up against the course of time, but it’s super cool to see the original stations/ line.

IMG_2070One thing that we really enjoyed was seeing the old advertising that was never taken down. We saw some old ads for products that are still a thing in Spain, and for things that are not common anymore. It was really neat.

Madrid Chamberi advertisingWhen the Metro was being updated Chamberi was closed as a station, but trains still run through it. My friend got a big kick out of watching the Metro trains go past. As someone who had previously never heard of this museum, I wondered what all the people must have thought about us standing around on the blocked off platforms!

IMG_2073All of the ticket counters, turnstiles, etc in the station are original, so it’s a really unique (and free!) place to spend half an hour in Madrid. It does keep odd hours, though, so check online before going.

Another thing I really enjoyed was checking out a few cute coffeeshops that my friend enjoys going to. I particularly enjoyed the atmosphere in this shop, where we sat at the window seat and browsed books while enjoying coffee…

Though this shop, with its Van Gogh inspiration, was also fun. Sit in the front. though… it feels much more intimate and you don’t have to pay for table service since you order at the counter. The back feels very commercial. I would have gone for something cozier, but the Van Gogh reproduction paintings (which are for sale!) are super fun.

IMG_2158One of the best ways to get to know a city is by walking… and we certainly did a lot of that. My friend lived outside the main city center, much as I do in Florence, and walking more helped me to realize that not only is Madrid smaller than it seems, but it is also full of beautiful places that make you feel as if the city is a million miles away. If you are traveling to a big city, don’t let it overwhelm you… find the local places, small places, do something you would do at home and you won’t even realize you are in a major metropolis. Don’t get me wrong… I visited the Reina Sofia and the Prado and some other major Madrid sites, and it’s easier to get off the beaten track if you’ve been before or if you have a friend in the city. But you can do the same anywhere you go, if you simple open your mind to the possibilities.

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