Where is it?
Famous for its incredible Renfe station, Atocha is found in the district of Arganzuela, to the south-east of central Madrid. Palos de la Frontera and Delicias border it to the south, whilst further south still lies Legazpi. To the west, beyond Embajadores metro, are Acacias and Pirámides, and to the north, crossing Ronda de Atocha, you’ll find Lavapiés.
What’s it like?
While Atocha itself is a hub of business and travel, its name tends to be applied to the whole surrounding area, including Palos de la Frontera and Delicias that make up one of the most liveable zones of the entire city. Apart from the infamous seven-story dance club Kapital on Ronda de Atocha, you won’t find the much of nutty nightlife of Malasaña or Chueca here; rather, the regular rhythms of everyday Spanish vida y tradición provide constant points of interest, along with a good deal of semi-hidden secrets.
The nearby Prado Museum is home to a work by artist Francisco Bayeu entitled Paseo de las Delicias, which provides a colourful glimpse into what used to be one of the most frequented routes of the city. The 18th century tree-lined passage connected the noble area surrounding the Prado with the Río Manzanares, and sunny Sunday afternoons would often find it full of all sorts of bourgeoisie.
Atocha station, taking its name from the nearby basilica of Our Lady of Atocha, is the biggest in Madrid and has had quite a turbulent history. First opened in 1851, the station was largely destroyed by a fire several years later. With the help of architect Alberto de Palacio y Elissague, who had previously worked with Gustave Eiffel, it was rebuilt and reopened in 1892. In the early 1990s the old station was converted into a shopping area, also housing an impressive tropical garden, and a modern station was designed by Rafael Moreno, partly to serve the new high-speed AVE trains. More recently, on the morning of the 11 March 2004, a series of bombs were set off on the Cercanias lines connecting with the station. The co-ordinated bomb attacks killed 191 people and injured over 1,500 passengers. An 11m tall glass cylinder stands outside Atocha as a memorial.
The area is predominantly Spanish singles and families, with pockets of university students and immigrants thrown in for good measure. As such, housing is quite reasonable, with decent rooms going for €300-450 per month, sometimes including gastos if you get lucky. If you’re looking for your own place, cute studios can be found from €500 per month. In terms of proximity to just about everywhere in Madrid, it’s hard to find a better bargain.
Atocha is certainly not short of locations to drink and snack. El Museo de Patatas, on Calle Ferrocarril, is a starchy take on a more famous Spanish chain proclaiming jamón. The heaping raciones of Segovian potatoes pair beautifully with several rounds of cheap cañas. La Maison Belge, on Paseo Santa María de la Cabeza, is the source for more than 250 different Belgian brews, presented in their wonderfully-styled glasses, whilst Bodegas Rosell, dating from 1920 on Calle General Lacy, is also worth checking out, not least for its famous and picturesque exterior tiles. Atocha is also a watering hole for taxi drivers working the night shift and sitting on one end of Ronda de Atocha you’ll find El Pando, the first of various cafeterías dotted down the right hand side of Santa María de la Cabeza. These are great places to get egg and chips and a steamy-hot coffee at four or five in the morning, whilst you form part of a colourful mix of clientele including late-night revellers, barflys and street cleaners. Just keep an eye on your bag!
Calle de las Delicias’ Patacón Pisao is perhaps the best Colombian eatery in the city; its savoury namesake dish is flattened, fried bananas served with various tangy sauces. The fresh pressed juices, including guayábana and mango, taste extra sweet when accompanied by the live Latin rhythms and dance on Wednesday nights. Casa Ecuador, found on Calle Batalla del Salado, is constantly buzzing with aficionados of its Bandera plate, a triple combo of guatita (tripe stew), limey ceviche, and arroz con pollo. The Ecuadorian-style empanadas here are an enormous and economical choice too. Keeping to the Latin-flavoured theme, there’s a friendly Mexican place, Taco y Tapa Bar, on Calle Labrador that’s got it all—great décor, great food, great people. They serve a menu del día all day long for just €9, as well as the best mole and tacos in town and, most attractively, have great prices for drinks—€1 cañas, and €2 tequila shots.
For something a little more Spanish, well, a lot more Spanish actually, Freiduria de Gallinejas on Calle Embajadores offers Spanish castizo offal in a warmly decorated restaurant that’s been around for more than half a century. Samarkanda, located within Atocha station, is a unique, smart and colonial style café surrounded by tropical gardens, creating an illusion of dining on Mediterranean cuisine in an oasis, not the middle of Madrid’s central train station. It can make a perfect stop-off for a luxurious coffee or delicious cocktail.
The train station hosts some upscale shopping, but there are plenty of other regular stores to explore. Humana, a second-hand clothing shop on Paseo de las Delicias, offers extraordinary bargains on long-outdated styles, so retro they just might be hip again. The barrio also hosts a range of grocery shops, including El Huerto 2, a little Latin market on the corner of Calle Ferrocarril and Batalla del Salado. The owners stock a huge range of south-of-the-border products, from dried beans sold by weight to fresh tamales which they’ll heat up behind the counter, as well as cold Coronitas for just €1.10.
The Mercadona building on Paseo Santa María de la Cabeza is a mish-mash of market stalls ranging from fresh fruit and veggies to quality kitchenware. Amongst the variety of vendors be sure not to miss the well-stocked and extremely friendly Frutas y Verduras Manolo y Angelines, where the shopkeepers will get absolutely anything for you on special order. There’s also Mundifruit, full of fresh herbs galore along with speciality goods and intriguing preserved curiosities, and La Boutique del Queso, containing a gorgeous spread of quality cheeses from Spain and abroad.
It’s impossible not to mention the proximity to the famous Parque del Buen Retiro and Museo Reina Sofía, and Ronda de Valencia can lay claim to the artistic and creative hotspot of La Casa Encendida, a cultural centre that hosts frequently changing exhibitions and offers a large variety of art courses. Teatro Circo Price, on the Ronda de Atocha, provides a variety of programmes with a circus twist. Acrobatics workshops, international comedians, concerts, jazz festivals and trapeze performances are just a few of the attractions. If you prefer lesser known museums, then don’t overlook the Museo del Ferrocarril (that’s trains—located on Paseo de las Delicias), which also houses a small theatre, Museo de Etnologia (C/Alfonso XII) or the working museum of the Real Fabrica de Tapices (C/Fuenterrabía), about which InMadrid will run a full article soon.
Nestled between Atocha and the Real Jardín Botanico you’ll find Cuesta de Claudio Moyano, a pedestrianised street that’s been home to secondhand booksellers since 1925. There are 30 stalls, open daily, with book prices starting from €1.
Where is it?