5th April 2023: The ghost station of Chamberí (Madrid, Spain)

Perusing the web for something – I can’t even remember what – I came across one of those things that I had discovered a long time ago, then forgotten because life is hectic and so (read: Covid happened). In Madrid, there an underground ghost station, one that has not changed since the 1960s. Well, sort of – it was closed, then restored, and finally turned into a museum. Anyway, somehow accidentally, I ended up securing a free ticket to visit it during Easter break, so there I went. I decided to round up the trip with a fancy lunch in a place I also wanted to visit.

The Madrid underground system Metro de Madrid was the third underground line to open in Europe, after Moscow and London. It ran a little short of 3.5 km, with eight stations, when King Alfonso XIII inaugurated it in October 1919. Subsequent ampliations and renovations of the line were carried out until it reached its current 24 km and 33 stations (plus twelve more lines). The city expanded, its population increased, and underground trains grew with both, going from four to six carriages in the 1960s. The stations were renovated to fit the new, longer trains. Most of them. The ampliations of the stations of Bilbao and Iglesia made it inefficient to do the same with the stop that lay in-between – Chamberí. Thus, this station was locked down – and bricked off – in 1966.

The city forgot about the station’s existence for decades, until in the early 2000s, it was turned into part of the Underground’s museum network Museos de Metro de Madrid or Andén 0. Today, Estación de Chamberí can be visited for free, but only under reservation. Pre-pandemic, I looked into it a few times, and never found a spot, then the whole thing slipped my mind, until I relearnt about it, and lucked out.

I took the train to Madrid and walked from Recoletos to the square where the station was built Plaza de Chamberí. The original entrance has long disappeared, so the underground area is accessed through an ugly metal kiosk and a spiral staircase. However, the original station looks completely different. It was designed by Antonio Palacios (1878 – 1945), a Spanish urbanist and architect with a very recognisable style, whose most important works still stand in Madrid (such as the Círculo de Bellas Artes and Palacio de Comunicaciones). My entry slot was 11:30, and I arrived with plenty of time – trains have been unreliable lately so I gave myself a wide margin. When most of the group had arrived, we went down the modern stairs that yields to the old hall. Characteristic white tiles are laid along the access tunnel that leads to the original ticketing stands and the exit control. The station used to have a skylight, now closed off. The original stairs and maps still stand, along the Metro logo – though everything has been adapted for wheelchair-users.

Ghost Station of Chamberí. Entrance corridor and old ticketing booths

The group comprised 25 people, with a surprising amount of non-Spanish speakers – at least seven, who of course did not care about the guide’s explanation, which was little more than the Wikipedia page (so I guess anyone can take the visit. Print out the wiki and read along). There were families with kids who tried to yell over anything the guide said. Furthermore, underground trains still run through the station, which make for cool pictures, but their six-minute frequency drowns all the given explanations. It was hard to actually get into the “ghost station” mood.

Estación de Chamberí does look really cool though. Unfortunately, glass panels separate the platform from the tracks – they are dirty and get in the way of pictures of the other side of the platform. However, it was interesting to see the old advertisement mosaics – they used to be painted on tiles, and built into the walls themselves, and surrounded by very cool darker slabs with metallic tint. The visit takes about 40 minutes, and on the way out, you get to go through the old ticket gates, which have a very ingenious way of opening – you step on the little platform in front of them, which triggers a latch, and you can push the gate open. Really fun.

Ghost Station of Chamberí. Collage showing details - the name of the station on the old logo, tiles, the platform, and a train coming through

Truth be told, I had booked another free visit before lunch, but I realised I had messed up the location. I cancelled that one before entering the ghost station so the ticket would be available for someone else to use. And thus, I had a bit of time before my lunch reservation at 14:00. Since the weather was nice, I decided to walk to my next spot, and I spent the extra time – and some not-extra money – in one of the big bookshops in the centre of Madrid. At 13:50, I arrived at the back entrance of the hotel Hotel Riu Plaza España. This hotel opened in 2019 in a mid-20th century skyscraper (Edificio España) designed and engineered by brothers Julián and Jose María Otamendi. It is a 26-floor tower which was the highest building in the city at the time of its construction. Situated in the square called Plaza de España, it is close to the Royal Palace and Main Square.

Edificio España - tower like building in reddish and white brick, spanning 26 floors. It is the Riu hotel now.

The hotel has a large terrace on what would be the 27th floor, a rooftop bar and a restaurant or “gastro bar”, whatever the current buzz word means. Entry to the terrace is 10 € (5 € on a weekday), and food is not on the cheap side (everything around that area is stupidly expensive), but I found a deal at their Edén Gastro Bar: one-course lunch + drink + entry to the rooftop terrace for 30€ which allowed me to skip the queue.

I did skip the “ticket-buying” line, but there is only one lift to go to the rooftop, so that queue I had to wait. I ended up reaching the restaurant around 14:10 or 14:15, and snagged a counter-with-a-view seat. I ordered a salmon poké and a drink, and got a few complimentary snacks and breadsticks to complete the meal.

Rooftop picture showing Madrid's Plaza de España and Royal Palace. Blurred in the foreground, lunch

Afterwards, I climbed the stairs to the terrace, officially called 360º Rooftop Bar, on the 27th floor. Music was blaring and there were tons of people drinking overpriced cocktails. The views were cool, sort of a once-in-a-lifetime thing that I don’t think I’d need again. The terrace has a small all-glass balcony that I did not wait the queue for, and a glass platform that would probably impress a bit more if the glass under your feet were clean(er). The terrace was completed by a tacky bull sculpture with metallic-gold testicles.

Madrid rooftop view - low houses with red brick roofs, and in the very background a few highrises

I walked around a couple of times, and then I headed back to the train station after calling it a day. I killed time reading one of the books I had just got, and time flew on the train. It was a nice little outing, but I did mess up with one of the locations, so it could have been more efficient. I guess not every little trip can work flawlessly…