Madrid: Atocha Train Station and its Unique Greenhouse

View of Atocha's Tropical Greenhouse
View of Atocha's Tropical Greenhouse
Atocha's original building, which hosts the greenhouse
Atocha's original building, which hosts the greenhouse

A tiny bit of what could pass for history

Atocha train station, née South Station, was inaugurated on February 9th 1851, the first railway station in the city of Madrid.

Its last expansion, under Rafael Moneo, was completed on 1992, the year when Spain hosted both the Olympics in Barcelona and Seville's Universal Exhibition. In fact, such expansion was to accommodate the fabulous and brand new high-speed train infrastructure, known as AVE, which takes travelers from Madrid to Seville in under 2.5 hours.

Today, the AVE reaches many other places, including Barcelona, and has become a serious competitor to planes. I hardly ever take the plane anymore to see the family, I really enjoy the comfort and convenience of the high speed train –no long ride to the airport, just walk down from home to the platforms, and no security nuisances, you can carry your water bottles up to the train, what do you know.


Don't forget to look up at the glass roof. Its the original one from 1851, it needed repairs though.
Don't forget to look up at the glass roof. Its the original one from 1851, it needed repairs though.

March 11, 2004

Atocha isn't known outside Madrid for any of its multiple historic milestones, such as soldiers being shipped from it to the oriental and south fronts during the civil war, however, but by the fatal terrorist attack that occurred under its roof on March 11th 2004, which left 192 dead people and over 1500 injured.

Sadly, one of my favorite places in Madrid, in the world, really, became a name in the circuit of terror. I'll never forget that day, I was there. What's more, it all blew up in platform 2, the one I take 3 or 4 days a week to go to work.

That deadly incident is engraved in my mind, but it never could put me off Atocha, it's still a place in my heart, maybe even more so after that terrible day.


The beauty of Atocha: The Greenhouse

Close-up of the vegetation. The prominent arms of the banana tree welcome the visitors. See more on this wonderful tree below.
Close-up of the vegetation. The prominent arms of the banana tree welcome the visitors. See more on this wonderful tree below.

One of a kind

The one-of-a-kind greenhouse within the old station premises is what makes Atocha so special and dear to me. When I say one-of-a-kind I'm not exaggerating, the immense greenhouse in the station is unique in the world, and if it isn't yet listed in the travel guides, it most certainly should be.

The part of the station where the greenhouse resides dates back to 1851, it was painstaking restored as part of the 1992 expansion and adapted to host a simply amazing urban jungle, including a pond with 22 species of fish and turtles. In the summer months, when the dry heat of Madrid seeps through the glass roof, hundreds of tiny sprinklers let off a sort of steam, not quite water, giving the place a genuine look of outdoors jungle.

This makes Atocha not simply a traveler's space, but also a haven to stop by and have a coffee, read a book, or simply enjoy the view in a very well kept tropical climate.


View of the paths in the "jungle", you don't need a machete to navigate them, though!
View of the paths in the "jungle", you don't need a machete to navigate them, though!
Notice the lamp posts along the path. They give the greenhouse a romantic touch when lighted.
Notice the lamp posts along the path. They give the greenhouse a romantic touch when lighted.
The pond. You can see the turtles resting on top of those rocks.
The pond. You can see the turtles resting on top of those rocks.

Botanic Wonders

The 4000 square meters (13,123 square feet) of green area host 7200 plants of 260 species from places like India, Australia, Asia o China among many others. Species are of two kinds, tropical and subtropical, and to make both happy and keep them in good health, temperature is kept between 22 and 24 Celsius degrees (71.6 to 75.2 Fahrenheit) and humidity between 60 and 70 percent.

Among all the plants, it seems the jewel of the crown is the Washingtonia, named after George Washington, the first president of the USA. It's the highest of all, it ranges from 30 to 40 meters. In the confines of the greenhouse, it almost reaches the glass roof and its been secured to the floor and roof to avoid potential injuries should it decide to topple down one day. It's in excellent health though, as most others, the only trials experienced by both plants and gardeners are the ever present dryness in Madrid and the multitude of souls that invade the sanctity of the jungle every day.


The Traveler's Tree

Huge banana tree known as The Traveler's Tree
Huge banana tree known as The Traveler's Tree

This huge banana tree welcomes anyone that decides to wander by the paths of the greenhouse jungle. It's known as the traveler's tree and a tradition says that if a visitor stops in front of it and wishes for something it will become true. Careful, there are a few banana trees in the midst, not all will do the trick, just the one at the head of the pack.

I'm lucky to live close by, lucky twice to commute through Atocha, and lucky three times to never ever forget to feel joy at crossing this space as often as I do. If you're ever in Madrid, don't miss Atocha.

Note: The photos used in this article aren't the best one can find featuring Atocha station at large and the greenhouse in particular, but they are all mine and it's what I'm sharing. I hope they still do the trick to convince you this is a wonderful space.

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Comments 38 comments

ajbarnett profile image

ajbarnett 6 years ago from Costa Blanca, Spain

Wonderful post, Elena. Very interesting. Never been to Madrid, must make an attempt sometime.


Feline Prophet profile image

Feline Prophet 6 years ago from India

I do so enjoy your pictorial hubs, Elena...ok, ok I'm being repetitive I know! :)

What a sight for sore eyes that greenhouse must be!


VioletSun profile image

VioletSun 6 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

Wow, what a beauty! I had no idea there train stations with a greenhouse, what a gift! When I think train stations, I think NY where I commuted for decades to Midtown Manhattan, and NY sure can use some healing greenhouses in the stations.

I will repeat what Feline Phrophet is saying, I enjoy your pictorial hubs! :)


Elena. profile image

Elena. 6 years ago from Madrid Author

Hello all -- or maybe I should say "all aboard!" :-) Thanks for the visit!

Anthony, you are close by, I'll be posting a series of articles on Madrid so maybe that will tempt you for a weekend visit :-)

Feline and Violet - The greenhouse is indeed a sight for sore eyes, it's almost surreal, this huge green space in the middle of a train station!


Frieda Babbley profile image

Frieda Babbley 6 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

Absolutely gorgeous. How soothing and peaceful a transition to any trip. I bet there's a lot of happy people coming and going from this station. (that is if you can forget the bombing) Lovely article. Beautiful photos.


Wanderlust profile image

Wanderlust 6 years ago from New York City

What a beautiful train station ! Make me want to revisit Madrid ! Thank you.........

In New York we don't have greenhouses in train stations, however we do have a winter garden with beautiful palm trees in Financial Center. Prior Sep 11, the palm trees were tall and a tradion said if you touch a palm you will get a financial success. Now, new young palm trees replaced old ones, I am not sure that they work the same way :)


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 6 years ago from Central Oklahoma

A rain forest in a train station! What a wonderful idea! And *your* photos are great! Snapped from the heart - the best kind. ;D


robie2 profile image

robie2 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

What a wonderful and beautiful station-- a real oasis. Gives me a bit of wanderlust. Thanks, Elena. This was a real treat


Cris A profile image

Cris A 6 years ago from Manila, Philippines

I'm, as usual, green with envy! Hahaha You are most kind for sharing the joys of your travels with us. :D


Elena. profile image

Elena. 6 years ago from Madrid Author

All aboard the afternoon train, I say :-) Thanks for the visit folks, and glad you like the greenhouse!

Frieda, it is very soothing, and it has the funny ability to bring smiles to people's faces, too. One can hardly help herself when faced this this wonder in a train station!

Wanderlust, maybe we'll just have to go and test the young palm trees' efficiency? :-) And by all means, do stop by Atocha if you return to Madrid.

Jama, long time no see! The rain forest in a station may even manage to overdo the PINK boulder in the parking lot! Laugh!

Robie, isn't it! I find it a privilege to commute through this space!

Cris, well this one is from my own town --- I could have titled the series "tourist in my own town". You'll be seeing more of Madrid soon!


Cris A profile image

Cris A 6 years ago from Manila, Philippines

I'll save up and buy me a camera and then you'll see! But first I have to buy a laptop. Darn! Okay a camera then a laptop! I'll think about the plane fare later! LOL :D


ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 6 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

What a fabulous place. I bet it is even more stunning in the flesh, so to speak.


Elena. profile image

Elena. 6 years ago from Madrid Author

Cris, Mr A, sir, you've got your priorities confused, you gotta save for a place fare! The rest will present itself in the form of lending by a generous benefactor by the name of Elena ;-)


Elena. profile image

Elena. 6 years ago from Madrid Author

Hi Ethel, your "in the flesh" comment made me laugh, you're so right though, it's totally stunning once you're close up and personal with the garden -- don't forget it's really big and tall, so yeah, in the flesh it causes an impression.


kev8 profile image

kev8 6 years ago

Hi Elena,

Great article,I lived in Madrid for over a year and loved Atocha.I have linked to this article in my things to in Madrid article.It's well worth a visit!!


Elena. profile image

Elena. 6 years ago from Madrid Author

Hi kev! Thanks for the visit, and cool that you were in Atocha, among all the other nice places that you describe in your article!


grillrepair profile image

grillrepair 6 years ago from florida

This reminds me of the parisian arcades of the 19th century. A beautiful throwback beyond the age of modern convenience. Thank you the visual trip.


Chef Jeff 6 years ago

I was just in Madrid last month and my wife and I stopped by Atocha. When I lived in Vallecas I would take the train from Madrid to Torrejon de Ardoz. The station is a thing of beauty now, with a wonderful place to stop, rest and enjoy life!

My brother in law and his wife took the AVE to Cordoba. His joke was that no sooner do you sit down than the train arrives at its destination.

Thanks for the great hub!

Cheers!

Chef Jeff


Elena. profile image

Elena. 6 years ago from Madrid Author

grillrepair, my pleasure, glad you liked it. I guess in a way the old station is like a huge, monumental arcade :-)

Chef Jeff, you brother in law is right about the AVE and Cordoba, it's a running joke around here, but whoever has used the AVE they know it's not so much of a joke as fact!

Very cool to know someone who's actually been in Atocha, cheers to that!


Moranna 6 years ago

Really enjoyed this article for many reasons. Firstly, very sorry to learn you got caught up in the terrorist atrocity and hope youn don't have too many after effects.

Many years ago I visited Madrid with my husband and saw this wonderful greenhouse - but age and time screw the memory!!and I couldn't remember where it was except its beauty and fascination. Thanks for completing the jig-saw and can't wait to go back and see it again.

And finally talking of trains, am really wanting to take a substantial train journey on the AVE or other fast links to

who knows where..!! So your praise of the train was gratefully received.


Elena. profile image

Elena. 6 years ago from Madrid Author

Hi Moranna - No physical side effects from the bombs, but a lot of sorrow that I guess I'll always carry.

It's cool that you visited Atocha and the greenhouse, isn't it wonderful? :-)

AVE can be trusted to be super punctual, early even, as a 5 minute delay will grant you rights to request 30% of the ticket back, up to 15 min 50% of the ticket and over 15 min delay the full price of the ticket. Guess it works as motivation because it's never ever late!! :-) Well, exceptions may happen in case of floods or major disasters, but then it's not the company's fault :-)

It's very comfortable, too. You can bother with a First Class ticket if you want the royal treatment, but it really isn't necessary at all for perfect comfort.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

What a delightful place in which to relax amidst the daily routine of commuting. When my husband and I spent some time in Madrid many years ago we did not have occasion to see Atocha Train Station but would certainly do so now after reading your delightful hub if we ever return there. Thanks!


Elena. profile image

Elena. 6 years ago from Madrid Author

Hi Peggy! I remember your wonderful hub about Prado and its joys :-) It's very close to Atocha, pity you didn't get to Atocha -- then again, the greenhouse is only there since 92', not sure it would have been visible when you visited that year. Well, you know where to go if you even come back :-)


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 6 years ago from UK

Hi Elena, I took the train from Madrid to Merida about eleven years ago, but I don't remember seeing this greenhouse. It's fantastic. I shall definitely look out for it next time I come to Madrid.


Elena. profile image

Elena. 6 years ago from Madrid Author

Hi Amanda! Pity you missed it! I grant you, there's probably tons of Madrilians that don't even know this exists, as it's "off" the general commuting route. If you're going mid-, long-distance you've better chances to "stumble" upon it, but still, you need to take two steps off the station proper, so to speak.

Good news for you about Atocha: It's next door to Reina Sofia where Guernica sits, and three doors down from Padro museum! :-)


Fresh_Flower profile image

Fresh_Flower 6 years ago from London

What a wonderful station. (it beats Reperbahn in Hamburg :) I've only been to Madrid once. If I go there I will definitely visit the station. Great hub!


Elena. profile image

Elena. 6 years ago from Madrid Author

Hi Fresh Flower, I'm sure you would love it, here's to a new visit to Madrid! :-)


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

Hi Elena,

We were only in Madrid 3 days and one of those we took a day trip tour to Toledo...so obviously not much time. It was so generous of you to help me identify so many of the paintings...pictures I had taken at the Prado Museum. You were a great help! Believe me...if we ever go to Madrid again the Atocha Train station will be on our list of places to see.


stüdyo 6 years ago

When I think train stations, I think NY where I commuted for decades to Midtown Manhattan, and NY sure can use some healing greenhouses in the stations


Elena. profile image

Elena. 6 years ago from Madrid Author

Still, NYC Grand Central is a very pretty station, don't you think? :-) No greenhouse there, granted, but it's a sight for sore eyes, too, in my opinion! Thanks for visiting!


Albertttt profile image

Albertttt 6 years ago

Beautiful station and a nice hub indeed.


Elena. profile image

Elena. 6 years ago from Madrid Author

Cheers, Albertttt!


AnythingArtzy profile image

AnythingArtzy 6 years ago from OHIO

Very beautiful . Thanks for sharing this info.


Elena. profile image

Elena. 6 years ago from Madrid Author

My pleasure, Artzy!


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

Elena, thanks for the spectacular tour. It inspired me to do a bit of research about the garden, but there are some questions I have that I couldn't find answers for. For example, who maintains the garden and the pond inhabitants? Is the garden used as a living classroom? Is there a catalog online that lists its specimens, or informs about its botanical and zoological care? You got me going!

Aren't these old rail sheds magnificent? I've seen maybe a dozen in my life, here and in Europe. Most, if not all, have been re-purposed, but I do remember rolling into and out of some of them as a child, being completely entranced by their magical glass ceilings.

Another wonderful "Elena Tour."


Elena. profile image

Elena. 6 years ago from Madrid Author

Hello, Sally! Sorry that I'm replying a bit late, I was off to escape this blasted winter!

So many questions you have. I'll find out for you when I'm a little bit over the jet lag. I've never heard of any online catalog, as in one that would be accessible to the public, but of course one must exist, so the trick would be finding out if it is accesible somehow. As I said, I'll try and find out... or my research assistent (AHEM) will, as we all know I'm a lousy researcher :-)

Besos to you!


stephen searle 6 years ago

lovely description of Atocha Elena

please can you advise me which platform I need for the AVE to Seville? I need to get from Chamartin via Cercanias

many thanks


Elena. profile image

Elena. 6 years ago from Madrid Author

Hi there, Stephen!

Cercanias trains are in a separate area from the AVE trains. Once you step down from the Chamartin-Atocha train, you'll go up to the station main hall, and you'll have to make a left towards the corridor that leads to the AVE area --1 minute walk distance! You'll identify the corridor because there are shops and bars and a huge screen on the corridor's access that lists the high speed trains about to leave :-)

The AVE check-in area is at the second floor, and you'll have to actually go through the escalators located in the greenhouse to get there. Like I said, 2 minutes tops from Cercanias, and you get to see the greenhouse!

Good luck and enjoy!

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