Traveling to Spain is an exciting adventure but which Madrid neighborhoods should you really explore? Here’s a quick breakdown for travelers who need to know just enough…
1. La Latina
La Latina is one of the most fun and laidback Madrid neighborhoods where Spanish locals like to hang out, especially on Sundays. La Latina is THE place in Madrid to be on Sundays and there are three reasons why. The first and most popular one is El Rastro, the huge outdoor flea market that takes place in the area, starting from the bottom of. You can find almost anything you need at the market like trendy clothes, accessories, kitchen appliances, antiques, posters, art and you name it.
The second reason is on Sundays, young locals, students and hipsters flock to Plaza de la Cebada. Cebada is an amazing community space in an empty concrete pit right in front of Teatro La Latina where people paint super cool street art on the walls, plant small gardens, play community basketball games and hang out on benches and small towers made out of planks of wood. On Sundays, performers from the audience sing and play music while everyone chills and passes the afternoon drinking beer with their friends.
The last reason everyone flocks to La Latina on Sundays is Cava Baja, a street packed with tapa bars on both sides. Although these restaurants and bars are open every day, Sunday is the most popular day for adults and families to get together and socialize over drinks and tapas. For those who wish to taste authentic, delicious tapas in Madrid, Cava Baja as well as Cava Alta are the places to go!
Metro Stop: La Latina, Line 5
Lavapies is known as the “ethnic” and hippie neighborhood in Madrid. The place is often characterized by grungy Spaniards with dreads, the smell of marijuana and lots of Indian restaurants. Despite all the stereotypes, Lavapies is a wonderful community full of laidback, open people who like to organize and get to know one another.
The cozy, narrow streets throughout the neighborhood have many welcoming bars where all the regulars know each other by name and hang out together every night until the crack of dawn. Calle Argumosa is lovely during the day and is brimming with people sitting outside, enjoying drinks and people’s company. Mercado de San Fernando in Lavapies is smaller and less popular than the upscale Mercado de San Miguel, but it’s just as fun to go there for tapas, especially on Sundays!
There’s also La Tabacalera, located by Embajadores metro station, which is a unique community center where people gather to do art, perform music, have workshops and hang out. Not to mention the masterpieces on the concrete panels outside exhibit some of the best street art Madrid neighborhoods.
Metro Stop: Lavapies, Line 3
Malasaña is immensely popular and widely known as Madrid’s most trendy and hipster district. This is definitely where you’ll find many of the city’s coolest bars and cafes, as well as most students and young people on the weekends.
The neighborhood is located north of Gran Via between the streets of Calle Barco and Calle XXX. These hip and cozy streets are lined with trendy cafes, used bookstores, the city’s best tattoo shops, vintage clothing shops, retro dive bars and lots of cute stores selling artisan foodstuffs and trinkets. The nightlife in Malasaña is slightly grungy as most of the bars and music venues are divey and play rock, reggae and anything other than contemporary pop music (I told you it’s hipster). Some of my personal favorite café-bars include La Bicicleta, Circo and Gorila, as these are perfect locations to bring your laptop and do work during the day and then transition to having a chill, relaxing drink at night.
Plaza de San Ildefonso and Plaza Dos de Mayo are two of the most popular plazas in Madrid for young people to “botellon,” which means you’ll find them teeming with people sitting in the plaza and casually drinking on Friday and Saturday night. Malasaña is a fun place to be, day or night, and definitely a must for young people looking to go out and have a fun time in one of the best Madrid neighborhoods.
Metro Stop: Tribunal, Line 1 or Gran Via, Line 1 and 5
4. Retiro- Prado Museum District-Cibeles
Paseo del Prado, which starts from Atocha all the way up until Plaza de Cibeles, is one of the prettiest walks in Madrid. This long street has many of Madrid’s most famous museums including the Prado, Thyssen-Bornemiza and Caixa Forum. Plaza de la Platería de Martinez and Fuente de Neptuno are two gorgeous plazas where one can sit outside and soak up Madrid´s vibrant atmosphere over coffee. On Saturdays, there’s a magical flea market that takes place in Barrio de las Letras along Calle Lope de la Vega, to the left of Paseo del Prado. And of course there’s no way you will miss the grand Plaza de Cibeles if you simply continue walking up Paseo del Prado. Cibeles is a grand palace and one of Madrid’s signature landmarks which also has a rooftop terrace on the top floor.
Parallel to Paseo del Prado one will find the impressive Parque de El Retiro simply by turning right at any point. There are multiple entrances to the enormous park along Calle de Alfonso XII, although the Retiro metro stop is on Calle de Alcalá, to the right of Cibeles.
Metro Stops: Retiro-Line 2, Banco de España-Line 2
5. Sol-Callao-Gran Via (Centro)
Puerta de Sol is supposedly the exact center of Madrid, and as Madrid is in the center of Spain, that makes Sol the center of the entire country. Sol is indeed the most central hub of Madrid, thus the most touristy, and the plaza and its surrounding areas are teeming with people at all times of the day. Puerta de Sol stretches out in all directions to other central plazas such as Callao, Ópera, Plaza Mayor, Palacio Real, Plaza de Angel and finally to Gran Via in the north.
The centro area is the one of the best Madrid neighborhoods to shop because you can find multiple stores with brands such as Bershka, Zara, Stradavarius, Top Shop, H&M and FNAC as well as the large Corte Inglés department store in Callao where you can take in the view overlooking the monumental Schweppes building from the 9th floor. There are also many more shops on Calle Fuencarral which is a street that branches out from Gran Via to the north, which is also a popular location for streetwear brands.
Metro Stops: Vodafone Sol-Line 1,2,3, Callao-Line 3,5, Gran Vía-Line 1,5
Madrid’s well-known gay district is very similar to San Francisco’s Castro: it’s bougie, polished and mainly catered towards men. Located right next to Malasaña, Chueca has some of the prettiest cafes, bakeries and brunch spots in the city, and its streets are also full of stylish boutiques and high class sex shops.
At night the area comes alive with all sorts of LGBT events, full of gay men and some lesbian crowds. Gay men will find a variety of bars, discotheques, bath houses, drag parties and S&M clubs teeming with drop dead gorgeous gay madrileños.
Metro Stop: Chueca, Line 5
The Colon and Serrano area is roughly where the city begins to get more posh. In Plaza de Colón and along Paseo de Recoletos there are gorgeous cafes and terrazas where you can have a coffee or drink in style. There are also quite a few swanky tapa bars and restaurants sprinkled throughout the area. Platea Madrid, the spectacular multi-story gastronomic space which recently opened is located right by Plaza de Colón where you can treat yourself to artisan tapas, cocktails and multiple course meals at any one of the restaurants run by some of Spain’s most prominent Michelin chefs.
There’s a wide range of luxury brands and Spanish designer boutiques on Calle de Serrano, making it one of the most chic areas in Madrid to shop. Some amazing landmarks in the area that you can’t miss are the Biblioteca Nacional (National Library) and the Museo Arqueológico Nacional (National Archaeology Museum) which are both great to enter and marvel in.
Metro Stop: Colon or Serrano, Line 4
Finally, Salamanca is Madrid’s most one of the most upscale residential Madrid neighborhoods where some of the city’s richest inhabitants live in posh, luxurious apartments. Here you’ll find many of Madrid’s five star luxury hotels such as Villa Magna, Hotel Wellington and Hotel Adler. The high fashion shopping areas, Serrano and Ortega y Gasset, are nearby although lots of the residential streets are scattered with boutiques belonging to international and Spanish fashion designers. Most of the restaurants in Salamanca serve top quality food and elegant ambience, whether it be traditional Spanish food, international cuisine or tapas.
Salamanca is a beautiful place to take a walk in as most of the buildings are majestic and incredibly well-preserved.
Metro Stop: Rúben Dario-Line 5, Nuñez de Balboa-Line 5,9