Located just south of the centre on the banks of Madrid’s Manzanares River, Arganzuela is the best of both worlds: an easy walk into central Madrid and far enough away to have a local atmosphere and none of the crowds. It is also home to some great attractions including Madrid Rio park, a huge renovation of the river banks that was completed in 2011. It includes play parks, kiosks and terraces, football pitches and lots of space to walk, cycle or rollerblade. Another key sight is the Matadero, Madrid’s former slaughterhouse that is now a thriving cultural space with regular exhibitions, markets and its own cinema.
With a handy location close to both Madrid’s main train station, Atocha, and Retiro park, the city’s most famous green space – Pacifico is a popular area that in recent years has also seen an explosion of many cool new bars and restaurants. It has a trendy, local feel but is on the higher end of the rent spectrum compared to some of the other neighbourhoods on the list. Interesting sights in the area include part of Anden 0, which holds the original motors and machinery that powered the city’s metro and the Neomudejar modern arts centre.
Many might argue Lavapiés has upped and come already but this traditionally multicultural barrio is still on the up. There are bargains to be had in the south of the barrio, towards Embajadores as well as traditional old bars and taverns just waiting to be explored. It is home to the Rastro flea market, which takes over the neighbourhood’s streets every Sunday morning, as well as a host of new bars, restaurants and shops that are adding to the area’s eclectic feel. With its huge murals and smaller, stencil pieces, this is also a great place to explore Madrid’s street art.
Known as Madrid’s Chinatown, Usera is home to much of the city’s Chinese community and is – unsurprisingly – where the best and most authentic Chinese restaurants can be found. It is also becoming one of Madrid’s most trendy areas for its green spaces and reasonable rents. Located just south of the River Manzanares, a new riverside shopping centre, Plaza Río 2 has also helped attract more attention to the area. In 2017, Airbnb named the area one of the “17 neighbourhoods to watch in 2017”. Usera is also home to the Manzanares Linear Park, a riverside park with a manmade hill topped by the impressive sculpture La Dama del Manzanares, by Valencian artist Manolo Valdés.
Technically part of the wider district of Arganzuela, Delicias stretches from just south of Atocha train station down towards the river. It’s a pleasant residential area that has a local vibe which can sometimes be lacking from the tourist-heavy centre. It is also home to one of Madrid’s coolest activities, the monthly Mercado de Motores, a huge market of products by local designers inside Madrid’s Railway Museum. There are clothes, accessories, artwork, food and outside, lots of food trucks where you can stop for lunch.
This traditionally working-class neighbourhood, south of the river, is attracting attention for its small-town feel and reasonable prices. Vallecas was a separate town (until it was annexed by Madrid in 1950) which contributes to its neighbourhood atmosphere. In Vallecas Old Town, the Church of San Pedro ad Víncula was built at the beginning of the 17th century by the architect Juan de Herrera. Vallecas is also home to the Cerro del Tío Pío, a hill from which you can see across the whole city – a very popular spot to watch the sunset.
Another neighbourhood just to the south of the River Manzanares, Carabanchel was first mentioned in historical documents in the 12th century. The area is known for its green spaces, especially San Isidro Park, the epicentre of the week-long Festival of San Isidro in May, dedicated to Madrid’s patron saint.