Malasaña has been a centre of rebellion ever since locals rose up against occupying French troops on May 2, 1808, starting the Peninsular War. The uprising is commemorated in the name of the neighbourhood’s central square, Plaza del Dos de Mayo (Second of May Square), a laid-back plaza surrounded by bars and chilled outdoor terraces. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, the neighbourhood was the centre of La Movida Madrileña, a countercultural movement that sprang up in response to the death of dictator Francisco Franco and the new freedoms Spaniards suddenly enjoyed.
Malasaña is packed with vintage shops and a mixture of traditional old bars and newer, cool cafés and restaurants. It is the place to come for an indie-infused night of beers or cocktails, to pick up some new vinyl or shop in one of its many hip stores.
Chueca was a bit of a seedy, run-down area just north of Madrid’s Gran Vía until the city’s LGBT community started moving in, opening some of its best cocktail bars, shops and restaurants. Today, it is one of the city’s trendiest neighbourhoods, peppered with minimalist boutiques, great old taverns and, of course, a lot of great gay bars. But you don’t have to be LGBT to enjoy Chueca, the neighbourhood and its residents are an open-minded bunch and even confirmed heterosexuals can have a fabulous time dancing the night away in this fun-loving neighbourhood.
Traditionally home to many of Madrid’s immigrants, Lavapiés is a hilly neighbourhood whose walls are strewn with street art. Check out the Tabacalera, an old tobacco factory that has been converted into a gallery and cultural space. Film buffs shouldn’t miss the Cine Doré, a beautiful cinema that is home to Spain’s film institute, tasked with preserving the country’s films. The cinema shows films from around the world, many in English, and tickets are a bargain €2.50. Just next door, the busy Antón Martín covered market is a good microcosm of the wider neighbourhood, where old butchers’ stalls sit alongside sushi, veggie and even cereal café stalls.
The centre of Madrid might be packed with tour groups, segwayers and pushy waiters trying to get you into their restaurants, but with a little research you can find plenty of wonderful hidden gems. This is where you can find some of Madrid’s oldest shops and restaurants – look out for golden plaques on the street outside businesses that let you know they are over 100 years old. The centre is also home to many of Madrid’s main sights, from its Royal Palace and Cathedral, to the Plaza Mayor, the city’s main square.
Wander just off the main drags and you can find some beautiful hidden squares and cobbled streets and don’t miss the little churches that just seem to pop up on little side streets. Head under the big viaduct over Calle de Segovia for windy streets and cute little outdoor terraces that look like something from a little village, instead of a busy capital city.
Barrio de Las Letras
Madrid’s literary quarter is a great mixture of cobbled streets, stylish shops, traditional bars and new, hip restaurants. Quotes from some of Spain’s most famous literary works are written in gold on the streets and you can see the building where Miguel de Cervantes lived while he was writing his masterpiece, Don Quixote. The great American writer Ernest Hemingway used to hang out here, from propping up the bar at La Venencia to necking (we reckon) quite a few cervezas in wooden-clad beer hall, Cervecería Alemana.
Millennials are always looking for the newest trends, so why not check out one of Madrid’s newest (and trendiest) neighbourhoods? The line between Chueca and Salesas is a little blurred, but generally Salesas begins in the northern part of Chueca and heads north towards the swanky neighbourhood of Salamanca.
Salesas is a magnet for fashion lovers and its streets are packed with boutiques run by exciting young designers. But it is also home to creative cocktail bars and restaurants that are pushing the boundaries of tapas, creating cool new fusions.
This typically working-class Madrid neighbourhood bordering the Manzanares river got a big regeneration boost when Madrid’s former slaughterhouse (‘matadero’) was converted into a huge arts and culture centre, complete with its own exhibition spaces, cinema and restaurant. Matadero Madrid has a packed schedule of events that includes weekend markets and food trucks, a particular draw for locals from around the city.