This area to the north of the centre is Madrid’s university district, and is home to the Ciudad Universitaria (University City) which includes the campuses of the Complutense University of Madrid and the Polytechnic University of Madrid. It is also home to Madrid’s Egyptian temple, the Templo de Debod, and the huge Casa de Campo park. The area is quite residential, with pleasant, tree-lined streets. There is a lot of student accommodation available, but try to look early – September is notorious for thousands of students suddenly arriving and looking for places to stay.
Traditionally Madrid’s multicultural neighbourhood, Lavapiés is home to immigrants of dozens of nationalities, which lends the barrio a diverse feel and means whatever cuisine you fancy, you’ll be able to find it here. The steep, cobbled streets are lined with impressive graffiti and, over the past few years, more and more cool cafés and restaurants have been opening. The area is a hub of creativity and one of the coolest neighbourhoods right now in Madrid – and while property prices are rising there are still bargains to be had.
Malasaña has long been Madrid’s indie neighbourhood, with rebellious roots dating all the way back to the early 1800s when it was the centre of an uprising against occupying French troops. In the 1970s and 1980s it was the epicentre of La Movida Madrileña, the countercultural movement that rose up after the death of Dictator Francisco Franco. Today, tattoo parlours and hip barber shops sit alongside great little cafés, bars and restaurants, and some traditional taverns that have stood fast among the onslaught of new openings. If you love rummaging through the rails in vintage shops and would relish living in an alternative barrio, Malasaña is your best bet.
Just north of the centre, this residential area is a breath of fresh air compared to the sometimes manic crowds in the centre. Shared apartments are common; students can find a room or club together and rent a whole place as a group. Chamberí is a good choice for those who prefer a quieter area with a real neighbourhood feel.
If you really want to be in the heart of things, then opt for Sol, the centre of the city and its most touristy area. It is home to many of Madrid’s major sights, including the Plaza Mayor, Royal Palace and Almudena Cathedral. There is a lot of accommodation available here, but be aware that the area can be very busy with tourists and good local joints take a bit more searching out – but they do exist. Transport links are very good from Sol, which itself is a central metro and cercanía (commuter train) station.
Salamanca is home to the IE Business School, one of Spain’s most prestigious business schools. If you’re studying here, choosing accommodation in the swanky Salamanca neighbourhood means a short commute to classes and very plush surroundings. Salamanca is home to the upmarket Calle Serrano, full of designer shops and high-end restaurants. It borders the beautiful Retiro Park, a great place for sport or an evening stroll.
Where better for literature students to live than Madrid’s literary quarter? Famous quotes are etched onto the streets in gold and statues of famous writers, such as poet and playwright Federico García Lorca, dominate its squares. This is where Miguel de Cervantes was living when writing the Spanish classic Don Quixote and where Ernest Hemingway hung out while covering the Spanish Civil War as a journalist. Today, the area is home to great bars and restaurants, cool boutique shops and theatres where you can discover Spain’s most famous plays.