The five most interesting neighborhoods in Madrid
One of the joys of exploring Madrid is that you don’t need to travel far to discover its extremely distinct districts. Whether you decide to walk between neighborhoods or jump on the Metro, you can find yourself among the boutiques and bars of Barrio de las Letras one moment and embracing the open-minded creativity of Chueca the next. To help you get your bearings, we’ve dropped the pin on five districts that deserve your attention.
Find freedom in fun-loving Chueca
Take a 15-minute walk north from Plaza Mayor to find yourself in this fun-loving neighborhood embraced by the LGBTQ+ community. Mark your arrival with rainbow flags fluttering from balconies, followed by coffee, churros, and people-watching in the buzzy Plaza de Chueca. x
From here, head in any direction to explore the network of pedestrianized streets lined with independent fashion boutiques and small bars, which become packed as the sun begins to set. If you like the district’s vibe by day, you’ll love it at night, when the shutters lift on club doorways, and the main square comes alive with revelers. It’s a tolerant, open-minded place to party–but remember, this is Spain, so arrive late and prepare to head home at sunrise.
Tap into counterculture cool in Malasaña
Stroll west from Chueca and enter the larger Malasaña district, known for its embrace of counterculture since becoming the birthplace of La Movida Madrileña–a democratic movement developed after the death of dictator Francisco Franco.
The streets have smartened up since those days–with there are glimmers of gentrification shining through–while maintaining a fiercely independent edge and as a hotbed for students, artists, designers, creatives, and thinkers who frequent the vintage clothes stores, record shops, traditional bookshops, and historic bars that dot the graffitied streets. It’s got a vibrant night scene and a wide range of affordable dining spots serving global flavors.
Discover the finer things in life in Salamanca
Until 1860, a defensive wall enclosed this northeastern district built by King Philip IV of Spain in 1625–urbanized by Don José de Salamanca y Mayol, who stamped his vision (and name) on the area. Known as The Golden Mile, it became one of the wealthiest areas in the capital while having all the trappings of an upmarket neighborhood, with flagship fashion stores rubbing shoulders with Michelin-starred restaurants and mansions hidden behind high walls.
Beyond the glamour, the fabulous Mercado de la Paz is one of the city’s longest-running markets packed with incredible local produce and buzzy little places to grab lunch.
Drink in culture and cocktails in Barrio de las Letras
Often referred to as Huertas after the main thoroughfare that cuts through its center, this central neighborhood has a special place in many Madrileños’ hearts. Known as the crucible of Spain’s Golden Age of literature, it is where writer Miguel de Cervantes penned Don Quixote, playwright Lope de Vega found inspiration for his oeuvre, and novelist Ernest Hemmingway reported on the civil war from its many tavernas.
Today, the car-free streets have attracted a talented pool of chefs, designers, and artisans who’ve set up small, independent businesses that show the future of Spain’s food, design, literary, and art scene are in safe hands. Don’t miss the open-air Mercado de las Ranas on the first and third Saturday of each month on Calle de las Huertas.
Take a tapas tour through La Latina
Arrive hungry and get ready to elbow your way to the bar in this food-forward district southwest of the city center. On weekends, the streets become packed with locals and tourists hopping from one tapas bar to the next, with most of the action taking place along Cava Alta and Cava Baja.
For something more relaxed, head to Plaza de la Paja on a weekday afternoon to enjoy a drink and bite to eat before dipping into the free-entry San Isidro Museum. Explore and chart Madrid’s rich history through interactive exhibitions, then check out the bustling Mercado de la Cebada. Following that, you could pack a picnic and lounge in the sun in the beautifully kept Jardines de las Vistillas.