Madrid is without a doubt a vibrant and interesting city. From culture to nightlife to traditional elements spanning for centuries, it has something to offer everyone and visitors to the metropolis are certain never to be bored. But with just a few days to explore Spain’s capital, in which barrio should you book your Wimdu apartment to make sure you get exactly what you want from the city? Let our guide to Madrid’s to fabulous barrios help you make an informed choice you are sure not to regret!
Three words immediately come to mind when thinking about Salamanca – luxury, shopping and history. Bearing the reputation of being the wealthy barrio of Madrid, it certainly lives up to its label and international shops, stores, and boutiques are plentiful. Visitors to Madrid with the intention of shopping are recommended to begin their splurge in Recoletos or Goya. History can be combined with some retail therapy as some of the city’s long-established covered markets are tucked away here. It is also home to some excellent restaurants, bars, and delis, where both traditional and modern fare suitable for all price ranges are offered.
Although Salamanca does not host any of what are considered Madrid’s top tourist attractions, it does have some interesting places to visit. Art lovers can stop by the student’s residence where Salvador Dalí once lived, while music enthusiasts can enjoy a couple of hours of bliss at classical musical concerts at the Juan March Foundation. The National Library of Spain, the Museo Lázaro Galdiano and the National Archaeological Museum of Spain also call Salamanca their home.
Visitors wishing to immerse themselves in the culture of Madrid will find themselves right at home in Las Letras/Cortes, a barrio holding the most important museums in Madrid. Spain’s national art museum, the Prado Museum, showcases one of the world’s finest collections of European art, dating from the 12th century to the early 19th century. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía also hosts fine works of art but concentrates on 20th century art. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum is another art museum in the area. CaixaForum Madrid is a museum and a cultural centre also worth a visit.
Having spent several hours exploring museums, visitors will most likely want to sit down with a bite to eat and a refreshing drink. There are numerous new and modern bars and restaurants in Las Letras/Cortes. Upon a closer look, some traditional restaurants can also be found. Visitors should take advantage of the sun and dine seated on a restaurant terrace at Plaza de Santa Ana. Literary geeks should stop by Cervecería Alemana where Ernest Hemingway was once a regular.
Chueca is a modernization success story which has managed to retain some traditional elements. One example of this is San Anton Market where an art gallery and a bar with a terrace are now nestled among its legendary meat and fish stalls. Visitors who choose to stroll through its streets will also find fantastic markets, boutiques, restaurants and bars. Chueca is the city’s official gay neighborhood and has many streets bustling with gay-oriented businesses, including bars, coffee-houses, restaurants, design shops and clubs.
The area hosts several Gay Pride parties throughout the year which have the streets absolutely buzzing. The Saturday of the last weekend of June is Gay Pride Day, which kickstarts a continual party for the rest of the weekend through to the first week of July. Madrid has been chosen to host the WorldPride event in 2017 which will no doubt make for a fantastic trip to the capital.
Hipster Malasaña is perfect for visitors looking for a non-touristy, alternative place to stay. Centered around famous Plaza Dos de Mayo, it is home to some of the most international options Madrid has to offer. Malasaña is certainly the city’s best barrio when it comes to restaurants suitable for all tastes. Visitors who take a stroll around its hip streets can stop to sample the delicious burgers and sandwiches at Naif, or indulge in raw vegan treats at Crucina. The barrio also has a wide selection of modern bars, while some ‘old man’ bars have survived and became hip by not changing at all. Two recommendations for such bars are Palentino and Los Hermanos Campa. Several bohemian bookshops and record stores also line the streets.
Malasaña is considered the best area in the city to go for street art, where everything from spray-painted stencils to urban knitting can be found. Guests should make sure to cut down the small streets to see larger murals. The abstract painted lines spelling out the name of E1000 can be spotted on gates and bars.
La Latina is one of the oldest and most traditional barrios of Madrid – and is considered the best place to go for tapas. Although it can be jam packed at the weekends, it is worth heading to the area as there is lots to see and do. Visitors can walk along narrow streets to discovers many beautiful squares. Plaza de La Cebada is the most popular, but it’s worthwhile seeking out Plaza de La Paja, Plaza del Humilladero, Plaza de San Andrés and Plaza de Puerta Cerrada. Various shopping options are also on offer including Mercado de la Cebada and the huge Rastro flea-market which is held every Sunday.
La Latina is considered the best place to go out in Madrid due to the numerous dark and noisy taverns where locals and tourist alike can consume large amounts of wine, beer, and tapas. Those looking to really treat themselves should eat out at the legendary Casa Lucio which has welcomed many famous patrons such as King Juan Carlos, Bill Clinton and Penélope Cruz. The ‘huevos rotos’, a starter of lightly fried eggs laid on top of a bed of crisp, thinly cut fries, is often named as the best dish here.
Anyone travelling to Madrid for business will most likely see themselves staying in Chamartin. This trendy but easy going barrio has mostly business and residential areas, but also offers a wide selection of places to eat out or go for a beer. Chamartin has few tourist attractions, although many visitors may find themselves travelling to the area to visit the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, home of the Real Madrid soccer team. Other attractions include the Gate of Europe, the Cuatro Torres Business Area which hosts the four tallest skyscrapers in Spain, and the National Auditorium of Music, home to the Spanish National Orchestra.
Retiro is one of the smaller, more residential barrios of Madrid, making it a popular spot for families. Although it lacks shops and markets, it is close to the city center and Madrid´s biggest railway station, Atocha. However, the most alluring part of the barrio is certainly Retiro Park. Belonging to the Spanish Monarch until the late 19th century, the vast green space boasts beautiful sculptures and monuments, galleries and a lake. Some of the main attractions within the park include the Rosaleda Garden, the Fountain of the Falling Angel and Palacio de Cristal.
The Best of the Rest
The area consisting of Sol and Gran Vía is considered the city’s meeting point, and is a prime part of Madrid for shopping, eating out and entertainment. Several souvenir shops are available for tourists who can also style themselves in Spanish clothing brands like Zara and Mango. A couple of beautiful squares are present including Plaza de la Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor.
A different type of clothing can be bought at Justicia/Almagro, a classy, Parisian-like barrio with many designers.
El Madrid de los Austrias is a name used for the old center of Madrid, built during the reign of the Habsburg Dynasty, and can be described as a historic, authentic and cultural barrio. It is home to Palacio de Santa Cruz, which is situated on Plaza de Santa Cruz, and Plaza de la Villa, one of the oldest plazas in Madrid.
Lavapies/Anton Martin provides value for visitors right in the center of Madrid. The former medieval working-class quarter is multicultural and alternative, and offers ethnic restaurants and markets serving an inexpensive lunch.
Those looking for an authentic, small town feeling should look no further than Chamberi. Visitors will have plenty to explore in the barrio such as the circular Plaza Olavide and various art galleries and museums, such as the Sorolla Museum where the famed Valenciano painter once lived and worked. Plenty of restaurants and bookshops also line the streets of Chamberi.
For a more lively atmosphere, visitors should head to Moncloa/Arguelles which is known for its vibrant student lifestyle and many great parties.
Which part of Madrid is your favorite? Where would you recommend first time visitors stay?
(Header: Palacio de Cristal. Photo by Xuanxu via FlickrCC.)