I am super excited to launch my series of Barrios de Madrid, highlighting some of my favorite parts of Madrid and their hidden (and not so hidden) gems. It is a pity that many visitors to Madrid do not explore the city to its fullest, limiting themselves to the areas around Puerta del Sol. Undeniably and unapologetically Spanish, there is so much more to this vibrant city than the double-decker tourist bus tours. My hope is to bring my love of Madrid to life, giving everyone who reads my blog extreme Madrid wanderlust. And if you’re ready to start planning your non-cookie-cutter, tailor-made trip to Spain, look no further. I can help and ensure that you don’t waste any time in this fantastic city! Without further ado, I present part one, one of my favorite neighborhoods, Lavapiés (and a little bit of adjacent La Latina just for fun)…
South of central Madrid, down a hill, you will find one of Madrid’s most diverse neighborhoods, Lavapiés. The name actually means “wash feet,” probably because of the fountain that used to be in the main plaza. This part of Madrid is filled with people from all over the world. In the recent past, Lavapiés has become one of Madrid’s hippest areas, but it still holds on to its revolutionary past.
The diversity, colors, and general livelihood of this neighborhood make it one of my favorites in all of Madrid. Many Spaniards from outside of Madrid will tell you that Lavapiés is dangerous, a reputation that Lavapiés can’t rid itself of. I’ve never feared for my safety here, even at night. And if you are comfortable with diverse, urban neighborhoods, you will most likely love Lavapiés too. (For all of the places referenced in bold, please see the map below.)
The metro station (Lavapiés) is right in the center of the main plaza. As soon as you exit the metro, you will get a feel for Lavapiés’ global spirit. Small alimentaciones (convenience stores) sell products from all over Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Here, you are just as likely to hear Arabic or Hindi spoken, as you are to hear Spanish. Street art is everywhere, and often with leftist political messages.
If you really want to feel the spirit of the revolution (Lavapiés style), head to Nelson Mandela Plaza. The entire plaza is tagged with political messages and progressive street art. It constantly changes, but I was really moved by “trankila (sic) hermana, nosotras te creémos” (relax sister, we believe you), which testifies to the global impact of the #metoo movement. Of course, there are plenty of “viva la revolución”s scribbled in the plaza and throughout Lavapiés.
For my favorite coffee in the neighborhood, check out Pum Pum Café. They also have a nice selection of vegetarian-friendly food. But Lavapiés is really known for its tapas, not its coffee. And tapas bar hopping is one of my favorite late-night neighborhood activities. Loud and hip, Bar La Playa de Lavapiés, is always a fun time. For a wide selection of national and international craft beers, along with an interesting tapas menu, Chinaski is the place.
Closer to La Latina is Plaza de la Paja. This plaza, surrounded by beautiful old Madrileño-style buildings, was once where much of Spain’s royalty had their palaces. In a country where tuna often appears on the “vegetarian” menu, Madrid is starting to earn a (well deserved) reputation as a heaven for vegetarians. El Estragón Vegetariano, one of Madrid’s best vegetarian restaurants, is located in the plaza. The menu is creative, featuring unique vegetarian creations alongside some of Spain’s traditional dishes, with vegan options as well.
Back in Lavapiés, with a diverse population comes a cornucopia of ethnic food. This is the neighborhood to eat Indian food in Madrid. Competition here is high, and restaurant staff will try to lure you into their establishments as you stroll down Calle de Lavapiés. But so many choices also means lower prices (compared to Indian food in other parts of Madrid) and high-quality, authentic Indian food. Keeping with true Spanish dining style, many of the Indian restaurants offer terraza (al fresco) dining. (I listed two of my favorites, Sonali and Calcutta on the map, but there are many more choices).
Aside from delicious food, strong drinks, and street art, the small streets of Lavapiés are home to some of Madrid’s best old architecture. Colorful buildings, in typical Madrileño- style architecture, can be found all over the neighborhood. One of my favorite (and free) activities is to roam the streets of Lavapiés looking at the buildings and taking photos. No matter how many times I have found myself in Lavapiés, I always find something new. My personal obsession is doors, balconies, and windows of Spain, and these can all be found here, in abundance. I easily can spend (and have spent) hours slowly wandering the streets of Lavapiés looking at everything. And often times, the beauty is in the details, so be sure to give yourself time for a closer look.
If the alternative progressive Lavapiés experience is what you crave, do not miss CSA La Tabacalera, not far from the Embajadores metro station. The building itself, an old tobacco factory, has been converted into a self-organized neighborhood social center. La Tabacalera hosts performances, art shows, conferences and meetings for social and economic justice, and local neighborhood events, all free of charge. It is not intended to be a space for the privileged or well connected, to ensure that it can always be utilized by the local community. There are no permanent shows or exhibits, so it is always fun to pop in and check it out periodically.
If hitting up one of Spain’s oldest (and biggest) open-air markets sounds like a great way to spend a Sunday, then do not leave Madrid without a few hours at El Rastro between Embajadores and La Latina metro station. You can find (almost) everything in this market, and usually at much more reasonable prices than the shops. Many of Madrid’s antique shops are also in this area, and they are open on Sundays to coincide with the flea market. Keep a close eye on your wallet and valuables, are the crowds can be intense and pickpockets work El Rastro as well.
While it is not the Prado or Royal Palace, Lavapiés was lucky enough to receive a valuable gift from the gods of Madrid city planning: a huge 24-hour Carrefour Market. This wonderful convenience is located just across from Plaza de Lavapiés, by the Metro stop, making a quick run to pick up some necessities a great way to end a day in the neighborhood. Just remember to buy your wine early, before the liquor section gets cordoned off, thanks to Madrid’s law banning alcohol sales after 10pm.
Lavapiés is not only a great neighborhood to explore, but also a convenient area to stay. Located in the center, but away from all of the hubbub of Puerta del Sol and the other tourists areas, it makes for a great base in Madrid. One of my favorite Airbnb listings in Madrid is on Calle de Amparo, just steps away from the Plaza de Lavapiés. With two balconies, a well-stocked kitchen, strong wifi (essential for a digital nomad), and comfortable bed, Carmen and Francisco’s studio easily received five stars from me. Bonus: if you have never used Airbnb before, click on this link to save money on your first booking.
Sold on Lavapiés yet? Full of life and color, diverse, and politically engaged, Lavapiés really does evoke all of the senses. I hope that you get a chance to explore this vibrant, colorful, progressive neighborhood too. And remember, I can help you plan the most memorable trip to Spain ever! My expertise of all things Spain travel spans well beyond Madrid. Together we can build a customized trip that fits your interests (and budget). Please reach out to me via the form linked above or my Facebook page.