This trendy barrio is named after Manuela Malasaña, a heroine who died during the uprising against Napoleon’s occupation more than 200 years ago, and commemorated in the main square, La Plaza del Dos de Mayo. This fighting spirit and rebellious streak remains, and the neighbourhood is a long-standing melting pot for students, hipsters and old-school madrileños. Stroll along Calle Ponzano or Calle Pez (stopping at Pez Tortilla for delicious Spanish omelettes) to get a feel for the area, and expect heavily graffitied walls, cute vintage shops and laid-back bars, packed with locals. Head to Casa Fidel for a traditional hearty lunch or dinner from the menu of lentils, beans and chickpea stews, or taste a more contemporary approach in Bar Pajarita. Finish the day at sophisticated 1862 Dry Bar, where you can pick up a cocktail suggestion from the charismatic bar staff.
Check in If you want to be at the heart of the action, Hotel Abalú is definitely your best choice. Chic, daring, cosmopolitan and very Almodóvar.
Central, lively, arty, sophisticated and very colourful, Chueca is named in honour of the Spanish composer Federico Chueca, and the area is a symbol of regeneration in Madrid. Chueca is dotted with stylish shops, small art galleries and modern bars and restaurants, yet one of its best restaurants is a traditional tavern with a twist. La Carmencita opened in 1854 and claims to be the second-oldest tavern in Madrid. Here you’ll find scuffed parquet floors, patterned mosaics and some of the most authentically Spanish food in Madrid. Stop Madrid is very popular at vermouth time for a glass of the Spanish liqueur, along with pinchos of baby squid, croquetas and anchovies. If you have a sweet tooth, head to the stunning La Duquesita patisserie, opened in 1914, for its original modernist features and glassy-glazed pastries. Eat them straight away or get to take away in eggshell-blue boxes wrapped with scarlet ribbon.
Check in The striking facade of Room Mate Oscar has been a feature of Chueca for a while now. The best bit? A solarium on the top floor with swimming pool – a priceless addition in baking Madrid. Lately, Hotel Urso is the hot spot for celebrities and VIPs. Very cool, yet elegant and classy, don’t miss the dine-in conservatory.
This is the oldest district of Madrid, with cobbled streets dating back to the 16th century. Start by wandering down Cava Alta or Cava Baja and embracing el vermú, the Spanish tradition of enjoying a vermouth aperitif before a late lunch. Tempranillo tavern, with its exceptional list of wines, is one of the more well-known bars in the area. As is Casa Lucio, famous for its acclaimed huevos estrellados (broken eggs with fries), and Casa Labra, where you can enjoy the best cod croquettes in town. After lunch, grab a coffee and flick through the racks of vintage records at Café Molar, before taking a gentle stroll around the medieval squares of Plaza de la Paja, Plaza de la Cebada and Plaza de San Andrés.
Check in This small area is most famous for its hostels, but if that’s not boutique enough for you, Posada del León de Oro and Posada del Dragón are the places to stay: their pop décor, modern restaurants and funky atmosphere are in direct contrast to the old-world location.
Barrio de las Letras
The Barrio de las Tetras (“literary quarter”) has been home to many of the most important authors of the Spanish Golden Age, such as Cervantes, Lope de Vega and Quevedo. Today, within its elegant streets – some pedestrian or with traffic restrictions – you’ll find cobbled pavements decorated with inscriptions and small texts of the work of these and other writers. It also boasts the famous “art triangle” of the Museo del Prado, Museo Reina Sofía and Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, along with another very important cultural hub, CaixaForum with its impressive vertical gardens. Plaza de Santa Ana is lined with bars and pavement seating – perfect for people watching, and a good place to start a stroll around the area. Head along Calle de las Huertas and just enjoy getting lost. The aristocratic restaurant Lhardy, opened in 1839, has been a silent witness to many crucial lunches in Spanish politics over the years and is famous for its cocido madrileño (a hearty chickpea stew). For more gastro-styled, seasonal dishes, try the lovely TriCiclo. Also, La Venencia, one of the oldest wines bars in Madrid, and Cervecería Santa Ana are both a must-visit.
Check in You’ll be spoiled for choice here. The impressive ME Madrid Reina Victoria Hotel, within a beautiful 1920s building, is the most glamorous stay, or the sleek Vincci Soho Hotel is a good option for a more modest budget.
Traditionally inhabited by the poorest new arrivals from rural parts of Spain, as well as students and bohemian artists, Lavapiés is today the most multicultural neighbourhood in Madrid, where Spanish bars rub shoulders with North African, Latin American, Pakistani and Senegalese restaurants. Don’t miss La Tabacalera, a huge former tobacco factory which is today a thriving cultural space run by locals. The area around Calle Argumosa has many unpretentious bars, such as La Berenjena – popular for Sunday tapas. For new gastro-taverns, check out the tasty and beautiful creations at Taberna de la Elisa and Juan Raro.
Check in Artrip Hotel is a modern-minimal stopover in the heart of Lavapiés, or try fashionable Only You Hotel, a little further afield in nearby Atocha.