As the third largest city in Europe both by size and population, Madrid is one of the most diverse and fascinating capital cities. This, coupled with a restless history, pleasant climate (if not downright sweltering in the summer) and relaxed culture, makes it one of the top European destinations for expats and tourists alike. With the help of a Madrilenian ex-expat, here’s a roundup of the city’s most exciting neighbourhoods, or ‘barrios’, and what’s not to miss in each!
Image source: creative commons / Fermín Rodríquez
Madrid’s most exclusive neighbourhood sits just to the north of the tranquil Retiro Park. Head here for all the top designer brands from Spain and further afield, fine restaurants and charming squares. One thing not to miss when strolling around this part of town is the impressive Plaza de Colón, with its tribute to the Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus (and one of the biggest national flags you’ll ever see!)
Malasaña has to be the coolest neighbourhood in Madrid… if not all of Europe. Just north of Gran Vía, the city’s main artery, it is Spain’s answer to London’s Shoreditch or New York’s Brooklyn, full of independent bookshops, cafes, vintage clothes shops, theatres and bars. This part of town is full of surprises in the form of tiny and unassuming doorways that lead to hidden gems or underground bars and restaurants! For this reason, by far the best way to explore is on foot.
Malasaña really comes alive at night. In the summer especially, people crowd into the neighbourhood’s many plazas to have a drink, chat and relax in the warm evenings. The best squares for this are Plaza Dos de Mayo and Plaza de San Idelfonso.
The area surrounding Plaza Chueca is one of Madrid’s liveliest, youngest and most inclusive neighbourhoods. It’s well worth checking out this part of town for this atmosphere alone, but the Mercado (market) de San Antón is a must-see. Spread over four floors, it’s a foodie’s heaven – buy top quality ingredients, sample tapas inspired by cuisine from every corner of the world, and sip a cocktail on the roof terrace.
Some of Madrid’s oldest streets snake their way through this typically Spanish neighbourhood. Come here for tapas in their native environment and to visit the kilometre-long flea market every Sunday morning! Also worth a visit is the Mercado de San Miguel – a typically Spanish food market in the heart of the city. Sample paella, croquetas, rioja wine, chorizo and other mouth-watering treats!
Sol and Gran Vía
Sol is the city’s central square, and from it stretch out countless pedestrianized shopping streets leading up to Gran Vía, Madrid’s largest street and Spain’s commercial heart. Don’t miss the giant department stores around Sol for cosmetics, clothes, electronics, furniture and more!
Image source: creative commons / Carlos Delgado
One of Madrid’s main attractions is its world-class museums. Three stand out from the crowd and are together known as the “golden triangle of art”: head to El Museo de la Reina Sofia for an enormous dose of twentieth century art, El Prado for everything Renaissance, and the Thyssen for everything in between.
So… after all that footwork exploring old and new, it’s probably time for a cold drink and a sit down! The jewel in Madrid’s crown has to be Parque Del Retiro – a beautiful and sprawling park of perfectly manicured and shaded lawns, leafy avenues and an enormous public boating lake!
Madrid has so much to offer to tourists and expats alike. As the locals say, ¡de Madrid al cielo!