Where is it?
Lavapiés snuggles between Embajadores and the barrio de las Letras. It’s rough boundaries are Calle Atocha to the east, Ronda de Valencia to the south, Calle de Embajadores to the west and Calle de la Magdalena to the north. Four metro stations serve the area—Lavapiés or Embajadores (line 3), and Tirso de Molina or Anton Martín (line 1).
What’s it like?
Whilst notorious for its open drug-selling (worry not, it is perfectly normal to leave the metro and be greeted with an offer for hash), gritty Lavapiés is an enormously diverse and artistic area with steep hills, pretty streets and plenty to do. Graffiti is commonplace, no doubt partly due to the area’s previous revolutionary and anti-establishment tendencies.
Lavapiés is the most multicultural barrio of Madrid. The name literally means “wash feet”, a reference to the ritual washing of one’s feet before entering a temple. Originally home to the Jews of the city before their expulsion from the country in 1492, Lavapiés became a very popular location for squatting during the 1980s thanks to its neglected, empty apartment blocks. Now, due to a huge influx of international immigrants and an artistic and progressive-thinking youth population, it consists of a wealth of diversity and a dynamic mix of cultures and people.
Despite its proximity to the centre, property rental costs are relatively low. However, although once renowned for its cheap housing, prices have soared over recent years, not least because of the bohemian attraction it holds for young people. If you are willing to get cosy with two to three other roommates, renting a room in the area can run as cheap as €250-300 a month; generally, renting a flat will cost between €650-800.
There’s certainly no shortage of bars. Take in a fantastic view of southern Madrid from the Gaudeamus Café (C/Tribulete, 14), a chic and urban rooftop bar on the UNED building. Sip your drink and enjoy the atmosphere amongst pop-art posters of Audrey Hepburn and James Bond—art exhibitions and cinema festivals regularly take place there. Also catering to the cool crowd, the Marimba Café (C/Lavapiés, 11) has a personality that changes depending on the music, which vacillates between superchill and funky jazz (along with a smattering of “global” rhythms).
Alternatively, step back 100 years to true Castizo Madrid in Café Barbieri (C/Ave Maria, 45). Its intimate atmosphere defines café culture with crowds flocking nightly to enjoy the high quality alcoholic drinks. Heads up: our favourite is The Great Alhambra Reserva Green bottle. Relax amidst the mirrored walls and decadent setting.
Lavapiés is saturated with a diverse range of international restaurants. You can venture to another part of the world with Baobab (C/de los Cabesteros, 1), a Senegalese restaurant with a summer-friendly terrace and authentic, home-cooked Senegalese food. They serve Ceebu jen—a dish of fish, rice and vegetables. It might sound basic but the way in which the food is prepared and home-cooked means it’s bursting with authentic West African flavour.
Somewhat ‘secret’ and normally frequented by locals, the rooftop restaurant Casa de Granada (C/Doctor Cortezo, 17) is situated atop an apartment block and offers views of Tirso de Molina’s old-fashioned rose and mustard-coloured buildings. The typically Spanish tapas are delicious; the chopitos platter (four different types of meat, calamari, potatoes and six different sauces all for €8.20) is a winner for feeding a hungry crowd. The menu del día is a reasonable €9 on weekdays and €12 at weekends. Traditionally Spanish and very pleasant, we highly recommend it.
For Galician cuisine, there is Restaurante Portomarín (C/de Valencia, 4). A traditional place where paper and olive stones litter the floor, one of InMadrid’s staff claims that the cuarto de cordero was “the most succulent, amazing, delicious lamb I have ever eaten”. Carnivores might also enjoy La Buga del Lobo (C/Argumosa, 11). This affordable super-funky eatery has an incredible cocido completo on their current lunch menu.
For those with a penchant for spicy food, many of the authentic Indian and Asian restaurants can be found in this corner of town. The restaurants can be basic beyond belief, often just some plastic tables outside a hole in the wall, but the food is worth it.
Culture vultures will find plenty to interest them. Housed in the historical Cine Doré, Filmoteca Española (C/Santa Isabel, 3) is one of the cheapest cinemas in Madrid and a favourite hangout for film lovers—tickets are only €2.50. The films are always shown in original language versions, which depending on the programme emphasis can range from English to Bengali. The cinema also houses a coffee shop so you can sip a café con leche whilst browsing the monthly listings. In the summer months, an outdoor screen means you can enjoy your pick of the films under the starlit madrileño sky. If it’s music you’re after, it’s worth trying Sala Juglar (C/Lavapiés, 37). A small concert venue with great local bands performing seven days a week, it’s perfect for those seeking less mainstream musical talent. Also housing late-night discotecas, it’s cool-kid central.
In the heart of Lavapiés, La Tabacalera (C/Embajadores, 53) was, as its Spanish name suggests, originally a tobacco factory but is now a huge social and art centre. It is a collaborative art space put together with the cooperation of local artists and the Spanish Ministry of Culture. You can take one of many free workshops like bicycle making or Spanish lessons, check out a Senegalese dance concert, or enjoy the artsy atmosphere at night with a drink in the courtyard. Because of the community contribution, everything is free except the beer! Meanwhile, literary types might enjoy La Libre, Librería Café (C/Argumosa, 39). This reasonably-priced coffee shop sells second-hand books in various languages, as well as different teas and coffees (including English tea), cakes and pastries.
The Teatro Triangulo (C/Zurita, 20) bills itself as “a meeting point for cultural research and development.” It offers a platform for young artists, providing modern, avant-garde and sometimes surrealist performances. If you have the classic Saturday afternoon dilemma of whether to shop or relax with a drink, at El Tío Vinagre (C/San Carlos, 6) you can do both. Chill out with a copa, listen to great music, and stock up on some cool vintage clothes or handmade broaches that are for sale.
Where is it?