by Santorini Dave • Updated: December 12, 2018
The Best Areas to Stay in Madrid
Madrid’s city center comprises several diverse neighborhoods, most of them compact and walkable. There is no single “best” neighborhood to stay in; where you choose to stay largely depends on your budget and interests. Most of Madrid’s attractions are within walking distance from one another, and even if you stay in one part of town, you can easily reach most places of interest in other neighborhoods on foot; attractions further afield can easily be reached via a short metro ride.
While many of Madrid’s best hotels are located in the vicinity of Retiro park, the art museums, and dotted around historical Centro, there are numerous 4 and 5-star accommodations in Salamanca and other barrios north of the city center.
Centro is the geographical and historical heart of Madrid. A maze of medieval streets surrounds Plaza Mayor – Madrid’s grand main square, lined with gorgeous, centuries-old architecture. The Royal Palace marks the west border of Centro, while to the north, the main shopping thoroughfare of Gran Vía separates Centro from the barrios of Malasaña and Chueca. Varied dining options around Plaza Mayor (and nearby Plaza del Sol) ranges from fast food joints and tiny tapas bars to gourmet food markets and some of Madrid’s oldest and most distinguished restaurants. Accommodation is a mix of boutique hotels, budget options, and 5-star establishments. This neighborhood is very walkable, but difficult to drive in.
Equally walkable La Latina, just south of Centro, known for its attractive architecture, Madrid’s largest flea market (Sundays), and its excellent tapas bars, many of them clustered along Calle de Cava Baja. The attractions in Centro and Retiro are a 10-15 minute walk from La Latina, which is a popular barrio for kicking off an evening tapas bar crawl. Besides several mid-range hotels, accommodation here consists largely of budget options.
Lavapiés borders La Latina to the east; it shares the El Rastro flea market with its neighbor and is located just a few minutes’ walk from Retiro park and Madrid’s main art museums. An edgy, up-and-coming neighborhood, Lavapiés has traditionally welcomed immigrants, and is famous for its ethnically diverse eateries and cluster of hip bars. There are few accommodations here – mostly mid-range and budget options.
Bordering Lavapiés to the north is Huertas, another compact neighborhood that Madrileños flock to in the evenings. Huertas is one of the city’s bohemian enclaves, and apart from a diverse collection of bars to suit any taste and budget, it offers some of Madrid’s best al fresco dining and drinking around the attractive Plaza Santa Ana. Many of Spain’s most famous writers once lived in this barrio, which is still home to numerous independent shops and art galleries. Plaza del Sol, Plaza Mayor and Retiro are both within a few minutes’ walk, and lodgings here range from 5-star hotels to budget digs.
Retiro – with its grand park, heavyweight art museums, and some of Madrid’s grandest hotels – lies immediately to the east of Huertas and Lavapiés. Unlike its neighbors, Retiro is very much a working-day neighborhood; bustling in the daytime and very quiet by night. The lakes, botanical gardens, and numerous walking trails of Madrid’s grandest park are perpetually popular with locals and visitors alike – busiest on weekends.
Immediately north of Retiro is Salamanca, Madrid’s most exclusive residential neighborhood. This is another daytime barrio, popular with shoppers in search of the latest fashions, though there is also a worthwhile cluster of upscale restaurants and bars in the streets closest to Retiro park. Accommodation here includes many 4- and 5-star hotels. Salamanca is not as walkable as Madrid’s more central neighborhoods, but the attractions of Centro and Retiro are just a couple of stops away on the metro.
Chueca, one of Madrid’s hippest neighborhoods and the epicenter of gay nightlife, is found sandwiched between the southern half of Salamanca to the east and Malasaña to the west. By day, the trendy restaurants lining its narrow, highly walkable streets fill with diners; by night, its bars and clubs are hopping until dawn.
Malasaña, Chueca’s western neighbor, has a grittier, grungier vibe and is equally renowned for its nightlife scene. There are plenty of venues to choose from here, from sophisticated cocktail and wine bars to craft beer joints and pulsing nightclubs; some of of Malasaña’s live music venues harken back to the 80s, when this barrio was the heart of Madrid’s counterculture movement. During the day, there are independent boutiques to explore and a wide variety of restaurants to choose from, many of them off or around the main Plaza de Dos de Mayo and the mostly-pedestrianized Calle Fuencarral. Malasaña and Chueca are both within easy walking distance from Centro’s attractions, with boutique and budget hotels making up the bulk of accommodation within the two neighborhoods.
West of Malasaña is Argüelles, a residential area, fringed by one of Madrid’s largest parks. Argüelles and Moncloa, directly to the north, are very popular with students, due in part to their abundance of local bars. A short metro ride from either connects them to Madrid’s central neighborhoods.
The Best Places to Stay in Madrid
- Best Neighborhoods in Madrid for Sightseeing: Centro, Retiro
Since most of Madrid’s main attractions are centrally-located and within easy walking distance of one another, it makes sense to stay either in Centro or in Retiro, depending on whether you’re more interested in being close to the Royal Palace (Centro) or the ‘Golden Triangle’ of art museums (Retiro). But you needn’t limit yourself just to these two neighborhoods; you can easily reach the attractions of either on foot from La Latina, Chueca, and other central barrios.
- Best Neighborhoods in Madrid for Nightlife: La Latina, Lavapiés, Huertas, Malasaña, Chueca
There isn’t a single best area in Madrid for nightlife; instead, several neighborhoods compete to lure in the city’s night owl clientele. If you’re planning on staying up all night, like many Madrileños, La Latina and its proliferation of tapas bars is a great place to start. Calle de Cava Baja has everything from traditional tapas to contemporary fusion. Next door, Lavapíes beckons with its hip bars, as does Huertas; Plaza Santa Ana is ideal for combining al fresco drinking with people-watching. Malasaña and Chueca are known for live music and gay clubs, respectively, and there are plenty of bars and clubs in both neighborhoods that stay open until sunrise.
- Best Neighborhoods in Seville for Food and Restaurants: Centro, La Latina, Huertas, Malasaña, Chueca
There’s excellent dining to be had all over the city. To generalize, you’ll find Michelin-starred restaurants and other fine dining establishments in Salamanca, fusion restaurants in Centro, Chueca, and Malasaña, great Indian food along Lavapiés’ ‘Curry Mile’, and traditional tapas bars dotted all over the city center – with particular concentration in La Latina and Huertas.
- Best Neighborhoods in Madrid for Families: Centro, Retiro, Argüelles
Centro is good for families because its streets are very walkable and there there are numerous spectacles to entertain the kids, such as street performers in Plaza del Sol and Plaza Mayor. Families like Retiro because of its proximity to the park’s playgrounds, lakes (with rowing boats and pedalos), and abundance of space to run around. Argüelles is less popular with visitors, but it does have the advantage of being a quiet residential area next to a huge park, with an Egyptian temple for kids to explore.
- Best Neighborhoods in Madrid to Stay for First Timers: Centro, Retiro
If it’s your first time in Madrid, odds are you’re here to check out its main attractions. Centro is ideal for visiting the Royal Palace and for exploring the medieval streets around Plaza Mayor, while Retiro is perfect for visiting the three world-class art museums and Madrid’s most impressive park. Centro and Retiro a 20-minute walk (or short metro ride) apart, so you can stay in either neighborhood and catch all the main sights. That said, there is some advantage to staying in Centro over Retiro: its proximity to Madrid’s nightlife, both north and south of the center, and a wealth of accommodation to suit any budget.
- Most Romantic Neighborhood in Madrid: Centro
While Salamanca has its share of intimate restaurants, and Retiro has the beautiful park and the botanical gardens, when it comes to romancing your beloved, it’s hard to top the nostalgic charm of Centro’s cobbled streets and tiny medieval plazas.
- Best Neighborhood in Madrid for a Local Vibe: Malasaña
It’s hard to get more ‘local’ in Madrid than Malasaña. While it is certainly more gentrified now than it was 10-20 year ago, a grungy, arty vibe remains here from the 1980s, when Malasaña was synonymous with sex, drugs and rock music. And though independent boutiques and small art galleries have replaced many of the seedy bars, you’ll still find tattoo parlors and plenty of graffiti left over from Malasaña’s rockin’ heyday.
- Best Neighborhood in Madrid for Walking: Centro
You’ll find some of Madrid’s most beautiful architecture in Centro, and its tiny, charming medieval streets are an absolute joy to wander. That said, Madrid’s city center in its entirety, from La Latina to Retiro, is best explored on foot.
- Safest Areas of Madrid
Madrid’s safest neighborhoods are its more upmarket ones, such as Salamanca and Retiro. Centro, La Latina, Lavapiés, Huertas, Malasaña, Chueca, Argüelles, and Moncloa are generally safe to walk around any time of day, though normal precautions apply. In La Latina, Lavapiés, Huertas, Malasaña, and Chueca, things get very lively on weekends.
- Unsafe Areas of Madrid
Parts of Malasaña, Centro, La Latina, Lavapiés, and Huertas can be a bit sketchy at night; it’s best to stick to popular and well-lit streets with plenty of foot traffic and avoid poorly lit, deserted ones. At night, it’s best to avoid the area south of Lavapiés, around the Atocha train station, as well as any deserted parks. Opportunistic pickpockets operate at the El Rastro flea market in La Latina and Lavapiés on Sundays.
The 9 Best Neighborhoods in Madrid for Tourists
Plaza del Sol is Madrid’s city center and Km Zero – the central point of the Iberian Peninsula. Always busy with foot traffic, Sol is an important transport hub and a crossroads where people meet up before heading to the numerous shops, restaurants, and bars in the surrounding streets. Just south of Sol is Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s main square and the focal point of medieval Madrid. There are numerous small squares, markets and tiny streets to explore in this neighborhood. To the west, Centro is bordered by the Royal Palace and the Cathedral, while its northern limit is Gran Vía, Madrid’s main shopping street lined with high street fashion boutiques. Centro is a very walkable neighborhood that stays up late: many restaurants and bars are located in the streets close to the Plazas Mayor and Sol.
• Best Hotels: Gran Meliá Palacio de los Duques • Hotel Círculo Gran Vía
Sitting between Centro (Plaza del Sol, to be precise) and Retiro, Huertas is the place to go to kick off your night. Calle Huertas, in particular, is lined with bars that range from hip to dive, while Calle Leon is good for independent shops, old-school delis, and drinking holes of every stripe. Plaza Santa Ana is ringed with bars and cafes with outdoor seating, perfect for whiling away afternoons and evenings. Calle Huertas leads you directly to the Paseo del Prado and its museums, while the few streets just north of Calle Huertas (known as Barrio de Las Letras) are Madrid’s former literary quarter – writers such as Cervantes and Lope de Vega once lived there; this part of Huertas is less raucous and more arty, with several former writers’ residences turned into museums.
• Best Hotels: Westin Palace • ME Madrid Reina Victoria
This hip, grungy neighborhood lives for the night. In the late 70s and throughout the 80s, Malasaña was known for its experimental La Movida Madrileña movement of rock music, sexual freedom, and illegal substance use. The tiny streets are still marked with remnants of graffiti and dotted with tattoo parlors, but vintage shops, hip bars, trendy cafes, and restaurants have replaced much of the earlier seediness and grime. Where Malasaña is short on sights (with the exception of several small art galleries and the main square, Plaza de Dos de Mayo), it’s huge on nightlife. There are numerous bars and restaurants along Calle Espiritu Santo, Libertad, and Malasaña’s mostly pedestrianised thoroughfare, Fuencarral. The neighborhood is a 10-minute walk north of Centro.
• Best Hotel: Barceló Torre de Madrid
A short walk both from Malasaña and Centro’s Gran Vía, Chueca is lively around the clock. By day, it’s one of the best places in Madrid to dine out, with numerous hip restaurants and cafes lining its narrow streets. You’ll find the three-story gourmet food market, Mercado San Antón, along Calle Agusto Figueroa. Fashion shopping is excellent, too: the same street is known for its numerous shoe boutiques. By night, Chueca comes alive with bars that stay open until dawn. Madrid’s main gay neighborhood, Chueca is where you’ll find most of the city’s gay and gay-friendly clubs and bars. And no night crawl is complete without a visit the local institutions of Museo Chicote (where Hemingway and Sinatra used to drink) and Le Cabrera. Many of the city’s main attractions are within easy walking distance.
• Best Hotels: URSO Hotel & Spa • Only You Hotel
Just a few minutes’ walk south of Centro, La Latina’s main draws are its beautiful architecture – some of the city’s oldest – and its vibrant nightlife. The tiny streets are a pleasure to explore on foot, and on Sundays the city’s largest flea market, El Rastro, takes up entire blocks, with crowds of pedestrians wandering from stall to stall to the accompaniment of street musicians. Most evenings, the tapas bars lining the streets are abuzz with life until late, with the biggest concentration located along Calle de la Cava Baja.
• Best Hotel: Posada del Dragón
Sandwiched between La Latina and Huertas, and just a few minutes’ walk from both Centro and the art museums of Retiro, Lavapiés is a buzzy, hip neighborhood that’s still a little rough around the edges. This ethnically diverse corner of the city is renowned for its diverse cuisine and trendy nightlife. Calle Lavapiés is locally known as “Curry Row” due to the proliferation of excellent Indian restaurants, and Calle Argumosa is particularly good for hipster bars and al fresco drinking. On Sundays, the El Rastro flea market spills over into Lavapiés from La Latina.
• Best Hotel: Artrip Hotel
Just north of Retiro, this grid of wide, leafy streets and avenues is Madrid’s most upscale residential neighborhood. The two main avenues here are Calle de Serrano and Calle de Velázquez. If shopping is your passion, don’t miss the boutiques along the Milla de Oro (Golden Mile) on and around Calle de Serrano. Ones to look out for include Sita Murt (chic knitwear), Nac Madrid (high-end footwear), The 2nd Room (second-hand Armani, Gucci, Fendi, Jimmy Choo for those on a tighter budget) and Isoleé (high-end mini-department store). Other attractions include The Museo Aqueológico Nacional and Madrid’s iconic bull ring – Plaza de Toros Monumental de Las Ventas. Salamanca is quite spread out, so riding the metro is a good way to get around here. The nearest metro stops at Serrano, Velázquez and Ventas. This barrio is liveliest during the day, though there are a few excellent bars and restaurants near the Retiro for evenings out. Numerous high-end hotels dot the neighborhood.
• Best Hotels: Gran Meliá Fenix • Hotel Orfila
Bordered by the Paseo del Prado to the west and Av de Menéndez Pelayo to the east, Retiro refers to neighborhood encompassing the vast Parque de Buen Retiro and the affluent residential streets immediately to the east. Apart from Madrid’s best-known and most popular park, Retiro is also famous as a home to the ‘Golden Triangle’ – the city’s three most important art museums. World-class Museo del Prado is directly on the Paseo del Prado, while the private collection of Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza is across the street. The Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, at the south end of Paseo del Prado, is Madrid’s biggest and best repository of contemporary art.
• Best Hotels: Hotel Ritz Madrid • Hotel Palacio del Retiro
Just north of the royal palace in central Madrid, leafy Argüelles consists of large parks and residential streets. The largest park, Parque del Oeste, is where you’ll find the Templo de Debod – a reconstructed Egyptian temple and a favourite spot for sunset-watching. North of Parque del Oeste, Argüelles flows seamlessly into Moncloa, home to Madrid’s main university and also the Faro de Moncloa – a lighthouse-like observation tower with excellent views of the surrounding city. This part of town has a large student population, and a few lively bars, with the nightlife of Malasaña and Chueca a short walk east. The main street, Calle Princesa, is lined with high street boutiques and department stores. Madrid’s main attractions are a longish walk or short metro ride away; Moncloa, Argüelles and Plaza de España are the area’s main metro stops.
• Best Hotel: Meliá Madrid Princesa