A Guide to Lavapiés: Madrid’s Coolest Barrio

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by Maggie Turansky

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It’s easy to hop on a flight to Madrid, check off the main sites like the Palacio Real and Plaza Mayor, head on a day trip to Toledo or Segovia, and call it visited in two or three days. However, there is so much more to Spain’s lively and dynamic capital than the well-trodden stops that adorn many visitors’ Madrid bucket lists. So, if you’re curious to step a bit off the beaten path and explore a more local side of the Spanish capital, you cannot go wrong with checking out hip and trendy Barrio de Lavapiés.

Located just south of central Madrid and only a stone’s throw from the top sites of the city lies effortlessly cool, multicultural Lavapiés — one of the hippest neighbourhoods in the city. Colourful murals and art pieces decorate the walls, lively tapas bars spill out onto the sidewalks, and the energy and heart of Madrid’s international community is hard to escape.

Therefore, if you’re looking to see a different side of Madrid that is a world apart from the Royal sites, there are lots of cool things to do in Lavapiés and it’s worth spending some time of your trip to the Spanish capital to explore this cool barrio.

How to Get to Lavapiés

The Lavapiés neighbourhood is located almost directly south of central Madrid, and it is only about a 10-minute walk from the Puerta del Sol or Plaza Mayor before you can find yourself in this dynamic neighbourhood.

However, if you are staying in a neighbourhood to the north of central Madrid, it might be easier to get to Lavapiés via metro or bus. The neighbourhood is served by a few metro stations that you can easily alight at and get wherever you want to visit on this list within about 10 minutes walking.

The most obvious metro stop to alight at is Lavapiés, which serves line 3, or Embajadores, which serves lines 3 and 5. Other stations in the barrio include Antón Martín and Tirso de Molina both on line 1.

There are numerous buses that serve areas all throughout the barrio if you’re not fond of using the metro or there are some technical difficulties with the line you want to travel on.

If you want to save money while in Madrid, especially if you’re located centrally, you can forgo public transportation entirely and just head to Lavapiés on foot. As I stated earlier, it is very much not far from central Madrid and is easy to get there.

Exploring Madrid by foot
Exploring Lavapies by foot

Things to Do in Lavapiés

The main magic of the Barrio de Lavapiés has more to do with its energy and walkability rather than its traditional sites. So, first and foremost, I would recommend visiting the neighbourhood with an open mind and ready for your feet to lead you, rather than a bucket list of activities to check off.

Spend an hour or two wandering down some narrow streets and see what you can find! If you don’t want to do this on your own, it is definitely possible to take a walking tour of the neighbourhood, which will give you the added benefit of learning more about the history and people who live in this multicultural barrio.

While there aren’t grand royal palaces to see or massive historic squares to take a coffee break in, there are a few things to do in Lavapiés that can be very well worth checking out.

Reina Sofia Museum

If you’re visiting Madrid, it is likely that you will plan to head to some of the city’s most famous art museums. While the Museo del Prado is very much the most popular among them, the Reina Sofia Museum comes in at a close second, and it has a convenient location right on the edge of Lavapiés. While exploring this museum won’t necessarily give you a glimpse into the vibrant neighbourhood, it certainly isn’t something you should miss when visiting Madrid.

The Reina Sofia is one of the premier modern art museums not just in Spain, but in the entire world. and it houses numerous works by some of the best names in the world of modern and contemporary art — most notably Picasso and Dalí.

The museum is best known for being the home of one of Picasso’s most famous works, Guernica, which is painted as a reaction to the 1937 airstrikes on the eponymous Basque town. The abstract work expertly depicts the horrors and atrocities of this act — the first time an aerial bombing of that type was ever carried out — and it is incredibly powerful to see.

However, equally as powerful (though not nearly as popular) are the sketches that Picasso did to practice for the massive piece. They can be seen in the same exhibit gallery as Guernica.

While many people visiting the Reina Sofia make a beeline for Picasso’s most famous work and then leave, the museum is absolutely massive and a true heaven for fans of modern and contemporary art. You could easily spend a few hours here and not see everything. It is best to purchase your tickets for entry online so you don’t have to buy them when you arrive.

Regardless of whether it’s a mainstream attraction at all, there is no doubt about it that the Museo Reina Sofia is one of the best things to do in Lavapiés, if not Madrid in general.

Reina Sofia Museum
Reina Sofia Museum

La Gatoteca

Lavapiés is becoming known as one of Madrid’s premier hipster neighbourhoods and it wouldn’t be able to live up to that kind of label without succumbing some of the biggest trends around the world. And one of the worldwide trends that Lavapiés embraced before elsewhere in Madrid was the cat café.

Madrid’s first cat café, known as La Gatoteca (gato means cat in Spanish), is located only a stone’s throw away from the Reina Sofia Museum. The café is home to a colony of rescue cats and serves as a shelter and adoption front for them to find their forever homes.

What makes it unique is that La Gatoteca operates as a cafe, where you can enjoy a coffee or tea while snuggling with those cute little felines.

Though it isn’t always necessary, if you want to visit the café, it can be useful to make a reservation to ensure that you can get all of the kitty cuddles you want!

Mercado Antón Martín

When visiting Madrid, everyone knows about the Mercado de San Miguel, the popular tapas market located right next to Plaza Mayor. And while San Miguel is certainly worth visiting if you only have a short time in the city and was to experience its tapas culture while staying in the same place, it is quite expensive and won’t necessarily give you the local experience that many markets in Spain’s capital will give you.

Enter: Mercado Antón Martín. This market, located in the eastern part of Lavapiés only about 150 metres from Antón Martín metro station, feels a world away from the fancy tapas stalls of the Mercado de San Miguel.

Mercado Antón Martín is an ideal place to stop by if you’re interested in seeing how local Madrileños live, shop, and eat.

Set over two levels, there are numerous market stalls including butcher’s counters, cheese shops, fishmongers, and fruit and vegetable stands where you could buy anything you needed for you dinners or picnics while supporting local businesses and producers.

There are also a number of little bars and restaurants where you can get a taste of multicultural Lavapiés. You can also book a food tour that includes a stop in Anton Martin.

In the Mercado Antón Martín, you can embrace the Spanish stronghold of a pre-lunch vermouth (this is actually referred to as la hora de vermut or “vermouth time”) before dining on some of the best tacos to be found outside of Mexico. This is one of the things that makes this particular market as unique and diverse as the Barrio de Lavapiés itself.

Barrio de Lavapiés
The Mercado Antón Martín is an excellent place to get a more local experience in Lavapiés

Street Art

One of the things that most “alternative” neighbourhoods across the globe have in common is a thriving arts scene. And while you can enjoy classic modern art adorning the walls of the Reina Sofia, you can see just as many works of art covering the streets of Lavapiés.

If you love street art, then Lavapiés is a place you much visit while in Madrid. There are numerous interesting pieces to be found if you just take the time to wander down some of the streets, from small bits of stencil art to magnificent murals that will make you want to stop and stare for hours.

There are numerous streets you could walk up in order to see some of the best street art that the barrio has to offer, but we would recommend taking a stroll along Calle de Embajadores, which has some of the most impressive bits of work.

Street art on Calle de Embajadores
Street art on Calle de Embajadores

Lavapiés’ Tapas Scene

While the adjacent neighbourhood of La Latina may be more well known in the tourist scene as the place to go out for tapas in Madrid, you can’t go wrong with straying away from Calle de la Cava Baja and heading to dynamic Lavapiés instead.

While Madrid certainly has its own gastronomic delights, it is also a great place to sample cuisines from other regions of Spain as well. Due to Lavapiés’ historic tendency to attract immigrants (including economic migrants from elsewhere in Spain), this is an excellent way to try regional Spanish cuisine without ever having to leave the capital.

There are seemingly hundreds of tapas bars dotting the barrio and if you happen to find yourself in the neighbourhood on a Friday or Saturday night, you will almost certainly find most bars to be so packed that they’re standing room only and spilling out onto the street. There arguably isn’t a better neighbourhood to experience the best of Madrid’s tapas scene than Lavapiés.

Barrio de Lavapiés
Croquetas are a popular tapa you will see on most menus in Madrid

Mercado San Fernando

If you want to explore an even more multicultural market than the aforementioned Mercado Antón Martín, then you must head to the Mercado San Fernando.

This huge market located close to the Lavapiés metro station is an excellent stop if you want some fantastic Latin American food from countless different countries but want it all in one place.

The market, though packed with a number of eateries cooking cuisines ranging from Mexican to Chilean to Colombian to German, is also a great place to pick up both local Spanish produce and groceries and international favourites. It is also open on Sundays, which isn’t common with many markets in the city, including Antón Martín.

Where to Eat in Lavapiés

One of the best things to do in Lavapiés is tapear (the wonderful Spanish verb that literally means “to have some tapas”). Blessed with seemingly thousands of eateries, it can be difficult to know where to eat in Lavapiés. Here are some of our top suggestions:

La Canibal – This craft beer and natural wine bar is a cool, hip place to eat at in Lavapiés that strays a bit away from the traditional. They have a number of great, local beers and wines on tap (yes, the wines are on tap, too!) and a broad menu with lots of inventive tapas and raciones. You can also get cheese and meat boards here.

Taberna El Sur — Easily one of the most popular eateries in the Lavapiés neighbourhood, this little restaurant attracts a happy mix of both locals and tourists and has an extensive menu of classic Spanish favourites. If you want to save some money, come here during lunch and order off their affordable menú del día (daily menu).

Los Chuchis – This small and cosy bar serves delicious British/Spanish fusion dishes in a casual and homely environment. They have a great daily menu option for lunch and are open till late in the evenings if you’re after tapas and raciones.

La Fisna Vinos — This cosy wine bar located super close to Lavapiés station is an excellent choice if you’re keen to support small, Spanish winemakers. They have an extensive wine list and a broad tapas menu, making this an excellent choice for the evening.

La Caleta — This little place is an excellent option if you keen for an escape to the Andalicían coast but don’t want to leave Madrid. Famous for its Cádiz-style seafood, this is a favourite place amongst locals in Lavapiés.

El Venorrillo Murciano — This unassuming restaurant is an excellent place to go if you want to try some authentic cuisine from the Murcia region of southeastern Spain. Again a favourite amongst locals, this place is famous for its extensive rice dishes.

Barrio de Lavapiés
Gambas al ajillo (shrimp with garlic) from Taberna el Sur

Where to Stay in Lavapiés

If you’re keen to spend the night in Lavapiés rather than just visit the barrio for the day, there are quite a few accommodation options available for you.

Catalonia Atocha — This hotel, located very close to Madrid’s Atocha train station, is an excellent place to stay if you want to be close to all of the action in Lavapiés but also within walking distance of all of the tourist attractions in central Madrid as well. They have several clean, comfortable rooms available, a restaurant on site, and a swimming pool to take the edge off of those hot Madrid days.

Artrip Hotel — This small boutique hotel is an excellent place to base yourself in the Barrio de Lavapiés. They have numerous clean, comfortable, and air-conditioned rooms available and are located within walking distance of many of Lavapiés’ and Madrid’s top sites.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more hotels in Lavapiés!

Lavapies Street Art
Lavapiés Street Art

Madrid’s Barrio de Lavapiés might well be the coolest neighbourhoods in the capital. Filled with an undeniable energy and packed with great art and eateries, you really can’t go wrong with spending some time in this incredible barrio.

Are you planning on exploring Lavapiés? Have you spent time in the neighbourhood? Let us know in the comments!

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Maggie is a co-founder and writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from the US, she has lived in five different countries and has travelled to dozens more, both solo and with her partner, Michael. She particularly loves exploring Spain and spending time in the Caucasus and the Baltics. Read more about Maggie


  1. Maggie: I just left Lavapies yesterday and your recommendations were essential to our choosing to stay in the neighborhood. We loved it! Thanks for your review of the neighborhood.

  2. Great read and very informative!
    Took notes!
    We will be in Madrid in August and will definitely visit Lavapies based on this read!
    Thank you!!

  3. Thank you for the beautiful presentation of Lavapies!

    I love Spain and have seen many cities but no, I haven’t visited Lavapies but I feel I know it, just by your presentation and of course a would love to be there some day!


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