Madrid’s Malasaña and Salamanca barrios include all of the elements I love, and basically require, when travelling: Great food, unique shops, a local vibe, and unparalleled city views. With 21 districts – making it impossible to discover each of Madrid’s barrios on a four-day long weekend – I chose to focus on both of these neighbourhoods in particular because of the heavy contrast between the two. Want to sample Madrid like a local on your next trip to the Spanish capital? Keep reading to uncover these two barrios:
If you’re looking for Madrid’s hipster scene, you’ll definitely find it in Malasaña. Known for spearheading the Movida movement in the seventies and eighties, its free spirit lives on – especially on the barrio’s main square, Plaza del 2 de Mayo, where families, friends, and street vendors unite. Both trendy and alternative, this neighbourhood’s streets are lined with hip bars, cafes, restaurants, and indie shops.
Where to eat breakfast & lunch
Locals head to La Bicicleta Café for their neighbourhood coffee fix and weekend brunch. From friends meeting over a latte to young professionals working on their laptops, many Malasaña residents consider this local hub a must. Federal Café is another fave, boasting quality coffee and plenty of healthy and delicious breakfast, lunch, and brunch items. Enjoy your coffee or meal in their gorgeous space or take a seat on the outdoor terrace.
Next, you’re bound to eat well in a Spanish market. Enter Mercado de San Ildefonso. With over 15 food stands, enjoy all sorts of fare, ranging from tapas, to tacos, to fresh seafood, to burgers and grilled meats, and much more.
Where to shop
This neighbourhood is home to an array of eclectic gems at every turn. For the fashionable minimalist, Amen’s stark white and black decor matches its equally daring apparel and accessories. Looking for souvenirs? Forget the tourist shops. Amor de Barrio Malasaña is the best spot to shop t-shirts and gifts dedicated to the barrio.
Nest Boutique is an adorable shop that sells jewellery, stationery, and accessories for kids, which make it great for one of a kind mementos. Lastly, La Fiambrera comprises everything you can possibly want in a space: A quirky shop, a cafe, and an art gallery. Check their website for monthly exhibits.
Where to play
To party in Malasaña, make your way to TupperWare, an alternative bar complete with a kitschy multi-coloured decor and a varied playlist. Another option is staying at – or heading back to – Mercado de San Ildefonso to spend the night rubbing shoulders with locals and chatting over beers and cocktails. With two semi-covered terraces and a bar on virtually each floor (three total), this market goes into party mode once the sun sets.
Located northeast of Madrid’s historic centre, Salamanca is Madrid’s chicest and most expensive barrio. But don’t worry, I’ve pulled out the best of what is worth your time and money, whether you’re looking to eat a good meal or bask on a sunny rooftop terrace.
Where to eat dinner
Relatively new to the Madrid food scene, and steps away from the lovely El Retiro park, El Perro y la Galleta is a local favourite. With a bright and modern decor that stops onlookers on their tracks thanks to their imposing glass windows, this restaurant proposes an equally show-stopping menu. On my visit, I sample several impressive dishes, which include: A complimentary cod amuse bouche served on a spoon, beef and mushroom risotto arancini doused in a thick and creamy mushroom sauce, a well-seasoned beef tartare served with thin chips, and a paella-style rice dish with black chanterelles and Iberian pork. Be sure to also try one of their desserts made with galletas (biscuits).
La Vaca y La Huerta (translation: The cow and the orchard) proposes a straightforward menu split into two sections: Beef (from la vaca) and veggies (from la huerta). This juxtaposition first strikes me as I look at their logo (pictured above), which can cleverly be interpreted as a steak or an eggplant – you be the judge! Specializing in farm to table dining, I enjoy the following dish from their seasonal menu: Mouth-watering, thinly sliced picaña de ternera (a sirloin cut of beef from Brazil) with grilled peppers and zucchini, the whole garnished with coarse salt and a side of chimichurri sauce.
Where to shop
Located in the heart of bustling Gran Vía, El Corte Inglés is a popular shopping hub. If you want to shop food, head up to the ninth floor to discover their Gourmet Experience boutique. From specialty Spanish products, like paprika, olive oil, saffron, and Iberian ham, to name a few, to an international section that boasts top gourmet finds, a gift from this foodie shop will surely impress – and it comes with a view. Next, strut the streets of Salamanca in style thanks to Panocha, situated just off of Calle de Alcalá. With its selection of edgy, designer items, the shop is curated to resemble your fashionable best friend’s closet.
Where to play
Chilly evenings are made for enjoying a drink or two at La Jefa. This warm and inviting bar is adorned with colourful, comfy seating and killer cocktails. On both of my visits, I snag the two-seater near the window (pictured, left of the couch) and enjoy my drink, a lemongrass mojito, in an intimate, dim setting. Their mojito won me over with its unique recipe made up of Flor de Caña rum, lemongrass, peppermint, lime, tamarind, and sprite. La Jefa also doubles as a restaurant, which I have yet to try.
If you’re looking for a rooftop with a view, head to the Círculo de Bellas Artes’ Tartán Roof. Part restaurant, part bar, here is where you can admire Madrid’s quintessential panorama (which includes a view of the Metropolis building, seen in most photos of Madrid’s skyline) with a cocktail or coffee in hand. Located in the Azotea del Círculo building, there is a fee to enter (€4) before heading up via a special elevator, but unlike most free rooftop lounges, you’re not obliged to consume so you can simply come and take in the view.
Which of Madrid’s barrios is your favourite? Any gems to share? Let me know below!