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Madrid – Neighborhoods

Contemporary Madrid came into its own after the death of General Francisco Franco. Years of the Franco regime left Madrid and much of the country in economic shambles due to isolation. With his death, Madrid, and Spain as a whole, began to reassert itself on the international stage. The modern metropolis is home to over three million people. As expected with any major European capital city, each district (or barrio in Spanish) has its own feel. Some of the most well-known “barrios” in Madrid are:

As the name implies, Madrid’s main Opera Theatre is the Teatro Real (Royal theatre). In front of the theatre is the Royal Palace. The Royal Palace is no longer used as a residence, but it has been kept intact since it last functioned as home to the King, serving as a cultural monument and occasionally used for state functions. The entire palace is not open to the public, but most of the more important rooms can be visited. The palace is interesting in its own right, in particular its architecture and gardens (there are two, the Jardines del Moro and the Sabattini gardens). There are also some excellent frescos inside the palace by Tiépolo, and paintings by Velázquez, Goya, Rubens, El Greco, Juan de Flandes and Caravaggio, among others. This palace is known for being one of larger palaces in Europe; it’s actually larger than Versailles Palace.

Alonso Martínez
This district contains the large Plaza de Colón. This plaza commemorates Christopher Columbus, who was responsible for ushering in the Spanish imperial golden age of the 16th and 17th centuries. It is within walking distance of the main cultural and commercial areas of the city such as the Prado museum, the expansive Parque del Buen Retiro as well as near the business center on the lower part of the Paseo de la Castellana.

Atocha includes a rather large area which is bordered by the Huertas and Lavapiés districts. The two important sites located in this area are the Reina Sofía Museum and the Atocha Railway Station (which was the main object of the terrorist attacks carried out on March 11, 2004), one of the two main train stations in Madrid (the other one is Chamartín). The area also contains a number of art galleries and restaurants serving traditional food. This district also contains the main bus terminal as it is a central point of the city. In addition, Atocha was the site of the 1977 Massacre of Atocha.

Azca is the financial district and populated by skyscrapers. The area is directly linked to Barajas Airport by metro line 8 from Nuevos Ministerios station.

Chueca is among the most authentic and cosmopolitan neighborhoods in the downtown city center. This district was the site of major urban decay during the early 1980s. However, later on during the decade it became one of the most active centers of the so-called ‘La Movida’, largely due to its new-found status as a popular gay village, and has become an internationally political significant location after having held years of gay marriage and child adoption right reivindication, achieved in 2005 under socialist Prime Minister Rodriguez Zapatero’s government. It is still quite attractive and has many good and interesting places to eat, as well as some of Madrid’s most avant garde fashion and shoe shops.

Las Cortes
This district is small in size. The most important sites include Spanish parliament buildings of the lower house Congreso de los Diputados. It also includes one of the three museums of the Madrid golden triangle, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.

Parque del buen Retiro.Huertas
A neighborhood west of Paseo del Prado, north of Calle Atocha. Famous for being the “literary” neighborhood of Madrid where many famous writers lived or spent their free time. One of the prominent landmarks is the house of Cervantes where he died in 1616. In the last years, it became a nightlife mecca with thousands of Madrileños and tourists walking around and bar-hopping along Calle de las Huertas and Plaza Santa Ana. The latter is now a major nightlife spot.

Gran Vía
As the name implies, the Gran Vía district contains one of Madrid’s most important avenues, the Gran Vía (literally, “Great Way”). First and foremost it is a shopping street; however it also contains a number of tourist accommodations, plenty of nightlife (all of Madrid’s large goth scene gravitates around Gran Via, for instance), many of Madrid’s largest movie theaters and live musical shows. It is also a hub for Madrid’s red-light district, linking as it does many side streets. One of these streets, Fuencarral has become a link between the old shopping areas of the center of the city, the Bohemian Malasaña, and the hip Chueca district, making of it one of the most cosmopolitan areas of the city.

Gran Via Lavapiés
Traditionally one of the poorer neighborhoods near the city center, this district has maintained much of true ‘Madrileño’ spirit of the past. Lavapiés is one of the areas with a high concentration of immigrants (mainly Chinese, Arabs, Hindi, Africans and Caribbeans), and also tends to attract artists and writers adding to the cosmopolitan mix. The presence of immigrants has led to an inevitable variety of shops and restaurants – this is a good place for good and cheap restaurants of local and international food. It’s also one of the best places to search for non-Spanish foodstuff, (herbs and spices etc.).

La Latina
In and around this area are the origins of Madrid. It’s difficult to put precise boundaries on La Latina, because, like its immediate neighbors, streets are narrow and winding. There are quite a few nightlife spots. There are also a number of attractive churches, like the Iglesia de San Andres and the Iglesia de San Francisco el Grande, as well as Madrid’s town palace. Bordering on La Latina’s east side is the famous Rastro flea-market (a prime pick-pocket spot). Plaza de la Paja is another interesting and entertaining spot of this neighborhood. On the other side, La Latina borders with Plaza Mayor and another ancient part of the town, Los Austrias, where you can find the beautiful Palacio Real (Royal Palace).

Malasaña is a vibrant neighborhood full of lively bars and clubs overflowing with young people. Its streets are currently being renovated, making it a much more attractive quarter (the streetworks are almost finished). It’s one of the classic areas for partying the night away. The area’s center is the Plaza del Dos de Mayo (in commemoration of the Madrilenian popular uprising on May 2, 1808, brutally and effectively repressed by the French troops and which started the Spanish Independence War). Although popularly known as the barrio Malasaña, the real name for the area is Universidad (University). The name Malasaña comes from the 17 year old girl Manuela Malasaña who once lived on the street San Andrés. She was killed fighting the French in 1808. Today there is a street named in her honor very close to the roundabout ‘Glorieta de Bilbao’.

Barrio Retiro is a classic neighborhood surrounding the famous Retiro Park, to the east of the center of the city. It is demographically the oldest neighborhood in the city, however over the past 5 years the increasing number of flats put for rent have been attracting young people and students to the area in growing numbers, and the diversity of the gastronomical fare in the neighborhood reflects this. The neighborhood can be characterized by the style of its three most important areas; in the north part centering on the calle Ibiza, the streets are in a grid pattern and the buildings, normally 6-10 stories, are packed closely together, creating a bustling atmosphere of small shops, bars, and restaurants. This area is very similar to the neighboring Salamanca neighborhood. In the south, called Niño Jesus, the area is quieter, more spacious, and residential. To the west of the park (but still included within the parameters of Barrio Retiro) is the Jerónimos area, an area of beautiful 18th and 19th century buildings and many museums (including the Prado). This area, however, has few private residences, the large flats (often more than 2,150 sq ft) being mainly used for offices.

Is a residential district in the north. There’s the Spanish Olympic Committee, the IFEMA (New Madrid Expo) and Juan Carlos I Park, a beautiful park between Campo de las Naciones (Commercial District inside Hortaleza) and Barajas. Mar de Cristal is the most important tube station in Hortaleza district because it’s an airport connection.

Vallecas is a working-class residential district in the south of Madrid. It is also home to the Rayo Vallecano soccer team.

Aravaca is an upper-class residential suburb in the northwest of Madrid. During the Spanish civil war the front was stabilized here for almost three years. Aravaca and its surroundings are plenty of parks and woods like Casa de Campo.