This neighbourhood was the Jewish and Moorish quarter outside the city walls until they were forced into exile or conversion in 1492. Lavapiés then became Madrid's working class neighbourhood for hundreds of years and largely fell into decay until artists and immigrants began to fill its abandoned houses in the 1980s and 1990s. Since then, an inevitable gentrification process has occurred and is zooming ahead. It's now a multicultural, bohemian neighbourhood full of bars, galleries, ethnic restaurants and cafés.
Lavapiés has as its boundaries 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.
The center of the area is the Plaza de Lavapiés (where metro Lavapiés drops you). Upon entering the plaza, you wil find yourself among Africans, Turks, Gypsies, Chinese, South Americans, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Indians, and Spanish. The wealth of diversity may at first be daunting. Within minutes, someone will probably step forward, whistling, and offer to sell you hash. This is not a threat, and your life is not in danger. Shake your head “no”, smile, and walk on. You have offended no one, and you are not being followed.
A great vein off the plaza Lavapiés is Calle Argumosa, the place to be when the weather's nice. It's lined with bars and restaurants with outdoor seating, so you can partake in one of Madrid's great pleasures, "las terrazas." In Calle Lavapiés, off Plaza Lavapiés, you can also enjoy a meal outdoors, this time with a great choice of indian restaurants.
Argumosa leads all the way down to Ronda de Atocha, ending in front of the Reina Sofia Museum's new, glossy red addition by the architect Jean Nouvel.
Again at plaza Lavapies, head uphill and you'll pop back into Plaza de Tirso de Molina, named after the celebrated Golden Age playwright who created the original escapades of Don Juan in "El Burlador de Sevilla." This square belongs to no one neighborhood, rather it lies on the border of various neighborhoods: Lavapiés to the south, Sol to the north, Huertas to the east, and La Latina to the west. Tirso de Molina used to be seedy and slightly dangerous, however the city recently revitalized and cleaned up the area. Now you can enjoy outdoor cafés and a flower market.
From Tirso de Molina, taking calle Magdalena, you'll get to the art nouveau Cine Doré, in calle Santa Isabel, 3. It is the film theater of the Spanish Filmoteca. It has three screens, which show films every day in their original language. They often have film weeks, where they project the films of a famous director, like Luis Buñuel or Woody Allen or from a certain country, like Sweden or Japan.
See other independent cinemas in our pages.
For the Lavapies outdoor café nightlife, head to the streets of Calle Ave Maria or Colegio. The atmosphere is lively, relaxed, and informal and you will need some patience. You'll see that many of the patrons of the bars and restaurants have dreadlocks, mohawks or shaved heads, and more often than not you will smell hash joints being passed around tables of friends. A visitor must recognize that the presence of hash in Lavapies is accepted as a social norm. But the crowd of Lavapies is not only young radicals; there are old city Madrileños as well. The café Barbieri, at calle Ave María, is one of those old cafés which preserves the atmosphere of 19th century Madrid.
There are a few places for flamencoin the area. At Candela bar (calle del Olmo) the atmosphere is pure flamenco as gypsies and Andaluz artist performers regularly drop in and do their stuff. The "jam sessions" at the rear are deservedly famous, though it may be hard to get access. Casa Patas (calle Cañizares) is more popular and touristic, but it is easy to get in and to understand the show.
From Plaza de Lavapiés you can veer back off towards El Rastro to the west.
El Rastro -
This area is known primarily for the flea market (purportedly the world's largest) held on Sundays and bank holidays from about 10AM to 3PM. El Rastro lies within the triangle formed by the La Latina metro stop, Puerta de Toledo and Glorieta de Embajadores; being calle Ribera de Curtidores its central axis. Google map location.
This market is a must-
Please see also our recommendations to travel safe in Madrid.
El Rastro may only take place on Sundays, but flea market spirit pervades this artsy, bohemian section of Madrid.
Metro stops in this area: La Latina, Lavapiés, Tirso de Molina, Antón Martín, Puerta de Toledo, Embajadores, Atocha