To truly experience the culture of Madrid during your trip to Spain, head to the inner-city barrios of Malasaña and Chueca to enjoy the city's famed nightlife, great shopping destinations, and plenty of great restaurants and attractions that go beyond the usual tourist destinations. Located between Parque del Oeste and Parque del Retiro in central Madrid, these two neighborhoods have become known as favorite haunts for madrileños—the people of Madrid. From sharing tapas with friends to tasting Spanish wine, there are plenty of things to do in Madrid's Malasaña and Chueca barrios.
Get Coffee on Calle Espiritu Santu
Calle Espiritu Santu runs from east to west in the Malasaña barrio from Calle Corrida Alta de San Pablo to Calle San Bernardo. This popular street is known for its hipster cafes, book shops, and other trendy local dives and hangouts. Take the Madrid Metro to the Noviciado or Tribunal stations to explore all that this famous street has to offer.
One of the best places for coffee on Espiritu Santu is Lolina Vintage Cafe, whose decor features vibrant neon lights, colorful seating and tables, and eccentric art on the walls. Alternatively, stop by J & J Books and Coffee, a second-hand English bookstore that also features a popular cafe, or visit the cozy, no-frills Café Calentito, which is a great place to grab a quick breakfast and coffee.
Café Comercial is a hundred-year-old café that once served as the home of the anti-Franco army during the Spanish Civil War. Founded in March of 1887, this now-famous café is located at the Glorieta de Bilboa star-shaped roundabout in northern Malasaña and is easily accessible from the Bilbao Madrid Metro stop.
It's best to visit this historic coffee shop and restaurant when it's busiest—during breakfast and merienda, a traditional afternoon snack time for kids and young adults alike across Spain. However, famous for its hot chocolate and churros as well as a type of fried bread known as picatostes, Café Comercial is a great destination for a light snack and cup of coffee at any time of day. While you dine, watch passersby on the streets in front of the building from the large windows in the café's ground floor. On the second floor, guests can also play chess at the Club de Ajedrez Café Comercial, a chess club open to all that typically has boards available all day.
Madrid is a city rich in culinary history and tradition, but none quite compare to the dining style of tapas restaurants. One of the best classic tapas bars you'll find in the city is Stop Madrid, which is located on Calle Hortaleza (no. 11), just a short walk up from Gran Via and the Grand Via metro stop. While dining at Stop Madrid, you'll be able to sample some of the finest selections of cheese, ham, and chorizo while washing it all down with some of the best Spanish red wines.
Madrid is host to tons of tapas bars—if you'd like to check out a few, book a walking tour to really get your fill. Other great tapas bars in Malasaña include Bodega de la Ardosa on Calle de Colón, Pez Tortilla on Calle del Pez, and Casa Julio on Calle de la Madera.
El Tigre offers one of the best bargains for tapas in Madrid: when you order a round of drinks at the bar, you'll get three free plates of food to go with it. Located on Calle de las Infantas in Chueca—parallel to Gran Via—you can get to El Tigre via the metro at Gran Via or Chueva stations.
After seeing the chaos that goes on in El Tigre, many suspect the place to be unhygienic, but the plates move so quickly and the restaurant is cleaned so frequently that you don't need to worry about your food getting contaminated. In fact, it's one of the most trusted tapas bars in the city for cleanliness and good service—especially if you're kind to your bartenders and servers.
Opened in an old coal cellar on Calle Velarde in 1979, La Vía Láctea was one of the first underground bars in the city, which became a central hub of the Movida Madrileña, Madrid's '80s youth revival movement. Never quite losing that luster, this upbeat lounge remained hip throughout its existence and features retro decor, a pool table, and dancing most nights of the week.
Calle Velarde, where La Vía Láctea is located, is a popular street for young alternative types on a night out in Madrid. Nearby is Nueva Vision, a retro-punk bar and the official Ramones Fan Club of Spain. Take the Madrid Metro to Tribunal station then walk a short distance to find this popular street and all the Malasaña Nightlife you could hope for.
Diplodocus is a niche bar located on Calle Manuela Malasaña, that features a number of gimmicks that make it a great addition to a day of travel around the neighborhood. Diplodocus' main draw is that it serves drinks in huge glasses—up to 15 liters (three gallons)—but they also play heavy metal straight from the 1970s and '80s. Additionally, the rock music club is completely themed and decorated with dinosaurs, making for a truly unique experience to grab a drink here.
Speaking of drinks, you'll find an interesting—if not slightly confusing—drink menu behind the bar that lists the various drink sizes available but doesn't list the actual volume of the liquid you'll get. For reference, they range from the one-liter "mini" to the fear-inducing "teapasao," which is drunken Spanish for "you've gone too far." Thankfully, these drinks are meant to be shared, so get the biggest one your finances can stretch to and enough straws to go round. The super-big glasses can be ordered for beer, calimocho (red wine and coke) or the intriguingly titled "brontosaurus milk."
The Cuartel del Conde-Duque—or Headquarters of the Arch-Duke—is an exhibition center and former military barracks that are both located a little north of Plaza España on Conde Duque Street (at no. 9). The main attraction of the Conde-Duque Madrid is the Contemporary Art Museum of the city, which features the works of new and emerging artists from Spain and the rest of the world. However, there are also plenty of other institutions of note at Conde-Duque including Madrid's city archive, an artisan printing press, and complete libraries of history, music, and newspapers from Madrid and Spain's past. While the museum is closed on Mondays, most of these other attractions at Conde-Duque are open during that time.
The Museum of Romanticism (Museo del Romanticismo) is dedicated to the art and history of Madrid in the Romantic period of the 19th century. Home to a small collection of paintings, porcelain, books, photos, and other artifacts from the 19th-century, this intriguing museum offers a look into the upper-class lifestyle of Madrid in the 1800s. Located at Calle de San Mateo (no. 13), the Museum of Romanticism is relatively cheap to explore and is open Tuesdays through Sundays throughout the year with shorter hours from November through April.
Located on Calle de Fuencarral (no. 78), the Museum of History (Museo de Historia) was originally constructed by Pedro de Ribera in 1721 as the Municipal Museum. Walk through the beautifully-restored baroque entrance and relive the history of Madrid through a collection dominated by paintings and memorabilia from the storied past of the city. Noteworthy pieces in the Museo de Historia include Goya's "Allegory of the City of Madrid" and an expansive scale model of Madrid as it appeared in 1830 in the basement of the facility.
Considered to be a Madrid landmark for the famous celebrities that once frequented this historic bar, Museo Chicote is a cocktail bar on Gran Vía (No. 12) that is known for its 1930s-era interior and its founder's invention of over 100 cocktails. Continually in operation since 1931, this unique and classy bar has severed patrons ranging from Ernest Hemingway and Ava Gardner to Frank Sinatra and Gracey Kelly. Open seven days a week year-round, Museo Chicote also hosts a variety of special events and experiences throughout the year. Be sure to check the event calendar on their website before you go to see if you're in for a special treat to go with your luxury cocktail.
When you're ready to explore more of Madrid outside of these two hip neighborhoods, make sure you to check out these 100 Things to Do in Madrid.