04 Jul Lavapiés
The most multicultural area of Madrid is, without a doubt, Lavapiés. This historic and humble neighborhood in the heart of the city is full of diverse people, international food, and corralas, a type of housing typical of 17th-19th century Madrid, in which the doors to each apartment are located on outdoor balcony corridors.
Lavapiés is an excellent area to eat, drink, or attend the various cultural events that are organized throughout the year.
The irregular layout of the neighborhood and its narrow streets are reminiscent of the origin of Lavapiés, a suburb that expanded as the city grew.
The name Lavapiés is truly peculiar. Although nobody is 100% sure where it comes from, it is said that in this area there was a fountain where Jewish people washed their feet before entering temple. The tile street sign that marks Calle Lavapiés shows the fountain and two people washing in it.
The fusion between multiculturalism and tradition is the hallmark of this unique neighborhood whose history dates back 500 years. The people who live here are still known as Manolos and Manolas. According to one popular explanation, these names come from the 15th-century Jews who decided to convert to Christianity when the Catholic Monarchs ordered their expulsion.
The neighborhood of Lavapiés is home to a greater diversity of immigrants than any other area in Madrid. Currently, thanks to both its lower rent rates compared to other neighborhoods in the city as well as its multiculturalism, Lavapiés attracts many young people who live alongside neighbors from up to 88 different countries, especially Morocco, Ecuador, Colombia, China, and Bangladesh.
If there is one thing that’s indisputable, it is that Lavapiés emanates art from every corner. Its walls and metal shop shutters are decorated with creative graffiti and murals that help adorn a colorful neighborhood full of cultural spaces. These include the art galleries on Calle Dr. Fourquet Street, the renowned centers of dramatic art Valle Inclán Theater and Pavón Theater (Kamikaze), old movie theaters like Cine Doré and Sala Equis, and bookstores specialized in street art, such as Swinton & Grant.
In addition, although some may not be aware of it, one of the world’s top museums of modern art is located right in Lavapiés: the Reina Sofía Museum.
Finally, we cannot forget La Casa Encendida, a social and cultural center founded in 2002 that offers all kinds of activities and events related to the arts, mostly free of charge.
Here we will give you a few recommendations on what to do in Lavapiés:
Bars and patios line this street from top to bottom, reaching all the way from Plaza de Lavapies to Ronda de Atocha. On weekends, it’s common to find the bars and tables full of groups of friends chatting over a few beers. The tapas route known as Tapapiés takes place mainly on this street. In recent years, traditional taverns have been giving way to more modern establishments and, above all, to bars and restaurants serving international cuisine, in high demand by the neighborhood’s residents.
Fiestas de San Lorenzo
On August 10, Lavapiés hosts festivities in honor of San Lorenzo. The celebrations last several days, and people come from all over Madrid to attend the free concerts, participate in the popular Chulapo contests, see who wins the competition for best Spanish tortilla, enjoy free lemonade, and order drinks at one of the bars that are temporarily set up in the crowded streets.
El Mercado de San Fernando
This indoor market, located at Calle de Embajadores, 41, is living proof of the revitalizing effect of supporting local businesses. Originally founded as a food market in 1944, generational shifts in the neighborhood caused it to fade into obscurity for many years. New initiatives reactivated the market in 2010, and today it is home to 48 stands offering food, cosmetics, artisanal products, and culture. This is the ideal spot whether you want to shop for groceries or enjoy some tapas with a craft beer.
Festival de Tapapiés
This festival deserves its own special mention. During the second half of October, participating bars and restaurants serve tapas for just €1 to encourage people to try new flavors from 24 different countries (and counting!). A delicious way to spend an afternoon in the neighborhood.
La Corrala del Sombrerete
One of the few corrala buildings still standing in Madrid. In this building, the doors to different apartments are arranged along an outdoor corridor that overlooks an interior patio. Built in 1872, this famous corrala inspired the zarzuela La Revoltosa and was declared a National Monument in 1977. The interior patio became visible to the public when the building on the other side of the patio was torn down.
El Cine Doré
The Spanish Film Institute screens films and puts on events in this picturesque cinema, which marks one of the edges of the Lavapiés neighborhood. The modernist building is one of the most distinctive in the capital city. It is over 100 years old and is a required stop for visitors to marvel at the exterior as well the interior.
Also called Sala X, the definitive cinema-bar of Madrid is the upgraded version of the movie theater formerly known as Cine Alba. This is the perfect place to enjoy a gin and tonic while watching an old movie in its original version. (This means that foreign movies are shown in their original language with Spanish subtitles instead of being dubbed over.)
Lavapiés has the largest concentration of autonomous social centers and neighborhood associations in central Madrid. The best known one is La Tabacalera de Lavapiés. Located in a former tobacco factory, it is a collective cultural space where anyone can submit a proposal to put on an exhibition, organize a debate, or screen their own documentary. Thanks to centers like this one, the neighborhood has endless cultural activities grounded in social solidarity.
La Casa Encendida
Another one of Madrid’s celebrated cultural centers, La Casa Encendida, hosts exhibitions, concerts, and all sorts of other cultural activities. It also offers classes on visual arts, music, literature, and more. If you decide to stop by, don’t forget to go up to the rooftop terrace, where you might find an event put on by La Terraza Magnética. Live music, movie screenings, and a great atmosphere.
Art Galleries on C/ Dr. Fourquet
Here’s a street with block after block of art. A total of 15 galleries open up a world of possibilities. Step inside the gallery of the great Helga de Alvear, which showcases art by promising young Spanish artists. This has become a place that breathes fresh life into the cultural fabric of the neighborhood.
Reina SofíaArt Museum
One of the three museums that make up Madrid’s famous Golden Triangle of Art. (The other two are the Prado Museum and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.)
Inaugurated in 1992, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía focuses on international modern and contemporary art. Its permanent collection spans the 20th century, but its temporary exhibitions sometimes feature art from right where we are in the 21st century.
It is home to some of the most important works of art in modern history, such as the famous Guernica by Pablo Picasso. The museum is one of the most visited in Madrid, but thankfully, it’s not one of the most expensive. In addition to the main building, the museum also has two spaces in Retiro Park—Palacio de Cristal and Palacio de Velázquez—where it puts on free exhibitions.
The Lavapiés neighborhood has lots of theaters. Perhaps the most important one is Teatro Valle Inclán in Plaza de Lavapiés, which hosts performances by the Centro Dramático Nacional.
Walk around the area and you’ll find Nuevo Apolo, one of Madrid’s large theaters, and Pavón Teatro Kamikaze, another well-known theater. There are also lots of smaller theaters, such as Sala Mirador, Mínima, Tortuga, and Teatro del Barrio.