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Malasaña, Madrid Travel Guide

Malasaña Summary

Pros

  • Madrid's hippest (and most hipster-friendly) barrio
  • Endless bars and nightclubs, ranging from pubs to live venues
  • Tons of trendy boutique shopping and great bookstores
  • Long, scenic streets lined with gorgeous architecture plus tons of street art
  • Easy access to Chueca and Puerta del Sol
  • Blend of Old World spots, classic cafes, tapas bars, and hyper-cool new joints
  • Second-most LGBT-friendly area of town (after Chueca)
  • Major shopping along Calle de Fuencarral and Gran Via
  • Plenty of metro stations nearby

Cons

  • Many streets can be loud until late at night
  • The hipster set won't be everyone's cup of tea
  • Siesta affects opening hours of many indie boutiques

What It's Like:

Every city has one at this point, and the phrase "What is the Williamsburg of..." is something more than one traveler has typed into Google. When it comes to Madrid's coolest barrio, Malasaña just might give Brooklyn's capital of cool a run for its money. In fact, there's a lot that makes Malasaña way more charming than its relative across the ocean — a fact that's hard to argue with when gorgeous 19th-century buildings line nearly every cobblestone street. From classic cafes to vegan juiceries, tapas bar crawls to rowdy rock bars, this neighborhood has a lot to offer, and its popularity is no accident.

Built into the hills that rise north of Gran Via — Madrid's main thoroughfare — Malasaña's long and narrow streets intersect in a sometimes improbable grid that can make it easy to get lost. That's not a bad thing, though, as almost all of its streets are buzzing with some kind of activity. By day, cool Madrileños throw back cafes con leche at buzzing coffee shops like La Bicicleta, or pop in and out of any of the indie boutiques along Calle del Pez, Calle del Barco, and Calle de San Joaquín. Feeling hungry? You'll find pastelerias (dessert shops), Vietnamese, vegan, Greek, and pizza among the offerings. This is to say nothing of the old-school bars with their mirrored walls and no-frills decor, which are the best places to get your hands on some Spanish tortilla and other tapas (we suggest El Palentino, on Calle del Pez, for something really authentic).

The barrio comes to life at night, though, as what looked like boarded up, graffiti-covered buildings during the day turn into boisterous bars and clubs. Nights generally start with a bar crawl, hitting up the classic tapas joints, where glasses of beer come with free small plates of snacks. A little later, the rock and jazz clubs open, as well as the smaller nightclubs that line some of the streets. Even with all of those options, the best party is sometimes right in the street, as packs of pretty, young people gather en masse in the neighborhood's open-air plazas, trading stories, beers, and cigarettes. 

While the center of the barrio is equal parts charming and trendy, classic and cutting-edge, its fringes are a bit more mainstream. Major retailers like Zara compete for the attention of the throngs of humanity surging along Gran Via, while smaller outlets line the pedestrian-only Calle de Fuencarral. Malasaña also neighbors Chueca, and rivals that neighborhood's LGBT-welcoming stance (though it lacks much of Chueca's exclusively gay nightlife). While the constant presence of hipsters and the rowdy nightlife won't be everyone's cup of tea, Malasaña remains one of Madrid's most exciting barrios. Craving a quieter moment? We'd suggest a cup of coffee at a cafe before the rest of the neighborhood's residents rise. It's one of life's finer pleasures, and having the Old World streets to yourself for a moment isn't to be missed. 

Where To Stay:

Like Lisbon's rowdy Bairro Alto, you'll want to plan where you stay depending on whether you're a night owl or someone who goes to bed early. The areas around the plazas can be loud until late, so those looking to avoid party noise will want to steer clear of Plaza de San Ildefonso, Plaza del 2 de Mayo, and any hotels along Calle de Fuencarral. Some other streets, like Calle del Pez and Calle del Barco also have their rowdier spots, so do a little research before you book. The streets are generally quieter along the barrio's western edge, closer to the Noviciado Metro station. Things get decidedly more congested the closer you are to Gran Via, but travelers wanting to be in the thick of the action should look around Malasaña's southern edge. Hotels range from trendy boutique properties to more upscale offerings. Check out quirkier spots like Hotel Abalu Madrid Centro for something with personality (and nighttime quiet), or the sharp apartments at Splendom Suites Gran Via to be closer to all of the buzz.

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