Lavapies is the colourful neighbourhood that is also the multicultural heart of Spain’s capital.

As a city, Madrid doesn’t really have the star power that Barcelona has in terms of iconic architecture or the benefits of being right by the sea. It also doesn’t have the rich history of other Spanish cities like nearby Toledo or Granada in Andalucia. It does, however, boast some incredible cultural institutions such as the Reina Sofia Museum, the Prado and the Thyssen. Of course, it’s also home to several palaces including the Royal Palace. But what makes Madrid a real pleasure to visit is the feeling you get that people truly love living here.

This may well be down to Madrid’s vast array of restaurants, cafes and bars. And there are plenty of squares, rooftops and green spaces that are wonderful for hanging out in with friends as well.

So where to start enjoying Madrid as the locals would do? I’d head to Lavapies.

Welcome to Lavapies

Tabacalera in Lavapies, Madrid | Travel Blog | DriveSpain

Mural at Tabacalera, a public arts and cultural space in Lavapies | Image: Marta Nimeva Nimeviene/Flickr (cropped)

Located south of the city centre and a short walk west of the Reina Sofia Museum, Lavapies is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Madrid. The area has never been an affluent one and it has a history of being more radical than other neighbourhoods since the population’s anti-Franco days.

Today, Lavapies is home to a higher level of immigrants than anywhere else in the city. Indeed, the neighbourhood is commonly referred to as the heart of multicultural Madrid. This is evident in the restaurants, cafés and shops that line its colourful streets.

A history of low rents has also attracted many artists to the area and as a result, Lavapies has some fantastic art spaces. For instance, La Tabacalera near Embajadores is a former tobacco factory that has been turned into a public arts and culture space. Such is its importance, it’s been given ‘Heritage of Cultural Interest’ status by the government. And fans of interesting street art would have a field day with their cameras wandering its streets too.

Colourful streets, vibrant bars and diverse cuisine

Lavapies, Madrid | Travel Blog | DriveSpain

Corralas on Calle Tribulete. As well as a colourful seating area under the shade, the courtyard in front often has outdoor performances. It’s also just a nice square to sit in and people watch too.

One of the oldest buildings in Lavapies is the remains of Escuelas Pías. Built in the 18th century, it’s a beautiful building that now houses a library. La Casa Encendida is another historic building in the neighbourhood. Built in the early 19th century, it’s become a popular public arts and cultural space like Tabacalera. La Casa Encendida also has a great rooftop cafe, which is worth a visit. But perhaps the most notable architectural feature of Lavapies is that it features more traditional Madrid apartment blocks called corralas than anywhere else in the city. Corralas are apartment blocks where the apartments are connected by a central patio, which serves as a social hub for residents.

As well as some fantastic public spaces, Lavapies also has a thriving bar scene. Just take a walk down Calle Argumosa in the evenings or weekends for a taster. And like all great cities with the benefit of a diverse population, the area is also full of great restaurants from around the world. You’ll find South Asian restaurants lining the streets of Calle Lavapies and Calle Ave Maria amidst a traditional tapas bars. Other cuisine you’ll find includes Chinese (including a Chinese buns place), Japanese, Moroccan and the fantastic Baobab, which serves Senegalese food in big portions.

More snapshots from Lavapies

Lavapies, Madrid | Travel Blog | DriveSpain

Hilly street in Lavapies

Escuelas Pias in Lavapies, Madrid | Travel Blog | DriveSpain

The ruins of Escuelas Pías in Lavapies

Mural in Lavapies, Madrid | Travel Blog | DriveSpain

Mural in Lavapies

Lavapies, Madrid | Travel Blog | DriveSpain

Leather handbags from North Africa in Bazar El Menara, Lavapies

Lavapies, Madrid | Travel Blog | DriveSpain

Indian restaurants on Calle de Lavapies

Going beyond Madrid with a Madrid car hire

If you’re planning to explore with a car hire, here’s our guides to collecting and returning a car hire from Madrid Airport: