Madrid Barrio Guide

One of my favorite things about the city of Madrid is how very distinct each neighborhood or ‘barrio’ is. You can walk between the neighborhoods in the center or take the metro. For me, living in Malasaña, it would´t take more than half an hour to reach most of the places I would go. Remember that many Spanish businesses close each day around 14h-14:30h and open around 17h-18h for siesta. Siesta, my friends, is a blessing and a curse.

The barrios that I have written about so far are as follows…

Atocha

Malasaña

Sol

Embajabores

Chueca

Lavapiés

La Latina

Gran Vía

Embajadores

This barrio is right next to Lavapiés and quite similar in feel.

La Tabacalera:

The main thing I want to say about Embajadores is that they have a really cool art center called La Tabacalera. It is based in a building that used to be a tobacco factory (thus the name) They have studio space, free classes, and groups in everything from tango, to carpentry, to acrobatics. I recently went to see a friend’s choir performance there and happened upon a full size wrestling ring in which an extravagant choreographed version of a Mexican Lucha Libre fight was taking place! They also have art and “Hecho de Mano´´ sales fairly often.
La Tabacalera, Calle de Embajadores, 51, 28012

Lavapiés

This is easily one of my favorite barrios in Madrid, and is the first place I stayed while couchsurfing. It has a high immigrant population, and a hippy artsy feel. This is the neighborhood to go out for Indian or Senegalese food. There are many places and most all of them are delicious, but here are some of my personal favorites.

Indian food:
Calcutta, C/ Lavapiés, 48, 28012
Shapla 2, C/ Lavapiés, 42, 28012

Senegalise food:
Bar Colores, C/ Mesón de Paredes, 43 28012
Baobab, C/ de los Cabestreros, 1, 28012

Cafes: (these both happen to be adorable bookstores and have wifi as well; a very common kind of cafe in Madrid)
La Libre, C/ Argumosa, 39, 28012
La Fugitiva, C/ Santa Isabel, 7, 28012

Tapas/Bars:
I recommend all of Calle Argumosa for tapas and drinks in Lavapiés. There are many cute places to go for a tinto de verano or vermut de grifo.
Bar Automatico, C/ Argumosa, 17, 28012
Casa de Asutias (ask for una botella de sidra to share!) C/ Argumosa, 17, 28012

Mercado San Fernando, C/ Embajadores, 41, 28012 :
Visiting this market is a true Spanish experience. It is a building full of shops and stands selling traditional artisan goods such as olives, pimentón dulce, jamón ibérico,and orujo. There is a good quality and affordable wine shop that will refill your wine bottles when you bring them back. There are also food stands. I highly recommend the Greek food stand near the back of the mercado. On Sundays there are usually people dancing in the little plaza within the mercado; one week I saw polka and another some sort of Americana folk dance thing. On Sundays there are lots of locals having tapas, drinking beers, and having a nice time.

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Little terraza inside El Horno

Exercise/Dance Classes/Yoga:
Centro El Horno, Calle de la Esgrima, 11, 28012
I was a dedicated student at El Horno, a wonderful dance center near the metro Tirso de Molina, where I religiously took zumba class each week from Richard Quintana, and had just discovered the amazing Bollywood class taught by Ender Bonilla when I moved out of the city. I recommend getting an abono membership. There are many class options in this apartment complex converted into a dance center. These range from ballet to capoeira to pole dance to yoga to spin classes, and the basement is a complete gym.

Getting a phone in Madrid

Phone:
I got a Spanish SIM card though a company called Orange, and got a plan called La Ballena (the whale) which got me some internet and some phone calls/SMS. I hear Yoigo is a pretty good company as well.

Whatever you do, don’t use Vodafone. In addition to my own bad experience with the company, I have heard an endless amount of horror stories about them I will not waste your time with.
Some phone companies will want to have your foreigner’s card number (NIE, or numero de identidad de extranjer@) which you may have gotten on your temporary visa in your passport, but you also may have to wait to acquire. It’s fairly random who has theirs stamped in their passport or not. Luckily if you don’t have your NIE, some of the company branches won’t care, and will let you use your passport number. It’s a toss up to figure out who will and won’t, and you will soon learn that this sort of attitude is fairly common in Spain, and that the same thing will happen if you attempt to open a bank account (this is a prime example of when the Auxiliar page on Facebook comes in handy for questions on specific phone and bank branches).