Guys, I’ve been there… cringed as I typed “Hipster + my city of choice” into Google in an ashamed effort to find something to do in my next destination that won’t also include 100 other tourists. Truthfully, some of my best travel experiences have been ones I jotted down from those aforementioned Google searches. Sometimes you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do. So, here goes… a weekend guide in Madrid for the (poor) hipster.
The New York Times does this pretty cool series called “36 Hours in…” and outlines an interesting weekend guide for a bunch of different cities. It’s a neat idea – if you’re a 40-something with cash to spare – unfortunately, that is definitely not me. I’m a 24-year-old recent college grad who upped and moved to Spain to teach English to teenage delinquents (not literally delinquents, but I’m telling you, they may as well be). Lucky for you though, this means I’ve had to get creative with my free time, and I can now present to you some of the coolest, thriftiest things you can do on a weekend trip to Madrid! I’ve fallen in love with this city and couldn’t imagine writing only one article about it, so I’ve chosen to focus on two-ish neighbourhoods for this article that you are going to fall in love with too.
Firstly, we have Lavapies. It’s trendy, it’s bohemian, it’s gritty, its got some of the best street art in the city, and its food choices are out of this world. Years ago, this was one of the “sketchier” barrios (neighbourhoods) in Madrid, but today it’s totally transformed, while still retaining its beatnik-like charms.
We’ll start our day at Cafelito, a cozy cafe in the heart of Lavapies. Be prepared to enjoy some of the best carrot cake of your lives as you sit among mismatched chairs and a sputtering cappuccino maker. You’ll be among artists, poets, and students, and the smattering of languages throughout the cafe could be likened to the lobby of a hostel. It’s a cool place. So sip a coffee and nibble on some cake before moseying over to La Tabacalera.
La Tabacalera Arts Centre
When I first moved to Madrid, I’d heard that despite the economic crisis, Madrilenos still sought out culture and the arts, making them a priority, and therefore fighting for their continued existence. As a result, various self-managed centres have crept up – my favourite being La Tabacalera. Translating to The Tobacco Company, this old tobacco factory turned arts centre is incredible. It’s free to enter, and exhibitions change every couple of months, with a mix of local and international artists. The only downside for any non-Spanish speaking individuals is that the exhibition descriptions are rarely in English (it’s never stopped me from enjoying the art though; you just have to get a little creative with your interpretations).
The walls surrounding La Tabacalera are almost cooler than the place itself. Street artists have made their mark on panels around the building, and these guys have some serious talent. Once a year the neighbourhood hosts an event called C.A.L.L.E (Spanish for street), an acronym that roughly translates to Convocation of Emergent Artists, where artists are invited to “perform” their artistic creations live and create art on the walls, shop windows, and other outdoor spaces. I’d dedicate an hour or two to exploring La Tabacalera and its surrounding neighbourhood before grabbing a bite to eat at any of the many diverse restaurants on Calle de Argumosa, a street filled with food choices.
La Casa Encendida Social and Cultural Centre
Next on the Lavapies List is La Casa Encendida (The House Lit). Think art gallery meets concert hall, meets movie theatre meets school meets cafe. This place is the bee’s knees. And guess what, it’s also free (sometimes performances, classes, and screening cost extra, but it’s free to enter and view the exhibitions, hit up the cafe, etc.) They call themselves a dynamic cultural and social centre, and it’s just that. Take your time to explore the numerous floors and exhibitions that they have to offer.
Neighbourhood: La Latina
At this point, it’s probably early afternoon. We’re heading to La Latina – queen of the caña (little beer), tapas, some of the city’s best terraces, and the some of the best people watching to go hand in hand with those amazing terraces. Coming from Canada, Land of the 8 Dollar Beer, I love going out for an afternoon of drinks in Madrid and coming home with actual money still in my pocket. The caña may just be my favourite Spanish invention; it’s the smallest beer a bar usually sells, a bit smaller than half a pint, and perfect for how Spaniards like to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon – bar hopping. If I haven’t sold you yet, don’t forget, it’s Spain, and here you almost always get a free tapa to go along with your drink.
We’re starting our Sunday back in La Latina again – because of patata de tortilla, El Viajero, La Cabra en el Tejado, Mercado de Cebada, and El Rastro.
El to the Rastro – guys, this place. It’s every flea market loving, smelly book sniffing, bargain hunting human’s idea of heaven. El Rastro is Madrid’s biggest market. It happens every Sunday from around 10-2, and the neighbourhood buzzes for its entirety. Stroll the many winding streets of La Latina and listen to locals bartering over antique typewriters, football cards, and rusted keys.
Best Eats in La Latina
When hunger hits, you have a plethora of options. Here are just a couple. La Cabra en el Tejado (The Goat on the Roof) is my favourite low-key bar in La Latina. Its walls are always displaying a new local artist’s work, they have my favourite Portuguese beer for 1 euro a bottle, and their cheese and hummus/tzatziki/pita platters are cheap and absolutely delish.
Then there’s Juana la Loca – significantly more glamorous than La Cabra – but also more expensive. It’s worth it though because it’s allegedly home to the best tortilla de patata in Madrid. It was pretty darn fantastic. Tortilla de patata is one of Spain’s signature dishes – a kind of quiche, scalloped potato hybrid. That’s not a great description, but it’s my favourite Spanish specialty, and the one they make at Juana la Loca is magnificent – firm but oozy in all the right places. Food porn at it’s finest.
Lastly, if you’re in Madrid during the summer and you want to check out one of the best terraces in the city, waltz over to El Viajero – The Traveler. Three floors of flirty, tipsy Spaniards enjoying tinto de veranos (red wine and sprite) and cervezas (beer). From the rooftop terrace, you have a stellar view of the gorgeous Cathedral of Almudena, another must see in La Latina.
So, there you have it – a weekend in Madrid. I don’t know if you’ve realized yet that most of my go tos are related to either contemporary art or food. It’s been made clear to me over the years that most of my days and travels are oriented around food. Where should I eat next, what should I eat next? How many hours until it’s socially acceptable for me to eat another meal? Stay tuned for more articles about the best cafes, bars, and restaurants in Marvellous Madrid.