A melting pot of cultures and traditions, Lavapiés has never been stripped of its essence
Info and history
Art and culture
Food and drink
Leisure and nightlife
The tourist district of Lavapiés lies in the southeast part of almond-shaped central Madrid. As in the neighbouring Barrio de La Latina, the streets here are steep, narrow and maze-like, which reminds us that the area emerged in the Middle Ages as a quarter outside the walled town soon after Madrid became the capital of the kingdom in 1561.
Since the sixteenth century, Lavapiés has been inhabited by the lower classes. Local residents used to live in apartment blocks, or tenements, called corralas that were arranged around an interior courtyard. You can see a typical example of this type of buildings at the corner of Tribulete and Mesón de Paredes.
Lavapiés is closely linked to the genuine, humorous, snappy character of Madrileños, which is well represented in many of thezarzuelas composed at the turn of the century, like Francisco Asenjo Barbieri’s El barberillo de Lavapiés. Madrid’s popular heritage lives in perfect harmony with the customs and traditions that accompanied immigrants coming from different countries who settled in the area, meeting place of a broad variety of cultures.
In this cultural centre housed in a Neo-Mudéjar building, they run avant-garde performances, exhibitions, courses and workshops aimed at raising awareness of sustainable development, community solidarity, and other relevant social issues.
Madrid’s traditional circus has been relocated in the premises of a former biscuit factory. Developed in 2002, this space holds concerts, exhibitions, workshops and all types of performances and circus shows.
A convent for Augustinian nuns leading cloistered lives and a girls-only school are housed in this seventeenth-century building decorated by Mariano Salvador Maella and Vicente Carducho, among other artists.
One of the landmarks of Lavapiés, it was built in the eighteenth century. Currently it hosts the UNED distance learning university and, on the rooftop, Gau&Café, one of the coolest bars and cafés in Madrid.
Lavapiés has a wide array of shops, mainly small, traditional ones, where you can get products imported to please the tastes of the immigrant populations.
Moreover, in the last decade, this neighbourhood has witnessed an interesting cultural development, attracting a great number of tourists. Around the Reina Sofía Museum (MNCARS)there are countless art galleries. Based on a variety of concepts and ideas, they’ve turned Lavapiés into an emerging focus of contemporary art. One of these galleries, on Calle del Doctor Fourquet, belongs to the renowned art collector Helga de Alvear.
Part of the most welcome cultural drive in the district has to do with bookstore cafés. Many specialise in a single subject or genre: comic books, philosophy, politics, classical literature, etc. What they have in common is that patrons come to read a good book while having a delicious breakfast or tea.
Have you ever bought books by the pound? At the San Fernando Market you definitely can. The place features traditional food stalls too.
The open, multicultural character Lavapiés can boast of makes its food & drink department a well-appointed one. Would you like to savour exotic dishes from around the world? Indian, Chinese, Korean, Lebanese, Moroccan, Sub-Saharan, Latin American and Pakistani restaurants dot the dining scene of Lavapiés, so all you have to do is choose one of the multiple options and... bon appétit!
Eating tapas al fresco is a nice way of keeping your hunger pangs at bay. A tapas tour along the streets and squares of Lavapiés isn’t to be missed. Calle Argumosa is one of the major hubs to go out for tapas, as are Plaza de Lavapiés and the adjacent streets. A few traditional taverns and bodegas are still standing, giving an idea of what life was like in the area 70 years ago.
Finally, in this part of Madrid there are vegetarian restaurants that cater well for vegans, since they omit all animal products and prepare meals with organic ingredients only.
Fun is guaranteed in Lavapiés. You can dance chotis (typical dance from Madrid) on Saint Lawrence’s Day on 10 August near the Parish Church of San Lorenzo or take part in the celebrations of Chinese New Year in late January or early February. The Muslim community has Ramadan and the Festival of the Lamb, while the Indian population here holds the HoliFestival, which marks the coming of spring. All these holidays fill the area with colours, encourage tolerance and promote the integration of Madrileños with different backgrounds.
In the theatrical chapter, Lavapiés has written extensively. There are Teatro Valle Inclán, home of the National Drama Centre, and Teatro Pavón, housed in a beautiful art nouveau building. Also, a handful of theatres putting on alternative performances can be found in the neighbourhood, some of them in quite peculiar locations.
The colourful and vibrant night scene in Lavapiés comes to life in small venues. Rock and indie pop, jazz, reggae and even flamenco are all comprised in the local soundtrack. Live music is available in many of the clubs here.