If you visit the center of Madrid you have a neighborhood that you must visit, Lavapiés. Actually, it is not an official neighborhood per se, but rather an area of the Barrio de Embajadores that is located to the south of the Central District and whose visit you can combine perfectly with a walk through the neighboring Barrio de La Latina.
The Lavapiés neighborhood is one of the oldest in Madrid and according to tradition, its name is due to a fountain that was in the heart of the neighborhood where its neighbors washed their feet. We don’t know if it was true but that source appears on the plaques that tell you that you are on Calle Lavapiés.
Nowadays, Lavapiés is a multicultural neighborhood where almost a hundred nationalities live together, living in total harmony (although there are people who believe that it is a dangerous neighborhood), something that you will see when you see its shops, its restaurants and the atmosphere that is lived on the streets.
A walk through Lavapies
Embajadores Street and its surroundings
We are going to start our walk through Lavapiés at the famous Glorieta de Embajadores that serves as the border between the districts of Centro and Arganzuela. Already in this square we can get an idea of the type of urban and alternative art that we are going to find on our tour since there is the old Tobacco Factory, an industrial building from the 18th century, current headquarters of a cultural space called the Tabacalera where you can visit curious exhibitions.
Going up the Calle Embajadores, a very traditional street, we will find important points of interest such as the Casino de la Reina, the San Fernando Market, the Church of San Cayetano or the Pavón Theatre, just before reaching the Plaza de Cascorro, known for its great atmosphere and for El Rastro that settles in its surroundings every Sunday.
From there we can begin to walk through the narrow alleys admiring its characteristic buildings until we first reach Nelson Mandela Square, where the old Cabestreros Fountain was located, and then to Arturo Barea Square, walking along Mesón de Paredes street.
From the Plaza de Arturo Barea to the Plaza de Lavapiés
The Plaza de Arturo Barea is one of the most beautiful squares in the Lavapiés neighborhood. In it we find one of the most important monuments in the neighborhood, the Escuelas Pías de San Fernando, an apparently ruined building that has recently been rehabilitated and houses one of the UNED headquarters in Madrid.
Arturo Barea, the writer who gives his name to the square, studied at the Escuelas Pías, where there is also a statue of Agustín Lara, Mexican composer and singer, author of the famous chotis «Madrid». Yes, the one that begins “When you get to Madrid, my slut, I’m going to make you Empress of Lavapiés…”.
From there we can already admire one of the most interesting points of interest in Lavapiés, the Corrala de Sombrerete, located between Sombrerete and Tribulete Streets and whose patio overlooks Mesón de Paredes Street. It is a sample of the architectural style of the houses in the neighborhood, with a very unique aesthetic. The fact that the courtyard is open and can be admired from the street gives it a special value as it allows us to discover what the typical corralas are like, whose balconies overlook an interior courtyard, without having to enter any of them.
Our tour continues along Sombrerete Street, one of the most historic streets in Lavapiés, a neighborhood where each street hides a story or legend. All of them will be able to tell you if you do this Free Tour through Lavapiés and La Latina, one of the most curious in Madrid.
Finally we arrive at the heart of the neighborhood, the Plaza de Lavapiés, a triangular square where you will always find a great atmosphere and where the Valle-Inclán Theater is located, as well as numerous shops, bars and restaurants.
Argumosa and Santa Isabel Streets
Numerous streets branch out from Plaza de Lavapiés where you will find, in addition to small, very curious neighborhood theatres, many restaurants with typical food from the dozens of nationalities that inhabit the neighbourhood. It is a way of gastronomically traveling around the planet without leaving a neighborhood.
But the street we are going to take is Calle Argumosa, perhaps the most commercial in Lavapiés and which also has a great atmosphere due to its bars and terraces. In the streets parallel to Argumosa, where the Fiestas de San Lorenzo are held every summer, we find places as unique as ” This is a Plaza “, a community garden managed by the residents themselves that gives you an idea of the collaborationist lifestyle of the inhabitants of Lavapies.
At the end of the street we come to the Reina Sofía Museum, the greatest cultural exponent of the neighbourhood, next to the Casa Encendida, whose entrance is on the Ronda de Valencia.
From the museum, one of the main ones to visit in Madrid, Calle Santa Isabel starts, where the Royal Monastery of Santa Isabel is located, which gives its name to the tapestry factory represented by Velázquez in his famous painting Las Hilanderas, and also the Fernán Núñez Palace, current headquarters of the Spanish Railways Foundation.
The last stretch to Plaza de Tirso de Molina
Calle Santa Isabel leads to Plaza de Antón Martín, just after leaving aside the Mercado de Antón Martín and the curious Cine Doré, which dates back to 1912, making it the oldest cinema in Madrid and one of the first to be built in Spain. Today, the Cine Doré is the headquarters of the Spanish Film Library and films continue to be shown.
Calle de la Magdalena is the next one you should take, although we also recommend getting lost in the surrounding streets, such as Calle de la Cabeza, before arriving at Plaza de Tirso de Molina, the end point of our tour of the Lavapiés neighborhood.
In the Plaza de Tirso de Molina is the Teatro Nuevo Apolo and very unique buildings, although the highlight of the square are its flower stalls that give it color and a special charm.
The urban art of Lavapiés
Possibly you have already noticed during the tour but just in case we remind you at this time in case you want to go back into the neighborhood and enjoy one of its hallmarks. We are talking about the graffiti (artistic, not vandalism) that adorn numerous facades in the neighborhood.
You will have been able to enjoy the first ones on the outside walls of the Tabacalera, especially the one that overlooks Miguel Servet Street. You will also have seen some facades of Calle Embajadores and also in the basement of Corrala de Sombrerete. But there are also many more that you can discover if you do this Madrid Graffiti Tour, which takes you through all of them.
But as we have already told you before, in Lavapiés there are countless small art halls and theaters, as well as the large museums or theaters already mentioned. An unforgettable walk through one of the most traditional neighborhoods of Madrid where you will also find small centenary shops that will make you want to enter and buy.