De Madrid al cielo, meaning "from Madrid to heaven," is a popular local expression that aptly describes the Spanish capital. With historic landmarks, an array of culinary choices, charming plazas and world-famous nightlife, there’s a little piece of heaven awaiting every traveler.

Take some time to explore Madrid’s sunlit barrios (neighborhoods), which are pockets of vibrant Spanish life that each have a distinct character. Here are the top neighborhoods to visit on your trip to Madrid.

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People in Plaza de la Puerta del Sol, Madrid
The neighborhood of Sol lies at the heart of Madrid © Dominic Dähncke / Getty Images

Sol (Centro)

Best neighborhood for sightseeing

No visit to Madrid is complete without seeing its main square, the Plaza de la Puerta del Sol or simply Sol. The symbolic center of Spain and its main crossroads, Sol is the bustling, wide-open plaza of Madrid that has been the city’s main social hub since the 19th century. Some of Madrid’s iconic landmarks are in this public square, such as the equestrian statue of King Charles III, the Bear and Strawberry Tree sculpture that represents the Madrid coat of arms and the Casa de Correos (post office) that's crowned by the city’s most famous clock that counts down to midnight every New Year’s Eve as revelers eat the traditional 12 grapes along with it. Ten streets radiate from Sol, so you can easily venture out to many of Madrid’s most famous landmarks nearby, such as the main boulevard of Gran ViaPlaza MayorPalacio Real and Mercado de San Miguel

If your time is limited and you need to pack your Madrid sightseeing into a day and don’t mind the overpriced tourist rates, then staying in Sol is a strategic decision. This is also where the first line of the Madrid Metro was built, providing you easy access to elsewhere in the city.

When to go to Madrid

Street scene in the Malasaña district of Madrid, Spain
Madrid's Malasaña neighborhood is known for its counterculture scene © JJFarq / Shutterstock


Best neighborhood for nightlife

Colorful, offbeat, and graffiti-covered Malasaña was once the beating heart of Madrid’s counterculture and artistic movement in the 1980s at the end of the Franco dictatorship. That rebellious energy lingers on to this day in Malasaña's labyrinthine streets, which by day are dotted with funky cafes, restaurants and vintage shops. By night, its myriad bars and clubs open their doors, spin vinyl and transform Malasaña into a big street party that usually lasts until the early morning hours. A good place where you can soak up the sun and mix with friendly locals in outdoor terraces is the Plaza Dos de Mayo, Malasaña's central square, which commemorates the uprising of the people of Madrid against Napoleon’s occupying forces.

Exploring Madrid’s barrios: a day in hip Malasaña

Introducing Madrid


Best neighborhood for luxury

Home to the city’s well-heeled crowd, Salamanca is Madrid’s wealthiest and most glamorous neighborhood. Distinguished by grid-like streets, upscale boutiques and exquisite residential facades, it was designed in the late 19th century to be the exclusive enclave of Spanish aristocracy. Today, this district is a haven for luxury shopping aficionados thanks to the Golden Mile, a network of streets that boast the world’s most prestigious designer fashion houses. In between shopping, you can dine and sip rioja among the chic set in polished outdoor terraces and stylish restaurants.

How to live like a local in Madrid

Visitors walking on a street in Madrid's Chueca neighborhood, which is decorated for the Gay Pride day celebration
Chueca is the main neighborhood in Madrid for LGBTQI+ accommodations and nightlife © Victor Lafuente Alonso / Getty Images


Best neighborhood for LGBTQI+ visitors

Out-and-proud Chueca is Madrid’s rainbow flag-draped neighborhood that never sleeps. This is the central playground of the city’s world-famous Día del Orgullo de Gays, the gay pride festival that kicks off the summer season every year. LGBTQI-friendly accommodations and stylish boutique hotels abound in this area, such as the kitschy Room Mate Oscar, known for its rooftop terrace that offers panoramic views of Madrid. At any time of the day, Plaza de Chueca is a great place to lounge and people watch in its many outdoor terraces and cafes.

15 free things to do in Madrid

Tourists visit the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía art museum in Madrid
Take in art and culture in the Madrid neighborhood of Lavapiés © pedrosala / Shutterstock


Best neighborhood for culture

Thanks to the crucible of cultures living here, Madrid’s own little global village of Lavapiés offers the most multicultural food choices. Its streets are lined with restaurants, cafes and teahouses offering authentic, affordable fare from South Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

For art aficionados, this neighborhood is your spot. Lavapiés emanates art in all forms, from vibrant street art and pocket art galleries to live music and spontaneous street dancing, all of which reflect the colorful cultures of the neighborhood’s residents. La Tabacalera is a refurbished tobacco factory turned cultural center that regularly hosts concerts, exhibitions, art activities and film festivals. The Centro de Arte Reina Sofía exhibits some of the greatest masterpieces of contemporary Spanish artists from the 20th century, including Pablo Picasso’s iconic Guernica.

Tapas in Madrid
Enjoy a tapas crawl through Madrid's La Latina neighborhood © Mark Read / Lonely Planet

La Latina

Best neighborhood for tapas

Pieces of the city’s medieval past can still be seen in La Latina, the oldest quarter of Madrid, which to this day has maintained its many wide open public squares and narrow cobblestone streets. Crowning this historic neighborhood is the dome of the Basílica de San Francisco El Grande, which is home to priceless Spanish paintings, including Goya's St. Bernardino of Siena Preaching to Alfonso V of Aragon. Every Sunday morning, this historic quarter still puts on a 400-year-old flea market, El Rastro, which peddles every curiosity under the bright Spanish sun. Hand in hand with this tradition is the requisite Sunday tapas-and-drinks crawl along the surrounding streets, particularly the popular Cava Baja, which features some of Madrid’s oldest restaurants and watering holes, such as the Posada de la Villa, formerly Madrid’s main flour mill that dates back to 1642.

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