Quaint vermouth bars with hand-painted signage, iron-balconied apartments painted in shades of sage green and dandelion yellow, world-class museums, charming parks, glass palaces… the reasons to visit Spain’s capital are endless, but where do you go if you’re looking to explore the unobvious?

For those wanting to swerve the tourist hotspots, there are various neighbourhoods to explore that excite and astonish in equal measure. In these pockets of the city, daily Madrileño life unfurls at a slower pace, while nostalgic bodegas and taverns hum with activity. These are the neighbourhoods to head to when craving a more traditional Spanish experience.

1. Almagro

1. Almagro
A look inside the creative digs of Joaquín Sorolla

Filled with discreet restaurants, boutique stores and serene leafy boulevards, the upscale area of Almagro begs to be explored on foot, especially before dusk when the sun’s rays create a hazy, almost magical effect across its wide streets. A short stroll reveals ancient, well-preserved palaces rubbing shoulders with manor houses and some of the most impressive architecture in the city. Hours slip by easily in Almagro, especially when punctuated with stops for specialty coffee and baked goods at Beik Beik or a glass of chilled albariño alongside grilled prawns at local fave, Fide.

Don’t miss: Museo Sorolla
Set back in the surroundings of a wildly elegant garden, complete with pretty fountain, is the home-turned-museum of Joaquín Sorolla. While the space is often frequented by art-loving tourists, it’s also adored by locals, who delight in the whimsical, sun-drenched scenes of the adored Spanish painter. Tickets are available in advance online or at the door (closed Mondays). 


2. Salamanca

2. Salamanca
Casa Dani dishing out its famous tortilla at Mercado de la Paz / Image: Getty Images

This high-end, glamourous shopping district boasts diplomatic mansions, grand, historic houses and some of the city’s most creative hotels. It all adds up to one of Madrid’s most expensive areas, but also one of the safest. As such, this affluent residential pocket showcases high-end city life, providing a notable contrast to hipper areas like Chueca and Lavapiés – which are also worth spending time in, of course.

Don’t miss: Mercado de la Paz
One of Madrid’s oldest markets, this covered enclave naturally draws in some savvy tourists thanks to Casa Dani, an unassuming counter-bar that’s heralded by many as the best place in the city for tortilla. But the market is also one of the main shopping hubs for local Madrileños, too. Boasting a huge range of locally grown produce, butchers, cafes, cheese stalls, wine bars and more, it’s the perfect place to get an overview of day-to-day local life. 


3. Malasaña

3. Malasaña
The domed ceiling at San Antonio de los Alemanes / Image: Hermandad del Refugio de Madrid

Pretty much everyone who visits Madrid will be familiar with Malasaña thanks to its string of chain stores and high-street shops – but head away from the main thoroughfare of Gran Vía and you’ll be greeted by little-known streets and pockets of intrigue. It’s the place to come for buzzy bars, second-hand stores, open-air art installations and a young, cool crowd. Take a leisurely stroll on a late afternoon, followed by a few cool cañas (small measures of cold draught beer) around Calle de Velarde. 

Don’t miss: The Church of San Antonio de los Alemanes
Though it may look underwhelming from the outside, this is one of the most beautiful Baroque churches in Madrid – and quite possibly the whole of Spain. You’ll soon see why when you step inside and gawp at the mind-blowing interior, which is covered in the most exquisite, highly elaborate frescoes dating back to the 17th century. Despite this, it’s still something of a local secret, making it especially worth seeking out.

4. La Latina

4. La Latina
Tortilla with a twist at La Latina’s Pez Tortilla / Image: @peztortilla

You’ll never get historic, lively La Latina all to yourself, since it’s always packed with locals and tourists alike. But if you know where to look it’s easy to find an authentic spot for a long, satisfying lunch. Tiny, peeled prawns fried in olive oil, garlic and parsley (gambas al ajillo), and the chickpea-based stew known as cocido madrileño are the dishes to order when you settle into your chosen lunch locale.

Don’t miss: Pez Tortilla and Casa Revuelta
While Pez Tortilla has become more popular with tourists in recent years, locals still adore its several, low-key branches thanks to innovatively flavoured tortillas and craft beer. Nearby Casa Revuelta is a local institution – try the battered salt cod to find out why.  


5. Casa de Campo

5. Casa de Campo
Back to nature at Casa de Campo / Image: Adobe Stock

It may be home to the largest green space in Madrid, but this nature-filled stretch still has a slightly under-the-radar status when it comes to tourists, who usually head for the perfectly manicured grounds of El Retiro. Popular with runners, families and groups of friends, Casa de Campo has a more rugged feel, but offes a vast boating lake, roaming wild deer and a fragrant pine forest. For a taste of local life away from the crowds, it’s worth devoting a day to exploring this underrated sprawl.

Don’t miss: Centro Deportivo Municipal Casa de Campo
Many Madrid citizens leave the city behind during the hot, hot days of peak summer, but committed locals instead make their way to the outdoor pools at this sports centre to cool off. Sunbathing, picnicking and swimming are all welcomed. Be aware that the pools get busy throughout summer, so it’s best to pre-book a slot online. 


Book flights to Madrid Book holidays to Madrid