Barrios de Madrid: Malasaña, a Street Art Lover’s Dream

Perhaps it was this neighborhood that inspired the idea behind my Barrios de Madrid blog series.  The streets here are a photographer’s dream, filled with color, texture, street art, and architecture. And with no shortage of cafés, bars, shops, and restaurants, it is impossible to be bored in this neighborhood.  With great pleasure, I present Malasaña, where wandering around with my camera is one of my greatest joys in life.  (And that will soon be evident thanks to the number of photos in this edition.) 

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Filled with color, beautiful architecture, and plenty of local favorites, Malasaña is a photographer’s dream

Welcome to Malasaña, the epicenter of Madrid’s bohemian community, perhaps speaking to its rebellious past.  In this part of the city, one of the most famous revolts was carried out against the French (who were occupying Madrid at the time), triggering the Peninsular War.  The neighborhood itself is named Manuela Malasaña, a young seamstress who lived in the area (called Maravillas at the time). There are a few stories about her life and death, but my favorite version is that she was arrested when she defended herself with a pair of scissors after a few French soldiers tried to sexually assault her.  A neighborhood named after a badass woman?  Yes, please!  Nearly 200 years later, after the death of Franco, Malasaña became a hotspot for Spain’s creatives, who were able to enjoy artistic freedom after the dictatorship.  The past plays an important role in modern Malasaña, filled with artists, feminists, and yes, hipsters.  And this area also has a young, intellectual vibe thanks to the nearby universities.

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Malasaña mornings.  When the streets are so empty, the gates of the shops are still down, and there is street art is literally everywhere.

Be sure to start your day in Malasaña early.  This is because when the shops are still closed, the gates, which are filled with colorful street art, are still visible. And the morning light and empty streets make for great Malasaña photographs. There are four convenient Metro stations: BilbaoTribunal, Noviciado, and San Bernardo, which means that this neighborhood very easy to access from anywhere in Madrid.  Your first stop should be Toma Café.  While their coffee is good, the real menu highlights are some of the creative toasts on delicious sourdough bread. My personal favorite is the mantequilla, ajo negro, y limón quemado (butter, black garlic, and burnt lemon), but it is always a hard choice as there are several delicious options.

After the caffeine kicks in, the real fun begins, exploring Malasaña’s colorful streets.  One of my favorite storefronts in the world is a very famous (and very photographed) old pharmacy.  The Farmacia itself is now occupied by a café, but thankfully they kept the original facade.  One of the apartments above the farmacia was home to writer Rosa Chacel. This is where she wrote Barrio de Maravillas, which is set in the neighborhood. From the farmacia, simply stroll down the narrow streets, abundant with beautiful architecture and street art and have a look around.

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The famous (former) Farmacia on the corner of Calle de San Andrés and Calle San Vicente Ferrer.  
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Malasaña is ripe with art, both intentional and unintentional

Malasaña has some of Madrid’s most unique shops.  Black cat themed Libros Para un Mundo Mejor (books for a better world) is worth checking out.  Aside from books, they sell unique gifts, many of them cat-themed.  Preta, the resident cat keeps a watchful eye on the shop.  If books accompanied by wine sound like a winning combination, head over to Tipos Infames, where you can enjoy a glass (or bottle) of wine while you catch up on your reading.  There are several little trinket shops hidden in Malasaña’s little streets. If you really like Malasaña and want to buy neighborhood paraphernalia, stop by Barrio Malasaña with their creative selection of Malasaña branded trinkets. These make for much better Msouvenirsviners than the tourist crap for sale all over the areas around Puerta del Sol.

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Preta, the boss at Libros Para un Mundo Mejor, keeps a watchful eye on the shop
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Street art detail, Malasaña

Ready for an afternoon drink or snack? In Malasaña you can have a caña (small beer) or two in the very spot that the troops from Madrid rebelled against Napoleon’s invading French army.  Plaza dos De Mayo, the scene of a bloody battle on 2 May 1808, is now surrounded by cafés with outdoor terraces. There’s no longer blood on the ground, but there is a monument honoring Daoiz and Velarde, two Spanish heroes of the day, to commemorate the uprising. If you want even more history, the (free!) Museo de la Historia de Madrid, is right near Malasaña directly on the other side of Calle de Fuencarral.  This museum houses a myriad of paintings, artifacts, and maps of Madrid’s past.

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No blood in the square these days, Plaza Dos de Mayo was the scene of a famous uprising against Napoleon’s invading French troops
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Today Plaza Dos do Mayo is lined with outdoor terraces, the perfect place to have a caña on a sunny day

Not surprisingly, Malasaña is home to some of Madrid’s hippest, trendiest restaurants. Ojalá, with outdoor seating in Plaza Juan Pujol, is a favorite for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner.  Make sure to go downstairs to the “beach.” Yes, really there is a beach.  Antigua Huevería right next to the Farmacia offers a vegetarian version of Spain’s famous tortilla.  And the new “plant-based” Pizzi & Dixie is a new local favorite, getting much press in the Madrid food scene.

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Public seating in Plaza Juan Pujol

Thanks to the youthful spirit from the nearby universities, Malasaña is the perfect spot to experience Madrid’s infamous nightlife.  With heaps of bars, all with their own character, enjoying a drink (or three) in Malasaña is a must.  The best way to approach this is to wander around, find a bar that looks interesting, go in, and order a drink. Café Malabar, at the edge of Plaza Dos de Mayo, is a good place to start.  La Vía Láctea, decorated with music posters from the 80s, is another neighborhood favorite.  Also covered in rock posters is Mala Fe Rock Bar, a true rock and roll bar.  Their drinks are a good value, too!  For something a little more traditional, Bar Sidi is a good bet.  And finally, Tupper Ware Club, filled with kitschy decor, is a Malasaña classic.

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Bar Sidi amd Sesame Street-esq street details

If a rebellious spirit, street art, and trendy drinking and dining options are to your liking, make sure to add Malasaña to your Madrid itinerary.  Planning a trip to Spain?  Let me know.  With gobs of tips and recommendations for cities and towns on and off the beaten path all over the country,  I can help ensure that you make the most of your precious time in España.

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Windows and balconies of Malasaña

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In Malasaña look up, down, left, and right.  There is always something interesting to be found hidden in the details.