With 2 weeks to go until summer’s officially over, many Madrid-bound expats are looking into where they’re going to live for the next year. Whether you’re going to be an exchange student or an English “language assistant”, there are certain things you should know about each of Madrid’s neighbourhoods and districts. While everyone’s experiences differ, here’s a look at 5 of Madrid’s popular areas based on my time in the city.
Disclaimer: this is informative, with my opinions on each area included. This means you could disagree with my thoughts on each district, so don’t take everything I say to be completely true for you!
1. Center (Sol, Gran Via, Malasaña, La Latina, etc):
The center, known informally as Sol (after its main square, “Puerta del Sol”), is the heart of Madrid. It’s where tourists flock to first upon arriving in the city. It’s where friends – usually those unfamiliar with other areas – meet to start their night. It’s where chaos will be your enemy, and you know what they say – keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Some people love the hustle and bustle of Sol. Locals tend to stay away from it, unless they have a specific reason for being there, but it still manages to be consistently busy. There are a few times during the week when it has a serene air to it, but it’s mostly a place you’ll have to be alert in. Lots of expats and tourists claim they’ve had some odd run-ins here – including times when their possessions mysteriously eluded them – although you’ll probably avoid any trouble.
In and around the area, there’s El Corte Ingles – Spain’s biggest department store – where you can shop for clothes or food. It’s on the (very) expensive side, but also convenient. Besides that, though, you won’t find a very large grocery store. This is in part because, well, it’s not exactly the most livable area in Madrid.
The interesting part of the center is that I lived there for approximately 4 months last year. I fled its hectic ways during the winter break, vowing to never live in it again. My stance on it hasn’t changed – my experience in Madrid was very different after I stopped living in Sol, and I mean that in a good way!
The center isn’t only made up of Sol and Gran Via (the shopping area), though. There are some quieter and more old school Spain streets within the general area that are better options for those wishing to live more central. La Latina and Malasaña are popular districts here, although their distinctness means you’ll need to walk around them to see if they’re your style (I like La Latina, but not Malasaña!).
Bonus fact: If you hang out here for too long, people are going to bombard you with invitations to their establishment, and will usually do so in English.
Price (all in euros per month): You can find rooms here from 250 to 550, depending on what you’re looking for. It’s very typical to pay around 350 a month without utilities, although it all depends on where exactly you live, your comfort level, how many roommates you want to live with, etc. It’s all up to you!
You’ll like it if:
– You want to be able to go out until any hour of the day and walk home. Due to Sol’s vast amount of eateries, pubs, so on so fourth, it’s easy to hang out in.
– You like noise.
– You like smaller spaces.
– You like the idea of walking to the metro at 7am and seeing people stumbling around from the night before. Even on a Tuesday (no joke!).
– You plan on staying in Madrid for a year or less, and want an unforgettable experience.
Would I live here?: I’ve already lived in between Sol and Gran Via, and considering I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t thrive in the area! It’s important to assess your goals and expectations before choosing a life in the center, as it definitely isn’t for everyone.
Major metro stations include: Sol, La Latina, Gran Via, Tribunal.
2. Moncloa (Moncloa, Arguelles, Casa de Campo, Ciudad Universitaria, etc):
Ah, Moncloa. I don’t like you – I adore you.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll love the idea of living in a district that gives you New York City vibes while still being Spanish. With that said, Moncloa is a vast district, with each of its neighbourhoods being a little different.
Upon the realization that Sol just wasn’t cutting it for me, I decided to escape to one of Moncloa’s little boroughs. This area doesn’t really have a clear name, but is often referred to as Principe Pio due to its local mall. I lived across that mall, and also Casa de Campo, Madrid’s biggest park. As an outdoorsy girl, this worked well for me. As the kind of person who appreciates the idea of a metro station on steroids, living across from one of Madrid’s best metro/train/bus stations also suited me. While the area isn’t the most sophisticated in Madrid, it’s down to earth, fairly international, and calm. It’s also close enough to the center – a mere 15-20 minute walk, and 1 or 2 metro stops away – while being far enough to escape the traps of Sol life.
Another part of Moncloa that holds a special place in my heart is Arguelles. The best way for me to sum up how much I like it is to say that if I hadn’t lived in Principe Pio, Arguelles would have been my home. It has most of the things you would want from a neighbourhood – shopping, eateries, and interesting architecture. It’s also fairly close to the center of Madrid, and well-connected by buses as well as the metro. One of the things I love most about Arguelles is that although it’s not a touristy part of the city, it’s very international and young. Because of its proximity to a university, a lot of students choose to live around here – particularly the foreign ones. Although I enjoyed living in the Principe Pio part of Moncloa, there wasn’t as much vibrancy.
Then, there’s the Moncloa neighbourhood itself, which also has many students, great eateries, and an especially obvious New York City feel to it. My favourite pizza place in Madrid – called En Guay Si – happens to be in the area, with its name being an obvious reference to NYC.
Bonus fact: Atletico Madrid’s stadium is close to the Principe Pio area – it’s a 15-20 minute walk away.
Price: Rooms here usually range from 300-500, although they can be more or less depending on a variety of things. However, I’d say the average rent for a nice room would be 350-400.
You’ll like it if:
– You want to be in a more livable area.
– You like the idea of living near students.
– You want an international feel, without forgetting that you’re in Spain.
– You like good – but also cheap – food.
– You want medium-sized streets.
– You don’t want to look like a tourist.
Would I live here?: Yes, yes, yes. Did I say yes? This is currently my favourite part of Madrid!
Major metro stations include: Arguelles, Moncloa, Principe Pio, Ciudad Universitaria.
Although not its own “district”, Chueca is a very well-known and very different part of Madrid that deserves its own post. It’s not my favourite part of the city, but it’s hard to compare it to any of the others. Chueca is vibrant, young, friendly, and a great place to get a unique experience.
It’s also known for its sizable gay community, unofficially deeming it the “gay neighbourhood” of the city. For this reason, it’s where any gay pride march happens in Madrid, often making it famous for its tolerance in a country that isn’t necessarily very open about its LGBT members.
While I didn’t spend much time in Chueca this past year, I did like it every time I entered its premises. There are several great eateries and places to meet friends, including one very famous market. The Mercado San Anton is a three-story market that offers wonderful food representing cuisines from all over the world. It’s a bit pricey, but that reflects Chueca’s general expensive feel. With that said, it’s a great area, and very close to Gran Via.
Bonus fact: Chueca has great yoga. Seriously.
Price: The same as Moncloa.
You’ll like it is:
– You want to be in a more liberal part of Madrid.
– You like to have a laid back night out that also makes you feel super cool.
– You want more alternative options.
– You want something close to the heart of Madrid while being able to maintain a slight distance.
– You don’t mind smaller streets.
Would I live here?: Probably not, but only because it’s too central and too small for me. As much as I like how compact Madrid is compared to North American cities, I do like the wider streets found in Moncloa, Salamanca, etc.
Major metro stations include: Chueca.
4. Salamanca (Recoletos, Goya, Lista, Castellana, etc):
To sum up Salamanca in one word: classy.
This district is also rather large, with some of its inner neighbourhoods not as nice as the others. However, generally speaking, it’s a nice part of Madrid. It’s where Madrid’s most expensive shopping can be found (on Calle Serrano), where the North American (U.S. and Canada) embassies are, and where a lot of Madrid’s older and well-off families live. The only downside to all of this is that Salamanca can sometimes be a little too expensive for the more frugal-minded, with there not being as much opportunity to negotiate prices. There are also fewer metros in this area, so make sure you choose a place near a station!
One of this district’s most popular neighbourhoods is Goya. Goya is conveniently located near great shopping, a major sports complex, and the Retiro neighbourhood of Madrid. It also happens to be the part of Salamanca I nearly moved to!
Bonus fact: Xabi Alonso lives here. Yes, this gives you permission to stalk freely.
Price: Finding a room for less than 400 can be a challenge. Some of the less prestigious parts of Salamanca fall in the 300-400 range, but again, they aren’t as commonly found as they are in other parts of Madrid. If you’re willing to pay a little more (400-500, at the very least), you’ll have better luck.
You’ll like it if:
– You like calmer areas.
– You like window shopping.
– You want an “upper class” Madrid experience.
– You don’t mind being far away from the (inexpensive) hang outs.
– You’re classy, refined, and a little bit pretentious.
Would I live here?: Sigh. One day, I hope to.
Major metro stations include: Goya, Núñez de Balboa, Doctor Esquerdo.
5. Bernabeu (Around the Santiago Bernabeu):
I know, I know – it’s not a district, nor a neighbourhood. Not officially. However, for a lot of soccer/football fanatics, it’s an area of significance.
If you’re about to make the move to Madrid and happen to enjoy the beautiful game, you’ve probably google’d everything you can about the stadium – its whereabouts, whether it’s possible to live near it, or (if you’re like me) how to stay away from it.
The truth is, the stadium is one of the best parts of Madrid. As much as I – a Manchester United fan – don’t like to admit it, it’s worth a visit. However, to live near it will usually require paying a little more for less than you’d get in other parts of the city. It’s not where the more affordable places stand out, as the stadium is located in the business district. Some people do, obviously, live near it, but they usually pay a lot more because of work convenience.
Before I crush your dreams, though, hear me out: you can afford it, if you want to. It’s not impossible to find a room here, although you’ll be shortchanged. The area itself isn’t lively at all – as I said, it’s the business district, where people go to work, not play – and doesn’t offer much for the more outgoing types. The good thing is, if you’re a big fan of the team, you can live anywhere near line 10 and take one metro line up to see Real Madrid in the flesh. That is also a possible downside to living near here – any time there’s a game, your metro ride home will be hell.
So, look into it if your heart is set on it, but don’t be disappointed if you end up somewhere else!
Bonus fact: The stadium’s close to Nuevos Ministerios, one of Madrid’s biggest metro/train/bus stations that is also a shopping center (of sorts).
Price: Around 350 and up.
You’ll like it if:
– You love Real Madrid.
– You don’t mind living somewhere meant for business and football tourists.
– You like a challenge.
Would I live here?: No.
Major metro stations include: Santiago Bernabeu.
Wherever you choose to live, there’s no doubting the potential of your surroundings. Madrid is one of those unusually awesome places where you can have a positive experience just about anywhere. Best of luck in your search!
Do you have a favourite part of the city? Do you disagree with anything I’ve said? Are you moving to Madrid this year and have any questions? Feel free to ask me anything!