The Castizo Quarter (La Latina & Lavapiés)
Start: Plaza General Vara del Rey.
Finish: Calle Mesón de Paredes.
Time: 2 hours (at a slow pace).
Best Times: Any day.
Worst Times: No particularly bad time, as rush-hour traffic doesn't affect much of this route.
This short leisurely tour takes you across one of Madrid's oldest quarters: a warrenlike network of narrow lanes and medieval buildings that still represents the Castizo (traditional) heart of Madrid while attracting, in recent years, a genuine ethnic mix, with new resident nationalities ranging from Chinese and North African to Indian and Turkish.
1. Plaza Vara del Rey
We start our walk just west of El Rastro at this small intimate square named after a Spanish commander who died during the 1898 war with Cuba. The adjoining Museo de Artes Populares has examples of local arts and crafts.
Continue west to Calle Toledo and then south to the:
2. Puerta de Toledo
Originally planned to celebrate France's victory over Spain in 1808, this prominent archway at the end of Calle Toledo took 6 years to build and eventually served to commemorate the reverse: the expulsion of the French from Spain.
Turn east now through the Plaza Campillo Mundo Nuevo past the Ministerio de la Economía building and along the Ronda de Toledo to:
3. Glorieta de Embajadores
Together with Puerta de Toledo, this great roundabout forms the southern fringe of the Embajadores district, where many ambassadors moved in the 15th century when a plague was spreading through Madrid. Close by is the restored 18th-century Fábrica de Tabaco (Tobacco Factory).
Continue west along Calle Embajadores, and then turn right into Calle de Tribulete arriving at:
4. La Corrala
Here, in a well-preserved example of the area's once widespread typical 16th-century architecture, is a building of windowless adjoining apartments, known as corralas, whose long continuous balconies overlook an open communal courtyard or well. This is one of the few such buildings that remain in Madrid. People still live in the apartments -- some units as small as 26 sq. m (279 sq. ft.).
Westward along narrow Calle de Tribulete we come now to:
5. Plaza de Lavapiés
Named after a fountain that once adorned it, Lavapiés square is the focal point of this colorful barrio, medieval in character and multiethnic in atmosphere today. Arabic, Indian, Chinese, and Turkish shops and eating spots abound. Narrow lanes radiate upward and outward from it as they've done for centuries, but there's no trace of the fountain that gave it its name. (Lavapiés means, literally, "wash feet.")
From the square, take a southeasterly turn into:
6. Calle Argumosa
Known locally as the "promenade of Lavapiés," this wide, lively street leading east to the Ronda de Atocha is virtually one long row of cafes and bars with outdoor terraces in summer.
7. Take a Break -- La Yoli Heladería
La Yoli Heladería, Argumosa 7 (tel. 91-528-80-09), is a small, modest-looking summer place, great not only for ice cream but also granizado (crushed ice drink of lemon or coffee) or horchata (a refreshing drink made of tiger nuts, water, and sugar). Sit on the tree-shaded pavement terraza and watch the world go by. The owners are very welcoming. Open April to October only; Monday to Thursday and Sunday 10am to midnight, Friday and Saturday 10am to 1am. No credit cards are accepted. Metro: Lavapiés.
Return to Lavapiés square and turn north into Calle Ave María, then right (east) at Calle Esperanza into:
8. Calle Torrecilla del Leal
Turn left and climb up this typically narrow and atmospheric street, which unobtrusively shelters two of the best wine and tapas bars in Madrid: Aloque (no. 20) and El Sur (no. 12). Both are ideal spots to pop into if you're taking an evening stroll (they don't open till 8pm).
Continue to the top and turn right at Plaza Antón Martín to reach the:
9. Filmoteca Cine Doré
Located next to Antón Martín square and its adjoining well-stocked two-story food market, this mecca for movie buffs offers, by far, the best value in Madrid (seats have remained constant at 2.50€ for the past three years; it's even cheaper if you're here long enough to buy a batch of 10 tickets for 20€). Despite threats a couple of decades back to raze it and build a block of modern offices in its place, this small ornate '50s monument to art managed to survive, thanks to the mass protest of artists, musicians, and writers. Programs cover the most adventurous and eclectic range of original language movies in Madrid. There are outdoor projections with a rooftop bar in summer and a small downstairs movie bookshop.
Return to Plaza Antón Martín and walk west along Calle de la Magdalena till you arrive at:
10. Plaza Tirso de Molina
Named after the prolific Golden Age playwright Tirso de Molina (the pseudonym of Fray [Friar] Gabriel Telléz, who died in 1648), this once historic but now blandly modernized square on the northern edge of Lavapiés is dominated by a statue in honor of him. Tirso was the first of many dramatists to write about the legendary romantic figure Don Juan.
On Sundays, the plaza is crowded with overflows from the Rastro market. On weekdays small children cavort in the square's play area, giving it a family feel. Close to the plaza are the Nuevo Apolo theater, with its eye-catching Art Deco-cum-Neo-Mudéjar facade and regular big musical productions, and the superb Asador Frontón restaurant, whose steaks are among the best in Madrid.
At the western end of the square turn left (south) into:
11. Calle Mesón de Paredes
This long narrow thoroughfare is one of the oldest streets in Lavapiés, leading right down to La Corrala and then continuing on to the Ronda de Valencia on the outskirts of the Old City. It's named after Simón Miguel Paredes, who ran one of the largest medieval mesones (hostelries) in Madrid. Though the mesón no longer exists, we have in its place one of the city's most distinctive tabernas: the cavernlike, bullfight-oriented Antonio Sanchéz.
12. Take a Break -- La Taberna de Antonio Sánchez
La Taberna de Antonio Sánchez, Mesón de Paredes 13 (tel. 91-539-78-26), is a snug 19th-century tavern, the oldest in central Madrid, whose atmospheric features include bullfight decor, dark-wood paneling, paintings by artist Ignacio Zuloaga, and a traditional zinc bar top. Here you can enjoy a glass or two of modestly priced wine together with a tasty tapa. Larger raciones are also available. Open daily from 1 to 4pm and Monday to Saturday from 8pm to midnight. MasterCard and Visa are accepted. Metro: Tirso de Molina.