All commuter rail lines and almost all of the city’s metro lines pass through Madrid’s center, plus cabs rush down most of the streets at all hours of the day. So if you’re goal is to be as interconnected as possible, Centro is the district in which to live.
With the exception of a few quiet, tucked away streets, the majority of the center is loud and bustling both day and night. You’ll want thick Climalit windows and decent earplugs if you plan on living in the center and sleeping on the weekends. However, if having constant access to Madrid’s cultural and nightlife is a priority, there’s no better area. Remember, the metro in Madrid closes at 1:30AM and doesn’t reopen until 6:00AM, so if you plan on staying out late most evenings, it’s nice to be able to walk home instead of spending money on cabs.
A lot of expats choose to live in Madrid’s center to soak up as much of the local color as possible. However, the center is mostly populated by singles, so expats tend to move to more “family friendly” neighborhoods once they get married and have children.
The center of Madrid, although dominated by concrete and beautiful old buildings, does have its green areas. You have the immense Retiro park, which is just a 15 minute walk from Puerta del Sol, and many of the pedestrian streets are lined with trees.
All housing in the center is found in three to six story apartment buildings. Most of the buildings are quite old, and while some have undergone thorough renovation, many have not. You’ll find that many of the grand apartments originally constructed in these centuries old buildings have been sub-divided (sometimes to death), so they may be quite small or have strange layouts. Finding a nice, modern apartment in the center can be challenging.
Traffic and parking in the center is absolutely brutal, so if you plan on having a car, you’ll either have to rent a garage space in one of the few buildings that actually have underground garages (no easy task), or you should consider living in another district.
International Schools: None.
Supermarkets: Square footage in the center of Madrid is quite costly and precious, so supermarkets do not abound and those that exist tend to be small. You may have to walk about 15-20 minutes to get to your nearest supermarket depending on where you live, so you may also find yourself paying for home delivery if you don’t want to carry all those bags on the walk home. However, because it is the historic center, it’s home to the largest concentration of traditional Spanish markets in the city, where you can buy fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and fish on a daily basis, most notably the Mercado de Barceló between the Tribunal and Alonso Martinez metro stations, the Mercado de la Cebada at the La Latina metro station, the Mercado de Embajadores between the Lavapies and Embajadores metro stations, the Mercado los Montenses between the Noviciado and Plaza España metro stations, and the Mercado de Antón Martín next to the Antón Martín metro station.
Restaurants: On every street of the center of Madrid you will find at least one restaurant, if not two or three or four. Many serve traditional Spanish food, but the center is also the best place to find international and nouvelle cuisine.
Cinemas: Not only is this the area with the most movie theatres in Madrid, but it is also where the greatest number of the city’s V.O. cinemas (original version – no dubbing, just subtitles) are located.
Sports Facilities: There are municipal sports facilities in Madrid, but not a single one is located in the center. To keep fit in the center of Madrid, you’ll most likely have to join a private gym or take classes at pilates and/or yoga centers, which are fairly easy to find.
Just north of the Center district lies Chamberí, a privileged location, as it is near enough to the center that several of the lively centric neighborhoods can be reached by foot, but far enough that it is a calmer and more noticeably a residential area.
Chamberí is quite a posh area, as most of the buildings are old and quite stately, but its many plazas, playgrounds and tree-lined streets make it quite family friendly. Mind you, the families living here are affluent, and it’s not uncommon to see nannies taking the kids for a walk while mommy and daddy are at work.
All told, it is a very pleasant place to live and very well connect to the rest of the city thanks to several bus lines and the metro’s light blue line (#1). However, rent and housing prices are just as high here as in the center. Although this district is majority Spanish, there are also a fair number of English-speaking expats in the area.
International Schools: None.
Supermarkets: Supermarkets may be a little bigger and a little easier to find than in the center, but not by much more. The Mercado de Chamberí, located near the Alonso Cano and Iglesia metro stations, and the Mercado de Vallehermoso, near the Quevedo metro station are good places to buy fresh foods.
Restaurants: The majority of the restaurants in the area tend to be the more run of the mill Spanish cafeterias that offer set menus. However, there are some more upscale eateries, particularly asadores (Spanish grills) that cater to the more affluent residents. If you love international cuisine or boutique restaurants, this is not the best area for dining.
Cinemas: There are eight movie theatres in the district. Two of which, the Pequeño Cine Estudio and Verdi, are V.O. (original version – no dubbing, just subtitles).
Sports Facilities: There are no municipal sports facilities in Chamberí, so you may have to settle for a private gym in the center.
The Arganzuela district borders the Center district to the South and is divided into seven neighborhoods. The neighborhoods closest to the center, Atocha and Imperial, tend to be fairly highly trafficked areas, especially Atocha, which aside from having a great deal of nightlife and tourist destinations (including the Reina Sofia National Art Museum), is also home to the Atocha train station, which houses both Madrid’s commuter rail and national railway.
Both Atocha and Imperial, which is located next the popular La Latina neighborhood (known for its bars, taverns and restaurants), are areas quite popular with students and young professionals. However, the Imperial neighborhood is more popular with people who are interested in avoiding the hubbub and prefer relaxing strolls through the park, as it is decidedly more residential and is home to the enormous and lush Parque de Atenas. Plus the Rio Manzanares flows right through this area, although there really isn’t much to see, as it’s quite small and does not have an abundant water flow.
The remaining neighborhoods, Las Acacias, La Chopera, Legazpi, Las Delicias, Palos de Moguer, are much more residential and tend to be equally popular with young singles and families. While Imperial and Atocha are very attractive to expats, the other neighborhoods are more Spanish, with the exception of Legazpi which has a very large immigrant population, namely North African and Latin American.
Most of Arganzuela is very well connected, especially Atocha, because of the train station, and Legazpi because it has a large commuter bus station, with bus lines that travel to different corners of the city and to neighboring towns. Imperial, however, can seem a bit isolated, as the nearest metro stations are Principe Pío (which also has an important commuter bus station) and La Latina, which depending on where you’re located can be a good 20 minute walk away. There are, however, several bus lines that run down the main avenues.
International Schools: None.
Supermarkets: Supermarkets are plentiful in the more residential areas of Arganzuela, yet only a few of the neighborhoods have traditional Spanish markets, your best bet for fresh foods. In the Palos de Moguer neighborhood there are two markets, Mercado de Atocha and Mercado de Santa Maria de la Cabeza, and in La Chopera there is the Mercado de Guillermo de Osma (near the Palos de la Frontera metro station).
Restaurants: Arganzuela has a good mix of traditional Spanish restaurants and international cuisine, and its fair share of cafeterias that serve set meals at lunchtime.
Cinemas: There are only three movie theatres in the Arganzuela district, none of which are V.O. (original version – no dubbing, just subtitles). However, Madrid’s Imax cinema is located in the Las Delicias neighborhood.
Sports Facilities: There are three municipal sports facilities in Arganzuela, including the Centro Deportivo Municipal Arganzuela (Metro: Legazpi), the Centro Deportivo Municipal Centro Integrado Arganzuela (Metro: Palos de la Frontera) and the Centro Deportivo Municipal Marqués de Samaranch (Metro: Puerta de Toledo).
On the western border of Madrid’s center lies the Monclo-Aravaca district, which stretches all the way to the city’s limits. Composed of seven neighborhoods, this district is attractive to a wide variety of people because of its diversity of atmospheres.
One of Moncloa-Aravaca’s best known neighborhoods is Ciudad Universitaria (University City), which is home to Madrid’s Universidad Complutense, Universidad Politecnica and over 30 additional institutions of higher learning. Because of the large concentration of students, Moncloa-Aravaca is an area popular with young people and foreigners who have come to study in Madrid. The nearby Argüelles neighborhood is also a favorite stomping ground of 20-somethings who like alternative music, with lots of small rock, heavy metal and goth bars.
The Casa de Campo neighborhood, home to Madrid’s largest park (all 1,722.6 hectares of it), is also located in the Moncloa-Aravaca district. Fans of the outdoors will love the Casa de Campo area, which boasts excellent jogging paths, an outdoor public swimming pool, a lagoon, the Madrid Theme Park and Madrid Zoo-Aquarium. Because of its proximity to so many family friendly attractions, Moncloa-Aravaca is an ideal location for families.
The areas closer to the center of the city are very well connected via metro and buses, especially the Argüelles neighborhood, which has one of Madrid’s most important commuter bus station, with bus lines that travel to different corners of the city and to neighboring towns.
Although there are several older buildings in the Moncloa-Aravaca area, there is also quite a bit of recent construction. Cost of living might be slightly cheaper than in the center of the city, but not by much.
International Schools: None.
Supermarkets: Because this is a fairly densely populated area, supermarkets are not hard to find. Traditional Spanish markets include the Mercado de Guzman el Bueno (Arguelles metro station) and the Mercado de Valdezarza.
Restaurants: Spanish restaurants abound in the Mocloa-Aravaca area, and you’ll generally have a wide selection of eateries in the Ciudad Universitaria and Argüelles areas.
Cinemas: There are four movie theatres in the area, three of which are V.O. (original version – no dubbing, just subtitles): Golem, Princesa and Renoir Princesa. Plus the outdoor summer cinema is held in the district’s Parque de la Bombilla.
Sports Facilities: Centro Deportivo Municipal Alfredo Goyeneche (nearest the Aravaca Cercanias commuter raol station), Centro Deportivo Municipal Casa de Campo (Metro Lago), Centro Deportivo Municipal Ciudad de los Poetas (Metro Antonio Machado and Valdezarza), Centro Deportivo Municipal Fernando Martín (Metro Francos Rodríguez), Centro Deportivo Municipal Francos Rodríguez (Metro Francos Rodríguez), Centro Deportivo Municipal José María Cagigal (Busses 41, 46 and 75), Centro Deportivo Municipal La Bombilla (Metro Principe Pío and Moncloa) and the Centro Deportivo Municipal Lago Casa de Campo (Metro Lago and Puerta del Ángel).
Retiro and Salamanca
Just east of Madrid’s center are the Retiro and Salamanca districts. These are two of the most infamously posh neighborhoods in Madrid. Expensive boutiques, pricey restaurants, beautiful buildings and Madrid’s most affluent citizens give these districts their distinct flare.
The Retiro district is named after Madrid’s most famous and probably most beautiful park, which sits at its center. Retiro Park is a wonderful place to walk, exercise and enjoy a little piece and quiet, yet it’s located mere blocks from the historic center and Madrid’s most heavily trafficked streets. The gorgeous, centuries old, stately houses that line the edges of the park house both offices and homes. The areas to the south and east of the Retiro district are slightly more affordable and residential, than the areas to the north and west, which boarder the Center and Salamanca districts.
The Barrio de Salamanca is home to three of Madrid’s most “luxurious” streets. Serrano, Velazquez and Goya are Madrid’s primary upscale shopping streets, and boast such fabulous shops as Prada, Carolina Herrera, Ralph Lauren and many more. The majority of the southern half of the Salamanca district is very commercial, although above the storefronts there are many offices and expensive apartments. However the further north, the more residential the district becomes.
Public transportation in both districts is excellent. Inhabitants are primarily Spanish, but this is the type of area that would draw international businesspeople with executive salaries. Nothing about these districts is cheap.
International Schools: IES Ramiro de Maeztu.
Supermarkets: You’ll find more supermarkets in the more residential areas of these two districts. In Retiro, you’ll find the Mercado de Ibiza (Metro Ibiza) and Mercado de Pacifico (Metro Pacifico). And in Salamanca, you have the Mercado de Diego de Leon (Metro Nuñez de Balboa), Mercado de Guindalera (Metro Diego de León) and Mercado de la Paz (Metro Serrano).
Restaurants: Retiro and Salamanca are districts with a wide assortment of high class restaurants, both Spanish and international. Eating out in these areas can be quite pricey, although you also have a wide assortment of more affordable Spanish cafeterias.
Cinemas: Renoir Retiro is the only movie theatre in the Retiro district, while the Salamanca district has two: Cine Benlliure and Cine Cid Campeador.
Sports Facilities: In Retiro there is the Centro Deportivo Municipal Daoíz y Velarde (Metro Pacifico), the Centro Deportivo Municipal Estanque del Retiro (Metro Retiro) and the Centro Deportivo Municipal La Chopera (Metro Retiro and Atocha). In Salamanca there is the Centro Deportivo Municipal Fuente del Berro (Metro O’Donnell) and Centro Deportivo Municipal Gimnasio Moscardó (Metro Avenida de America and Diego de León).
Tetuán and Chamartín
The Tetuán and Chamartín districts are located directly north of the Chamberí and Salamanca districts. The Paseo de la Castellana runs right in between Tetuán and Chamartín, with Tetuán to the west and Chamartín to the East.
These districts are home to large residential areas as well as a bustling business area. Three major stations, the Cercanías station (commuter rail) at Nuevos Ministerios, the commuter bus station at Plaza Castilla and the Chamartín Cercanías and RENFE (national railway) station, make these districts a hub for commuters entering Madrid, Madrileños who commute to the suburbs for work and visitors from Northern Spain traveling to Madrid.
The business areas of these districts are pretty much the only place in Madrid where you’ll find skyscrapers. Other points of interest include the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, home of the famed Real Madrid football team, Berlin Park, the Museum of Natural Sciences, the Municipal Museum and the Canal de Isabel II park and exhibition center.
Tetuán is the more affordable of the two districts with a fairly large foreign population and many middle class families. The Chamartín district tends to attract a more affluent segment of the population and rent tends to be significantly pricier. These districts are popular with expats and have a primarily Spanish population.
International Schools: Hastings School, International School of Madrid, St. Anne’s School, Deutsche Schule, Hof Der Lage Landen, King’s Infant School and the American School of Madrid.
Supermarkets: Mercado de Chamartín (Metro Colombia), Mercado de Prosperidad (Metro Prosperidad), Mercado de San Cristóbal (Metro Begoña), Mercado de la Remonta (Metro Valdeacederas), Mercado de Maravillas (Metro Cuatro Caminos and Alvarado), Mercado de San Enrique (Metro Estrecho) and Mercado de Tetuán (Metro Tetuán).
Restaurants: There is a wide selection in these districts, ranging from chain restaurants to international cuisine to traditional Spanish cafeterias to upscale eateries.
Cinemas: Lido and La Dehesa Chamartín.
Sports Facilities: Centro Deportivo Municipal Chamartín (Metro Pío XII), Centro Deportivo Municipal Pradillo (Metro Alfonso XIII), Centro Deportivo Municipal Antonio Díaz Miguel (Metro Ventilla), Centro Deportivo Municipal Playa Victoria (Metro Tetuán) and Centro Deportivo Municipal Triángulo de Oro (Metro Plaza de Castilla and Valdeacederas).
The Outer Districts
Aside from the districts mentioned, the City of Madrid has 12 additional districts: Fuencarral-El Pardo to the far north, Hortaleza, San Blas and Ciudad Lineal to the northeast; Moratalaz, Vicalvaro, Puente de Vallecas and Villa de Vallecas to the southeast, and Latina, Carabanchel, Usera and Villaverde to the south.
These districts are almost strictly residential, although they are populated by small businesses of all kinds. Because these districts are significantly further from the center than the ones mentioned above, housing prices tend to be lower. Although some enclaves are affluent, these areas are predominantly working and middle class and tend to have large immigrant populations, although most expats stick to the districts closer to the center.
It is worth mentioning that, of these districts, only Ciudad Lineal has international schools: Numont School, Orgaz Nursery School and the Lycee Francais.