La Latina might just be the beating heart of Madrid. It’s one of the city’s most authentic neighbourhoods, and sprawls out in a flurry of medieval streets and picturesque squares.
It’s best known for its delicious tapas trail, where there is a collection of traditional, cosy eateries that line Cava Baja and Cava Alta, but it’s also a firm favourite for its vibrant nightlife – think live music gigs and fiery flamenco performances.
At the weekends, the famous El Rastro market comes to town, serving visitors a local dose of Spanish life with stalls decked out in clothing, prints, ornaments, and fresh food. Here are some of the best hotspots to hit up in La Latina.
Tapas is the name of the game in La Latina, with several streets dedicated solely to eating and drinking. This is where the locals hang out, tucking into cheap, authentic dishes and swigging rich, Spanish wine.
Draped in an eclectic mishmash of prints, bullfighting gear, dried vegetables, and coloured football scarves, Sanlucar (Calle de San Isidro Labrador, 14) is the go-to place for bohemians on the hunt for cold beer and cheap tapas. After dark, flashy flamenco dancers work their magic while locals cram around tables and tuck into southern favourites, like tortillas de camarones (prawn fritters) and salmorejo (garlic and tomato soup served cold).
From the outside, La Chata (Calle Cava Baja, 24) is covered in vibrant tiles – so vibrant, in fact, that you’re in danger of missing the entrance entirely. Head inside, and the décor is a little less extravagant (think old-fashioned bullfighting memorabilia and dated paint jobs), but the food more than makes up for it. This marks an essential checkpoint on the tapas tour of La Latina, if only to try the cazuela, a delicious mushroom and clam stew served up in a ceramic pot.
La Concha (Calle Cava Baja, 7) is a stylish addition to the tapas trail in La Latina, with bright blue décor and rustic, shabby-chic touches. The hipster-style interior is complemented by an extensive contemporary menu, featuring a collection of gluten-free dishes that ooze serious Spanish soul. The seared squid is a firm favourite, and there are plenty of traditional tapas dishes to get stuck in to.
Inside its wood-laden, intimate confines, Casa Lucas (Cava Baja, 30) cooks up a Spanish storm. Its contemporary dishes that give a hat-tip to traditional tapas have garnered the attention of worldly food critics, and its regularly changing menu (that evolves with the seasons and the chef’s ideas) is a hot hit with locals and tourists alike.
Matritum’s (C/ Cava Alta, 17) dimly-lit interior is so quintessentially Spanish is almost hurts. Low dangling lights capture the laidback ambiance, while prints, carvings, and ornaments offer a traditional backdrop, but it’s the delicious menu that keeps diners coming back for more. With favourites like croquettes and winter calcots from Catalonia, and an extensive wine menu, it’s the perfect place to while away an evening.
The high-ceilinged, spacious La Camarilla (C/ Cava Baja, 21) gets fit to burst at the weekends, with locals clamouring for a taster of its traditional tapas with a modern twist. Set against a stylish backdrop of rustic wood and lively colours, it serves up a selection of tapas dishes, pinchos, and larger plates.
La Latina’s nightlife is a strong contender for best in the city. With a selection of intimate cocktail bars and clubs, there’s a little something for everyone in this part of town.
La Corolla (Calle del Almendro, 10) is the epitome of Spanish charm, boasting a heady selection of wines from all over the world. At the weekend, it’s ideal for grabbing an afternoon vermouth and watching the world go by and, after dark, it comes alive with animated chatter, good music, and even better beer.
By day, Vaova (Calle del Humilladero, 6) is a humble furniture store, stocking a rustic selection of heavy wood desks, tables, and chairs. By night, it is transformed into an Aladdin’s cave of a cocktail bar, where the lower floor is decked out in African details and the menus are filled with both traditional and experimental drinks.
If it’s live music you’re hankering for, head straight to ContraClub (Calle de Bailén, 16), which is part gig venue and part nightclub. Playing a variety of music, from pop and rock to hiphop and blues, it welcomes its live acts to the stage after 10pm – by which point you’ll have enjoyed a few of the craft beers and wines on offer.
From the outside it’s easy to miss Corazon de Agave (Calle del Humilladero, 28), a unique new concept on the cocktail bar scene. With a menu bursting at the seams with signature cocktails, and a heavy Mexican influence on the snacks and drinks, you can imagine the kind of good night on offer here.
Culture is an important part of life in La Latina and, if the abundance of kitsch restaurants and bars didn’t give it away already, the fine selection of contemporary art galleries should.
Espacio 8 (C/ Santa Ana 80) is a chameleon of a venue that readily moulds itself to the occasion – whether you’re looking to browse a fledgling art exhibition, watch a theatre performance, or enjoy a slightly more serious seminar.
La Juan Gallery (Calle Juanelo, 21) is full of surprises. Featuring an eclectic schedule of contemporary art shows that really push the limits, it offers an unbridled insight into the modern day art world in Spain and further afield.
Unlike the other two galleries, La Turmix (Calle López Silva, 4) is dedicated to showcasing the fine art of jewellery, sculpture, and other high-end crafts by local artists. With a private collection, as well as several public showings throughout the year, it’s a great place to marvel at intricate handiwork and contemporary talent.
When there’s nothing left to do but shop, La Latina has you covered. The narrow, cobbled streets are lined with boutique stores and artisan shops that are perfect for souvenir hunting.
Helen Rohner’s (Calle del Almendro, 4) high-end jewellery is exquisitely presented at her stylish boutique in the heart of Madrid. Focusing on the simplicity of shapes and the flexibility of lines, she uses a variety of beautiful materials to create bracelets, necklaces, rings, and other one-off pieces ideal for a memorable souvenir.
For something a little more traditional, make a pit-stop at Boteria Julio Rodriguez (Calle Águila, 12), an artisan Boteria and cooperage that has been in business for over a century. Once shoemakers, the team now create one-of-a-kind wine barrels and accessories from the finest materials.
Got a sweet tooth? Caramelos (Calle de Toledo, 53-55) has you covered. This sweet store stocks every kind of treat under the sun, from champagne and ginseng flavoured sweets, to chocolates and jellies in the shape of cold meats. Founded back in 1934, this exciting store will have you riding a sugar high in no time.
Choc full of curiosities and knickknacks, El Transformista (Calle de Mira el Río Baja, 5) is one of Madrid’s oldest second-hand furniture stores that specialises in 20th-century goods. It features an abundance of furniture from the 50s and 60s, as well as decorative household goods and cool props.