Is a neighborhood cool because it attracts trendy people or is it cool because of its food scene? It’s more likely something along the lines of, “You know it when you see it.”
Embajadores, in the Spanish capital of Madrid, was recently voted the coolest neighborhood in the world by Time Out. Although its vibe may feel indescribable, the area — specifically the area of Lavapiés — was bestowed the title for its “Nightlife and street life, street art and high culture, food and people from across the world,” according to Time Out.
Many of Embajadores’ most famous hangouts bridge the gap between past and present. Sala Equis is a popular bar that was once an adult cinema — the theater still holds movie screenings, but the films are much less risque than the showings of yore. The Tabacalera is an old tobacco factory that’s become a creative center for the community.
The Sunday El Rastro market has become one of Lavapiés’ most popular attractions. From 9 a.m., the street floods over and become Madrid’s most popular outdoor flea market. Vendors sell all sorts of wares — clothing, jewelry, vinyl records, and art — but venture off the main strip of markets if you’re hoping to find something very special. If you visit, try your luck at haggling before settling on a price.
However, as with most “cool” neighborhoods, things are not as rosy as they might appear on online reviews. Embajadores is known for its immigrant population, many of whom come to the area for its cheap rent. But housing prices are unlikely to stay low as tourists take over space with short-term holiday rentals. (The problem has become so bad that earlier this year, Madrid basically banned Airbnb from the city center, including Lavapiés.)
According to Spain’s The Local, there’s a quiet worry that “the people of Lavapiés are on the edge of another uprising.” Earlier this year, there were violent protests in the neighborhood after the death of a Senegalese immigrant. It’s believed he was chased through the streets by police.
If one thing is clear from the naming of the world’s “coolest” neighborhood, it’s that most locations are more complicated and nuanced that internet lists will allow. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit “up-and-coming” neighborhoods, it just means that responsible travelers should do some thorough research before the trip. Those staying in homeshares should verify their neighborhood isn’t one that’s well-known to be pricing out locals. When dining out, travelers can also opt to support older, local establishments as opposed to new and trendy chains.