From the Streets to the Clubs
Socializing by night is a deeply rooted habit in all of Spain, but in the capital it is taken several steps further. A night out in Madrid means a seemingly endless journey through bars, restaurants, terraces and clubs, which is interrupted only by the sunrise.
Since the Middle Ages, the citizens of Madrid have been known as “gatos” (“cats”), but today this nickname is more accurate than ever: truly, this is a city that never sleeps. But the cliché, often used in other parts of the world, rings specially true in this city.
A little bit of history
Nightlife in Madrid’s has several origins. The climate is one of this tradition’s great motivators: winters are relatively mild and summers are sizzling hot. This heat is one of the reasons for the famous mid-afternoon siesta tradition which helps one to regain energy by the end of the day. Many people in Madrid end up doing many of their activities at night, because the heat prevented them of doing them during the day!
On the other hand, the Spanish capital discovered modern nightlife during the 1980’s: the end of Franco’s dictatorship, the country’s newly found openness to new ideas and trends, and the European integration helped to turn Madrid into an active and cosmopolitan city, a magnet for artists, movie makers, musicians and bohemians. Entertainment and drinking establishments sprouted like mushrooms. This was the beginning of the famous Movida.
Before you go out
First of all, don’t even think about going out for dinner at nine o’clock. It is too early. You will find empty streets and some of the establishments are not yet fully functional. You must also be aware that Madrid’s nightlife is very demanding: you may need to have more than one meal during the evening.
The bar crawl usually begins after midnight. By this time, you will begin to run into groups of youngsters enjoying the botellón – in other words, large crowds drinking on the streets until dawn. Few people make it to the clubs’ dance floors before 2 o’clock.
Finally, a curious fact: in Madrid, a night out may involve the entire family. Many bars, cafes and terraces allow children in their premises, restaurants are open until dawn, and don’t be surprised if it’s late in the evening and you still find the playgrounds’ swings fully occupied.
Start off your night
Nights in Madrid are varied and unpredictable, and your experience will depend on the places you visit and the time you choose to do it.
The abundance of tapas bars and terraces and the quality and variety of the local restaurants can easily inspire you to do a gastronomical trip. More “peaceful” Madrileños usually spend their nights in street cafés and, socializing in gardens such as Parque Buen Retiro, or going for walks along the Manzanares river — which means that many parts of this city are family-friendly.
The evening may also include a cultural programme with dance, theatre, concerts and opera in several venues and locations: Teatro Real, Teatro de la Zarzuela, Teatro Abadía, Plaza Mayor, or the Sabatini Gardens. You can even begin your night at a museum: Museu del Prado and Thyssen often run open nights.
Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol (particularly near Cava Alta or Cava de San Miguel) and the La Latina neighbourhood are great spots to look for the famous tapas bars, ideal for quick meals that can give you the energy you need to keep going. In these areas you can also find bars and clubs where you can go for your first drinks (or last drinks, depending on how the evening is going).
A good night out in Madrid is never complete without la terraza, a feature of the city’s best establishments. On hot Summer nights, one feels the need for outdoor meals, as well as drinks, coffee and a smoke (this last point is particularly important, since in Spain, smoking bans in public spaces are very strict).
At Paseo de la Castellana you can find esplanades and good street cafés, but nowadays people go mostly for the nice terraces in certain hotels, restaurants and clubs. You will find these in the city centre and in areas like the Paseo de Recoletos or the Plaza de Santa Ana.
After dinner, head towards the shops and cafés of Calle del Espíritu Santo, which is another good place to begin la marcha (as nightlife in Madrid is also known). The city centre and the Gran Vía are home to many establishments, from cafés to alternative bars.
Nearby you will find TriBall, where you must look beyond the run down appearance of its streets. In this area around Calle de la Ballesta, bars, clubs, design shops and art galleries have taken over abandoned workshops and other buildings - a process of renovation that is still ongoing. Close to this area is the Chueca neighbourhood (known for its gay bars and clubs) and Moncloa, a club-heavy area filled with students.
Beer and wine are the most usual and traditional drinks, and although spirit drinks consumption has increased, special focus must be given to the locals' love of gin and tonic. This british drink has recently become highly popular among Spanish bar crawlers, and several specialized gin bars have popped up.
Finally, without music there is no night! After a rocky period over the past few years (several venues were forced to close down due to legal and safety issues) live music clubs and concert rooms are now again part of the nightlife circuit. Head for the centre or the area between Museu del Prado and Plaza Mayor, and you will find a little bit of everything: jazz, blues, folk, world music and traditional flamenco, as well as pop/rock with concerts by international artists.
Besides the concerts and performances, we must also not forget the dancefloor: if you wish to jump around at the sound of techno, house and other beats selected by DJ's, all you need to do is choose one of the city’s 249 clubs and discos!
Get home safely
Eventually, the adventure comes to an end due to exhaustion, closing time or the sunrise. It is time to go back to your starting point after a night of excess and fun, and you will certainly need a transport. There are quite a few options: Madrid’s Metro transport system is open until two o’clock in the morning and there is no shortage of taxi cars.
On the other hand, since many of Madrid’s night spots are located in and around the city centre, it might be possible for you to just walk back home. The important thing is getting there safely, rest… and recover your energy for the next round in the Movida: after all, it is impossible to do it all in just one night!