Shoreditch, Williamsburg, Kreuzberg, Belleville: everyone is familiar with these trendy neighborhoods. Once gritty, these areas have become gentrified in recent years, leading to an influx of upwardly mobile residents and cool cafes and shops.
Like its European counterparts, Spain is no stranger to gentrification. Neighborhoods once home to migrants have become havens for hipsters in recent years. While Barcelona has Gràcia and Madrid Malasaña, we’ve dug deeper and come up with a list of some of the coolest alternative areas in some of the lesser-known cities in Spain. So, grab your fanny pack and shiny white vans, and head to these under-the-radar hipster neighborhoods.
As the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, art is of great importance to the seaside city of Malaga. The Malagueta neighborhood, a once industrial area that borders the Mediterrean Sea and Malaga’s center, is home to a museum to their favorite son. Museums dot the area and some of the best include the Carmen Thyssen Museum, which celebrates Andalusian artists, and an offshoot of the Centre Pompidou.
The port area offers a lavish mishmash of cool cafes and green spaces, making it the spot for young people in the know. Stroll along the palm tree–fronted Palmeral de las Sorpresas for salty air and sea views that will surprise you. End your jaunt with a craft cocktail such as the rum-infused 1919 at legendary El Pimpi or choose from an array of international beers and ciders at El Muro. When COVID is but a memory, head to Velvet, a concert venue that also hosts regular techno nights.
Casco Viejo, Toledo
Toledo’s Old Town is made up of a collection of monuments that evoke its past as a city that was home to Jews, Muslims and Christians during the time of the Moors, as well as bars, museums and taverns that attest to its status as a cosmopolitan capital. Casco Viejo is now home to a bevy of Spain’s boldest and brightest entrepreneurs. El Greco is the most influential artist in the city’s rich history and his museum is one of the places where young people meet, with concerts held in its courtyard on special occasions.
Toledo is also known as the City of Three Cultures due to its multicultural past. Credit: Shutterstock The El Greco Museum is both a meeting point for Toledans and an homage to the city’s hometown hero. Credit: Shutterstock
Apart from its culture and history, Casco Viejo is a nightlife mecca. Bars such as Agapo, Ludeña, or the Mercado de San Agustín (the local version of the Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid) afford guests great cocktails and regional wines by the glass. Head to Quitapenas for flamenco performances or end the evening at the Sala Pícaro once concerts are back on the schedule.
Russafa, Valencia’s trendiest neighborhood, belongs to the Ensanche district, and has its origins in the ninth century, when Abd Allah al-Balansi, an Umayyad prince from Al-Andalus, used it as a retreat. Today it’s a multicultural, vibrant and bustling area. Visit the Municipal Market, recently painted in colorful tones, where you’ll find more than 100 shops, and the Al-Rusafi Library, a cultural meeting point for students and young professionals.
The House of Chappaz is a charming gallery that is also a safe space of collaboration and friendship for the LGBTQ+ community. Russafa is a hotbed of gastronomy as well. Check out Matadero, a white-tiled former butcher shop converted into a café, which boasts a multitude of books to savor as you sip an IPA.
The hidden jewel of Valencia: Colorful Russafa has a personality all its own. Credit: Shutterstock You’ll find a plethora of Mediterranean products in the Municipal Market. Credit: Shutterstock
Barrio Húmedo, León
Like many others on this list, León’s liveliest neighbourhood is also its oldest. Standing on a hill between the Bernesga and Torio rivers, this is where the city was born. The area is for pedestrians only, which makes it more welcoming and attractive to visitors, of which there are many given its proximity to the cathedral and the imposing palaces in the area.
The Barrio Húmedo features a plethora of bars and, in the summer, its car-free streets are filled with the omnipresent terraces that Spaniards adore. Life in the neighborhood revolves around Plaza de San Martín and Plaza Mayor, both central meeting places to enjoy the free tapas that used to be de rigueur in Spain but has become a rarity in recent years.
The old Town Hall is the heart of Barrio Húmedo. Credit: Shutterstock Not for the faint of heart: Maragato in all its meaty splendor. Credit: Shutterstock
If you fancy a larger repast, El Latino or Casa de los Botones serve local specialties such as Maragato (Castilian chickpea and meat stew), garlic soup or trout sandwiches. For a nightcap, locals head to La Galocha, which offers a chilled vibe, or Circus if they’re ready to rock.
Las 7 Calles, Bilbao
Situated on the banks of the Nervión estuary lies the old quarter of Bilbao, also known as Las 7 Calles, a name that refers to the streets that form it: Somera, Artecalle, Tendería, Belosticalle, Carnicería Vieja, Barrencalle and Barrencalle Barrena. The Zazpi Kaleak (as it’s called in Basque) boasts narrow cobbled streets, which hide a multitude of traditional and modern taverns where you can enjoy pintxos (the Basque version of tapas) and txikitos (short glasses of wine to accompany pintxos) as well as monuments such as the Gothic cathedral of Santiago.
Head to Okapi, a vintage yet modern tavern, where you can take cooking classes for everyone from gluten-free aficionados to vegans and meat lovers. On the other side of the estuary lies Marzana 16, which boasts an impressive view of the water and has a lively vibe popular with hip locals in the know.
Mirror, mirror: Walk around the 7 Calles to see the reflections of Bilbao’s colorful facades. Credit: Shutterstock Basque tapas, or pintxos, are served on bread instead and are often seafood based. Credit: Shutterstock
Mining used to be the backbone of the hood but its current cosmopolitan atmosphere means you can find both contemporary fashions and vintage treasures. Head to the Plaza Nueva for its weekly Sunday market for unique finds.