It’s that time of year again. The air is turning chilly, the leaves are starting to change, and the millennial obsession with all things autumn is taking over social media. But here in Madrid, there’s a whole different reason to be excited. With October comes Tapapiés, the annual festival that inundates the streets of the Lavapiés neighborhood with delicious food, cheap drinks, and live music.
For 11 days at the end of October (this year’s 7th edition lasts from October 19—29), dozens of restaurants and bars in Lavapiés offer a very special deal. Each one develops their own signature tapa, and offers it to the public for just €1.50. For an extra euro, you can also get a botellín (a 250 ml bottle of beer) to wash it down. The event is sponsored by Barcelona’s Estrella Damm, and at most places you can choose between a regular beer or Damm Lemon (beer and lemon soda).
Lavapiés is known for its incredible cultural diversity, with large immigrant populations from all over Africa, South America, the Middle East, and Central Asia. As a result, it’s full of international eateries offering everything from Senegalese thieboudienne to Syrian sweets. A good number of these establishments participate in Tapapiés, which means that in one night you can practically eat your way around the world, just by exploring the neighborhood’s sloping streets.
In other words, this festival is every adventurous foodie’s dream come true. There are various strategies for tackling the overwhelming amount of options (122 tapas in total) and chaotic crowds. You can simply wander around, dropping into whatever bars you come across and trying your luck. Each one usually advertises a photograph of their tapa with a huge poster out front, so you’ll know more or less what to expect. Don’t forget to stop by Mercado de San Fernando and Mercado Antón Martín, where several vendors also participate.
If you’re (A) a picky/allergy-prone eater or (B) determined to try as many different tapas as possible, you might want to consider a more organized strategy. Ask for a brochure at any of the participating places—you’ll get a pocket-sized booklet that contains a list of every single tapa being offered, as well as a color photograph and a detailed ingredients list for each. They’re all plotted on a numbered map, so you can plan out your ideal route. Be warned, though: it’s hard to stick to a set plan when there are so many tempting options around every corner.
My advice? Grab a group of friends who aren’t afraid to elbow their way through some crowds and try as many new things as possible. This is not an activity for those who would rather settle in at a cozy restaurant for a relaxed dinner.
Expect to eat standing up while balancing a beer in one hand a a tapa in the other, and shouting at each other just to be heard. It’s messy, it’s crazy, it’s loud—and it’s totally worth it. The frenetic and colorful spirit of the neighborhood is never more alive than on a night of Tapapiés.
To complete the experience, it’s essential to attend one of the various outdoor performances by local musicians, dancers, and entertainers that take place throughout the event. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons and evenings, you can catch live music and shows at nine different designated spots (a full schedule is included in the brochure). There’s also the simultaneous Chollopiés festival, which spotlights the neighborhood’s local businesses by offering special discounts on certain products.
Maybe you live in Lavapiés and want to get to know your barrio better. Maybe you’ve never been and want to see what all the hype is about. Or maybe you’re just hungry, thirsty, and low on cash. Whatever the case, Tapapiés is bound to become one of your favorite events in Madrid. If you go into it with the right mindset, a healthy appetite, and a handful of coins, I guarantee that come next October, there’ll only be one thing on your mind. Who needs pumpkin spice lattes, anyway?