The real Madrid is not to be found along major arteries like the Gran Vía and the Paseo de la Castellana. To find the quiet, intimate streets and squares that give the city its true character, duck into the warren of villagelike byways in the downtown area that extends 2 km (1 mile) from the Palacio Real to the Parque del Buen Retiro and from Plaza de Lavapiés to the Glorieta de Bilbao. Broad avenidas, twisting medieval alleys, grand museums, stately gardens, and tiny, tile-work taverns are all jumbled together, creating an urban texture so rich that walking is really the only way to soak it in.
Petty street crime is a serious problem in Madrid, and tourists are frequent targets. Be on your guard, and try to blend in by keeping cameras concealed, avoiding obvious map reading, and securing bags and purses, especially on buses and the metro and outside restaurants.