In the 17th century, the focus of the rapidly growing city shifted from the medieval centre around Plaza de la Paja to Plaza Mayor. Part meeting place, part market, this magnificent square was, above all, a place of spectacle and popular entertainment. Over time the houses deteriorated into slums and tenements, while the parishes to the south of Plaza Mayor were home to Madrid’s labouring classes. Mingling with the slaughterhouse workers and tanners of the Rastro were market traders, builders, innkeepers, horse-dealers and members of the criminal underclass.
This was the central square and marketplace of medieval Madrid, later eclipsed by the Plaza Mayor. Today, it is one of the prettiest corners of the city, flanked by handsome palaces and cafés that spill into the square in summer. At its northern end is the magnificent Capilla del Obispo (the Bishop’s Chapel), erected in 1535 as a burial place for San Isidro (whose remains were eventually buried in the Cathedral de San Isidro in the 18th century). The chapel contains a splendid Renaissance altarpiece as well as the elaborate tombs of Madrileño aristocrats.
The heart of Old Madrid is this vast square (see Plaza Mayor), surrounded by arcaded buildings, now home to a good choice of tourist shops, over-priced restaurants and numerous street entertainers.
You can easily lose a day wandering around the quirky stalls of the city’s flea market (see El Rastro) or watching the world go by from the many bars and cafés of the surrounding La Latina quarter.
Plaza de S Andrés 2 • Open 9:30am–8pm Tue–Sun & public hols; mid-Jun–mid-Sep: 9:30am–7pm Tue–Sun • Closed Mon, 1 & 6 Jan, 1 May, and 24, 25 & 31 Dec
The museum is housed in an attractive 16th-century palace, which once belonged to the Count of Paredes. The original Renaissance courtyard is best viewed from the first floor, where archaeological finds from the Madrid region are exhibited, including a Roman mosaic floor from the 4th century. Downstairs, visitors can see wooden models of the city and its royal palaces as they were in the 17th century. A short film is shown bringing to life Francisco Rizi’s painting of the 1680 auto-de-fé and the San Isidro chapel, which was built in the early 17th century near the saint’s alleged home.
Calle San Buenventura • Open 10:30am–12:30pm, 4–6pm Tue–Fri; Jul–Sep: 10:30am–12:30pm, 5–7pm Tue–Sun • Adm
Legend has it that this magnificent basilica occupies the site of a monastery founded by St Francis of Assisi in the 13th century. Work on the present building was completed in 1784 under the supervision of Francisco Sabatini. The focal point of the unusual circular design is the stupendous dome, 58 m (190 ft) high and 33 m (110 ft) in diameter. After 30 years of restoration, the 19th-century ceiling frescoes, painted by leading artists, are now revealed in their original glory. Take the guided tour to be shown other treasures, including the Gothic choir paintings by Goya and Zurbarán.
This working-class neighbourhood popular with LGBTQ community, has a cosmopolitan feel, thanks to its ethnic mix of Moroccans, Indians, Turks and Chinese. The narrow streets sloping towards the river from Plaza Tirso de Molina are full of shops selling everything from cheap clothes and leather handbags to tea and spices. Check out traditional bars such as Taberna Antonio Sánchez. Performances of the light opera zarzuela are given outdoors in La Corrala on Calle Mesón de Paredes 64 in the summer.
Historic La Latina really comes alive on Sundays when the trendy bars of Cava Baja, Calle de Don Pedro and Plaza de los Carros are frequented by pop singers, actors and TV stars. Plaza de la Paja – the main square of medieval Madrid – takes its name from the straw which was sold here by villagers from the across the River Manzanares. Nowadays it’s much quieter and a good place to rest one’s legs. The two churches of San Andrés and San Pedro el Viejo have been restored. Their history, and that of the area as a whole, is explained in the Museo de los Orígenes.
Calle de Cervantes 11 • Open for tours in English 10am–6pm Tue–Sun (call 914 29 92 16 to book in advance) • Closed public hols
The greatest dramatist of Spain’s Golden Age lived in this house from 1610 until his death in 1635. Lope de Vega started writing at the age of 12, leaving a total of 1,500 plays plus poetry, novels and devotional works. He became a priest after the death of his second wife in 1614, but that didn’t stop his philandering, which led to more than one run-in with the law. To tour the restored house with its heavy wooden shutters, creaking staircases and beamed ceilings is to step back in time. Evocative details include a cloak and sword left by one of his friends in the guest bedroom.
The streets around this well-known square boast the greatest concentration of tapas bars in the city and are often still buzzing at 4am. The stylish hotel ME Madrid, home to popular rooftop bar Radio, dominates the square, and there is an amazing view of the Teatro Español opposite from its penthouse bar. Two statues in Plaza de Santa Ana honour Spanish literary giants – playwright Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600–81), and poet, playwright and theatre director Federico García Lorca (1898–1936), who was killed by the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War.
Plaza de la Villa 5 • Closed to the public
Madrid’s city hall was inaugurated in 1692, and remained the seat of the city council until 2008. Its austere façade, steepled towers and ornamental portals are typical of the architectural style favoured by the Habsburgs. Juan de Villanueva added the balcony overlooking Calle Mayor so that Queen María Luisa could watch the annual Corpus Christi procession. The Casa de la Villa forms part of an ensemble of historic buildings overlooking the Plaza de la Villa: Casa y Torre de los Lujanes is Madrid’s oldest surviving civil building (15th century), and Casa de Cisneros was built for an aristocratic family.
When the future patron saint of Madrid died around 1170 he was buried in a pauper’s grave. But, in the 17th century, an unseemly rivalry developed between the clergy of San Andrés and the Capilla de San Isidro over the custody of his mortal remains. The wrangle dragged on until the 18th century, when the body of the saint was interred in the new Catedral de San Isidro, where it has remained ever since.
Begin the morning at Plaza de la Villa with its handsome 16th- and 17th-century palaces. Take the busy Calle Mayor as far as Calle de Felipe III, then turn into Plaza Mayor. Cross this magnificent square diagonally, leaving the ancient Calle de Toledo, once the main exit route south from the city. On the way look out for the Casa Hernanz rope store (see Specialist Shops) and other charming reminders that this was once an artisans’ quarter. Looming on the left is the Baroque Colegiata de San Isidro. Continue to La Latina metro.
Turn and follow Plaza de la Cebada, past the modern covered market. Turn right into Plaza del Humilladero and cross this square to the adjoining Plaza de San Andrés and its huge domed church. Straight ahead is a 16th-century palace, now the Museo de los Orígenes (Casa de San Isidro).
Follow the path round the back of the church into Costanilla de San Andrés, a narrow street which opens onto the historic Plaza de la Paja, a good area for bars and restaurants. On the corner of Calle de Alfonso VI is the Colegio de San IIdefonso whose students chant the results of the Christmas National Lottery in a distinctive sing-song.
By now you’ll probably be ready for lunch. Vegetarians will be tempted by El Estragón (Plaza de la Paja 10). Other good choices include La Musa Latina (Costanilla de San Andrés 12) and Café Delic.
Calle del Prado 21 • Guided tours available, times vary (advance booking necessary; call 914 29 17 50, ext. 24) • Adm
One of Madrid’s great cultural institutions, the Ateneo was founded in 1835 to promote the arts and sciences. The building contains a library of half a million volumes.
Calle de Toledo 37 • Open for services
This imposing church was built in 1622 by the Jesuits. In 1768 the remains of Madrid’s patron saint, San Isidro, were interred here.
Plaza de la Provincia 1
This 17th-century palace has lovely spired towers and interior courtyards. It was originally used as the city prison, but now houses the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Calle del Príncipe 25
Spain’s National Theatre began as an open courtyard with a wooden platform for a stage. Look for medallions depicting the country’s best-known dramatists above the entrance.
Calle del Príncipe 14
Despite its name, the Comedy Theatre stages classical plays. The lovely façade dates from 1874, while the auditorium was magnificently restored in the 1990s.
The name refers to the orchards that flourished here in the 17th century. Today the street is better known for its nightlife.
Cuesta de la Vega
Remains of the medieval defences are best seen from Parque Emir Mohammad I. The original section dates from the 9th century.
Plaza de Sta Ana 6 • Closed Tue, Aug
This popular beer and tapas bar was founded in 1904 and is still going strong (see Cervecería Alemana).
Laid out in the 1840s, this square commemorates the infamous fictional seducer, Don Juan.
Calle Imperial 9
On the roof of design hostel, just south of Plaza Mayor, you can enjoy spectacular views of the city. Sip a vermouth and savour the laid-back vibe.
Plaza de Canalejas 6 • Open Sep–Jul
This quaint store, founded more than a century ago, sells its own brand of sugared violets, plus a small range of marrons glacés, pralines and other sweets.
Calle de Toledo 18
An intriguing shop on Calle de Toledo, Casa Hernanz (see A Morning Walk Around Old Madrid) specializes in items made of rope, including woven baskets and mats, but especially its famous rope-soled espadrilles, available in every colour of the rainbow.
Calle Mayor 12
You will find an exquisite selection of teas from around the world in this delightful shop. Try the aromatic and exotic infusions such as “Té Verde Moruno” (Morroccan green tea with mint)” or “La Siesta”.
Puerta del Sol 12
The finest in handcrafted fans, exquisite scarves, veils, high-quality walking sticks and umbrellas. This is where Queen Letizia bought the fan for her wedding to King Felipe VI.
Calle Lope de Vega 11
Choose from nearly 100 different styles and material to custom make shoes of your liking. You can also design matching handbags.
Carrera de S Jerónimo 30
Founded in 1842 by Luis Mira, who knew how to cater for the famous Spanish sweet tooth, this confitería (confectioner) (see Casa Mira) is best-known for its turrón (Christmas nougat), and also its marzipan, chocolate and pestiños (honey-coated pastries).
Calle de Esparteros 3
Operating for more than 150 years, this family-run home store is the one-stop shop for religious articles such as rosaries, chalices and painted statues.
C/Santa Ana 12
Félix Manzanero is one of the finest guitar-makers in Spain, and his charming workshop displays part of his amazing collection of guitars and other musical instruments.
Cava Baja 41
This shop offers a variety of Iberian pork products from Salamanca, such as ham and sausages. Acorn ham (jamón de bellota) is considered to be the best. Cheese, foie gras and liqueurs are also sold.
Calle de la Cruz 23
This iconic store is the world’s only shop to sell capes alone. Founded in 1901 by Santos Seseña, today it is run by his great-grandson. The likes of Picasso, Hemingway and Michael Jackson have shopped here. Be warned, these classic Spanish fashion items are not cheap (see Capas Seseña).
Calle de Toledo 53–55
The display windows of this famous sweet emporium are ablaze with colour and an array of typical flavours such as mojito, gin & tonic and cava to suit all tastes. To be fair to all, sugar-free sweets for diabetics are also created.
Calle de Mira el Río Baja 18
Delve into this treasure trove of antique and second-hand furniture – everything from old mirrors and table lamps to painted plates and plastic chairs.
Calle Toledo 57
This Aladdin’s cave sells an unusual array of goods ranging from saddles to espadrilles. Its interior seems to have changed little since it opened in 1860.
Ribera de Curtidores 22
Stocks just about everything the photographer might need – cameras (new and second-hand), film, camera cases, tripods and other specialist equipment. Also sells binoculars.
Plaza Cebada 15
If you want artisanal hams and cheeses but prefer not to go to a tourist spot, try this market (see Mercado de la Cebada). It is popular with locals, and many of its vendors supply some of Madrid’s best restaurants.
Calle Calatrava 19
For many generations, this small shop has been offering a broad selection of wine and local alcohol, with almost 1,000 products at hand.
Calle del Águila 12
One of the few remaining makers of authentic, superb quality wineskins, which make a fantastic souvenir of traditional Spain.
Ribera de Curtidores 12
Shop at this gallery for prints, lithographs, repro-ceramics and antiques. Souvenir hunters should make a bee-line for Albarelo and Mercedes Cabeza de Vaca.
Calle Miguel Servet 6
This shop is dedicated to the fine art of making hammocks – La Tienda de las Hamacas sells every kind of hammock imaginable for the home or garden. Particularly special are the handmade Mayan styles.
Cava Alta 21
Ideal for picking up tasty picnic goodies, this shop has a wide range of organic produce, including bread, cheese, ham, fruit and vegetables. It also has a great selection of olive oils and wines.
Calle de Cañizares 10
Enthusiasts rate this attractive venue as the best place for traditional Spanish flamenco acts.
Calle Manuel Fernández y González 7
Worth seeing for the decorative tiles alone, this tapas bar near Huertas really gets going after 10pm and is a popular hang-out with the young crowd. In the summer you may need to cool off on the terrace. Becomes busy at weekends.
Plaza del Ángel 10
Sophisticated jazz lovers enjoy this Art Deco café at the top of Huertas. There is a small admission charge, depending on the artists.
Calle Salitre 30
Popular with locals, this nightclub blends vintage decor with barroque. Quirky ambience, well-priced menu and the live music here keep the good vibes going.
Corner of Calle de Espoz y Mina, Cádiz 9
The live salsa music, performed from Thursday to Saturday, is the main draw of this noisy Cuban restaurant.
Calle del Olmo 2
A stalwart on the city’s flamenco scene for more than 30 years, it is set in an atmospheric vaulted cellar. Open nightly until dawn, but the flamenco performances are held on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
Ronda de Atocha 35
This theatre is named after an Irish horse tamer called Thomas Price who came to Madrid in the 19th century and set up a circus. It is now the best place to see avant-garde performances in Madrid.
Calle de Espoz y Mina 22
This hip, lively club welcomes dancers with its buzzing atmosphere. It plays the pachanga style of music and offers other varied activities and inexpensive drinks.
Plaza de Santa Ana 15
On a corner of bustling Plaza de Santa Ana, this exquisitely tiled restaurant offers polished and entertaining flamenco performances, combined with a choice of menus and wine, twice every evening (see Tablao Villa Rosa).
Calle Costanilla de San Pedro 11
With its cabaret interiors, this venue hosts live shows with drag queens, flamenco dancing and cabaret performances. It’s open from Thursday to Saturday, with music from the 1980s and 1990s.
Calle Victoria 5 • 915 22 54 12 • €
Traditional tapas bar, decorated with paintings of the poet Quevedo. Serves incredible Spanish omelettes and fried squid, as well as local tapas Madrileñas.
Cava Baja 30 • 913 65 08 04 • Closed Wed L • €
Offers a good choice of wines and large tapas for sharing.
Constanilla de San Andrés 14 • 913 64 54 50 • Closed Mon • €
This café features retro furnishings, some of which you can buy at its shop next door. It serves homemade quiches and salads at lunchtime and in the evening, it is a popular cocktail spot, due in part to its terrace on one of Madrid’s prettiest squares.
Calle León 12 • 914 29 56 18 • Closed Sun D • €
This popular wine bar is housed in a converted 1930s deli. There is a huge selection of wine, empanadas (pies) and ice cream.
Calle de la Cava Baja 35 • 913 65 82 17 • Closed Aug • €€
It’s worth splashing out on a meal in this restaurant renowned for its roasts. Booking ahead is essential.
Plaza del Humilladero 4 • 913 66 68 86 • €
A Madrid classic, this popular bar is right in the heart of one of the city’s liveliest nightlife districts. It draws an alternative, arty crowd, including musicians and actors, thanks to its relaxed vibe and well-priced drinks, including excellent vermut.
Calle de Echegaray 7 • 914 29 73 13 • €
Sherry is the speciality of this small, lively bar that serves simple tapas.
Calle de la Victoria 9 • 915 21 07 08 • €
Enjoy good Spanish wine and Iberian ham at this atmospheric tapas bar (see Alhambra). It is crowded at weekends.
Calle del Almendro 13 • 913 65 42 52 • €
This tastefully decorated tapas restaurant has an Andalucían theme.
Hotel ME Madrid, Plaza Santa Ana 14 • 917 01 60 00 • €
This stylish rooftop terrace has two indoor bars, delicious cocktails and extraordinary views of the city.
Calle de la Cava Baja 9 • 913 66 18 60 • Closed Sun D, Aug • €€
This attractive inn dates back to 1642. Traditional Castilian cooking is served, especially roasts.
Calle de la Cuchilleros 17 • 913 66 42 17 • €€
American writer Ernest Hemingway was a fan of this restaurant (see Sobrino de Botín). His favourite dish, roast suckling pig, is still a house speciality.
Plaza Mayor 26 • 913 66 50 16 • €€
Enjoy a free tapa when you buy a drink at this Andalucían bar, decorated with bullfighting memorabilia offers traditional fare.
Calle de la Victoria 12 • 910 00 01 33 • €
This tapas bar (see La Casa del Abuelo) par excellence was founded in 1906 and is still going strong. The speciality of the house is prawns.
Calle San Millán 4 • 913 54 62 52 • Closed Sun D, Mon, Jul, Aug • €
Dating back to 1857, this taberna has an old-world charm. It is worth trying the main speciality, cocido Madrileño – a stew made from chickpeas, tripe and fried bacalao.
Cuchilleros 9 • 913 66 20 18 • €
Traditional cuisine, such as tapas and cocido Madrileño (stew).
Calle de las Huertas 18 • 914 29 93 56 • Closed Sun D, Mon, last 3 weeks of Aug • €
Historic tavern, where Cervantes wrote part of Don Quixote, serving traditional Madrileño food and vermouth on tap.
Huertas 66 • 914 29 58 18 • €
Chaotic and noisy, this restaurant is still well worth a visit for the great seafood, almond cake and wine.
Calle de Mesón de Paredes 13 • 915 39 78 26 • Closed Sun D, 15–31 Aug • €
The ambience here is reason enough to visit this traditional inn (see Taberna de Antonio Sanchez). The delicious range of tapas includes black pudding with raisins.
Calle Principe 11 • 914 29 59 21 • €€
Traditional classic dishes from the northern Spain region of Bierzo in Leon. Try the meat and the morcilla sausage which is spicy, but worth it.