Route through the center of Madrid!
One of my favorite activities in Madrid is walking through the center of the city enjoying the already known and no less beautiful spaces. I like to observe its details, especially if I carry the camera with me. Over the years I have realized that there is an itinerary that I love and it is the one that I repeat the most, so I have thought, what if I share it? Thinking especially of those who come to visit “the forum” for the first time, and also of those who want to regain their gaze on your city. A city that belongs to no one , but welcomes everyone with hospitality. And it’s not just me saying it 😍 Come with me, I’ll take you for a walk through the center of Madrid!
Walking route through the center of Madrid
This route through the center of Madrid is to be done on foot in one day and without running. We will go from the Puerta de Alcalá to the Temple of Debod giving a few laps through a few essential basics. This means that you are not going to deprive yourself of taking photos, browsing in shop windows, and of course eating and drinking something (without spending two hours, or you will not have time to see everything, ha ha).
I warn you that there are not all the essentials of Madrid because it is a walk of several hours, not days, but you start with something. In other words, this is a proposal that complements such interesting visits as museums, parks and gardens, terraces with great views, theaters, concerts and a long etcetera.
And since I have started, I am not only going to suggest an itinerary, but I am going to tell you some things about each stop + a map with everything located.
Puerta de Alcalá and a brief look at the Retiro
We start in one of the many emblematic places in Madrid . Yes, there are a few and you have to start with some.
The Puerta de Alcalá is so called because it was one of the entrances to the city . There were up to five royal or registry gates , that is, gates where taxes had to be paid to enter the city . A regulation for merchants from the countryside, perhaps from other countries.
Another of its functions was and is, as it has not lost this category, royal glen . In other words, the transhumant herds with thousands of head of cattle passed through here in search of new pastures. Just as by the Plaza de Cibeles, which I will tell you about later.
The design that we can see now is from 1778, by Francesco Sabatini and by order of King Carlos III to commemorate his entry into the city.
In Madrid we know Carlos III as “the first mayor”. Apparently he was a lively guy, who liked to go incognito visiting taverns or whatever, and who improved the city in many aspects. For example, he is credited with the ordinance of serving a plate of food the size of the glass of the drink chosen by the customer. It is what we understand today by a “lid” . The idea was that the staff did not fall round the floor after some wines, both because they did not have money to pay for food and drink, and because those who had it preferred to spend it only on drinks. The fact is that if you put your plate in front of you, included in the price of the drink, you don’t say no, right? Well, in those times, neither 😉
Returning to the Puerta de Alcalá, another curious fact about its history is that it was the first Arc de Triomphe to be built in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. But beyond these historical data …
The Puerta de Alcalá is an emblem for the people of Madrid , a monument that is part of the identity of the city. This is how the singers Ana Belén and Víctor Manuel expressed it in the famous song that bears their name. Few of us forget this tribute when we hear his name. “Look at it, look at it, look at it, look at it … the Puerta de Alcalá!”
In case you do not know the song, I share a video of «those years». Listen to the lyrics, it sums up a lot of the spirit of Madrid. The truth is that they looked great 🙂
Until a few decades ago, cars passed through their arches. Over time it was closed and was protected from the intense traffic of the center of Madrid by a small garden. Today we even have an ideal stone bench to take a selfie or portrait with this beautiful neoclassical door in the background.
Next to the Puerta de Alcalá, there is also one of the main entrances to the El Retiro Park . Passing through the old iron gates, and walking straight along the main promenade, you will soon reach the park’s lake. You can include in this route a short walk through the most beautiful places in the park, it will give you time, but not to extend here I remind you that you have a guide to El Retiro in this blog, following this link.
Plaza de Cibeles
The next stop that I suggest is the Plaza de Cibeles. You will see it from the Puerta de Alcalá and you only have to walk a little more than 5 minutes to it. You have no loss!
This is the meeting of the Paseo de Recoletos , the Paseo del Prado and Calle Alcalá , and is presided over by the goddess Cibeles, our particular goddess. A statue that was made in 1782 and is a fountain.
Cybele was the Goddess of Mother Earth , worshiped in Anatolia (today Turkey) and associated with Rea, wife of the titan Cronos and mother of Zeus, Hera, Demeter, Hades, Hestia and Poseidon.
Mounted in her car, she looks impassively ahead. Whatever they do to him, they are not always good things. During the Civil War it was protected from the bombings with sandbags, then it has suffered attacks by madmen and football celebrations in which people go overboard. Why do we damage what we want?
In addition to contemplating it at your leisure, stop to look around it, because it is no small feat. Each corner of the square is occupied by a large building: the old Communications Palace that is today the Madrid City Council, the Linares Palace , the Bank of Spain and the Army Headquarters , the oldest of all (more than the source itself).
Tip: you can go up to the terrace of the Madrid City Council for € 3 to see the views of the square and the rooftops of central Madrid from this perspective. You also have a restaurant where you can have a drink, although I don’t know how it will be priced, but the viewpoint and its views are very good!
We continue walking towards the pure center of Madrid along Calle de Alcalá ( with the starched skirt and spikenard resting on her hips, the florist comes and goes and smiles down the sidewalk of Calle de Alcalá … says the lyrics of a famous zarzuela ).
We leave for another day to go down the Paseo del Prado towards the Neptune fountain, the Prado Museum, the Botanical Garden , and a long etcetera, because today we are going to concentrate on this other walk. I already warned you, you have to choose.
Calle de Alcalá deserves its own section on this walk. As you go up you will see admirable buildings . The one crowned with a dome, a winged statue and a large sign stands out: Metropolis. It is on the corner of the famous Gran Vía, which we then go to but from another side.
Did you know that the Metropolis building was built on the site that was left after the “Casa del Coffin” was demolished? The previous building was very narrow and hence the name sinister. And that its cupola is in the “pompier” style due to its resemblance to the French firefighting helmets of the early 20th century?
Across the street, on the other hand, is the Círculo de Bellas Artes , a place that only because of its name always attracted me. El Círculo is a private, non-profit institution that has been working in favor of culture and the arts for more than 100 years.
In the rooms of what is a true palace there are always exhibitions of painting, photography, sculpture and other artistic disciplines, and on the ground floor there is a wonderful bookstore. The terrace located on the same sidewalk as Calle de Alcalá could also be highlighted. With a romantic atmosphere, it is frequented by writers, actors and musicians. Of course, prepare the portfolio and do not expect a lot of kindness from the waiters.
Now, in my opinion the best is the roof. The terrace of the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid was one of the first to be opened to the public and you can go up there after paying € 5 (€ 4 if you have a youth card). With this ticket you can go to the exhibition halls. Check the schedules here and try to go up at sunset. If you go on the weekend, be patient because the queues are important.
This street is also usually part of the itinerary of countless protests, festivals and continues to witness transhumance once a year.
I invite you to discover for yourself other buildings in this section of Calle de Alcalá with a tip: do not stop looking up (be careful not to fall, of course), because there are many interesting things on the rooftops.
From Calle de Alcalá we enter the center-center of Madrid, and the first thing we see is the statue of the Bear and the Strawberry Tree .
El Oso y el Madroño has been in its original location since 2009 , but for a few decades it was at the beginning of Calle del Carmen. That’s the one I remember the most because it was the meeting point with my friends when we went downtown (and hundreds of other people, of course).
The Bear and the Strawberry Tree is another of he symbols of Madrid . It will be for symbols! It is actually an image of the heraldic shield of the city, dated in the 13th century. Apparently before, only the bear appeared.
Another very popular point is kilometer Zero . A plaque on the ground marks the beginning of the radial highways of Spain from the centrist concept established by Felipe II back in the 16th century. It’s almost at the door of the clock building, to be exact.
In any case, the Puerta del Sol square is not, from my point of view, too pretty. It is true that it has a great emotional charge for those of us who live in Madrid. We all identify it with the place of the New Year’s Eve chimes and with the meeting point of large and small demonstrations, to give a couple of examples. But pretty, what is called pretty … I don’t see it that way.
If I think of it outside of the memories and symbols, for me it is more a place of passage towards other beautiful points of the historic center. Also, even though traffic has been heavily restricted (thank goodness), I don’t find it particularly welcoming. There are no benches to sit on , for example, something that seems basic to me to make a friendly place.
Taking Calle Mayor and then Calle de Postas and Calle de la Sal , you will enter the oldest and most authentic Madrid . We arrived at the Plaza Mayor through one of its arched doors.
Take a few minutes to contemplate it from the shadow of the arcades and decide if you shoot left, right, or move towards its center.
The Plaza Mayor is… uf, one of the most beautiful places in Madrid by far.
I’m going to start by telling you a little personal story :
When I was a child, I learned that my mother’s family had a nickname in town: the Bataneros . I, who had no idea what that new word for me could refer to, asked. His answer was that there was a time, when my mother had no longer lived, when the Martinezes had fulling mills or looms . With them they made woolen cloths that they were going to sell in the Plaza Mayor in Madrid . This was the raw material with which the famous capes worn by the gentlemen (and aspiring to) of Madrid were made . I don’t know if it would be once a month or at certain times of the year, but I do know that from time to time they would undertake the trip to Madrid with mules loaded with cloth.. A journey of just over 100 kilometers through the countryside, probably several days. And the same to return.
Madrid always drew on the countryside and the Plaza Mayor market was the first recipient of merchandise necessary for its subsistence. Later it was the city to which thousands of peasants migrated in search of a better life. My grandparents among them, the same ones from the Bataneros family, grandsons of those wool cloth merchants.
Beyond the family history of a servant, the Plaza Mayor keeps so much history and so many stories that a single post could be made and it would surely be partial.
Let us stay in the contemplation of the facade of the Casa de la Panadería . He was Tahona General de la Villa and hence his name. It is the most spectacular because all the walls are covered in classical style paintings. They are not the originals because they deteriorated over the years (and the pollution, since there was a time when road traffic invaded the square). In 1992 a renovation was commissioned and hence the current appearance. In them you will find representations of mythological characters and some scenes inspired by the history of the city.
In front of the Casa de la Panadería is the Casa de la Carnicería , which was the general meat warehouse that supplied the entire city. Of course, the character of the market and the supply of raw materials is more than subscribed with the names of the buildings, don’t you think?
As you move through the center of the square, notice the lampposts with seats. They are from the last remodeling and there are some bronze reliefs with historical scenes . I confess that I had never noticed them until I went to take some photos for this article! The scenes are varied. From executions to Carnivals, through the bulls and the plans of the plaza that have been used for the various reconstructions. And it is that the Plaza Mayor in Madrid has suffered at least three major fires.
In these streetlights, by the way, you can stop to rest while you eat a squid sandwich , as tradition dictates. For that I recommend that you go to the La Campana bar , on Calle de Botoneras. It is right there and it is well worth it.
Before or after the sandwich, walk through the arcades and look at the taverns, the traditional hat shop , the stamp shops , and of course, take a look at the Arco de Cuchilleros . Of the ten entrances to the Plaza Mayor, this is the one I like the most. The stairs that bridge the gap with the Cava de San Miguel , the streetlights, the sloping gray ashlar walls, which are like an old wall, make me go back in time .
Plaza de la Villa and Calle Mayor
Whether you go up the Cava de San Miguel or go out through another of the arches in that direction, you will come across the San Miguel market . Today it is a market full of the most striking, fine and expensive gourmet stalls . Not so many years ago, I still remember it, it was a normal and current market guarded by the modernist iron structure that has led it to become the current tourist attraction.
From there I suggest you continue walking down Calle Mayor. You will soon come across the Plaza de la Villa , the place where the Madrid City Council was until it was too small. It is a secluded square, in the Herrerian style, like the Monastery of El Escorial . The streets that come out of it were part of the medieval layout. And in one of those streets was the typing test center where we all went to examine ourselves, ha ha.
We continue walking down Calle Mayor and we look at the details.
Here you can find the house of Calderón de la Barca , which is the apartment in which the famous writer of the Golden Age lived and died. In front of it is the street in his honor.
Further down, on the same sidewalk, a plaque commemorates the murder of the Secretary of Don Juan de Austria: Mr. Escobedo . This was one of the most famous crimes in the city. Felipe II himself was implicated (years later he admitted having given his consent) and the princess of Éboli, whose house is announced on another plaque very close to this point.
In the very corner of the murder plaque are the ruins of the apse of an ancient church. Although little is appreciated of the building that was, there is a beautiful “model” in bronze, and next to it a curious statue. Details, details …
In short, as in the Plaza Mayor, in this street there is a lot of fabric to cut on a historical level. I recommend you read, but also go through it with your eyes wide open, trying to feel the History.
At the end of Calle Mayor appears the most famous temple in Madrid. It is not my favorite cathedral in its external aspect, and I think I have never visited it. I am not proud of it but acknowledge that I lack interest. I should remedy it someday, lest it surprise me.
The fact is that you will pass in front of it, that’s for sure, and at the intersection with Calle Bailén you will have to make a decision.
If you go to the left you will soon arrive at the Segovia Bridge and after crossing it to the Vistillas Garden . All that area is very traditional, historical and in short, I recommend it to you as much as the Madrid that we are visiting. But what happened before happens a little again, you have to choose.
Royal Palace and Plaza de Oriente
Taking Bailén street to the right we will go towards the Royal Palace and the Plaza de Oriente. They are very few meters, the palace is connected to the Cathedral by a square.
Have I already said Monumental Madrid ? This may be the corner of maximum expression of this name. The Royal Palace is not where the current kings live, but it is where all kinds of reception events are organized at the State level. Here is the link to the official website where you can check the list of closings for these events. You can also find out about timetables, temporary exhibitions and ticket prices . The visit to its interior is also pending, I may start one of these days.
But if we stay outside, I will tell you that the facade is spectacular . More during sunset and blue hour.
They say on their website that the Royal Palace of Madrid is the largest in Western Europe and one of the largest in the world with almost 3,500 rooms. It sits on the foundations of the medieval Alcázar and it was Felipe II who decided to turn it into a royal residence.
Even if you don’t go in, don’t forget to look out into the huge courtyard , on the side of the Cathedral. And at the other end you can go down to the Campo del Moro Gardens, in French style, among other things because José Napoléon (Pepe Botella for friends) ordered to decorate this garden with tree-lined walks.
As for the Plaza de Oriente, it is the space that extends in front of the main door of the Royal Palace. Besides being completed with the Royal Theater and a couple of fancy cafes, the square is quite pleasant. Do not miss the row of sculptures of different kings that are in the side walks. Nor is the equestrian statue in the center of the square, which they say is the first in the world to be held only by the horse’s hind legs.
Passing by the Royal Theater in a few minutes we arrive at the Opera Square , and if we continue straight ahead along Arenal Street, we will pass by the church of San Ginés . In an adjacent alley there is, by the way, the famous churrería of the same name. But in order not to make this post eternal, which is already being a bit eternal, we will continue.
It turns out that we go out to Puerta del Sol again . Well. Next we are going to go to Calle Preciados, but first we pass by the statue of Mariblanca . The statue represents the goddess Venus and although the one today is a replica, the original is from the 17th century. In any case it is beautiful and well worth a look.
As I was saying, we headed to Calle Preciados . Another street that has changed over the years, although I have always known it with its marked commercial character. Today it is full of franchises of big brands and under normal conditions it is usually crowded with pedestrians.
For me it is a direct and quick access to the Plaza del Callao and Gran Vía , which is where we direct our steps on this day through the center of Madrid.
Plaza del Callao is another very popular spot in the center of Madrid . In my opinion it is uglier than the Puerta del Sol, long. But at the same time it is like the balcony of Gran Vía.
It was built in the early 20th century and I would highlight the famous building with Schweppes’ ad that was shot to fame in Alex de la Iglesia’s film The Day of the Beast .
A secret, if you are not from Madrid: you can go up to the cafeteria in the shopping center in front of the building. It is on the top floor and from there you have wonderful views of Plaza del Callao and Gran Vía . Better if it is at night, it is not an open terrace and the windows are not always very clean. Oh, and you don’t have to consume anything 😎
In recent years, huge screens have been installed that emulate “futuristic” cities such as Tokyo, the famous Times Square in New York, or a scene from Blade Runner . Yes, cinematographic references are unavoidable when thinking about this corner of Madrid.
The Callao cinemas , which host many movie premieres with their red carpet and all, are also standing and open .
Keep an eye on the fact: more than 100 million people pass through the Plaza del Callao a year.
As I was saying, Callao is like a balcony that looks out onto the Gran Vía but at ground level. This time we are going to walk along the also famous street turning left, towards the Plaza de España . It is not a very long walk either and it is the section in which the theaters and cinemas are “concentrated”. I quote it because it is not the shadow of what it was. Before there were a few more establishments and note that it earned the nickname of “mini-Broadway” …
The Gran Vía has been getting pretty in recent years and is still working on it. The already arranged buildings shine bright in the sun, with their modernist, neoclassical airs and full of decorative details. Statues that defy the skies, domes, splendid roofs and some visitors (hotels).
It has already more than completed the century of existence, being April 4, 1910 the date of his birth with a first blow to the hands of King Alfonso XIII.
For the construction of the Gran Vía, more than 300 houses had to be demolished, some 15 streets disappeared, and of course meters and meters of sidewalks, pipes and various conduits were raised.
Did you know that Gran Vía was not called that way until 1980? I had no idea! Actually this was his popular name, but not official.
The last reform, by the way, in which the sidewalks have been widened a lot and they have put some benches in which to stop to rest, has made me see it with more kindness. That, and my love of photography in recent years 😉
Temple of Debod
We therefore walk the Gran Vía until we reach Plaza de España . It is a journey of about a quarter of an hour, but we do not stop there.
This is another square that personally does not excite me, but it is the place of passage to reach the Temple of Debod . You have to cross the Plaza de España diagonally and go up Ferraz street a little, crossing the opposite sidewalk to enter the temple gardens (Parque de la Montaña).
This site does excite me, although since I already wrote a post where I tell you its story and comics, I am going to put the link here and a sample photo, without ceasing to fervently recommend that you do not leave it for another, because it is wonderful .