MADRID - NEIGHBORHOODS
Puerta del Sol
The enormous semicircular Puerta del Sol is the heart of the city. This plaza, which is the junction of ten streets, is officially the center of the nation: a stone slab in the pavement outside the Casa de Correos (1766) marks kilometer zero, from where Spain's six national roads begin. A statue of a bear pawing a madroño bush lies on the north side; this is both the emblem of the city and a favorite meeting place. Immediately north of Sol, Calle Preciados and Calle del Carmen head towards the Gran Vía, both are pedestrian and constitute the most popular shopping area in Madrid.
Among the famous landmarks at the Puerta del Sol, there is the aforementioned Casa de Correos, which now serves as the office of the President of the Autonomous Community of Madrid. There is also the large Tio Pepe sherry brand sign, located on top of the former Paris Hotel. It is one of the oldest neon signs left in Madrid, first installed in 1934. There is also a statue of Venus, referred to as the Mariblanca, located inside the square and was once the centerpiece of a fountain that stood in the square prior to the mid-19th century. There is also a noted clock tower which rings twelve times to mark midnight on New Year`s Eve. For each time the bell tolls, Spaniards in the Puerta del Sol (and nationwide, as it is broadcast on Televisión Española) eat a grape, for a total of twelve, ensuring good luck and prosperity for the twelve months of the new year.
The Puerta del Sol sits at the junction of ten streets: Calle Mayor, Calle del Arenal, Calle de Preciados, Calle del Carmen, Calle de la Montera, Calle de Alcalá, Carrera de San Jerónimo, Calle de Espoz y Mina, Calle de Carretas, and Calle del Correo. Sol Metro station is located inside the Puerta del Sol; there are also bus stops on Calle Mayor, Calle del Arenal, Calle del Carmen, and Calle de la Montera. The next-closest Metro stop is Sevilla, halfway between the Puerta del Sol and the Circulo de Bellas Artes.
Toward the western end of the Puerta del Sol, two streets stretch further out west: Calle Mayor and Calle del Arenal. Calle Mayor takes you to the Plaza Mayor. Originally meant to be the city`s market square, it was renovated and revitalized from 1617-19 under the orders of Philip III. The Plaza Mayor quickly became the area`s hub; today, with its mix of Habsburg, French, and Georgian architecture, it is one of the key day and nighttime centers of tourist activity. It's filled with cafes, bars, and shops selling everything from turn-of-the-20th-century souvenir hats to stamps and rare coins over the weekend. Concerts, shows, and exhibitions are often held here, and at Navidad, it's a child's delight with a proliferation of Christmas trees and stalls selling gifts. The lavish Trés Reyes (or Three Kings) processions originate from here on January 6 amid much excitement.
On the eastern side of the Plaza Mayor, there are entryways from the Calle de Gerona, Calle de Zaragoza, and Calle de la Sal. On the southern side, the streets leading to the Plaza Mayor are the Calle de Botoneras, Calle de Toledo, and the Calle de Cuchilleros. On the northwestern side, there is another entry street, Calle de Ciudad Rodrigo. There is also an underground tunnel which links Plaza Mayor with a parking garage at Plaza de Jacinto Benavente. The closest Metro station to the Plaza Mayor is Ópera, located less than 0.2 miles to the north, on Plaza de España. Just to the west of the Plaza Mayor, you will see the Mercado de San Miguel, the building and area that did become the city market (but not until 1916, nearly three centuries after the Plaza Mayor was designed).
Permanently crowded with shoppers and sightseers, the street is appropriately named 'the great lane', with splendidly unusual Art Nouveau and Art Deco facades fronting its banks, offices and apartments, and huge posters on the cinemas. During the 1920's, the Gran Vía became an area where inhabitants could stroll around, with many shops, insurance company offices and leisure buildings that combined cinemas, theatres or varieties. It cuts a bow-shaped, east-west wrap across the center, between the neoclassical Metrópolis building near the Banco de España and the Plaza de España. The numerous theaters that line Gran Via are reminiscent of Broadway in New York City.
Huertas (Barrio de las Letras)
Located east of Puerta del Sol and north of Lavapiés, Huertas holds an assemblage of theaters and nightlife options, especially in Plaza Santa Ana and along the streets Calle del Príncipe and Calle de Echegaray. Also known as Barrio de las Letras, as this is where Spain's most celebrated Golden Age authors Miguel de Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Calderón de la Barca, and Tirso de Molina lived during the 17th century. Now full of traditional bars and restaurants, Huertas is one of the most popular places to go out at night for a drink or a tapa with friends. Plaza de Santa Ana is the heart of the Huertas neighborhood. Hotel Reina Victoria is one of the coolest places to go at night for a drink at the Penthouse. The Reina Victoria was a traditional bullfighter's hangout. The streets radiating off its core, Plaza de Santa Ana, are packed with tapas bars and disco-pubs, popular as much among Spaniards as with an international crowd.
Plaza de España
The Plaza de España is one of Madrid's largest and most popular squares. On a sunny day it is filled with street vendors, tourists and sunbathing locals. Located close to the Palacio Real (Royal Palace), the site was occupied by Torre de Madrid (a barrack). After it was demolished, a new public square was created. It became a popular meeting place in the 1950's, after two of Madrid's largest buildings were constructed, the Edificio de España and the Torre de Madrid. The most popular sight at the Plaza de España is the monument to Miguel de Cervantes, writer of the world famous story of Don Quixote de la Mancha and his trusty squire, Sancho Panza. Ópera Metro station is located on the Plaza de España.
The area roughly from Gran Via north to Calle de Santa Brigida is known as Chueca, and it is easily one of the most easygoing and diverse neighborhoods in the city. It fans out to the south and west from Plaza de Chueca, where there is a Metro stop bearing the neighborhood`s name. There are many cafés, restaurants, and boutique shops in this neighborhood, which is renowned the world over for its festive atmosphere.
This can be credited to the large LGBT community that lives in Chueca, clustered largely around Calle de Hortaleza. The very first openly gay-and-lesbian-owned businesses opened up in a cluster in Chueca in the late 1970s, just a few years after the death of Franco. The first LGBT pride parade in the city (Orgullo de Madrid) was held in Chueca in 1978, and it has been held nearly every year since in the same area. By the end of the 1980s, Chueca was known nationwide and around the world as being one of the world`s leading gay enclaves. It is still known as such today, welcoming tourists and locals to experience its local flair while not losing the close-knit neighborhood vibe that people love.
The neighborhood east of Calle de la Princesa and south of Calle de Alberto Aguilera and Calle de Carranza is called Malasaña. The neighborhood is so named for one of its past residents, a 17-year-old girl named Manuela Malasaña, who was murdered in 1808 by French troops loyal to Napoleon, during the Spanish War of Independence. A plaza in the neighborhood, Plaza del Dos de Mayo, is named for that fateful day in 1808 when French forces struck back against the insurgent Madrileños.
The Malasaña of today is a vibrant neighborhood filled with businesses catering to the nearby student population. It has long been known as a `counter-culture` neighborhood, and it has manifested itself in the bohemian energy seen every night at the local cultural center, concert halls and rock clubs. There are cafés, coffee shops, bakeries, bars and nightclub dotting most streets, especially in the area around Plaza de Dos de Mayo. The plaza is site of the neighborhood market, where dozens of stalls set up shop on the weekends. Noviciado Metro station is located in the Malasaña neighborhood; nearby Metro stations include Plaza de España, Tribunal, San Bernardo, Ventura Rodriguez, and Argüelles.
Paseo del Prado
This tree-shaded and maturely beautiful avenue is home to incomparable city gems. Covering the area from Cibeles to Atocha, Paseo del Prado can be considered the core of aristocratic and institutional Madrid. The area contains the Prado Museum, the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum, Reina Sofía National Art Centre Museum, the Jardín Botánico (Royal Botanical Gardens), Palacio de las Cortes (the Spanish Parliament), the fountains of Cibeles, Neptuno, the Bank of Spain, the Madrid City Headquarters, Spain's Stock Exchange, The Zarzuela Theater, Círculo de Bellas Artes and Casa América - two of the best cultural institutions of the city, Hotel Ritz, Hotel Palace. It's also an exceptionally quiet area given its central location.
To the east lies the Parque del Retiro, a magnificent park once reserved for royalty, with rose gardens, wide walkways, terrace cafes, fountains, statues (including the only one in the world dedicated to the devil), musicians and entertainers, a rowing lake (the Estanque), and Madrid's finest homage to the Industrial Revolution - the iron, tile, and glass built Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace).
Lavapiés is the neighborhood north of the Ronda de Atocha, east of the Glorieta Embajadores and west of the Estación del Arte Metro station. Two important sites located in this area are the Reina Sofía Museum, which houses Picasso's Guernica (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía) and the performing and visual arts center CaixaForum Madrid, which borders the Real Jardín Botánico. In the area there are also a number of art galleries and restaurants, the latter of which can be found close to Calle de la Magdalena and Calle de Atocha. There are many hotels around the station (especially along Calle de Atocha) and wandering about the smaller streets in this area one can find small shops selling a range of curiosities. Lavapiés Metro station sits in the middle of the neighborhood, on Plaza Lavapiés.
Barrio de Salamanca
Ever since the city walls came tumbling down in the 1860s, this elegant, stylish, and expensive neighborhood east of the center has been one of the most fashionable areas to live in Madrid. Some of the city's most traditional covered markets are tucked away here. Calle Serrano marks the western border of this neighborhood and is lined with international shops, stores, and boutiques. The U.S. Embassy is located halfway up the avenue, close to the Lazaro Galdiano Museum. The skyscraper Torres de Colón, a huge Spanish flag, a large branch of Hard Rock Café, a large fountain and gardens (Jardines del Descubrimiento) and the National Library can also be found in Salamanca, just north of the Plaza de Colón in an area called the Plaza Margaret Thatcher.
This neighborhood, bounded by Paseo de la Castellana, Calle Alcalá, calle María de Molina and Francisco Silvela, is one of the few parts of the city with a well defined urban structure. Blocks in the area are square and streets run parallel and perpendicular. It has a reputation for being the wealthy neighborhood in central Madrid, and some of the most exclusive boutiques in town are located there. Its main streets are Serrano, Velázquez and Goya. The closest Metro stations to Barrio de Salamanca are Colón, Serrano, and Velázquez to the south, and Rubén Darío and Núñez de Balboa to the north.
Plaza de Colón
Plaza de Colón, honoring Christopher Columbus, is located in the Alonso Martínez district on the Paseo de la Castellana. It is an impressive plaza with a classic monument to Columbus in the middle of the traffic and a modern stone monument on the side, also for Columbus. The Colon bus stop is but one of the attractions under the plaza. The cultural center, Villa de Madrid, is also located beneath the plaza. At the base of the Columbus Monument is a fountain with a huge cascade of water. At the ends of the fountain are stairs leading down under the cascade. There is also the Museo Archeologico Nacional (the National Archeology Museum), an impressive collection of Iberian prehistoric artifacts, including Dama de Elche, a rare stone bust of a 4th century B.C. Iberian woman, Roman mosaics, Moorish arches and a crown from the Visigoths.
Plaza de Colón's eastern side stretches along Calle Serrano. Serrano is packed with luxury stores like Gucci, Carolina Herrera and Yves Saint-Laurent, as well as Spanish designers such as Adolfo Domínguez, Loewe, Purificación García and Hoss, along with some affordable Madrid shopping options like the Zara mega-store. El Jardín de Serrano is a high quality shopping gallery located in two restored 19th century palaces in the heart of Salamanca's district. Here you will find names with recognized national and international prestige offering exclusive and elegant fashion, jewelry, gifts and accessories. All this in a welcoming atmosphere to shop, stroll, have a cup of coffee or eat dinner.
Barrio de la Latina
The La Latina neighborhood sits on the site of an old Islamic fort in the oldest part of Madrid -- it is sometimes referred to as El Madrid de los Austrias (the Madrid of the Austrians, or the Habsburgs). The land where the fort was once built was called Almudena, and the modern-day Catedral de la Almudena was built in the area known as the old Medina. With perhaps the highest percentage of Medieval buildings in the city, La Latina is considered the historic heart of Madrid.
La Latina is known today for its rustic and festive atmosphere, with the Medieval alleyways filled with tapas bars and local cantina watering holes. It is roughly bounded by Calle de Segovia to the north, Calle de Bailén to the west and Calle de Toledo to the east. The La Latina Metro stop is located on Calle de Toledo at Plaza de la Cebada. The Basilica de San Francisco, with its noteworthy frescoes painted by Francisco Goya, is located just on the other side of Calle de Bailén; other religious buildings in the area include the Iglesia de San Andrés Apostol and the Capilla de Nuestra Señora y de San Juan de Letrán.
The Embajadores neighborhood is bounded by the Calle de Toledo to the west, the Ronda de Toledo to the south, and the Calle de Embajadores to the east. Time Out Magazine voted Embajadores as one of the 50 coolest neighborhoods in the world. Embajadores, as well as Lavapiés, which was similarly honored, are both known for their bohemian and artsy vibe, with education, art and culture key to the vibe of the neighborhood as visitors see it today. In the middle of the neighborhood there is El Rastro flea market, the most popular open-air shopping center in the city, which sees tens of thousands of people wander its market stalls every weekend. The Universidad Carlos III de Madrid`s Puerta de Toledo campus is one of the many tertiary schools located in the city and contributes to the neighborhood`s youthful feel. Embajadores Metro and Cercanias station is located at Glorieta Embajadores, at the junction of Calle de Embajadores and Ronda de Toledo. Nearby Metro stations include Puerta de Toledo and La Latina.
The massive crystal and brick Estación Madrid Puerta de Atocha is Madrid's oldest and largest train station, dating from 1851. In 1992 the original terminal was taken out of service, and opened as a concourse with shops, cafes and restaurants. It is the primary station serving commuter trains (Cercanias), intercity and regional trains from the south, and the AVE high speed trains from Barcelona, Zaragoza (Aragon), Seville (Andalusia) and Valencia (Levante Region). These train services are run by the Spanish national rail company, Renfe. Don't miss the strange but lovely tropical greenhouse in the station's main entrance, part of the reform by Rafael Moneo. In Atocha station (the Cercanias side), there is also the monument to the victims of the 2004 Madrid train bombings.