Delightfully, there are loads of car free streets and squares in Madrid. There is no standard style as they come in all shapes and sizes. Some wrap round churches, many are neat little triangular spaces, while others are a little more than a busy street where roads cross. So, if you mean to travel to Madrid you will want our tips and guide to the best plazas in Central Madrid. It ranks high in the best things to do in Madrid.
This is the most famous square in Madrid and sits in the heart of Old Madrid. It is also one of the biggest and grandest, built in the Herrerian style (see the slate spires). It’s firmly on the tourist trail, but don’t let that put you off as it makes for a great place to grab a drink at one of the restaurant and cafes there and watch the world go by.
The Statue of Felipe III is the centrepiece of this square and was presented to the Spanish King in 1616 by the Florentine ruler Cosimo de’ Medici. It was Felipe III who ordered the construction of the plaza. Ever since, irreverent Madrid men and women would arrange to catch up ‘under the balls of the horse’.
Lampposts around the statue are engraved with scenes depicting life on the square in days gone by when up to 50,000 people would cram in. They show life here during an interrogation by members of the Inquisition, a masquerade ball and a bullfight.
Grimley, burnings at the stake and deaths by garrotte took place on the north side, whereby hangings took place on the south end of the square.
The building in the centre of the picture above used to be the meat market. I wish it still was a food market of some sort. Instead, it is now a government building.
Look out for a house where the extremely powerful bakers guild controlled the price of grain.
Terrace bars and restaurants line much of the square and during the warmer months the tables are outside. However, inevitably these are often overpriced.
(expect the Spanish sun to blind you ^ when you finally peep out from behind your camera).
The famous stamp and coin market takes place here every Sunday morning.
Arco de Cuchilleros i.e. cutlers arch (below), is where the sword makers and knife grinders traded. More recently it is famous for the taverns below where bandits would hid in the cellars.
Besides the tourist shops, the Arcade shop (no.9) near the arch has stuck to the centuries old tradition of Plaza Mayor – buying and selling items made by local artisans.
It is well worth seeing Cava San Miguel just besides Plaza Mayor. The houses here pre-date Plaza Mayor. As huge quantities of earth were removed for the foundations of the square, the houses here had to be given sloping buttresses to prevent collapse.
It therefore, has a unique character making it a delightful street to stroll along and is strangely peaceful. It gives a microcosm of Madrid life in one street.
If you head towards the brilliant Mercado de San Miguel you’ll find a few more nice places to eat and drink.
Plaza de Isabel II
A large open square where finally a woman is celebrated. You can see a statue dedicated to the Queen Isabel II right in the centre. She was the daughter of Fernando VII.
In order to make her a possible successor Fernando VII abolished the Salic Laws in which only sons could be kings. This forward thinking meant she became Queen when she was 13 years old.
The Royal Theatre sits at one side of the square and attractive apartments surround the rest.
But although it’s a very pleasant square it is largely a place where people are heading through, not to.
Plaza de San Andrés
This plaza is a place to hang out. It has a back drop and beautiful grandeur of Iglesia de San Andrés.
Friends and family fill the tables and it feels very local. Hues of yellow and pink coat the houses nearby. It’s all rather pretty.
I hear that towards the evening dancing breaks out, but during the day it is filled with families catching up and passing time in a very relaxed manner.
Plaza de la Paja
This historic place is a good area for bars and restaurants. It’s really an extension of Plaza de San Andrés above and it’s just round the corner. It’s a peaceful spot to sit in the shade at the back of the church and sip some coffee while small tourist groups saunter by.
At the north end of this plaza is the popular (but petit) Jardin del Principe Anglona. Turn right at the gate and you can head east through largely pedestrian streets that link up several small but pretty plazas.
Plaza de la Villa
This is a beautiful little square just set off the Calle Mayor. It’s been the centre of the government since medieval times and has handsome 16th and 17th century palaces alongside the 15th century civil building.
The statue is a Spanish Admiral who defeated the Turks at Lepanto in 1571.
But another nice aspect of this interesting little plaza is that there is a zig zag of quiet, narrow pedestrian streets that takes you through small plazas and ultimately to Plaza Mayor.
Museo al Aire Libre
This can easily be overlooked as it is more of a precinct beneath a road bridge than a plaza, but it exhibits a number of outstanding modern Spanish sculptors. Only bother to head there tho’ if you are either passing or you are into modern art.
There are 17 abstract sculptures in all. It’s grime adds a cool edge. Don’t worry tho’ you are a stones throw from the designer shops of Salamanca.
Plaza de la Independencia
This is worth seeing, sorry I didn’t manage to grab a picture as we only saw it as we shot by in a taxi. It’s a huge monument on a busy intersection. It looks like an triumphal arched gate way.
Plaza de Colón
Another one you kind of need to tick off as you pass by. This section is the prettiest and it commemorates Christopher Columbus. It was erected in 1885 at the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage to the West Indies.
Sociedad General de Autores y Editores
OK, this is not a plaza, so probably shouldn’t be in a list of the best plazas in Central Madrid, but after standing by the roaring traffic near the Plaza de Colón here’s a top tip – just a few minutes walk away you can find a peaceful escape from traffic, tourists and noise for a bite to eat and a cool drink.
Take a break by this Wedding cake building.
Plaza de Oriente
Sweeping exclusive apartments sit at the back and the Royal Palace sits majestically at it’s front.
But the focus of the plaza is this bronze statue of Felipe IV, which lords above a pair of fountains below.
Plaza de España
This is another one well worthy of my best plazas, Central Madrid list, as it gives a spectacle against the stark presence of Madrid’s first skyscrapers. The monument at it’s centre commemorates a famous author.
You’ll find some shade and relative peace here.
It’s peaceful enough to catch 40 winks…
Plaza de la Cibeles
This plaza is great to note as you whizz by in a taxi, but at the end of the day it is a grand roundabout. It evokes the splendour of imperial Madrid. The fountain of the goddess Cybele is gorgeous.
Plaza de Santa Ana
This square is usually packed and lively long into the early hours. The streets all around boasts a concentration of tapas bars and tables fill the square. Jazz bars compete with buskers.
Jardines del Descubrimiento
This, to my mind, is not a garden. It is largely an uninspiring sand and gravel filled space. However, it is still worth visiting for the huge masculine blocks of concrete that reflects in still waters below a truly giant flag that is mesmerising.
There are plenty of benches for a thoughtful stop.
Now you know the best plazas in Central Madrid, here are more guides to help with your visit: