The Plaza Mayor is one of Madrid’s most famous squares. Thanks to its central location, there’s plenty to do in and around the plaza. Here’s our list of what you shouldn’t miss.
Have a Drink Al Fresco
Although sitting outside for a drink or a meal in the plaza is a bit overpriced and touristy, it’s definitely fun to do at least once. There are plenty of outdoor cafes to choose from, here’s a list of our favorites. It’s best to do this on a sunny spring day when you’ve been exploring the city and need a break.
If you’d rather explore the Plaza Mayor by walking it, it won’t take you very long – it measures 129 meters in length and 94 meters in width. Enter through one of the 10 archways, and make sure to look up and admire the 237 balconies facing the center of the square. You can also get up close to the statue of Felipe III on his horse, in the middle of the plaza. This statue was placed in the plaza in 1848, although it was created in 1616. Finally, the facade of the Casa de la Panadería is covered in beautiful frescoes dating back to 1590, though most recently reconstructed in 1992.
Shop the Christmas Markets
Some people spend the whole year waiting for Madrid’s epic holiday decorations and lights, which cover not only the Plaza Mayor but the entire city center. The plaza also sets up market stalls, selling all sorts of holiday trinkets, decorations and more. The market even sells crazy wigs and gag gifts in honor of Spain’s version of April Fool’s Day, El Día de los Santos Inocentes, which falls on 28th of December. Even if you don’t feel like shopping, at least check out the plaza at night in January and February, when it’s all lit up with holiday lights and cheer.
As the plaza is only a small square, once you’ve strolled it, had a drink and checked out any market stalls, that’s pretty much all you can do inside. So, it’s time to head out of the square and visit the Mercado de San Miguel, just a minute away. One of the most popular markets in Madrid, this is a tourist attraction you just can’t miss. You’ll be mesmerized by the the plethora of traditional food and drink offerings: ham legs dangling from the ceilings, wheel after wheel of cured cheese and seafood delights you never knew even existed.
Exit the market and head down one of Madrid’s coolest streets: Calle Cava Baja. Curvy and covered in cobblestones, this street has some of Madrid’s most traditional tapas bars and restaurants. Pop into any of them for a drink and a tapa, or simply enjoy wandering down the street and taking the whole ambiance in.
The nearby Puerta del Sol is another one of Madrid’s well-known plazas. Though it’s not as breathtaking as the Plaza Mayor, it does have some fun things to check out, like the bear statue, the giant Tio Pepe sign, the clock tower, a fountain and the Kilometer Zero plaque, which is supposedly the exact center of Spain.
Visit the Cathedral
Head down Calle Mayor to check out Madrid’s famous cathedral, the Almudena. There are plenty of very old churches in Madrid, but this particular one is on the newer side, with construction starting in 1879. Still, its modern interior is quite different from any other church you might see in Spain, and is definitely worth a visit, even if you simply snap some photos of its stately exterior.
Madrid’s Palacio Real is located right next to the cathedral, and if you don’t pay to visit the interior, the exterior is just as exciting to check out. With a special set of gardens, with maze-like trees and bushes around a pond, a plaza filled with statues and the building itself detailed in gold, it’s truly a beautiful site to see.