LivingTravelPlaza Mayor in Madrid: the complete guide

Plaza Mayor in Madrid: the complete guide

From the grand arcaded buildings that surround it on all four sides, to the hundreds of locals and visitors on the move, Plaza Mayor is Madrid’s quintessential destination. There’s always something going on here, whether it’s an impromptu street performance or a lovely holiday market, and it’s a great photoshoot too. Here you will find everything you need to know before heading to one of Madrid’s top attractions.


Although its timeless appearance may give the impression that the Plaza Mayor has been around forever, that is not the case. In fact, in the 15th century it was a completely different square known as Plaza del Arrabal, home to a vibrant and bustling market.

Even for centuries before that, the space had even hosted bullfights, live performances, coronations, and much more. Suffice it to say that what is now Plaza Mayor has been one of the most important destinations in Madrid practically since the beginning of recorded history.

The square we see today is relatively young compared to the centuries of history that precede it. In 1790, the architect Juan de Villanueva rebuilt the plaza almost from scratch after a series of devastating fires. The architecture of the rebuilt plaza not only helped prevent future fires, it also gave the plaza the iconic shape we know and love today.

Bakery house

Despite its name, the old Casa de la Panadería no longer offers bread or sweets. However, at the time of its construction in the late 16th century, it was Madrid’s main bakery, famous for its affordable prices that allowed even the city’s poorest residents to buy bread.

The structure of the bakery served as a model for the rest of the buildings that surround the square, but the decorations on the facade have changed several times over the centuries. Today, only the winery and the ground floor of the original building remain, which houses the Madrid tourist information center.

Cuchilleros Arch

One of architect Villanueva’s most important changes in the 1790 redesign of the Plaza Mayor was the installation of several arches leading to the plaza from the surrounding streets. The largest and best known is the Arco de Cuchilleros, which allows access from one of the most picturesque streets to the square through a series of steep stairs. The arch takes its name from the cutlers who existed here long ago, supplying knives to the various butchers in the Plaza Mayor.

Statue of Felipe III

Right in the center of the square is a majestic statue of King Philip III on horseback. Said to be one of the most valuable works of art on the streets of Madrid, the iconic statue dates from 1616.

For some centuries, it was at the entrance to the extensive Casa de Campo park, to the west of the city. However, in 1848, Queen Elizabeth II had the statue moved to its current location in the Plaza Mayor.

Get there

With a compact design and a world-class public transport system, Madrid is one of the easiest European capitals to navigate. That means getting to the main tourist attractions like the Plaza Mayor is a piece of cake. It’s about a five-minute and six-minute walk, respectively, from Puerta del Sol (Madrid’s other iconic square) and the Royal Palace, making it easy to access on foot while on your day trip.

If you find yourself a little further away, don’t worry. Get on line 1 of the metro and go to Sol, or jump on line 5 and go to Ópera. The square is a short walk down the street from any of the stations.

Things to do nearby

Despite being the most recognizable sight in Madrid, the Plaza Mayor is not the last thing to see and do in the Spanish capital. In fact, it serves as an excellent starting point for exploring the rest of the city.

As mentioned above, two of Madrid’s other iconic landmarks are just down the street from Plaza Mayor. Head east to reach Puerta del Sol, where you will find the famous statue of the bear and the strawberry tree , as well as the geographic center of Spain at kilometer 0. Heading west, you will arrive at the Royal Palace, the official residence of Spain. royal family and a magnificent historical building in its own right.

Starting to feel hungry? Avoid the temptation of the dozens of picturesque terraces of bars and restaurants that stretch out over the square. These places tend to be touristy and too expensive for the quality of the food (you’re essentially paying for the views).

Instead, head down one of the side streets that lead to the square. Here, you’ll find more no-frills, hole-in-the-wall bars than you can count, all filled to the brim with locals. Visit any of them (La Campana is a popular choice among locals ) and order the bocadillo de la ciudad, a fried calamari sandwich. Just don’t forget to wash it with an ice cold beer.

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