Awash with overpriced cafes, souvenir shops, and caricature artists, this vast square with its red, arcaded apartments is nevertheless noble and beautiful. The site was originally a food market just outside the city walls, and the current square was created by the Habsburgs in 1619 as the city’s gathering place. People came to see bullfights, celebrate royal weddings, and witness the autos-de-fé of the Spanish Inquisition. With apartments on the square, the royal family had ringside seats. Little remains of those original buildings, as the square suffered three disastrous fires in the 17th and 18th centuries. The zodiac frescoes of Roman gods decorating the Casa de Panadería on the north side look old, but they date only from 1992. Madrileños tend to leave the square to the tourists, but they come to the plaza for Sunday morning coin and stamp trading and for the annual Christmas market. The square’s acoustics are excellent, and musicians often perform in the center near the equestrian statue of Felipe III. The plaza was fully enclosed in 1854, creating the arches that now serve as its gates. The most dramatic is the Arco de Cuchilleros (Cutlers’ Arch), on the southwest corner. Through it, down the stone steps, are the cave restaurants that have fascinated tourists since the days of Washington Irving.
Our Rating Transportation Metro: Sol, Opera, or Tirso de Molina. Bus: 3, 17, 18, 23, 31, 50, 65, N16, or N26.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.