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Madrid de los Austrias, the most historical area of central Madrid


Puerta del Sol, the heart of the city

All roads lead to Puerta del Sol -- literally. Known as "kilometer zero" because the distances of Spain's highways are measured radiating out from here, Sol serves not only as the heart of Madrid, but of the entire country as well.

This plaza, which is the junction of 8 streets, is officially the centre of the nation: a stone slab in the pavement outside the Casa de Correos on the south side marks kilometre zero, from where Spain's six national roads begin. The Casa de Correos, a building of 1766, which is now the head office of Madrid's Region government, also houses on its tower the clock which gives the 12 midnight chimes on New Year's Eve for all of Spain.

Puerta del Sol is a great point of reference for anyone visiting Madrid, since a number of important roads diverge here. Head westward on Calle Arenal and you'll reach the Royal Theater & Palace; go southwest on Calle Mayor and you'll find the Plaza Mayor and "Austrias" part of Madrid. Eastward, Carrera de San Jerónimo will lead you to the Congress and Prado Museum, while Calle de Alcalá takes you straight to Plaza de Cibeles, the Puerta de Alcalá and the Retiro Park. Any of the northbound shopping streets (Montera, Carmen, Preciados) put you out on Gran Vía -- cross the street and you're on your way to Malasaña and Chueca.

Around Puerta del Sol, there are a large number of shops and interesting places to visit
. An statue of a bear pawing a madroño bush lies on the north side; this is both the emblem of the city and a favourite meeting place. Immediately north of Sol, calle Preciados and calle del Carmen head towards the Gran Vía; both are pedestrianized and constitute the most popular shopping area in Madrid.

From Puerta del Sol, towards the east runs the Calle de Alcalá. Just a few meters from Sol, on Alcalá 13, is the Real Academia de Bellas Artes, and next to it is the Casino de Madrid, in Alcalá 15, a club with more than 170 years and where you can go at the restaurant and enjoy the experiencial food of the Bulli Catering by the well known Ferrán Adriá. Further down, Alcalá 42, houses one of Madrid's oldest cultural centers, the Círculo de Bellas Artes, where you can stop for an art expo, film, or a café. Alcalá continues to the roundabout Plaza de Cibeles, with the statue of the goddess Cibeles on her chariot ridden by lions, a symbol of the city of Madrid. Here, is Alcalá's intersection with Madrid's grand north-south axis called Paseo de Recoletos & Paseo de la Castellana to the north and Paseo del Prado to the south.

Towards the west
run calle Mayor and calle Arenal. Calle Mayor takes you to the Plaza Mayor and to the Plaza de la Villa. The Plaza Mayor, an elegant porticoed 17th century plaza is to the left as you walk along Mayor. In and around the plaza, you'll also find lots of bars and restaurants where you can try traditional dishes, though one must be careful, as the area is very tourist-oriented and some of them are quite expensive. Be sure to confirm the price of everything in advance if you don't want an unpleasant surprise when paying!

Calle del Arenal, is a pedestrians walkway that ends at Plaza de Isabel II, right in front of the Teatro Real (Madrid Opera House) -map with location-. Along the street, you'll find Calle de Bordadores on your left, and behind it, the Plazuela de San Ginés and the famous Chocolatería de San Ginés, open 'til the wee hours of the night for hot chocolate & churros, a Madrid tradition. Calle de Bordadores is called Calle de San Martín on the other side of Arenal. Head up San Martín and you'll arrive at a pretty plaza holding the 16th century Real Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales, founded by Pricess Juana, daughter of emperor Charles V (Carlos I of Spain), who is buried there. The interior holds 17th century Belgian tapestries.
Continue north from Descalzas and you'll hit Plaza de Callao & Gran Vía

Metro stops in this area: Sol, Sevilla, Gran Vía, Ópera

Madrid de los Austrias, the most historical area of central Madrid

The area known as Austria's Madrid, or the Madrid of the Hapsburg, after the Austrian royal dynasty who reigned in Spain until 1700 is the oldest section of the city, so it's packed with historical attractions. You'll feel the charm of old medieval-reinassance Madrid in the narrow quiet streets around Plaza de la Villa, plaza de la Paja and, of course, at the Plaza Mayor. Again at the calle Mayor, there is the Mercado de San Miguel a cute 1913 iron market.

The most typical Madrid attractions are concentrated around the Plaza Mayor in the "Austrias" neighborhood. Discover Madrid food at classic restaurants like El Botín or Casa Lucío, see flamenco at any number of nearby venues, or get a glass of sherry on the ever more hip Cava Baja street where locales old and new bustle all nights of the week. Los Austrias is a great neighborhood to amble along old winding streets and lose yourself in historic Madrid.

This area also hosts the major Madrid festivals of San Isidro and Paloma festival
where people dance in the traditional madrileño style called chotis.

A good place to start is Calle Mayor, which meets the southwest corner of Puerta del Sol. Calle Mayor is one of Madrid's oldest streets, but instead of continuing all the way down, first duck into any of the Plaza Mayor's many entrances on the southern side of the street.

The Royal Palace is on Calle Bailén, and from this street you can reach the Viaducto de Segovia, which suspends Bailén street high over calle Segovia and makes it easy to go the beautiful baroque Iglesia de San Francisco el Grande on the other side. The viaduct is one of the city´s recognisable landmarks, unfortunately, it is one of the places most frequently chosen for acts of suicide, and the raising of security screens has dampened the superb views over Madrid´s rooftops that it used to have.
From here, head up Carrera de San Francisco. Above lies the most happening part of Hapsburg Madrid, La Latina

La Latina, the Madrid "castizo"

The Latina area is an attractive and often ignored part of old Madrid. In and around this area are the origins of Madrid. Its difficult to put precise boundaries on La Latina, because, like its immediate neighbours, streets are narrow and wind a lot, but for convenience, we will define its boundaries as the calles Bailen and Toledo, the Plaza Mayor and the Puetra de Toledo. Apart from being one of the most attractive parts of the city to wander about in, it is home to many particularly fine tapas bars, restaurants, and many spots for nightlife and social life centered in the plazas de San Andres, de la Cebada and de la Paja.

From San Francisco el Grande church
, go up Carrera de San Francisco street. At the plaza de San Andrés, dominated by the dome of the Capilla de San Isidro, is the San Isidro Museum which shows the different of Madrid through the ages, from its beginnings as a Muslim stronghold to its birth as a metropolis. San Isidro Museum provides an account of Madrid´s archaeological past and the material, social and spiritual heritage of the various cultures that have lived here. It also contains an exhibition of the art and traditions associated with the patron saint of Madrid, Saint Isidro.

The street Cava Baja
nearby has excellent restaurants, among which the reknown Lucio, and fashionable bars.

At the Plaza de la Cebada
is the local covered market originally made of iron and glass, it was demolished in 1956 and rebuilt as we can see today. Look out for the calle Almendro and the famous tavern with the same name.
Not far is the Plaza de Cascorro, heart of the popular Sunday street market, or Rastro.

What to do in Sol






  • Sol (L1, L2 and L3) / Opera (L2, L5 and R)
What to do in Madrid´s Austrias Zone


  • AUSTRIAS: Sol, Opera (L2)
  • LA LATINA: La Latina (L5)
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