If you just visited Spain’s beautiful capital for the first time, you might want to go straight to Plaza Mayor. There’s no doubt that this enclosed and pedestrianized square is one of Madrid’s most important attractions.
Known before as the Plaza Arrabal, the square was first an arena where ancient bullfighting games were held, and so, you can only imagine how noisy the square used to be then, what with the boisterous spectators of the game. Obviously, a signaficant part of Spanish bullfighting history happened right in this place.
During the early days, fiesta and carnival activities were commonplace scenes in the plaza. Also, at the height of the dreaded Inquisition, heretics and other criminals were persecuted within the area. Those found guilty were put to death by burning or strangulation.
Today’s Plaza Mayor Madrid
One thing you would notice is the uniform appearance of the facade of the structures found on all sides. The buildings also possess the same structural feature, specifically porticoes (porch) at the their front or roof structures over walkways. The thick columns provide support to these structures as they surround the whole square.
The appearance of the plaza was not always like it it now. In the late 1800’s, it was ravaged by a series of fires, and was only restored to its former greatness via the work of Senor Juan de Villanueva, Spain’s respected modern classical architect.
Things to do when in Plaza Mayor Spain
Did you know that the plaza has an almost perfect square shape? And that all its gates form beautiful aches? Thousands of people can enter and be accommodated at the plaza, and because it is one of the most popular and accessible tourist sites in Centro Madrid, it never runs out of people.
Here are fun things that you can do inside the Mayor Plaza:
1. Dine Al fresco
Plaza Mayor’s sides are lined with great restaurants and cafes. I suggest that you opt for one that offers terrace dining, as this affords you the best views of the goings-in inside the plaza — while of course, relishing bocadillos or ant other traditional Spanish cocido.
2. Grab a bocadillo de calamares
Can’t wait to try a delicious bocadillo de calamares? Squid sandwich bars and cafes are aplenty, selling hot and tasty bocadillos selling as low as 2.70 euros apiece.
3. Try on a chulapo
Want to see yourself garbed in a chulapo? Pose behind one of those mannequins standing in the plaza’s corner, have someone take your photo, and Voila! You have a souvenir pic of yourself looking smart in this traditional Spanish costume. All for a fee, of course.
4. Visit the Tourism Information Center Office
Housed at the Casa de la Panaderia, the city tourism agency they will help you come up with the best tour itinerary. Maps and brochures are free for the taking. Open all days of the year, starting at 9:30AM.
5. Buy souvenir items
Souvnir paradise, that’s what Mayor Plaza is – the place is where you’ll find Madrid mugs, dolls, abanicos, Real Madrid shirts, Flamenco figurines, and so many more. Time to buy something that will help you cherish your Madrid Spain vacation.
6. Have a dose of rich Spanish history
I. Arco de los Cuchilleros
There are more or less ten entrance gates to the square, the most popular of which is Arco de Cuchilleros (Arch of Catlers) on the southwestern corner of the square that leads to street of the same name. In this street, the knive-makers’ factories were found, and were there wares are made, to be sold to the butchers that worked in the plaza (Casa de la Carniceria)
II. Felipe III and horse bronze statues
A very impressive sculpture, a creation of Giambologna and Tacca, the Philip III statue and his horse statues are two highly valued art creations of the 17th century. The original location of the statues was actually not at Plaza Mayor, but Casa de Campo.
III. Casa de la Panadería
Casa de la Panaderia, one of the more popular Plaza Mayor buildings structures, only has the first floor and cellar for its remaining original portion. All other edifices inside the square were patterned after this historic building.
I. Join Free Tour
Take advantage of free tours that will take you to importnat spots and corners inside the square, but to other attractions of Madrid. Be alert for those who hold umbrellas the say “Free tours!”
8.Book your accommodation
Hotel Plaza Mayor Madrid
Hotel Plaza Mayor Madrid is actually not inside the square premises but a few meters outside, at the corner of Calle de Atocha. Still it is the choice of many tourists who want to be just a stone’s throw away from the plaza and other important attractions like Puerta del Sol and Palacio Real. The facade is quite simple, yet you know a lot of history has transpired in this building since it has been in existence since the 1700s. A mix of traditional and modern design in its interior, the hotel is complete with high-tech facilities like modern lighting and free WiFi
Another must-book hotel if you want to stay near the Plaza is the Petit Palace, just along Calle de Arenal. It is strutegically located, right in the midst of of the city. In fact, you are only a few steps away from Plaza Mayor, which is why it is an ideal place to book a room if you want to be near to the square. It offers vital amenities like free Internet and an iPad for use in your room.
9. Meet up with friends, hang out at the plaza
Plaza Mayor is much like Puerto del Sol, it is also an ideal place to meet up with your friends if you’re in the city. After checking out every nook and corner of the square, your group can later proceed to other major Madrid attractions, like Plaza de Isabel II, Museo de los Canos del Peral, or even Jardines de Sabatini, to name a few. Many of these touristy sites are in close proximity to the place
10. Experience a merry Christmas at the square
Be a part of Christmas joy in Madrid by visiting its xmas bazaar. As the Yuletide season nears, the place transforms itself into a sort of wonderland for the whole family, where multi-colored lights, kiddie rides, street performances for the kids, and bazaars can be found in the square. The story of the Navidad is usually depicted in the form of clay figures of the men and women during the birth of Jesus, including the Holy Family itself. A miniature town of Bethlehem, where within these figures are positioned to play out the Nativity scenes, are on display in the middle of the square, for everyone to see.