Bustling, reverberating, full of life — these words describe Puerta del Sol, the Gate of the Sun in the midst of Madrid. A gargantuan, pedestrianized plaza of an irregular shape, it serves as a focal point from which important streets such as Calles Preciado and de la Montera branch out and lead to various major Madrid spots, like Plaza del Callao and Gran Via, respectively.
Needless to say, Puerta del Sol is the heart of Spain.
Whether you’re a backpacker, a first-time traveller, or a high-flying businessman-jetsetter en route to Madrid, it is a must that you include Puerta del Sol in your itinerary. All you need is a whole afternoon – and you will simply be awed by the place and its immediate surroundings.
Here are 15 things to see and do in and around Puerta del Sol:
1. Step on the Kilometro Cero Marker
The Kilometro Cero marker is proof that Puerta del Sol is the heart of the country. Located on the sidewalk in front of the Ayuntamiento building, take a picture of the marker with your feet stepping on it. It’s a tradition done by first-time visitors of the square.
2. Ogle at the Oso y el MadroñoThe Bear and the Strawberry tree statue is regarded as one of the city’s important symbols. In fact, you will find its depiction in the official coat of arms of Madrid. El Oso y el Madroño is one of the most visited attractions of the square.
3. Be amused by the square’s street performersStreet performers are permanent fixtures of the square. One can be the Predator, Edward Scissorshands, or various other interesting characters, each of which is eager to grab the attention of passing tourists. Be wary about taking their pictures, however, as it isn’t free. See to it that you have at least a euro to pay afterwards.
4. Brought along your little ones? Delight them with kid’s face paintingPuerta del Sol is the ultimate fun place for kids if only because of the presence of the street performers dressed up as various fantasy characters. Heighten their excitement further by having their faces painted with the likeness of popular cartoon heroes like Spiderman and Incredible Hulk.
5. Shop till you dropEl corte Ingles is arguably the most popular retail chain in the country. The best times to shop — and get more out of your Euro — are the months when prices are at their lowest, like the mid-year months of July and August, and post-Christmas month of February.
6. Ride the Madrid MetroSol Metro Train Station has several access points in the plaza. It’s one fast ride that connects Puerta del Sol to other spots of Madrid. Adequate signs make walking thru metro‘s labyrinth-like passageways easy even for first-time riders.
7. Explore the Nearest (and equally popular) squareThe historic Plaza Mayor is an enclosed square that once served as a bullring. Walk through the porticoed paths on its sides and check out the souvenir shops, cafes, and restaurants. Need assistance in touring Madrid? Drop by the city’s largest tourism office, housed at the square’s Casa de la Panaderia
8. Buy all the souvenirs you wantLooking for an authentic abanico? Buy a traditional Spanish fan at Casa de Diego. Plaza Mayor boasts of shops that offer tons of souvenir items of all types, like porcelain statues of Flamengo dancers or toreros, Madrid shirts, mugs, and plates, keychains, and many others.
9. Sit by the central fountain
In the midst of the square are two fountains, both of which have ledges that serve as popular resting places. Any spot here is perfect for you to people watch, gaze at the Casa de Correos and the giant billboards, or simply rest and while the time away.
10. Stroll around the royal gardenA must-see is the Jardines de Sabatini, which is a few hundred meters away from the plaza and just beside the Palacio Real. In contrast to the dizzying pace at Sol, here you’ll experience a relaxing promenade. Filled with manicured hedges and lush greeneries, stroll by the garden’s sandy paths while enjoying the magnificent view of the Palace from time to time.
11. Chomp on a bocadilloTake a filling break by having some bocadillos of Museo del Jamon, located along Calle Major (or at Carrera de San Jeronimo). Jamon, lacon, chorizo, cheese — you can eat all your favorite bocadillos for 1 euro a piece. Have them served with a cold glass of cola or a chilled copa of beer. What an affordable snack that will get you going for the rest of the day.
12. Visit nearby churchesThe San Gines Church (above) and Almudena Cathdral, located along Calle Arenal and Calle Bailen respectively, are popular among the locals and Madrid old-timers. Both are two of the most revered in the city, and are often the sites of the yearly major religious events.
13.Have a feel of Spanish royaltyAppreciate the facade of the stately Palacio Real in Calle Bailen, or even explore its interior and marvel at the fine furniture and work of art created by Spain´s most admired artists and craftsmen.
14. Relish on a Suckling PigA few hundred meters from the square, along Calle Cuchilleros, is Sobrino de Botin, famous for its roasted suckling pig. Order whole so you could cut it into half using the plate’s edge. Eating at Botin affords you the bragging rights for having dined at the world’s oldest restaurant.
15. Wiggle your way around on a segwayTour the plaza and beyond by renting one of those fast-riding, two-wheeled, foot-controlled contractions. Many who had done so swore the segway was a uniquely exhilarating way of exploring Sol.
The list doesn’t stop here. In fact, there must be tons of exciting things to do that make for a truly memorable visit of the square. Drop on by if you’re in Madrid, and find out for yourself why it is a must-see. Do so, for your trip to Madrid, Spain is never complete if you didn’t see Puerta del Sol.