One of the most distinct features of the Spanish capital is its walkability, with a compact city centre that easily connects the different neighbourhoods. While most of Madrid’s heart is charming, there are some streets you absolutely mustn’t miss!
1. Feel the big city buzz on Gran Vía
Known as the Spanish Broadway, this magnificent main artery of Madrid offers amazing architecture and a big city feel found in few other places in Europe. Parallels with the Big Apple can be seen in the art deco skyscrapers, historic theatres and the endless stream of taxis. Start your walk from the lovely Plaza de España, taking in the atmosphere of the crowded Plaza del Callao. Here you can enjoy stunning views of Gran Vía from the Gourmet Experience, situated atop the Corte Inglés shopping mecca. Don’t forget to look up as you stroll down Gran Vía, keeping an eye out for the iconic angel on top of the Metropolis Building.
Photo credit: Kevin Pacheco
2. Slow down on Calle Fuencarral
From Gran Vía, you can turn a corner and find a totally different vibe in a neighbourhood hot with hipsters. Tree-lined Calle Fuencarral draws the line between funky Malasaña and gay-friendly Chueca. Life is slower here, with locals doing their shopping and enjoying coffee breaks. Don’t miss Mercado de San Ildefonso – a New York-inspired indoor food market that, unlike Madrid’s more traditional food markets, spans three floors.
3. Sense the local spirit on Calle del Espíritu Santo
Closer to the heart of Malasaña, smaller Calle del Espíritu Santo is the quintessence of this neighbourhood, with a unique mix of street art, cobblestones and colourful coffee shops. Here you’ll see locals walking their dogs, dragging their bikes along and chatting with friends. Enjoy a delicious lunch at Greek & Shop on the corner, grab a coffee at the retro-chic Lolina Vintage Café, drop by Happy Day for a cupcake or kick back with a cocktail at Vacaciones Bar. If local charm is what you’re looking for, this street is definitely one you shouldn’t skip.
4. Get high on Calle de Alcalá
Where Gran Vía ends at the Metropolis Building, Calle de Alcalá picks up and continues the stream of magnificent architecture, from the buzzing Puerta del Sol to the picture-perfect Palacio de Cibeles with its rooftop lounge. Along the way you can enjoy the city’s most stunning views from the Azotea rooftop terrace of the Círculo de Bellas Artes, as well as from the impressive Banco de España building.
5. Take an artsy stroll along Paseo del Prado
From Plaza de Cibeles, you’ll catch one of Madrid’s best-known boulevards – Paseo del Prado, which shares the same name as the world-famous art museum. Other than the prominent Prado, the boulevard stretches past Museo Thyssen Bornemisza, almost reaching Museo Reina Sofia in an area known as “The Golden Triangle of Art”. Other notable highlights along the way include the vertical garden at the Caixa Forum, the Royal Botanical Garden and the Fountain of Neptune. Paseo del Prado ends at the Atocha Railway Station, which is famous for its interior rainforest.
6. Turn a page on Calle de las Huertas
As its name suggests, this calm street runs through the literary neighbourhood of Huertas, also commonly known as Las Letras (“The Letters”). Here you can literally follow the quotes of famous writers, looking down at golden letters on the pavement. Calle Huertas is most atmospheric at night when its many tapas bars come to life and beckon you inside. Visit the intimate Café Jazz Populart for some free live music, or head around the corner to El Imperfecto for a mojito.
7. Go royal on Calle Bailén
Together with Gran Vía, Calle Bailén offers the most spectacular views of downtown Madrid. Starting from Plaza de España, it takes you past the idyllic Sabatini Gardens to the stunning Plaza de Oriente, situated between the Royal Palace and the National Opera. It’s a romantic backdrop for a picnic, and you might be lucky enough to catch some excellent street musicians. Take a look inside the colourful and modern Almudena Cathedral, cross the viaduct and end your walk at the often overlooked Real Basílica de San Francisco el Grande.
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Opening photo credit: Roberto Taddeo
Brian is a freelance writer from Odense, Denmark. He moved to sunny Madrid in 2014 to find new inspiration and experience his girlfriend’s hometown first-hand. He’s constantly working on new travel writing projects and dreams of one day making a career of it. He recently spent a year living in Cardiff, Wales, which holds a special place in his heart, but he’s now dedicated to the Spanish capital. Brian is a lover of both nature and city life.
All other photos by Brian Schæfer Dreyer