This busy area is possibly Madrid’s most touristy area.
Art and culture
Leisure and nightlife
Food and drink
The area between Puerta del Sol and Gran Vía, with the adjoining streets, is undoubtedly the centre of Madrid’s tourist, cultural and recreational life. It’s here that visitors start or end their tour of the city. It’s here that you can listen to the heartbeats of the Spanish capital.
Puerta del Sol marked the city’s eastern boundaries in the fifteenth century. Later on, when Madrid expanded to the east, the area became the city’s nerve centre. This large square makes one of the most popular meeting points in town, with visitors and locals gathering at the Kilometre Zero mark, the statue of the bear and the strawberry tree, the statue of Charles III of Spain on horseback or the replica of the statue of Mariblanca. At midnight on 31 December every year, the square attracts huge crowds that come to welcome the New Year, swallowing a grape for each of the twelve chimes of the clock.
Inaugurated in 1910, Gran Vía is much younger. But, in just a century, this thoroughfare became the symbol of Madrid. Cinema theatres, theatres, department and fashion stores, as well as some emblematic buildings and the first skyscrapers built in the city – the Metrópoli, Telefónica andCarrión buildings, the Madrid Tower –, stand along Gran Vía.
The Sol-Gran Vía area hosts a number of important art centres and institutions. Find some of them below.
An old royal monastery dating back to the sixteenth century, the Descalzas Reales has a collection that includes works of art by Gaspar Becerra and Pompeo Leoni, among other artists. They are part of the permanent exhibition.
A cultural institution established in 1880, the Círculo de Bellas Artes holds exhibitions, conferences, concerts and other activities aimed at promoting art. The building that’s home to it, designed by architect Antonio Palacios and opened in 1926, has a rooftop affording stunning views of Gran Vía.
The headquarters of the institution whose mission is to promote the Spanish language is in Edificio de las Cariátides (Caryatid Building), which formerly was home to the Banco Central del Río de la Plata.
The first skyscraper erected in Madrid, the Telefónica Building was refurbished to house a cultural centre staging exhibitions to disseminate twenty-first-century culture and the latest knowledge technologies.
The Official Credit Institute Foundation holds exhibitions focused on architecture and urban planning.
Sol-Gran Vía is a top shopping district in Madrid. Visitors shouldn’t miss window shopping here – an unrivalled experience in what seems like a huge open-air shopping centre.
Some of the main streets in the area are pedestrian only, making it easy to hit the shops. Running almost parallel to each other from Puerta del Sol to Plaza de Callao, Preciados and Del Carmen Streets are lined with huge department stores and toy, music and fancy dress stores. When Madrid gets close to Christmas time, the Sol-Gran Vía streets shimmer with twinkling lights drawing thousands of shoppers, as locals and visitors take to the streets to buy their Christmas presents.
Since it was inaugurated, Gran Vía has always boasted a vast array of iconic national and global high street brands, jewellery shops and stores selling state-of-the-art technology gadgets.
Around Plaza de Callao, a handful of second-hand record stores can be found, some of them with lots of vinyl gems.
Sol-Gran Vía offers entertainment all day – and all night – long. The nerve centre of the city, Puerta del Sol is busy 24 hours a day too. Around the square are cafés, bars, live music joints, theatres, etc. Some of the best nightlife venues and clubs playing the latest electronic music lie close by.
The hundred-year-old Gran Vía might well be renamed as ‘the show thoroughfare’, since in the past, big movie premieres would be held at the cinema theatres flanking the avenue. Music lovers can watch some of the world’s most beloved musicals here. The theatres on Gran Vía run such classic productions as My Fair Lady, Les Misérables or Cats, and shows by Spanish composers dedicated to the golden age of national pop music, the 1980s.
A short walk from Puerta del Sol, two fine restaurants: Lhardy and Casa Labra. Standing on Carrera de San Jerónimo since it first opened in 1839, the former serves a scrumptious cocido (chickpea stew) that’s been praised by most food critics. The restaurant used to be patronised by a number of political figures and aristocrats. Located on Calle Tetuán, a few steps from Puerta del Sol, is Casa Labra, a tavern established in 1860 that’s earned a well-deserved reputation for its soldaditos de Pavía (fried cod in batter).
With a menu based on chef Paco Roncero’s innovative creations, La Terraza del Casino, the restaurant at the casino, is a fantastic addition to Madrid’s wonderful dining scene. Awarded with two Michelin stars, this restaurant is considered to be among the city’s best places to eat out. The chef combines traditional ingredients using cryogenic cooking techniques, which transform foods with liquid nitrogen.
Gran Vía delivers quite a different landscape. As you walk down the street, you’ll pass many fast food eateries serving the usual fare. Or you can go to Gourmet Experience as well, on the upper floor of El Corte Inglés Callao, which provides an amazing view of the whole city. There’re plenty of dining options: coffee shops, bars, restaurants and delis… You choose.