History and tradition are alive here in old shops tucked behind the arcades of the square and on the nearby streets. Restaurants and bars, shops offering from stamps and coins to hats, small wares and notions, knickknacks or souvenirs… You’ll find everything you can possibly imagine in and around Plaza Mayor.
Built on the crossing of Toledo and Atocha streets, which flow onto Calle Mayor, Plaza Mayor has always been a focus of business activity. In the fifteenth century, it was known as Plaza del Arrabal, the location of the main town market. The huge arcaded square and the adjoining maze-like streets and alleys have been a shopping district for ages. Members of a variety of trades established their shops around the square. This is why streets with names evoking occupations are to be found here: Calle Cuchilleros (knife-makers), Calle Bordadores (embroiderers) and so on.
The shops around Plaza Mayor offer a wide variety of traditional goods: original buttons to be sewn on an evening dress, workwear for all types of occupations, classic hats or wool cloaks for the chilliest winter days… They also display a bewildering array of fans, as well as other typical reminders of your stay in Madrid, such as sevillana costumes and flamenco dresses.
All types of fabrics, threads, laces, buttons, needles and thimbles are sold at centuries-old Almacén de Pontejos. Established in 1840, Casa Hernanz has outlived passing fashions selling espadrilles on Calle Toledo.
Around the square, in the middle of the finest piece of architecture of old Madrid, are bars with terrazas (outdoor seating) where you can do what Spaniards do: eat tapas washed down with a glass of wine or beer. Don’t leave without trying one of the city’s specialties, the bocata de calamares (squid in batter served between two slices of crusty baguette). After trying some bite-size food, head towards the exit leading to the San Isidro Collegiate Church: on the southeast corner of the square there are caricaturists ready to draw your portrait for a reasonable price.
Stamps and coins
Want to expand your stamp or coin collection? In this area there are many specialist shops. Come on a Sunday or a bank holiday to see local collectors buying, selling or even bartering their valuable pieces.
Since 1860, a popular Christmas Market has been held in Plaza Mayor in December. Under the shelter of the equestrian statue of Phillip III of Spain, countless stalls are set out, packed full of figurines for Nativity scenes, gifts, Christmas trees and decorations.
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