Like lots of European cities, Madrid’s beautiful squares and plazas are some of the most exciting spots around town. Whether you pass through during a day of exploring or spend a few hours milling about, eating, drinking, and soaking up the atmosphere, Plaza Mayor is one of the best.
This vast portico-lined square is in the old part of the city, where charming streets and excellent eateries abound. In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about visiting the Plaza Mayor. We’ll start with how to get there. Then, we’ll look at some of the things you can see and do in Madrid’s beautiful main square. We’ll find out about the history of the area, and reveal some of the best restaurants, bars, and shops around.
Getting to Plaza Mayor by train
Whether you’re staying in the heart of Madrid or you’re based in a beautiful outer neighbourhood, you might need to use public transport to get from A to B. Madrid is bursting with unique things to see and do, and some of the city’s best attractions are further than walking distance from each other.
Good news! The Spanish capital boasts an easy-to-use public transport network. This includes buses, trains, trams, and metros, which connect all areas of the city in one way or another. We prefer the metro, for its speedy journey times and frequent services.
Which station is nearest to Plaza Mayor?
The easiest way to get to the Plaza Mayor is to head for Sol. This is one of the city’s most extensive transport stations, welcoming both trains and subway services at all hours. You can take line one (turquoise), two (red), or three (yellow) to get to Sol.
Alternatively, take a line two (red), five (green), or the R line shuttle from Príncipe Pío to Ópera, which is similarly close to Plaza Mayor.
Choosing a metro ticket in Madrid
If you’ll only be using the metro once or twice during your stay in Madrid, it’s best to buy a single or return fare for each journey. If you think you’ll rely on public transport a little more, consider a multi-day pass.
First, buy a Tarjeta Multi card, a contactless travel card which lets you swipe on and off local transport at leisure. Then, load a multi-day tourist ticket onto it. You can choose the period of your stay and the zone that you think you’ll be using. Prices vary from €8.40 to €70.80, depending on the options you choose.
Exploring Plaza Mayor
There’s no denying Plaza Mayor is a beautiful spot. Its bustling atmosphere, breathtaking architecture, and the plethora of excellent bars and restaurants help make it one of the most-visited parts of Madrid, not to mention the historical features which embellish the square. Let’s take a look at the best things to see and do in Plaza Mayor and the surrounding area.
Visit the Information Office
Ok, so this might not be the most exciting thing you’ll do during your time in Madrid. But visiting the Tourist Information office can be a great way to start your trip. Not only will you be able to see Plaza Mayor as your first stop in the Spanish capital, but the friendly team at the office can help you plan out your perfect trip. Pick up a couple of free maps or brochures and get ready to make the most of your getaway.
Mercado de San Miguel
Mercado de San Miguel is a historic covered food market on the western side of Plaza Mayor. Home to local and international eateries, visitors can pull up a chair and dive into some of the best food in Madrid. Whether you head there for lunch or dinner, there’s always something to satisfy your appetite. From salads and charcuterie to delicious meat dishes and desserts, there really is something for everyone at San Miguel.
Philip III Statue
The statue of Philip III, or Felipe III, stands at the centre of the Plaza Major. This bronze-cast statue shows the Spanish king proudly riding his stallion. There’s a fascinating history to it, so be sure to stop and take a look while you’re in the Plaza.
The statue was commissioned by King Philip III himself, who ruled over a combined Spanish and Portuguese empire. Designed and mostly sculpted by Jean Boulogne, the figure of Philip was completed by the artist’s apprentice after his death.
It was presented to Philip III by the Grand Duke of Florence in 1616. The equestrian statue was initially placed in Casa de Campo. When Queen Isabella II later redesigned many of Madrid’s parks, the figure was removed to its home in Plaza Mayor.
Did you know? The Philip III statue was torn down during the early stages of the Franco dictatorship in Spain. When the figure smashed, hundreds of tiny bones fell out of its hollow inside. This stopped the superstitious vandals. It was later discovered that the bones were of sparrows, who flew into the statue through a small hole and couldn’t get out.
Casa de la Panadería
Philip II ordered a redesign of Madrid’s old marketplace, picturing a grand plaza where business could be conducted properly. Casa de la Panadería was a result of this, designed as a new home for the Bakers’ Guild. The organisation had a lot of power since they could control the price of essential grain, so it makes sense that their building is impressive.
Casa de la Panadería boasts two Flemish-style towers with spires and a beautiful symmetrical façade. The rest of the buildings in the Plaza Mayor were designed to suit this historic building.
Plaza Mayor History and Facts
Plaza Mayor is among the most important – indeed the most historic – squares in Madrid. Let’s take a look at the historical timeline of this impressive Spanish landmark.
Plaza del Arrabal
Before becoming the Plaza Mayor we know today, the area started life as Plaza del Arrabal. In these days, the Plaza was on the outskirts of the city. Of course, in the centuries since, Madrid has expanded and swallowed the spot into its centre.
When King Phillip II moved his empire to Madrid in 1561, the area still served as a market, where farmers and tradespeople could sell their goods. In 1617, his son King Phillip III ordered a redesign of the site to reflect the importance of trade in Madrid.
During this time, the square became one of the most vibrant, cultural spots in the city. The stage for royal events like weddings and coronations, not to mention theatre performances and bullfights, this was the place to be.
Did you know? When converted into a theatre or bullring, Plaza Mayor could accommodate up to 50,000 people!
Three great fires
Plaza Mayor’s history hasn’t always been smooth. The square has undergone several essential restorations, most significantly after the three great fires of 1631, 1670, and 1690; the most recent consumed around a third of the square. It was after this great fire in 1690 that Juan de Villanueva took up the redesign, which resulted in the Plaza Mayor we know today.
Villanueva's Plaza Mayor
Villanueva’s redesign of Plaza Mayor involved lowering some surrounding buildings to three stories, closing in the corners, and adding large arched entrances all around. There are ten entrances to choose from, all connecting different exciting parts of the city.
Restaurants, Bars, and Shops around Plaza Mayor
Since it’s one of the most significant spots in Madrid, it should come as no surprise that Plaza Mayor is surrounded by excellent restaurants, cafés, bars, and shops. It’s a perfect place to head if you’re planning a day mooching around the city.
The best restaurants on and near Plaza Mayor
Sure, it’s one of the most touristy parts of the Spanish capital. And yes, that means there are lots of not-so-great eateries scattered around. But you can also find some hidden gems in the streets surrounding Plaza Mayor.
San Miguel Market
We can’t talk about restaurants near Plaza Mayor without mentioning San Miguel Market, or Mercado de San Miguel. This beautiful covered food market has over 100-years history to point to. You can sample some of the best food Madrid has to offer while soaking up the market’s truly unique atmosphere.
Whether you’re in the mood for traditional Spanish cuisine, a light lunch, some of the best seafood in the city, or sweet treats, there’s something for everyone here. Drinks? No problem! The San Miguel Market is a great place to stop by for a glass of excellent wine or house Vermouth.
Set on Plaza Mayor with exceptional views over the square, Restaurante Arrabal offers delicious food and a memorable atmosphere to boot. Pull up a chair beneath the cosy exposed-brick archways and explore the traditional Spanish menu. Highlights include grilled octopus with sweet potato cream and kimchi sauce, seafood paella, and a comforting Iberian ham sandwich.
Mesón del Champiñon
Another traditional Spanish spot near Plaza Mayor, Mesón del Champiñon has stood on the same site since 1964. The menu is bursting with tried-and-tested favourites, like Padrón peppers, croquettes, Iberian ham, and fried calamari. But the restaurant is most famous for its delicious stuffed mushrooms. With so many tempting bites to choose from, it’s the perfect choice for drinks and a little taste of Spain.
Gustos Madrid Plaza Mayor
Cosy yet sleek and with an extensive terrace stretching into Plaza Mayor, this is another ideal spot for lunch or dinner in Madrid. The restaurant specialises in paellas and rice dishes, and what better way to enjoy them than from the Spanish capital’s most iconic square?
The best bars around Plaza Mayor
Visitors to Plaza Mayor can enjoy lots of options when it comes to grabbing a drink. There are plenty of bars set on the square itself, including several with large terrace seating which stretches out into the open air. With so much choice in such a bustling area, it’s best to keep your options open and dive into the first table you find. Still, these are some of the best bars in Plaza Mayor.
- Cervecería Restaurante Plaza Mayor – for beer and Vermouth on tap
- Casa María Plaza Mayor – traditional Spanish cuisine and drinks
- La Torre Del Oro – a beautiful terrace outside and unique interiors in
- Restaurant Hegar – an elegant choice, perfect for a coffee in the afternoon
- Los Arcos – for jugs of sangria and plates of delicious tapas
Shopping near Plaza Mayor
Since Plaza Mayor is in the heart of Madrid, it boasts excellent proximity to lots of the city’s best retail areas. Head to Gran Vía, one of the best and most famous shopping streets in the city. Or visit Calle de Preciados, a pedestrian-only road just south of Gran Vía. La Latina is another exciting shopping area within walking distance of Plaza Mayor.
Plaza Mayor Opening Times and Ticket Prices
Since Plaza Mayor is a public square, it’s open throughout the day and night. There are no times that you won’t be able to visit. Still, if you want to experience its best restaurants, bars, and shops, you’ll need to get there during regular opening hours.
Head there in the morning to enjoy coffee beneath the Spanish sun. Or visit in the afternoon for a traditional lunch and lots going on. Visit Plaza Mayor in the evening for a memorable dinner and drinks, soaking up the atmosphere as the night goes on. Whatever your plans are while you’re in Madrid, be sure to add Plaza Mayor to the top of your list, even if it’s just passing through.
Taking the train to Madrid
Thanks to the efficient service run by Renfe – Spain’s national train company – it’s easy to reach Madrid by train. High-speed AVE trains can get you from Barcelona to Madrid in 2h 30m on the fastest services, Valencia to Madrid in 1h 40m and Seville to Madrid in 2h 30m. Trains to Madrid arrive into one of the city’s two main stations – Madrid Atocha or Madrid Chamartín; look out for the botanical garden if you arrive into the former!
Want to learn more about travelling by rail in Spain? Read our guide to trains in Spain, your one-stop-shop for all things rail. Our Renfe page also gives you the lowdown on Spain’s national train operator, including how to find the cheapest tickets.