By Lori Zaino
With 300 days of sunshine a year, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Madrid is full of communal squares, where friends and family gather to meet, stroll and have food or drinks al fresco-style. To make the best of the Mediterranean climate, here are some of the loveliest plazas in the Spanish capital.
One of Madrid’s most famous tourist attractions, this spot dates back to the 16th century and is surrounded by 237 balconies facing inward to a statue of King Philip III and his horse. Once the site of public executions and town meetings, nowadays the square is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the scenery while having an al fresco coffee or beer. The best times of year to enjoy the square are spring when you can bask in the warm sunshine, or around the Christmas holidays when the plaza is decked out with lights and décor and the Christmas markets are in full force.
Puerta del Sol
This pedestrian-only plaza is a popular meeting point in Madrid. You can actually visit the exact center of Spain, known as the Kilometer Zero, in this well-known square. Most people like to stand on the plaque and take a photo of their feet. The plaza is also famous for its grand Tío Pepe sign perched atop one of the buildings, its bear statue, and the clock tower, the official timepiece that rings in Madrid’s New Year at midnight on January 1. Sol is also the site of Madrid’s many protests and strikes, so don’t be surprised to see large groups of students and adults with signs, peacefully fighting for their rights.
Plaza de Olavide
A quieter plaza visited mainly by locals, Plaza de Olavide is the perfect spot to sit out for cheap drinks and have that authentic Madrid vibe. Several terraces and bars line the circular plaza, and there are plenty of park benches and a fountain if you just want to hang out in the sun. There’s even a play area for kids, so parents can have a beer while the children run around.
Plaza de Cibeles
This is a different kind of plaza, one you walk through, but not one to stop in and sit. Filled with traffic, it’s reassuring to feel like you’re part of Madrid’s endless movement in this square. Lined by some of the most famous monuments and streets in Madrid, the Cibeles Palace (which doubles as City Hall), the picturesque Cibeles fountain and the tree-lined Paseo del Prado are definitely worth seeing. Just up the street is the famous Puerta de Alcalá monument and the Retiro Park.
Plaza de Colón
Plaza de Colón (Columbus Square, in English) features a giant statue of Christopher Columbus as well as views of the stunning Biblioteca Nacional, the National Library of Madrid. Also a busy traffic hub, this spot differs from Cibeles Square because there are more places to sit and relax, especially if you head toward the edge of the plaza to see Spain’s giant national flag waving in the wind and the Jardines del Descubrimiento, a monument dedicated to Spain’s discovery of the Americas. Don’t miss one of Madrid’s three famous Botero statues on the outer edge of the plaza near Calle Génova.
Plaza de la Villa
A charming pedestrianized square, this spot is located between the famous Plaza Mayor and the Almudena Cathedral, a nice addition to a DIY walking tour of Madrid. The plaza is interesting because several of its old buildings – some of which date back to the 1400s – have distinctly different styles of architecture, like Gothic or Baroque. You’ll really forget you’re in a large capital city when wandering around this plaza, as it gives off a very small town feel.