06 Jul Madrid By Barrios: Sol
Madrid By Barrios: Sol
Contributed By: Bridget Bailey Updated By: Anna Whetzle March 30, 2017
I have saved the best, or most touristy, for last. It is the barrio mentioned in every Madrid tourist's guide and usually is number one on the list to see. Bienvenido (welcome) to the neighborhood of Puerta del Sol.
When I first stepped foot in Spain, Puerta del Sol was the place I wanted to visit. Its name literally means Gate of the Sun. Mainly, it is known by the abbreviated version of its name, Sol. I have never been to Sol and there not have been a multitude of Spaniards and tourists alike swarming the streets. Sol is always alive and thriving, no matter if it is 3 p.m. or 3 a.m. There is so much to do and see in this relatively small center. The majority of guidebooks will include Plaza Mayor, The Bear and Strawberry Tree, the 0 kilometer marker where all distance in Spain is measured, and more of the infamous landmarks. I am guessing that everyone has these highlighted in their books already so I have chosen to do more of an undiscovered set of places in Sol. These are ones that aren't necessarily in the guidebooks but are worth seeing and experiencing. So once you have finished seeing the most popular sights, you can step back and enjoy the less hectic parts of Sol.
There is a rhyme and reason to Sol's madness, it is that it has always been that way. Originally, Puerta del Sol was one of the gates in the city wall that surrounded Madrid during the 1400s. Outside of the wall, medieval suburbs began to grow around the Christian Wall that was built in the 12th century. The name of the gate comes from the rising sun which decorated the entry, since the it faced the east. Since the 17th century, Sol has been an important meeting place. In times before the Internet, locals had to wait eagerly for the latest news from the couriers that visited the post office. This part of the city became known literally as 'the place where people buzz about each other.' So, the chaos that is Sol has always been and will probably always continue to be. However, if you desire less buzzing and more relaxing, follow this short list of places to see.
First up is El Corte Inglés, or The English Cut. It is a chain of high-end retailers. Think Marks and Spencer of the UK or Macy's with a food selection. This chain is located all over Spain, so you are probably wondering why I would direct you to a store. Well, it is for two simple reasons: a gourmet food experience and the incredible vistas of the entirety of Madrid. If you go to the Corte Inglés located on Callao, you will be greeted with the same tired, upscale retail experience. That is until you take the elevator all the way to the top. This is when it goes from humdrum to spectacular. There is a market named The Gourmet Experience with beautiful restaurants of all types located amongst the chic decór. There are burger places, authentic Mexican food, traditional Spanish cuisine,Vietnamese, bakeries and the like. I personally tried Central Mexicana. Be aware, during the late afternoon it is crowded. When I went, it was around 1 p.m. for an early lunch and there was only one other customer there. I had a delicious enchilada and it was absolutely mouth watering. The nachos are given a healthy dose of cheese and guacamole. The tacos are two for 6 euros, which gives a budget friendly option to clientele. Of course, the ingredients are all fresh and tasty and the service was impeccable which isn't the easiest to find in Madrid. On top of this, we were surrounded by the most amazing views of the cityscape that I have personally ever seen. Along with this, The Gourmet Experience offers different smaller markets with a selection of imported American, Canadian, and Latin foodstuffs. Check out this upscale but reasonably priced experience at the Corte Inglés located on Callao, 9th floor.
If you are more in the mood for a little treat and a coffee, head over to La Mallorquina on the corner heading towards Plaza Mayor. The bakery was opened in 1894. It is so well known that there is a famous saying in Madrid, “De Madrid al cielo… pero pasando por La Mallorquina”. It means from Madrid to heaven, but passing first through La Mallorquina. The staff wears crisp white chefs uniforms with pink lettering. Upstairs you can sit down and have a coffee at one of the tables or you can stand at the bar and get your café con leche Spanish style and stand up, before you leave snag a few treats at the counters up front.
If you are a film buff, try to Cine Doré, Filmoteca Española located between Sol and Lavapies.
The first thing to catch the eye is the Art Deco exterior from the 1920s . The main cinema room calls to mind the golden days of cinema with its sophisticated decoration. Check out the starry sky of tiny lights on a dark blue ceiling just after the lights go down. Entrance is less than 3 euros and the billing changes monthly with great film seasons, world cinema and even silent films on occasion. It is definitely worth checking out if you are into more eclectic genres of film. This cinema is located on Calle de Santa Isabel, 3 or find the schedule online at: mcu.es/cine/
If true silence is what you seek, then I recommend El Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales or the Monastery of Barefoot Royals. A mere five minute walk from Sol, you will find this treasure tucked away amongst the crowds. On the inside there is a museum with such things as a presumed piece of Christ's cross and the bones of Saint Sebastian. The monastery houses around 19 nuns, woven tapestries, a church and even a work by Titian. Entrance is 5 euros for adults and 2.50 for senior/children. Located at Plaza de las Descalzas, this hidden gem is truly worth seeing and offers respite from the heat and tourists.
After you have seen the main bits of Puerta de Sol, I hope you will try the aforementioned sites. Of course, they aren't as well known but they are just as valuable. Besides, you won't have to fight other tourists off for a photo or tell the man dressed as Mickey Mouse to get lost.