The Literary Quarter of Madrid charmed Miguel de Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina, Lorca and Quevedo, but you too will be besotted with its famous landmarks should you pay it a visit. Right in the heart of Madrid, this district that was home to writers and muses takes us right back to the Golden Age of Spanish literature.
A suggestion that is convincing on its own is further enhanced by terraces that invite you to relax and enjoy Madrid’s great food, which you will find in Calle Huertas. You can visit the same bar that Hemingway used to visit in the Plaza de Santa Ana, as a fantastic way of combining culture and pleasure.
The Literary Quarter is undoubtedly an essential ingredient in the history and culture of Madrid. If you are looking for a luxury hotel 5 stars in the "Barrio de las Letras", the Gran Hotel Inglés is your best option, from here you can get lost in the streets of this Madrid neighborhood and make contact with the same muses that inspired some of the greatest names in world literature. Let’s take a look at the past of this legendary district and highlight the points that no one should miss.
Where is the Literary Quarter?
You should know that the Literary Quarter is not an official name, but one used by book lovers and visitors. The title is a homage to the intense literary atmosphere that infuses the area and which is still present in the form of the famous Teatro Español, the literary fragments in golden letters that adorn several streets, the House-Museum of Lope de Vega and Cervantes’ house.
According to the tourist maps of Madrid City Council, the barrio lies in the area bordered by Carrera de San Jeronimo to the Paseo del Prado (Prado Museum Most Elegant Exhibitions), Calle de Atocha and Calle Cruz. Many people would argue that it should include the area from Cruz to Calle Carretas, the shopping zone that ends in Puerta del Sol.
This is a very special area that feels distinct from all the others in the capital. The ambience of its streets combines with a unique historic heritage that is there to be appreciated by those who are fortunate enough to visit. Look carefully at this map with the points of interest of the Barrio de las Letras indicated. They are the ones that we will talk to you about in this article.
Mercado de las Ranas
An open air market known as the Mercado de las Ranas (Market of the Frogs), which is run by the Barrio de las Letras Shopkeepers Association, takes place on the first Saturday of every month. It gets its name from the former street named Calle de Cantarranas, which currently forms a part of Calle Lope de Vega. It's a place with a wide range of cultural, commercial and artistic offerings.
If you love shopping, this is a can't-miss plan when you're out exploring the barrio. Local area shops open up their doors and put their most exceptional products out on the street. It's an event resembling the format of the market in Candem Town or on Portobello Road.
Calle Huertas and Plaza de Santa Ana
Calle Huertas is Madrid's Barrio de Las Letras main thoroughfare, a wide pedestrian street lined with cafés making it into the heart of the neighbourhood. All along it there are phrases engraved on the ground with quotes by famous authors, which is a fantastic initiative for raising awareness about great writers.
The street gets its name from the fact that, centuries ago, it went to the vegetable gardens on the outskirts of Madrid. Enjoy the area right from the beginning all the way to the end with its food establishments, in an atmosphere that just exudes culture and history.
Next to Calle Huertas is the renowned Plaza de Santa Ana, which is known for its lively atmosphere regardless of the hour, and for being home to some of the neighbourhood's top bars for having a drink. There is an abundance of beer bars that take the traditional aspects of Madrid and combine them with something modern and bohemian.
Upon arrival, you'll be greeted by a statue of García Lorca, a tribute to the poet who formed a part of the Generation of '27. It is also surrounded by truly impressive buildings, such as Hotel de los Toreros and Teatro Español. This is where some of the most legendary open-air comedy theatres in Madrid were, such as the Pacheca and the Príncipe.
A walk along Paseo del Prado
Enjoy a pleasant walk along one of Madrid's most historic and important boulevards. It gets its name from it being the place where fields of the Monastery of San Jerónimo Real used to be.
The walk is a journey through the area's art and culture, the essential places for experiencing genuine Madrid. Starting at the Royal Botanical Garden and going by CaixaForum Madrid, Museo del Prado, the Church of San Jerónimo, the Plaza de Cánovas del Castillo with the Fountain of Neptune, the Naval Museum, the Plaza de Cibeles and many more.
Museo del Prado
It is hard to talk about the Barrio de las Letras without mentioning Museo del Prado, since it's one of Spain's most internationally renowned and prestigious museums. It's considered to be the world's best art gallery, featuring the top collection of Spanish paintings, in addition to a wide selection of Flemish and Italian paintings.
Your visit to the museum can last as long as you want it to, as it is home to more than 1,000 pieces of art. If you prefer, there's also the option of a two-hour guided tour of Museo del Prado, which will take you to its most important works of art. Paradise for those who love culture, art and history.
Located in the heart of Paseo del Prado, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza is one of the most prestigious private art collections in the world. It spans seven centuries of the history of painting, from the end of the 13th century to the 1980s.
During the visit you can enjoy works by El Greco, Titian and Tintoretto, Venetian paintings, painters such as Rubens and Rembrandt, works by the Dutch school and 19th century American paintings.
It is also worth mentioning works by Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Gauguin and Toulouse Lautrec, with paintings that you will immediately recognize. There are also pieces by Spanish painters such as Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí.
Royal Botanical Garden
The Royal Botanical Garden charms all visitors. Located right in the heart of Madrid, it comes as a surprise to find this haven of nature surrounded by the city's skyscrapers and buildings.
It is home to more than 5000 species of plants, a library and archive featuring up to 10,000 drawings of local vegetation. It is beautiful at any time of the year, but particularly in the months of spring. It costs 6 euros to visit the garden and the exhibitions, except on Tuesdays from 2pm onwards when it is free.
Church of San Sebastián
Lying between Calle Huertas and Atocha, you'll find one of Madrid's hidden architectural jewels, which is of high historic value. It features a large number of well-known figures who were baptised, married or buried within it.
It was almost totally destroyed in the war, but all its documents were saved, including those by the poet Lope de Vega. Declared as a Cultural Heritage Site, we recommend taking a guided tour so you can discover the building's curiosities, the works of art and its extensive history.
House-Museum of Lope de Vega
The House-Museum of Lope de Vega is a museum unbeknownst to many, but essential if you want to delve into the history of Spain's Golden Age. Located in Calle Cervantes, which is a nod to the endless rivalry between the two writers.
The museum's garden is free of charge, but it is well worth going inside the museum to immerse yourself in the literary culture. The free guided tour must be booked in advanced and is only open to groups at limited times.
This is the 17th century house where Lope lived until his death in 1635, decorated with objects from the period. Although they did not belong to the family, they do reflect how the poet lived. A place where it feels like time stands still.
The "Plus Ultra" building's Carrillón Goyesco (Goyesque bell carillon), located in the Plaza de las Cortes, tends to go unnoticed amongst Madrid's top buildings. However, it is one of those hidden gems with a long history.
It is the only bell carillon in Spain built with moving parts, and is made up of five figures designed by Antonio Mingote. The characters represented are: King Carlos III, the painter Francisco Goya, the Duchess of Alba, the bullfighter Pedro Romero and the Madrid-residents of the Lavapiés district, known as the manola madrileña.
It operates at 12pm, 3pm, 6pm and 8pm each day. On Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve it also operates at midnight. A must-see visit during your trip around Barrio de las Letras, the building's façade and stained glass windows are also noteworthy.
Plaza Jacinto Benavente
This central square, which is a short distance from the Puerta del Sol, gets its name from the playwright Jacinto Benavente y Martínez, who won the Nobel Prize in 1922. A trip wouldn't be complete without visiting it, with it being choke full of atmosphere and a constant flow of people due to its strategic location. It’s a great example of the neighbourhood's impressive architectural culture.
Around the square you'll find Teatro Calderón, the popular sculpture of the street sweeper by Félix Hernando García and a wide selection of restaurants and shops. Special mention should be given to Cine Ideal, one of the oldest in the city with a façade that stands out due to its striking stained glass windows.
An area with its own story
This famed area of Madrid was home to some of the most outstanding talents in the Golden Age of Spanish Literature. Writers as famous as Miguel de Cervantes or Lope de Vega, whose houses are still conserved in the barrio, the latter being an essential museum visit for book lovers, made their homes in this district. Nor were they the only ones, because Gòngora and his eternal antagonist Quevedo also lived here, in the same house, curiously enough. Lope de Vega lived here, and so did his adored Marta de Nevares.
This congregation of literary genius created the perfect environment for the appearance of the first popular theatres in Madrid, such as La Cruz or El Príncipe and the Pacheca. This last theatre became the Teatro Español of today, and it continues to offer timeless performances for the people of Madrid.
The Literary Quarter was also home to the printing works of Juan de la Cuesta, which operated at number 87 Calle de Atocha, and this is where the first edition of the first part of Don Quijote de La Mancha, the pinnacle of 17th century Spanish literature, was printed.
Today we can see other remnants of this Golden Age of Spanish Literature that have survived to the present, like the House-Museum of Lope de Vega, where the writer lived between 1610 and 1635, the convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians where Miquel de Cervantes was buried and the church of Saint Sebastian.
The essentials of the Literary Quarter
These historic landmarks mentioned above must be on the list of any visitor to the area. The district does not live entirely in the past, however, and is very much alive today.
One example of this activity is the Frog Market, or Mercado de la Ranas, a very unusual street market that is held on the first Saturday every month, with lots of restaurants and shops taking part. Calle Huertas and the Plaza de Santa Ana are other must-sees on your visit where you can take advantage of the bars to make a stop to enjoy some fine Madrid tapas.
Another unmissable spot in the district is the Paseo del Prado, where you will find not only the Prado Museum, but also the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and the Royal Botanic Gardens. Don’t miss this quarter when you come to Madrid, you will fall in love with this charming bit of history. Here is a post about the best luxury plans for a weekend in Madrid.
Where to eat in Barrio de las Letras?
Tasting the best gastronomy that Barrio de las Letras has to offer should be an essential part of your time in Madrid. If you're wondering about the best places to eat, here's a list of restaurants you'll want to take note of for your itinerary.
Delight in the authentic flavour of local cuisine at Casa Lobo, exquisite dishes, great wine, succulent desserts and the perfect place for drinks after work or cocktails. Elegant atmosphere, a creative menu and the friendliest staff.
If you'd rather go with a different option, you can try Taberna Maceira, located in Calle Huertas, a Galician tavern known for its exceptionally popular "octopus stew". Plentiful dishes and excellent value for money. The décor is distinctive and they include fun touches when serving the food.
For enjoying the lively atmosphere of Plaza de Santa Ana, the best choice is Cervecería Alemana, a very old and traditional establishment. It opened up in 1904 and has served celebrities such as Ava Gardner and Hemingway. The perfect choice for going out for beers and tapas, but not for food.
We can't forget to mention Taberna La Dolores, a legendary tavern in Madrid, it’s a classic in the city that cannot be missed when out on a tapas tour. It's always packed, but it's got a great selection of high quality pincho skewers.