This is the second installment of my series, Barrios de Madrid. Through this project, I hope to bring Madrid’s fantastic neighborhoods to life. A bit more (ok, a lot!) refined than Lavapiés, with its rich literary tradition, quaint streets, and museums galore, I now present Barrio de las Letras.
Close to Madrid’s most famous museums, and Atocha Station (where the AVE, high-speed train, arrives), Barrio de las Letras is one of Madrid’s most beautiful neighborhoods. The name literally means “neighborhood of the letters,” as this part of Madrid was once home to some of Spain’s most famous writers. Both Cervantes and Lope de Vega, just to name a few, lived in this district. Today, this part of Madrid remains a paradise for writers and literary lovers, as well as a lively nighttime spot.
To start exploring this barrio, take the metro Antón Martín. But this neighborhood is so close to everything that it is possible to walk from anywhere in the central part of the city. You will know you arrived once you start seeing famous quotes from the great works of the writers who once lived here engraved on the sidewalk.
Embracing the spirit of the neighborhood, I wrote the majority of this blog series at my favorite café in all of Madrid, located in the heart Barrio de Las Letras, Plenti. The owners of this cute cafe, Sophie and Gonzalo, a British/Spaniard couple, have been incredibly kind and welcoming me to sit and work for hours on my laptop. Of course, their wonderful coffee, healthy green juice, and delicious homemade pastries (to balance out any positive effects of the abovementioned green juice) keep me fueled and motivated.
After sufficiently caffeinating at Plenti, it is time start wandering around the neighborhood. I recommend heading to the Caixa Forum, a museum and cultural center hosting rotating exhibits. The building itself is a gem of modern architecture: an old power station with new construction of additional floors in cast iron, that resembles the colors of the bricks below. Directly adjacent to the building, there is a vertical garden. Be sure to check out the little gift shop, as they stock little trinkets from Madrid.
Close to the Caixa Forum is La Fábrica, a center of contemporary culture that houses a bookshop, restaurant, and small gallery. In fact, with La Fábrica and the shop in the Caixa Forum, Barrio de las Letras is a great area to search for unique gifts from Madrid. Peseta, named after the currency used in Spain before the introduction of the Euro, sells items made all over the country and is also a cute little neighborhood shop.
For a quick snack old Madileño-style Casa Gonzázlez is a good choice. Their small menu features a good selection of Spanish cheeses to sample. If inexpensive and low key tapas are what you crave, relaxed Taberna de Las Letras might be a better spot. And if it is time for that afternoon drink, head over to La Maripepa. This bar elegantly preserved its decorated old facade and traditional interior. Los Gatos is also a good choice for tapas and a drink.
No visit to this part of town is complete without strolling the streets, imagining how the great writers of the past lived their lives in this barrio. Calle de las Huertas and some of the adjacent streets are where the engravings of literary quotes are. If you want to see where Cervantes and Lope De Vega lived, walk a few blocks to Calle de Cervantes. There you will find both author’s houses. It is possible to schedule a visit (by appointment only) to Casa Museo Lupe de Vega, but Casa de Cervantes can only be viewed from the outside. There is a plaque commemorating it on the building. Finally, there is a statue of my favorite Spanish writer, poet Federico García Lorca in Plaza de Santa Ana.
Very close to Barrio de las Letras are Madrid’s two most famous museums, The Prado and Museo Reina Sofía. The massive Prado houses older Spanish (and European) art, abundant with the works Goyas, El Greco, Velázquez, to truly see everything, you will need to devote at least a half day to this museum. Museo Reina Sofía is much smaller and focuses on works from the 20th century. There is an interesting selection of art from the Spanish Civil War, including Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica. If you are only looking for a sampling of these museums, and are traveling on a budget, they are both free for the last two hours of the day. Protip: line up early, so you are one of the first people in during the free hours. The lines can be long. I usually bring a good book and arrive about forty minutes before the free hours begin.
One of my favorite restaurants in all of Madrid is located in Barrio de las Letras. Taberna Maceiras with two locations (very near to one another) has a delightful menu of Gallego (Galician) style food. This small restaurant appeals to meat eaters and vegetarians alike. They have a perfect version of my all-time favorite tapas, pimientos de Padrón. Good luck finding the spicy one! Additionally, their offer a wide selection of Galician wine and sidra. The Albariño by the glass is a great value.
If you want to make Barrio de las Letras your Madrid home base, Airbnb superhost, Ana has a lovely little studio apartment for rent. Bonus: it is right next door to Plenti, so caffeinating in the morning is not a problem. If you are an Airbnb virgin, register with this link to save some money on your first booking.
Ready to explore the real Madrid (no pun intended)? I can help you get there and advise you on more little gems of the city. Please reach out to me to let me know how I can help make your Madrid travel dreams come true!