Welcome to the Literary Quarter of Madrid: Barrio de las Letras
Barrio de las Letras is one of Madrid’s most beautiful neighborhoods, and a perfect spot for literary nerds. This is an area of the Spanish capital that you mustn’t miss especially if you’re in love with the eloquence of the written word. Think about it: an entire neighborhood dedicated to books. Be still my beating heart.
While in Madrid, I spent a lot of time roaming random streets and reflecting on life. Deep, huh? Solo travel always presents perfect moments for peaceful reflection even in the middle of a huge capital city such as Madrid. Seriously, my trip was remarkable. I’d highly recommend Madrid to all sorts of solo travelers without hesitation, and Barrio de las Letras was very special indeed.
Now, we all know I’m an avid reader who loves to seek out literary sites on her travels, but surprisingly enough, I knew absolutely nothing about Barrio de las Letras until I arrived at my hostel. Say what?! I’m losing my touch.
Imagine my delight when I was told all about Madrid’s Literary Quarter! I was ready to hit the ground running and be inspired to write short stories again!
And this colorful literary place didn’t disappoint at all. I have so much to say. So grab some sweets and settle in, my friends.
Why should I see Barrio de las Letras?
First of all, you must go to Barrio de las Letras if you enjoy Spanish literature. Lope de Vega, Cervantes, Quevedo, and Góngora all lived, wrote, and breathed on these streets. Admittedly, I haven’t read many novels or poems written by Spanish authors, although I’m sure that will change in the near future.
This neighborhood is historically significant, too. Like I said, it was the residence of many prominent authors, some listed in the above paragraph, who wrote during Spain’s Golden Age, which began in the early 16th century. Early 16th century! That’s old by USA standards.
Okay, let’s say you’re not interested in literature (way to break my heart). What else is there to do in Barrio de las Letras? Tapas, bars, and shopping. Believe me, you won’t feel disappointed in this category. More about the bars later.
Finally, I liked that Barrio de las Letras was so pretty yet not too crowded on my two separate visits. Like Plaza Mayor, for example? Whoa, crowds! Beautiful red buildings, but did I need my space! Barrio de las Letras has a much more relaxed vibe. In particular, I loved seeing all the flowers on the small apartment balconies. Seemed peaceful.
Let’s move onto specifics.
What can I see in Madrid’s Literary Quarter?
What do you think of when Madrid comes into your mind? The Royal Palace? Retiro Park? World class art museums? Yeah, I do too. No questions asked.
However, Madrid’s Barrio de las Letras doesn’t have grand sweeping sites that take hours to see. But, nonetheless, it’s a beautiful area for you to close your Google maps app and explore with no set destination in mind. We all need those times when we’re traveling. Too many museums would make anyone’s head explode.
Again, if you’re someone who adores books, you’ll fall in love with how literature practically seeps out of the pavement and buildings.
Below, are some of the highlights that I experienced on my walk through Barrio de las Letras. Enjoy!
Gorgeous Calle Huertas is the most significant street in the Barrio de las Letras. It’s for pedestrians only (yay), and runs from near Paseo del Prado to Plaza de Santa Ana aka the entire length of the neighborhood.
As you walk, check out all the golden verses engraved on the pavement. Obviously, all the excerpts are in Spanish, but for me, seeing any poetry proudly displayed makes my heart happy. Most famous are Quevedo’s verses.
Needless to say, I loved Calle Huertas. I explored in the early afternoon, but if you go later, there are many old restaurants for you to enjoy a meal. Almost every single door leads to a place to grab a bite. Furthermore, Calle Huertas boosts a very active nightlife for all you partiers reading this post!
Being the “main artery” of Madrid’s Literary Quarter, this is a street you cannot afford to miss, but check out all the winding and fun labyrinths that lead off this main road. You never know what surprises you might find waiting for you.
Plaza de Santa Ana
A famous and popular square located in Madrid’s literary neighborhood is Plaza de Santa Ana. Both times I came here I enjoyed watching the people and listening to the street performers. It truly embodies the most positive characteristics of a European city.
Built in 1916, the Reina Victoria Hotel, with its striking white facade, dominates the skyline surrounding the square. If you want, go to the Radio terrace at the top of the hotel to enjoy striking views of Madrid. No better way to enjoy a drink, am I right?
In Plaza de Santa, you will also see two statues of well known authors. Pedro Calderón de la Barca stands closer to the Reina Victoria. However, my favorite statue in Plaza de Santa Ana is the Statue of Federico García Lorca. A Spanish poet and playwright, Federico García Lorca was executed by Nationalist Forces in the Spanish Civil War. His body was never recovered. At the time of his death, Federico García Lorca was only 38 years old. He holds a bird in his hands, and something about this visible symbol of hope tugs at my heartstrings.
Relax in Plaza de Santa Ana on a sunny day. You won’t regret it.
Lope de Vega’s Home
You can find author Lope de Vega’s home on Calle de Cervantes. His house now functions as a museum for the curious public. However, keep in mind you can only visit the home as part of a guided tour so you need to book ahead of time.
Vega purchased this house in 1610, and some of the items you will see were actually owned by the writer himself. Visitors will also have a chance to learn about the author in his studio and private garden.
Although I didn’t go into the museum, I think this spot would be a “must see” for anyone who loves Spanish literature!
Glorious Bookish Street Art
I’m a huge fan of street art. I’m the girl who stops to take ten pictures whenever I see brightly colored graffiti splashed on the side of a building.
In Barrio de las Letras, you see street art all about books on every single corner, and it’s awesome. A visible appreciation for novels, plays, authors, poetry, and artists. Not to mention, enjoying street art is 100% free, which is always a lovely bonus.
All of the street art is very well done, in my humble opinion. My favorite piece is the picture I attached to this post. How creative is the idea behind using letters to construct a beard? Very damn creative if you ask me.
The House Where Cervantes Died
We’ve all heard of the novel Don Quixote even if we’ve never cracked open a book. Don Quixote is considered by some the first modern novel, which is quite an accomplishment, huh? The author, Cervantes, is counted as one of the greatest writers in the Spanish language. Like Shakespeare to the English language. Cool, huh?
You can find dedications to Cervantes and Don Quixote all over this bookish neighborhood. Like Vega, Cervantes lived in the Barrio de las Letras until his death in 1616.
You can find the house Cervantes died in on Calle Cervantes. From the street, you can see a bust of the author as well as a plaque dedicated to him.
Mmm, Bars and Bars and More Bars
You won’t go hungry for one second in Barrio de las Letras! Like the rest of Madrid, you will discover that delicious tapas joints are literally everywhere, both on the main streets and hidden down small winding roads.
You know what else is on every block? Writers’ lifeblood also known as alcohol. Hey, what else would you expect? Haha. So grab a glass of Spanish wine and cheer to your good health, my friend. No one will think less of you.
Cervecería Alemana is one of the most famous bars in this literature-packed neighborhood. This bar was founded waaaaaay back in 1904. American author and Nobel laureate Ernest Hemingway was a frequent visitor here.
Honestly, I would recommend trying a place that’s crowded and fun, because you know the tapas will taste like heaven. Sometimes following your gut instinct is the best idea in these situations.
Should I Book a Hotel/Hostel Here?
Barrio des la Letras is a central neighborhood that would be wonderful to base yourself in on your trip to Madrid.
Major attractions, such as the Prado Museum, Reina Sofia, Puerta del Sol Square, and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, are all within walking distance of Barrio des la Letras. So if you want to go “museum hopping,” this area would be an excellent choice!
Additionally, if you want to take advantage of the bars and not have a long journey to your accommodation, Barrio des la Letras would also fit your needs.
Like all of Madrid, the neighborhood of letters has a variety of accommodation to choose from. Check out these hotels near Barrio de Las Letras for more details. You’re making a smart choice.
What literary neighborhoods are your favorites? Have you ever been to Barrio de las Letras? Share in the comments.
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