Saturday 15 October 2011

Madrid Old Town Sights Running Route

Length: 6 km (3.7 miles), terrain fairly flat, with 40 meter rise and fall

Madrid running routes:
Madrid Old Town Sights route
Madrid Parque del Oeste route 
Madrid Parque del Retiro route

Madrid Casa de Campo trail run 
Madrid Rio Manzanares route
Madrid Cañadas trail run
For more running routes, see Route List.

Most photos courtesy of

Royal Palace from Calle de Bailén, © Konstantinos Dafalias / PIXELIO
Here's a route that visits a lot of the main sights in central Madrid, through the old town. This is the plan:
  • Start at the main plaza, the Puerta del Sol
  • Head through the main shopping area to the theater area (Callao)
  • Pass by the Opera and into the Plaza de Oriente across from the royal palace
  • Do a small loop through the palace's Sabatini Gardens
  • Take in the Almudena Cathedral, 
  • Provide a stunning view to the countryside to the west from the viaduct
  • Go through the park below the bridge to the San Francisco basilica
  • Then heads back through some alleys to the historic city hall and the magnificent Plaza Major before heading back to the Puerta del Sol

NOTE: see the Destinations Tips page for tips about spending your free time in this great town!
That's a lot to take in during one 6 km run. Let's get out there!
Restaurant near Puerta del Sol, photo by Keith Hauser
We'll start in one of the liveliest (meaning busiest) plazas in Madrid, the Puerta del Sol. This is the heart of town, with the regional government building along the south side, metro- and bus-stations in the middle, and the main pedestrian shopping streets leading off the north side. This is also the place where people come to speak their minds, such as the recent student demonstrations.

There is also a marker in the pavement here, kilometre zero, locating the central spot where all road distances are measured from in Spain. So kilometre zero will also be our starting point...

Kilometre zero, © Helga / PIXELIO
Turn to the north side of the plaza, towards the El Corte Inglés department store. The street leading away on its left side, the Calle de Preciados, is Madrid's pedestrian shoppping street. But it can get really crowded sometimes, so if it looks like it will be a bother, go to the other side of El Corte Inglés and take Calle del Carmen, which runs parallel, and ends up in the same spot. Carmen starts at the statue of the bear and the madroño tree, symbols found on the town's coat of arms.

Bear and tree, © Helga / PIXELIO
Preciados and Carmen both lead to Callao, a plaza that's a bit like Madrid's Picadilly: surrounded by bright lights and cinemas. Run through the square to the main street on the other side. This is the Gran Via, Madrid's central boulevard. This is pretty busy, so let's head for quieter terrain.

Gran Via, © Daniel / PIXELIO
Turn left onto Calle de Jacometrezo, running by the Callao cinema, straight to a little raised plaza, the Plaza de Santo Domingo. Run straight through the plaza and down the little steps at the back.

Now turn left on Calle de Campomanes as it curves around to the plaza in front of the Tearto Real, the royal opera.

Teatro Real, © Gabi Eder / PIXELIO
Now follow the way around the right side of the opera, and you'll come to the beautiful Plaza de Oriente, with a spectacular view of the royal palace across the street. The plaza is lined with statues of Spain's past kings.

Royal Palace, © Dirk Pollzien / PIXELIO
But before you cross over to the palace though, turn right and run to the northeast corner of the plaza to view the royal monastery of Encamación.

Now turn left and head along the north edge of Plaze de Oriente towards the palace and cross the street, the Calle de Bailén. To the right of the palace, you'll see a formal gardens, the Sabatini. Go down the stone stairs and do a loop through this beautiful little oasis.

In the Sabatini Gardens, © Daniel / PIXELIO
Come back up the stairs and turn right to run past the palace. Just past the building, turn right into the giant courtyard in front of the equally giant cathedral, the Almudena. The building looks old, but it was just finished in 1993 after 110 years of construction.

Almudena bronze door, © Helga / PIXELIO
When you have finished gazing at the church, run out to the street again and turn right to continue southwards on Bailén. You just have to run a few hundred meters, and you'll find yourself jogging over a high bridge, the viaduct, with a great view off to the right, to the countryside to the west. Madrid ends here at this bluff, and the royal palace has the same view. The scrubland to the west, the Campo, is a great run in itself. Maybe tomorrow!

But the view down in the park below is great too. So turn around and run back to the beginning of the bridge (north end), and cross to the other side of the street. There is a stairway going down from there to the bottom of the viaduct. Once down at the bottom, you'll discover that the bridge is a spectacular arched viaduct.
The viaduct, courtesy of Google StreetView
At the bottom, turn right and run downhill under the bridge, into the park ahead. That park is nice in itself, but we'll immediately turn left, just past the bridge, onto Calle de Beatriz Galindo, which curves back uphill, with a great view of its own. This is an uphill slog that will be great training.

Just follow the street straight back to where it joins Bailén again, which will be right out front of the San Francisco de Grande basilica. The church is named after St. Francis of Asisi, who founded a monestary on the same site 800 years ago.

San Francisco de Grande basilica, © poldy / PIXELIO
To the left of the basilica is a little park, which is worth doing a little loop through, with another view out at the back. Then run back to the front of the church and cross the street, running past the little traffic island and heading eastwards up Carrera de San Francisco.

In just a few blocks you'll come to a plaza on the left with a domed church, San Andrés, behind it. The plaza is a favorite hangout for teenies and other locals, and is a laid-back place to do some people-watching. The streets to the right, Cava Alta and Cava Baja, are full of interesting restaurants (known as La Latina, this a great area to come back to in the evening), but we'll head up along the left side of the church through a series of plazas, keeping to the right. This whole part of town is full of interesting little alleys and hidden-away plazas, and is the oldest quarter in Madrid.

The last plaza ends at Calle de Segovia, where you turn right (if you look backwards to the left, you'll see the arch of the viaduct again).

The old market hall next to Plaza Major, photo by Keith Hauser
In just 100 meters, the street makes a jog to the left. Turn left here to head up the narrow alley, Calle de Cordón. You'll soon go up a few steps and see a beautiful stone building in front of you. Keep running straight up the alley along the side of the building. You will come out to a plaza at the town hall. This is an ensemble of historic municipal buildings.

On the other side of the plaza is Calle Major, (Main Street). Turn right and run just two blocks and you'll see a little plaza with some stone balls guiding you towards an archway. Follow the way through the archway (the town marketplace is off to the right). You now find yourself in Plaza Major, Madrid's great square, and the town's most popular hangout. Just take it in, this is the place to spend some time: The house to the left has a beautifully painted facade, the arcades along each side are full of restaurants and bars, and there are strolling musicians all over.

Plaza Major, by Allan Reyes -- Flickr Creative Commons
Turn right and run to the arch at the southwest corner with ancient steps leading down to the street below. This is the Arco de Cuchilleros (the knife-maker’s arch). It's worth going down the steps and taking a look at the ancient taverns (mesones) in caves dug into the bottom of the plaza.

Now go back up the steps and cross the plaza to the right side to leave through the arch on the east side, in the northeast corner, running eastwards into Postas, a lively side-street.

Postas comes back out to Calle Major, just a block from our starting place. Just turn right and run the one block back to kilometre zero at the Puerta del Sol.

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