Plazas of Madrid: Be There or Be Square

In Spain, when they say “plaza,” they don’t always mean plaza. Directly translated, the word means “square,” but more colloquially it’s used to mean a number of things: square, oval, rectangle, park, open-air-space, patio-that-has-a-couple- buildings-near-it—you get the gist. Madrid is the ultimate city of plazas: it seems that everywhere you walk you’re passing through plazas, being redirected to a plaza, or on your way to a plaza. Here we’ve unpacked some of Madrid’s plazas, what they really mean, and what they’re all about:

Plaza de Cibeles: Actually a large traffic circle and fountain bordered by a massive, intricate palace. Connected to the Bank of Spain and an intersection of many major Madrid avenues, Plaza de Cibeles is a landmark of city government as well as a tourist attraction. Not really a plaza, though.

Plaza de la Villa: More of an open-ended quadrangle, Plaza de la Villa is situated right in the center of old Madrid and is home to the former Town Hall as well as an entire configuration of important medieval buildings leading to narrow, cobblestone streets. Plaza de la Villa is full of important ancient history for the city, but is it really a plaza?

Plaza Mayor: OK, we’ll give Madrid this one. Pretty square-like in formation, Plaza Mayor is one of the city’s most famous landmarks and now serves as an open-air, pedestrian shopping and eating area that also hosts concerts and events. A plaza for sure, we concede.

Plaza de España: A big rectangular park, Plaza de España is one of Madrid’s attractions, but is pretty far from a square. That being said, it’s home to long, tree-lined pathways, a famous fountain, and views of some of the city’s biggest and scariest skyscrapers. The stately city park is pretty cool, but not if you think of it like a plaza.

Plaza Oriente: OK, this is getting ridiculous. So far from a square it’s practically a half-moon, Plaza Oriente is beautiful, manicured, and super enjoyable…Unless you’re expecting a square, in which case it is a severe letdown. The “plaza” faces the Royal Palace, creating a stunning view for a stroll, yet it’s so far from being a square it’s almost hard to focus. Can we get a name change?

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