The most popular streets in Madrid have very distinctive characters, so you’ll have plenty to see and do throughout the day. From the grand boulevards of the Gran Via to the minute alleys and side streets of La Latina district, you can look forward to getting lost amid roadways both big and small in the Spanish capital.

    Along these streets are earthy tapas joints and cerveza pitstops, majestic palaces left over from the Moorish era, and plazas that hum and throb with life. Check out this list of Madrid’s streets and squares to get an idea about some of the top places to begin your urban explorations in the Spanish capital.

    1

    Gran Via

    The great boulevard of Spain's capital

    The Gran Via is an upscale shopping street in central Madrid. It cuts through the beating heart of the city, linking up the key intersections of Plaza de España and the Fuente de Cibeles in a long dogleg of theatres, multiplex cinemas, and more shopping than you can shake a churro at.

    Whether you come to shop at the high-street fashion outlets or to watch a musical at the grand Lope de Vega Theatre, one thing's for sure – the architecture of the Gran Via will have you reaching for the camera. It's the building work that really defines this thoroughfare, from the imposing Art Deco Telefónica headquarters to the smooth modernism of the Edificio Capitol.

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    Location: Gran Via, 28013 Madrid, Spain

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    2

    Paseo de la Castellana

    Footie arenas and CBDs

    The Paseo de la Castellana is the axis of the entire Spanish capital. It bisects a great portion of the metropolis from north to south, ranging from the roaring football terraces of the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium to the soaring monument to Christopher Columbus near the Plaza de Colon.

    There's plenty to discover along its length. Perhaps you'll drop in to watch the Galácticos of Real Madrid take to the turf. Or, are you searching for the enlightening exhibits of the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, where colossal dinosaur skeletons and preserved squids abound? Amid all that, the Paseo also links some key business areas – AZCA, CTBA – for those on a working trip to Madrid.

    Location: Paseo de la Castellana, 28003 Madrid, Spain

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    3

    Puerta del Sol

    The meeting point of all Spain

    • History
    • Photo

    The Puerta del Sol acts as a sort of nerve centre for 5 or 6 of the city's most important thoroughfares and reigns as one of Madrid's must-sees. Look for it between Plaza Mayor and the enchanting Barrio de las Letras, forever-bustling Calle de Alcalá on one side and Calle Mayor rolling off to the other.

    Officially, the Puerta del Sol is the first kilometre of the entire Spanish road network, but that's not really why it draws such huge crowds. That's down to the fact that it hosts the red-painted Post Office – now the office of the President of Madrid – and a series of intriguing statues – one of Charles III, and another of a bear and a strawberry bush.

    Location: Puerta del Sol, 28013 Madrid, Spain

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    4

    Paseo del Prado

    Where culture abounds in Madrid

    • History
    • Photo

    The Paseo del Prado might be just shy of 1 km from end to end, but it's still arguably Madrid's most culture-rich stretch of roadway. Things start in the north at the Fuente de Cibeles and run south to the Estación del Arte metro stop, going in a slight Z-bend between some of the country's most acclaimed museums.

    Follow the Paseo del Prado and you'll be drawn to the Naval Museum, where the many centuries of daring Spanish seafaring are laid bare. Or there's the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, which includes masterworks by Vincent Van Gogh and Canaletto. But the jewel in the crown has to be the eponymous Museo Nacional del Prado, where priceless works of Spanish art brim from the exhibition rooms.

    Location: Paseo del Prado, 28014 Madrid, Spain

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    5

    Calle Huertas

    For literary history and tapas

    Calle Huertas is the gateway to the enthralling Barrio de las Letras. It carves straight into that come-explore-me district on its south side, hitting the tree-topped and café-filled Plaza del Angel before splintering into myriad side streets and alleys.

    Almost fully pedestrianised, Huertas is a joy to wander and stroll. It's home to a few mid-sized palaces and occasionally opens onto bijou squares where Madrid locals clink coffees and flick the pages of newspapers. Look out for the verses of Quevedo laid into the pavements, and come hungry if you can because this one place is a veritable tapas haven.

    Open: Calle de las Huertas, 28014 Madrid, Spain

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    6

    Calle Mayor

    A sightseeing montage

    • History
    • Photo

    The Calle Mayor is forever alive with the sounds of whizzing traffic and bustling crowds. At 720 metres in length, there's a lot of energy packed into the short strip between the Puerta del Sol and the Parque de Atenas. And there are also some fantastic sights to explore.

    The handsome gathering point of Plaza Mayor is sure to catch the eye. Picked out in scarlet and gold, the buildings there are some of the most photographed in the country. Below them, arcades first constructed in the Middle Ages now burst with cafés, cantinas and souvenir shops. Then, at the far end of Calle Mayor, the majestic rises of the Catedral de la Almudena reach overhead, a symphony of Neoclassical spires and domes.

    Location: Calle Mayor, 28013 Madrid, Spain

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    7

    Calle de Preciados

    Where you can shop until sundown

    Calle de Preciados is a straight-line diagonal road that splits the northern half of old Madrid. It starts at Plaza del Callao in the north and ends at the great Puerta del Sol further south.

    This is arguably the main high street for the downtown core of the Spanish capital. It's 100% pedestrianised, so you won't have to worry about dodging zooming buses as you stroll. And there's plenty to buy here, too, from the newest Levi's jeans and Pandora jewellery to Zara's latest season and techy sports trainers at Foot Locker.

    Location: Calle de Preciados, 28013 Madrid, Spain

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    photo by Tiia Monto (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    8

    Calle Cava Baja

    Food and fun times in La Latina

    Calle Cava Baja bends into the middle of the moody and atmospheric neighbourhood that is La Latina. The entrance is on the Plaza Segovia Nueva, from where it runs southwards before ending on Plaza del Humilladero, near the very heart of the district.

    Cava Baja itself is the perfect introduction to La Latina. It's essentially one long bar street, offering up uber-cool alfresco terrace bars with decks that face north across the cityscape alongside aperitif bars where tapas plates sizzle in the open kitchens. Come here to start a night out with a bite of the local food and a chin wag with the local people.

    Location: Calle de la Cava Baja, 28005 Madrid, Spain

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    photo by Asqueladd (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    9

    Calle de Segovia

    A gateway to parks and palaces

    Calle de Segovia offers arguably the best access of all to the famous gardens and palaces that loom on the west side of Madrid. It links the sights and sounds of Centro to the meanders of the Manzanares River.

    Look north – it's possible to enter lovely parklands or historical complexes from almost anywhere on Calle de Segovia if you go that way. First, there's the fountain-gushing Parque de Atenas, a land of ornate water features and romantic arbours. Then there are the remains of the Muralla Árabe, the erstwhile Moorish fortifications of the city, which pave the way to the mighty Palacio Real de Madrid.

    Location: Calle de Segovia, 28005 Madrid, Spain

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    photo by Sjaak Kempe (CC BY 2.0) modified

    10

    Calle del Espiritu Santo

    A photogenic street with bohemian vibes

    Calle del Espiritu Santo runs through the northern end of the vibrant Malasaña neighbourhood. Forget regal palaces and vast plazas – this one's all about street life and shopping. In fact, it's arguably the best place for vintage markets in the city.

    Move from end to end on narrow Calle del Espiritu Santo, dodging the bicycles and mopeds, and you'll soon come to a stretch of the street that's given over to all manner of independent traders. There are retro florists and characterful bookstores with high piles of dusty tomes, plus bustling student cafés in the nooks and crannies. It's all very fun and photogenic.

    Location: Calle del Espíritu Santo, 28004 Madrid, Spain

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    photo by Nicolas Vigier (CC0 1.0) modified

    Joseph Francis | Contributing Writer

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