Spanish for ‘Gate of the Sun’, Puerta del Sol is one of Madrid’s most popular tourist destinations. At its center lies the paving slab just outside the Casa de Correos that marks the spot from which radiates the six main highways traversing Spain. It is a good point from which to begin to explore this delightful part of the city.
The gates were once the entrance to Madrid. Like many medieval towns, it was surrounded in the 15th century by a protective wall. Through the gate passed traders and visitors from all over the known world. It gradually grew to an important meeting place for important merchants and politicians.
Visitors will find here a number of attractions. There is a large sculpture of a bear eating the fruit of the madrone tree, for example. The name ‘Madrid’ derives from the Spanish word for this plant and the bear is a powerful symbol for the madrilenos.
At the beginning of Alcala Street, in front of the Regina Hotel, you can pause and take in two outstanding examples of architecture. Pause to admire the statues atop these banks and then move on down the road.
At the House of the Post Office, you come upon one of Madrid’s most important buildings. Built in 1768 and housing a giant clock with faces on each side of the tower, it is the central point for the New Year celebrations. During the traditional festival for eating the Twelve Grapes, the clock will chime out. The joyous occasion has been broadcast live from this point for over 40 years now.
Enjoy the sight of the statue of Charles III there, honored for his many public works programs. Today the point is ablaze at night with the sign of Tio Pepe. Here, too, is the Mariblanca statue of Venus. Actually, the sculpture is a replica of the original in the Municipal Museum.
Because of its location and prominence in the life of Madrid, the Puerta naturally serves as the focal point for many political protests. Vigorous, but not dangerous, you may see one during your visit.
Not far away are dozens of shops, restaurants, and other attractions. The El Corte Ingles department store is always a popular draw for tourists and the bars are busy from early in the evening until early the next morning. Some are just getting started at 1 a.m.! Street music is frequently ‘on the menu’ as well.
The area is a short walk from the Plaza Mayor and the Palacio Real (Royal Palace) so you’ll be well-positioned to enjoy those other fine sights of Madrid, too. Parliament is not far away and there’s a Metro station underneath the square. There are dozens of side streets full of shops and interesting restaurants, so explore!