Ateneo de Madrid Library

Barrio de Las Letras: literature and fine dining in Madrid


Home of literary geniuses

If you walk around the central barrio de Las Letras in Madrid, you will probably be fascinated by an inscription on the ground: “¿No es cierto ángel de amor, que en esta apartada orilla más pura la luna brilla y se respira mejor?” (Isn’t it true, angel of love, that on this distant shore the moonlight is purer and the air is clearer?) The quote is from the play Don Juan Tenorio, by Zorrilla. This is one of the many literary passages to find in this neighbourhood, famous for having been the home of some of the greatest writers of the Golden Age of Spanish literature, in the 17th century. Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Góngora, Quevedo… An area full of narrow streets, charming little shops, bars and taverns that are a delight to linger in.

Famous residents

The main street of this district is Calle Huertas. It’s worth walking its entire length to enjoy the bohemian atmosphere, stopping for a coffee or to take a photo next to a literary quote… The area is fully of pretty streets like Calle de León, Calle Lope de Vega and Calle Príncipe, and iconic places. For example, you can visit the Lope de Vega House-Museum, where the writer spent the last 25 years of his life. The inner courtyard is wonderful. Another unique spot is the church and convent of Las Trinitarias Descalzas, the burial place of no less a figure than Cervantes, author of the celebrated Don Quixote de la Mancha (to visit this site, book ahead by phone: +34 914295671).Several companies offer guided tours of this neighbourhood, once frequented by writers, painters, musicians and scientists. You can find more information in the section of useful links.

Dramatised tour, Lope de Vega House-Museum

Pavement cafés and taverns

A favourite spot for visitors in this part of Madrid is Plaza de Santa Ana, where you can have a very pleasant break sitting in the sun at a pavement café. It is home to statues to figures like the poet García Lorca, and buildings like the famous Teatro Español. Another idea is to walk to the Parliament building (Congreso de los Diputados) and take a selfie with the two lions guarding the entrance, followed by a drink and snack nearby. One of the most intriguing features of this neighbourhood is that you can find staunchly traditional, hundred-year-old taverns, serving classic tapas like patatas bravas, side by side with avant-garde restaurants that are constantly reinventing themselves.As night falls the district becomes even livelier. You'll find locations with live music, terraces with stunning views and even flamenco shows.

Outdoor café in Plaza de Santa Ana

Lots of art and antique shops

Las Letras is very close to the Paseo del Prado and the Art Walk, home to some of Madrid’s most famous museums like the Prado and the Thyssen. You can complement a visit to one of these by wandering into any of the private art galleries in the district, and then discovering its charming décor and antique shops, bookshop-cafés and vintage boutiques.Two highly recommended events are held in the district. The first is the Mercado de las Ranas, a street market held on the first Saturday of every month, when the shops set their goods out on the pavement and there are activities like street theatre and workshops.The second is DecorAcción, usually held in June, when for a few days the antique dealers and gallerists take over the streets, people decorate the balconies, dramatised tours are organised, and the neighbourhood becomes prettier, livelier and more magical than ever.

Stairs in the Ateneo de Madrid