The 'Times Square Of Spain' Is Near Several Of Rick Steves' Top European Attractions

While the Catalans (and many visitors) enjoy strolling along La Rambla in Barcelona, the Spanish capital of Madrid is not to be outdone when it comes to iconic public spaces. Madrileños have Puerta del Sol, one of the city's most popular and famous squares; indeed, Rick Steves once described as the "Times Square of Spain" (per his website).

The comparison may not be immediately obvious at first glance. The semi-circular plaza with pedestrianized paving, a glittering fountain, and ambling visitors might not seem to have much in common with the bright lights, skyscrapers, and hectic crowds of the Crossroads of the World. But there is one thing that links them: If you are in town on New Year's Eve, they are the place to party and welcome the next 12 months.

Madrid is often considered more representative of Spanish identity, and it is appropriately located in the very heart of the country — and Puerta del Sol is situated in the middle of Madrid. Here you will find Kilometer Zero, the stone slab from which all the city's streets and national roads in Spain are measured — literally the center of Spain. All roads lead from this semicircular square which, as Steves notes, makes the vibrant public space a very good place to start from when visiting several of Madrid's must-see attractions.

Why Puerta del Sol gets the Times Square comparison

Puerta del Sol (The Sun's Gate) has its origins in the 15th century when it was one of the gates into the city, and it took its splendid modern form in the mid-1800s. Like Trafalgar Square in London or Red Square in Moscow, Puerta del Sol is intrinsically linked with the cultural and historical identity of Madrid. It has been the site of many of Spain's landmark moments over the centuries, from the courageous stand against Napoleon's troops in 1808 to the proclamation of the Second Republic in 1931. Nowadays, Puerta del Sol draws comparisons with Times Square in New York because it is where crowds flock on New Year's Eve for celebrations televised across the nation. Traditionally, as the chimes ring out at midnight from the famous clocktower of the Real Casa De Correos, the gathered revelers eat twelve grapes to ensure good luck for the coming year.

Puerta del Sol is one of Europe's most well-known squares drawing over 100 million visitors each year, and recent work to make it completely pedestrianized have only made it more attractive for the public. With its fountain, equestrian statue of King Charles III, street performers, and events, the square is a popular meeting point and a great place to hang out and watch people go by. Indeed, if you get settled, you might find it hard to drag yourself away to check out Rick Steves' nearby recommendations.

Major attractions near Puerta del Sol

Puerta del Sol is a Madrid tourist attraction in its own right, but Rick Steves also suggests using it as a jumping-off point for seeing several major sights within a short walk. The lavish Royal Palace is a pleasant 15-minute stroll through the heart of the city. It's a vast building with over 2,000 rooms, fronting onto the huge open space of Plaza de la Armeria and sitting opposite the equally opulent Almudena Cathedral. Next door is Campo del Moro, a sprawling 50-acre park with plenty of shady walkways to escape the summer heat.

Also a short hop from Puerta del Sol is Plaza Mayor, a large square that dates back to the 17th century that was once the historic center of Madrid. The pedestrianized space is surrounded by archways and an ornate façade, and Steves recommends it for relaxing at one of the many pavement cafés or seeing what interesting souvenirs you can pick up at the market.

Madrid is also renowned for its world-class museums and galleries and Steves' pick for experiencing some of the city's art is the imposing Prado Museum. It's a 20-minute walk from Puerta del Sol (in the opposite direction of the Royal Palace), and its incredible collection of artwork includes masterpieces from revered artists including Francisco Goya, Caravaggio, Hieronymus Bosch, Peter Paul Rubens, Titian, and Diego Velázquez. With fantastic sights like these within easy walking distance of Puerta del Sol, it's the perfect jumping-off point if you only have one day in Madrid.