Whilst Madrid may be the capital city of Spain is it often overlooked by many, opting instead to travel to Barcelona, to seek out the outrageous Gaudi sculptures and parks or Seville where you can relax in Moorish inspired mansions at the same time as exploring the Gothic cathedral and the Mudéjar palaces.
Unlike these cities though, Madrid is a literary lover’s paradise; a capital city dedicated to the written word. An incredible number of writers have moved to the city over the years, and today, it is not just Spanish authors that are remembered by the book fiends that visit.
Where to Visit on Your Literary Tour of Madrid
#1 Explore Calle Huertas
In the famed Barrios de Letras, the neighbour of letters, you will find Calle Huertas, a reminder of the rich literary history of the city. Amongst the charming buildings, the historic restaurants, and the trendy bars you will find quotations inscribed in the middle of the street from Spanish literary legends, including Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote.
It is within this famed district that you will also find Casa de Cervantes, the home of Miguel de Cervantes. Ok, so the house itself is not open to the public, but there is a plaque on the wall outside commemorating one of Spain’s most famous writers.
For those that want to know more about Miguel de Cervantes, you can also visit Casa Natal de Cervantes, a museum in the Alcalá de Henares district which is the house where he was born and now features a large collection of the author’s manuscripts.
While in the area, head to La Fugitiva, a cafe and bookshop, just minutes away from Calle Huertas. Not only can you relax here with a coffee and a good book, but you can also join in with a creative writing class or a book club, both of which are frequently hosted within the walls of this amazing bookshop.
#2 Spend an afternoon at the Biblioteca Nacional de España
No bibliophile visiting Madrid will want to miss wandering through the bookshelves of Spain’s largest library and with 15 million books stored inside it will certainly take some time to explore.
Housed in an impressive palatial building in the Rocoletos area of the capital, the exterior is just spectacular and deserves just as much attention as the gems it houses.
#3 Dine at Sobrino de Botin
Mentioned in many novels including those penned by Spanish novelist, Benito Pérez Galdós, and Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, this establishment has also gained the official title by the Guinness Book of Records or the world’s oldest restaurant.
“We lunched upstairs at Botin´s. It is one of the best restaurants in the world. We had roast young suckling pig and drank rioja alta. Brett did not eat much. She never ate much. I ate a very big meal and drank three bottles of rioja alta.” (Ernest Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises)
So famous is this eatery with writers across the world, during their travels to Spain, countless other authors have been seduced by the charm of this place. Eating here will mean that you follow in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Graham Greene, Frederick Forsyth and American Pulitzer Prize winner, James A. Michener.
#4 Enjoy a drink at Las Cuevas de Sésamo
Another favourite haunt of Hemingway’s is this cave-bar that opened in the 1950’s and is well known for its extremely potent Sangria. Alongside watching football games and listening to live piano music here, they also host frequent poetry recitals. Pay particular attention to the walls inside this bar, where artists, singers, actors, and writers have all taken turns to scratch quotes into the plaster whilst Hemingway has a spot on the wall dedicated to him with an autographed plaque on display for all to see.
If you prefer an evening sherry then instead head to the unassuming, La Venencia, a bar that serves nothing but modestly priced sherry, water and tapas. This bar survives by word-of-mouth and has remained much the same for more than 70 years when Republican soldiers would meet with anti-fascists who would discuss stories from the battlefield during the Spanish Civil War and became a favourite watering hole of many journalists, including Hemingway.
#5 Pick up a rare used book from Desperate Literature
Desperate Literature is a bookshop established by Craig Walzer, Corey Eastwood, Charlotte Delattre, and Terry Craven. Between them, they own Atlantis Books in Santorini, Greece, Book Thug Nation and Human Relations in Brooklyn, NY, US.
This bookstore claims to head the best collection of used English books in the city and focuses on fiction, poetry, noir, and sci-fi but also boasts to have a large selection of quality books from many other genres.
When travelling, finding a bookshop with a good stock of English reads is invaluable to any bookworm and this one is a real gem, although there are many other bookshops in Madrid also worth exploring.
Madrid really is a city that all literary nerds will love.
Have you visited the capital of Spain? Did you visit a bookish landmark that we failed to mention? Have you read a book featuring Madrid that you feel we should read? If so, we would love to know more.
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