This walk takes you from the Thyssen or Prado museum to the Plaza Mayor and Royal Palace, using mostly minor streets without a lot of traffic. This walk takes about 30-40 minutes from the museums to the Royal Palace.
Starting point: Paseo del Prado, at crosswalk just below Canovas del Castillo square (also known as Neptuno), on west side of big tree-lined Paseo, facing south, slightly downhill: there is a big souvenir store right here with odd characters on first-floor balconies. To reach this point from the Thyssen museum: turn right leaving museum, go to lower side of the big square with fountain and statue of Neptune. To reach this point from the Prado museum: from the north entrance to the museum, completely cross the wide, tree-lined street and turn left.
Walk: Go south on Paseo del Prado, slightly downhill towards Atocha. Soon pass big official building with flags out front (Ministerio de Sanidad y Consumo – on your right). After this building, there is a square to your right, with one side along Paseo del Prado, two streets leading out of upper part of square. Turn right into this square and take the right-hand street from top of square: calle Huertas.
Pass a police station (on your left), come to another small square. Take street leaving upper left side of this square, still calle Huertas but now semi-pedestrian, up a small hill. Notice quotes embedded in the street from here until we leave calle Huertas. Lots of restaurants in this lower part. Huertas and the parallel streets Moratín and Santa Maria, as well as perpendicular streets up to and including area around Santa Ana also have a lively night scene.
Partway up the hill on your right, pass an old brick building: Convento de Trinitarias, where Miguel de Cervantes is buried (not open for visits). Just after passing this building, perpendicular street to the left called Amor de Dios – one block from this corner is the Biotika vegetarian restaurant, with a small grocery store that has bread, cookies, other food and some carryout.
Continue on calle Huertas, now almost flat. A few streets above Amor de Dios street is a square to the left called Plaza de Matute. Small grocery store on this square (Mantequeria A. Cabello, established 1877) is typical of old-style neighborhood commerce – and has great honey and jams, as well as other things.
After Plaza Matute, come to a cross street to the right: calle Principe. Turn right here and go one block to Plaza Santa Ana, with the Teatro Español on one side, a huge, recently renovated hotel on the other side (sigh, a bit of Madrid’s history was lost in the renovation), and the other two sides lined with cafeterias and beer halls, most with outdoor terraces in good weather – Hemingway was fond of the Cerveceria Alemana, but if you are a beer buff you should definitely drop by the microbrewery Naturbier. For more solid fare, from this square to calle Cruz, north to Carrera de San Jeronomo, you can enjoy one of the best tapa-hopping areas in all of Madrid.
Turn left as you come into Santa Ana square, go straight ahead and leave the other side of the square next to the hotel. You are now in the adjoining square Plaza del Angel, with the jazz bar Café Central to your left. Continue straight ahead: the square gets narrower and narrrower until it is really a street, but maintains the name Plaza del Angel.
Plaza Jacinto Benavente At the next major corner, there is a cross street to the right (calle de la Cruz – leads into tapa area but has a bit of prostitution near the corner – not dangerous but a bit of a shock if you aren’t expecting it. The square you have now reached is Jacinto Benavente, and the brick tower you see over the roofs ahead and a bit to the left is the Santa Cruz church tower. The cross street to your right after calle Cruz is calle Carretas, and will take you directly to Plaza Puerta del Sol.
Continue in same direction you have been walking, along edge of Jacinto de Benavente square, leaving the other side of the square on calle de la Bolsa. This street is now a semi-pedestrian street like calle Huertas. Calle Bolsa ends at a square called Plaza de Santa Cruz, with an official-looking building to the left (Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores) and Santa Cruz church also to the left, a little behind you. Directly in front of you is a building with arcades on ground level: go around the left-hand side of this building and into the Plaza Mayor.
Cross the Plaza Mayor diagonally and leave the square on calle Ciudad Rodrigo. Ciudad Rodrigo is just one block, ends at another small square. The street to your right is calle Mayor, if you turn right you will reach Plaza Puerta del Sol. To your left is the Mercado de San Miguel: for a real cultural experience, go in and check out this market, the last of the traditional iron, glass and red-tile-roofed markets in Madrid.
Continue straight ahead down calle Mayor, in opposite direction from Sol. In a short block you reach another small square on your left (Plaza de San Miguel) and can see the towers and part of city hall building about a block farther down calle Mayor. At this point, cross calle Mayor (there is a cafeteria called Los Alpes on the other side, right by stoplight). Right along here you cross where the 12th century Christian walls encircled the oldest part of the city.
Take calle Milaneses, perpendicular to calle Mayor, for one block, then curve left on calle Santiago. Follow calle Santiago to a square with a church (Plaza Santiago). Here you can see the Royal Palace down a street ahead and to the right: you can take this shorter route or stick with me for a slightly longer and more scenic route. This last bit of street from calle Mayor has has recently become semi-pedestrian.
On opposite side of Plaza de Santiago, turn left on calle Señores de Luzón. Go one block and turn right on Travesia Señores de Luzón. Reach a small square, Plaza del Biombo, with a dark-colored brick building and a church on the other side of the square. Cross the square to that point: when you are even with the brick building there is an archway to the left that takes you to the parallel street where you have a better view of the San Nicolás church tower, one of the oldest in Madrid.
Continue straight ahead, between the brick building and the church. Cross calle San Nicolás and go one block straight ahead on a pedestrian street to the next cross street: calle Factor. At this point you can turn left down a small hill to reach calle Mayor very near the corner with calle Bailén (where the Cathedral is located), BUT if you turn right you get a great view of the Cathedral and Royal Palace from higher ground, more or less the edge of the 9th century Islamic city. Continuing right on calle Factor takes you to a set of stairs down to Plaza del Oriente and the Royal Palace, and the end of our walk for today.
Insider’s Tip: there is a dirt path parallel to calle Factor where the view is even better, and there are some sitting places to watch the sun go down behind the Palace / Cathedral.