Barrio de las Letras is the literary quarter of Madrid and the center of the Spanish Golden Age of writing. Whether you’re a book nerd, an aspiring novelist or just a tourist looking to have fun, this area is definitely worth checking out.
This neighborhood, located below Chueca and to the right of Lavapiés, is characterized by its winding and cobble-stone streets with engraved quotes of famous authors, quaint shops, literary plaques, streets named after famed writers and overall, rustic-chic charm. It borders the Plaza de Mayor, which is flocked with tourists, so it walks a fine line between being a local hangout and stop on a highlights tour.
Barrio de las Letras was home to many Spanish Golden Age writers, such as Miguel de Cervantes, playwright Lope De Vega and poet Francisco Gómez de Quevedo. Calle de Huertas (Huertas Street) is the epicenter of this neighborhood. On this street you will find a plethora of literary hotspots. From bookstores to quotes on the street, to plaques on buildings denoting where authors worked and lived, all book lovers will be in heaven.
Bella Bonbon Cafe and Restaurant is the perfect place to grab a coffee, pastry, meal, snack or drink. It’s a cozy atmosphere with a variety of options and is open long hours. They have Wi-Fi too.
Not too far away is a quirky, little bar called El Imperfecto. This hole-in-the-wall has mismatched furniture and walls lined with modern art and pop culture memorabilia. The bar is perfectly imperfect. The relaxed atmosphere, complete with pillows and couches offers a nice reprieve from the heat and other bars with a formalized setting.
To satisfy your literary cravings, three bookshops you must check out are Con Tarima, Desnivel, and Miguel Miranda Librería. Con Tarmina specializes in media, art, and theater books. Desnivel mainly has travel books, but regardless of what you’re searching for come for the experience. It has the layout of an old-fashioned library you’d read about in a Charles Dickens novel.
Miguel Miranda is a third generation owned bookstore that has antique and out-of-print books. The grandson, Miguel Miranda Barrientos, is proud to run the store now. The shop has moved locations several times over the years since his grandfather, Miguel Miranda Vicente, established it in 1949.
For lunch or dinner a good option is Café & Tapas. This is a chain-restaurant found throughout Spain, which offers dishes ranging from traditional Spanish fare to burgers, pizza, and wok noodles. It’s a good place for families, picky eaters and those just looking for quality, inexpensive food.
Another restaurant is Matute. Located right off of Huertas Street, it offers reasonably priced meals in a fine-dining setting. Funky lighting, bookcases and cushioned chairs characterize the inside. The presentation of dishes is spectacular as are the service and portion sizes.
A unique store to take a peak in is peSeta. It specializes in clothing, accessories, home ware and more made from patterned fabrics. They also sell other brands and designers from Spain and Portugal. Communications and Public Relations Director, Jamie Sevilla, stated in an email interview: “We produce in Spain for logistical, ethical and quality reasons. We work with respect for all materials and people involved in the process; we know the names of the people who make all our products.”
Sevilla also spoke about how Huertas Street in Barrio de las Letras is the perfect location for the store. The proximity of the Prado that brings in tourists and medium/high income levels in the area are perfect for commerce.
peSata is one of the many businesses to take part in el Mercado de las Ranas (or Frog Market), hosted by the Association of Merchants Quarter. It takes place the first Saturday of every month (except August). This is a giant flea market where all the local shops and vendors can showcase their goods and boost business in the area. The name of the market is derived from the vast number of frog ponds that used to occupy the area in the 17th century.
There’s certainly something for everyone in Barrio de las Letras. This doesn’t even scratch the surface of the number of restaurant, stores, bars, points of interest and homages to literature to visit. The best way to explore the quarter is to get lost in the streets and find out all its hidden secrets.
Bella BonBon Café and Restaurant; Calle de las Huertas, 69.
El Imperfecto; Plaza de Matute, 2.
Desnivel; Plaza Matute 6.
Miguel Miranda; Calle Lope de Vega, 19.
peSeta; Calle de las Huertas, 37.
Matute; Plaza de Matute, 12.
Café and Tapas; Calle del Príncipe, 24; Metro Sevilla or Antón Martín.