Madrid’s Gran Via, translated to “Great Way,” is an entertainment district street in the heart of the city’s downtown core. It’s the location of Casino Gran Via, this week’s host to the WPT Prime Madrid Festival, along with many other premier poker events as well.
A casino in the heart of the action is always going to be a perfect location for poker players with food, drink, shopping, and other entertainment options at the ready, but Casino Gran Via is on another level.
The area around Casino Gran Via is not only home to all those things, but many of Madrid’s premier tourist attractions are within a ten-minute walk of the venue as well!
I took the opportunity to tour the area and check out these can’t-miss spots when away from the tables of WPT Prime Madrid.
Palacio Real de Madrid (The Royal Palace)
At the top of the list of must-see attractions around Gran Via is the massive Palacio Real de Madrid. Almost double the size of Buckingham Palace, it is the largest royal palace in Western Europe. While it is the official residence of Spain’s head of state, the king, recent and current monarchs instead live at the Palacio de la Zarzuela on the outskirts of the city, while the Palacio Real de Madrid is reserved for formal events.
The palace is surrounded by immaculately manicured grounds, statues, and courtyards, providing infinite photo opportunities. For a small fee, visitors can tour the exquisite interior of the palace which includes stops in the Throne Room and the Royal Armory.
Catedral de la Almudena (Almudena Cathedral)
Across a courtyard from the Palacio Real de Madrid is the beautiful Catedral de la Almudena. The cathedral was first planned in 1879 but has a long-storied history of architectural development to the point that it wasn’t actually considered ‘complete’ until 1993.
The cathedral also houses a neo-Romanesque-style crypt which is one of the largest in all of Spain. The crypt is also easily accessible and equally beautiful with incredible architecture including towering white columns throughout.
Tourists are welcome with just a small donation requested (but not required).
Plaza Mayor (Main Square)
Plaza Mayor is an incredible place to hang out in the Madrid sunshine.
The massive square which dates back to 1619 is now framed by a collection of restaurants and bars with square-side patios, along with a wide assortment of gift shops, including a very fun store with nothing but a massive assortment of rubber ducks!
Nods to the plaza’s history can be found throughout, none more prominent than the statue of King Philip III in the center of the square, which was originally completed in 1616 and first situated elsewhere but was moved to the plaza in 1848.
While there are endless things to see and do in Madrid, patio hopping in the plaza would be far from the worst way to spend a day.
Mercado de San Miguel (San Miguel Market)
Another top-notch option for food and drink with a healthy dose of Spanish history is the Mercado de San Miguel.
This more than century-old marketplace houses a huge collection of vendors, offering meats, cheeses, sweets, pastries, coffee, wine, beer, and more that can be enjoyed on-site or taken away to enjoy at home or in the sunshine.
This gastronomic temple welcomes over ten million visitors each year and if you’re in Madrid, you need to be one of them and experience this amazing delight to the senses for yourself.
Plaza de Espana (Spain Square)
Plaza de Espana is a beautiful park at the west end of Gran Via which features another of the many statues throughout the area, the Monument to Cervantes. A marketplace of small food kiosks and shops fills the northeast side of the park.
While the vibe during the day is pretty chill, at nighttime the park comes alive with music and dance performances. There’s a lot more energy and a lot more people, but day or night it’s a very cool place to hang out and is a great starting point for exploration of the Gran Via area with a route to other locations easily walkable.
Puerta del Sol (Sun Gate)
Like Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol is another huge open courtyard surrounded by restaurants, cafes, and shops. As much as Plaza de Espana may be a great starting point for exploration of the area, Puerta del Sol literally is the center of Madrid. A plaque marking kilometer zero can be found just outside the plaza’s famed Royal Post Office.
Multiple streets begin at Puerta del Sol expanding outwards to the rest of the city like sunbursts. Take the subway from the airport to Sol station, come up topside into the plaza, and then pick a street to begin your journey around the area.
Puerta del Sol is also the original home of one of Spain’s most famous New Year’s traditions. Spaniards gather on December 31st to eat 12 grapes to bring a new year of good luck and prosperity. Puerta del Sol remains the largest such location for gathering to partake in the tradition.
Gran Via is also the home of many large theatres, featuring major productions. An evening walk between the casino and Plaza de Espana alone shows many huge billboards lighting up the street for shows including The Lion King, Mamma Mia, and many more.
If an international stage show is on your Madrid to-do list, Gran Via is where to go.
The highlight of the many gastronomic options in Downtown Madrid is the world’s oldest restaurant. Recognized as such in the Guinness Book of Records, Botin dates back to 1725.
With classic recipes, centuries of tradition, and a clientele through time that includes Ernest Hemingway, this culinary history lesson is a must-try for any gastro-geeks visiting Madrid for poker or otherwise.
Botin is a very popular spot, and similar to hotspot Las Vegas Strip restaurants, reservations are generally needed well in advance, so plan ahead.
Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, I’ve yet to experience it personally, but following the completion of the WPT Prime Championship event, there may just be a team dinner there that I’m very much looking forward to.
Of all the locations worldwide that I’ve been fortunate enough to be sent to, Madrid and Casino Gran Via tops the list for the sheer abundance of options and convenience when not at the poker tables. Anything you could want is just footsteps away.
Only one player will come away the winner of the WPT Prime Madrid Championship event, but for everyone else, they couldn’t ask for a better place to bust.