To get a feel for what the old city might have been like when it was first designated Spanish capital in the sixteenth century take a stroll around the area known as Madrid de los Austrias.
Start off at Plaza de la Villa, probably the oldest square in the city and home to some of its most ancient buildings, including the fifteenth-century Torre de los Lujanes. Then take the narrow, elbow-shaped Calle del Codo out of the northeastern corner of the plaza, passing the Convento de los Carboneras where the nuns still sell traditional cakes and biscuits, continuing downhill to the tranquil backstreet Calle San Justo. If you bear left past the splendid Baroque Basílica de San Miguel you will emerge on to bustling Calle Segovia, one of the ancient entrances into the old city. From here wander down Cava Baja with its succession of traditional tascas, former coaching inns and stylish tapas bars. You will end up in Plaza Humilladeros, buzzing with people sitting at the terrace bar in the middle of the square and flanked by the elegant Iglesia de San Andrés and the mansion that is now home to the Museo de los Orígenes. Walk past the splendid domed church and turn right into Plaza de la Paja, one of the old market squares that once littered the medieval city. Wealthy families would have lived in the mansions that line the square, each with a small garden similar to the peaceful Jardín de Anglona situated at the bottom of the plaza.
Take a left along Calle Príncipe de Anglona and shady Calle Nuncio to rejoin Calle Segovia and bear left up Calle Cuchilleros, named after the knife-makers who once plied their trade on the street. Here you will pass the renowned restaurant Botín, a madrileño institution that lays claim to be the oldest eating establishment in the world, followed by a string of cellar bars offering flamenco and traditional tapas. Don’t miss the beautiful wrought-iron work of the Mercado de San Miguel before finishing up with a circuit of the arcaded splendour of the Plaza Mayor.