The Gran Vía, Madrid’s great thoroughfare, runs from Plaza de Cibeles to Plaza de España, effectively dividing the old city to the south from the newer parts northwards. Permanently jammed with traffic and crowded with shoppers and sightseers, it’s the commercial heart of the city, and – if you spare the time to look up – quite a monument in its own right, with its early twentieth-century, palace-like banks, offices and cinemas. Look out for the Edificio Metrópolis (1905–11) on the corner of c/Alcalá, complete with cylindrical facade, white stone sculptures, zinc-tiled roof and gold garlands, and the towering Telefónica building which was the chief observation post for the Republican artillery during the Civil War, when the Nationalist front line stretched across the Casa de Campo to the west.
North of the Telefónica building, c/Fuencarral heads north to the Glorieta de Bilbao. To either side of this street are two of Madrid’s most characterful barrios: Chueca, to the east, and Malasaña, to the west. Their chief appeal lies in an amazing concentration of bars, restaurants and, especially, nightlife. However, there are a few reasons – cafés included – to wander around here by day.