A Week Staying in Plaza Mayor

January 23, 2020

We booked a room 30 seconds after seeing that it was possible. If you can wake up and sip coffee over Plaza Mayor, you do it.

I habitually put off booking a place to stay when we travel. It hasn’t fully backfired yet, but sometimes we do get spectacularly lucky. This was one of those times.

We found this listing, a second floor condo in the southwest corner of Plaza Mayor, the center of Enlightenment-era Madrid. Plaza Mayor is a large square surrounded by incredibly beautiful architecture with which it shares a rich history of marketplaces, meetings, Inquisition trials, fires, rebuilding, and renaming that mark some of the key moments in Spanish history.

The idea of waking up with a view of the most famous plaza in our favorite city, opening the shutters, and sipping coffee over a Juliet balcony has an obvious appeal. It’s also near the center of the Madrid, so it’s easy to get around anywhere. We weren’t that worried that we visited in January, and it wasn’t a big deal: 50 degrees feels crisp to a pair of Chicago residents.

Plaza Mayor is heavy on tourists and the hawkers and shops that follow them around. But if you want to understand the rhythm of the city, to understand when it’s waking up or packed by tour groups or excited or slowing down on a rainy afternoon, this might be the best place to do so.

In any case, interior was comfortable and modern, despite being a in a building that is a few hundred years old. The view was stunning. We had a busy time there, and I’m thankful some vivid memories will have such an incredible backdrop. It was an unforgettable way to feel the pulse of one of my favorite places. Here are some scenes from our week there.

It’s a good time to note that there are a lot of brightly colored signs posted around Madrid by frustrated neighbors, including in Plaza Mayor, pointing out AirBnB’s or similar rentals that are not adhering to local ordinance and are more generally changing the housing market.

I think AirBnb is a cool idea but it’s weaponized in a lot of places by people buying up or leasing a lot of apartments just for weekly rentals. This does a lot to hurt local housing markets and residents, and it badly over-leverages the people holding so many apartments so that any downturn could spell disaster. Further, it doesn’t seem like AirBnb cares very much to stop this. These United States and the markets we export to other places are financed one month at a time, future be damned.

So, I try to avoid listings from people who have more than a few properties. As we’re more able, we stay in hotels more often. This one was owned by a family who owns the hat shop downstairs and seems to own the “building” — that corner of the Plaza, which you enter by the same door. They were great. I did feel vindicated in our choice to stay in one of our favorite hotels for the remainder of our time in Madrid.