One of the main advantages of big cities is the wide range of possibilities regarding shopping: one can simply find anything they want there, and Madrid is a good example of that. In Madrid, there are two particular streets that are known to offer this service: Preciados and Fuencarral. These two streets have acquired a reputation over the years thanks to their many shops and department stores. In addition, their past is quite interesting.
Between Malasaña and Chueca, and ending up in Chamberí, Fuencarral has now existed for centuries. Different names were used in the early modern period to designate this street travelling north. Nevertheless, the fact that it reaches the district called Fuencarral, assimilated by Madrid in the mid-20th century, made it inevitable for the street to acquire its current name.
Nowadays, this street in Gran Vía is a pedestrian area. There is no car transit until you’re midway to the roundabout known as Glorieta de Bilbao. This section is where most of the stores are gathered, their main product offer being fashion-related items. It makes sense that the mix of major brands and alternative commerce, altogether with its location in the downtown area, would make Fuencarral a significantly crowded street.
As we walk along, we’ll begin to perceive the more festive atmosphere of Malasaña and Chueca. That’s the other side of Fuencarral, a side full of bars, restaurants and all kinds of terraces. Here, alternative stores make their way and we find one of the places that best describes Fuencarral: the market of San Ildefonso. In the past, this location used to host street markets, but in the early nineteenth century it became the first covered market in Spain. The new building consists of multiple floors and provides an innovative culinary proposal. It has about twenty stalls, and they host multiple events.
Formerly, the street used to be full of movie theaters, especially in its last section. There are still some that survived, but most of them have disappeared. Hence, one can wrap up the visit to Fuencarral in a very cultural way by watching a movie there. Anyway, the route from Gran Vía to Glorieta de Quevedo allows us to experience the purest essence of Madrid. The fact that Fuencarral didn’t have many civil or religious buildings made it possible for the street to grow its own personality, but it doesn’t prevent it from having remarkable spaces such as the History Museum or the already mentioned market of San Ildefonso.
Preciados is also an old street. Actually, its name has a curious origin. It’s said that it comes from a story about two brothers whose job consisted of inspecting workshops and marketplaces. They were two, and their last name was Preciado, the singular form of the word “preciados”, so that’s it. This little story clearly reflects the street’s commercial nature. Preciados’ length is only about a third of a mile, but it remains as one of the most populated streets when it comes to shopping areas.
Considering all that, it’s not its peculiar name or the presence of an important currency exchange office that this street in Madrid is so well-known for. Actually, the main reason behind Preciados’ popularity is the fact that the forerunners of today’s greatest Spanish department stores started up there. Of course, we’re talking about the very famous Galerías Preciados and El Corte Inglés —both of them started their trajectory in this street, around the 1940s.
Once they were established all over Madrid, both department stores expanded through the rest of Spain during the sixties and the seventies. Eventually, El Corte Inglés assimilated its competitor in 1995. At that time, Galerías Preciados had already been acquired by different companies for years, fading into extinction. Anyhow, both department stores constituted this street’s face for decades, and they contributed to manufacture the popularity Preciados has today.
Preciados is one of the world’s most expensive streets, and it’s full of stores. It remains a bustling place throughout the year, a perfect spot for shopping between Sol and Callao. Likewise, the street Calle del Carmen shelters the popular Doña Manolita, where many citizens like to buy their lottery tickets. However, the street spreads beyond that, reaching the square of Santo Domingo. This last stretch is quieter, and it’s more focused on gastronomy. Hence, if you’re unsure about where to eat, here you’ll have plenty of choices.
Woven into the flanks of Gran Vía, both Fuencarral and Preciados constitute Madrid’s main arteries when it comes to shopping. The two streets have a heart of tradition, history and anecdotes which makes us fall in love with them every time. Therefore, these locations are a must-see for anyone visiting Spain’s capital city.
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You can read part II of this list here.