For anyone who’s ever read Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, it would be almost impossible to visit this place and not be replaying the scenes of the text on repeat in your mind. Although the famous Running of the Bulls Festival that occurs in Hemingway’s text takes place in Pamplona, not Madrid, the sights, weather, smells and sounds are all too perfectly described to not associate the two.
The Plaza Las Ventas:
Upon exiting the Plaza Las Ventas Metro stop you are immediately struck by the Plaza de Toros and the bullfighting arena itself. If you make the trip when no fight is actually happening, you’ll find the site eerily abandoned other than a couple of other tourists taking pictures and peeking past the gates to try to get a glimpse at the massive circular arena. But if you come during a fight, you’ll be bombarded by crowds, locals and tourists alike, all getting pumped for the bloodbath that occurs inside those exquisitely carved Moorish walls.
The surrounding area of the building itself is breathtaking. There are massive slabs of concrete out front with no structure or plant obstructing the epic view, that give way to walls on the sides with beautiful murals depicting matadors and their beasts in fierce battle.
The venue is a pale red made in the old Spanish style and is incredibly detailed with patterns covering the entire surface and gorgeous rivets running along the top. But the entryway is really the most exhilarating part. The massive gates give way to a large opening that allows a view of the circular sand pit where all of the action takes place.
The arena seats 25,000 and can reach full capacity on the days of the big fights. There are ten sections with groups of 27 rows and the seats are set up in descending ancient stadium style, with seats set in both the shade and unfortunately, the sun as well. There is a Royal Box, a sick bay and even a chapel, in true Spanish tradition.
When to go:
The Fiesta of San Isidro is the peak of the bullfighting season with fights happening every day from around May 8th depending on the schedule that year, with fights lasting for about 20 days and festivities going into June. The matadors that win during this festival will gain the most recognition.
From March to October fights take place every Sunday at 7:00pm. All fights last anywhere from two to three hours.
Tickets can be purchased either the day of the fight from 10:00 am – 7:00 pm, or the Friday & Saturday before the fight from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm and 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm at the taquillas, or ticket booths. There are also scalpers that often sell tickets before shows but as with anywhere in the world, they will probably try to rip you off. So, make sure that you thoroughly inspect the tickets and don’t overpay for a show that’s not even sold out if you decide to buy from them.
There are three types of fights during the San Isidro festival. There are fights with the novillos, or young bulls, with rejones, or matadors on horseback, and goyesca, or period costume fights.
The typical Sunday fights usually involve three matadors, one master and two assistants, fighting and ultimately killing two bulls over a period of two to three hours. The crowd rates the killing at the end of the fight and awards the best matador varying body parts of the bull depending on how well they thought the fight went.
Unfortunately for the animals, in Spain the bulls really are fought and actually killed. The fight is not staged and if you attend this show, you will see at least one, and more likely two bulls murdered so be prepared. And it will be bloody. The awards for winning the fight consist of either one ear, two, or both ears and the tail, so there will be not only killing but mutilation. This fight is a part of Spanish tradition and although the fights do sell out often, many locals share the same animal rights qualms about the killings that foreigners may have.
But for those visitors that aren’t bothered by the killing of these animals or are willing to get past it for the sake of the experience, it may help even more to know that after the bull is killed it is said that its body is butchered and sold as dinner in some upscale Madrid restaurants. So, ultimately it can be argued that there is somewhat of a purpose for the slaughter. In fact you may even end up eating the very one you saw killed if you happen to order bull that evening.
That being said, the fight is supposed to be magnificent, beautiful, athletic and tragic and truly is an experience like no other. The matadors are in peak physical condition and must be in order to avoid being gored by one of the bulls’ sharpened horns. The outfits and weaponry are both traditional and the spectacle is said to be worth the violence for the exhilaration of the experience. Well, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
C/ Alcalà 237
28028 Madrid, Spain
+34 902 193 166
March – October:
Sundays: Fight starts at 7:00 pm
May 8th – June San Isidro Festival:
Daily: Fight starts at 7:00 pm.
See above under Tickets for Box Office hours.
The prices for the fights range anywhere from $3EU to $100+EU depending on the season, matadors, seat location, and sun/shade seat.
Ticket prices go up during the San Isidro festival, and popular fights. The most expensive seats are closer to the actual arena and located in the shade rather than the sun.