Madrid's Plaza Mayor just celebrated its 400th anniversary with this incredible light show

Plaza Mayor marks the historic heart of Madrid, Spain, one of the world's truly spectacular cities. Lined with shops and restaurants, overflowing with the near-round-the-clock energy of Madrileños and tourists alike, the site of celebration and horror throughout its history, this infamous city square has been a personal favorite place for what is now most of my life. The Plaza celebrates its 400th anniversary this year, opening up the festivities on February 17 with the most incredible light show spectacle we have ever seen. Though the show itself has passed, the anniversary celebrations are ongoing throughout the year. Whether now or in the future, we recommend that Plaza Mayor and Madrid in general be at the top of your travel list.

Our first order of evening business was visiting friends for a pitcher of sangría at Méson del Champiñón when Meghan and I spent this February weekend in Madrid. We stepped out into the evening at about 8:30pm, made the short walk up into Plaza Mayor, and were absolutely blown away by the show we saw. Eager viewers filled the plaza's entire open expanse as they counted down the seconds to show time. An immense lighting rig had been set up in the center of the square, with speakers ringing the perimeter under the archways to create an immersive effect of the brilliant music. The lights were projected onto the very walls of the square itself, replicating the finest details of every door, window, and balcony, manipulating those details to create the effect of walls built, burned, and cast aside as the backdrop for each momentous occasion that this place has witness over four centuries. The shown ran for about fifteen minutes, though we've compiled our clips into this under-five-minute video.

The anniversary organizers put their own three-minute version together from a much better vantage point (and using much more sophisticated equipment than the iPhone 7 Plus we had on hand). It's worth a watch below, though we each included some different footage.

It's really too bad that videos alone cannot hope to capture the grand magnificence of this event, but suffice it to say we feel like whoever created this should be pretty well booked developing opening ceremony shows for every Olympics from now until... forever?

I'll offer a bit of quick advice for visitors. Plaza Mayor, like the historic centers of many great cities, is both tourist trap and high quality. It's important to have an idea as to which is which so that you can take in the best on offer while skipping the trifling elements. As a general rule, avoid eating and drinking at the restaurants up on the plaza unless you're really wanting to experience the place over a meal (I, too, sometimes want this) and are willing to accept the trade offs of inflated prices, lots of tourists, and street merchants hawking their flowers and other wares directly at your table. Once you've finished strolling about to take it all in, consider visiting the mésones on Calle Cava de San Miguel down Mayor's southwest steps (lots of tourists here, but so worth it), or walk down Calle de las Huertas (heading east and slightly south from the plaza). Both offer lots of great energy.