I love Madrid. Visiting Spain is something I always recommend, and I think nowhere in Spain is a more perfect introduction than Madrid. Without question it trumps Barcelona, and the city itself hosts endless possibilities. But, this post isn’t about Madrid. Well, not exactly. I’ve rounded up my top 3 day trips from the city. I think these 3 trips also complement each other, as they all offer something completely different. You can’t go wrong spending your entire time in Madrid city, but if you’ve got time and the itch to step out a bit, these are your best options:
If you look up top day trips, Toledo will make every list with good reason. It’s known as the City of 3 Cultures, as it historically had the co-existence of Christians, Muslims, and Jews. What makes this city so amazing is over 2,000 years of history. That’s crazy, and the city has preserved the ancient feeling. In 1986 Toledo was named a UNESCO world heritage site.
Getting There – The best way to get to Toledo from Madrid is by high-speed train, which you get at the Atocha station. You can buy tickets in advance, but I’ve never had an issue buying tickets at the station. The train leaves roughly every ½ hour, takes about 30 minutes, and costs around 14 € each way. If you’re budget conscious, you can take the bus for about 5 € each way, but the journey takes 1 ½ hours. Both the train and bus will drop you at the bottom of the hill which leads to the city gates. I’ve noticed online many people recommend getting a taxi to the entrance, but this is completely unnecessary. It’s less than a 10 minute walk to the city entrance.
What to do – Walking the ancient streets is my favorite thing to do. You can spend the entire day stealing through the winding alleyways. Many of the paths are extremely narrow, and people talk about the city always being in the shade since the close proximity of the buildings doesn’t allow light through. There are also numerous religious buildings worth checking out, as well as museums. In the evening grab dinner at an outdoor café overlooking the river.
Don’t miss – The Cathedral is a must see. The full name is The Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo or Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo. The first construction began in 1227 and it’s one of three high gothic cathedrals in Spain. I’ve seen a lot of Cathedrals throughout Spain and Italy, and this is my favorite. The details are stunning, impressive, inspiring, and everything else good. There is an entrance fee of around 10 €, but it’s worth every penny. This is a must see when visiting Toledo. It’s worth it, I promise!
- Royal Site of San Lorenzo de El Escorial
The historical residence of the King of Spain, El Escorial has functioned as a Monastery, Palace, Museum, and School. The site represents Spain’s golden age, and the architecture has remained unchanged over the years. El Escorial is located in the foothills of the Guadaramma mountains, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Getting There – Train is the best way to get to El Escorial. You can take the Cercanias which has platforms at the Atocha station, Sol, Nuevos Ministerios, or Chamartin. This train is primarily for commuters, so you buy tickets at the station. The journey takes about an hour. The train arrives at the bottom of the hill and you’ll need to walk to the top to enter El Escorial.
What to do – You should plan on spending the entire day here, thus giving you enough time to explore everything. El Escorial is sprawling and massive, and you’ll see libraries, tombs, art, and so many other things. If you need something for a rainy day, El Escorial is a good pick as most of what you’ll be there to see is indoors. There are pretty gardens surrounding the buildings and the town itself it picturesque. El Escorial is great because it’s so diverse. It’s not just an art gallery, or just a church, or just a historical site. It’s all of those things. You can even see the bed the king slept in! Another thing I like about this place is every time I’ve been it’s not overrun with tourists, so it gave me free roam and felt like I’d stepped back in time.
Don’t Miss – You should be able to see everything during your day trip to El Escorial. My not-to-miss spot is the library.
- Guadarrama Mountains
Spending the day in the mountains is a great contrast to center city Madrid. It’s also a great place to enjoy stunning views of the countryside.
Getting There – You’ll want to first travel to the Guadarrama park by Train, and from there you’ll take a very small rickety train into the mountains. You can just travel to the Guadarrama park, but you’ll miss the stunning views. The train timetables are unreliable and from what I’ve seen they aren’t published online. The train doesn’t run every day, but should be operational every Tuesday. I would recommend nailing down the train details once you arrive in Madrid when the timetables for the small train are available.
What to do – Hike the beautiful mountains. The scenery here is really breathtaking. You can view our album of photos here!
Don’t Miss – It’s not often you’re somewhere you can pick wildflowers with snow-capped mountains in the background. Don’t miss a moment of the beautiful scenery!
You might be wondering about two major day trips that didn’t make this list, Avila and Segovia. If time isn’t an issue, these towns are worth a stop, but if your time in Madrid is limited, these two cities are both trumped by Toledo, which has a more diverse offering of things to do, and more impressive sites. Both of these cities have unique and beautiful aspects, and are worth a stop. All three of my top picks are great for budget travelers, as well as those looking to splash out a little more. All are truly doable trips in 1 day, and will give you a more rounded view of Spain while based in Madrid. Enjoy!