10 Day Trips From Madrid For Your Itinerary
One of the best things about Madrid is its central location. Madrid is within close proximity to a host of interesting destinations that make for a great day trip. This post breaks down 10 of the best day trips from Madrid – from quiet towns to majestic landmarks. I went on day trips to all these places when I lived in Madrid so I wanted to give you some tips on how to prepare and what to do in each place.
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This post is part of the Madrid Travel series. Here’s a full list of posts in the series.
Walking tour: A Self-Guided Walking Tour of Madrid
Day Trips: The 10 Best Day Trips From Madrid
Tourist Mistakes: 6 Common Tourist Mistakes To Avoid in Madrid
First, let’s talk about transportation options to get to these destinations. The quickest way is to take the train. Renfe is Spain’s national train system that connects all the major cities and towns. There are different types of Renfe trains, but you’ll be taking one of the following trains:
- Cercanias Renfe (commuter)
- Renfe Alvia (short to medium distance)
- Renfe Media Distancia (medium distance)
- Renfe Avant (medium to long distance)
- Renfe Ave (long distance)
Ticket prices vary by distance and how early you book, but you should be looking at somewhere between 10-30 EUR roundtrip for these destinations.
Another option, which I prefer, is to do a ride share service called Bla Bla Car. I know the name is silly, but ridesharing is such an inexpensive and fun way to see Spain. What you have to do is sign up for an account. Then you can search for drivers that are going to your intended destination on the day you want to visit. You can request to be a rider and get instantly booked or get approved by the driver. He or she will coordinate with you and the other drivers to pick a time and location to meet. For long distance trips, particularly, ridesharing is much cheaper than the train.
I should note that ridesharing works best if you speak some Spanish. More likely than not, neither your driver nor the other passengers will speak a word of English. You can reach some of these destinations by bus. I’m a huge fan of the Alsa bus company and regularly use it to travel around Spain. Lastly, if you don’t want to worry about organizing your own transportation, you can book a guided day trip to the destination. I’ll give you recommendations for guided tours to take.
What to pack
Portable WiFi – having reliable access to wifi at the palm of your hands will make your trip a lot easier. I’ve been using the Tep Wireless ‘Teppy’ device to access wifi abroad for over a year – it works for up to 9 hours in all sorts of locations. I even used it to film a Facebook live while on a boat off the coast of northern Spain. You can read my full review of Tep Wireless to see if it’s the right pocket WiFi for you.
Water – always stay hydrated, especially since you’ll be doing a lot of walking.
Map or GPS – Google maps, Apple maps, the Moovit app, a physical map, whatever works best for you.
Camera – you can use your phone camera, but a DSLR will capture those Gaudi buildings so much better! I always recommend the Nikon D3400 for beginners.
Now, in no particular order, here are the top 10 day trips from Madrid.
The 10 Best Day Trips From Madrid
San Lorenzo del Escorial
El Escorial was my very first day trip from Madrid. I remember thinking that this 16th-century monastery looked like somewhere in Germany – the environment was a stark contrast from Madrid. El Escorial sits high up in the hills of a town of the same name, about 30 miles west of Madrid. Although it now a monastery, this complex has also functioned as a residence for the King of Spain. There’s also a grand royal palace on the property, in addition to a library, a museum, and a pantheon. One of the must-see places here is the garden outside the monastery. It’s like a maze and provides a great vantage point to see the surrounding area.
Getting to El Escorial: From Madrid Atocha, Nuevos Ministerios, Chamartín, or Recoletos train stations, take Cercanias Renfe line C-8 to San Lorenzo del Escorial. The journey should take about an hour. Once you get off at the train station, you can either walk up the hill for 20 minutes or take the local bus that drops people off at the monastery. It runs about every 15 minutes, and the bus stop is right outside the train station.
Aranjuez is a picturesque town about 25 miles south of Madrid. When you exit the train station, there’s a bus stop where you can that can take you into town. But I think you should skip the bus and walk. There’s a long, beautiful walkway into town that looks like something out of a romance movie. The best attraction in this town is the Royal Palace of Aranjuez, a 16th-century royal residence. It gives the royal palace in Madrid a run for its money.
Getting to Aranjuez: From Madrid Atocha train station, take the Cercanias Renfe train C-3 bound to Aranjuez. This should take around 45 minutes. You can also go to the Mendez Alvaro bus station and take the Alsa bus bound to Aranjuez.
Alcalá de Henares
Alcalá de Henares is famous for being the hometown of Miguel de Cervantes, who wrote what is possibly the most famous Spanish language book of all time, Don Quijote de la Mancha. The town itself is so charming. It’s a place to stroll about for a couple of hours. Start at Calle Mayor, the main pedestrian street, and then head to the town square, Cervantes Square. This square provides a great backdrop for photos.
Getting to Alcalá de Henares: From Madrid Atocha train station, take the Cercanias Renfe train C-7 bound to Alcalá de Henares.
Okay, the main reason I went here was to be able to eventually compare Guadalajara, Spain with Guadalajara, Mexico. Don’t ask me why. Later I learned that there are Game of Thrones filming locations here. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, that may be a good enough reason to visit Guadalajara. This is a sleepy town just about an hour north of Madrid that’s not an obvious choice for a day trip. But I found it be a relaxing getaway and would go back to see the Game of Thrones filming locations.
Getting to Guadalajara: From Madrid Atocha or Chamartín train stations, take the Cercanias Renfe C-2 train towards Guadalajara. The journey should last just a little over an hour each way.
Toledo is a city on a hill that used to be the capital of Spain. Now, it’s best known for its historical center, museums, cathedrals, and marzipan. Toledo is the first city so far that’s located outside of the Community of Madrid. It’s in Castilla-La Mancha, an autonomous community to the south of Madrid. When in Toledo, I recommend you eat at a restaurant called a Trebol. It’s located in an underground cave with see-through glass on the floor. The food was alright but the ambiance was something special.
Getting to Toledo: From Madrid Atocha Station, take the Renfe Avant train towards Toledo. The journey should take around 30 minutes each way.
There’s a really crude joke about Cuenca that Spanish love to tell. For the sake of the children, I won’t tell it. Just ask any Spaniard about it. Besides that joke, the medieval city of Cuenca is well known for it’s hanging houses, known as Casas Colgadas. On the surrounding hills, there are paintings of some eyes called Los Ojos de la Mora, the eyes of the moors. There is a tragic love story behind the eyes in Cuenca. Try to spot them without help. Cuenca is quite small so you can see it in a few hours. It’s best to start your trip early as Cuenca is about 120 miles from Madrid in Castilla-La Mancha.
Getting to Cuenca: From Madrid Atocha train station, take the Renfe Ave train towards Cuenca. The journey should be 55-60 minutes each way.
Segovia is one of my favorite cities in Spain by far. It’s home to the famous Aqueduct of Segovia and the Alcazar de Segovia, a Moorish palace. The city is an architectural wonder that deserves at least a full day. Besides the architecture, Segovia is famous for its signature dish Cochinillo Asado, or suckling pig.
Getting to Segovia: From Madrid Chamartín train station, take the Renfe Ave train towards Segovia. The journey should last about 2 hours each way.
I went to Avila on a rainy day so I didn’t get to see as much of the city as I wanted. But I did enjoy strolling along the famous Muralla de Avila, the well-preserved medieval city walls. I’m afraid of heights so climbing up the narrow stairs to the top was a challenge, but the views were worth it. Besides the city walls, you can also visit the Iglesia de Santa Teresa, a 17th-century church and convent with a hauntingly beautiful interior.
Getting to Avila: From Madrid Chamartín train station, take the Renfe Avant or Renfe Media Distancia train towards Avila. The trip should take an hour and a half each way.
Salamanca is farther away from Madrid than the other places, but worth the trip if you have time. Every city in Spain has a plaza mayor or main town square. Salamanca’s stood out to because of its grandeur. The city is home to the University of Salamanca so there are a lot of young people here and a lot of activities catered towards young people. Start your trip early because the travel time is 2.5 hours. The route to Salamanca is scenic so you’ll be able to pass the time.
Getting to Salamanca: From Madrid Chamartín train station, take the Renfe Alvia train towards Salamanca.
Zaragoza is best known for the Festival of Pilar, a raucous three-day festival that takes place in October. But the real show stopper here is the Basilica del Pilar, which I think is in the top five of the most beautiful churches I’ve seen in Europe. There’s a ticket office behind the church. Go there, buy a ticket for 3 EUR, and you can take the stairs to the top of the structure. The detail on the roof is just stunning and so is the vantage point from up there.
Getting to Zaragoza: From Madrid Atocha train station, take the Renfe Ave train towards Barcelona Sants. Be sure to get off at the Zaragoza Delicias stop or you may end up in Barcelona. You can also take the Alsa bus from Avenida de America bus station to Zaragoza Delicias station.
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