Make time for more adventures when you visit Madrid by taking a day trip to one of the Spanish capital’s scenic surrounding cities.
Madrid is a city made for art-lovers, food-fanatics and night-owls. From tabernas to tapas, mercados to museums, Madrid is an electrifying European capital catering to all. To walk the streets of Madrid is to follow in the footsteps of creative giants like Goya, Dalí, Velázquez and Miró, but the capital also offers the opportunity to cut new adventurous paths by visiting its surrounding towns and cities. Here are some of the best day trips from Madrid, all under 2 hrs away by train.
Aranjuez, just 32 mins from Madrid, was founded as a pleasure retreat for Spanish royalty under Philip II, and until 1752, it was forbidden for anyone who wasn’t a noble to visit. Today, however, all are welcome to explore this UNESCO World Heritage site, a city known for its opulent Royal Palace, located where the Tagus and Jarama rivers meet. While the palace is a sight to behold, it’s the royal residence’s ample Versailles-inspired gardens that steal the show. Stroll through the Jardín de la Isla for woodlands and Greek mythological fountains and explore the Jardín del Parterre for its extravagant flower displays.
Avila is home to one of Spain’s best-preserved medieval bastions with its old city surrounded by walls featuring over 2,500 turrets and 88 watchtowers. Also known as the ‘Town of Stones and Saints,’ this UNESCO World Heritage city has been drawing pilgrims to its 12th century cathedral in celebration of Santa Teresa de Avila for centuries. Walk along Avila’s ancient walls to get panoramic views of the city, taking in views at night when the city is bathed in twinkling lights. Nature lovers can head south by bus or car, in just over an hour, through the Castilla plains to the Sierra de Gredos, a parkland marked by luscious lakes and granite mountains. Reach Avila in 1 hr 26 mins.
A World Heritage site, Cuenca is set within the mountains of the Castilla-La Mancha region. The city’s cobbled lanes and castle ruins stand today as reminders of its important history as a fortified city. While its Gothic cathedral, one of the first in the country, its charming squares and medieval monuments are reason enough to visit, it is the casas colgadas (hanging houses) that really set Cuenca apart. Reach Cuenca in just 55 mins.
Another World Heritage site, Salamanca is one of Castilla’s liveliest cities, with an international student population giving it a palpable energy. Salamanca is also one of Spain’s prettiest cities, its golden sandstone buildings covered in ochre-tinted Latin inscriptions a definite highlight. Don’t miss pausing for a break in Plaza Mayor, known as the living room of Salamanca. Once home to bull fights, the only battles you’ll see there today, thankfully, are for seats in this stunning square’s welcoming bars and restaurants. Reach Salamanca in 1 hr 36 mins.
Cloaked in legend, the UNESCO World Heritage city Segovia is said to have been founded by Hercules, Noah’s great-grandson. True or not, the city’s many sites are certainly herculean in historic and cultural value. Few monuments can compete with the Roman splendour of Segovia’s soaring aqueduct, while its alcázar (castle) is said to have been the inspiration for Disneyland's famous castle. Whether Romans or Rapunzel take your fancy, you’ll be enchanted by this sandstone and terracotta hued city juxtaposed with the greenery of Castilla’s hills and the Sierra de Guadarrama’s peaks. Reach Segovia in 27 mins.
Known in Medieval times as the “city of three cultures,” Toledo is best known for its singular blend of religious architecture. Beautifully arched mosques, Sephardic synagogues and one of the finest Gothic cathedrals in Spain stand side by side, reflecting Toledo’s history of religious tolerance. Toledo was also once home to 16th century artist El Greco, whose paintings, displayed in the city’s El Greco museum, capture the enduring beauty of Toledo’s natural landscape. While Toledo is only 33 mins from Madrid, it’s worth planning an overnight visit in order to see the city at night, when the city takes on a hushed, romantic glow.
Image credits top to bottom: Murallas de Ávila iStock ©Juan-Enrique, Casa de la Conchas and Le Clericia church in Salamanca iStock ©BackyardProduction, Segovia aqueduct (modifications to size) Flickr Commons ©Blair-39, Old Bridge of Toledo city in Spain Dreamstime ©David Moras Sarabia