Hot off my trip to sunny spain for some early October sunshine, I finally made it to Madrid. I’d been to both Southern Spain, Portugal, and other nearby areas but always seemed to skip the capital city. And while Madrid is a lovely stop for anyone into art and cosmopolitan culture Spanish-style, I’d like to suggest three daytrips from Madrid that are well worth your time. Madrid has a fantastic transportation network given it’s economic importance as well as its central location, so daytripping is not only easy from Madrid, it’s simply a must.
Here are the top three – in my order of preference.
The Castle and Cathedrals of Segovia
Of all the Madrid daytrips, I loved Segovia the most. It’s just one of those places where you find something amazing around every corner. You’ll arrive in the main square of Segovia to one of its most wonderful sights: The Roman Aqueduct. It’s brilliant, magnificent, amazing, breathtaking. I still can’t believe that such a magnificent structure, built without glue, mortar, or any of our modern constrcuts, still stands today and is still used as a secondary water source for the city.
Passing under the aquaduct, you’ll head up through the city walls and into its many narrow streets. Notice all the domes and towers – Segovia has the highest concentration of Romanesque churches of anywhere in Europe. They’re just packed into everywhere empty space. Most are closed to the public, but you can admire them from the outside just the same. Once you reach Plaza Mayor, you’ll reach “the” Cathedral, the most magnificent structure that defines Segovia and can be seen from miles away. Be sure to take the tour inside.
Past the cathedral, hidden away at the end of town perched over the cliff is the Segovia Castle. Looks familiar? It’s one of a few castles used as inspiration for the Walt Disney castle. Small but full of character, the castle is icing on the cake. The climb to the tower is awfully claustrophobic, but it’s not too difficult of a climb and the view of the cathedral from the top is truly worth it. You can round out your day with a meal of roast suckling pig – a Segovia tradition and one of those experiences best learned first-hand.
Getting there: You can travel by bus from Principe Pio but a far easier option is by high-speed rail from Charmartin for approximately 15EUR. Travel time: 25 minutes. Once you reach Segovia station, you’re about 7 km from the city but an 11 or 12 bus will be waiting to take you into town (.88EUR). Be sure to leave the train and quickly head for the bus – it’s an hour wait if you miss it. If there’s a large queue at the tourist information centre, skip it and get a map from the information centre at the aquaduct.
Save yourself the hassle and book your high speed train pass early. There are queues of up to an hour for same day travel and I’ve heard many a story of missed trains because of this, whereas nobody’s in the advanced booking office. High speed trains are EXTREMELY punctual so give yourself plenty of time to be on board well before departure time – most of my trains left about 5 minutes early!
The Monastery and Gardens of El Escorcial
El Escorcial is the hardrest to reach of the three daytrips but it’s such a charm I am glad I went. El Escorcial, the old palace/monastery, is really the main sight to see, but it’s on a hill with fantastic countryside views. It takes well over an hour or maybe two to see everything inside the palace; some of my favourites include the Library, with its gorgeous globes and rows of glowing bookshelves. The ornate halls and rooms are very nice as well.
When you leave the monastery, head towards the back and around to get inside the Garden of the Friars, arguably the best part of the trip. Well manicured and with phenomnal views (and no windows to get in your way) this is the perfect end to a monastery tour.
Getting there: You’ll need to take the Cercanía, a local commuter train, C8. It departs from Charmatin Station, track 11 and will cost you about 3EUR each direction. Buy your ticket when you arrive at the station; there’s no seat reservation and the ticket only lasts a few hours so don’t buy it early. Once you arrive in the station, the ‘circular’ bus will be waiting to take you up the hill – it’s probably a 20 minute uphill walk otherwise. When you leave the bus at the top of the hill, turn around and walk back away from the direction the bus is pointed and you’ll see the monastery on your right.
The Winding Streets of Toledo
Toledo is at the top of many travellers’ lists of Madrid daytrips, but it’s at the bottom of mine. I’m not sure why – it just didn’t capture me with the grace and beauty of Segovia and El Escorical. But with so many things to see and do there, I still enjoyed the stop and would recommend it if you have the time.
The main cathedral is a hugh draw, especially for the elaborate artwork and furnishings inside. The altar is simply enromous and to compensate, the statues at the top are nearly 4 metres tall, to ensure the perspective is just perfect. There’s also loads of sweet shops and cafes in Toledo to help weary
It might seem silly to pay 2EUR to see a painting, but once you see The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, you’ll know why. Well preserved, this painting invokes the kind of emotion one expects at the sight of Davinci’s Last Supper or perhaps the Mona Lisa.
And of course, don’t miss the open-air courtyard in the Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes, complete with an orange tree. It’s peaceful and tranquil even on the busiest tourist day.
Getting there: Similar to Segovia, Toledo is blessed with an excellent high-speed rail service. Toldeo trains from from Atocha station for about 15EUR round-trip, travel time 25 minutes. Once in Toledo, you can walk up to the old city which isn’t that far but is very very steep. A tourist bus and other bus services also meet arriving trains and can zip you up into town much faster. Be sure to buy a map at the station if you don’t have one – even with it, navigating the twisting and turning streets is tough.
Note above the warnings about punctuality on high speed trains and buying tickets in advance. I can’t stress these points enough!