8 Perfect Day Trips for Your Next Visit to Madrid
Madrid is and will always be my second home. But whether you’re a tourist with an extra day in your itinerary that you’re not sure what to do with, or a student who’s looking for something different to do on the weekend, sometimes it’s nice to get out of the city and see what else Spain has to offer. The great news is that there are so many enchanting cities within a short train ride from Madrid that are absolutely perfect for day trips! Here are the top 8 cities that you can't miss on your next vacation in Madrid.
If you only have time for one day trip, it should probably be this one. Toledo is the first UNESCO World Heritage site on this list, and it’s easy to see why. Once upon a time, it was the capital of Spain until the royal family moved it to Madrid to be more centrally located. Now, it’s known as “the city of three cultures” and it’s easy to see the impact that Catholicism, Islam, and Judaism have had on this city and its architecture. There’s so much to do in this city, and the best way to explore the city is to simply get lost wandering around the narrow, ancient city streets.
What to do in Toledo:
Puente de Alcántara, Plaza Zocodover, El Alcázar, San Martín Bridge, Cathedral Primada, El Transito Synagogue and Sephardic Museum, Mezquita Cristo de la Luz, Museo del Greco, Iglesia de Santo Tomé, Zip-lining over the Tajo river
Segovia is simply breathtaking. Like Toledo, the city center of Segovia is a UNESCO world heritage site. From the Roman aqueduct that dates back to the first century AD to the Alcazar, which was the inspiration for Cinderella’s castle in Disneyland, it feels like every time you turn onto a new street, you’ve run into a different historic landmark. Like most small towns in Europe, everything on this list is within walking distance. Due to its proximity to the bus station, I’d suggest starting your journey at the famous Roman aqueduct and slowly making your way to the Alcazar.
What to do in Segovia:
The Aqueduct of Segovia, Plaza Mayor, Segovia Cathedral, The Walls of Segovia, Alcázar de Segovia, Alcazar Gardens, walk around the old Jewish Quarter, Church of Vera Cruz, Gastronomic Museum, book a hot air balloon tour over the city
San Lorenzo de El Escorial
San Lorenzo de El Escorial was the first day trip I took when I moved to Spain. It’s known for its massive monastery and castle complex, which is nothing short of a work of art. The complex has a monastery, library, pantheon, basilica, and a hall of battles, with some of the most breathtaking murals I’ve ever seen. The city is high up in the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range, making it a great place to go to escape the summer heat in Madrid.
What to do in San Lorenzo de El Escorial:
El Escorial complex and gardens, lunch in the historic city center, Casita del Príncipe
Manzanares de Real
Manzanares El Real is known for two things - the castle and the rock climbing. I would have to say that out of all of the castles I saw in the Comunidad de Madrid, this one was the most interesting. It was initially built as a fortress in the 15th century but then became a royal residence. Climbing the spiral staircase to reach the top of the towers makes you feel like you’ve become the main character in a fantasy movie. It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime, can’t-miss experience. Manzanares is also a perfect place to go if you’re interested in hiking or rock climbing. La Pedriza is part of a national park full of rocky hiking trails, lakes, wildlife, and amazing views of the Guadarrama mountain range and the city of Manzanares.
What to do in Manzanares:
Mendoza Castle, Hiking, climbing, fishing, or biking La Pedriza
Here we have another UNESCO World Heritage City! There is so much to do and see in this city, an entire weekend could be spent here. A stop on the Camino de Santiago, Salamanca is home to Spain’s oldest university and the 4th oldest in the world. One unique thing to do in Salamanca is frog-spotting, which is exactly what it sounds like. Above the front door to the University of Salamanca is an incredible facade. Hidden somewhere in this facade is a frog, and the story goes that students who are able to find the frog (without help) will pass all of their exams. Additionally, the Salamanca Plaza Mayor is widely considered to be one of the prettiest plazas in Spain, so it is not to be missed!
What to do in Salamanca:
Salamanca University, Plaza Mayor, Casa de Conchas, the New and Old Cathedrals, Clerecía Church, Roman Bridge, Art Deco Museum
Chinchón is not a bustling city, nor is there a castle to explore. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth visiting! If you want a break from the fast-paced hustle of the cities after visiting Madrid and Barcelona, then Chinchón is an ideal break to slow down, breathe in the fresh air, spend your afternoon eating tapas, and wander the ancient streets. Be sure to stop and grab a bite to eat at the Plaza Mayor and check out the distinct teal-colored balconies. This medieval town was the filming location of Around the World in 80 Days, King of Kings, and rumor has it that Wes Anderson’s newest movie is currently being filmed there.
What to do in Chinchón:
Plaza Mayor, Clock Tower, church of Nuestra Senora de la Asunción, Mirador de la Iglesia, visit the Terraza Los Huertos for tapas and wine, schedule a tour at a nearby winery, wander the streets and reel in the “I’m in Spain!” ambiance
Alcalá de Henares
Alcalá de Henares is another UNESCO World Heritage City that you can’t miss. In the early 16th century, it officially became the world’s first planned university city. It’s also the birthplace of Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, making it the perfect place for history and literature buffs. While Segovia and Toledo require at least a full day to see properly, Alcalá is much smaller, and you can see all of the significant sites in half a day.
What to do in Alcalá de Henares
Cervantes Museum, Palace of Laredo, Calle Mayor, Plaza de Cervantes, Alcalá de Henares Cathedral, San Ildefonso College, The Regional Archaeological Museum
This UNESCO World Heritage City was founded in the 11th century and is the birthplace of St. Teresa. It’s most famous for the historic city walls that span the entire center. You can walk the entire length of the walls, and even climb up most of the lookout towers. The stairs are steep, and it’s an excellent workout, but it may not be a great place for small children or anyone with mobility issues.
What to do in Avila:
Climb the city walls, San Vicente Cathedral, Cathedral de Ávila, Mirador de Ávila, Saint Teresa Convent
Have you visited any of these cities before? Are there any cities that should be added to this list? Leave a comment and let me know!