Spain is full of wonderful destinations waiting to be visited, first among them is the country’s capital city of Madrid. You won’t have any problems filling several days in the city thanks to all the great things to do in Madrid, but why stop there? If you allow for an extra day or two in your Madrid itinerary, you can head out of the city and see everything else that Spain has to offer. Located near the middle of Spain, Madrid is ideal for day trips. Head nearly any direction and you’ll quickly find remarkable things to see in Spain outside of Madrid. To give you an idea of what is possible, we’ve compiled a list of the best day trips from Madrid.
Of the many Madrid day trips that are possible, one of the most popular is to the nearby city of Segovia. Start your visit to this ancient city right in the city center with the Roman Aqueduct, a marvel of ancient engineering. Here too is Plaza Azoguejo, a historic marketplace from which you can wander into the city’s meandering medieval streets. As you do, you’re sure to see the impressive Gothic architecture of the Segovia Cathedral, one of many striking churches. Next, find your way to the city’s Jewish Quarter and see what was once a former synagogue and is now the Corpus Christi Convent. Follow the ancient city walls and you’ll soon be brought to the Alcázar castle, undeniably the highlight of Segovia. Here you can tour castle rooms and enjoy superb views of Segovia and beyond.
Getting there: Segovia is especially easy to reach from Madrid, with trains from the city center reaching Segovia in under an hour. However, if you want to combine Segovia with other destinations, it’s best to look at full day tours that include several destinations.
Just a short trip from Madrid, historic Toledo is an easy recommendation for those looking to see sights beyond Madrid. Toledo is best known for its fascinating history and the way in which the Christian, Jewish, and Arab communities have left their mark on the city. Once you’re inside the city walls, a web of narrow medieval streets is laid out in front of you. One icon of the city is the Cathedral of Toledo whose 13th century design reflects the city’s multicultural past. Elsewhere you’ll see monasteries, synagogues, and churches that used to be synagogues scattered between Toledo’s many plazas. Last but not least is the gigantic Alcazar fortress, once royal palace and now a military museum.
Getting there: With hourly trains connecting Madrid with Toledo, the 30 minute journey couldn’t be easier. The only reason not to take the train is that a guided tour can also show you other places around Madrid such as Segovia above.
3. San Lorenzo de El Escorial
Spain is home to many major world heritage sites, one of which is located in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, not far from Madrid. The Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial is a site of great significance in Spain, being not only home to a royal residence but also a mausoleum, library, basilica, and memorial. Highlights of a visit here include the Pantheon of the Kings where the remains of the past kings and queens are held, the frescoes of the Gallery of Battles, the beautiful library, and the monastery’s basilica. Visits to El Escorial often also include a stop at the nearby Valley of the Fallen, where a basilica and an enormous 150-meter-high cross honor those killed in the Spanish Civil War.
Getting there: To fully appreciate the history and importance of the Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial a guided tour is the best way to go. Otherwise, El Escorial can be reached from Madrid in an hour on one of the hourly trains.
With its untouched walls and preserved medieval character, Avila is one of the best day tours from Madrid. There are many cities and towns in Spain with medieval walls, but few compare to the size of the fortifications which surrounds Avila, or its walls and 90 towers. You’ll want to get a good look at them from outside the city as well as walk along one of the open sections. Afterwards, it’s time to see what sits behind the walls, starting with the formidable Avila Cathedral. Along with the 12th century cathedral you’ll notice many churches, monasteries, and convents such as the Convento de Santa Teresa and the Basilica of San Vicente de Ávila. As you go, be sure to stop in at the Plaza Mercado Chico with its arch arcades around the sides.
Getting there: While it takes two hours by train to get from Madrid to Avila, it’s quicker if you visit on an organized tour. Plus, on a tour you can combine Avila with other nearby destinations such as Segovia.
Another easy train trip from Madrid which you can take while in Spain is to the scenic city of Cuenca. Built by the Moors upon a dramatic landscape in the mountains, the town combines bountiful history with stunning scenery. Begin your visit at Plaza Mayor in the historic center of the city, with the beautiful Gothic design of the Cuenca Cathedral standing before you. Further through town you’ll come across Cuenca’s famous hanging houses, traditional homes which boldly sit along cliffs over the Huecar river gorge. To see these fascinating houses its best to head out onto the old San Pablo Bridge which spans the gorge. For the classic view of Cuenca, walk onward to the Mirador Barrio del Castillo.
Getting there: Getting to Cuenca from Madrid is simple with regular trains making the hour-long journey. If you want to learn more about Cuenca it’s best to take a guided tour to hear about the history of the city’s sights.
With its distinctive architecture and proud university tradition, the city of Salamanca is surely one of the best places to visit from Madrid. Begin your visit by heading straight for Plaza Mayor, the city’s main square. Along with City Hall, the square is lined by arcades and balconies which house shops, cafes, and restaurants. Next, venture through Old Town to the Salamanca Cathedral, which is actually two ornate cathedrals in one. Don’t miss a chance to see the Casa de las Conchas either, a 16th century palace that has seashell patterns across its facade. Even more ornate though is the entry to the Convento de San Esteban, a Dominican monastery in the city. For great views, climb up the Scala Coeli of the Clerecia Church or walk over to the Roman Bridge and look back to the city.
Getting there: Both buses and trains depart from Madrid to Salamanca every hour, taking a little under 3 hours to make the trip. There are also a few tour companies that combine a trip to Salamanca with a visit to Avila.
A royal resort town, Aranjuez offers travelers something a little different making it one of the best side trips from Madrid. The main landmark for visitors to Aranjuez is the town’s Royal Palace, a royal estate for the Spanish royal family since 1560. Heavily inspired by the French, the palace mixes a number of styles in its decor, all of which create a lavish interior. Beyond the palace, most of the other sights in Aranjuez are gardens or stately residences. The main gardens are the Jardín de la Isla with its lawns and woodlands, and the vast Jardin del Principe. Inside the Jardin del Principe you’ll also find the Casa del Labrador, another gorgeous royal home. Even the train station in Aranjuez is elegantly designed in Moorish architectural style.
Getting there: Trains every half hour connect Madrid with Aranjuez and the journey lasts 50 minutes. However, if you’d prefer to have a stress-free trip and have someone show you around, a guided half-day tour is the way to go.
Given the chance, you can’t pass up the opportunity to visit Valencia, the third largest city and one of the best places to visit in Spain. A day trip here is best started by heading for the striking Plaça de la Reina in the city center. Here you can easily head over to Valencia Cathedral, an elegant building that is said to house the actual Holy Grail. Elsewhere in the historic center you can admire the architecture of La Lonja de la Seda or take in the flavors and scents of the Central Market. Next, go for a stroll in the Bohemian neighborhood of El Carmen and tuck into a delicious Valencian paella. To see Valencia’s modern side, venture through the relaxing Jardín del Turia to the staggeringly modern L’Oceanogràfic aquarium and the Hemisfèric planetarium. Not to be outdone is the futuristic complex called the City of Arts and Sciences.
Getting there: Thanks to high speed trains, you can reach Valencia from Madrid in 1 hour 40 minutes on one of the regular connections. Any alternative involves a lot more travel time, making the train the way to go.
Although it’s not ideal to see Barcelona as just a day trip, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible. With no time to waste, head straight for the famously unfinished La Sagrada Familia. Once you’ve seen the incredible interior of this masterpiece, venture north to the Parc Güell which shows off more classic buildings designed by renowned architect Antoni Gaudí. Back in the downtown area, stop to appreciate other Gaudí buildings, Casa Batlló and Casa Mila before taking a stroll down La Rambla boulevard. This should bring you to Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, full of sights like the Cathedral of Barcelona, Bridge of Sighs, and Boquería Market. If you have time, stop in at the Picasso Museum or Güell Palace before ending your visit with sand between your toes at La Barceloneta beach.
Getting there: Even with a high-speed train, the journey from Madrid to Barcelona will take close to 3 hours. This is the only way to reach Barcelona and still have time to go sightseeing, so start early.
If you’d like to experience a traditional Spanish town with your day trip then Chinchón is the perfect fit. This old town sits among typical Spanish countryside and visitors are transported back hundreds of years. Plaza Mayor, the main square in town, is the most important landmark in Chinchón. It’s lined with arcades, wooden balconies, and 16th and 17th century houses. The square has been used for various films over the years and each October hosts the town’s bullfighting ring. Other landmarks found in Chinchón include the 14th century Clock Tower which once belonged to a local church, as well as castle remains south of town. Otherwise Chinchón is best known for the local wines produced there and its traditional cuisine, both of which you can try while visiting.
Getting there: With no train station in town, the best way to reach Chinchón from Madrid is by bus. Leaving more than once an hour, buses take around 45 minutes from the Conde de Casal stop in the center of Madrid.
11. Sierra de Guadarrama
Not every day trip from Madrid has to be a city or town, especially when somewhere like the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains exist. This national park north of Madrid is ideal for those who love the outdoors and nature. Depending on which season you visit, you’ll have the option to either go skiing or hiking in the mountains and see the majestic mountain scenery. If you can, be sure to head up the mountains highest summit, Peñalara, and see the meadows and glacial lakes which surround it. It’s also possible to see wildlife in the national park, including deer, wild boar, Spanish ibex and birds of prey.
Getting there: To reach the Sierra de Guadarrama National Park it’s best to go with an organized tour and be taken around by someone who knows the area. To get there independently, take the 691 bus from Madrid to the Puerto de Cotos by the park information center.
When people think of Spain, they may picture a dry landscape with vineyards and a small town seemingly in the middle of nowhere. That’s essentially what the town of Consuegra is in the La Mancha region south of Madrid. This part of Spain is best known for the descriptions of it in the famous novel Don Quixote. Besides appreciating the rugged landscape around Consuegra, the main sights here are the traditional windmills and castle. The windmills of Consuegra sit together in a row, with the mechanics of 5 of the 12 still operating to this day. Nearby lies the Castillo de Consuegra, which dates from the 10th century, and its imposing keep.
Getting there: As Consuegra becomes better known there are sure to be tours which start up, but in the meantime you’re on your own. Take a train to Toledo and then one of the hourly buses to Consuegra and you should make it there within 3 hours.
To get a taste of Andalusia during your time in Madrid, then the ancient city of Córdoba is your best option. First up in Córdoba, head down to the Roman Bridge over the Guadalquivir to admire the ancient structure and get a superb view of the city which you’re about to explore. Next, pass through the monumental Puerta del Puente and make your way to the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos. This medieval palace boasts not only pristine garden terraces but also Roman mosaics and more fabulous views of Córdoba. After wandering the narrow streets of Old Town, past typically white-washed Andalusian houses, it’s time for the most iconic landmark in Córdoba, the Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba. Also known as the Mezquita, this wonderful place is best known for its hall of endless striped archways which create a spellbinding effect.
Getting there: The only way to reach Córdoba from Madrid and have enough time for sightseeing is by high-speed train. The are frequent departures which make the roughly 2 hour journey.
14. Alcalá de Henares
One of Spain’s most prestigious universities is found in Alcalá de Henares, a city just outside Madrid worthy of your time. With a history dating back to 1293, it’s little surprise that the University of Complutense in Alcalá is located inside some particularly impressive historic buildings. The other thing that Alcalá is known for, is being the birthplace of writer Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, whose life you can learn about in the Cervantes House Museum. Elsewhere in the city you can see signs of Spain’s Golden Age in Alcalá’s historical center on streets like Calle Mayor and in the Magisterial Cathedral. Perhaps the best thing in Alcalá though is the local food scene which boasts large tapas plates.
Getting there: Being so close to Madrid, it’s only a 30 minute train ride to Alcalá de Henares, with departures every 10 minutes.
15. Ribera del Duero
If spending your day among vineyards sounds like heaven then you want to visit Ribera del Duero while in Madrid. Sitting north of Madrid, the Duero Valley is home to many wineries which have long operated in this part of Spain due to its geography and climate. On a tour of the Ribera del Duero you can visit several different vineyards in the valley and sample some of their finest creations. You’ll also get a chance to learn a little about local wine making techniques and the trade’s local history. As you drive about you’re sure to catch some beautiful scenery as well thanks to the twisting river landscape.
Getting there: While it is possible to take a 2 hour bus ride to Aranda de Duero the main town in the valley, you then have no way to get from one vineyard to the next. You don’t have that problem though with a wine tour as they’ll take you through the region allowing you to relax and drink.
There you have many of the best day trips from Madrid. You certainly won’t be stuck for ideas for your visit, no matter what you’re interested in.