A short break in Aranjuez
HOW TO GET THERE FROM MADRID
During your stay in Madrid why not visit Aranjuez, to the south of the capital? It is quite nearby and very easy to reach, and you will have a great time discovering all the reasons this destination has been declared a World Heritage Cultural Landscape by the UNESCO. These include its spectacular gardens and magnificent monuments such as the Royal Palace, which will take you on a journey back through 500 years of history. You’ll find it well worth your while!
Bus: departures every 15 minutes approximately from the Estación Sur bus station in Madrid (C/ Méndez Álvaro). Approximate travel time: 50 minutes. Approximate fare: €3.50. Tickets are purchased on the bus. Train: line C3 from Atocha or Chamartín stations. Approximate travel time: 50 minutes. Approximate fare: 3 €. Tickets are purchased at the ticket office. The strawberry train: on several weekends from May to October, this train with its wooden carriages dating from the early 20th century, leaves Atocha station and head for Aranjuez. Inside, hostesses dressed in period costume offer the passengers the typical local strawberries. The ticket price includes a visit to the city. By road: 49 kilometres south of Madrid on the N-IV motorway.
8.30am. Departure from Madrid and visit to the Royal Palace
We make an early start so we reach Aranjuez first thing in the morning, and to give us ample time to visit the Royal Palace. The most convenient option is to take the train, as the station is only 10 minutes’ walk from the Palace. Simply follow the Calle de la Estación, turn left and continue along the Palace avenue, an attractive tree-lined street, until you come to the building itself. We are now in the Plaza Elíptica square, from where we have a spectacular view of the monument. There is a tourist information office right there, where we can find all the information we need.
After taking some photos of the exterior of the monument from the spacious Plaza de Armas square, we then go inside to find out why so many Spanish kings and queens chose the halls of this palace for their parties and why they came here every spring. There are two types of visit: with or without a guide. We’ll take the first option, as that way we can enjoy the privilege of entering the king’s private rooms.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
There are guided visits for small groups, approximately every 15 minutes, lasting about one hour and 15 minutes. The rest of the tour, including the Museum of Palace Life, is without a guide. The audioguide and the guided tour provide information in Spanish, English, French, German and Italian.
The Parterre and Island gardens. Strolling among sculptures
(One hour approx. Suggested timetable: 11:30am-12:30pm.) On our way out we turn left at the door of the Palace and come to a small gate leading to the Parterre garden. As soon as we are inside, we see a different view of the eastern façade of the stately monument, and find ourselves in a beautifully maintained garden with sculptures of figures from mythology, of which the most impressive is surely the statue of Hercules. We continue across a charming small bridge which takes us to the Island garden (in the middle of the Tagus river). This is a green space considerably larger than the previous garden, with an attractive waterfall to our right known as the “castanets”, because if we listen carefully, we can hear the soothing sound of tinkling water. As we go further into the garden, a multitude of these mythological statues come out to meet us and remind us that we are in an almost magical place. The best thing is to walk along the central avenue to read the descriptions of each sculpture, then take a seat in the charming square with the statue of the “Boy with the thorn” and listen to the murmur of fountains and the sound of birds. We then return along the terrace, with views of the river.
Historic centre and bullring: experience the “national fiesta”
(One hour and 15 minutes approximately. Suggested timetable: 12.30-2pm.) After our walk through the gardens, we can stop and buy some gifts at the souvenir shop located in front of the Palace. Then it is time to take a quiet stroll while we explore the historic centre of the city. We continue up Calle de San Antonio until we reach the intersection with the Capitán Angosto Gómez Castrillón boulevard, the perfect place for a walk and a little shopping. Behind there is a magnificent view of the Royal Church of San Antonio. If we continue along this street, we can see monuments on each side such as the Isabel de Farnese cultural centre, the Medinaceli Palace or the Old Hospital of San Carlos. In this area some of the façades of the buildings conceal a surprise: they are arranged in the form of corralas, typical traditional dwellings arranged in galleries overlooking an interior courtyard, which are very striking.
If it is summer, we are sure to find the local residents selling fruit in the doorways of their houses (particularly in Calle Eras). Or else we can simply go to the General Produce Market to buy the typical strawberries or asparagus, or to Calle Almíbar for some homemade jams. After a leisurely stroll we reach the bullring, dating from the 18th century (one of the few from that period still standing). Although the outside is rather austere, it is worth taking the interesting guided tour around the bullring, the chapel, the bullpens, the corridor around the ring, the famous front row of seats and the coverts, as well as the Bullfight Museum. We can even pick up a bullfighter’s cape and pretend to be making a genuine ceremonial circuit of the ring.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
It is advisable to reserve in advance by calling +34 918921643 for guided visits to the Bullring and the Bullfight Museum. Guided visits to the Bullfight Museum take place from Monday to Friday, at 11am, 12pm and 1pm. On Fridays and Saturdays there are also visits at 5 and 6pm. They are only in Spanish, and last about 50 minutes.
(One hour approx. Suggested timetable: 2-3pm.) After showing off our skills with the cape, we return to the area of the Parterre Garden. All along Calle de la Reina there are numerous establishments for eating (roast meat restaurants, traditional restaurants, innovative cuisine…). Some of them, such as the emblematic “El Rana Verde” (opposite the Royal Palace and by the Gardens) are right by the Tagus river. This way we can enjoy outstanding views while we feast on delicious typical dishes such as the succulent hunter’s style pheasant, and produce from the vegetable gardens on the river plain. And in the season (spring and summer), this is the place to find stands selling strawberries. In summer, we can enjoy eating outdoors in the special picnic areas or in Aranjuez’s typical riverside marquees spread along Calle de La Reina (although the best idea is to have dinner there, by the coolness of the river). If we want to cool down, there are numerous refreshment stands at the start of Príncipe and Infantas streets where you can enjoy a granizado (lemon juice over crushed ice) and stop and buy a souvenir or two.
Exploring the Prince’s Garden. Chiquitrén and tourist boat
(Approximately 3 hours. Suggested timetable: 3-6pm.) Beside the information point at the Royal Palace there is a booth selling tickets for the Chiquitrén, a charming tourist train which offers a tour, with commentary, of part of the old historic centre and around the immense and spectacular Prince’s Garden, the largest garden we will visit, and the one which is bound to surprise us the most. If we are visiting with children or we don't feel like walking, this is a fun and convenient way of seeing the garden, which is about 3 kilometres long.
We opt to board the train (it’s as though we are going back in time to the steam age) and purchase a combined ticket which is also good for a trip in a tourist boat later on. In our tour around the garden we will see unfolding before us beautiful landscapes, fountains such as the one to Narcissus or Apollo, ancient trees over 30 metres tall from all over the world, fairy-tale pools like the Chinescos… And we are also sure to see pheasants, squirrels and peacocks showing off their colourful fans. And it is worth bearing in mind that these beautiful surroundings inspired the famous “Concierto de Aranjuez”.
Within the Prince’s Garden, the train makes two stops on our route which should not be missed. The first is at the Royal Barge Museum, where we can see the recreational boats used by the kings and queens for navigating on the Tagus. The second is the Casa del Labrador house, which is reached along an impressive avenue of magnolia trees. Provided we have reserved in advance, we can take a guided tour of this house lasting 40 minutes. When we come out we take a deep breath and drink in the perfume of the flowers. Then, the next train picks us up and we continue our route, which, once we have taken a tour of the historic centre, brings us back to the Royal Palace. After this pleasant trip, the best thing is to take the Barcos bridge across the river (at the end of the Parterre Garden) and continue to the Fernando VI roundabout, where we can buy a delicious ice cream. This is the departure point for the tourist boat, which we can embark using the combined ticket we bought for the Chiquitrén. It is completely glassed-in and as we sail along the Tagus river, we are offered perfect views of the Prince’s Gardens, and of wonders such as the Royal Pier at the Casa del Labrador. We are transported back in time as we imagine the kings and queens sailing the river just as we are doing right now. The boat makes a return trip with no stops, and leaves us at our departure point. It’s time to go back to Madrid, and we make our way once again to the train station, still carrying in our mind’s eye the image of this veritable city of kings.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
The price of the Chiquitrén is approximately €5 for adults and €3 for children under 13. The Chiquitrén only waits for passengers at the Casa de Marinos in the case of groups of over 20 people. Otherwise you need to wait for the next train. If you want the Chiquitrén to stop at the Casa del Labrador, you need to say so at the ticket office. - The price of the tourist boat is approximately €7 for adults and €4 for children under 13. The price of the combined ticket for both the Chiquitrén and the tourist boat is approximately €10 for adults and €6 for children under 13. The commentary is in Spanish, English and French. To get to the Casa del Labrador it is not necessary to take the entire tour of the Prince’s Garden, as this has its own entrance (the Calle de la Reina gate).
In May and June there are Musical Promenades around the Gardens of Aranjuez, which culminate in two concerts in the Palace Chapel and the Casa del Labrador Every Saturday in June, there are Spring Concerts in the Church of San Antonio The first weekend in September is festivity of the Mutiny of Aranjuez, declared of National Tourist Interest. Over 200 people dress up in period costume. 30 May, the festivities of San Fernando, with musical activities and bullfighting events.