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Views over the Plaza de Callao square from a terrace

Day trips from Madrid

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If you’re reading this, you’ve probably decided to holiday in Madrid, or at least you’re considering it. You’ve made the right choice, because Madrid is a city full of life and culture, with a huge range of things to do and see, fabulous sites like the Royal Palace, and museums that everyone should visit at least once in their lives, such as the Prado.However, once you’re in Madrid, you’ll also find it easy to explore nearby towns which also have a lot to offer. Here are a few ideas for day trips to four World Heritage Cities and other nearby destinations. You can hire a car, or take a train or bus.

Alcalá de Henares

This city is proud to be the birthplace of Spain’s most famous writer: Miguel de Cervantes. In fact, here you'll find the Cervantes Birthplace Museum, a 16th-century house with recreated period interiors. Next to the museum entrance, you’ll see a statue of his most famous literary characters, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. It’s the ideal spot to take a photo with them.On your tour of Alcalá de Henares, you should also be sure to see its beautiful Plaza de Cervantes square, Calle Mayor with its traditional columns, and the original Corral de Comedias theatre. The Cathedral is also worth a visit, and the Colegio Mayor de San Ildefonso (now home to the University rectorate) is one of the prettiest buildings in the city.Alcalá de Henares is also famous for its generous tapas, making it the perfect place to try this very Spanish style of dining. Enjoy!

Plaza Cervantes square, in Alcalá de Henares

Distance from Madrid: About 36 kilometres. How to get there: By train: the lines C-2 (Chamartín - Atocha - Alcalá de Henares - Guadalajara) and C-7 (Príncipe Pío - Chamartín - Atocha - Alcalá de Henares). By bus: the 223, which starts from the Avenida de América interchange.

Toledo

Once in Madrid, few people can resist the allure of this World Heritage City in Castilla-La Mancha. It’s an easy day trip and a must-see. The famous sights will take your breath away: the Alcázar, the Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, the Cathedral, the mosque of Cristo de la Luz, the Puerta de Bisagra gate, and the bridges. Here in the 'City of Three Cultures' you’ll find churches, mosques and synagogues.You'll feel like you've travelled back in time when you walk around its narrow streets, explore its traditional shops and look at the views from vantage points like the Mirador del Valle. It’s not surprising that this city inspired painters like El Greco, whose museum is here.Two tips: don’t miss the city lit up at night while you take a guided tour and hear all its legends, and be sure to try some of its famous local dishes.

Couple enjoying the view of the city of Toledo

Distance from Madrid: About 72 kilometres. How to get there: By train: AVE from Atocha station. By bus: leaves from Plaza Elíptica station and there is also a departure from Terminal 4 of Barajas Airport.

Segovia

This World Heritage City in Castilla y León is most famous for its unique Roman Aqueduct, built in the 1st century CE, with a total of 167 arches constructed without mortar. It’s an impressive sight.After taking plenty of photos, there is plenty more to discover, like the Cathedral and the Alcázar, a fortified palace which looms over its hill like the prow of a ship. Some say it was the inspiration for one of Disney’s famous castles. If you climb the 152 steps of the tower’s spiral staircase, you will be rewarded by unbeatable views of Segovia.And meat-lovers should not leave Segovia without trying its best-known dish, suckling pig.

Aerial view of Segovia

Distance from Madrid: About 92 kilometres. How to get there:By train: the AVE from Atocha or Chamartín stations. By bus: they leave from the Moncloa interchange.

Ávila

The first thing that strikes the visitor in this World Heritage City in Castilla y León is the city wall: a perimeter of over 2,500 metres, with 87 towers and 9 gates. This is the world’s best-conserved city wall, and has been the backdrop for many films. What’s more, you can walk along the top of the wall for some terrific views.The city’s other sights include the Cathedral, the Basilica of San Vicente and the Convent and Museum of Santa Teresa. Another very special place is Cuatro Postes, a vantage point with wonderful views at twilight and when the city wall is lit up.For a delicious experience in Ávila, many people recommend its three most famous dishes, the 'Tríada Gastronómica': Judías del Barco (beans), Chuletón de ternera (beef steak), and Yemas de Santa Teresa (candied egg yolks).

Plaza de Santa Teresa square, Ávila

Distance from Madrid: About 111 kilometres. How to get there:By train: trains leave Madrid-Chamartín station (both intercity and regional trains). By bus: they leave from Sur-Méndez Álvaro station.

Aranjuez

We come back to the Community of Madrid to recommend Aranjuez, with its World Heritage Cultural Landscape. You may be wondering what a Cultural Landscape is. In this case it mainly refers to the site’s spectacular gardens, and its buildings, such as the Royal Palace, begun 500 years ago as the spring residence of the Royal family.The largest of the gardens is the Jardín del Príncipe, with many stone and marble fountains, the Museum of Royal Barges, and the lovely little palace of the Real Casa del Labrador.Many travellers round off their trip with a visit to the old town centre and the bullring, or the tourist train (Chiquitrén) or boat. And in season (spring and summer), you simply have to try the local strawberries.

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Distance from Madrid: About 49 kilometres. How to get there:By train: local line C3 from Atocha or Chamartín stations. There is also a seasonal tourist train, the Strawberry Train, which leaves Madrid’s Príncipe Pío station, and usually runs from April to June and September to October. By bus: buses leave the Estación Sur de Autobuses de Madrid.

San Lorenzo de El Escorial

The star attraction of this Madrid town is obviously the Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, a World Heritage site. This alone will make your trip worthwhile. This complex, built by King Philip II in the 16th century, is not just a monastery: it includes a Royal tomb, a palace, a basilica, and an impressive library, and has been called 'the eighth wonder or the world'.If you want to spend the whole day there, you can also see the smaller palaces Casita del Infante and Casita del Príncipe, explore the old town centre, or go into the Bosque de la Herrería woods to Silla de Felipe II, a vantage point in a natural setting with the finest views of the monastery.

Distance from Madrid: About 56 kilometres. How to get there:By train: local line C-8. The nearest railway station is in the neighbouring town of El Escorial. By bus: buses C661 and C664, which leave from the Moncloa interchange.

Other Towns of Madrid

If you still want more choices for day trips from the capital and you have more days to complete more activities, you could try visiting any of the towns known as 'Villas de Madrid'. More specifically, these are six charming towns with plenty of cultural heritage and natural beauty to offer tourists: Navalcarnero (around 34 kilometres by car), Chinchón (around 47 kilometres away), Nuevo Baztán (48 kilometres away), Colmenar de Oreja (58 kilometres away), Buitrago de Lozoya (83 kilometres away) and Rascafría (approximately 80 kilometres away).

A square in Chinchón