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San Lorenzo Monastery, El Escorial

A trip to San Lorenzo de El Escorial

Madrid

A visit to San Lorenzo de El Escorial

If you're visiting Madrid, you should definitely spend half a day on a side trip to San Lorenzo de El Escorial. It's an essential visit. The Monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with secrets from the history of Spain hidden inside. Also, the town itself is charming, and surrounded by beautiful scenery.

In the morning

Arrival in San Lorenzo de El Escorial Set off early to make the most of the trip. The easiest option is bus route 664, the most direct, which leaves you about 200 metres from the Monastery (you just have to walk down Calle Juan de Toledo). The railway station is over a kilometre from the town, so it is best left for the return leg of the journey. If you do decide to arrive by train, you can walk uphill to San Lorenzo de El Escorial or get the local bus.

Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. The classic tour:  As the Tourist Office is opposite the entrance to the Monastery, take a moment to see the visitors’ centre and get some information on routes, restaurants and local history, or entertain the children with games.The next stop is the iconic Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. A majestic granite building looms over you, evoking another era, when El Escorial was the political centre of an empire. Of course, as well as a monastery, this huge museum also houses royal tombs, a palace and a basilica. Let’s go in and discover what was once called the Eighth Wonder of the World.After exploring every corner of the monastery, it’s time to pick up a souvenir in the gift shop and have a break in the café next to the entrance.Worth knowing

  • The Monastery is closed on Mondays.
  • Guided tours are available, but you can only buy tickets for them at the ticket office on the same day.

San Lorenzo de El Escorial

Jardines del Fraile garden and Casita del Infante. Nature all around As you leave and cross the stone forecourt of the monastery, you’ll see other buildings, the Casas de Oficios or workshops and the Casa de Infantes y de la Reina, the Queen’s and Princes’ palace, which are all very photogenic. At the end of the western façade, on the right to the main entrance, there is a small gate leading to a garden, Los Jardines del Fraile. The extensive parks and decorative pond will make you feel as if you were in the 16th century.Here, your route will vary depending on the time of year. If you carry straight on along Paseo de Carlos III for about 15 minutes (towards the Ávila road, which is signposted) you will come to a smaller palace, the Casita del Infante, and its gardens. It’s worth it just for the view of the landscape of La Herrería. Now take Calle Leandro Rubio to the end of the street, where you will find the Casa de Jacometrezzo, the oldest house in the town.

Library ceiling in San Lorenzo Monastery, El Escorial

Historic site. A journey through tradition: The sights are close together in the historic quarter of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, making for a pleasant stroll while you admire the colourful squares and enjoy the friendly atmosphere. Your best bet is to follow the courtyard on the north side of the Monastery and continue up to the central Calle Floridablanca. As you walk along this street you’ll see historic buildings (each with an informational plaque), like the Casas de Oficios or workshops to your left, and the Reales Cuarteles (stables) and Real Coliseo de Carlos III (theatre) to the right. In summer, you’ll find stands along the way selling horchata and ice creams, where you can stop for a rest.After that, take a gentle stroll along three parallel streets, Calle Reina Victoria, Calle del Rey and Calle Juan de Leyva, and enjoy the local atmosphere. Here there are plenty of shops selling crafts, ceramics and antique books if you want to buy a present. Along the way 18th century heritage buildings appear, like the Casa de las Columnas or the Cocheras del Rey (at the end of Calle Juan de Leyva). The latter houses a charming museum which is worth a visit.A tip: We recommendable visiting the bookshop connected to the museum to buy gifts, such as a medal of San Quintín. Before lunch, don’t forget to buy a traditional local sweet, like candied violets or the tasty bizcochelas (sponge cake with chocolate and egg yolk).Worth knowing

  • It’s best to go shopping before lunch, as many shops are closed from 2 pm to 5 pm. Although everything is close together, remember to wear comfortable shoes.

Cocheras del Rey, El Escorial.

Lunch in the historic quarter After a busy morning, now is the time to stop in any of the bars or restaurants in the historic centre of town for traditional dishes such as beef sirloin or T-bone steak, roast meats or cocido stew. Go downhill via Calle Patriarca to come out on Calle Floridablanca and have lunch in a place with views of the Monastery. However, many streets in the historic quarter (San Antón, Camino Horizontal, Plaza San Lorenzo) are dotted with restaurants and bars, if you would rather have a pork chop or some Iberian ham. You’ll enjoy the tasty food as much as the monumental surroundings. And the prices are pretty reasonable.

The town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial

In the afternoon

Casita del Príncipe. Back to Madrid: It’s time to start the return journey. It’s best to return by train, as the station is next to Casita del Príncipe, the Prince’s House. Go down from Floridablanca via Plaza Virgen de Gracia, passing another small palace, the Casa de Familias de Infantes, on your left. Further on, across the road, is the entrance to the gardens. Take a last enjoyable stroll along this tree-lined walk, with the Monastery behind you, until you come to the Casita.After a visit, round off the afternoon with a drink or a coffee on the terrace bar at the entrance. The railway station is directly opposite. The trip back to Madrid takes about an hour, bringing you to Atocha station at around 5 pm. Don’t forget you bought bizcochelas. It's time to try them.

Casita de Arriba in San Lorenzo del Escorial
Places not to be missed

What to see


Tips and recommendations

How to get there

  • Bus: bus lines 661 and 664 from the Moncloa bus and metro station. Approximate journey time: 1 hour
  • Train: local train C8a from Atocha station. Approximate journey time: one hour.
  • By road: Madrid-San Lorenzo de El Escorial via the A-6 to Las Rozas, turning off onto the M-505; or the N-VI, turning off onto the M-600.

If you have more time in the afternoon, you could go on to Segovia, Toledo or Salamanca, heritage cities which are nearby and easy to reach.

When to go on the route

In August, the town’s main fiesta honours Saint Laurence; in September, there is a Romería or popular procession for the Virgen de Gracia, with celebrations in the streets; and at Christmas, there is a life-size Nativity scene on Plaza de Benavente.

What to do

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