Excursions from Madrid Seven must-see wonders near Madrid
A trip to Madrid is not complete without visiting some of the numerous monuments within close proximity to the Spanish capital. For day-trippers or for people who want to get out of the city for a night, the area around Madrid is literally a cascade of cultural riches. For those travelers looking to further explore Spanish culture outside the city limits, the places on this list will take you to ancient castles, gothic cathedrals, luxurious palaces, and the iconic Spanish countryside.
Just northwest of the Guadarrama Mountains and an hour away from Madrid by train or bus, Segovia has much to offer travelers. The city has a Roman-built aqueduct that dates back to the first Century A.D. A short walk away lies the Cathedral of Segovia; admire the architecture from the exterior and the stained-glass windows from the interior.
Not to be missed is the Alcázar, the impressive fortress-castle of Segovia. All three of these sites are UNESCO World Heritage landmarks and are must-sees if you go to Segovia.
Toledo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an easy day-trip away from Madrid. Start with the Alcázar (fortress) of Toledo at the highest point of the city and work your way down.
Be sure to stop at the Cathedral of Toledo. The building is exemplary of gothic architecture and inside are paintings by El Greco, Goya, and van Dyck. Finally, check out the El Greco museum. Modeled after the great painter’s home, it contains many of his works with a focus on the later years of his life.
Yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site is just a short trip away from the city. Aranjuez, located on the banks of the Tagus river, is known for its extravagant Royal Palace and is the can’t-miss attraction in the town. However, the gardens are equally as impressive and the Isle garden or Prince’s garden are perfect for a stroll along the river. Bonus tip: In spring and autumn there is a special Strawberry Train that takes you from Madrid to Aranjuez. The train route to Aranjuez was the second ever built in Spain and the town is known for its strawberries. Hence, the strawberry Train.
SAN LORENZO DE EL ESCORIAL
Locals simply call this place “El Escorial.” The vernacular is used to describe both the town and the royal palace/monastery that sits just above it. The royal palace and monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and inspires awe in its visitors for the sheer size of the structure. Completed in 1584, it is the resting place of the Spanish Kings. A normal visit can take on the longer side of two hours, so make sure you come ready to explore. Depending on availability, guided tours on the same day are a possibility.
ALCALÁ DE HENARES
The birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes is also home to one of the oldest universities in the world and is the perfect day trip while visiting Madrid. Make sure to check out the square dedicated to the author of Don Quixote, but the place most synonymous with the town is the university. Visting el Colegio de San Ildefonso, the most important university building, is a must. Take a walk through the old town (another World Heritage Site) and soak in the ambiance of university life in Spain.
Known for its imposing medieval walls, Ávila is located next to the Adaja river in Castilla y Leon. The walls travelers see today, which were constructed during the 12th century, are a classic attraction; visitors have access and can walk atop or along the walls that give a view of the beautiful Castilian plains.
Equally imposing is the Cathedral of Ávila, a gigantic gothic building that functions as part of the wall. The tapas scene in the city is well known amongst Spaniards, so be sure to grab lunch before you head back to Madrid.
Another perfect day trip while staying in Madrid is a visit to Cuenca to see the Casas Colgadas, the famous “hanging houses” of Cuenca. Although somewhat plainer than the extravagant palaces on the list, the hanging houses are no less impressive. Thought to be constructed at some point in the 15th century, the three remaining houses are literally built into the rock that overhangs a gorge. Currently occupying one of the hanging houses is a museum of abstract art. While you are visiting Cuenca, go see the gothic cathedral and take in the vistas of the beautiful landscapes of Castilla la Mancha.