Top 10 Day Trips from Madrid

I did not really love living in Madrid, but I sure did love getting out of the city. Over the eight months I spent living in the Spanish city I traveled nearly every weekend to all corners of Europe and twice to Morocco. On the weekends that I opted to stay in Spain I headed out to explore the historical cities surrounding the countries capital city. I've rounded up 10 of my favorite day trips from Madrid, some of which are in the autonomous region of Madrid and all of which are less than 4 hours away and mostly accessible by public transportation.

1. Toledo

If you only have time to visit one pueblo during your travels to Madrid you cannot miss Toledo! The easiest way to reach Toledo is a one-hour bus journey. The bus stop will drop you at the bottom of the steep hill in which Toledo is built upon so make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes as you'll be exploring on your feet all day long. This city is an incredibly rare example of a moment in time in which Christians, Muslims, and Jews intertwined and co-existed peacefully. You'll discover Moorish architectural design elements, golden Hebrew symbols on the ground, and awe-inspring Christian houses of worship. The Toledo Cathedral is the primate church of Spain, it is the second most important place of worship for Catholics in the world after the Vatican! Several structures in the city have passed through the hands of various religions. Try to find the church that was once a mosque. Once you get tired of exploring the sites hop in a taxi and head over to the view point to take in panoramic views of the city. From here you will be able to see many of the remaining bridges built by the Romans to cross over the Tagus river, which is actually the longest running river in Spain.

2. Aranjuez

Aranjuez can easily be added into a day trip to Toledo if you're renting a car. Otherwise, you'll need to book a tour through a travel company in order to see both cities in the same day. Aranjuez is only a 45 train journey from Atocha in Madrid and can be seen in a few short hours. The major historical site to visit here is The Royal Palace of Aranjuez. The palace is spectacular with many rooms inspired by various cultures from across the globe. Make sure not to miss the Moorish and Oriental rooms. The royal court would spend the spring season here enjoying the lush garden grounds and hosting numerous balls.

3. Segovia

The first settlers here named the city Segobriga, meaning victorious city. Segovia is easily reached from Madrid by bus which will take you to a more central location than the train. As you arrive you'll see the massive aqueduct looming ahead. This unofficial gateway to the city was built by the Romans over 2,000 years ago in 50 B.C. and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site today. The city is surrounded by the remnants of the old city walls and was once protected by five massive gates. Three remain today and are spectacular to see. If you're a door lover like me you're sure to be delighted by all the massive old wooden doors here. The Jewish quarter has several buildings still intact from the Medieval Ages. I also loved discovering all of the incredibly intricate Moorish hand carvings on the walls. At the other end of the town, you will come across the Alcazar de Segovia which is believed to have inspired the castle in Walt Disney's Cinderella.

4. Pedraza

This tiny medieval village isn't easily accessible via public transportation but at 90 miles away from Madrid it is worth visiting as it is a complete time warp. As you stroll the streets you'll be projected back into the Medieval Ages as it appears not much has changed here over the last few centuries. It is known to be one of the best-preserved villages from its time and is surrounded by the remnants of the old city walls. The ancient streets will charm you as you make your way towards the Castillo de Pedraza, one of the oldest castles in the world. The vantage point from here offers sweeping views of the lush hills surrounding the tiny pueblo.

5. Salamanca

Buses depart often from Madrid to Spain's notorious university town which takes just over two hours to reach. As you stroll through the collegiate streets you'll come across two massive cathedrals, one is old and one is new but it is hard to decipher between the two. The new cathedral actually encompasses very old design elements as it has baroque, gothic and Moorish features. Once you reach the Salamanca University take a good long hard look at the carvings adorning the entryway. If you can spy the lone frog you are to be blessed with luck! You may notice the faint red paint on the walls of the University, this is actually graffiti! In the past, when students graduated, they'd commemorate their achievement by marking the school's walls with an ink that is rumored to be made of bulls blood!

6. Avila

Just over an hour by bus from Madrid are the world's most complete ancient city walls are waiting for you to come and walk their perimeter. The Murallas de Avila are the most intact and best preserved and have even won awards for being the best lit historic site in the world. Time your trip to arrive around dusk so you can walk the city walls at night and enjoy the sunset as it lingers golden light on the ancient city. Try to see if you can count all 88 watch towers, or for a larger challenge, al 2,500 turrets! After the sun goes down head to one of the many tapas bars outside the city walls to gaze at the glowing walls by night while you enjoy a bit of vino.

7. Ciudad Encantada

Ahh the glorious enchanted city, don't let the name fool you, there is no city to be seen here. Instead, prepare yourself to find massive natural rock formations that are believed to be over a million years old! The mountains here used to be covered by the ocean. Centuries of erosion from the sea created the incredible formations that today are known as Ciudad Encantada. This really ought to be one of the natural wonders of the world! When you arrive you'll receive a detailed map with your entry ticket that will point you in the direction of caves and rocks that look like pirate ships, dogs, mushrooms and more! Driving is the easiest option to reach this feat of mother nature but it is possible to arrive via public transport with a mix of bus and train transfers.

8. Cuenca

Cuenca is a picturesque pueblo en route to Valencia from Madrid and can be reached by train in about 3 hours. Cuenca is famous for its "hanging houses" which are built into the raw cliff side. Visitors will also enjoy the Cuenca Cathedral which was the first gothic structure built in Spain. A walk around the city during golden hour is incredible as the beige buildings glow in the hues of the sunset. Hikers will love visiting Cuenca as there are many treks nearby the city.

9. El Escorial

El Escorial is a short train ride away from Madrid and is home to one of the most spectacular structures in Spain, the Real Monasterio De El Escorial. You can spend an entire day getting lost among the many rooms within and the stunning palace gardens. Make time to stroll the surrounding area as the city has a variety of quaint picturesque streets and delicious restaurants to be enjoyed.

10. Puerto De La Fuenfria

The surroundings of Madrid have something to offer nature lovers as well. Puerto De La Fuenfria is a lush mountain that crosses the Sierra de Guadarrama. The mountain's forest features a variety of levels of hikes. A train ride to Cercedilla will take you to the base of the hill from where you can start your ascent up 1,796 meters. The entire hike can take up to 5 hours so it is ideal to head out in the early morning. You'll be surrounded by sky-high trees, come across waterfalls, rivers and even a few free roaming cows! When you finish the climb you'll be rewarded with phenomenal views from the top of the mountain.

The Ultimate Budapest Instagram Guide

Budapest, pronounced buda-pesh, has won a place in my heart as one of my favorite European cities.

It is one of the rare places I visited twice in the last year. The first time I visited the Hungarian capital was exactly a year ago during my Semana Santa extravaganza of 6 countries in 12 days. From decadent food full of goat cheese and paprika to some of the most delicious vegan dishes I have ever tried Budapest never fails to make my foodie dreams come true. Yet, food can’t be the only reason I travel, can it? Read on to see my favorite sites, the best bathhouses and more, all from my Instagram account, @MissFilatelista.

1. Marvel at the beautiful Vajdahunyad Castle and the surrounding churches and statues.

2. Find the anonymous statue and discover the story behind his pencil. I touched the pencil and its charms have worked for me immensely.

3. Join everyone at Széchenyi for a dip in Budapest's largest thermal bath with 15 different pools, multiple saunas, and steam rooms. The medicinal waters are from a well that is 1,246 deep into the earth!

4. Feed your Hungary self with a decadent garlic and cheese Langos from Retro Bufe.

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5. Walk the famed Chain Bridge that connects Buda to Pest centrally over the Danube river. Instead of taking a selfie that’ll only capture your face and some steel, take photos from either end of the bridge to show the entire sweeping beauty.

6. Pay your respects at the Danube Bank Memorial. While you gaze at the bronze shoes and think about the monstrosity that took place here remember, what you are doing now about the migrant crisis, Muslim ban, hate crimes, etc. is exactly what you would have done if you’d been alive during the time of the holocaust. Don’t just say never forget and never again. Instead, take action and stand up for what you believe in.

7. If you like architecture discover the Great Market Hall to admire the neo-gothic exterior and interior. Otherwise, skip it as it is a total tourist trap.

8. For a few euros climb to the top of the Cupola of the Roman Catholic St. Stephen’s Basilica and take in the amazing views of the Danube river, Buda castle, the Chain Bridge and the House of Parliament. From this vantage point, you won’t notice it but the House of Parliament and the Basilica were built to be exactly the same height to show that neither is above the other.

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9. Stroll the Szabadság híd aka the Liberty Bridge and try to capture a picture of the beautiful golden trams. Hop onboard to zip along the riverside for unbeatable views.

10. Devor delicious Mediterranean cuisine at Mazel Tov.

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11. Have cheap wonderful rosé wine at the Budapest ruin pubs. I loved exploring them by day and night as they remind me of the grimy dive bars in my former neighborhood, New York City’s Lower East Side. Szimpla Kert is my favorite, and everyone else's, it’s even been voted the 3rd best bar in the world by Lonely Planet. It opened in 2002 and has gathered an impressive amount of graffiti. Street art lovers like yours truly, will thoroughly enjoy hanging out in this spot.

12. Discover the church cave in Gellért Hill.The grotto chapel was used as a hospital during WWII!

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13. Actually relax at Rudas in the incredible Arabic style bath with boiling and freezing dipping waters. Don’t forget to dump a bucket of ice water over your head after the 40° tub. Follow this up with a sensual meditation in the many aromatherapy rooms. There are many other bathhouse options in Budapest as there are 123 springs that produce more than 70 million liters of water every day!

14. You obviously can’t go to Budapest without hanging out in Fisherman’s Bastion.

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15. Admire the beautifully tiled roof of Matthias Church. I want to wear this pattern on a dress.

16. Indulge in your lazy side and zoom down the Buda Hill in the funicular. I wish I had taken a boomerang video from the window. Take one for me and send it to me!

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17. Walk by the largest synagogue in Europe and explore the surrounding Jewish quarter.

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18. Look down as you stroll to see if you come across any of these WWII memorials that are in honor of holocaust victims and survivors.

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19. Feel fancy and book an evening river cruise. The cheapest option is a wine tasting that will get you properly tipsy. Everyone knows I can’t resist wine and beautiful views. This is the best way to see the beautiful House of Parliament, UNESCO world heritage site, aglow.

20. Have one of the most famous slices of chocolate cake at Café Gerbeaud. Established in 1858 and providing sweets ever since. To save some cash order your cake to go and enjoy it by the fountain right outside. Dining in will cost twice the price.

21. Enjoy the beautiful manholes around Budapest and discover that the city is also sometimes called Budapesti.

22. Get lost and take in the many architectural beauties that can be found in both Buda and Pest. I’m always on the lookout for pink houses.

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Making Waves for Water

I am currently in the state of Kerala, India and I’ve had water on the mind lately. From the famous backwaters and lagoons in Alleppey with their picturesque houseboats to the roaring Arabian sea in Kochi, lately I have found myself in my ideal element - surrounded by water. An element that I consider mine, even though I am an Air sign. Potable water is something I certainly take for granted. 663 million people around the globe live without access to clean water.

Earlier in the week I spent a few days experiencing village life through my partnership with Now, whenever I am handed a glass of water in India without seeing it’s origin I am always hesitate to drink it. Even though I have been here three months my stomach has not grown tolerant to the chemicals, enzymes and who knows what else that can be found in India’s tap water. Yet here I was in a village, far away from any shop where I could buy bottled water, from any water filters and with my reusable water completely empty. I was extremely thirsty after spending the whole day in the blistering Indian spring heat. My host did not speak English so I couldn’t communicate with her to try to find out if the water was clean, safe or filtered. I guzzled down the cup of water, assuming it would be my last and that I’d spend the next few days with insane cramps and a miserable stomach.

Later I asked the Snehatheeram liaison about the water, he laughed at me and told me that part of the community-based cooperative was bringing government water to the village. But it came from a well in the ground I told him! He explained that the well connected to the government water lines and that the villagers boil and chill the water before consuming it. They even infuse it with medicinal herbs. My water tasted of lemon grass which was entirely refreshing. I don’t know what I would have done if the water had not been clean. Now I know what my next investment needs to be for this life of mine on the road; a Lifestraw, which transforms contaminated water into potable water.

Growing up in the Midwest of The United States I didn’t often think twice before drinking water directly from the faucet, a hose, or a creek. Whenever we would go to Uruguay to visit my father’s family I never really understood why we had to only drink bottled water or boil water first, even before we used it for cooking. The idea that water could be contaminated was something entirely foreign to me. Then, in New York City, I began to actually appreciate tap water. Everyone knows NYC has the best water in the states, it comes from the Hudson Valley and is enriched with healthy minerals. Yet while in NYC we enjoy all the safe drinking water we can enjoy, there are thousands of people in Flint, Michigan who cannot even brush their teeth with faucet water. This issue has been ongoing for years and the government has yet to do anything significant to bring healthy water to the community.

The water crisis was not something I was very aware of until the holidays last year when my friend, Natasha Jhunjhnuwala, Founder and Designer of Mer Culture, and her family launch a campaign with Charity Water to raise over $10,000 to supply a water well system in a remote village to provide potable water to over 300 local people. She created a beautiful rendition of Imagine with reimagined lyrics about the water crisis that you absolutely must see. Through rigorous outreach and a 6K charity walk for water in Hong Kong where they live they were able to surpass their goal.

World Water Day is celebrated annually on March 22nd after the United Nations commemorated the day in 1993 at the UN Environment and Development Conference. Through my work with I have discovered many incredible NGO’s around the globe that are bringing clean water to their communities. Through partners travelers can directly impact water supplies through community based tourism. Many are in developing countries and are working towards improving local WASH facilities (water, sanitation and hygiene). Travelers can visit Eco Filtro, a social enterprise in Guatemala, to learn about their water filtration process that supplies clean water to local underfunded Guatemalan schools, each visit funds an entire water filter! There is the Entanda Discovery Tour in Uganda with proceeds providing clean water to the villagers. Guest can experience rural mountain life in Ooty, India with RDO Trust while supporting their efforts to supply the community with safe drinking water.

How will you make waves this World Water Day? Will you start to appreciate your access to potable water? In Europe I used to find it so strange that not only was water not served to me when I sat down, but more often then not I was required to buy water. While I believe the latter is a business strategy, it now makes sense to me not to serve tap water to guests until they ask for it. So don't accept water you won't drink, take shorter showers, wash your clothes less frequently. Small lifestyle changes can help maintain water supplies, wherever you are in the world.