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, all 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.

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