Madrid has an abundance of activities to offer culture-hungry visitors, but its sights aren’t limited to the city centre. There are stellar day trips within easy reach of the capital, from hikes through pine forests in the Sierra de Guadarrama to beautifully preserved architecture in UNESCO World Heritage-listed towns.
With extensive train and bus routes, Madrid is well set up for day trips out of the city. Visitors using the capital as a base can easily travel out of the centre to explore the wider area. Head north for cooler climates and hiking routes, or take the train south for attractions such as Seville’s famous tiled palace, the Alcázar of Seville. Whether you want to immerse yourself in nature or soak up Spain’s rich history by strolling through historic neighbourhoods, take a look at these inspiring day trips from Madrid.
For a day trip fit for royalty, head 50 kilometres (31 miles) north of Madrid to the mountains and visit the UNESCO World Heritage-listed monastery, El Escorial. Built in the 16th century by King Philip II, the towering complex boasts a basilica, convent, school, library and royal residence. Put aside some time to explore the town itself, where you’ll find charming squares, relaxing cafés and wine bars. Get there by bus from Moncloa station, which takes around 50 minutes, or take the Madrid commuter train from Atocha, which takes just over an hour.
A trip to the northern town of Manzanares el Real provides an impressive window into Spain’s rich history, which has made it the ideal backdrop for several historical films since the 1930s. There’s plenty here to keep history buffs entertained, from the 15th-century abandoned palace-fortress known as the Castle of los Mendoza to the 14th-century Romanesque church of Nuestra Señora de las Nieves. Based at the foot of the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range, the area also offers visitors the chance to hike through serene scenery. Buses can take up to an hour and run regularly from the Castellana-Hospital La Paz stop, which lies north of Madrid.
When the heat of the city gets to be too much, take the Línea de Cercanías C8B 50km (31mi) north to Cercedilla. Surrounded by mountains and easy-to-follow hiking trails, the area has routes that range from easy strolls to epic five-hour treks. Try the yellow trail up to the Collado Ventoso, which takes in pine forests and streams. It’s here that you’ll also find the Tren de la Naturaleza, a scenic train journey that runs on a handful of select days through the sierra. Be sure to book early to avoid disappointment.
Follow in the footsteps of Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes, and take a pilgrimage to Consuegra to see the 12 windmills that he famously confused for giants in his 17th-century novel, Don Quixote. The mills share their perch with the ruins of a 10th-century castle, Castillo de Consuegra, which was the base for the Order of St John during the 12th century. After a day of sightseeing, head into Consuegra’s tiny town and enjoy a selection of tapas at one of the nearby local cafés. The journey to Consuegra can be slightly challenging. There are a handful of trips, which take approximately two and a half hours, per day that you can book through InterBus. Hiring a car is a much easier route, and with the drive only taking an hour, you will be sure to beat the crowds.
Situated northwest of Madrid is the ancient city of Segovia. The historic architectural site features a UNESCO-listed Roman aqueduct that dates back to AD 81 and is known as one of the best extant examples of Roman architecture in Spain. Here, you will also find the impressive 16th-century Gothic-style Segovia Cathedral and a Medieval alcázar. Foodies should make a beeline for Mesón de Cándido, a popular family-run restaurant with views over the aqueduct. Try its most famous dish, the cochinillo asado – a local speciality of roast suckling pig. The journey is fairly speedy, with train trips taking only 30 minutes and leaving from Madrid Chamartín station regularly.
Take the train two and a half hours south of Madrid, and you’ll find yourself in Seville, the capital of Spain’s Andalusia region. A visit to the Alcázar of Seville – an ornately tiled Moorish palace – is worth the trip alone. The alcázar is famous for being one of the best examples of Mudejar architecture existing today in Spain. Combine this with a 26-metre-high (85-foot-high) walk along the Metropol Parasol (the world’s largest wooden structure) and a bite to eat at Mercado de Feria (Seville’s indoor food market), and you’ve got yourself one perfect day trip.
Explore the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Alcalá de Henares, a quaint Medieval city located next to Spain’s Henares River. As the city is famous for being the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, literary fans can get a fascinating insight into the 16th- and 17th-century writer’s childhood home, which is now the Museo Casa Natal de Cervantes. Keep an eye out for white storks roosting on rooftops from mid-October to early August, too – Alcalá de Henares is famous for them.
Only a short one-and-a-half-hour drive north from Madrid, you will find the ancient forest of Hayedo de Montejo. Part of the Sierra del Rincón Biosphere Reserve, this hidden forest attracts 25,000 nature-loving tourists per year who all come to see its renowned beech trees. As the forest is a protected site, the number of people allowed to visit each day is restricted. However, it’s still fairly popular, so plan accordingly.