Just 45 miles southwest of Madrid, Toledo was once the capital of Spain. It has a rich history encompassing Muslim, Judaism and Christianity traditions. The town became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986. Nowadays, you can stroll the winding, hilly streets to discover paintings by the famous El Greco, check out the Gothic Cathedral, the Alcázar Palace and visit synagogues. Make sure to head up the hill for incredible views of the famous walled city and the Tagus River.
Alcázar de Toledo, Calle de la Union, s/n, 45001 Toledo, +34 925 23 88 00
Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site located about 50 miles north of Madrid, Segovia is famous for its Roman Aqueduct, which dates back to the 1st century. The massive stone arches of the aqueduct are right in the city center and can’t be missed. The walled city also has an enormous Cathedral (the last Gothic one built in Spain) and the Alcázar of Segovia castle, which Disney’s castle is rumored to have been based upon. You should also indulge in cochinillo (roast suckling pig) which is Segovia’s specialty dish.
Catedral de Segovia, Plaza Mayor, s/n, 40001 Segovia, +34 921 46 22 05
Ávila is yet another walled city about 70 miles west of Madrid. The 11th century walls are still perfectly intact and make you feel as if you’ve been transported into some kind of medieval fairy tale. Religious enthusiasts will love exploring the nine churches (San Vicente, San Pedro, San Andrés, San Segundo, San José, Santo Tomás, San Martín, Santa María de la Cabeza y San Nicolás) around the city, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. Don’t miss a visit to the 17th century convent of Saint Teresa of Avila. Among relics such as the sole of one of her sandals and her rosary beads, you can also see one of the fingers from her right hand.
Convento de Santa Teresa de Jesús, Plaza la Santa, 2, 05001 Ávila, +34 920 21 10 30
About 35 miles south of Madrid, Chinchón is famous for its Plaza Mayor main square, which features several two and three storey buildings with balconies. Most of these buildings contain restaurants, so make sure to have lunch out on one of these balconies, enjoying the sunshine. Though many of the churches in the cities were burned by Napoleon’s army, you can still see the Clock Tower, part of the old parish church of Nuestra Señora de Gracia, which was restored in 1856.
One of the closest day trips to Madrid, Aranjuez is only about 30 miles outside of the city. The fourth city on the list to be known as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Aranjuez is known for its 15th century Royal Palace and Gardens, which are especially beautiful in the spring. The city is also known for producing strawberries. You can even take the Strawberry Train from Atocha station in Madrid to Aranjuez, an old steam engine that takes you on a tour of the town (weekends from May to September).
Palacio Real de Aranjuez, Plaza de Parejas, s/n, 28300 Aranjuez, +34 918 91 13 44
Just 38 miles north of Madrid, this quaint little town is situated in the Guadarrama mountain range. This trip is ideal if you need just a bit more of a nature fix than Madrid’s many beautiful city parks can offer. There’s plenty of clearly marked hiking trails with varying levels of difficulty, so make sure to wear appropriate footwear and clothing for a day in the mountains. You can also bike, bird watch or swim in natural pools, weather permitting.