Madrid Day Trips

Madrid Day Trips - Madrid, Spain

Barcelona may attract more visitors, but Madrid's size and significance place it in a league of its own. Spain's capital can boast about having some of Europe's most highly-regarded museums, tons of charming neighborhoods and nightlife that, more often than not, stretches past dawn.

And yet, despite these comprehensive draws, visitors may want to venture beyond Madrid's city limits. We've come up with three daytrip recommendations: rural idyll Aranjuez, the nearby "Imperial City" of Toledo and the hillside castle town Manzanares El Real.

Countryside Retreat: Aranjuez

Highlights: royal stomping grounds; outdoor activities; garden city
Duration: four to eight hours
Exertion level: low to high
Accessible by: train

Aranjuez is located about 50km (or 30 miles) south of Madrid. Located at the confluence of two rivers, it is a lush city of greenery and gardens.

Long the home of the royal set, it was in the eighteenth century that a moderately sized vacation palace became the gargantuan Royal Palace still standing today. To this day, the palace serves as the Spanish royal family's spring residence.

Delightful Aranjuez can be experienced as a museum or a playground. It's a fantastic place to observe Spain's royal history, take garden strolls and bask in glorious nature. Alternately, it's a place to let loose. Strenuous hikes, bike rides and river-oriented recreation are all easily arranged.

Following its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Landscape site in 2001, tourism to Aranjuez has continued to increase significantly. Rather at odds with the city's garden heritage, a casino was opened in Aranjuez in 2005. It remains to be seen how these developments will change Aranjuez.

For more information about Aranjuez, check out the municipality's official site (in Spanish only). Also of interest is this unofficial overview of Aranjuez' tourist attractions.

The best way to get from Madrid to Aranjuez is by train. The journey takes between 30 and 35 minutes. A round-trip train ticket costs around €8.

Castle on a Hill: Manzanares el Real

Highlights: hillside castle; gorgeous vistas; hiking
Duration: four to eight hours
Exertion level: moderate to high
Accessible by: bus, car

Manzanares el Real, a mountainside spot about 40km (25 miles) from central Madrid, makes a great historical or outdoor daytrip, depending on your inclinations.

The main attraction of Manzanares el Real is the town's 15-century castle, a patchwork of Gothic and other styles. The castle was once the home of the powerful Mendoza family. It's an exceptionally well-renovated castle, one of the most beautifully preserved of its ilk in all of Spain. Its turrets are particularly fairytale-like. Don't miss the view!

Manzanares el Real isn't solely a historical stop. It's also a logical jumping-off point for hikers. The Parque de la Pedriza, a short walk from the town, is full of amazing trails and climbing routes. The park is favored among serious climbers as well as more casual weekend hikers.

Manzanares el Real is cute and, in part due to its proximity to Madrid, not exactly a secret. On summer weekends it can get downright crowded. We'd go so far as to suggest that you avoid the town weekends during the summer.

For more information about Manzanares el Real, including transportation from Madrid, check out this Web site (in Spanish). Also valuable is the Spanish-language Manzanares el Real castillosnet page.

Spain's Imperial City: Toledo

Highlights: historical interest; cathedral; Alcazar fortress
Duration: four to eight hours
Exertion level: low to moderate
Accessible by: train

Toledo is a city of almost 80,000, located about 70km (about 45 miles) south of Madrid. Dripping in history, Toledo is deserving of more than a daytrip, although many of its top attractions can be visited easily in a single day.

Toledo's treasures are many. The city showcases countless examples of its many inhabitants and historical currents. Toledo's Roman, Muslim, Jewish and Visigoth heritage can be witnessed in the city's structures and place names.

Your first objective is to get inside the walls of Toledo's Old City. Highlights include the Plaza de Zocodover (where you'll have to stop for a café break), the Alcazar fortress, and Toledo's cathedral, but these are just a few of the city's standouts. Toledo's Jewish Quarter and a few Muslim architectural remnants are interesting as well.

Toledo's real pleasures are atmospheric. The medieval Old City's winding streets are easily navigated and full of secrets and surprises. For those who enjoy a bit more structure to their explorations, Toledo lends itself to thematic walking tours.

For more information, check out the official Spanish tourism site's Toledo pages.

The train journey between Madrid and Toledo takes just 30 minutes. A roundtrip journey costs €18.

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