As Spain’s bustling capital city, Madrid has a wealth of sites and attractions for every type of traveler. But if you’re looking to escape the bustle of city life, there are many fascinating places around Spain that also deserve a visit. From picturesque towns to royal hilltop castles, many of Spain’s most beautiful sites can be easily visited on a day trip from Madrid. If you have a car, you can plan a road trip to tick off a few of these must-see bucket list destinations. And if you don’t – don’t worry! Most of these sites can also be reached by public transportation from the city center of Madrid.
What is the Best Day Trip from Madrid?
The area around Madrid is littered with numerous attractions and UNESCO World Heritage Sites, from grandiose palaces to charming century-old town centers. Alcalá de Henares, Toledo, and the El Escorial Monastery and Palace are just a few places you can reach within an hour’s drive or train ride.
For foodies and shoppers, Madrid’s wine region and outlet center are also easy to visit on a day trip. But if you have more time, I recommend spending time in one of the several beautiful Spanish cities in other provinces like Valencia or Córdoba.
The ancient city of Toledo is a living museum that blends together the three cultures of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. As you walk through the winding alleys of this hilltop city, you’ll find a mix of cathedrals, mosques, and synagogues, some of which have been standing since the 10th century.
In addition to the architecture, Toledo is also known for its art, as it was once the home of Spanish Renaissance painter El Greco. And since it’s only a one-hour train ride from Madrid, you can easily visit Toledo for the day.
Royal Palace of Aranjuez
For an insight into the life of Spanish royalty, take a tour of the magnificent Royal Palace of Aranjuez.
This 300-room palace was the spring royal residence of the Spanish royal family since the 16th century (although the property was used 100 years prior as a royal hunting ground).
During your visit, you’ll be able to see about a dozen rooms inside the building, including the famous porcelain room. The palace is a stunning architectural feat, although the lush surrounding gardens are equally as impressive and worth a late afternoon stroll after your tour.
El Escorial Monastery and Palace
Located just 35 miles outside of Madrid in the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains, El Escorial Monastery and Palace is a must-see for history buffs and architecture lovers. It was built in 1584 for King Felipe II as his royal residence, along with an on-site monastery, basilica, university, pantheon, and library. The sprawling complex is the largest Renaissance building in the entire world and has been a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984.
You could easily spend the entire day in the palace, admiring the different rooms, gardens, and burial vaults.
It’s also home to an art gallery with important internationally 15th, 16th, and 17th works and an architectural museum focused on the construction of the palace.
Although Segovia is a small town to the north of Madrid, it’s still packed with tons of fascinating historical sites and attractions. The town itself dates back roughly 2,000 years when it was settled by the Romans. As such, you’ll find one of the largest existing Roman structures in Spain – the 2,388-foot granite aqueduct.
A stroll through Segovia’s old town also takes you past some of its most notable buildings. Visit the royal Alcazar of Segovia, the gothic Segovia Cathedral, and the impeding 30-foot high city walls.
If you’re interested in sun and surf, you can make the 1.5-hour train journey to the coastal city of Valencia. Perched on the shores of the Mediterranean, Valencia is a breathtaking mix of sun-soaked beaches, world-famous museums, and awe-inspiring architecture.
Despite being the third-largest city in the country, Valencia remains a relatively laid-back destination.
After hitting up some of the main sites, you can post up at one of the many cafes or restaurants. And don’t forget to try the paella. This iconic Spanish dish was created right here in the city.
Las Rozas de Madrid
When it comes to shopping, it’s hard to beat the sheer number of shops and boutiques in Madrid. But if you can’t find what you’re looking for within the city center, you can always head to Las Rozas de Madrid
This is Madrid’s premier outlet center with more than 100 shops.
You’ll be able to score huge discounts (we’re talking up to 60% off) on big-name brands like Armani, Prada, Ralph Lauren, Jimmy Choo, and Dyson. And if you don’t have a car, you can take the train from the center of Madrid which drops you off at the outlets in just 25 minutes.
Alcalá de Henares
As with many places on this list, Alcalá de Henares is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site within a short drive from Madrid.
The town is famous for being the birthplace and hometown of Miguel Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote. It’s also home to the University of Alcalá (one of the most prestigious universities in Spain) and the Alcalá de Henares Cathedral.
The impressive old town has been meticulously preserved since its medieval days. While the center is a labyrinth of winding alleys and cobblestone plazas, it’s intersected by the Calle Mayor, a pedestrian street lined with shops, restaurants, and cafes.
Madrid Wine Region
As the third largest wine producer in the world, Spain is an ideal place for wine aficionados. Nearly 50 different wineries can be reached using public transportation.
And while Madrid’s wine region may not be as famous as some of the other regions like Rioja or Rias-Baixas, it’s still a large producer of Tempranillo-based wines.
Madrid’s wine region is divided into three different areas. To the east of the city sits Arganda del Rey, which produces 50% of the region’s wine.
San Martin is in the west, and its high altitude means it has the perfect condition for growing Garnacha. Navalcarnero is the smallest of the three, although it does produce a small percentage of Garnacha, Malvar, and Cabernet Sauvignon wines.
Although it’s a bit out of town (four hours south of Madrid), Córdoba is a vibrant Andalusian city filled with architectural gems. In fact, it’s the only city in the world with four UNESCO World Heritage Sites!
One of its most visited attractions is the Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba, an Islamic mosque turned Christian cathedral that is considered to be the birthplace of Moorish architecture. Other UNESCO sites include the historic center of the city and the Madinat al-Zahra fortified palace, as well as the Córdoba Patios Festival, which occurs every year in May.
Madrid’s central location in the heart of Spain makes it possible for travelers to visit numerous sites and cities around the country. And while you could spend all your time in Madrid and still not see everything it has to offer, it’s sometimes worth venturing to the outskirts to immerse yourself in the culture of Spanish life.