While there are lots of things to do in Madrid itself, if you’ve got extra time, you simply need to tackle some of the best day trips from Madrid. Located near the centre of Spain, Madrid is the perfect base to set out in almost any direction and find adventure.
Whether you want to explore ancient cities with Gothic cathedrals or stroll down narrow alleyways & through small plazas in quaint little towns, it’s all possible with these top side excursions from Madrid.
Carved out more than one day in Madrid? Round out your itinerary with this guide to the best Madrid day trips!
Top-rated Madrid side trips
The former capital of Spain is a top choice for day trips from Madrid, thanks to its old quarter and spectacular views of the surrounding region. The ancient city of Toledo sits on a hill above the vast plains of Castilla-La Mancha, giving you a panoramic look over the Rio Tajo.
Travel through the Moorish Bisagra Gate to reach the walled old town, where you’ll find monuments to three of the world religions. Explore Christian cathedrals, Jewish temples, and Arab mosques.
After you arrive, head straight for the northern city gate. Puerta del Sol is one of the few remaining medieval gates marking the entrance to the old town. It features the typical Moorish architecture of the era, with a horseshoe archway topped with intertwined arches.
From the gate, visit Cathedral Primada. As with many of the cathedrals in Spain, it’s built on the site of a former mosque. The grand façade features two towers and massive arched entrances.
You can tour the inside and search the many small rooms filling the cathedral, including the Ochavo, a room dedicated to Christian martyrs.
The next religious site to visit is the Monastery of San Juan de Los Reyes. Featured in several TV shows and movies, the iconic monastery has hallways with towering windows looking out into a courtyard.
Between trips to historic churches, you can also check out the local food. The old quarters are lined with cafes and small shops.
How to get to Toledo
From the Plaza Eliptica Station in Madrid, you can get on the ALSA bus and reach Toledo in a little over an hour. High-speed AVE trains leave for the city every hour. While the AVE train is often the fastest choice for these side trips, the LAV Madrid-Toledo high-speed rail line gets you to your destination in just 30 minutes.
If you want to experience one of the best side trips from Madrid for foodies, start with Segovia. This historic city is just north of Madrid and is home to some of the most impressive architecture in the region.
As you walk the old stone roads on your day trip to Segovia, you’ll pass Romanesque churches, a royal palace, and a towering Roman aqueduct with over 160 arches.
From the aqueduct, you can explore some of the historic buildings in the area, including the Alcazar of Segovia. The orange façade of the restored palace blends with the surrounding earth tones of the region. When you step inside the medieval castle, you’ll find beautifully decorated rooms and a fully stocked armoury museum.
After touring the palace, climb to the top of Torre de Juan II. It’s the tower standing guard over the city and offers views of the surrounding area.
From the tower, visit the other royal palace in the city. It’s a little further from the centre of the city, but worth the walk. La Granja de San Ildefonso Royal Palace has a well-manicured courtyard while the palace itself covers the rest of the landscape due to its sheer size.
Spend several hours exploring the 1500 acres of gardens around the palace. You’ll come across fountains and statues representing various themes from Greek mythology.
How to get to Segovia
Jump on the AVE train and reach Segovia in just about 30 minutes. If tickets for the high-speed train are sold out, get on the La Sepulvedana bus at Moncloa Station. The trip should take a little over two hours. To make the most of your excursion, try to leave early.
Visiting Cordoba takes you to a different era in the history of Spain. It’s one of the most fascinating cities in the Andalusian region, due to the Moorish architecture peppered throughout the city.
The small city of Cordoba is mostly known for the iconic La Mezquita. The massive mosque features old Byzantine mosaics and Moorish elements. When you enter, you’ll see 850 red and white columns, the first hints of the unique architecture of the mosque.
Take a guided tour through the mosque if you want to learn more about the history and view some of the religious artifacts.
Besides mosques and churches, the old quarter of Cordoba has a lot of patios. Built into the stone architecture are dozens of open air seating areas of restaurants that overlook the narrow streets.
One of the most picturesque examples is Calleja de las Flores. This small street is barely wide enough for two people to pass each other and has patios lining both sides. Try to visit the narrow alley before lunchtime when it becomes packed with tourists obstructing most of your view.
From the patio-lined street, travel around the corner and behind La Mezquita to find the royal palace of the city. Alcazar de Los Reyes Cristianos features a long courtyard with working fountains and rows of flowers. When you get inside, check out the artwork, including the mosaics lining the Hall of the Mosaics.
How to get to Cordoba
The quickest way to reach Cordoba from Madrid is via the high-speed AVE train. From Atocha, the train can get you to Cordoba in just about two hours. Leave as early as you can to ensure you have a full day in Cordoba.
Travel to the hanging houses of Cuenca. Built into the side of a mountain, the houses remain precariously close to the edge of the cliff overlooking the river.
Cuenca also has its own old town, complete with medieval walls, cobbled streets, and the ruins of a castle. The old city has an interesting atmosphere, as it’s not as packed with tourists compared to the historic quarters in other European cities.
Most of the residents live in the newer part of the city and the area doesn’t get as many visitors as the surrounding day trip destinations. At night, it’s eerily silent, allowing you to step back in time and really feel what it’s like to walk through a medieval city.
Besides the medieval walls and quiet atmosphere, Cuenca has a few activities that will fill your day. For your history fix, visit the Cuenca Cathedral.
When you finish touring the cathedral, it’s time to cross a gorge. Take the Saint Paul Bridge over the river below and between the cliffs. As you make your way to the bridge, you’ll also get a better view of the hanging houses.
Finish your day trip with hot cocoa or a cold beer from one of the family-run restaurants closer to the old quarters.
How to get to Cuenca
Thanks to the AVE train, you should reach Cuenca in just about an hour. You’ll likely need to book your tickets online or risk having to take the regular bus route. Buses travel between the two cities, with most trips taking a little over three hours.
El Escorial is a village with a sprawling complex that is considered to be the most important monuments of the entire Spanish Renaissance. The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial was a monastery and the historical home of the King of Spain. It’s now a popular tourist destination.
You can view the tombs where the Spanish royalty was buried before appreciating the artwork at the architectural museum and art gallery. The complex also houses a library with large frescoed ceilings.
The rest of your day trip to El Escorial will take you away from the village. Travel to the nearby Bosque de La Herreria. The woods are near the village and include beautiful walking paths under canopies of oak, ash, and chestnut trees.
Just a few minutes from El Escorial stands the Valley of the Fallen, a controversial monument to those that died during the Spanish civil war.
The monument includes an underground basilica and a tall granite cross that stands above the surrounding hillside.
Over the years, residents have talked about closing the monument or turning it into a museum. For now, it’s part of your day trip. Explore the sprawling monument before traveling back to the village to grab dinner from one of the quaint little restaurants.
How to get to El Escorial
El Escorial isn’t too far from Madrid. To reach the cobblestone streets of El Escorial, hop on the 661 or 664 bus from Moncloa Station. For a slightly faster trip, get on the Cercanias C3 line at the Atocha train station. These buses should you get you to the city in about 30 minutes.
Built near the rolling hills northwest of Madrid, the charming city of Avila is known for its formidable, well-preserved medieval walls.
The walls surround an area covering 77 acres and span over 2,500 metres. They also feature a stunning 88 semicircular towers around the perimeter.
The city also claims to have the most Gothic and Romanesque churches per capita in the region. In fact, you’ll spend most of the day touring various historic churches and cathedrals, including the Cathedral of Avila.
The cathedral is built into the city walls and it’s not the only structure. As you walk the border of the old town, you’ll find various buildings integrated into the walls. You can even walk the top of the walls at certain spots.
After passing through one of the gates into the walled old quarters, work your way through the stone streets to reach the central public square. Plaza Mercado Chico is the centre of action in Avila. From the side streets stretching out from the square, you’ll find most of the shops, restaurants, and cafes.
Across from the square, take a trip to the Town Hall of Avila. The historic site provides a way to kill an hour or two while learning more about the history of the city.
How to get to Avila
If you want to spend a day in the walled city of Avila, take the Media Distancia train early in the morning and arrive about an hour and a half later.
Consuegra isn’t the most popular of the various Madrid side trips, but it gives you a chance to get away from the crowds. The town is mostly known for its giant windmills and their appearance in the book Don Quixote.
In the book, Don Quixote mistakes the windmills for monsters. You can catch a glimpse of the windmills for yourself and then explore the nearby Consuegra Castle.
The Moorish castle sits at the end of a long road after the series of windmills. The castle stands out for its unique architecture, featuring three irregular shaped enclosures surrounded by strong walls and semi-circular towers.
When you get inside, you’ll find yourself lost in a maze of walkways, rooms, and gates. The disorienting layout was designed to confuse and repel potential invaders.
If you don’t waste too much time wandering the castle, take a trip to one of the windmills. Of the 12 windmills lining the ridge near the castle, only one still works – Molino Rucio. You can check out the internal workings of the mill, in case you ever wondered how they operate.
Consuegra is a small town. Other than the castle and the mills, there isn’t much to see or do, but you can spend some time at the well-preserved Church of San Juan or get your history fix at the Archeological Museum.
How to get to Consuegra
The Samar bus company operates the bus route between Consuegra and Madrid. Depart from the Mendez Alvaro bus station for a two-and-half-hour trip. While it may cost more, you can take the Madrid-Toledo high-speed rail to Toledo and then a bus to Consuegra and shave a few minutes off the trip, depending on the timing.
Where to stay in Madrid: The best hotels for day-trippers
Thanks to the sheer size of the city, figuring out where to stay in Madrid can sometimes present a slight challenge. For day-trippers, the best area to stay in Madrid is the Centro, as you’ll be close to the city’s top transportation hubs, including Atocha Station. Here are a few recommended hotels…
- Hostal Central Palace Madrid: A fantastic alternative for budget-conscious travellers, this lovely hotel overlooks the Royal Palace and Sabatini Gardens without destroying your travel budget.
- Catalonia Las Cortes: An elegant hotel set in an 18th-century building that’s as impressive inside as outside. The rooms here are spacious and are decorated with a fusion of modern and classical European stylings.
- VP Plaza España Design: A spectacular 5-star luxury hotel that ranks among the best in Madrid. Rooms with stellar city views and excellent amenities such as a wellness centre & sky bar make the choice to stay here all that much easier.