7 unforgettable daytrips from Madrid


A view over the rooftops of Ávila / travelooneyblog.com

The Spanish capital is surprisingly overlooked by many tourists, who insist on sticking to the coast when visiting ever popular Spain. And that is a shame but yet a blessing at the same time, as it means that this amazing city is not completely overrun by tourists and still manages to keep a local feel. Personally I have completely fallen in love with Madrid, after having spent about two years there on and off, and with so much time you naturally start exploring further afield.

One of the great things about Madrid is its location right in the heart of the Iberian Peninsula, making it a perfect base for daytrips by car, bus or train – to a bunch of exciting destinations all around it. From rustic villages to tourist-drawing cities, there is so much to discover within an hour or two. So take a look at my first-hand tips on where to go for a day away from the big city buzz…

Patones de Arriba

Direction: Northeast of Madrid.
Distance: Less than 70 km.
Transport: Patones is easiest reached by car – journeytime around 50 minutes.

Rent a car and head north from the capital to find a direct contrast to the sun-reflecting skyscrabers you will pass on your way out of the city. Within an hour you can reach Patones, which is a small town on the edge of the Community of Madrid. A town split in a ‘lower’ and a ‘higher’ part, with the higher Patones de Arriba being the real attraction. But if you’re fit for a bit of a hike you should park down below and walk up through the dry landscape, where you will be rewarded with a spectacular hillside village built entirely with black slate. A rustic material that makes this rural 16th century town blend in well with the surrounding hills. When you’re done exploring and taking in the views, make your choice between a bunch of cosy little restaurants and treat yourself to a nice meal before hiking back down.


Rustic slate houses in Patones de Arriba / travelooneyblog.com

Alcalá de Henares

Direction: East of Madrid.
Distance: About 35 km.
Transport: Take the RENFE train from Atocha station in Madrid – journeytime about 40 minutes.

Alcalá de Henares is very easy to reach by train and perfect to explore on a daytrip from Madrid. This UNESCO-listed city is famous for being the birthplace of author Miguel de Cervantes and for its hundreds of nesting storks. Cervantes is best known for his legendary stories about Don Quixote, and a small museum in the city is dedicated to the author. The storks are an attraction in themselves, and they can be seen sitting in their huge nests on many rooftops. The local tourism office even hand out maps on where to find them, but just listen to the clacking sounds of their long beaks and you will soon spot these majestic birds. The city itself is attractive too – not at least if you stay until sunset and take a stroll along the main square, Plaza Cervantes.


Storks over Alcalá de Henares / travelooneyblog.com

El Escorial

Direction: Northwest of Madrid
Distance: Less than 50 km.
Transport: Take the RENFE train from Atocha station in Madrid – journeytime about 1 hour.

In about an hour you can transport yourself from the heart of Madrid to the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial and a scene heavily dominated by the UNESCO-listed EL Escorial. A magnificent royal complex that has functioned as a monastery, a royal palace, a basilica, a library, a hospital and a university – just to mention a few. Today it’s mainly a big tourist attraction with more than 500.000 visitors a year, and it sits beautifully in the surrounding nature with the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range nearby. A great place for hikers. The town of San Lorenzo itself is also worth a walk, or a lunch break in one of its tempting tapas bars.


The majestic El Escorial complex / travelooneyblog.com


Direction: North of Madrid.
Distance: About 90 km.
Transport: Take the bus (La Sepulvedana) from Moncloa station in Madrid – journeytime 1 hour and 10 minutes. Or take the AVE train from Chamartín station in Madrid – journeytime about 30 minutes.

If you’re looking for spectacular sights – head north to Segovia. A UNESCO-listed fairytale city and the most attractive daytrip from the Spanish capital. In fact Segovia deserves that you spend a night here as it’s bathed in golden light by night – but if there’s not enough time, a daytrip will do. Just arrive early so you have time enough to take in its three major sights – the mindblowingly big aqueduct, the impressive cathedral and the towering Alcázar castle, that is said to have been inspiration for a Disney-castle. All three sights can be admired within a walk through the city’s atmospheric streets, and if you’re a meat-eater you have to try Segovia’s specialty; Cochinillo (suckling pig) – so tender that it’s cut out with a plate.


The towering aqueduct in Segovia / travelooneyblog.com


Direction: South of Madrid.
Distance: About 70 km.
Transport: Take the bus (Samar.es) from Méndez Álvaro station in Madrid – journeytime 1 hour and 15 minutes. Or take the RENFE train from Atocha station in Madrid – journeytime about 30 minutes.

Like Segovia, Toledo is another UNESCO-listed city that really deserves a night’s stay, but it is also great for a daytrip if you go early to have time enough to explore. Its historic heart sits on a mountaintop with the River Tajo snaking around it almost like a natural moat. A spectacular setting for a majestic city that has been formed architecturally and culturally by both Christians, Muslims and Jews through the times. Its skyline is mainly dominated by the impressive Alcázar castle and the gothic cathedral, but the magic of Toledo is found all around its steep and cobbled streets where you’ll be happy to find a bit of shade on hot summer days.


Toledo by night / travelooneyblog.com


Direction: Northwest of Madrid.
Distance: About 110 km.
Transport: Take the bus (ALSA) from Estación Sur in Madrid – journeytime 1 hour and 15 minutes. Or take the RENFE train from Chamartín station in Madrid – journeytime about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Beyond the border of the Community of Madrid, in the region of Castilla y León, Ávila tempts visitors to explore its UNESCO-listed old town. A town surrounded by the largest fully illuminated monument in the world – the city wall that stretches more than 2,5 kilometers, with an average height of 12 meters. This wall is like taken out of the tv series Game of Thrones and a truly impressive sight up close, and for a small fee you can walk half of it on top with stunning views to the surrounding landscape. Don’t forget to watch out for the many storks nesting here and don’t leave Ávila without trying the local egg-based sweet treat – ‘Yemas de Santa Teresa’.


The city wall of Ávila / travelooneyblog.com


Direction: Southeast of Madrid.
Distance: About 170 km.
Transport: Take the bus (Avanzabus) from Estación Sur in Madrid – journeytime 2 hours and 10 minutes. Or take the AVE train from Atocha station – journeytime 55 minutes.

The UNESCO-listed old town of Cuenca sits on a plateau in a rocky landscape more or less midway between Madrid and Valencia, making it a reachable daytrip-destination from both of these cities. And Cuenca is definitely worth a visit with its parade of colourful facades and its famous “hanging houses”, with wooden balconies overlooking the narrow Huécar river. Between this, and the wider river Jucar on the other side, Cuenca oozes charm and atmosphere around Plaza Mayor and in the surrounding streets. A little maze of tapas bars, restaurants and small galleries, as well as stunning views across the Castilla-La Mancha region. Don’t forget to try a portion of ‘Morteruelo’, which is a tasty local paté consisting of different meats and spices.


Colourful houses in the heart of Cuenca / travelooneyblog.com

Have you visited other exciting destinations around Madrid?
Please share your tips in the comments below… or on Travelooney Blog’s Facebook Page.

You will also find much more travel inspiration to Spain HERE

By Brian Schæfer Dreyer