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In March, I took a wonderful solo trip to Madrid in Spain. Madrid has the honor of being Spain’s vibrant capital city, and therefore it has plenty of cool neighborhoods, museums, attractions, and restaurants that all appeal to solo travelers. Madrid is a great place to base yourself – without a doubt.
However Madrid is also well known for its endless supply of day trips. I’m not kidding. You could seriously dedicate an entire week to the many day tripping opportunities outside Madrid’s city limits.
These Madrid day trips make memorable adventures!
I’m not even joking or exaggerating. The number of high quality Madrid day trips is actually pretty unbelievable. We’re talking UNESCO World Heritage sites here!
To be honest, you can’t visit Madrid and not take at least one trip outside of the city. Why?
Well Madrid is actually a relatively new city by European standards. If you want to see “old” Spain, medieval Spain (and I know you do), then you’re gonna have to hop on a bus and explore the surrounding areas. Trust me. The effort and money are both worth spending in exchange for experiencing places like Toledo and Segovia.
Personally, I think these four day trips from Madrid are the coolest ones you can take on a solo vacation to the Spanish capital. But trust me. There are many more places to potentially visit close to Madrid.
Madrid Day Trips Option 1: Toledo
Toledo is one of the most popular day trips to take from Madrid. And for a good reason too!
This beautiful city, which is situated on top of a gorge, was the capital of the Spanish empire before the title was finally moved to Madrid. Three major religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, all beautifully blend together in Toledo. Understandably, the historic city of Toledo is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
I highly recommend a visit to Toledo. If you’re interested in history, then it may be worth it to pay for a guided tour to Toledo so you can learn in-depth information regarding Toledo’s significance. However, the city is also lovely for a leisurely solo walk. It’s up to you!
How to Reach Toledo with Public Transit
Train: Probably the fastest way to reach Toledo is by train. All direct trains leave from Madrid’s Puerta de Atocha train station. The train ride is short, sometimes taking only 30 minutes or so, which makes Toledo a super easy day trip for you to complete. Definitely book your train tickets ahead of time if you’re traveling during a major holiday. You can easily buy your tickets in advance from Renfe’s main website and have them delivered to your email.
Bus: If you’re on a budget, the bus is much cheaper than the train, and only costs about 5 euros each way. The buses leave from Madrid’s Plaza Eliptica and arrive at Toledo’s main bus station located at Avenida de Castilla La Mancha s/n, 45003 Toledo. However, make sure you arrive early enough to buy your bus tickets. You don’t want to have to wait for the next one. Not speaking from experience, of course, haha.
What to See and Do in Toledo
1. Alcantara Bridge: Take a walk on this bridge to get some nice views of the river as well as Toledo from a lower vantage point.
2. Toledo Cathedral: One of Toledo’s top attractions. This cathedral embodies Toledo’s multi-faith history and was actually built on top of a mosque. Remember what I said about the blending of religions? This is a perfect instance of that. The cathedral is also an excellent example of gothic art, containing many different masterpieces within its walls.
3. Iglesia de los Jesuitas: Known as the Church of the Jesuits in English. At the top of this church, you receive some of the greatest views of Toledo. The climb is definitely worth the price. And you don’t have to be a fitness master to complete the stairs either. Win!
4. Fly Toledo: Fly Toledo is Europe’s longest urban zipline! So if you want a bit of an adrenaline rush, then this activity is totally for you.
Madrid Day Trips Option 2: Segovia
Another very popular city near Madrid is Segovia – which I absolutely loved and would visit again if I had a chance.
In particular, I loved the snow capped mountains surrounding the old city of Segovia, because natural wonders colliding with urban beauty makes for some outstanding photos and memories. Aim to visit on a bright sunny day if possible.
Finally the Old Town of Segovia and its Aqueduct is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So visit to learn all about Segovia’s magnificent historical significance to Spanish history.
How to Reach Segovia by Public Transit
Train: Like Toledo, you can use a high speed train to reach Segovia. These trains leave from Madrid’s Chamartin train station – so you’ll probably have to take the metro for your transportation. These train rides take about a half an hour. However, make sure you purchase your tickets well in advance, so you don’t have to pay premium prices to cover your journey to Segovia.
Bus: Again, if you’re on a strict travel budget, then opt to take the bus to Segovia rather than the train. The bus station is within easy walking distance to the most important attractions in Segovia.
What to See and Do in Segovia
1. Aqueduct of Segovia: This is one of the most famous attractions in all of Segovia. And it’s free to see! This is a wonderful example of a well-preserved Roman aqueduct built way back in the second half of the 1st century A.D. This aqueduct is incredible. So, so, so big. It’ll blow your mind how the Romans were able to construct such a monument, consisting of two stories of stones kept together with little to no mortar. Impressive.
2. Alcázar of Segovia: An incredible fairytale castle in Castile. The Alcázar of Segovia was originally used as a fortress, but later served as a palace. This building supposedly inspired Walt Disney when he was planning the classic Disney Castle. Even if you don’t have time to go in Alcázar of Segovia, taking photos outside is still a wonderful experience you must enjoy.
3. Segovia Cathedral: A gorgeous cathedral in historic Segovia. I didn’t have a chance to go inside of it, but the outside is intricate and impressive enough. Furthermore, Segovia Cathedral is located in Segovia’s main square (Plaza Mayor). Feel free to shop for souvenirs and food at the local market!
Madrid Day Trips Option 3: El Escorial
The insanely beautiful royal complex of El Escorial is located in the town of San Lorenzo. If you have only, say, a half a day to spare for a day trip, then El Escorial may be your best bet compared to Toledo or Segovia. Why? Less major sites to see. But the monastery is worth your time.
Additionally, if you’re interested in the lives of Spain’s royal family, then you definitely should add El Escorial to your itinerary! Unsurprisingly, the Monastery is another item on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list.
How to Reach El Escorial by Public Transit
Bus: You can reach El Esocorial by taking an hour bus ride. Buses 661 and 664 leave from Madrid’s Moncloa bus station. The bus fare is relatively cheap too, which helps if you’re traveling on a budget (sense a pattern here? haha).
Train: If you want to take the train, then use the local C8a line at Atocha station. The journey also takes an hour so you won’t save much time taking the train versus the bus, although of course this does depend on traffic. Madrid’s rush hour is a little frightening. So the train might be your best bet if you want to visit El Escorial in the morning on a week day.
What to See and Do in El Escorial
1. The Monastery and Royal Palace: The vast building complex is one of the most important buildings you can visit near Madrid. This is a historical residence for the king of Spain. Many monarchs are buried here, too. Due to its royal importance, El Escorial attracts many visitors – sometimes up to 500,000 in a single year. A word of warning. The Monastery is closed on Monday so make sure to plan your trip ahead of time to avoid disappointments! You can learn more about El Escorial monastery on the official website.
2. Historic Center of San Lorenzo: If you have time to spare, explore the nearby historic center of San Lorenzo. I didn’t have a chance on my own visit. However, from what I could see, the town looked really cute and worth a quick peak! I also hear there are some good restaurants in the area if you want to grab lunch.
Madrid Day Trips Option 4: Valley of the Fallen
This is one of the most controversial Madrid day trips. Heck, it’s probably the most controversial “attraction” in all of Spain at the moment. However, without a doubt, the Valley of the Fallen is fascinating from a historical perspective.
Why so controversial? The Valley of the Fallen is where you can visit the grave of General Francisco Franco. The monument was constructed to honor the victims of the Spanish Civil War. Supposedly. Many would understandably disagree on that subject.
Not to mention, convicts, including prisoners of the Civil War, were responsible for building the towering monument that looks over Cuelgamuros Valley.
How to Reach the Valley of the Fallen by Public Transit
Uhhh, you really can’t as far as I know. Not the answer you want to hear, sorry. The Valley of the Fallen, both the basilica and monument, are located in a pretty rural area.
However, there are many guided tours that will take you to the Valley of the Fallen. The ease of transportation is worth booking a tour if this site is a high priority to you. Apparently one bus leaves from El Escorial in San Lorenzo, but I don’t know if it’s worth trying to “time” it.
You may also rent a car and drive to the Valley of the Fallen, but I honestly don’t think it’s worth the hassle and insurance money, especially if you plan on using public transit for the majority of your trip to Spain.
What to See and Do in the Valley of the Fallen
1. Valley of the Fallen Basilica and Monument: You need to go through a short security line to enter into the Basilica itself. Photography is also expressly forbidden inside. This basilica is where you can see the resting place of Franco. After visiting here, you’ll want to learn all about Spain’s Civil War. I know I want to read about it even if it is a dark subject matter.
2. Views of Cuelgamuros Valley: As I’ve said, I always love taking a break from my city visits to “return to nature.” And the scenery of the Valley of the Fallen is incredibly beautiful. It’s sobering to remember many perished in this valley during the bloody Spanish Civil War. At the same time, the misty mountains emit an aura of peace and force you to reflect. Don’t ignore the outside after your visit inside the domineering basilica.
Why Go Alone on Your Madrid Day Trips
Even if you have limited time in Madrid, I still encourage you to take these solo day trips at some point during your visit in Spain’s capital city.
As I’ve said earlier in the post, Madrid’s day trips give you insights into Spanish life and culture in the Middle Ages. You want to see old Spain, particularly the old kingdom of Castile, these day trips give you a chance to do so.
On a more ~inspirational~ note, taking day trips is a great confidence builder for solo travelers. Think about it. You’re navigating public transit in a new country completely on your own without someone holding your hand. Talk about an achievement, eh?
However, as a solo traveler, you may decide to take these day trips as part of a group tour. You’re still awesome, I promise. Not to mention, by being part of a tour, you’re creating new opportunities to make friends with fellow travelers. So if you feel lonely book yourself a ticket!
There are plenty of cool day trips near Madrid that you can easily do via rail or bus. Have you been to any of these places? What are your day trip suggestions?