King Felipe II's reign in the 16th century was marked by the rise of Protestantism in Europe. In 1559, the king gave Spanish architect Juan Bautista de Toledo the task of creating a "perpetual home for the Catholic Crown of Spain" that would become "an expression in stone of Catholicism in Spain". It resulted in the construction of the magnificient monastery and royal palace of El Escorial, located in the small town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, about 50 km away from Madrid. The palace is now open to the public, and it makes for a really great day-trip destination.
A visit to the palace includes a tour of the royal family's private chambers, the beautiful basilica and stunning library, with its priceless collection of over 40,000 volumes, as well as the Royal Pantheon where, for the last five centuries, the kings and queens of Spain have been buried. As with all Spanish royal palaces, there is also an impressive collection of paintings on display. There's a small but beautiful garden next to the palace, from where you can enjoy a nice view of El Escorial.
But for the best possible view of the palace and the surrounding village, you need to go to "La Silla de Felipe II" (King Felipe II's chair), located in the beautiful forest of La Herreria (for directions, check out Redang's tips). Legend has it that the king had picked this particular spot to keep an eye on the palace as it was being built. There's indeed a seat carved in stone from where you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the palace and its natural surroundings - truly worth the little detour!
To get to El Escorial, you can catch a train leaving from Atocha station every 30 minutes, from 6:00 am to 11:00 pm. It takes about 15 minutes to walk from the station to the palace. Opening hours are 10:00 am to 6:00 pm every day (closed on Mondays). Admission: 8 Euros.
I guess we could say that Aranjuez is to Madrid what Versailles is to Paris: back in the 16th century, King Felipe II selected this little town as the new seat of the royal family's country residence. Construction of the Royal Palace of Aranjuez began in 1561 following the design of Juan Bautista de Toledo and Juan de Herrera, the same architects who were to work on the royal palace and monastery of El Escorial. Along with the palace came the royal gardens and the "Jardin del Principe", a large English-style park.
The Royal Palace of Aranjuez is now open to the public. I have to admit that the first few rooms are not very impressive, but keep going because it does get better! As much as possible, the rooms have not been altered since the days when Queen Isabel II lived in the palace (mid-19th century). It is possible to walk through the royal family's private appartments and the royal chapel, and a section of the palace is also dedicated to illustrating the daily life of the royal family. Something I thought was really interesting was the collection of wedding dresses that were worn by the present royal family's daughters and daughters-in-law.
After you're done visiting the palace, it's worth going for a walk around town and perhaps stopping at a restaurant to enjoy the town specialty: strawberries! Of course, one shouldn't leave without walking through the royal gardens, which are open to the public free of charge. The "Jardin del Principe" is very large, but I must admit that I preferred the "Jardin de la Isla" (the one located right next to the palace), with its numerous fountains and french-style gardens and walking paths.
To get to Aranjuez, you can catch a train leaving from Atocha station every 30 minutes, from 6:00 am to 11:00 pm. It takes about 10 minutes to walk from the train station to the palace. The palace is open from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm every day (closed on Mondays). General admission: 5 Euros.
I decided to spend my very last day in Spain in the beautiful city of Segovia, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I've ever made! First, because it made it possible to go with fellow VTer Cecile (CesVT), and we had an amazing time together; second, because it is such a lovely city, it would have been a real shame to leave Spain without seeing it; and third, because after spending a wonderful day soaking in the lively and yet very relaxing atmosphere of Segovia, I don't think I could have handled spending another week in busy & bustling Madrid!! So for a recap of this memorable daytrip, just check out my Segovia travel page!
The beautiful historic city of Toledo is one of the most popular daytrip destinations for people visiting Madrid. It's located within an easy 1h train, bus or car ride, and it offers a fantastic medieval atmosphere that is completely different from the one you'll find in Madrid. Since Toledo was at the top of my "daytrip wishlist", I went there with my friend Luis during my first weekend in Spain. I spent a day walking around the city's charming narrow streets, taking in the beauty and history of "The Glory of Spain". For more information, check out my Toledo travel page!
Alcala de Henares, the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, is a small city located only 30 km away from Madrid. For some reason, it doesn't seem to be as popular a daytrip destination as Toledo and Segovia, and yet the city has a lot to offer to those interested in history: the very first Spanish university was founded in Alcala de Henares in 1499, and in 1486, Christopher Columbus first met with Queen Isabella I of Castille in the city's Archbishop's Palace, which also happens to be the birthplace of Queen Catherine of Aragon, King Henry VIII's first wife. So on a rainy Saturday morning, I hopped aboard a train along with fellow VTer Nico (white_smallstar), and we spent an entire day walking around the lovely streets of Alcala de Henares. Want to find out more about this off-the-beaten-path destination? Just check out my Alcala de Henares travel page!
Alcal? de Henares university is one of the most important monuments to see, was founded by Cardinal Cisneros, under the reign of Isabelle la Cat?lica.
he main sites to visit in Alcal? de Henares are the old university with its famous renaissance fa?ade and the buildings of the old Colegios Mayores.
Alcal? de Henares can be reached by the Cercan?as trains on lines C2 and C7
Buses leave from Continental Auto.
To get there by car one should take the N-II
Just one hour north-west of Madrid by bus or train.
The palace was designed between 1562 and 1584 by Renaissance master-architect Juan de Herrera, on the orders of Felipe II, who died there in 1598.
It includes a basilica, Felipe II's palace, the royal mausoleum, several art collections, a library and a museum
Toledo is good choice for a day or overnight trip from Madrid. It's located about 70km south of Madrid and the best way to get there is by train. There are frequent fast trains from Atocha station which take about 40 minutes.
Toledo was once the capital of Spain and has a good collection of Jewish, Christian and Moorish buildings and monuments. Despite all the visitors it receives, it's always possible to find quiet areas in the old part of the town, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.
Toledo was home to El Greco for many years and some of his paintings can be seen in churches and museums around the city.
Toledo is the old capital city of Spain and is about 1 hours drive from Madrid.
The main interest in Toledo is the architecture which is heavily arab influenced and the city is entered by an impressive gate - Puerta de bisagra. The city is very beautiful (similar to Durham in England) and is an interesting and pleasant place to visit.
The main square of Toledo (plaza de zocodover) provides shops and somewhere to get a coffee and in past times was the venue for burning witches.
Toledo has many churches and a impressive cathedral. There is a entrance fee to the cathedral though alternatively if you enter via the chapel instead it is free of charge. There are also two synagogues worth a visit and San Juan de los Reyes church with it's gothic spires is very interesting.
The view from Pasea del transito is also worth a look - the river curves around the outskirts of the town and the old bridge can be seen from here.
Another perspective of San Lorenzo de El Escorial.
(If you want more info, you can check my El Escorial page.)
Otra perspectiva del monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial.
(Si quieres más información, puedes visitar mi página de El Escorial.)
Hotel Atlantico Madrid
7 Reviews and 1404 Opinions With most four-star hotels in Madrid (and throughout Western Europe) charging US$400 or more, the...
Westin Palace Madrid
22 Reviews and 1244 Opinions A beautiful ,historical grand hotel of Madrid. I have been here on business trips and seminars, but...
Hotel Villa Magna Madrid Madrid
4 Reviews and 109 Opinions This was by far one of the best hotels I've ever stayed in, not only because of the great rooms, but...