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10 Absolute Best Day Trips from Madrid

10 Absolute Best Day Trips from Madrid

From the Prado Museum to Gran Vía, Madrid has plenty to keep you busy during your visit. However, whether it’s because you have extra time or you feel the need to get out of the big city for an afternoon, there are many fantastic day trips from Madrid.

Within two hours of the Spanish capital, travelers will find incredible towns awash with Roman and Renaissance history. You can explore 1st-century aqueducts, royal palaces, and Disney-inspired castles.

Each town marks a spot in a delightful, rolling countryside where the journey is as good as the destination. Don’t want to hire a car? Don’t worry. Madrid’s high-speed trains and immersive tours will help you see the best of the surrounding region.

Even if you are only spending 3 days in Madrid, you may want to add a day to your trip to explore one of these beautiful Spanish destinations.

Getting to the Best Madrid Day Trips 

The best way to explore most of Spain is by train. Spanish trains are well connected, especially from a hub as major as Madrid.

From Madrid, you can take regional trains to many of the best day trips or hop on a fast train to a major city anywhere in Spain and be there in half the time of a car.

The best place to book train travel in Spain is directly on the RENFE website. Try to book at least a few days in advance to get the best price. If you are booking last minute, you may get a better deal on Omio (even though they have a booking fee).

The second option for getting around to the best day trips from Madrid is to rent a car in Spain. You can rent them from Madrid airport when you arrive or pick one up close to downtown.

When I’m in Spain (or anywhere in Europe for that matter), I always check prices and usually find the best options on Discover Cars. They show you all of the lowest prices with rankings for each company so you know what you’re paying for.

You can select airport pickup or city center pickup. Their full coverage is always significantly cheaper than the full coverage offered by the rental car companies (but is just as comprehensive and easy to use). Check out rental prices on Discover Cars here.

The final option for exploring the outskirts of Madrid is to take a tour. You can explore tour options around Madrid using GetYourGuide or the similarly fantastic Viator for great, affordable, and locally run tour companies.

Best Day Trips from Madrid

1. Toledo

The historic streets of Toledo create a scene that draws visitors from Madrid daily. Christian, Arab, and Jewish history, culture, art, and architecture infuse the former Spanish capital with a breathtaking aura.

These old, narrow streets, bound together like shoestrings, are a marvel to explore. Getting lost in this UNESCO World Heritage Site is merely a necessary part of the itinerary.

An hour by car, or half that by train, Toledo straddles these hilltops and gazes down at the Tagus River. Through its medieval core lies a litany of highlights. Step by step you’ll wander by (or explore) such majestic structures as the Toledo Cathedral and the Alcazar.

The former is renowned for its splendid facade, a spectacular interior, not to mention original pieces by the one El Greco. The Alcazar has an alluring blend of styles that combine the best of Moorish, Roman, and Gothic.

It’s an easy drive to get to Toledo, just 60 minutes down the A-42. There are also plenty of trains between Madrid and Toledo throughout the day. 

Do you prefer to leave the logistics to others, while diving deeper into Toledo’s history? Check out this guided tour, one that also provides free time to explore on your own.

hilltop city with a river cutting through the middle and blue skies above.

Toledo is a beautiful city and an easy day trip from Madrid.

2. Cuenca

Even for the most seasoned traveler, memories of Cuenca don’t fade. Their medieval streets, as traditional as any in Spain, are enveloped by tall sandstone townhouses fixed with fabulous wooden balconies.

The colors of the town, like the sun itself, shimmer in broad daylight and it looks down into the valley with two river gorges collide.

From below, Cuenca stands on top of the hill like candles on a cake, if the edge of the cake was a sheer cliff and not something sweet.

Built into the top part of the cliffs are the town’s famous Casas Colgadas, developed between the 15th and 18th centuries. Hugging the hill with all its might, one can head out onto the balcony and either revel or be terrified by the sheer drop.

Cuenca lies just under two hours east of Madrid by car. As you explore, you’ll see that colgadas are just part of what makes this UNESCO site special. Get about on foot to admire the Parador de Cuenca, the Spanish Museum of Abstract Art, and the cathedral.

A train to Cuenca will help save you time at only an hour long. But if you’re thinking of a guided day trip, this tour takes you to Cuenca, Devil’s Windows, and the Enchanted City.

buildings clinging to the side of a mountain in the town of Cuenca, one of the best day trips from Madrid with history and culture.

Cuenca’s hanging houses really do look like they are teetering on the edge carved into the mountainside.

3. Valencia

The coastal city of Valencia, on the shores of the Mediterranean, may seem a little too far for a day trip. That rings true if driving in Spain is your only option.

But you can turn that almost 4-hour journey into a cruisy 2-hour trip if you jump on Spain’s high-speed rail. Better yet, settle in for one of the best weekend trips from Madrid by spending two days in Valencia.

If you’ve only got the day, head out from the Spanish capital in the morning to make sure you can see as many of the wonderful things to do in Valencia as possible. After enjoying the scenery and the convenience of the train, get about exploring one of the country’s most beautiful locations.

Here, the past combines with modern culture and amazing food. It’s also a chance to trade the city heat for a dip in the cobalt-blue waters of the Mediterranean as one of the many Valencia beaches.

Refreshed, get about experiencing Valencia’s growing street art scene along El Carmen. Dance between boutiques, retro shops, and the Lonja Silk Exchange. To save time getting around all of the different sites in one day, you may want to consider using Uber in Valencia while you’re there.

When your tummy grumbles, head to Valencia’s Central Market. In the mood for some paella? Well, you’ll be happy to know Valencia is where the famous dish was invented. If you want to know more, join this paella class before jumping on the train back to Madrid.

train station with yellow facade on the outside with people walking around the front of the station and blue skies above.

When you arrive in Valencia by train, you’ll arrive at one of the two Valencia train stations, Valencia Nord, pictured here, is the most beautiful of the two.

4. Segovia

It takes less than 30 minutes to get from Madrid’s Chamartín station to the ancient streets of Segovia. Stepping off the train, head to the entrance of the Old City, where pedestrianized streets allow you to take in every drop of history.

As you wander, there’ll be one structure that continues to grasp your attention: El Acueducto. The Roman aqueduct is almost 3000ft of engineering brilliance that dates back to the 1st century. It’s arguably the most impressive Roman monument that still stands in Spain. Across its 163 arches, it reaches a height of over 90ft (28m).

The jaw-dropping, comb-like structure is as good a first impression as one town can give. But as you continue to head towards the peak of Segovia, you’ll uncover the Plaza Mayor. This happening square is the cultural centerpiece, one that’s also home to the formidable cathedral from the 1500s.

After a stop for a coffee and treat in one of Plaza Mayor’s cafe patios, head west down the thin cobblestone alleys. Soon a sense of déjà vu will appear as you see the inspiration between Sleep Beauty’s castle. This is, in fact, El Alcazar, whose garden harbors wide views of the rolling Castilian countryside.

Combine your day trip to Toledo with Segovia and Ávila into one guided tour.

archways of a long aquaduct in Segovia Spain, one of the best day trips from Madrid.

The famous Aquaduct of Segovia is well worth visiting on a day trip from Madrid.

5. Ávila

Whether it’s combined with Toledo and Segovia or a standalone destination, Ávila is one of the best day trips from Madrid. The center of its province, Ávila lies beyond medieval fortress walls, over 80 imposing towers, and 2,500 turrets.

Exploring the town at street level is only part of the fun. For better perspective and views, you can wander along the top of the 11th-century, 39ft tall defensive walls. From here, you can truly appreciate how well-preserved Ávila is.

After coming back down to earth, make a beeline for Plaza Mercado Chico. Here, travelers can get a real sense of not just the past, but Ávila’s current magic.

Like Segovia’s El Alcazar, there’s a hint of Disney joy here. Dine in the square before taking in Ávila’s other major sites. These include the Basilica of San Vicente, the Mirador of the Four Posts, and the Cathedral of Ávila.

Getting to Ávila is as simple as making your way to Madrid’s Principe Pio station. The regular trains make the 1hr 40 minute journey. Alternatively, you can join a tour like this one which includes stops in Toledo and Ávila.

monastery in spain with sun setting directly head and large plaza in front with a few people walking around.

The city of Aranjuez has beautiful architecture and history to explore while you are visiting as a day trip from Madrid.

6. The Royal Palace of Aranjuez

One of the easiest day trips from Madrid, the Royal Palace of Aranjuez, was first established in the 16th century. The former opulent hunting lodge, known for its extravagant lawns, soon became the spring home of the Spanish Royal Family and their court.

Through the eras, the changing of kings, and a little help from damaging fires, the palace has a beautiful mix of architectural styles. Since 1931, it has been an open museum, where you can admire the brilliant facade up close, explore the embellished gardens, and wander through the luxurious chambers.

Each room tells its own story, with evidence, period furniture, and elaborate art painting a vivid portrait. Not to mention the literal portraits of former royalty that pop up throughout. Other notable highlights include the Porcelain Room, with endless porcelain tiles and chinaware. You can also explore the Hall of Mirrors, inspired by the Palace of Versailles. Lastly, the Throne Room, with obvious significance, but the magnificence of the thrown and rich decorations make it memorable.

After seeing as much as you can inside the palace, take in the Royal Gardens. Arguably the reason the palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the gardens, complete with glistening fountains, flowerbeds, and statues, are a sight to behold.

When traveling to the palace, we recommend the 40-minute drive. You can otherwise take the C-3 commuter line.

church in the distance with water in front and a reflection of the church in the water.

Salamanca is rich with history and architecture to explore on a day trip from Madrid.

7. Salamanca

Incredible history and architecture can be found in Salamanca, similar to many of our favorite Madrid day trips. But there’s something different about this little city. The sandstone architecture certainly sets it apart. However, it’s the city’s iconic university that makes the journey worthwhile.

The 15th-century intellectual movement was in part headed by the thinking minds of the University of Salamanca, an institution established four centuries prior. Today, it’s the third oldest university on earth.

Much like the university itself, Salamanca has grown largely uninterrupted, preserving its past along the way.

Known as the Golden City, Salamanca’s eye-catching sandstone buildings such as the New and Old Cathedrals will stop you in your tracks. The Old Cathedral, from the 12th century, boasts a wonderful Romanesque design with a colorful apse, opulent chapels, and a memorable cloister.

You can continue to take in the golden buildings at the Plaza Mayor. Surrounded by three stories of endless sandstone, enjoy a little fiesta at one of the square’s cafes and restaurants.

To get here, it’s around 2 hours and 15 minutes by car. You can also jump on a train from Madrid’s Chamartín station and around in under 2 hours. With so much history to cover, join this guided walking tour to see the town’s best monuments.

closer up of oldschool balconied buildings that are cut into the rock of a cliffside.

The buildings in Cuenca are what makes this such a special day trip from Madrid.

8. Chinchón

A quick hour from Madrid, Chinchón is a great way to escape the capital’s busy streets and enjoy a rural side to life in Spain. Chinchón sits on the hilltops and has developed a fantastic food scene and a relaxed atmosphere.

You should begin your trip to Chinchón at its unique medieval plaza. It’s not like any we’ve mentioned prior, purely due to its circular layout.

Surrounded by shady patios, delightful buildings, and a healthy buzz of locals and travelers, indulge in the cuisine at La Repesca Casa de Vinos or La Casa del Pregonero.

Sample all the tapas, paella, and, of course, some of Chinchón’s surrounding vineyards. If you’re looking for something a bit stronger, the local spirit Anís de Chinchón dates back over 300 years.

Well-fed and hydrated, set about exploring the rest of Chinchón. Highlights include the 15th-century clock tower, impressive views from the surrounding miradores, and the Parador de Chinchón.

One hour, by car or bus from Plaza Conde Casal, it’s an easy single-day adventure. If you’re into wines, this tour gives you a taste of town along with the surrounding wine region.

front of a large stone building that looks like a monastary or government building with a large plaza in front of the building and a few people walking around.

The Monastery of El Escorial draws visitors from all over Spain and it is well worth visiting even if you aren’t particularly religious.

9. Monastery of El Escorial

If the Royal Palace of Aranjuez has left you searching for more royal elegance and unforgettable architecture, then the Monastery of El Escorial is the answer. Under an hour by car from Madrid, it’s an easy half-day trip from the city center.

The Monastery of El Escorial is a little bit quieter than its more famous counterpart. In that sense, you get greater value as the monastery is the largest Renaissance building on earth.

Almost 450 years old, this complex site consists of a royal residence, pantheon, library, school, hospital, and museum.

El Escorial itself is a beautiful small town on the edge of one of Spain’s most iconic royal landmarks. It’s easy to overlook, but wandering the streets of this town, trying some local cuisine, and admiring the culture is a great way to complement your monastery experience.

It’s best to arrive by car, as the train & bus journey requires several stops. However, you can visit the monastery and the Valley of the Fallen on this guided tour.

castle on the hill with golden sunset behind it.

The stunning castle of Segovia is straight out of a Disney movie and you don’t want to miss seeing it up close.

10. Ribera del Duero

We’ve hinted that Madrid lies near some fantastic vineyards. With a visit to Ribera del Duero, you can forego the history and Renaissance buildings for a joyous exploration of Spanish wines.

The Ribera del Duero wine region lies two hours from downtown Madrid. A car is necessary to make this trip, although there are several wineries and tasting tours. These allow you to ditch the keys and the responsibility while ensuring you get to enjoy the region’s best drops.

But folks, it wouldn’t be Spain without some historic castles, including Peñafiel and Peñaranda de Duero castles. So if you have some spare time, go exploring the splendid countryside.