Surrounded by a trifecta of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Madrid’s central location and status as a transportation hub within Spain makes getting out and exploring the surrounding towns a breeze. Here are some great places to spend an afternoon out of the city and further explore Spanish culture.
Just a short (about 30 minutes) train ride from Madrid, Toledo is a walled town surrounded on three sides by the Tagus River. Toledo’s cobbled streets and narrow alleyways are full of history and the town, a former capital of Spain, has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Just wandering around this quaint, picturesque town makes the trip worth it, though those interested in history and architecture will find plenty to see and do.
Visit the 15th century Cathedral to see paintings by Titian, Goya, Raphael and El Greco, who called Toledo home in his later years. Explore the military barracks and marvel at the beauty of churches like San Juan de Los Reyes and the Jesuits Church. Wander the Alcazar castle, which was nearly destroyed in 1936 and then rebuilt, and stroll along the defensive ramparts of the city walls.
Toledo is known for its excellence in crafting swords. Merchants sell ornately designed swords all over town, and will ship them directly home for you. Ceramics and a gold and black enamel, often used to make plates and spoons, are also popular souvenirs. Sit in the Plaza de Zocodover to relax and people-watch or browse the Tuesday market and explore the shops and cafes on Calle Santo Tomé.
El Escorial is another UNESCO World Heritage site close to Madrid with trains regularly making the 45 km journey between the two towns. The town is most famous for being the location of Spain’s largest monastery, the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial.
Built in the 16th century, the Monastery was created by King Philip II as a mausoleum. The grounds now contain a basilica with gilt bronze statues, a monastery, a beautiful library, and living quarters. The remains of Phillip II and his parents, Charles V and the Empress Isabel of Portugal, are housed here. The Chapter House showcases a collection of paintings from masters like Titian and Tintoretto and houses El Greco’s work, “The Martyrdom of St. Maurice”.
Home to yet another UNESCO site, Segovia is about 2 hours by train from Madrid. While you could easily spend a few days here, you can get a good taste of the city in an afternoon. Segovia’s main attraction is its 1st century Roman aqueduct, an engineering marvel that brought water to the city. Azoguejo Square provides a great vantage point for viewing the aqueduct.
Segovia’s Alcázar, known as the inspiration for Cinderella’s castle in the Disney cartoon, was the site of King Philip II’s wedding and is currently a museum. The 18th century Gothic Cathedral and Museo de Segovia, home to historical artifacts and art, are also worth a visit to further understand the area’s rich history and culture.
Written by Katie Hammel for EuropeUpClose.com