Until the year 1561, Toledo was the capital of Spain. It stands 70km south of Madrid, easily accessible by train (30 mins with Renfe) and coach, (1hr). This lovely medieval city offers a great day out. From the gothic cathedral and the alcazar castle, to the historical swords and souvenirs. If you only have a few days in Madrid and want to do a Day trip then Toledo would be my first recommendation.
Towering over the rooftops, Segovia’s Roman-built aqueduct, (made entirely without any cement or concrete) really captures you as you enter the city. Segovia also benefits from the high speed Renfe train so you can be there in under half an hour. Another attraction in Segovia is the impressive Alcazar on the other side of the city, some say that the castle from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty was based on this fairy tale construction. (The views from the towers are definitely worth the climb). Not so much for vegetarians, but Segovia is renowned for it’s suckling pig. It’s quite expensive but for all you carnivores out there, you shouldn’t go to Segovia without tasting it – believe me!
One of the Spanish Royal sites and a world heritage site, the Escorial functions as a monastery, royal palace, and school. More than 500,000 people visit it every year. There are two main parts: the monastery and the royal hunting lodge, where you will find amazing artwork of Spanish victories and the Patheon of the Kings, where all the Spanish kings and queens are buried. Expect to be impressed by the marble walls and the gold plated bronze. The Escorial is well kept by the monks who still live there – an Augustinian order.
Famous for it’s royal palace and 741 acres of gardens, Aranjuez is also known for its asparagus and strawberries, and as a breeding site for butterflies. Running every Saturday and Sunday from late April until mid October, (except July & August) the most recommended transport would be on the classic steam train, “Tren de la Fresa” which dates back over a 160 years. You can buy your tickets from Atocha Station where the train departs at 10am and returns at 19:25. Included in the ticket price are the entrance to the palace and its gardens, a plate of Aranjuez’s strawberries, (see photo, below) and of course the spectacular 50 minute steam train journey.
You used to be able to reach Alcalá de Henares on one street (Calle Alcalá) directly from Puerta del Sol. Nowadays people just take the train or coach. It was the birth place of Miguel de Cervantes (author of Don Quixote – sometimes called the best book ever written) so if you can go there in April, the King of Spain presents the “Cervantes Prize” to the author of the best book in the Spanish language from the preceding year. The city still cherishes it’s medieval theme, with cobbled streets and divided quarters. Alcalá has the reputation of the city with 3 cultures, Jewish, Moorish & Christian. Make sure you get photos with the statue of Cervantes and Sancho Panza outside Cervantes’ birthplace.