As a city Madrid left me feeling a little uninspired. Other than the two amazing art museums of the Prado Museum and the Sofia Museum, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Spain’s capital. For me, the best thing about Madrid was the wide range of fantastic day trips that you can do while using Madrid as a base. Hence why I wanted to put this guide together on the best day trips from Madrid.
Madrid is surrounded by some truly fantastic smaller towns, many of which are UNESCO World Heritage listed and most of which are located less than an hour by train or bus from the city.
I managed to visit four of these towns, although I had plans to visit two more. Those plans were cut when I decided to head to San Sebastian, but they are on my list for a future visit to Spain.
The reason a lot of these towns work perfectly as day trips is because for budget or student travellers like myself there is a distinct lack of budget accommodation in many of these places. Hence it makes sense to book a cheap hostel in Madrid and head out on some day trips.
The other reason is a reason I’ve brought up before when mentioning the value of a day trip; picking a base and doing day trips means you have to pack and move around less. This becomes a huge benefit when you are travelling long term as moving can be very tiring and time consuming.
The Best Day Trips from Madrid- Avila
I didn’t actually do this city as a day trip from Madrid. Without realising the difficulty of finding a hostel in this small city, I booked a ticket on the overnight train from Lisbon to Madrid only as far as Avila. I’d planned to spend one night here before heading either to Salamanca or Segovia.
After a quick check of hostelworld and hotel websites I soon realised my mistake and instead stashed my bag in a locker at the bus station and spent the day exploring Avila before heading to Salamanca in the afternoon (where I was able to find a cheap room).
I thought Avila was simply stunning. I’ve worked out by this point in my trip that my love for a town can be very biased by the weather when I’m there. Hence I’ll admit that much of my love for Avila was shaped by the beautiful and sunny day I had while there.
Avila is UNESCO listed because of its historic old town, and in particular its Extra-Muros Churches and Roman walls. Hence the first thing I did in Avila was spend more than an hour walking along these walls. In Europe there are plenty of opportunities to see Roman ruins and fortified cities but Avila was definitely special for me.
My previous experience with city walls (with the exception of Chester, in the UK) is usually of pieces of walls scattered throughout the city. Instead Avila’s walls are remarkably intact, all the way around.
Whilst you can’t walk the whole round trip (one part of the wall is intact but not structurally sound), you can clearly see a complete wall.
It was also clear that it has been recently restored as the wall didn’t have the characteristic black pollution spots of many old buildings. When you combine that with the scenery of the Spanish countyside and hills in the distance, Avila is simply breathtaking.
After walking along the wall, I jumped down and walked back to the main part of town through the winding streets and small alleyways of the old town. It was a very charming walk. I absolutely love cities I can just wander around and get lost in and still happen upon something beautiful.
The churches in Avila are also worth visiting, both of them were very beautiful from the outside, although I was prevented from going inside because it was a Sunday morning when I visited and services were going on.
How to get there from Madrid
Trains to Avila depart frequently from Chamartin Station. The trip takes 1.5 hours and costs around €10.
Buses leave every other hour from Sur station (Metro stop Mendez Alvaro). The trip takes 1.5 hours and costs around €8.
Both the bus and the train station are located around a ten minute walk from the old town.
The Best Day Trips from Madrid- Segovia
Whilst Segovia is only 45 minutes from Avila, I did this town as a proper day trip while I was in Madrid. The proximity of Segovia and Avila means that many tour companies in Madrid offer a combination trip where you visit both of these cities in the one day.
As always I like to save my money and avoid organised crowds by doing as much as I can independently. I know there are a couple of ways to do both in one day on your own by using the bus connection between Avila and Segovia, but I feel that could be slightly rushed.
My best piece of advice for exploring any small town is to start your trip with a visit to the local tourism office. They’ll be able to help you plan your day, and inform you of all the places that can’t be missed.
I left the Segovia tourism office with a map and a route marked on it. In the afternoon I spent in Segovia I managed to fall in love with this small town.
Given the sunny day I decided I’d much rather see Segovia from the outside rather than the inside. Hence I walked around the town and saw the famous aqueduct of Segovia, Segovia’s famous church (my personal favourite) and the amazing Alcazar of Segovia.
But I didn’t go inside any of these buildings. It’s something you could consider if you had more time on your hands.
The thing I loved so much about Segovia is how unique it feels. The castle (Alcazar) and church had an architecture and design that I couldn’t really compare to anything else I had seen so far on my trip.
Given how easy it is to get to Segovia and just how beautiful it is, I’d definitely prioritise visiting here if you only have one day for a day trip.
How to get there from Madrid
Trains depart Chamartin Station relatively frequently. This line is serviced by a fast train so the trip only takes half an hour and tickets cost around €10 each way.
It was far easier for me to get to the bus station than Chamartin Station from my hostel so I went with the bus option. Buses to Segovia leave almost every half an hour from Moncloa bus station on metro lines 3 and 6. The trip takes 1 hour and costs €15 for a return fare.
The bus station is located about a ten minute walk from the centre of town while I believe the train station is a little bit more inconvenient.
The Best Day Trips from Madrid- Toledo
Toledo is Madrid’s most popular day trip. It seems to be the place that everyone goes if they are going to get out of Madrid. It was also the capital of Spain when Spain was ruled by the Visigoths. I’m not 100% sure my opinion of Toledo is an honest one, given that on the day I visited Toledo I was coming down with a cold.
I remember waking up on my last day in Madrid and despite feeling terrible, I was stubborn enough to stick to my plan of going to visit Toledo. I was so wrecked and out of it I remember crying in a square of Toledo because I couldn’t take a good picture. The weather forecast had lied when it said it was going to be sunny all day.
But after my first hour in Toledo the sun came out and my cranky sick self was able to enjoy exploring the city.
There is certainly lots to do in Toledo and many opportunities for some magnificent photos.
I loved the small streets and the architecture. There is a distinct lack of modernism in Toledo and the result is you feel like you are stepping back in time.
The main part of Toledo is also located at the top of a hill and a river, which looks almost like a moat, surrounds it. This provides the perfect opportunity for some pretty nice pictures.
Some tour companies offer combined tours to both Toledo and El Escorial in one day, but I think Toledo deserves a whole day and I have a feeling the tour would feel really rushed. It’s far easier to arrive on public transport and do it yourself.
How to get there from Madrid
Trains leave every hour from Atocha Station. The trip only takes half an hour and costs €13 each way.
Buses leave from Plaza Eliptica every half hour. The journey only costs €5 each way but takes an hour and a half. This is a good option if you are looking to save some money.
Whilst you can walk into Toledo from both the bus and train station it is all uphill. There are local buses (5, 5D, 51, 61 and 62 ) that leave from the train station and from the bus station (5 or 12) for only €1.40 euros each way.
The Best Day Trips from Madrid- Salamanca
I am really hesitant to label Salamanca as a day trip from Madrid, because I think it deserves an overnight stay. That’s at least what I did when I visited Salamanca. But with the fast Spanish rail system it is possible to do this in one day if you are willing to leave very early in the morning and get back late.
Out of all the smaller towns I visited in Spain, Salamanca was my favourite. It was one of my first destinations in Spain and it was everything I imagined Spain to be.
Outside of San Sebastian, I had the best food in Salamanca of my whole trip in Spain. I managed to find two exceptional tapas restaurants that weren’t overly expensive. I’d absolutely recommend visiting Cuzco Bodega and iPan iVino for tapas.
At both I ate a delicious array of more traditional type tapas, as well as some experimental dishes. I ate ham iberico burritos, crunchy chicken and mango ravioli, ham toast, goats cheese and caramelised onion toast and tuna tartare. It was a brilliant start to my food tour of Spain.
I also found an excellent restaurant, Hispania 20 with the cheapest degustation menu I’ve ever seen. I stuffed my face full of food and a glass of wine for the price of 29 euros.
Outside of a wonderful culinary scene, Salamanca is bursting with history. Unlike other small towns where there is one magnificent building that you must see, Salamanca is scattered in many beautiful buildings.
Whilst I’d say the absolute best is Salamanca’s famous square, Plaza Mayor, you also can’t leave without exploring all of their churches, the area around the university and just wandering the town’s small streets. Must sees are the old cathedral, the new cathedral, Casa de las Conchas, La Rana de Salamanca and Clerecia.
How to get there from Madrid
The fast train only takes 1.5 hours from Madrid Chamartin station, but they only leave roughly every two hours. The ticket costs €27 each way.
As I said above my recommendation is to do this as an overnight train. In which case you may save some money on the train by booking the slower train (only costs €24) or looking for ridesharing on Bla Bla Car which is widely used in Spain.
Other Day Trips
As always seems to be the case with me and day trips, I also find that I’ve tried to squeeze too much in and I end up having to skip some places.
The two other trips I had planned were to El Escorial where there is meant to be a phenomenal monastery and to the beautiful town of Cuenca (although I think that would have been a bit too far anyways).
In fact I think with a bit more research I could have found at least another five amazing day trips from Madrid. Whilst the city itself isn’t somewhere I’d return, the region around it is phenomenal! And definitely something I’ll have to go back to explore.
How to get there from Madrid
El Escorial- The journey takes one hour on the C8 Commuter Line from Atocha Station (and some other stations in Madrid). Fares cost €3.30 each way.
Cuenca- The fast train to Cuenca leaves from Madrid Atocha every 1.5 hours. The fare costs between €24 and €32 each way, although you can pick up cheaper fares if you book in advance.
Where Should I Stay in Madrid?
If you are a budget traveller or are just looking to make some friends, hostels are always the best places to stay. I stayed at Ok! Madrid Hostel and it was brilliant. I couldn’t fault the facilities or the atmosphere.
AirBnB is also a great option if you are on a budget or looking for a bit of space.
For all of your bookings, whether hostel or hotel I always recommend Booking.com, specifically because most of the time you can make a reservation without a deposit and many bookings are fully cancellable and refundable. I love being able to lock in my accomodation early, but then shift things around if my plans change!