Last Updated on May 18, 2023
By Jim Ferri
If you’ve ever spent a few days in Madrid, you’ve likely considered taking a day trip from the Spanish capital. Many travelers do.
After all, Spain has a wealth of attractions that are just a bus- or train ride out of the capital. And they’re all so temptingly close for those of us with the “well-we’ve-come-this-far” mentality. All we need to do is contact a travel agency that runs day trips. Or book a rail ticket online or at the station. It’s relatively easy.
I enjoy day trips wherever I travel. Some have been guided tours, others self-guided. I’ve taken both from Madrid and have enjoyed them.
But you don’t always need to join a tour group to see some great places when you’re putting together a day trip. For example, there are delightful day trips from Madrid that you can easily do on your own.
Here are seven-day trips from Madrid to beautiful places in Spain. Five of them are close to Madrid. The shortest is 33 minutes, and the longest is 1¾ hours.
If you’d like to go farther afield, I’ve also included trips to Barcelona and Seville. Each trip is 2½ hours each way, which is doable with early morning departures. Remember when making reservations only to choose high-speed trains, which are also highly comfortable.
If you have a Eurail pass, or other rail pass, that’s valid for a specific time frame, you’ll likely not have to pay for train travel. Read the fine print, of course, or call the issuer.
A word of warning, however. These are day trips from Madrid, so you can’t see an entire city. To make the best use of your time, concentrate initially on the central part of the old city, which is often the most interesting area anyway.
The Train to Toledo
Madrid Station: Puerta De Atocha Station
Price: US$9 – US$12
Only a half-hour by train south of Madrid, Toledo is a great, easy day trip. Toledo is the city that is best known for El Greco, who lived here in the 16th century. At one time, it was also known as the “city of three cultures” due to its Christian, Jewish, and Muslim populations.
The most prominent building in the city is the imposing Alcazar. It’s an immense square building – the first square fortress with towers – with its roots in Roman times. Today it’s the home of the city’s Army Museum.
Toledo’s medieval historic quarter – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is a warren of winding, narrow streets. Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful quarter in a charming city. Once there, be sure to visit the magnificent Toledo Cathedral. You could spend hours just viewing the Monarch’s Chapel and the famous gold monstrance. There are also beautiful paintings in the sacristy. If you enjoy art, you’ll likely find the El Greco Museum in the Jewish quarter of interest.
If there is time before you leave for your return to Madrid on your day trip, see the city lit up at night – it’s spectacular.
A Day Trip to Segovia
Madrid Station: Madrid Sol
Duration: 1h 4m
Price: US$12 – US$34
Note: change of trains in Chamartin
It’s a beautiful city and a lot more relaxed than Toledo since it gets fewer tourists. That’s also likely the reason it’s a favorite place for Madrialeños to go for lunch on the weekends.
View the Cathedral on the town’s main square and walk up the street to the Alcazar, the fortified palace. Some regard it as the inspiration for Disney’s famous castle. If you climb the 152 steps in its tower, you’ll see a beautiful view of the city.
Wander about the Old Town, perhaps lunching in a restaurant on suckling pig, the area’s best-known dish.
Marvel At San Lorenzo de El Escorial
Madrid Station: Principe Pio
Price: US$7 – US$10 one way
People make a day trip from Madrid to El Escorial to view its most famous attraction – the Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. It’s a World Heritage site that attracts 500,000 visitors each year.
The vast 16th- century complex is more than just a monastery, however. It is the largest Renaissance building in the world and a historical residence of the King of Spain. It’s also home to a Royal tomb, a basilica, a palace, and an extensive library.
A Day Trip to Córdoba
Madrid Station: Puerta De Atocha
Duration: 1h 44m
Price: US$23 – US$75
Before visiting, I knew very little about Córdoba in Andalusia, but I quickly fell in love with the city. It’s mesmerizing.
At the top of the list of things to see are the Cathedral and Great Mosque (the Mezquita). The two are one since a Renaissance cathedral was built inside the Great Mosque of Cordoba, the third largest in the world. It’s stunning inside.
Another Spanish city with a melding of Christian, Islamic, Jewish, and Roman cultures, its old town is a fascinating place to walk and explore with its colored tiles, fountains, and flowers everywhere. You’ll experience the four cultures in the Great Mosque, the Alcázar de Los Reyes Cristianos, the Synagogue, and the Roman bridge.
Leave time to stroll through the gardens of the Renaissance Palacio de Viana.
Visit the Walled City of Ávila
Madrid Station: Principe Pio Station
Duration: 1h 28m
Price: US$11 – US$14
Another World Heritage City in Castilla y León, Avila’s most impressive feature is its city wall. It has a perimeter of more than 1½ miles (2,500 meters), with 87 towers and nine gates. It’s the world’s best-conserved city wall, and you can walk along its top for unique views of the city.
The city’s other sights include the Cathedral of the Saviour (the oldest Spanish Gothic Cathedral and part of the city wall), Basilica of San Vicente (the most exemplary Romanesque architecture in Spain), and the Convent and Museum of Santa Teresa (the birthplace of Saint Teresa).
A Day Trip to Beautiful Barcelona
Madrid Station: Puerta De Atocha Station
Duration: 2h 30m
Price: US$55 – US$120
Considered one of Europe’s trendiest cities, Barcelona is famous for its Art Nouveau and Gaudí architecture. It is a fantastic city for art and architecture, for which it is renowned worldwide. It’s most famous sights – the Sagrada Familia (still under construction), Parc Güell, Casa Batlló and La Pedrera are the works of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí.
But there is much more to Barcelona than architecture. See the beautiful Palau de la Música Catalana concert hall, the National Art Museum of Catalonia, and the Cathedral. Also, don’t miss the Picasso Museum and Fundació Joan Miró.
Walk along the renowned Las Ramblas and the traditional market La Boquería and dine in tapas bars.
You won’t see everything since there’s so much to see. But choose carefully and end your day trip on a late train back to Madrid.
A Day Trip to Sevilla
Madrid Station: Puerta De Atocha
Duration: 2h 34m
Price: US$30 – US$95
Sevilla is a great city that, like all of these on this list of day trips from Madrid roundup, you can’t see all of it in a day. The key is to concentrate on the center of the old city.
Your primary focus should be on the Real Alcázar (Royal Palace). It’s UNESCO World Heritage Site and the oldest Royal Palace still in use in Europe. Across the street from the entrance to the palace is the city’s colossal Cathedral, containing the tomb of Christopher Columbus.
If you enjoy art visit the Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts). It’s set in a restored convent and has the most incredible Spanish art collection outside the Prado in Madrid.
Although the heart of the old city is Barrio de Santa Cruz, leave time to visit other barrios such as La Macarena. You may also want to visit Plaza de Espana, built for the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition, and the famous Maestranza bullring. The latter is revered in this city, where people are passionate about bullfighting.