You can either book a day trip through a tour operator or do it on your own. Either way, going outside Madrid for a day of exploration and new adventures is a good way to spend your time while in Spain. Here are some recommended day trips:
Barcelona: Take the high-speed rail AVE (from the Puerta de Atocha Station). The trip would be about 2 hours and 45 minutes. Once you get there, spend some time strolling down Barrio Gotic. Must sees in Barcelona would be the impressive architecture by Gaudi including the Parc Guell and the Sagrada Familia. You can also ride the harbor cable car and get to see panoramic views of several districts from above.
Toledo: The trip from Toledo to Madrid via the high-speed train only takes 30 minutes. Interesting attractions in Toledo are the Cathedral, the Iglesia de Santo Tome which houses El Greco’s artwork “El Entierro del Conde de Orgaz”, the Sinagoga del Transito and the Mesquita de Cristo de la Luz. Toledo is also known for souvenir items such as swords, damascene and ceramics so be on the lookout for shops that sell any of these to take back home with you. Try the mazapan, Toledo’s sweet specialty.
Sevilla: Although pricey, taking the high-speed AVE train to Seville is still the easiest and fastest way (the trip takes approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes). Sevilla has some attractions that have been named UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Alcazar, the Cathedral and the Archivo General de Indias. Spend some time strolling around Plaza de Espana and Plaza de America and if there’s more time, visit the Museum of Fine Arts of Sevilla.
Cordoba: Consider your options on getting there before taking a trip to Cordoba: a roundtrip high-speed train ticket from Madrid to Cordoba costs around 90 euros but only takes 2 hours, while a bus ticket goes for 15 euros and takes almost 5 hours from one point to the next. If you’re taking the bus it might be more practical to spend more than a day as there are plenty of interesting attractions to see in this historic city – from ancient Roman architecture to its medieval churches and parks.
Segovia: You can take the AVE high-speed train from the Chamartin Station for a 30-minute trip to Segovia. If there’s one thing to see in this city, it’s the famous Roman Aqueduct, preserved for more than 2000 years. There is also the Alcazar of Segovia and the Cathedral along with many other historic churches and buildings. Sit down for a hearty lunch of cochinillo (roasted suckling pig), Segovia’s specialty.
Valencia: A bus trip from Madrid to Valencia goes for only 25 euros but takes 4 hours, while the AVE train can get you to the city in about 1 hour and 30 minutes but will set you back about 80 euros. Either way, plan your trip to get the most out of your time in Valencia. Walk through the winding streets of Barrio del Carmen, visit the La Llotja de la Seda (Silk Exchange Market) and the City of Arts and Sciences. Once you’ve worked up an appetite from all the sightseeing, go for paella for lunch. Also try horchata, another Valencia specialty.
Avila: Spend the entire day soaking up on the sights of Avila, declared a UNESCO Heritage of Mankind city. Points of interest would include the walls and towers, the Cathedral, Basilica de San Vicente, Ermita de San Segundo and the Roman aqueduct. Pick up a box of Yemas de Santa Teresa from any pastry shop.
El Escorial: El Escorial is just 45 kilometers off the city of Madrid so you can just take the local train. Visit the Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial, the La Fresneda, Church of St. Barnabas and the other religious monuments.
Aranjuez: Take the local train from the Chamartin station to get to Aranjuez. The town has also been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site mainly for its cultural landscape. The main attraction is the Palacio Real de Aranjuez, aside from the historical churches and the picturesque gardens.
El Valle del los Caidos: From El Escorial you can take a bus that goes to the historic sight. The monument – created during the regime of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco – was built as a burial ground for those who died during the Spanish Civil War. The Basilica is also one other sight to behold with its impessive dome, the crypt and the esplanade.