This UNESCO heritage city is bursting with history, very important specially since the 16th century.
Alcala de Henares is an university city and there is also many good places for tapas, in most places for less than 3€ you get a drink with a big tapa of your choice.
You can get there in 40min from Atocha Station in Madrid.
Where to start? There are so many exciting and beautiful places to visit within easy travelling distance of Madrid, but I would recommend the World Heritage Site of El Escorial, about 40 minutes by the regular (and cheap) suburban train service from Chamartin station, and site of the vast former palace of the kings of Spain, which contains also a monastery and the magnificent Basilica of San Lorenzo. Guided tours, at around 7€, are well worth it. The magnificence of the state rooms, and especially the opulence of the vast library, are not to be missed, and make El Escorial a visit of prime importance in central Spain. As if that were not enough, close by is the Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen), the basilica carved into a rocky hillside and built by Franco as a tribute to all those who lost their lives in Spain’s disastrous civil war. Here again, one marvels at the sheer magnitude of the site, which is on the huge scale of the foolishness which it commemorates. To complete a tour of the unforgettable delights of this corner of Madrid’s environs, the city of Segovia – another World Heritage Site – is not to be missed, with its amazing Roman aqueduct at least on the scale of the Pont du Gard and its charming old town dominated by a magnificent cathedral and topped off by its clifftop chateau.
Take the train from Atocha station, Madrid, to El Escorial.
Google map: bit.ly/Yw9vnB
A visit to these sites will provide a day of contrasts. In San Lorenzo de El Escorial is the monastery/palace created by Philip II as the last resting place of his parents, Charles I of Spain (Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) and Isabella of Portugal. Now the mausoleum holds the remains of all but two Spanish kings, their wives, children and near relatives. Enjoy the views of the Sierra de Guadarrama and visit the library, the Hall of Battles, the Art Gallery, the domestic apartments and the gardens. Of particular interest is the royal bedroom, with its window onto the high altar of the Basilica so that Philip could observe mass from his sick bed.
Six miles from El Escorial is the Valle de los Caidos (The Valley of the Fallen). The National Park holds the remains of 40,000 Spaniards who died in the Civil War (1936-39). The basilica built on General Franco’s orders between 1940 and 1959 is in the grandiose style so typical of 20th century totalitarian regimes. The vast cathedral tunnelled into the mountainside, with a 150m. cross above, serves as the tomb for the dictator and José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Spanish Falange party, executed by the Republicans in 1936. It remains controversial, with disputes over the working conditions and the number of Franco’s prisoners of war who died during its construction, as well as the location of Franco's tomb. The Basilica was closed in 2009 by the socialist government, only to be reopened in 2012 by the current conservative Popular Party government. A visit will give you plenty to think about.
Both are about 50 kms from Madrid. A suburban rail line from Atocha station or the 664 from Moncloa bus station both take about an hour to reach El Escorial, though the bus drops you much closer to the monastery. Public transport to The Valley of the Fallen is more difficult. Buses leave from El Escorial but often leave you with a long walk to the monument. Check before you travel. Organised guided tours are available and may ease travel issues.
Google map: bit.ly/Yw9vnB
Start early and take a 30 minute train journey to Segovia for a day bursting with history. The first view of the vast Roman aqueduct, built with 25,000 granite blocks with no mortar, is breathtaking. The Alcazar with its towers, throne room and Hall of Kings, has a superb location and views to match; no wonder it became a favourite residence of Castilian monarchs. Visit the cathedral, other fine churches, the Jewish quarter, or just explore the streets to soak up the medieval atmosphere and take in a museum. Don't ignore the temptation to have a drink/tapas in a bar or enjoy a meal in one of the restaurants serving regional specialities, such as suckling pig.
AVANT train: Madrid - Segovia, 12.50 Euros.
Google map: Google map: bit.ly/XMhZMe
The Romans knew a thing or two about locating cities and never more than in selecting the most specular site in Spain for Segovia.
Getting there is simple, a quick journey on Madrid’s excellent metro, a late breakfast at Chamartin station and take a frequent train to Segovia.
A short bus ride takes you to the foot of the Roman aqueduct which was still in use until the end of the 19th century. A short walk through the walled city gates will take you past the 16th century city cathedral and on to the fairy tale Alcazar. Swallow your disbelief for the 19th century reconstruction and take in the amazing view.
This still leaves plenty of time to dawdle on the way back, be awed by the aqueduct again and get back to Madrid in time for a gentle stroll to decide on tapas venues.
Google map: Google map: bit.ly/XMhZMe
Manzanares el Real is a village located 50km to the north of Madrid by the Pedriza protected park, amid a stunning landscape. The village has lots to see including the Mendoza Castle, one of the best preserved medieval fortresses in Spain. You will also enjoy the old castle ruins (Castillo Viejo), the Cañada Real Bridge, the church of Nuestra Señora de las Nieves, founded in the early 14th century and the first paper factory in Spain.
Manzanares el Real offers a wide variety of local cuisine and leisure activities such as Medieval Weekends, a Tapas Fair and all the annual local festivities.
Bus No.724 from Plaza de Castilla (50 minutes journey approx)
The castle is open from October to May (10am to 17pm) and from June to September (10am to 18pm). Mondays closed.
Google map: bit.ly/ZxKlUV
Easy 50 minute bus ride from Madrid. Go to see the unique cobbled Plaza Mayor with its whitewashed houses and wooden balconies then stroll through the narrow streets perhaps up to the Iglesia de la Asuncion to see a Goya painting. Or else sit under the arches of the plaza and enjoy a glass of anis in its ancestral home, before lunch in one of the many restaurants. Recommended are the Meson Cuevas de Vino with its own bodega or the more reasonably priced Meson del Duende. There is also a very attractive parador nearby housed in a sixteenth century monastery with a good restaurant.
Chinchon. 30 miles south east of Madrid. Easily accessible by bus. Frequent and regular service.
Google map: bit.ly/12j9JCW
With its fairy tale castle and abundant historic churches the small town of Segovia is a pleasant day trip from Madrid. The real star of the show however is the world's largest and best-preserved Roman aqueduct towering over the town centre. With typical Spanish nonchalance there is very little fanfare just an incredible sense of history as you admire this amazing ancient structure nestling cheek-by-jowl next to unassuming cafe bars. A word of warning. The mountain setting is beautiful in the winter but beware the biting cold wind.
Google map: bit.ly/XMhZMe
A day trip to Alcala de Henares. An alternative to religious Spain but with plenty of culture and history. It is both the birthplace to Spain's Shakespeare (Cervantes) and home to one of Europe's oldest universities. South of the station is the interesting old town with a couple of museums dedicated to Cervantes, the charming University of Alcala and the oldest surviving theatre in Europe, recently renovated. It is very well served by rail from Atocha (every 15 minutes or so) and is close enough to round off a trip to Alcala de Henares by returning to Atocha and heading in to the Retiro Park for a relaxing drink and tapas alfresco in one of the many outdoor cafes. While perhaps not as pretty as Segovia it is more manageable and interesting.
Alcala de Henares is about 30 km west from Madrid. Nearest train station - Alcala de Henares
Google map: bit.ly/16Xmcxi
This town, 45km from Madrid, is recognizable in the distance by its houses clustered together on hilltops. Chinchón has much to offer for a day out and lots of sightseeing.
Chinchón has a beautiful medieval square formed by houses of two and three floors with running balconies, which has been the scene of a great many events, presentations and even movies. The square turns into a bullring during the town fiestas. It hosts nice mesones where you can taste typical tapas including “Chorizo al Infierno” (grilled chorizo).
As well as its characteristic Plaza Mayor, with its wooden balconies and flat galleries, you should also visit the church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (1534-1626), which was sacked and burned by Napoleonic troops in 1808 and which hosts the magnificent painting of La Asunción de la Virgen, painted by Goya (Goya’s brother was a priest in this church). The old Convent of the Augustine nuns (from the 18th Century) has a beautiful cloister and has now been turned into a Parador where you can go for lunch or dinner or even stay the night.
Other buildings of interest are: the convent of the Nuns of the Order of St. Clare, from the 17th century; the clock tower, belonging to the old parish church of Nuestra Señora de Gracia and the remains of a 15th century castle, rebuilt between 1590 and 1598 by the third Count of Chinchón and also burned in 1808 by Napoleonic forces.
While in Madrid you can take a train to Aranzuez, around an hour's trip on which they celebrate and eat strawberries each spring, served by staff in costume, stopping in Aranzuez, a charming town that was a royal residential palace. You can tour this, or if preferred go to the Aranzuez gardens, the place that inspired Rodrigos' 'In the Gardens of Aranzuez' classical piece. On the same line you can continue your day trip to Toledo, around 40 minutes train ride or so, a fascinating fortified citadel on a lovely hill with a beautiful blue river in the valley below. Toledo has a history dating back to the Visigoths. Both Aranzuez and Toledo offer lovely resaurants and caffes and children are always welcomed as is delightfully usual. The same train line will return you to Madrid central station via Aranzuez. Fares are low, a little higher on the specific strawberry train, with strawberries provided of course! Allow a longish day as the trip really is interesting for all tastes and preferences. Madrid will still be open and buzzing when you return, into the small hours.
Chinchon is a Spanish town and municipality 50km southeast of Madrid. Visit the Neolithic remains, Goya's brother's house,the medieval castle or the church of Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion for an early work by Goya.Had enough of culture? visit for one of the many festivals and enjoy the locally distilled anisette and suckling pig. Or maybe catch a bullfight?
This museum is probably one of the smallest you will see as it has only one room containing 17th century paintings of Madrid and two large wooden models showing how Madrid would have looked in the 17th century (you will have to use your imagination and geographical knowledge to recognise buildings such as the royal palace and the cathedral as they are not indicated on the models). A video screen taking you on imaginary walks through 17th century Madrid is interesting as it shows you which buildings of 17th century Madrid still exist today and which ones have disappeared over the centuries as Madrid has got ever bigger. Entry is free .
calle Fuencarral, 78
Nearest metro station: Tribunal
Google map: bit.ly/UCsTlX
The Spanish have their own version of the tooth fairy albeit in mouse form and he is known to Spanish children as Ratóncito Pérez. Hidden away in a tiny shopping centre in central Madrid is a cute tiny golden statue of this famous Ratóncito Pérez. Upstairs on the first floor of the shopping centre is a small museum dedicated to the history behind this mouse.
This street really reveals the hidden cafes and restaurants favoured by Madrileños such as La Brocense which is on this street.
Do not miss the 16th century pharmacy on the corner of calle Lope de Vega and calle León. On the outside of the pharmacy there are azulejo tiles and inside at the back of the shop as you go into it is an old till from when the pharmacy originally opened. On calle Lope de Vega itself there is also the convento San Ildefonso (which can be easily missed as it does not stand out from the buildings around it) where Miguel Cervantes is buried (the convent is not open to the public but a plaque on the outside of the building telling us that Cervantes is buried here is what you need to look for). Do not be fooled into thinking that this street is where Lope de Vega lived. The house where he actually lived is preserved as a museum and can be found on the next street on the right called calle Cervantes. Calle Lope de Vega is also a short cut to the Prado museum from Antón Martín metro station. If you follow calle Lope de Vega to is end it will bring you onto the paseo de Prado and the Prado museum is in front of you across the boulevard.
Nearest metro station: Antón Martín
Exit Antón Martín metro station and turn left onto calle Atocha. Cross calle Atocha and take the next street on your right. This is calle León. Go up calle León
and take the third street on the right which is calle Lope de Vega (you will see the pharmacy on your right hand side on the corner of calle Lope de Vega)
Calle de Lope de Vega, 30, 28014 Madrid, Spain
+34 914 29 00 99
Google map: bit.ly/UCdgcY
This atmospheric town house is the former home of Spain's foremost "Golden Age" playwright - Lope de Vega who lived here for 25 years. A 17th-century gem with delightful gardens at the back, it's well worth the visit. Entry is free.
Calle de Cervantes 11, 28014, Madrid
+34 914 29 92 16
Nearest metro station: Antón Martín
Google map: bit.ly/SjC5bB
It is these small little known museums which really make Madrid a great city to visit. It is off the tourist trail but is still really worth seeing especially as it is one of the musuems in Madrid which has free entry all of the time. The friendly and enthusiastic staff will happily give a guided tour (in Spanish) of this museum which is set in the abandoned station of Chamberí which is in exactly the same state as it was left in when the station closed forever in 1966. A video explains
(in Spanish only) the entire history of Madrid's metro network. The only thing which reminds you that this time capsule is set in modern Madrid are the modern metro trains which thunder through the abandoned station (a safety barrier along one of the platforms prevents you falling from onto the tracks as you admire the untouched 1920s posters adorning the walls).
This abandoned station is so worth seeing so visit it!
Nearest metro station - Bilbao
Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday only
Google map: bit.ly/Rf7Sfg
This museum lies witihn the golden triangle of must see museums in Madrid - Prado, Thyssen & Reina Sofia so it is easily missed out because it isn't as prominent as the others. However this museum is worth a visit even if you are not that interested in ships and all things naval as it contains some fabulous paintings of famous explorers such as Christopher Columbus and Hernan Cortés, Spanish kings and queens, dictators and important politicians thus providing a focused and contextualised view of Spanish history. But do not ignore the other naval exhibits such as the first known European map to show North America, armour, compasses and plenty of early navigational instruments. The entry fee is four euros.
These are the most useful metro stops to tourists in Madrid. The name of the metro station and the nearest site(s) of interest it serves are all listed below:
Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, c/Mayor,
Plaza de la Villa, Casa de la Villa, Monasterio Descalzas Reales
GRAN VÍA -
Palacio Real, Catedral de la Almudena, Teatro Real, Jardines Campo del Moro
Plaza de Colón, Biblioteca Nacional,
PLAZA DE ESPAÑA -
Edificio España, Torre de Madrid,
Monumento a Cervantes, Templo de Debod, Palacio del Senado, museo Cerralbo
BANCO DE ESPAÑA -
Museo del Prado, Paseo del Prado, museo Thyssen, museo naval, iglesia San Jerónimos, Congreso de los Diputados, Fuente de Neptuno, Fuente de Cibeles, Palacio de Cibeles (the main post office is located in this building), Ayuntamiento
Puerta de Alcalá, Monumento a Alfonso XII, Palacio de Velázquez, Palacio de Cristal, Estatua del Ángel Caído
ATOCHA RENFE - Monumento victimas 11-M
Atocha train station, Reina Sofia art museum, Gta Emperador Carlos V, Caixaforum
PUERTA DE TOLEDO -
Puerta de Toledo, San Francisco el grande
LA LATINA - El Rastro market
SANTIAGO BERNABÉU -
Santiago Bernabéu football stadium
PLAZA DE CASTILLA -
Plaza de Castilla, Edificio Europa
BILBAO/IGLESIA - Anden 0
TRIBUNAL - Museo de Historia de Madrid
Madrid's main cathedral built to honour Madrid's patroness - the Almudena Virgin.
Please respect those in the cathedral who are praying in this glorious building by keeping as quiet as you can. Look up and marvel at the beautifully coloured ceilings (the dome is particularly beautiful). Entry is free but a donation of one to two euros is suggested
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