A weekend in Madrid is hardly enough time to get to see all that the city has to offer; however, if it’s not your first time visiting Spain’s capital, then you might have already heard about day trips to nearby locations that are definitely worthwhile. In addition to several small towns that encapsulate the traditional Castilian charm of the region, you can also head to El Escorial, which is less than an hour bus ride away and is a magnificent historical residence hosting great works of art. However, the two cities you must visit if you plan to go outside of Madrid are Toledo and Segovia.
Toledo is one of Spain’s most beautiful towns as it has been the hub in which many cultures have mixed and clashed throughout history, leaving behind an amazing architectural heritage. From Roman settlements to the Visigothic times and then Arabs rule and having Hebrew roots, nowadays, a visit is nothing short of an experience of the legacy of these cultures. Visitors can take a 30-minute high-speed train from Madrid to this city or a bus and then start their day trip at the 13th century High Gothic cathedrals, which will certainly blow them away with its intricate and glorious interiors. The Alcázar is another must during this visit, and it is in the highest part of Toledo, offering great views of this peculiar enclave and its surroundings. It was formerly used as a Roman palace, but it currently houses the Library of Castilla-La Mancha and the Army Museum.
Another historic building portraying Toledo’s multicultural background is the Synagogue of El Transito, which, based on its decorations, might remind travelers of Granada’s Alhambra. This synagogue was turned into a church when the Jews were expelled from Spain, and today, it hosts a museum. The Mosque of Cristo de la Luz is also well worth a visit as is the neighborhood it is located in, Puerta del Sol. Finally, and this is perhaps a well-kept secret that if you wish to see one of El Greco’s best work, head to the Iglesia de Santo Tomé, which was built over an old mosque. In it, and at the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, you can admire the painting of the “Burial of The Count of Orgaz”, which is widely considered to be one of El Greco’s masterpieces.
After a day well spent in Toledo and returning to Madrid to have a caña with a tapa and rest well, the next adventure should take you to Segovia. Also accessible by a high-speed train, it is primarily famous because of its well-preserved Roman aqueduct. With two tiers and 167 arches, it leaves no traveler indifferent and it is Segovia’s most important landmark. Another treasure found in this city is the Alcázar, which is a World Heritage Site and one of Spain’s most distinctive palaces. It was, in fact, where the place in which the famous and multifaceted King Alfonso X would spend the summer months with his troops, but nowadays serves as a museum and military archives building.
When in Segovia, you should also go to the Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso, which is approximately 20 minutes from the city center and hosts a series of incredible gardens with fountains that resemble those of Versailles. The palace itself is also grandiose with several rooms and chambers that seem to have remained the same throughout the centuries. And one important tip while in Segovia is to eat one of Spain’s best cochinillo (roast suckling pig) at the Restaurante Jose María. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget.
Once you head back to Madrid and if you’re still in the mood to go sightseeing, then head to the Convent of Las Descalzas Reales, which is located right in the heart of the capital between the Opera House and the commercial area of Callao Square. Not many know about this place and the innumerable works of art it hosts, which have been looked after by descalzas (barefoot) nuns for centuries. Although you might leave Madrid exhausted after this intense visit, you will soon find yourself longing for this friendly and captivating city surrounded by true gems.
In collaboration with Tamara Izko