One of the greatest things about being in Europe is undoubtedly the opportunity it provides you to travel. Whenever you have the chance, you should most definitely take off for the weekend – be it to a European capital, to the Spanish coast, or even to the islands. As time and money are limited resources, however, this is not always feasible. Keep in mind, though, that there are many interesting destinations right here in Madrid that are well worth the visit. Here you are 5 places in Madrid you must visit.
Beautiful villages of the south and east of Madrid
Located just over forty kilometers to the south of Madrid city, near the confluence of the Tagus and Jarama Rivers, is the Real Sitio y Villa de Aranjuez. Originally chosen as a residence for the royal family by Philip II of Spain in 1560, this municipality boasts the Palacio Real de Aranjuez, one of several royal sites and palaces in Spain. Adjacent to the palace and along the Tagus are the many gardens which make the villa so famous, such as the Jardín del Parterre, Jardín de la Isla, and the Jardín del Príncipe. It also possesses numerous other historical buildings, including the Casa de Oficios y Caballeros, Casa de Empleados, Casa de Infantas, Iglesia de San Antonio, and Plaza de Toros. As the gardens are much the main attraction, Aranjuez is best visited in the springtime when everything is in bloom.
Also around forty kilometers away from the city, this time bearing to the southeast, is the picturesque town of Chinchón. Despite being so close to the capital, this municipality has managed to conserve its unique culture and appearance over the centuries, and is thus one the most compelling places to visit in the Community of Madrid. It’s most famous historical sight is its Plaza Mayor, the initial construction of which dates back as far as 1499, and which was named the fourth wonder of the region in 2008. The town hall is still located in its original building, and the plaza has been used over the years for a number activities, including comedic theater, medieval-style games, and bullfighting.
Another well-know historical sight is the state-run luxury hotel known as the Parador de Chinchón. A former monastery, the hotel combines centuries-old charm with modern amenities to create a one-of-a-kind experience in Madrid. In addition to offering accommodation, there is also a café/restaurant open to the public, which makes for a great stop-off during a walking tour. Although an afternoon is more than enough time to take in the sites, spending a night or so in the parador is certainly well worth it. In any case, make sure you don’t miss out on the opportunity to see this special place.
Alcalá de Henares
Roughly thirty-five kilometers to the northeast of Madrid you’ll find the city of Alcalá de Henares. The city’s name, which is of Arabic origin, means ‘Citadel on the Henares River’. Although it owes its name to its past Arabic-speaking inhabitants, the area of Alcalá has been inhabited since before the time of the Romans. As a result, the city is rich in archaeology and still has some Roman structures and architecture standing. The Casa de Hippolytus, which was built during the 3rd or 4th century AD, can be visited and possesses a perfectly-conserved period mosaic.
After the Roman era, Alcalá would later witness the peaceful coexistence of three different cultures during the Middle Ages: Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Today, the neighborhoods once inhabited by these distinct cultures can be visited via a walking tour near the city center. Also located in the center is the university, the primary reason for which Alcalá de Henares was named one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sights in 1998. The most emblematic of its buildings is the Colegio Mayor de San Ildefonso, which was originally designed by Cardinal Cisneros starting in 1499. In addition to the university, Alcalá is also know for being the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, considered to be Spain’s greatest writer and father of the modern novel; the house where he was born has been turned into a museum and is open to the public.
Mountain villages of Madrid
Heading northwest from the capital, at a distance of 56 kilometers, lies the town of Cercedilla. Set in the heart of the Guadarrama Mountains, it experiences snowy winters, yet mild summers, making it the perfect destination to escape the excessive heat in Madrid city during the summer months. The main attraction of this quaint, mountain village is the nature that surrounds it, which can be explored via the many trails in the area. In addition to hiking, however, you can also see a great deal of the sierra by taking the train to Cotos, allowing for stunning views of the mountains without getting your legs tired.
Beyond the trails and train is the Área Recreativa Las Berceas, which has one of, if not the most spectacular public swimming pool in the Community of Madrid. Although a bit pricey, this facility is definitely worth visiting due to the excellent views and the natural spring water used to fill the man-made pool. Also, due to its distance from the city, it’s rarely as crowded as the public pools in Madrid, which is nice on those days that are real scorchers.
San Lorenzo de El Escorial
Around the same distance from Madrid as Cercedilla, and also situated in the northwest of the region, is the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. The name of this municipality is synonymous with the monastery located there – El Real Monasterio de El Escorial. Just like the Royal Palace in Aranjuez, the monastery is a residence of the royal family and was also conceived by Philip II of Spain. One of the original purposes for building the structure was to serve as a necropolis for Philip’s parents: Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (Charles I of Spain) and Isabella of Portugal. This purpose has certainly been fulfilled as most successive monarchs and other members of the royal family have been buried there in the Royal Pantheon. The Royal Monastery is by far one of the most interesting places in the Community of Madrid and definitely deserves a visit. And of course, while you’re in town, be sure to have a meal at one of the many restaurants adjacent to it – you won’t be disappointed!