When traveling, most people tend to stay around in the center of the city or town they visit, as by the rule the most important landmarks are usually located nearby. This is also the case when visiting Madrid, the capital city of Spain. Additionally, if you happen to find an apartment in the center of Madrid, the chances are you will probably spend your trip circulating around central area and visiting nearby landmarks, such as the Plaza Mayor, the Puerta del Sol, the Royal Palace, the Retiro Park, etc.
However, the outskirts of Madrid are just as interesting and worth visiting, which is why we would like to suggest some of the best locations which are good enough reason for you to think about visiting the outskirts of Madrid.
Alcalá de Henares
Alcalá de Henares is a small city 35 km east of Madrid, especially known by its historical center which is one of the UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. The city has been inhabited since the Bronze Age, being a home to many different cultures, that affected the region and played an important part in developing the scenery we know today. The city now has population of around 200,000 people and many historical sites that attract the tourists who want to explore the outskirts of Madrid.
One of the major landmarks in the city is certainly the university. The Universidad Complutense, which is known to be one of the oldest universities in the world, is actually founded in Alcalá de Henares in 1293. The university largely became popular during the Renaissance, but it was moved to Madrid in the 19th century. A new university, Universidad de Alcalá, was founded in 1977, occupying some of the old university buildings, as well as some newly built modern buildings.
Apart from the campus and wonderful old buildings that were built for the original university, Alcalá de Henares Cathedral is another architectural masterpiece you should visit in the city. The original chapel was built in the 5th century, but it was destroyed in the 11th, only to be rebuilt at the same place in the 11th century. Additional reconstructions and the process of adding a tower followed in the subsequent centuries, until finally the cathedral was declared a national monument in 1904. The Cathedral of Alcalá is notable as one of only two churches in the world to be granted the special title “Magistral”. Belgian St. Peter’s Church is the only other church in the world granted with this title.
The most important person to be born in Alcalá de Henares is Miguel de Cervantes, and the city hosts a ceremony the Cervantes Prize, on the 23rd of April, the anniversary of Cervantes’ death and the World’s Book Day.
Segovia is the capital of Segovia Province, located around 80 km away from Madrid city center. The old city of Segovia was declared as one of the World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1985, due to a number of historic buildings, as well as a lot of sites of Jewish origin.
Aqueduct of Segovia is perhaps the most famous site in Segovia dating back to Roman period. This Roman aqueduct is considered to be the best oldest preserved monument on the Iberian Peninsula, dating from the period between 1st and 2nd century.
Alcazar of Segovia is the royal palace, which is also worth visiting while you are in this area. The Alcazar was the favorite residence of the monarchs of the Kingdom of Castile, which is why it is also known as Fortress of the Kings of Castile. The historic data show that the palace dates back from the 12th century, but it may be even older as there is no information to confirm that the building existed prior to this period. Around the building there are two courtyards and two towers. You can visit the palace from 10 am in the morning during the entire year, but you should have in mind that there is an entrance fee for visiting the palace and the towers.
The view of the Alcazar from the heights of “El Parral” or “La Fuencisla”
Image source: http://www.alcazardesegovia.com/en/#section-multimedia
Segovia Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral located in the mains square of Segovia, the Plaza Mayor. Besides its historic and religious importance, the church is considered to be an architectural master piece, showcasing the best of Spanish architecture.
Segovia also has many beautiful gardens and parks, several museums, including the Gastronomic Museum of Segovia and the Museum of Witch Craft, and you can attend local festivals, most of which are held between June and September, including the biggest festival of all, Virgin of the Fuencisla, Patroness of Segovia, taking place on the 25th of September.
Located 70 km south of Madrid, Toledo is another one of the World Heritage Sites in the outskirts of Madrid. The town has been declared a cultural and monumental heritage in 1986 by UNESCO, as one of the best places to illustrate the merge of Christian, Muslim and Jewish culture. This is one of the reasons why the town is also known as “the city of three cultures”, where people and their different cultures co-existed over the centuries in the past.
Toledo is located on a mountaintop and surrounded by Tagus River on three sides. The Alcázar of Toledo is a fortress located in the highest part of Toledo, and perhaps the most important landmark you can visit in this town. It was used as a palace by the Romans back in the 3rd century, proving the long history and importance it had for Toledo and its inhabitants throughout the history. The Alcázar of Toledo is opened for visitors every day between 11 am and 5 pm, except on Wednesdays, when it is closed for visitors.
The Alcázar of Toledo located in the highest part of the city
Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Alc%C3%A1zar_atardeciente.jpg
Toledo Cathedral, fully named the Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo, is another landmark in the town of Toledo you should visit while you are exploring the outskirts of Madrid. It dates back to 13th century and it is built in Gothic style. Its richly designed interior and exterior is breathtaking and it represents a true masterpiece of the style and craftsmanship of the architects who set up the grounds, as well as those who participated in subsequent renovations and preservations of the church.
Toledo has been home to El Greco, a painter, sculptor and architect of the Spanish Renaissance, during his later years, so today the town of Toledo even has El Greco Museum, a house-museum designed as a recreation of the artist’s home, where several of his paintings are kept.
Toledo is also famous gastronomy center, with many different gastronomy tours organized in the town. The local cuisine is heavily influenced by the routed traditions of the three cultures that co-existed in this location, making it diverse and unique in many aspects. The most famous food productions in Toledo are Manchego cheese and marzipan.
Aranjuez is another town you should consider when you are visiting the outskirts of Madrid. It is located around 40 km south of Madrid. It has been one of the Royal Estates of the Crown of Spain since 16th century. Along with others, this town has also been enlisted as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1983.
One of the most notable landmarks in the town is certainly the Royal Palace of Aranjuez, the residence of the King of Spain. The palace is open for visitors as one of the Spanish royal sites. Besides the impressive building and intricate details on the façade of the palace, the huge gardens are also part of this amazing site, which has been worthy of being a residence of generations of Spanish royals. The Royal Palace of Aranjuez even features an art collection, which includes the Museo de la Vida en Palacio, displaying the daily lives of Spanish monarchs.
The view of the Royal Palace of Aranjuez
Image source: http://www.traveltosun.com/2011/06/16/the-royal-palace-of-aranjuez/
When it comes to festivals and local events, there are many events you could visit, and the most remarkable one is certainly the Mutiny of Aranjuez, organized during the first week of September. The events organized during this festival include funfair, sports events, food and drink stalls, a concert at the Royal Palace, dramatic streets re-enactment, fireworks, etc. This celebration is very important for the locals, it gathers a lot of visitors and it has been declared a cultural event of National Tourist interest.
The Royal Site of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, commonly known as El Escorial, is an hour drive away from Madrid and it represents a great place if you want to spend a day far from the city noise. El Escorial is a complex of buildings, representation of the Spanish Renaissance, as most of the complex was built during the second half of the 16th century. Due to the fact that it is located near Madrid, and yet holds such an immense value in terms of historical and cultural heritage, El Escorial is one of the most visited landmarks in the outskirts of Madrid.
This location was chosen by King Philip II of Spain for the place to construct a royal palace so this location represents an important site in the lives of the Spanish royals. The interior of the Escorial was decorated by many notable Spanish and Italian artists of the 16th and 17th century.
The complex consists of a royal palace, a monastery, a college, a church and a library. There are also towers in the corner of the complex. The basilica of San Lorenzo el Real, a Gothic cathedral, is located in the center of the building complex. The exterior is also beautifully decorated with gardens and fountains. While you walk around and explore, you will feel like you are able to vividly depict the life centuries back, where the complex and its beauty was just as impressive as nowadays, for tourists visiting the town.
El Escorial is open for visitors every day between 10 am and 8 pm between April and September, while the complex is closed at 6 pm during the period between October and March. The complex is closed on Mondays. Besides a tour of the actual complex, San Lorenzo de El Escorial is a small town perfect for walking around and enjoying the view of the mountains.
The view of the El Escorial’ façade and tower
Image source: https://pixabay.com/
Valley of the Fallen, in Spanish Valle de los Caídos, is a Catholic basilica in San Lorenzo de El Escorial which you can visit after El Escorial. It represents a historic monument for all the victims of the Spanish Civil War. The basilica is a product of the 20th century architecture, constructed under the influence of Spanish Neo-Herrerian style. You can visit this landmark any day of the week between 10 am and 7 pm, except on Mondays, when the site is closed for visitors.
As you can see, the outskirt of Madrid is just as impressive and worth visiting for all travelers who come to Madrid. If you choose one of the apartments in the center of Madrid, you can easily reach any of these places using a car, or going by bus or train. In case you are staying in Madrid for a couple of days, make sure you pick at least one of these places to visit on a day trip away from Madrid city center.