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Madrid plus day trips pre-Christmas

Afternoon! My husband and I are heading to Madrid with our 19 year old to visit his older brother & his girlfriend who are studying in Madrid just before Christmas.

We arrive on Sat Dec 18th.

Trying to determine our options for travel in/around Madrid and Spain in general for 4 days.

We have the option of staying in Madrid/Spain until Dec 27th, when we fly to London to see family. Meaning 9 days in Spain total, OR we might head up to the UK on Dec 23rd to share the holiday with family that lives there (so only 4 days in Spain).

This is our first time to Spain and our older son will still be in exams locally until midday Dec 21st.

There is so much to see in this amazing country, yet we are a little hamstrung by the impending holidays, as so much shuts down at that time. But it is all good, because who wouldn’t love a quiet promenade on an empty street in Madrid at Christmas time?

I keep reading on this forum that Cordoba is not to be missed. What about the Alhambra? Seville? How easy is it to do any of that in a short time? While we may be jet lagged, I am wondering if we arrive in Madrid on the Saturday and leave Sunday for a night or two out of town and come back on the Tuesday and do Madrid for two days before hoofing it to London…

Also, I hear the Christmas Markets are lovely in Madrid.

It is never good to cut short a stay in a new country if you don’t have to, but, again, the holidays are the dominating factor here, so would love to hear input about whether we are are ok in leaving Spain early, or should embrace our time there, despite the fact so much will be shut down.

I am conversationally fluent in both Spanish & French (as my older son is), while my husband and younger son can understand a small amount of Spanish, if that is to be taken into consideration, either.

Thanks for your help in advance!

Posted by
2764 posts

Where do you travel from? If east coast, hopping on a train to Cordoba upon arrival is no biggie. If you are coming from the west coast, then you might not want any more travel that day.
If you were staying for nine days, then a jaunt down to Sevilla or Cordoba would be fine. If you end up staying only four days, I'd just focus on Madrid (or maybe a day trip to Toledo).

Posted by
2764 posts

Yes I meant east or west coast because it makes a big difference on how ready you are to do anything else upon arrival.
Whatever you decide, check opening times, not necessarily due to holidays but just so you don't miss something. The Mezquita appears to be open on all days.
There is a fast train and Cordoba is small, so I would choose that over Sevilla, which I think would just be too much for only a couple days (and plenty of reason to come back).

Posted by
5263 posts

Cordoba is about a two-hour train ride from Madrid, you might consider going there for an overnight if it interests you enough. Seville and Granada are farther away, in different directions, and I think would be too far for your four-day timeframe.

Toledo is about a half-hour train ride from Madrid, which would work for a day trip or an overnight. Another day or overnight option might be Segovia, also about half an hour from Madrid (a different station).

But there's plenty to do and see in Madrid, especially if you have only four days, and especially if you're interested in art. You could spend a whole day in the Prado alone.

Posted by
5648 posts

If you’re in Madrid, nearby Segovia is a must-see.

Two trips to Spain in the past 30 years, and Cordoba hasn’t been included in either. On our most recent trip, we headed north after Madrid. The earlier trip, way back in 2002, Rick Steves didn’t even include it in his guidebook. It’s been added since, but wasn’t a must-see for us. Maybe next time.

Either way, Granada and its Alhambra is a must-see by anyone’s standards.

Posted by
475 posts

Hi, this brief passage from the novel, After Goya may persuade you to visit Córdoba:
'Hunched around a meander of the Guadalquivir river, a hundred miles or so upstream from its cousin Sevilla, he found Córdoba refreshingly free of overbaked Andalusian brag and swagger. He thought Córdoba a quietly confident and a confidently quiet city which welcomed visitors with a polite nod rather than a self-regarding fanfare. Córdoba wore its age and multi-layered antiquity well, he thought, and he knew his art history well enough to know the city once hosted the third holiest pilgrimage site in the Islamic world, and before that the capital of Roman Hispania Ulterior. He also knew that in contrast to a sluggardly dark tenth-century Europe Córdoba was once the very epicentre of all understanding and learning; an illumined, pre-Enlightenment, full-tilt laboratory of trade, science and culture – a Silicon Valley cum Alexandria cum Victorian London without the fog and rickets.'

FWIW the Christmas period in the UK is a lot trickier to negotiate than Spain.

Posted by
2 posts

My wife and son, 22, and I will be in Toledo for Christmas Eve - midnight mass at the cathedral.

Will the train be running from Toledo to Madrid on Christmas Day?

What one thing should we see in in Toledo, we arrive in Toledo from Seville on Christmas Eve and have to turn in our Avis rental car.

What will be open in Madrid on Christmas Day?

Where in Madrid is the best place to see Christmas lights/decorations.

Is there a best area to stay to get around in Madrid? We want to book an Airbnb, there’s plenty available. It would be great to stay with a family in Madrid.

Any and all suggestions are appreciated.

Thanks Rick for all you do.


Posted by
4171 posts

Djwatza - as yours is a completely different question, consider a new thread.

With the 4 days option I wouldn’t waste time on long transits. There is plenty to see in Madrid. For day trips consider Toledo, Ávila/Salamanca (Ávila is worth a few hours at most), Segovia, Cuenca, or Alcalá de Henares. Chinchón is probably good for a few hours as it is pretty small. With your 9 day option, then you could head south to Sevilla and Córdoba for a couple days.

Posted by
21311 posts

I'm a big fan of matching my destination(s) to the time I have available. Naturally one needs to consider one's own interests. Cordoba (about 1 hr. 40 min. by train) is definitely a worthwhile destination, and it's about 1 hour closer to Madrid than Seville (a much, much larger city) is. Granada also requires more train time than Cordoba, and trains aren't as frequent. I think Granada's a bit more manageable on a short visit than Seville but would not be inclined to go that far if I only had 4 days for Spain. I'd be willing to do Cordoba, but as pointed out there are closer possibilities.

I've been to all the places jaimeelsabio mentioned and agree about them--including that Avila is just not all that interesting. I see only one decently fast train to Salamanca in the morning (8:50 AM on a Monday), still taking 1 hr. 41 min. By comparison, Toledo and Segovia are only about 30 minutes away. For me Toledo has more sights, but that aqueduct is pretty special. Alcala de Henares is about 45 minutes away by super-frequent commuter rail (Line C2). It's a bit tricky to find the train schedule for Alcala de Henares, so here's the current weekday schedule to the University station there:

By virtue of being on the AVE line linking Madrid and Valencia, Cuenca has frequent fast-train service usually taking just under an hour. However, those trains go to a station outside town, requiring either a bus (not necessarily very frequent) or a taxi into town.

AVE tickets (which you'd also want if going to Cordoba, Seville or Granada) can be pricey if bought late in the game, so it would be smart to take a look at the schedule and fares for places that make your short list.

Posted by
2 posts

Where can I find a dependable holiday train schedule for Christmas Day from Toledo to Madrid?


Posted by
21311 posts

Renfe runs the trains (except for some regional services), so this will probably do the trick:

You'll be traveling from Madrid - Puerta de Atocha to Toledo. I see nine trains listed that day, the first one at 9:20 AM.

You don't have to worry about escalating ticket prices on that route, but trains do sometimes fill up. It can happen on the trip back to Madrid, too. It would probably be smart to buy the tickets once you're sure your trip is a "go" and have pinned down the travel times.

There's also bus service, if you find yourself in a bind, but it takes quite a bit longer.