My two friends and I will be flying into Madrid mid-May 2020 for a 10 day tour. We're arriving two days early so that we can do a one day trip to Salamanca. Should we go directly to Salamanca from the airport, in which case we would book a hotel there overnight. The second thought is, going to our hotel in Madrid, leaving most of our luggage there, and doing a day trip to Salamanca. The third idea is to leave most of our luggage in Madrid and book a hotel in Salamanca for one night, in which case we will be paying for two hotels. I'm 83 and dealing with a large suitcase and a carry-on might not be a great idea. If we go from the Madrid hotel, I thought we would book an all day tour which also includes Avila. I am really looking forward to input from fellow travelers because no matter what, I'm determined to visit Salamanca (God willing.)
Salamanca is a bit far for a day trip in my opinion. I'd rather go there straight from the airport, there are direct buses operated by Avanza Bus that take less than three hours and solve your luggage issue since you don't have to drag it around to the train station in Madrid.
I don’t know about train time, but it takes about 2 hours by car from the airport to Salamanca. For your age, a tour makes a lot of sense since the tour would pick you up, drop you off, and would include the popular sights in Salamanca and Avila. Avila is only worth a couple hours. Other than the wall, there’s not much to it. Go for it.
As noted, Salamanca's rather far from Madrid. The ALVIA train is faster than the bus from the airport, but even the train takes over 1-1/2 hours. And it doesn't run very often. There's an 8:55 AM departure that gets to Salamanca at 10:31 AM. There are ALVIAs returning at 3:55 PM (obviously too early) and 8:40 PM. There's a slower train at 5:57 PM. Those times are for weekdays.
I can vouch for the comparative ease of managing a large suitcase by bus (straight into the hold it goes) vs. by train. So I'd opt for the bus from the airport, myself.
Keep in mind that Salamanca has a large historic area. I agree that there's not much to see in Avila. I'm sure I wouldn't have been happy with a bus tour from Madrid that tried to cover both places in one day.
We visited Salamanca as a part of a tour of Portugal that included a seven day Douro River cruise. It is a great city to visit, but I think a very long day trip from Madrid.
We spend most of a day there, and loved the city.
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Have a wonderful trip!