Will be spending 7 nights in Madrid, looking for tips on side trips, train etc. Thanks!
Hope you have rented an apt. What time of year?
You should start by looking at a guidebook (perhaps Rick Steves Spain or Rick Steves Snapshot: Madrid and Toledo), which will have details on transportation and on the most popular daytrips from Madrid (El Escorial, Segovia, Toledo, Avila, etc). If you need more specific advice, you will need to give us more specifics too - like what are your interests, which of the standard side trips I listed are you planning on taking (or not taking), etc.
Everyone's interests differ, but 7 days in Madrid would be too much for me. I found 4 days to be plenty. I would suggest considering an overnight somewhere. While Toledo is typically done as a day trip, it was completely different after the day trippers left. I spent a week there and could've stayed longer… but I have a particular love for El Greco. Avila is a wonderful walled town, but too far away for a comfortable day trip. Overnight would be great. And although I've not been to Barcelona, it's definitely on my list, but it's a long haul from Madrid. A couple of nights might be more comfortable.
Two resource guides
Moon Guide To Spain
Both have great recommendations
My personal: Overnight in Toledo 1/2 hour away..the night time experience is completely different from that of the day time.
Prado, Park Retrio, City Hall at Plaza Cibeles -great views of the city. Palacio Real and the Cathederal Alumedena...be sure to see the museum at the side facing the Palacio Real..Calle Funercaral (spelling) great shopping, Gran Via,.great walking...Salamanca/Avilia two great long day trips, overnight in Salamanca if possible. El Escorial..good day trip.....
Don't think anyone mentioned Segovia as a daytrip. Very well worth it with it's Medieval town and incredible Roman aqueduct. Toledo is better with at least one night, two is awesome. But it's an easy daytrip by bus or train (buy the train tickets a day ahead because of long lines/waits). El Escorial is also a worthwhile trip and easy to get to by bus.
Trains don't work nearly as well as buses except for a few limited routes.
Potential day trips from Madrid include:
Toledo (I'd plan to spend at least one night) is cheaper and nicer than Madrid; our favorite "twisty streets" medieval center in Spain.
Avila (at least to see the wall, I think the best view is from a place called "four posts").
Segovia has a nice assortment of castle, aqueduct, cathedral, and older Templar church.
Valladolid (a little further out) some of the best castles in the country are here (Coca, La Mota, Penafiel).
Salamanca and/or Burgos, two great cities that don't get mobs of tourist crowds.
Pamplona (people like to see where the running of the bulls, festival of San Fermin, is held)
Olite (close to Pamplona), there is a great little castle here that belonged to the King of Navarre, part of current Spain and France.
St. Jean Pied de Port (also close to Pamplona) is one of the starting points for the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and a great little town.
San Sebastian, locals call it Donostia (the basque name), a really nice beach community (but pricey by Spanish standards) best in the hot months of summer.
Thanks everyone. We are going this summer. The town of Avila sounds interesting as have enjoyed walled towns in the past. Possibly an overnight to Barcelona to see the Segrada Familia. The town that has the castles also sounds interesting. Anyone know of great works of arts in the local churches? When we were in Rome we were able to get close to many works of the masters...The for all the info.
Seven days with Madrid as a base gives you lots of choices for day trips or side trips. The traditional places have been mentioned and all offer much to see. You can also consider places like La Granja de San Idelfonso, Aranjuez, Cuenca, El Escorial. Look them up and see if they interest you.
The cathedrals in Toledo and Segovia both have incredible works of art worth of museums. El Escorial too.
Just an FYI - A few of the places mentioned in Brad's post are not daytrips. They would require 1-2 nights.
I'd question going to Barcelona for one night to see one thing. It's one of the most popular destinations in Europe and can easily fill 3-5 nights. Save it for another time or split your time between Madrid and Barcelona.
Thanks Douglas. I think that is a good call to save Barcelona for another trip. Excited about Avila and Segovia. Looks to be interesting cities. Anyone have suggestions for food in these two cities?
For longer trip from Madrid which one would!d be best, Seville, Granada or Cordoba?
I think Granada is too far - too long of a train ride - for a day trip from Madrid. Either Seville or Cordoba is doable however. My recommendation would be to go to Cordoba and save Sevilla for a longer visit on another trip. I spent two days in Cordoba and found plenty to do and see, but the highlights (Mezquita, Roman bridge, Jewish barrio, etc) can be done in a daytrip via AVE.
Just got back from Spain a few weeks ago. I would spend the bulk of the time in Madrid. I would skip Toledo all together, to touristy, try something else for a side trip. I stayed the night there still not worth it.
We just returned from 7 days in Madrid. We spent 1 1/2 days in Toledo. It amazes me when people say 7 days in madrid is to long. Here was are week:
Day 1 - Saturday arrived at 7:30 , dropped suitcase at hotel, did Rick's walking tour puerto del sol palace loop. stopped and enjoyed churros, drinks and tapas. Went to bed early as we had been up over 24 hours.
Day 2 - went to Thyssen museum and the train station to get ave tickets to Toledo. Spent 3 hours getting tickets, should not have gone on Sunday. Get tickets on line - the machines in station would not take our credit card despite making sure we had a chip card, machines used the magnetic strip, so had to stand in line at ticket counter.
Day 3 - prado museum and Retiro park. We we at museum for 5 hours and felt we had to rush.
Day 4 - Palace (museum in itself), Almundena cathedral and Sofiia museum.
Day 5 - Ave to Toledo (21 euro)- hit main sites, cathedral , monastery, el Grecco museum , church that has his most famous painting, and generally walked around and enjoyed the city. We spent the night here.
Day 6 - stayed in Toledo for 1/2 day and walked back to the station - beautiful walk back over the
Bridge/river and return by Ava train (33 minutes). Back in Madrid we went to Bernabeu soccer stadium via metro.
Day 7 - we mainly just walked around the city hitting some things that we missed on our walks.
Day 8 - Saturday - left at 9:30 am for home.
These are just the main things we did, we did so much more such as visiting the convents for sweets, Sand Miguel market, enjoying the side walk cafés, calamari sandwiches, shopping, fountains, plaza Mayor, marzipan in Toledo, etc. We were on the go constantly.
If you do not enjoy museums then you could spend less time here. Ricks book was very helpful. Use the Metro it was so easy. For 12.50 euro you received 10 trips that two people could use. Just run it through and pass it to the next person. Unlike other subways with the 10 trip pass you don't have to pay extra for length or time of day. We would walk down to destinations and then metro back. We purchased Madrid Card because we did not want to wait in line, not for price, because it turned out to be more expensive. Turns out the first week in June is a good time to go, really no lines to speak of. Just wait about 30 minutes after sites open. But this is the first week in June, in the summer it will be packed. Also, check the museums when they are open - Sofia was closed on Monday and Thyssen closed on Tuesday.
We will go to Spain again and visit other areas - we really visited every place we wanted to and feel we have done Madrid and can move on to other cities.
A funny event - we were having the fried calamari sandwich where Rick recommended it and a girl walked in holding his book looking for the sandwich, we told her she was in the right place, I think she was happy to hear someone speak English.
I know I left stuff out but hopes this helps.
Thanks Sondra! This is just the type of information we can use, very helpful! Thanks so much!
What were your impressions based on what you completed. What "stayed" with you - something very pleased you did? We head there next month, with only 3 nights, and 3 kids in tow.
Lori I don't know how old your kids are but if they are young they probably don't like museums. The palace they might like especially the armory room. We did a lot of walking. If they are older they might enjoy the soccer stadium with all the hype around the cup in Brazil. My 14 year old grandson wanted a Real Madrid soccer shirt.
Breakfast is not big in Spain. We ate a couple breakfast in the hotel and some at other locations. If they like pancakes you won't find it. Deciding when and where to eat was always on our minds because they eat at different times than we do here and tapas are great but after a couple days of eating like that I craved vegetables. I only say this because I know kids are always saying they are hungry. Of course the have McDonalds.
Is there anything in particular they like?
Sondra I have 11 year old twins and a near 9 year old. My boy is definitely in the soccer stadium so we will probably do that as well. Correct, we won't do many museums and yes we will probably figure out a breakfast menu. We will most likely take a day trip, probably Toledo. Did you go to El Escorial (I can't see your post if I'm typing).
Douglas makes a good point. I labeled everything day trips from Madrid. In fact, Toledo, Avila, Segovia, El Escorial and a few other places are reasonable day trips. Others I listed are best for at least an overnight.
Lori we did not go to El Escorial as we wanted to go to the museums and didn't want to spend our time leaving the city. The problem with (a good problem) most European cities is that they seem to have an abundance of beautiful architecture and works of art, both in forms of paintings and frescos. When we went to England and drove all over we visited many churches that were wonderful but after a while it was like ok another beautiful church. Same thing with the el Grecco paintings - we have nothing to compare to the sheer number of paintings they have in Spain but after the first 100 your like ok I want to see something else - sensory overload.
With that said we will return to spain and next time probably drive into the country side and take in most of the towns mention above because there is still so much there I want to see. On our next trip Madrid will not be our base we will probably stay in places as we travel around.
I don't feel as if we missed anything we wanted to do in Madrid and had a wonderful time. If you go to Toledo just warn the kids there is a lot of walking and most seemed to be uphill! Without going to the muesums in Toledo the cathedral there is magnificent also enjoyed the monastery. The kids would probably enjoy the fast train to Toledo - makes it really easy to get to.
One suggestion would be where ever you go get tickets early you don't want to stand in line. We found that the first week in June was still cool in the mornings and first of the week was mid 70s by end of week low 80s in afternoon - low humidity. Coming from SC where we already had 90s and 90+ humidity it was wonderful. Also the crowds were really low. I will be interested to read how the crowds are when you go.
@Miranda-Segovia is the world epicenter or roast suckling pig (cochinillo asado), and we ate at its most famous source - Meson de Candido. The pig is so tender they can cut it with the edge of a dinner plate, which we saw done for a wedding party in the next room. We made a special trip from Madrid partly for the cochinillo, but to also see the Alcazar, the Aqueducto, and the town.
The Thyssen-Bornemisza was unexpectedly fabulous. We anticipated that it would be worthwhile, but the quality and variety of the art was truly stunning. MasterCard is sponsoring free afternoons there on Monday, but we didn't go then. Free entry is great, unless it results in a place being swamped with other bargain seekers, so don't know what the effect is, there.
also @Lori-we were in Madrid this past November with an apartment for a week, and visited El Escorial and Segovia. Without a car, we couldn't find a way to see both, have dinner in Segovia, and get back to Madrid the same day, so we stayed overnight in Segovia, using a combination of train and bus. Bag check at El Escorial (and at the Royal Palace in Madrid) requires a Euro coin to open the locker, but you get your Euro back at the end. When we visited the Royal Palace, there was a special exhibit on El Escorial, which provided a voucher that allowed you to visit El Escorial for free, but that exhibit may not still be there this summer. El Escorial is big and historic, and the displays of old construction tools and techniques for constructing the towers was interesting. There's a lot of walking and stairs, working your way thru the place, and after awhile, surrounded by masterful, large paintings, it was a little like, "OK, here are a bunch more paintings of saints," followed by "OK here are a whole bunch more royal family tombs (including that of the current king's younger brother). It might not be the highlight of a young kid's trip. We arrived in town just before the market closed, though, and assembled a great picnic to have in the park before visiting the huge palace/monastery, prior to our train to Segovia.