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Day Trip from Madrid to Toledo, and more

We are flying to Madrid in February for 11 day trip (2 adults and a 10 year old). After "unwinding" for a day or two in Madrid, would like to take the train for a day trip to Toledo. Would love to hear from others who have made that trip: Are the trains frequent enough to make planning easy? Is one day on Toledo sufficient? Any tips/warnings/suggestions? Past experience with organized day tours makes me wary unless there is a compelling reason to go that route.

The current plan, which is still evolving, is to rent a car after Toledo (probably back in Madrid) and driving south to see Sevilla, Granada and smaller towns before training back to Madrid for flight home.

Would love suggestions and recommendations from those who have made similar trips.

Thanks in advance.


Posted by
1178 posts

The trip from Madrid's Atocha station t0 Toledo takes approximately 1/2 hour on the AVE high speed train. Non stop, you arrive at the station on the edge of the city. From there I would suggest a taxi into the main area at Plaza Zodcover, or to the Cathedral. Toledo is see by walking, no outside cars are allowed in the area. There are web sites here which give ideas of what to see. My list for one day would be the Cathedral, allow two hours, with the hand held audio guide. There are tours available, but the hand held guide is excellent. From there walk to Plaza Zodocover, the heart of the city. At the plaza you will see the Keystone Arch, Walk through it and turn left at the bottom of the stairs. There is an excellent sidewalk café directly ahead of you. After your meal, walk back toward the Statue of Cervantes, turn left, and you will see the Museum de Santa Maria (think that is the is actually beside you as you eat your meal). Excellent displays which change from time to time. From there, walk back up the stairs through the Keystone arch, turn left and walk up to the Alcazar and visit the Military Museum, actually in the basement of the Alcazaar, you enter it from the back, lower side, of the building. This will take the most of the day.

The trains leave often, check the AVE Renfe site to see the schedule. You can purchase tickets at the time of the departure.

I would highly recommend spending the night in Toledo if your time permits. It is a different city once the day trippers have left. Hostal Posada De Manalo is a great choice, right beside the Cathederal.

As for Seville, etc., take the AVE train. It stops in Cordoba, and then continues on south. 2 1/2 hours from Atocha to Seville, about 2 hours to Cordoba. Better than driving!!

I will provide more information if you wish...just send a private message.

Posted by
79 posts

Thank you so much for such detailed information. We will look into the Posada you mentioned and I appreciate the offer for more info if necessary.

Posted by
79 posts

PS: If we stay in Toledo overnight, is it possible to take the train directly from Toledo to the south or must we backtrack to Madrid?

Thanks again.

Posted by
1259 posts

Recommend you follow the advice to take the AVE to Seville from Madrid. The train experience is great and ez. Show up at the station 30 minutes early, go through security and then you will board the train (completely in control of your luggage). Buy your tickets on line NOW at RENFE site. Using the RENFE site will be your biggest challenge, but it offers money saving opportunities. On Tripadvisor is a great report on how best to use RENFE step by step. Buy coach class tickets, the on board experience includes great seats, audio and video opportunities with free headset, a food car (not that great) and huge windows to watch the countryside breeze by. NOTE: you must commit to a specific time slot when purchasing the tickets and the tickets are only good for this train time (standard for everyone's tickets), so plan carefully. The AVE should be a great experience for a ten year old. The drive form Madrid to Seville is BORING!

Spend the time you desire in Seville and then you have the option of renting a car or taking trains/buses to your tour of Andalucia. If you desire to drive I recommend checking out the transportation page on RS for other travelers experiences. We utilized Autoeurope (a consolidator) and ended up picking up the car from Hertz. You should goto AAA and obtain an International Drivers Permit for $20. Take your passport and drivers license with you. The IDP is required by law in Spain and if you do not have it the fines are over 200 Euros to be paid on the spot. Don't take the risk. With three people and luggage I would not rent a compact, but an intermediate hatchback should suffice. Use caution with leaving anything of value in the vehicle. We found parking just outside the tourist zones to be ez and then take a walk into the tourist zone.

Driving in Spain is ez and the highways are great. Do pick up a GPS as they are quite helpful, the one we received from Hertz even gave warnings for known video speed traps. There is really no need to take a toll road.

From Seville to Ronda drive time is under two hours. Great bull ring and huge gorge which should hold a ten year olds attention.

From Seville to Granada drive time is four hours. DO NOT ATTEMPT to drive in old town Granada. You must book online your tickets for Alhambra. Read up on how to do this and carefully select the time desired you want to visit. The tickets are time stamped. Alhambra is great and should hold the attention of a ten year old, especially if you emphasize this is a location where princesses, princes, knights and moors walked the grounds. Get their imagination going and they will do the rest.

From Ronda to Granada is three hours.

Consider driving from Granada to Malaga via the coastal route. Under a three hour trip. Recommend dropping the car at the Malaga train station and taking the AVE from there back to Madrid. RS pans Malaga, we enjoyed it due to there being fewer tourist. There is a nice fort offering wonderful views of the Med, a harbor and a really nice old downtown area filled with nice shops and good restaurants.

TIP: use Google Earth street view to identify specific routes with attention to entrance/exits to highways and entering towns. I found it helps to find a building to use as a visual marker to provide reassurance I am at the right place. Takes away from of the anxiety of the travel.

Even with 11 days (hoping this does not include travel days to and from USA) visiting Madrid, Seville, Ronda, Granada and Malaga is ambitious (unless you are into saying you "were there" but not taking the time to create great memories). Finally, take the 10 year old into a Tapas bar and have them pick out tapas. It is a way to engage them and potentially expand their food universe!

Posted by
339 posts

We spent 18 days in Spain last fall. All by train. Flew into Barcelona where we stayed 5 days. High speed train to Madrid (just to change trains)then half an hour to Toledo for 2 nights. Really recommend spending the night in Toledo. It was one of our favorite places. From Toledo, quick train to Madrid and then south to Granada where we stayed an extra day (4 total I think) due to a country wide strike--couldn't go anywhere. Then train to Madrid where we stayed the rest of the trip. Flew home from Madrid.

We saw a lot of the Madrid train station before we spent any time in Madrid since it seems all the connections go through there. It was a fun trip and I didn't have the feeling that we were rushed or that we didn't have enough time to see everything we wanted to see. I am sure you know to get Alhambra tickets ahead of time. Because of the strike, the people who had tickets for the Alhambra missed out since it was also closed for the strike.

Posted by
5451 posts

Like you, I am suspicious about organized tours. But, partly because we could walk to the Trapsatur office, we found their daytrips very useful. On the Segovia tour, we were sorry we took their lunch because we could have eaten take-away while walking the city. But the Toledo lunch was with a view of the city from far out, and bus showed even more of those views. The value of their Segovia/Avila product is getting two important cities in one day. I remember that the lunch was entirely satisfactory, and fairly fast service for the group. Your mileage could vary.

If you chose it, before booking the Escorial tour, make sure that Valley of the Fallen has reopened. I don't have current information on that.

We actually trained onward to Seville and rented our car there, returning it in Granada. But that was almost three weeks. While it was nice to be able to drive to Carmona and Italica, the modern, underground parking in Seville was expensive and the European parking close-quarters scary for the Collision Insurance reasons. Rent the smallest car you dare. Can you drive a Standard?

Posted by
521 posts

Here was our experience attempting to visit Toledo - someone else may be able to chime in with what we could have done better. But basically we were on the fence about exploring Madrid one more day or going to Toledo. We decided on Toledo. We went to the train station and tried to purchase a ticket from the automated machines, which would have been fast and easy but they did not accept American credit cards - only the "chip & pin" kind. So we went to the room so we could purchase from and agent and it was PACKED! We took a number and waited about 15 minutes before it became clear we had no chance of making the next train and the one after even looked iffy. Moral of the story is - if it's important to you to see Toledo - buy your tickets ahead of time. Which was a theme of a few things in Spain (Sagrada Familia & Alhambra). I kept things a little too fast & loose and paid the price for it. (Except Alhamra, I was a good organized gal on that one). :)

Posted by
21709 posts

There is another moral. You could have used the bus. Because the rail system is not as extensive as the rest of Europe, a great bus system has developed. Cheap and sometimes faster than the train. In Spain using the bus system should not be overlooked. We used the buses for all of the above routes. The bus seating is not as comfortable as the train because of less space between seats but the bus get you closer to the local population and the towns. For trips of less than 2,3 hours we almost always consider the bus first. For longer trips the train has a comfort advantage.

In discussing your plan, I see no advantage for using a car in Toledo, Seville, and Granada.

Posted by
655 posts

Hi Bob...You have received lot of good advice here. It is a great trip. You may want to stick to public transportation. My wife and I have driven in Rome, in Paris, etc. and I agree that the Spanish highways are excellent BUT, our all time worst experience was our attempt to drive in Seville. We had reservations in the old city - we were fortunate not to have an accident. It is very confusing - we finally had to hire a cab to take us to our reserved B&B and we followed him there. That was followed by a confusing and expensive effort to park the car for the length of our visit. Take public transport. I would probably leave Madrid for last. From the airport, Toledo, Granada, Seville, make a loop with a return to Madrid. Its a marvelour trip, enjoy!

Posted by
5617 posts

A couple of notes: We were in Spain 3 weeks ago and while Madrid was cool, it was cold and rainy farther north and east. Locals carried umbrellas. Prepare for chilly weather in Feb.

Regarding Amy's train ticket machine experience, we have American chip & signature cards (Chase British Airways Visa), and to the surprise of many train station personnel, even without a P.I.N. our cards worked in the automatic ticket machines at train stations. However, they didn't work at the card-only automatic machine in the Segovia bus station, and we had to get in the long line for the machine that accepted cash as well as credit cards, since the ticket selling window closed (for lunch? long siesta break?) just as we approached it. And yes, the customer service/ticket purchase room at Atocha in Madrid always seemed packed with take-a-ticket-and-wait customers.

One difficulty is that for medium and short-distance trains, you can't purchase a ticket too early, it's valid for just a short time after it's purchased. Long distance tickets can and should be purchased in advance, especially if reservations are needed for seats. Some stations had very helpful, uniformed agents near the machines who helped us get the right tickets at the right time, and even get a replacement after we purchased tickets too early for the train we intended to take. We also missed a bus in Segovia due to a language misunderstanding and not asking someone else to confirm. So, bus or train, ask questions early and often, and reconfirm to ensure you have the right vehicle, at the right platform, at the right time, with the right ticket. All bags are x-rayed prior to boarding trains, but it's fast and less hostile than airport security.

Posted by
951 posts

What smaller towns are you referring to? I found Spain's bus and train system great. We trained from Madrid to Sevilla, Bused from Sevilla to Ronda (nice views), Bused from Ronda to Malaga (to be picked up by our hosts for mountain biking in Sierra Nevadas), bused from super small town Berchules to Granada, flew from Granada to Barcelona (for time purposes; we would have taken a train if it didn't take 11 hours). And yes, there is a turn style like aparatus that allows cars into the historic part of Granada if you have some kind of card that allows you in; cabs have them. I researched driving into Granada; you have to contact your hotel that might help you fill out the proper forms to be allowed into the historic city. I really found no need for a car for my trip. I know that having a car allows for a bit more freedom and time to get where you want to; I would rather let someone else to the driving so I can sit back and enjoy the views.

I am also one of those that if I have to backtrack to the original fly in city to fly out, I save it til the end. If i were doing your trip, I would fly into Madrid and get on a train to Granada (4-5 hours, so sleep/take a nap) or Sevilla (2.5 hours, sleep/take a nap) and do Toledo and Madrid on the back side.
THis is what I would do
1. Madrid and get to Sevilla
2. Sevilla
3. Sevilla
3. Ronda (or what ever small town you wanted to visit)
4. Granada
5. Granada
6 Toledo
7 Toledo
8 Madrid
9 Madrid
10 Madrid
11 Fly home

Posted by
1259 posts

Kelly has a sound plan and considering the 10 year old trains will probably be more fun.

Posted by
1878 posts

An overnight in Toledo is definitely recommended. If you do it as a day trip, do it on your own, for sure. Trains and buses are plenty frequent. Also, there are countries where a care is essential because the really interesting parts are not accessible by public transit and/or the countryside is especially beautiful (Ireland, France, England, Portugal). Spain is not one of those countries. The places you would, or should, want to go are very reachable by public transit. The stretch from Madrid down to Seville is like driving from S.F. to LA, ugly dry parched country. We rented a car for a few days on our trip in 2005, to go to Gibraltar. It was worth it for us because we had a sentimental attachment to Gibraltar, having previously visited on our honeymoon. On our next trip to Spain, I would not consider renting a car because the real action is in the cities.