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9 Easy Day Trips from Madrid (by Train)

Madrid is a cool city, and we’ve even got an action-packed 3-day itinerary for it. But if you have 4-5 days to spend in the area, it’s a great idea to base yourself in the city center and take a few day trips from Madrid by train.

We’ve taken some of these day trips ourselves, but we wanted to provide you with a Madrid day trip list that had a lot of variety in terms of architecture, art, history and culture. So, we’ve teamed up with a few of our travel blogger buddies to round out the list.

What follows are nine amazing day trips that are easily done by train. Some of these cities are as close as 30 minutes away and none are further than two hours. So, if you are willing to get an early start, you can have a ton of time to spend out in Spain’s historic countryside.

Madrid day trips- El Escorial Monastery courtyard
The Monastery courtyard at El Escorial.

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How To Navigate the Spanish Rail Network

Each of the Madrid day trips below has logistical information about which train station and service to use, assuming that you are staying in Central Madrid. But buying the right ticket from Renfe can be confusing because there are several different train networks that serve these outer cities, and they are each called something different.

So, here’s a quick primer on which lines serve these train-based day trips from Madrid.

Madrid has two major train stations (Chamartín and Atocha) which serve all distances. Atocha is in central Madrid and a fairly easy walk or bus ride from most tourist hotels. It’s actually two stations in one, with the faster AVE and Avant trains using one area, and the local Cercanías trains using another. So, pay attention to signage.

Chamartín is north of the city center and can be reached by the metro or the C4/C3 Cercanías trains.

The city is also served by a network of commuter and Intercity trains, with the Sol, Principe Pio and Recoletos stations being the most relevant for the day trips below.

AVE trains: These are very fast, long distance connections between major cities, such as Madrid and Valencia or Zaragoza (on the list below). These trains have assigned seating.

Alvia trains: These are fast (but not as fast as AVE) trains that have long-range service to even more cities. These trains have assigned seating.

Avant trains: These are fast trains that run a medium distance, such as between Madrid and Toledo or Segovia (also below). These trains have assigned seating.

Intercity trains: These are slower, traditional trains that run medium to long distances, such as between Madrid and Ávila. They are sometimes labeled “MD” on Renfe.

Cercanías trains: This is a network of slower, commuter trains that run to a number of smaller suburban stations, as well as Atocha and Chamartín. They serve destinations like El Escorial and Alcalá de Henares. These trains have open seating.

The faster the train, the more expensive the ticket. For the fast trains, you can often save money by booking in advance. For the slower trains or the Cercanías, you can just show up and buy a ticket on the fly.

Top 9 Day Trips from Madrid by Train

With those logistics out of the way, let’s get to those day trips. All of these have been chosen because they offer a cool mix of Spanish heritage and culture AND they are two hours or less by train. And for those that are just a :30 train ride, you can even do them as a 1/2 day trip or combine two together.

The trips are listed top to bottom from the shortest train ride to the longest.

Segovia Spain city view
Photo courtesy of Emily from Wander Lush.

Segovia Day Trip

Recommended by Emily of Wander-Lush

Just 30 minutes from the capital by high-speed train, Segovia is an easy Madrid day trip for history buffs and architecture aficionados.

Segovia is synonymous with three things: its Roman aqueduct, its castle, and its medieval cathedral. This trio of landmarks all lie within walking distance of each other in the upper part of the city.

The Aqueduct of Segovia, with its 167 soaring brick arches, dominates the old town and historic Jewish Quarter. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985, it was built around 50 BC and is a magnificent feat of engineering. Climb the stairs to view the aqueduct from above, or find a table at one of the cafes in the Plaza del Azoguejo for an early lunch with the aqueduct as your backdrop. Cordero asado roasted lamb is a popular local dish and appears on most restaurant menus.

The Catedral de Segovia was consecrated in 1768 and is one of the last Gothic-style cathedrals to be built in Europe. The interior boasts stunning stained glass and frescoes. Upgrade to a tower tour to climb to the highest point of the cathedral for a panoramic city view.

Your final stop is the Alcázar de Segovia, which famously inspired Walt Disney’s designs for the castle in Cinderella. A former royal palace for the kings of Castile, it dates to at least 1122 and combines Gothic, Romanesque and Mudejar influences. After walking the grounds and soaking up yet more beautiful views of Castile and León’s plains, pop inside for a look at the ornate rooms and the artillery museum.

Train logistics: Served by the Avant (cheaper) and Alvia lines multiple times per hour from Chamartín station. The ride takes ~28 minutes.

Old town Toledo Spain from the overlook

Toledo Day Trip

There’s a lot to do in Toledo and you could easily keep yourself busy by spending the night there. But it’s possible to cover the top sites of this interesting town as a Madrid day trip.

The town was founded by the Romans because its geography gave them a hilly bird’s eye view (for defense) and the local Tagus river (for drinking water). Spain’s history often has a linear timeline that included the Moors living in Spain, then the Jews, then the Spaniards.

But Toledo is unique in that they all lived there at the same time…and fairly peaceably. You can learn more about that on a free walking tour. Then spend the rest of the day visiting the Santa Iglesia cathedral, the Santa Maria synagogue, the Alcazar fortress and military museum, the Mezquita Cristo de la Luz (which is a former mosque) and the El Greco museum.

Train Logistics: Take Avant train from Atocha. The ride takes only 35 minutes. You can walk or take a €5 cab ride into the old town. BUT– spend an extra €5 and have the cab driver take you the long way into town via the overlook on the south side of town. It has great views of the town and river and is a picturesque cheapie tour.

Calle Mayor Alcala de Henares Spain
Photo courtesy of Or of My Path in the World.

Alcalá de Henares Day Trip

Recommended by Or of My Path in the World 

With a UNESCO-listed historic center and university, Roman ruins, and points of interest connected to one of the most iconic novelists in history, the city of Alcalá de Henares is a must-take day trip from Madrid by train.

This overlooked city is the birthplace of the infamous author of Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes, which means you can visit the house where he was born and raised. The main square is also named after him – Plaza de Cervantes – and is probably one of the most beautiful squares in all of Spain.

Next, marvel at the facade of Alcalá’s university, one of the oldest in the world, and head to Calle Mayor, which was the main street of the Jewish quarter and one of the most important business streets in the city.

Other things to do in Alcalá de Henares include visiting the archeological sites of the House of Hippolytus and the Roman City of Complutum, touring the 19th-century Neo-Mudejar Laredo Palace, visiting the Regional Archaeological Museum, and admiring the 13th-century Archbishop’s Palace.

Train Logistics: Take the Cercanías C2/C7 from the Atocha or Recoleta stations. The trains run every 10-15 minutes and the ride will take ~:45, dropping you into the center of the city.

Cliff houses over the Cuenca Spain gorge
Clifftop buildings of Cuenca.

Cuenca Day Trip

These day trips are positively stuffed with UNESCO World Heritage sites and Cuenca is no exception. The city (literally) hangs over the Río Huécar river gorge. The hanging houses, or casas colgadas, are one of the main attractions in town. You can get some Instagrammable views of them by crossing the river on the San Pablo bridge.

You can get yet more views by walking the 3.4 mile (5/k) Recreo Peral trail or part of the Travesía del Sistema trail, which goes through Cuenca’s well-preserved old town.

In addition to the old town, Cuenca also has the very cool Spanish Abstract Art Museum, which is quite a palette cleanser from all of the UNESCO heritage.

Train Logistics: Take the AVE from Atocha. Trains leave roughly every hour and take 55 minutes. From the station, it’s a :20 walk or bus ride to the cathedral.

Spain El Escorial Monastery library
The lovely Renaissance library in El Escorial.

El Escorial Day Trip

El Escorial was once the summer palace for Spanish royalty. The complex is a nesting doll of history which includes a Renaissance palace inside of a cathedral inside of monastery– with a stunning library to boot!

The architecture has classical Renaissance elements and the interior is positively stuffed with treasures such as a lovely cloister, frescoes, classical Spanish paintings (from artists like Goya), ceiling murals, masterful inlaid wood doors, a marble-carved mausoleum and formal gardens. And the library is such eye-candy that it made our list of the most beautiful libraries in the world.

The Parque de Casita Principe is a lovely oasis and you can tour the casita. After you are finished with your self-guided El Escorial tour, you can head just a block north into the main part of town for lunch on the main plaza.

Train Logistics: Take the Cercanías C3 line from Atocha, Puerto Sol or Chamartín stations. The ride takes about an hour. Take the nice 20 minute walk west through the Parque de Casita Principe to get to the main site.

Zaragoza Spain cathedral
(Photo courtesy of Roxanne of Far Away World.)

Zaragoza Day Trip

Recommended by Roxanne of Far Away World.

Once an independent kingdom, Spain’s fifth-largest city, Zaragoza, makes an excellent day trip from Madrid by train because of the smooth, fast ride on the AVE train.

Despite not seeing as many visitors as Valencia, Malaga or Seville, there’s a huge amount to see in Zaragoza. The jewel of the city is the Cathedral-Basilica of the Lady of the Pillar, currently a Baroque building which, according to legend, was built by the Apostle James after seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary. Other attractions worth seeing include the Roman Forum and city walls, the stunning Moorish Aljafería Palace, and the Mudejar-style churches.

Zaragoza’s Old Town is a pleasure to wander through, the architectural styles reflecting the city’s 2,000-year-old history, and there are a number of bars and cafes to choose from if you want to stop for food or a drink.

Train Logistics: Take the AVE train from Atocha, which leaves once per hour. The train stops at the main station, which is a reasonable distance from the historical center, however there are frequent and convenient buses connecting the two.

Avila Spain day trip city walls
(Photo courtesy of Becki of Meet Me in Departures.)

Ávila Day Trip

Recommended by Becki of Meet Me In Departures.

The gorgeous city of Ávila is one of the best preserved Medieval cities in Europe. It has UNESCO world heritage status and is famous for its immaculately preserved city walls. Parts of the wall date back to the 11th century.

The main thing to do here is the wall walk, of course. This can be done as a guided tour, or with an audio guide. The route around Ávila city walls is about 2.5km long. There are plenty of steps going up and down from some of the 82 towers and nine gates dotted along the route. You can’t do the entire circuit in one go, it’s divided into two separate sections.

Other highlights are the fifteenth-century Santo Tomás Royal Monastery and Ávila Cathedral, which is the oldest Spanish Gothic cathedral. If you’re visiting in winter, then you’ll find pop-up traditional Spanish Christmas market stalls along the main square.

Ávila an easy day trip from Madrid by train, and although you could spend an entire day there, you can also combine it with the trip to Segovia, connecting the two with a :45 bus ride.

Train logistics: Served by an Intercity MD train about once an hour from Principe Pio. The ride takes ~1.5 hours. From there, it’s about a 10-minute, well-signposted walk to the town center, depending on how often you stop to take photos. 

Valencia Spain fountain
(Photo courtesy of Laura of Travelers Universe.)

Valencia Day Trip

Recommended by Laura of Travelers Universe

Valencia is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city that harmoniously combines two thousand years of history with the most innovative and avant-garde buildings.

Among the best things to do in Valencia is taking a stroll through the Old Town, one of the largest historic centers in Europe, to discover a rich artistic heritage. Visit the imposing Gothic cathedral and its famous Miguelete bell tower, the Plaza de la Virgen, the Town Hall, and the Post Office, the Silk Exchange (a Gothic building declared a UNESCO Heritage Site), and the Central Market.

In the afternoon, get a cab to the City of Arts and Sciences, to see the most avant-garde buildings, including the Reina Sofía opera, the Príncipe Felipe science museum, and l’Umbracle, a huge green area covered by floating arches. L’Hemisfèric, an impressive 3D IMAX projection room in the shape of a human eye. And if that’s not enough for you, the Oceanographic, the largest marine complex in Europe, is also here.

And don’t forget to try the Valencian paella, the world famous Spanish dish, in one of the local restaurants.

Train Logistics: Served by an AVE train from Atocha. The ride takes ~1:45 minutes. Valencia’s Sorolla station is centrally located and you can take the bus or an easy walk to the city center.

Mezquita Cordoba spain
The most photographed features of the building, the 856 red and white arches or columns, are really breathtaking. (photo courtesy of Paula from Spain Travel Hub.)

Córdoba Day Trip

Recommended by Paula of Spain Travel Hub

With 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sites calling Córdoba home, the <2 hour train ride from Madrid is very much worthwhile. The city has a diverse cultural heritage; it was once conquered by Romans, Visigoths, and Muslims and as a result is home to some of the most outstanding architecture in Spain.

On a day trip to Cordoba, you will be best to focus just on the old town, which is itself one of the listed sites.

Start your visit with the star of the show, the Mezquita or Grand Mosque. Built in 786 by Abd Al-Rahman, it combines Roman and Byzantine styles with traditional Arabic decoration and is one of the most significant religious buildings in all of Europe.

Next up, pop into Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, the Medieval Alcazar is only a couple of minutes’ walk from the Mezquita. The Alcazar has been everything from a royal residence to an Inquisition prison. Climbing to the top of the towers offers a rather breathtaking view.

To experience the next site, the Cordoba Patio Festival, you will need to visit in the first two weeks of May. At this time of year, hundreds of stunning gardens in the city are open to the public. If you visit at other times of year, take a walk along Calleja de Las Flores, one of the most famous streets. You might even like to squeeze in a visit to the Patio Museum – Palacio de Viana on your way back to the station.

The final UNESCO site is the Medina Azahara. If you want to visit this site on your day trip, you will need to take a tour or a taxi as it’s not within walking distance of the old town but on the western outskirts of town.

Finally, while not a UNESCO site, a quick walk over the Roman Bridge provides a lovely view, especially appreciated by photographers looking to capture a shot that sums up the city.

Train Logistics: Served by an AVE train twice hourly from Atocha. The ride takes just under two hours with a :20 walk or €6 cab ride to the main sites.

More Spanish Travel Inspiration

Here are some additional ideas to help you round out a Spanish itinerery.

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