Updated: Aug 14, 2022
If you live in Madrid or are visiting for a long period of time, you should seriously consider visiting some of these close-by cities that are truly beautiful in their own unique way. Most of them are declared heritage sites by UNESCO, which means that you won't regret visiting them. Either if you're into history or just going for the pictures, we recommend giving it a try!
The entire city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986 for its monumental and cultural heritage. Toledo is known as the "Imperial City" for being the main venue of court of Charles V, and as the "City of the Three Cultures" for the influences Christians, Muslims and Jews had and is reflected in its history.
Fun fact: Remember reading and studying the Visigothic kingdom? Well, Toledo was the capital from 542 to 725 AD of that kingdom.
Taking a stroll around this fascinating city is like walking inside a massive museum. There's so much to see from so many historical periods. Besides, you might recognize a person or two that lived there such as El Greco (the Greek painter), Garcilaso de la Vega (Spanish soldier and poet) and Alfonso X (king of Castile, Leon and Galicia).
Main sights: Puerta de Bisagra, Alcázar, Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo, Alcántara bridge, Santa Maria la Blanca
You probably recognize Segovia because of its aqueduct located in Plaza del Azoguejo and shown in the picture above. The Romans built this masterpiece back when then the land was part of the Roman Empire. Its long span (over 17km), architecture and the fact that they didn't use any mortar to build the aqueduct amazes everyone.
The city center was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1985. Segovia was once in the hands of Muslims, Christians, and Jews, all in different centuries. Later on, in the 16th and 17th centuries the city prospered thanks to the industrial profitability which allowed aristocrats to erect palaces and create gardens and patios.
Fun fact: Did you know that the Alcázar of Segovia served as inspiration to Walt Disney when designing the Cinderella Castle?
Main sights: Aqueduct of Segovia, Alcázar of Segovia, Segovia Cathedral, Plaza Mayor, Casa de los Picos.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is only an hour away from Madrid. It is known by its medieval defensive walls built in the 10th century and then rebuilt in the 12th century. Ávila is sometimes called the Town of Stones and Saints, since it claims to be one of the towns with the most Romanesque and Gothic churches per capita in Spain.
Two big fiestas of tourist interest are the pilgrimage of San Segundo on May 2nd and the festival of Santa Teresa on October 15th. The first one celebrates the patron saint of the city, commemorating the date his remains were transferred to the Ávila Cathedral. The second one is to honor the life of Santa Teresa, founder of the Order of Discalced Carmelites (Orden de las Carmelitas Descalzas), who centuries after her death was declared a Doctor of the Church.
Main sights: Ávila Cathedral, Basilica of San Vicente, Los Cuatro Postes, Convento de San José, San Pedro church.
San Lorenzo de El Escorial
Also called El Escorial de Arriba was once home to the monarchs of Spain. It is impossible to talk about the history of this town without talking about the conception of El Escorial. Fun fact: construction lasted over 21 years.
The Monastery of El Escorial is the most distinguished building in town. A main Spanish Renaissance monument, its construction took place in the 15th century and was conceived by King Phillip II. He wanted a building where he could rule (a palace) and could ensure the eternal memory and a burial place for his father, Emperor Charles V. The final design includes a church, a monastery, a royal palace, a college and a library.
Main sights: Monastery of El Escorial, Casita del Infante, Casita del Príncipe, Valley of the Fallen monument.
Preferred place for royals to retreat since the Royal Palace of Aranjuez was built in the 15th century. The ideal weather during spring time made it appealing for kings and queens to lay low. The one thing everyone talks about are its gardens. The Jardín de la Isla (Isle Garden) boasts large woodlands, Baroque fountains and statues, and the Jardín del Parterre has a diverse display of flowers. The largest of them all is the Jardín del Príncipe, featuring gorgeous trees and walkways. Thanks to its beautiful gardens, the Cultural Landscape of Aranjuez was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
If you're in Madrid, you can either drive or take the train to this beautiful town. You can spot one of the oldest bullrings in Spain, celebrate Saint Ferdinand day on May 30th or enjoy the Festival of Old Music.
Main sights: Royal Palace of Aranjuez, Church of San Antonio, Casa del Labrador, Plaza de Toros (bullring).