Train Hopping to Madrid, Toledo & El Escorial
I always wanted to visit Spain. I really do love everything about Spanish food, its music and culture. So when I was planning a trip to London with my boo, it only made sense to extend our vacation by a week and go to Madrid, Spain!
We were so excited for this trip. While we were looking forward to London, we didn't think we'd like the city as much as we'd love Spain. Boy...were we wrong. We actually loved London SO much more than Madrid. Madrid had a lot of beautiful things about it, but the city was too small for our liking. We finished everything we wanted to do in Madrid in 2 days, and then we had 5 more days left wondering what we should do.
In reality, we should have planned our trip better and stayed in Madrid for 2 days and then taken a train to Barcelona for the remainder of our time. But, we didn't think to do this ahead of time, and last minute train tickets to Barcelona were a little too pricy to justify the cost.
While we were disappointed we couldn't make it to Barcelona, we made the most of our trip to Madrid and decided to take the train to some of the surrounding cities – like Toledo and El Escorial – that were only 1-2 hours away for day trips. It was hands down the best decision we ever made, and I highly recommend anyone going to Madrid for a week to do the same!
I will say one big downer of our overall trip to Spain was both me and my boyfriend got really sick (we had a terrible cold), so we didn't have as much energy as we normally would. We'd start our mornings and leave our Airbnb around 10am to explore and would be back around 4pm to relax and wind down.
Regardless, we did enjoy our trip and would love to go back to Spain again sometime in the future and visit Barcelona, Segovia, Granada and Salamanca.
Until then, here's a little bit more about our trip to Madrid, El Escorial and Toledo.
Madrid is a small and very walkable city...
I was very surprised at how small Madrid was. There's a lot packed into the main parts of the city, and it's so walkable it makes it feel really small. It was actually nice being able to walk to most of the places we wanted to see. We loved familiarizing ourselves with the streets and taking in the beautiful architecture all over the city.
Of course my favorite places we visited in Madrid were the museums – the Del Prado and Reina Sofía were both incredible and well worth a trip! If you're heading to Madrid, be sure to add the following destinations on your itinerary because they are the top must see attractions in the city.
- Museo Nacional Del Prado
- Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
- Parque del Buen Retiro
- Plaza Mayor
- Puerta del Sol
- Plaza de Cibeles
- Almudena Cathedral
We walked to most of these locations, but we did also take public transportation when we were too exhausted – or when I wanted to make a trip a little ways outside of the main city to a shopping mall to go to another Zara location ;). The publication transportation in Madrid is very simple. We used their underground trains and it was easy and the trains were quick. We weren't waiting longer than 5 minutes for a train which is incredible! It's 10x better than San Francisco's publication transportation system.
We didn't take any cabs because we found it to be a waste of money when we could walk or take the train everywhere. It might have been a different story if we went to bars at night and were coming home super late, but since we were very sick we had a lot of early nights so we didn't feel the need to take a cab.
Taking the train to surrounding cities is so easy...
We had so much fun taking the train out of Madrid for a couple of day trips to surrounding cities. We visited Toledo and El Escorial. Both cities are extraordinarily beautiful and worth the visit.
Toledo was our favorite part of the entire trip to Spain...
We fell in love with the city. It used to be the capital of Spain (before Madrid), and today it is home to some incredibly interesting facts and history about Spain. If you're going to Toledo, you should book both your train ticket and a Hop On Hop Off bus tour ahead of time. You can buy your train tickets day of at the train station, but make sure you get there super early or book it a few days before you want to go to ensure you have a seat on the train. Similar story with the Hop On Hop Off tours, you can book it when you get there, but might as well just have a ticket before you go. You will need a printed version of your ticket, so take it with you (you can print it at home, at your Airbnb or at an Internet Cafe - that's what we did).
The train ride from Madrid to Toledo is about 1.5 hours. It's a very quick and comfortable ride to Toledo. There's something fun about being on a train in an unfamiliar country and looking out the window at all the passing cities. It's very relaxing and wonderful way to take in everything about the country you are visiting.
Once you reach Toledo and exit the train stations, you will find the Hop On Hop Off bus tours already waiting outside the station – so convenient! There's no time limit on these rides. You can get on the train and get off at any stop, walk around, and you can catch the next bus and continue with the tour – they run every 20-30 minutes. We jumped off the bus several times so we could really take in the city of Toledo. There is so much history here. It was truly a breathtaking city.
We loved Toledo so much that we'd love to visit again and even stay the night at one of the hotels. It's a super touristy destination and it feels very safe. There are a lot of cute shops all around Toledo where you can buy local crafts, vintage goods, and sweet treats. We bought some turrón for our family, and some sweets for ourselves to eat while we were walking around.
Definitely wear some comfortable shoes because you'll do a lot fo walking around Toledo, and there are hills! While the bus makes it easy from you to get to different parts of the city, when you get off there's so much to explore and so many lookouts for photo ops that you don't want to miss it by wearing uncomfortable shoes.
We learned so much about Spain's royal history by visiting El Escorial...
This is the Royal Site of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, and is the historical residence of the King of Spain. The town itself is very small, but there's so much to take in. They turned the residence into a museum, so you can purchase tickets at the door to take the tour. Unfortunately no photographs are allowed in the residence, but trust me when I tell you it was stunning.
El Escorial is only a 40 minute train ride from Madrid. Similar to Toledo, book your train ticket ahead of time or get to the station very early to buy a ticket. Because El Escorial is small, we finished everything in about 3 hours and were on our way back to Madrid. It was a fun, quick day trip!
We didn't eat tapas as much as we thought we would...
During the entire 7 days in Madrid we only had Spanish food four times – twice for breakfast and twice for dinner. Overall the Spanish food in Madrid was a little too rich for us. We absolutely love tapas, but unfortunately the places we tried didn't seem to be that great.
We did have some incredible meals in Madrid – including ramen at Ramen Kagura, pizza at Fratelli d'Italia, burgers at The Good Burger (they have buy one get one free on Thursdays!) and the best pastries I've ever had in my life at every single cafe we visited.
I loved shopping in Spain...
I went a little crazy at Zara (the prices are a bit cheaper!) and Sfera. I bought a few dresses, jackets, tops, shoes, and rompers. Everything in Spain is very reasonably priced, so it was hard not to buy everything I really liked!!! But it was well worth it, because now I have pieces in my closet that no one else here has. Plus, it's nice to be reminded of my trip whenever I wear them :)
Overall Spain is a beautiful country and worth the visit...
Just plan out your trip and any stops you want to make ahead of time so you aren't scrambling last minute. Take advantage of the train because it's a cheap way to travel around the country and take in so much more.