No one doubts that the large number of things to see and do in Madrid can take several days of travel without anyone getting bored. However, this should not lead to leave out some interesting visits around the capital, such as Segovia, Avila, Toledo and, above all, the monastery of El Escorial.
Built by order of Philip II in the 16th century, this monumental complex was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco for its artistic and historical merits. The complex is considered the best example of the Renaissance in Spain and inside you can see spectacular rooms such as the mausoleum in which several monarchs are buried, the basilica or the beautiful Patio de los Reyes.
1. Half Day Tour from Madrid to El Escorial and the Valley of the Fallen
Although just visiting the best museums in Madrid would keep you busy for several days, on your list of things to do during your trip should be this half-day tour to El Escorial, which also includes a stop at the Valley of the Fallen.
The monastery of El Escorial, the name by which the complex located in San Lorenzo de El Escorial is popularly known, was built in the 16th century as a celebration of the Spanish victory over the French in the Battle of San Quentin. In addition, it was also to serve as a resting place for the mortal remains of the Spanish kings.
The complex is located just over 50 kilometers from the capital. As I explain in this article on how to get to El Escorial from Madrid, there are several options to visit it on your own, but if you want to make the best use of your time it is best to hire a half-day guided tour.
This type of tour uses modern buses that depart from a meeting point that will be communicated to you in plenty of time. As tickets are included, you won't have to worry about anything when you arrive at the monastery, as you won't even have to wait in line to get in.
The visit to all the attractions of El Escorial is guided by a guide who will explain the history of the monument and the factors that have made it one of the most artistically valuable.
The tour does not end after the visit to the monastery, since on the way back you will stop at the Valley of the Fallen. This was built during Franco's regime to pay homage to those who died during the Spanish Civil War and, although controversial, it is still a place where you can learn about this part of Spanish history.
What you will see if you choose this type of tour
- The monastery complex of El Escorial: during the visit you will see the different parts that make up this monument, including the palace of the Habsburgs, the basilica, the Chapter House, the Pantheon of the Kings or the library. It will be a complete tour of about 2 hours during which you will receive information about what you are seeing at all times.
- Valley of the Fallen: the visit includes the entrance to this place, where you can see the great cross of 150 meters high placed on the mountain, as well as the basilica.
- Price: From 56 €.
- Duration: about 5 hours
Why I like this tour: with only a half day tour you will be able to visit two of the most important places around Madrid, all without having to worry about anything.
Recommended if... you want to make the most of your stay in Madrid and take the opportunity to visit some nearby places.
2. One day tour to El Escorial Monastery and Toledo
Those who want to take advantage of their visit to Madrid to visit some of the nearby attractions have a great opportunity in this tour. During a whole day you will be visiting the monastery of El Escorial and the beautiful city of Toledo, with a significant saving of time and money by combining both visits in a single excursion.
El Escorial, with its monumental complex, was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984. It covers an area of 33,327 square meters and is made up of different parts that you can visit accompanied by an expert guide.
After visiting this monument you will head to the impressive city of Toledo in your luxury bus with all the comforts. In this city you will be able to see its rich architectural and pictorial heritage always accompanied by your guide.
What you will see if you choose this type of excursion
- The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial: although it is always called simply monastery, the truth is that this monumental complex includes several different buildings, for which you will have your ticket without having to buy it yourself. The most important are the Palace of the Habsburgs, the Pantheon of the Kings, the Chapter House and the Basilica.
- Toledo: the entire historic center of Toledo is an artistic jewel in its own right. This tour includes entrance to places such as the church of San Tomé (where you can see El Grego's painting "The Burial of the Count of Orgaz"), the synagogue of Santa María la Blanca and the monastery of Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes.
You can also visit the Primada Cathedral, the most important temple of the city, as well as stroll through the narrow streets that will make you feel like you are in a real time travel.
- Price: From 98 €.
- Duration: about 10 hours
Why I like this tour: The opportunity to see two of the country's most renowned sites in one day is not to be missed. In addition, the convenience of having everything taken care of makes it possible to enjoy the experience more thoroughly.
Recommended if... you want to take advantage of your visit to Madrid to visit one of the most beautiful cities in the country, Toledo, and also combine it with a visit to what was known as the Eighth Wonder of the World, the monastery of El Escorial.
3. One day tour to El Escorial, the Valley of the Fallen and Segovia
Another different option for those who wish to spend a day getting to know the surroundings of Madrid is this excursion that, in addition to El Escorial and the Valley of the Fallen, includes a visit to the beautiful city of Segovia.
The first stop is the Valley of the Fallen, a historic place that you will visit accompanied by a professional guide. At the end of the tour, the group will head to El Escorial, the most important monumental complex of the Renaissance in Spain.
Finally, always accompanied by an expert guide, you will visit the most important monuments of Segovia, including, of course, its famous aqueduct.
To end this day trip from Madrid, you will have the opportunity to taste in a traditional restaurant one of the most characteristic dishes of the Segovian gastronomy: the suckling pig.
What you will see if you choose this type of excursion
- The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial: the monastery of El Escorial is actually made up of several different areas, all of great historical and artistic interest. On your guided tour you will be able to see all of them, including the Palace of the Habsburgs, the Palace of the Bourbons, the Basilica and the Pantheon of the Kings.
- Valley of the Fallen: the place that was destined by Franco to serve as a memorial for those who died in the Civil War has not ceased to cause controversy. However, it is still part of the history of the country and, as such, its visit is of great interest.
- Segovia: although the aqueduct is its main symbol, the city of Segovia is home to numerous historical sites that you will be able to visit for a few hours. Among other attractions, you will visit the Alcazar and the cathedral.
- Price: From 100 €.
- Duration: about 10 hours
Why I like this tour: it is the best option to visit three places full of history and art in a single day and in comfort.
Recommended if... during your visit to Madrid you want to visit one of the cities with more artistic heritage of the area, Segovia, without forgetting to visit El Escorial and the Valley of the Fallen.
What are the advantages of taking a guided tour to El Escorial over visiting it on my own?
You may be hesitating between visiting El Escorial on your own or doing it with an organized tour from Madrid (which if you join it with Toledo is considered one of the best day trips from the Spanish capital). The truth is that the first option is possible, although the second one has two great advantages: comfort and time saving.
Visiting El Escorial on your own is not too complicated in terms of transportation. From the capital you will find trains and buses to get there easily, but you will have to dedicate part of your time to investigate where they leave from, how to buy tickets and the schedule of departure and return.
In addition, you will also have to buy tickets to the monastery, which will be somewhat more expensive if you want to have a guide to explain what you are seeing.
The advantage of this option is that you will be able to visit the monastery at your own pace, and you will also have the possibility to eat at one of the restaurants in San Lorenzo de El Escorial.
What if you want to take the opportunity to visit another city?
When you will notice more the advantages of the organized tour is if you try to combine the visit to El Escorial with the visit to some other place to make the best use of your time. Thus, it would be possible to also visit the Valley of the Fallen, but in the case of wanting to go to Toledo (which I recommend), you would probably have to leave it for another day.
With the organized tour, apart from the convenience of not having to study transport combinations and schedules, you just have to sit on the bus and let yourself go to your destinations.
Is it complicated to book a tour to El Escorial?
Actually, booking this type of tour (regardless of the modality you choose) is very simple. All you have to do is enter the date you want to take the tour and your personal information for the reservation to be confirmed. Just pay attention to the different options that may appear.
You will immediately receive a confirmation email with practical information.
The next thing to do is to go to the meeting point and show the guide the voucher received in the email, without having to print any document.
Is it worth taking a guided tour to El Escorial during my stay in Madrid?
As always with this type of questions, it is practically impossible to give a concrete answer. In reality, this will depend on the tastes of each person, as well as the time you plan to stay in Madrid.
Thus, if you like soccer you may prefer to spend a whole morning doing a tour of the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, while if you are looking to learn about Madrid's gastronomy you may prefer to hire a tour of its tapas. The alternatives that Madrid offers are almost endless, so including this visit is something that only depends on you.
Having said that, visiting El Escorial means visiting one of the most important monuments in the whole country. Precisely, that importance, reflected in the art, makes having a guide more necessary than in other places, because only then you can contextualize what each area means and understand the causes of its construction...
On the other hand, taking a guided tour instead of going on your own will allow you to make better use of your time, especially if you choose an option that includes cities such as Toledo or Segovia. These are visits that would be impossible to do in a single day by public transport, so these excursions represent a unique opportunity if you are going to be in Madrid for about 4 days.
Some basic tips to make your guided tour perfect
- When to go: it is difficult to decide on a specific time to go on this excursion. Although the summer heat in Madrid is oppressive, in San Lorenzo de El Escorial temperatures are much milder, so approaching during those dates can even be positive to escape the 40º of the capital. On the other hand, winter can be cold, although not enough to prevent you from going. In short, it is one of those places that you can visit comfortably at any time of the year.
- Duration of the visit: you should calculate that the complete visit will take you a little more than 2 hours, whether you go on your own or with a guide.
- Traveling with children: it may not be a very easy visit to go with children, especially if it takes too long. In this case, the advantage of going with a guide is that he will be telling some curiosities about the monument, something that can entertain some children if they are old enough.
- Check the information received: although it may seem obvious, you should not fail to check the time and place where you have been summoned to start the tour. The same applies if you have free time at any of the places you visit so as not to keep the rest of the group waiting.