As our remaining time in Spain quickly comes to a close, not only are we working to cross things off our ever-growing to-do list of cleaning and packing tasks, but I've also got a small but (equally?) important list of things I'd like to see and do one last time around Madrid. One of those things was a day trip to Ávila, a small town northwest of Madrid that we visited during our first fall in Spain (November 2015, actually, which sounds like forever ago now!). Three of the best day trips from Madrid are, in our opinion, Segovia, Toledo, and Ávila, and while we've been to the first two multiple times, for one reason or another, we'd never returned to Ávila.
Like so many Americans, we get excited about a good castle. Sure, there's some in the U.S., but they're pretty different than what you can find in Europe, and they just don't feel like the real deal to me. When we visited Munich, a day trip to arguably the world's most famous castle was a priority for me - after all, it's not all that tricky to reach, and we'd certainly be in good company: 1.4 million people visit a year, so we pretty much just had to follow the crowds.
We stayed in (and spent most of our time in) four different cities while we made a circle around central Europe over Christmas and New Year's, beginning and ending in Munich, Germany. From each of those cities, we took at least one day trip - from Munich we went to Neuschwanstein, from Salzburg we went to Hallstatt, from Ljubljana we went to Lake Bled, and so on.
One thing's for sure, when it comes to Madrid there are a couple "top tier" day trips (Toledo & Segovia) that are really fantastic and then a few others that are pretty great (Ávila, El Escorial, Cuenca, maybe Salamanca although I've heard it deserves more than a day). Last year we explored all of the heavy-hitters, so this year we've been reaching a bit further, which means we've mostly been going to smaller towns that are a little more off the beaten path. Once we've exhausted those that can be reached by public transit, we may have to repeat places we visited last year or go to places that we consider just a bit too far for a day trip (2.5+ hours plus one way) and stay for one night.
As much as I love city living (and I hope you don't sense sarcasm here because really, I do love it - a lot!!), sometimes it's really good to just get out for a little break. One Saturday in mid-October we figured out how to get into the mountains just outside of Madrid by public transportation thanks to a few blogs written by people who had been there before. We took the Cercanías train from Chamartín station in Madrid to Cercedilla, and a little over an hour later, we'd arrived.
Aranjuez is a town just 42km (26 miles) south of Madrid that is well-known because of the royal palace located there, and also because it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I'd heard good things about Aranjuez (which I mistakenly assumed was a little bitty town, but actually has almost 60,000 people living in it!), but also knew that part of why people like it is because of its gardens, so I was waiting to visit in the early fall or late spring. Late September seemed like a good time for that, so we took a Cercanías train from the center of Madrid and about 45 minutes later, we were there. We had to walk 15-20 minutes from the station to the palace and gardens, but the walk is tree-lined and pretty.
The final day trip we took we from Madrid (although we didn't know it would be so at the time!) was to the small town of Manzanares el Real. It's about 30 miles (50 km) north of Madrid, and we were able to get there very easily and cheaply via a bus we caught from the center of the city. I was free thanks to my transport pass, and Danny was only about 2.40€ each way.
When we were planning our trip to Sevilla, I knew for sure that I wanted to take a trip to Ronda. I didn't really do any research (I was busy planning our big Christmas/New Year's trip and Sevilla was kind of an afterthought, to be honest), but when we were binge-watching Rick Steves in preparation to leave for Spain back in August, he went to Ronda and I knew we had to go. Somehow, I grouped it together with Sevilla and didn't consider anywhere else. Even though our friends, our Airbnb host, and our students and their parents all gave us confused looks when we said our chosen day trip from Sevilla was Ronda, I plowed ahead.