Madrid is the only city in the world to have six UNESCO World Heritage sites within a one-hour drive of its city limits. As a result, choices abound for groups that have a day (or even a half-day) to experience more of Spain than just the big city.
Surrounded by 400-year-old walls, Alcala de Henares is the hometown of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, and one of Spain’s most prestigious universities. Its rich monumental heritage, formed by churches, convents and university buildings, provides a glimpse of the Spanish Golden Age. In Aranjuez, the balance between nature and man is highlighted by the elaborately designed gardens that draw water from the adjacent Tajo River, and by the royal palace’s architecture versus the scale of the surrounding woodlands. Sheltered by the Sierra Gredos mountains, the walled city of Avila boasts a set of churches and Renaissance palaces that bear witness to the town’s past wealth from textiles. Its cuisine, especially its veal cutlet, is famous as well.
San Lorenzo del Escorial revolves around the majestic Monastery of El Escorial. Built by order of King Felipe II in the 16th century, it boasts perfectly sculpted gardens plus views from its elevated perch. In Segovia, a massive Roman-era aqueduct runs through the town past Romanesque churches, a massive cathedral and a fortress. And Toledo is a walled city with a slew of impressive monuments. Known as the city of three cultures because Christians, Jews and Arabs lived together there for centuries, it preserves an artistic and cultural legacy.