The excellent transport links of Madrid make trips to Spain’s most celebrated local landmarks and popular neighbouring countries accessible at any time of the year. We’ve curated a list of five fantastic weekend destinations to explore during your off-time, ranging from the busy streets of Barcelona to the magical markets of Morocco and the astounding ancient architecture of Andalusia.
Things to do: Tour the capital city, Lisbon, in style by catching the iconic yellow Tram 28, or scale the region’s hills by funicular for a unique vertical journey. Admire spectacular views of the sea from the Miradouru de Santa Luzia, or get lost in the streets of Alfama, the historic heart of the city. For a landmark straight out of an epic adventure film, journey down to the seafront to discover the arresting Torre de Belém.
To explore another side to Portugal’s beauty, catch a flight from Madrid to Oporto to view the incredible Puente Don Luis I bridge. If you’re a bookworm, pop into Livraria Lello, a century-old bookshop that is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world. If its stained-glass ceiling and twisting red staircases seem familiar to you, it could be from their connection to Harry Potter. J. K. Rowling was said to have based scenes of the famous novels upon this Portuguese shop!
How to get there: Public transport links between Madrid and Portugal are widely available and visitors can choose between bus, train or flight options. Buses to Portugal run daily from Madrid’s Avenida de America bus stop, while flights from Madrid arrive in Lisbon and Oporto in under an hour and a half.
Things to do: If you’re a fan of bustling energy, bargaining and hidden treasures, abandon your local shopping mall and head to the famous markets of Morocco! Marrakech is world-renowned for its stalls, with its Souk Semmarine being one of the most popular markets of the region.
For a less chaotic experience, the cool shade cast by the palm trees of the brilliant blue Jardin Majorelle provides a welcome oasis of calm, as does the tiled courtyard of the gorgeous Bahia Palace. Meanwhile, the galleries of the Musée de Marrakech and Musée Yves Saint Laurent exhibit stunning designs to admire.
If you decide to plan a visit to Fes, the Henna Souk is another beloved shopping destination for visitors to the country. Be sure to track down the domed Bab Boujloud, too. Stepping through the enormous blue archway will take you into the oldest district of Fes, the Medina, where you will find the oldest university in the world!
How to get there: Flights can be taken from Madrid to Marrakech, Fes, Tangier, Rabat and Casablanca from Madrid’s airport, while bus links are also available for more affordable journeys. It is also possible to drive to Morocco by taking advantage of the ferry.
Things to do: Thanks to the creative mastermind Gaudí, Barcelona is crammed with surreal, whimsical architecture that sets the city apart from the rest of Spain. The enormous Gothic towers of the astounding (albeit unfinished) Basílica de la Sagrada Familia pierce the sky, while the rainbow mosaic walls of the Park Güell inject waves of colour into the modern city. The façade of the Casa Batlló is another must-see, whose melting, curving windows and intricately decorated walls look straight out of a children’s storybook.
If you’re a fan of the beautiful game, try your best to catch a football game at F.C. Barcelona’s own Camp Nou, or travel down to one of Barcelona’s many nearby beaches to enjoy some water sports! Finally, be sure to make the most of Barcelona’s exuberant nightlife by visiting a few of its thriving nightclubs.
How to get there: High-speed trains can be taken from Atocha station in Madrid to arrive in Barcelona in three hours or less. Alternatively, flights are available to arrive in a shorter period of time. If you’re looking for a cheaper route to Barcelona, buses can also be taken for a fraction of the price from Avenida de America in Madrid and Terminal 4 of the Madrid-Barajas Airport.
Things to do: If Valencia is known for anything, it’s its sandy white beaches and bright blue water. Grab a deckchair, smear on some sunscreen and enjoy the salty sea air and waves of the coast. When you get peckish, chow down on some local paella. After all, Valencia is the birthplace of the famous Spanish dish!
One of Valencia’s most iconic sites is the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, a complex of futuristic science and entertainment buildings. Cinephiles can attend a screening at the round Hemisfèric IMAX cinema, while those looking to dive into the ocean without getting their hair wet can explore the immersive sea life exhibits of the Oceanogràfic aquarium.
Finally, people who love to party can find some of the world’s most unique festivals hosted in Valencia. In March, the giant burning statues and bursting fireworks of Las Fallas fill the streets with light, while August’s La Tomatina festival gives participants the chance to pelt tomatoes at one another!
How to get there: Take a bus, train or flight – the choice is yours! Trains from Atocha can get you to Valencia in two hours or less, while direct flights are a mere hour long.
Things to do: Andalucia is one of the most diverse regions of Spain and a treasure trove of historic sites and natural wonders. Visitors to Granada can explore the Alhambra, a huge thirteenth century palace complex and one of Spain’s most famous national landmarks. Granada is also the region of the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains and is a popular skiing destination during the colder months of the year.
Cordoba is another fascinating place to visit due to its Mezquita-Catedral, a cathedral filled with candy cane-striped arches and intricately carved wall decorations. The picturesque gardens and turquoise ponds of the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos can also be explored in Cordoba, as can its impressive Roman bridge.
For more interesting architecture, why not visit the Setas de Sevilla? The viewing platform allows you to admire the vistas of beautiful Sevilla from the top of some futuristic white mushroom caps! Sevilla also houses the colossal Plaza de España, an iconic piece of Spanish history that must be seen if you are in the region.
How to get there: Visitors on their way to Andalucia can rest easy knowing that Cordoba, Sevilla and Granada can all be accessed by bus, train or airplane. Cordoba is less than two hours from Madrid by train, while Sevilla can be reached in two and a half hours!
With so many amazing and accessible sites to uncover within Spain and its neighbouring countries, both new and experienced explorers have ample reason to get out of the capital and discover more of the culturally rich region. We hope you enjoy your travels!