Madrid Barajas airport is among the ten busiest in the world. The airport is connected to the city by means of a rapid link in the Madrid Metro, one of the world’s most expansive and fastest-developing systems; only London has a larger network.
The region is well served by Cercanias Madrid, the commuter rail service for the metropolitan area, and is, of course, the hub of the country’s RENFE network, serving the whole of the country. The main train stations are at Chamartin in the north of Madrid and Atocha in the south. The high-speed AVE trains now link Madrid with Barcelona, Málaga, Segovia, Seville, Tarragona, Toledo, Valladolid and Zaragoza – although this superb service is constantly expanding.
Top Destinations in Madrid Region
There is, of course, an abundance of useful information about the city of Madrid on this site – its splendorous palaces, extensive and varied parks, wonderful galleries, incredible fountains, hotels, restaurants, shops and football grounds – this is a great place to spend either a few days or a prolonged period of time. Madrid is a city that is always full of life and energy and, whilst perhaps not being the most architecturally grand of the European capital cities, has enough to interest anyone. And always remember the words of Ernest Hemingway – ‘No-one goes to bed in Madrid until they’ve killed the night.’
But the area around Madrid has much to offer visitors as well, and visitors who only venture out as far as the airport are in danger of missing some fascinating insights into this part of Spain.
For example, Alcalá de Henares is not only the site of one of Spain’s foremost universities but was also a base for literary legends such as Cervantes and Lope de Vega. This is a picturesque little town with not only Cervantes’ childhood home but many other impressive Renaissance buildings, some delightful outdoor spaces and a rather distinguished aspect about it.
Aranjuez, 50 kms south of the capital, has three notable claims to fame – its Palacio Real, an 18th Century palace and gardens modelled on those at Versailles; its butterflies and its strawberries. The Palace can offer some welcoming relief after the searing heat of Madrid, with the grounds as worthy of your time as the sumptuous interior. This part of Spain is such an important site for butterfly breeding that, when the motorway was constructed through the region, the planners had to avoid all the possible butterfly sites. The famous ‘fresones’ of Aranjuez have the reputation of being amongst the tastiest – and biggest – in the whole of the country and if you’re at the right time of the year I defy you to be able to walk past the street sellers offering them to you!
Other towns to stop in rather than drive through are the charming Chinchón – home of a particularly potent make of anis – and the mountain town of Manzanares el Real, with its totally stupendous Gothic castle.
One of the most spectacular and thought-provoking things to do, though, is to make your way to San Lorenzo de El Escorial and then on to Valle de los Caídos. San Lorenzo itself is a small, elegant town but it is totally dominated by the enormous Monastery, built by Felipe II. To refer to the largest building in Spain simply as a monastery goes nowhere near to doing it justice; it is also a palace, a mausoleum, a library and a fantastically stocked art gallery. For me, this building is central Spain’s Alhambra.
After celebrating the greatness that man can aspire to, the poignancy of then travelling just down the road to Franco’s ‘Valley of the Fallen’ becomes even more apparent. This enormous stone cross and appalling basilica, built right into the heart of the mountain by prisoners of war – many of whom died during the construction – is a shattering example of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ and a reminder of how far Spain has come in half a century.
Map of Madrid Region
Things to do in Madrid Region
Madrid has the cultural and educational attractions that one expects from a capital city. There are, additionally, many language classes, flamenco classes, wine tasting courses and a plethora of similar packages that allow people to pursue a new or previously acquired enthusiasm at the same time as enjoying life in Madrid.
Outside of the city, Cercedilla, in the Sierra de Guadarrama, is a popular location for people wanting hiking holidays or cycling and mountain biking. There’s also some good rock climbing in the area. Although some locals occasionally are able to ski in the Guadarrama, the snow is not really predictable enough or deep enough for visitors to rely on it.
There are about 20 golf courses in the Madrid area, although many of them have only 9 holes. If golfers do fancy a round whilst out on holiday, a reservation is more or less essential as the good courses are very busy and not always accessible.
The 2nd of May is one of the biggest celebrations for people in the area, commemorating as it does the resistance against the French in the War of the Spanish Succession – or the Peninsula War, as the British knew it. Generally, towns have concerts, dancing and bull fights. Just two weeks after, the San Isidro Festival begins, honouring the patron saint of the city. This is basically one month long street party.
Aranjuez has an annual festival of antique music during May and June which attracts considerable international attention.
Since 1963, Easter Saturday has seen more than 250 inhabitants of Chinchón turn their town into Jerusalem for a day with a procession of the passion of Christ; an artistic and religious commemoration declared to be a festival of national tourist interest.
Food and Drink in Madrid
Visitors to Madrid can try food from most countries of the world as well as every region of Spain. One could be forgiven, therefore, for not appreciating the regional specialities available. However, keep an eye open for Cocido Madrileño, a stew; callos a la Madrileña, tripe and beans; bacalao a la Madrileña, salted cod; potaje de garbanzos, thick chick pea soup; and tourrijas, a bread pudding. Meat, especially beef, from the Guadarrama mountains is very popular. Not forgetting, of course, the strawberries from Aranjuez and the anis from Chinchón.
Local wines have only been recognised as Protected Designation of Origin since 1990 and all of the vineyards are in the south of the region. Particularly well-known are fresh, white and fruity malvar wines from Arganda and some very intense garnacha reds from Navalcarnero.
See also: Madrid Region Spain