The Royal Palace of El Escorial lies 45km north-west of Madrid and is one of Spain’s most famous sights. Felipe II ordered the construction of the palace to commemorate Spain’s victory of France at the Battle of Saint Quentin in 1557 during the Franco-Habsburg War. With practically unlimited funds available from the “New World” it took over 20 years to build El Escorial and at the time was the world’s largest building. Spanish monarchs as far back as Carlos V are buried here in the Panteón de Reyes and this will be the current monarch’s final resting place. The palace as a whole is testament to the wealth and power of the 16th century Spanish Empire.
Just 9km north of El Escorial is El Valle De Los Caídos which is a monument built by prisoners from both sides during the Spanish Civil War under orders from General Franco. In theory it was built in memory of all those who died in that terrible war yet many Spanish people refuse to visit the site as they believe that in reality it is a memorial to fascism and Franco himself. It is no coincidence that Los Caidos was chosen so close to Royal El Escorial as Franco attempted to glorify his regime. Franco is buried here alongside José Antonio Prima De Vera, his right hand man.
Getting to El Escorial from Madrid
There are plenty options for getting to El Escorial from Madrid by road, rail or public bus. Tour companies also provide daily coach trips there.
Driving – By road you head northwest out of the city on the A-6 for about 18km until you reach Las Rozas. Here you bear off to the left on the M-505 which takes you to El Escorial. The drive is only 45km and shouldn’t take more than about 50 minutes. Realistically though you’re not likely to hire a car if you’re only in Madrid for a few days as you’ll have no use for it around the city. Public transport or private tours are a better option.
By Train – The extensive local train network which serves the Madrid region is known as the ‘Cercanías’ which provides hourly trains to El Escorial from Chamartín station in the north of the city and Atocha station in the south. The line you’re looking for is C8A. From Chamartín it takes 50 minutes to El Escorial (15 minutes more from Atocha) arriving in the centre of the town of El Escorial which is about a 15 minute walk to the actual monastery. If you don’t fancy this uphill walk there are local buses and taxis that take you there.
By Public Bus – Personally I’d recommend taking the bus as the best public transport option for getting to El Escorial. Just make your way to the Metro (underground) station at Moncloa which also houses the bus station. There are departures every 15 minutes which take less than an hour to San Lorenzo de El Escorial which is just a short (and easy) walk to the monastery. These buses are generally of a very high standard and there’s no need to get tickets in advance as you simply pay the driver.
By Tour Bus – As one of the most popular excursions from Madrid there are of course daily excursions provided by local tour companies which usually cover both El Escorial and Valle De Los Caídos. Naturally these cost more than taking public transport but prices tend to be reasonable for such a great day trip. Below we’ve listed a few options for you to look at depending on whether you’re planning on taking a group excursion by coach or a private excursion which will include hiring your own driver and official tour guide.
Escorted Tours to El Escorial
Coach Excursion;: This excursion departs from the centre of Madrid at 8.45am. Transport is by luxury, air-conditioned coach and the services of a local tour guide. Dating back to the reign of Felipe II in the 16th century this Royal Palace is one of Spain’s most visited tourist attractions. It is located in the small town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial and its ‘Panteón de los Reyes’ serves as a mausoleum for the Spanish monarchy. The excursion also includes a visit to ‘Valle De Los Caídos’ (Valley of the Fallen) which is a monument to those who died in the Spanish Civil War and the burial place of General Franco.
Private Excursions: This private tour begins at your hotel in Madrid where you will be collected by your English speaking guide and driver before heading off to visit El Escorial to the north-west of Madrid. You will then enjoy a fascinating private tour of the Palaces. After El Escorial you’ll head for ‘Valle de los Caidos’ (Valley of the Fallen) which officially is a monument to all those who lost their lives in the Spanish Civil War. Many Spanish people refuse to visit this controversial site believing that it is more of a glorification of the Franco regime.