Want to escape the city for a while? Allow me to suggest a day trip from Madrid to Aranjuez: a tranquil town less than an hour away by train!
It's been more than 10 years (!) since I went to Aranjuez for the first time, but it's still one of my favorite destinations near Madrid. From its famous Royal Palace to its wide avenues and café terraces, there are plenty of reasons to go to this small town just south of the Spanish capital.
Here's the story of my very first visit, with some background info and updated recommendations for the ideal Aranjuez day trip from Madrid!
How to Get to Aranjuez From Madrid
First things first! The most convenient way to get to Aranjuez from Madrid is on the Cercanías commuter train. The C3 train leaves from the Atocha train station about every 20 minutes. It'll get you to Aranjuez in around 45 minutes—for less than €7 round trip!
You can also drive from Madrid to Aranjuez, but it takes about the same amount of time. I suggest taking the train to avoid any potential issues with traffic and parking.
Now that we've covered getting there, here's the story of the first time I ever visited Aranjuez!
My First Aranjuez Day Trip
I arrived to Aranjuez angry.
Armed with my heavy camera bag, two lenses, and the idea of practicing my photography skills in the renowned Royal Palace of Aranjuez, I was crushed when I realized I had forgotten my camera's memory card.
It only made matters worse when we clearly went the wrong way after exiting the train. (It should be common sense that having to bolt across the train tracks in a touristy town is not normal, but common sense is not always my strong point!)
So we were already lost, surrounded by trees, and walking down a wide dirt road. I was pouting and feeling bad for myself and probably getting on everyone's nerves.
But as we walked along, we caught a glimpse of what could only be the Royal Palace, and my friend offered me her digital camera. Things were looking up.
Aranjuez: A Bit of Background
I didn't know much about Aranjuez before arriving. Since moving to Madrid I'd been hearing about strange-sounding Spanish cities constantly: Aranjuez, El Escorial, Chinchón, Segovia, Alcalá de Henares, Toledo...
I figured that they would each be nice but not necessarily impressive after living among the gorgeous whitewashed old towns of Andalusia. As usual, I was wrong, and the places I've been so far have each been unique and incredible.
As for Aranjuez, here are some fun facts just in case you want to know a little more than I did before visiting:
- Aranjuez has been an important city since Roman times, when it served as a Roman stronghold.
- In the 13th century, Aranjuez was the headquarters of the Order of Santiago.
- King Felipe II was the one who commissioned the stunning Royal Palace of Aranjuez and its unique and sprawling gardens (almost 750 acres!). He also named it an official Royal Site in 1560.
- The Catholic Monarchs (Ferdinand and Isabella) used to spend time in Aranjuez at the official royal summer residence and hunting lodge.
- In 1851 Aranjuez was such a big, important city that Spain's second railway ever was built to connect it with Madrid.
- It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.
- The town is famous for its strawberries and asparagus.
How to Spend a Day in Aranjuez
When I first visited Aranjuez, we had no specific plan (which is sometimes the best way to travel)—so we decided to eat first.
There were people everywhere passing out flyers for local restaurants with enticing (and cheap) daily menus. We decided to choose rather randomly and enjoyed a quick menu del día at a nearby restaurant.
If you'd rather plan where to eat in Aranjuez ahead of time, here are a few local restaurants with good reviews:
- Casa José: Creative cuisine with great vegetarian options
- Casa Delapio: Upscale seasonal tapas and an excellent wine list
- El Rana Verde: Fresh seafood, roasted meats, and homemade desserts
Visiting the Royal Palace and Gardens
Next, we decided to tour the Royal Palace. There's a student discount available if you're under 25, but as neither students nor youngsters, we each paid €9 for the non-guided tour of the palace (which also included a few other monuments we never got around to).
Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of palace tours and it was basically what I had expected: gaudy-looking rooms and a rather fake feeling, like a movie set. I'm sorry if my ignorance offends any art history people—but I think my €9 would have been better invested in pastries for my merienda!
After trying our best to convince ourselves that the palace tour had been well worth it, we walked around the royal gardens for what seemed like hours. They were gorgeous and enormous: the perfect place to aimlessly wander around—until you realize you're at least two miles from the entrance!
Exploring the Town Center
Exhausted, we finally made our way back to the center. I was really struck by how different Aranjuez was from the other Spanish towns I'd visited. It seemed much more spread out and organized, with wide avenues, big sidewalks and boulevards, and plenty of space everywhere! This is definitely not the norm in some Spanish towns.
Lastly, before catching the train back to Madrid, we stopped at one of the town's many cafés for coffee and a pastry. My camera crisis long forgotten, I had really enjoyed my day in Aranjuez, and mentally added it to my list of places to return with visitors (if anyone would just come to visit me already!).
In my opinion, Aranjuez makes for a perfect day trip from Madrid. I would say that it's currently tied in first place for me, along with Toledo. I think it's the ideal day trip for someone looking for a relaxing day spent out of the city.
Aranjuez Day Trip FAQs
Absolutely! If you're looking for a relaxing day trip from Madrid, Aranjuez is a great option. It's small enough that you won't be overwhelmed by too many sights to see, and the Royal Palace, gardens, and old town center are more than enough to fill up a few hours.
The easiest way to get to Aranjuez from Madrid is by train. Head to Atocha train station to catch the Cercanías C3 train; the journey takes about 45 minutes and costs less than €7 round trip!
Aranjuez is known for its grand Royal Palace, which dates back to the 1500s. It's been an official residence of the Spanish royal family for centuries. The town itself has existed since Roman times, and was once the headquarters of the Order of Santiago. It's also known for its production of asparagus and strawberries.
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