When you´re staying in a city for a longer time for vacation, work or whatever reason you might have, you get the opportunity to get to know not only the city itself, but also its surroundings and nearby towns. That´s why I decided to start this little series showing you the beautiful places you can easily visit when staying in Madrid.
San Lorenzo de El Escorial, with its impressive monastery and tranquil southern European small town charm, is located about an hour north of Madrid in the Guadarrama mountains. The scenery is pretty and the history of this village very interesting. Even if it was just for the train right up from Madrid, to me it would be worth it, as you drive through the green countryside towards the (if you go in winter or best in spring) snowcapped mountains. Note though, that it is the center of town, that is pretty. When you arrive at the train station in the neighbouring village El Escorial you won´t expect that to be true.
How to get there
Take the Renfe Cercanias train line C-3 from one of the many stops in the center, Atocha, Sol, Nuevos Ministerios or Chamartín to El Escorial. From there you can either walk up or take the bus to the center of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. Or take the car via A-6 and M-600 or M-30, A-6 and M-505.
The Palace and Monastery
Here´s a bit of the history and architecture (I´ll keep it short, but find this seemingly monotonous place´s history pretty interesting) of the incredible building.
The whole building is laid out in form of a grid -to honor the Holy Laurentius who is said to have been burned on one. Phillip II. let Juan Bautista de Toledo plan this structure, as he won a battle the day of the Saint. The almost 500-year-old building has over 33000 m² and has been declared a UNESCO world heritage sight.
Make sure you visit the basilica, that´s painted ceilings I found amazing, simply for how many different characters are portrayed – I´ve never seen anything like it – and the library with it´s beautiful old interior and huge quantity of old works. This place makes you feel like you´re travelling in time.
Entrance to the Basilica is free, for the monastery and library there´s a fee of 10€.
A stroll through the village
This place is a laid back, cute mountain village, that gives you pretty alleys and time to wind down after days in the busy capital. I love to go there for a stroll, to do some thinking and just have some time to myself, while in a nice environment.
If you go around christmas the village is decorated with life sized scenery of the christmas history. And as a person who hasn´t really gone to church in years let me tell you, it is actually really neat to see even if you´re not religious.
All in all this is a daytrip you should take if you want a slow day, even though once the temperatures rise, there is more and more life in the village.
Where to eat
To find a place to eat or drink something in San Lorenzo de El Escorial is probably one of the easiest things in the world, considering that walking through the village you get the feeling that there´s a bar, restaurant or café for every inhabitant (I´m exaggerating a bit, but you´ll understand what I mean once you visit).
- Plaza de la Constitución
All around this main square of the village there is an abundance of restaurants and cafés, like Las Viandas, that usually get pretty solid reviews. But as it is central and beautifully set to let you enjoy the sun it is super crowded and attracting to tourists. So if you´re having a day you look for a little more privacy this isn´t the place for you.
- Pan y Canela (photos above)
This small café is set at the Plaza de la Cruz, which is nearby the main square, but way more quiet and less crowded and touristy. When I went there for the first time I decided to come back every time I visit San Lorenzo de El Escorial, because it is the cutest café, with a beautiful interior design, super friendly and quick service and delicious pastries. My favourite and a definite recommendation!
- El Charolés
According to my hostmum “the Restaurant in San Lorenzo de El Escorial”, as they are well- known for their good cocido madrileño, a typical dish you should definitely try whilst visiting Madrid. The restaurant is a little hidden in a small alley overgrown by trees between Plaza de la Constitución and Plaza San Lorenzo.
- All around San Lorenzo de El Escorial you´ll find beautiful nature and opportunities to go for a hike and enjoy the Guadarrama mountains. After crossing the grand square in front of the monastery you can hike up to the “Silla de Felipe II” for example, which gives you a great view of the village with the -in winter snowcovered- mountains in the background.
- Below the monastery you can walk through the park around the Casita del Principe, that has some impressively huge trees (photo above).
- On weekdays there are Bus connections (Bus 660) to the Valle de los Caídos, the Valley of the Fallen, that was comissioned by Francisco Franco and built on the Risco de Nava mountain, where the dictator is burried. It consists of a huge square, a long basilica in an artificial cave and the world´s highest crucifix, that can be seen from far away.
And now all that needs to be added is “Happy exploring!” Has anybody been to San Lorenzo de El Escorial? Which Madrid daytrip destinations would you like to hear about?