Tag Archives: El Escorial

Outside Madrid: Fascinating Day Trip to Manzanares El Real, Spain

There is a small town situated in the northern part of the Community of Madrid known as the Manzanares el Real.

As a shoestring traveler, I am always delighted whenever I discover an amazing Spanish pueblo nearby.

In the case of Manzanares, it proved to be budget-friendly since it is near the capital. The price of a bus ticket to this day trip destination is 4.20 euros, similar to that of other nearby towns like Chincon and El Escorial, to name a few. Its proximity is definitely a boon since you don’t need to stay overnight. The short travel time means a fast bus ride home, with your hot meal and warm and cozy bed waiting for you to enjoy.

You can go to Manzanares in the morning, head to the Nuevo Castillo de Manzanares el Real, the town’s main attraction, explore other sites and attractions up until late afternoon, squeeze in some hearty lunch break at a local restaurant, and then catch the 7pm bus to Madrid. In other words, Manzanares el Real is one easy, exciting and affordable day trip — whether you’re going solo or with friends.

How near is Manzanares el Real?

The town is approximately 50 kilometers away from Madrid, which translate to a travel time of around 55 minutes from the bus station at Plaza de Castilla to the stop at the pueblo, right in front of the tourism office. In a little under an hour, you will be transported to this beautiful town. From the bus stop, walk a few minutes until you reach the Plaza del Pueblo, a town square of average size. The Ayuntamiento building stands out, being the tallest edifice in the area.

It is apparent Manzanares is low-key compared to the much popular Spanish attractions such as Toledo and Segovia. Still, it is a tourist’s delight, especially if you love castles and fortresses (preserved and in ruins), beautiful, jagged mountains, and hiking.

Especially for the city dweller, Manzanares is a chance to reconnect with nature. Enjoy an exhilarating hiking adventure starting at the Plaza Mayor up to the spot close enough to the fascinating pedriza mountain — the Ermita de pena sacra.

New Castle of Manzanares el Real


Also called the Castillo de los Mendoza, the castle is built way back in the 1400´s. It is recognized as the best preserved castle-fortress within the community of Madrid.

Castillo Viejo

Old castle manzanares el realThe Castillo Viejo, or the Old Castle, was built by Hurtado de Mendoza, the Admiral of Castile. Eventually, as the Mendoza clan achieved greater opulence, a larger castle was built, leading to the negligence of the old one. The original, once stately royal edifice is now in ruins.

Ermita de Peña Sacra

Pena sacra ermitaErmita de Nuestra Señora de Peña Sacra, perched on an elevated land, is one reason why you would want to walk near the Pedriza Mountain.

Iglesia de Ntra Señora de las Nieves

Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de los Nieves
The town is blessed with a beautiful church, the Nuestra Señora de las Nieves, located along Calle de Nuria. It is near the Castillo Viejo and the Old Bridge. Its portico feature was added during the 16th Century, enhancing its Romanesque appearance with a Renaissance style.

Canada Real Segoviana Bridge

imageAlso caĺled the Puente Viejo or the Old Bridge, the Puente de la Canada Real Segoviana reeks in rich town history, being a part of the pueblo´s birth and development. Note, however, that it has taken a modern appearance, oweing to the fact that it has undergone renovations.

More Manzanares, Madrid attractions

imageAyuntamiento building in front of the Manzanares el Real town square

imageCourtyard in the interior of the Nuevo Castillo surrounded by porticoes

imagePeering through a castle window, I couldn’t help but marvel at the picturesque town

imageThe Manzanares reservoir (Embalse de Santillana) imageA breathtaking view of Mount Pedriza and the town from atop the castle
imageLush greenery with grazing bovine creatures. I chanced on this impressive scene as I walked all the way to the Ermita de Ntra Sra de Peña Sacra

imageI love long walks, and so it thrilled me to have tread seemingly endless dirt roads. Along the way were gargantuan boulders and rock formations, some of which were riddled with graffiti. As  more boulders and stones appeared along the way, I knew I nearing Pena Sacra Church.

imagePanoramic view of the the Ermita de Pena Sacra and the Pedriza Mountain

How to go to Manzanares El Real, Spain

Regular bus ride service is available from Madrid. The line that maintains a daily trip schedule to Manzanares el Real is auto bus 724.

At the Plaza de Castilla bus station, proceed to Darsena 24 where the auto buses to your destination are assigned to wait for passengers. Tickets are bought on the bus at 4.20 euros.

Castillo Nuevo Entrance ticket price: 5 euros



Monasterio de El Escorial: Renaissance Monastery of Spain

imageMust be that everyone I know gushes about how the Monasterio de El Escorial is no ordinary monastery, and friends who’d been there were egging me to no end to make that day trip and see it myself.

Indeed, not a bit about it is ordinary, but instead, everything is simply fascinating when last week I finally visited the place.

It took 21 long years to complete this 16th-century edifice, sprawling on a vast expanse of land within the San Lorenzo de Escorial Town. I’m guessing it covers an area equivalent to a few city blocks.

Without a doubt, El Escorial is such a magnificent monument, both inside and out. Not only is it a monastery, but a palace as well, and one fit for the King of Spain no less.

El Escorial is a prime example of how grand the Spanish Renaissance era was. Pomp and lavishness are apparent in its interior, which is expected since it was a royal residence. It is complete with the friars’ garden, museum, hundreds of regal rooms, a spacious courtyard, reliquaries, and even a school. I thought its biblioteca real (library) is really impressive – the interior seems to glow because of its golden ceiling.

Suffice it to say, San Lorenzo de El Escorial is the perfect day trip destination, not only because of its incredible monastery but also because the town is just 45 kilometers from the capital city of Madrid. If only for its proximity, you must consider it for your next exciting Spanish adventure.

1. Mount Abantos, the town, and the Monastery

The location of the monastery is calming, like the town itself, and the whole setting is like a quiet and rustic countryside. The mountains are towering heaps of nature, particularly Abantos of the Sierra de Guadarrama. Abantos seems to look beyond the town and into the monastery. The town, the mountains nearby, and the many places of interest, including the monastery itself, make San Lorenzo de El Escorial an ideal place of retreat.

2. Monastery, West Portion

The western facade of the monastery of El Escorial. Going through this side will immediately bring you to the Courtyard of the Judah Kings and the Basilica Real.

3. Royal Basilica and the Courtyard of the Kings

I peer through the arch column to marvel at the basilica and the Patio de los Reyes, must-see sections of the monastery. The church is decorated with a number of sculptures of saints, biblical figures, and kings, and other valuable religious items, all of which are creations of Spanish and European Renaissance artists.

4. Old Testament Kings

Looking down the patio are the six sculptures representing the Kings of Judah or Old Testament Rulers, standing on the upper middle portion of the basilica’s facade.

5. Royal Basilica, Interior

Many of the church’s sculptures, paintings, and other works of art are created by renowned artists from Spain and other European countries.

6. The Pantheon

This part of the palace houses the sepulchers that contain the remains of the Spanish Royalties, such as the kings from the Bourbon dynasties.

7. The Magnificent Palace Gardens

Philip II instructed the creation of a vast garden, which served as a place to soothe the mind. Not only did he care for the gardens, but everything inside the monastery as well.  He was a patron of the Renaissance and so he commissioned the palace decorator to fill the place with thousands of impressive works of art.

8. The Monastery’s Garden Pond

Beside the Palace Garden is the pond, the sight of which is breathtaking. Needless to say, all the features of the monastery contributed to making it as the most important monument in the San Lorenzo de El Escorial Town. A major creation of the Renaissance era, it was declared by UNESCO in 1984 as a World Heritage Site.


9. Casas de Oficios

Near the grounds of the monastery are a series of buildings, called the Casas de Officios or the House of Trades, with narrow streest in between., The town’s tourism office is housed in one of the casas, along Calle Grimaldi, and is across the main entrance of the monastery.

10. Royal Coliseum of Charles III

El Real Coliseo de Carlos III, at Calle Floridablanca 20, is one of the town’s major centers of arts and performances. Currently, it is a venue for theater acts and concerts. Named after the former Spanish ruler Charles III, it used to be called the Lope de Vega Cinema.

11. Ayuntamiento de El Escorial

San Lorenzo de El Escorial’s town hall might be small, but it is nonetheless charming. It is located at the Plaza de la Constitucion, where also found are a number of touristy cafes and restaurantes.

12. Casa de Cultura

The primero Casa de Officio houses the Casa de Cultura of El Escorial. The latter is popular with town residents and tourists who love to participate in an afternoon of cultural activity. Crafts, arts, and cultural events are regularly held here.

13. Casita del Infante

The Infant´s Little House, also known as the Casita de Arriba, was originally intended as the infant child Gabriel de Bourbon, Carlos III´s brother. It also acted as a music building and was built with a concert room designed in a way that any performance bould be heard both within and outside the building.


14. Casita del Principe

The facade of La Casita del Principe. Of neoclassical design, it was a recreational building of then Asturias Prince Carlos IV. It later on served as a residence of the king and his royal family in El Escorial during the 19th Century.

15. Santuario Parroquial de Nuestra Senora de Gracia

The doors of Santuario Parroquial de Nuestra Senora de Gracia were wide open when I got there, which allowed me to have a glimpse of its interior and say my prayers. Resembling a chapel due to its small size, Santuario Parroquial de Nuestra Sra de Gracia is one of the few town churches of San Lorenzo de El Escorial.


How to Go

Go to Moncloa where you can buy tickets on the bus. Take 661 if you want to reach the town via Galapagar; and 664 if you want to pass via Guadarrama. Both 661 and 664 bus tickets to El Escorial costs 4.20 euros. [I intend to take the 664 bus next time since it stops by the gates of The Valley of the Fallen. However, from the gates, be ready to walk some 3 miles to the site, which is more or less an hour].


Basic Fee: 10 euros

Visiting days: Everyday except Mondays

Monastery opens at 10AM

Advice: Keep your ticket on hand. Staff at every section of the monastery may require visitors to present their tickets before they are let in. Don’t bring large bags or backpacks if possible; otherwise you will have to keep them in a locker at the cloakroom while touring.

Taking photos is not allowed in El Escorial´s interior areas. Attempting to shoot is a frustrating exercise as staff members are relentless in preventing any stolen shots. As for the above pictures of the cathedral altar and the Pantheon, I borrowed them from my gutsier tour mate.