Planning Your Time

Madrid is an excellent hub for venturing farther into Spain, but with so many choices, we've divided them into must-see stand-alone destinations and worthy stops en route to other parts of the country. Some are day trips; others are best overnight.

Must-see, short-trip destinations from Madrid are Toledo, Segovia (add Sepúlveda if time allows), Sigüenza, and Salamanca. Salamanca should be an overnight trip as it's farther and has buzzy nightlife.

If you're traveling to other areas in Spain, we suggest the following stopover destinations:

If you're on your way to Salamanca, stop in Ávila (buses go direct to Salamanca without stopping, but most trains stop in Ávila).

If you're on your way to Santander, San Sebastián, or Bilbao, stop in Burgos.

If you're on your way to Asturias, stop in León.

If you're on your way to Lugo and A Coruña, in Galicia, stop in Villafranca del Bierzo or Astorga.

If you're on your way to Córdoba or Granada, stop in Almagro.

If you're on your way to Valencia, detour to Cuenca. Most trains, including the high-speed AVE to Valencia, stop in Cuenca.

Extremadura is a neglected destination, even for Spanish tourists, but it's a beautiful part of the country with fascinating cities like Cáceres (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and Trujillo, both of which have been used as filming locations for Game of Thrones. You can get a lightning impression of Extremadura in a day's drive from Madrid (or on a pit stop on the way to Lisbon), though overnighting is preferable. It's about 2½ hours from Madrid to Jerte; from there, take the A66 south to Cáceres before heading east to Trujillo on the N521. Split your time evenly between Cáceres and Trujillo. If you have more time, spend a day exploring the Roman monuments in Mérida and do some world-famous bird-watching in the Parque Natural de Monfragüe, near Plasencia. If you can, visit the Monasterio de Yuste, where Spain's founding emperor, Carlos V, died in 1558.

Festivals

Central Spain is the land of festivals. Cuenca's Easter celebration and Toledo's Corpus Christi draw people from all over Spain, if not the world. During the pre-Lenten carnival, León and nearby Bañeza are popular party centers. Expect crowds and book accommodations in advance. Gastronomic festivals also abound.

Cherry Blossom Festival. For approximately two weeks between March and early May, depending on the year, Spain's prized cherry-growing region, the Jerte Valley, turns pink and white as more than a million cherry trees bloom in unison. Throughout the area, a series of live concerts, street markets, and gastronomic presentations accompany nature's show. Jaraíz de la Vera, Extremadura, 10612. 92/747--2558; www.turismovalledeljerte.com.

Feria Nacional del Queso de Trujillo. Trujillo's cheese festival, in early May, brings together Spain's finest cheese makers with hundreds of varieties to taste and buy (don't pass up Pascualete, named the best cheese in Spain by the World Cheese Awards). The event is understandably popular with foodies. Trujillo, Extremadura, 10200. 92/732--1450; www.feriadelquesotrujillo.es.

Festival de Teatro Clásico. In Mérida, the highlight of the cultural calendar is this annual festival held in the restored Roman amphitheater from early July through mid-August. It features opera as well as classical drama and celebrated its 65th year in 2019. Pl. Margarita Xirgu , Mérida, Extremadura, 06800. 92/400--9480; www.festivaldemerida.es.

Fiesta de la Rosa del Azafrán. This festival, held in the last week of October since 1963, celebrates the annual saffron harvest, one of La Mancha's longest-standing traditions. Watch a saffron-plucking contest, savor locally made manchego cheeses, and marvel at folk dance spectacles—all with a backdrop of Don Quixote–style windmills. Castille-La Mancha. 92/547--5731; www.consuegra.es/fiestas/fiesta-de-la-rosa-del-azafrán.

Los Escobazos. On December 7, the city is filled with bonfires celebrating the Virgen de la Concepción. Watch out for the locals play-fighting with torches made out of brooms—or if you're feeling daredevilish, join in. Jarandilla de la Vera, Extremadura, 10450. 92/756--0045; www.jarandilladelavera.es.

WOMAD Cáceres. The World of Music, Arts and Dance draws crowds of around 75,000 in early May. Main stages are set up in the magical surroundings of this ancient city's plazas for free concerts, and other events include shows staged in the Gran Teatro, children's events, and a grand procession. Calle San Antón 0, Cáceres, Extremadura, 10003. 92/701--0884; www.womad.org.

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