Every week during the month of August you will be able to read about a different day trip you can take to escape the city and see vastly different parts of Spain. And what’s more? All these locations are just around 160 km (~100 mi) away or less!
Segovia is up next on the list. Another popular and easy destination to visit from Madrid. It was actually the only must-see city near the Comunidad de Madrid that I made it to during my study abroad semester. In fact, I’ve only been there one other time with my then-boyfriend (now husband) so I’m already concocting another visit in my head as I research and write this post.
Each time you travel to a new city (or someone visits you in yours), you’ll almost always find you have a different experience every time. And my two visits here to this cozy, adorable (yet very dusty) fairytale Castillian town couldn’t be any more night and day from one another. It was an adventure – that garnered me a very unique souvenir the first time!
But before I go into detail on that, let’s dip into the town’s rich history and what you can do and see there.
(Photos are a mix of my two different visits to Segovia)
Stone architecture is prolific in the various regions that make up Northern Spain but surprisingly enough, it can also be found in other parts of the country, such as Segovia. The story behind its stones is an extensive one and it dates back to the construction of the town’s famed aqueduct. The Romans ruled Spain (or Hispania in Latin) for about 500 years starting from the 2nd century B.C. Hispania consisted of Spain, Portugal, Andorra, and Gibraltar at the time but as we know, became separate countries later on.
The Carthaginians, Celts, and Iberians were already settled on the peninsula, and conquering them (and the land) was something that was appealing to the Roman Empire at that time in history. It took over 200 years for the Romans to take captive of the land they had desired but the mark they left on the country can still be seen to this day.
The Romans had created many successful systems and inventions by the time they conquered the Iberian Peninsula. They introduced irrigation techniques and improved and developed agriculture like olive, wheat, and wine productions for the country.
Indoor plumbing and water sources wouldn’t be invented for a long time after their reign but the Romans had constructed these stone channels (or pipes in modern day history) to carry water from one place to another. They were especially useful and crucial to delivering water over ravines and large open spaces where the water would be prone to contamination. Segovia’s aqueduct (the word being derived from the Latin words aqua [water] and ducere [to lead; in Spanish: conducir – to drive]) served a very vital purpose. (Just like the Caños del Peral fountain in Madrid did much later on in the 16th century)
In Roman times, the watercourse was divided into three parts. One in the outskirts where the water was collected from the source, one in the urban city center for it to be collected and distributed, and the other laid inside the arches of the aqueduct, to be collected and delivered to private homes. It’s the largest working aqueduct in the world after 19 centuries in use.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, the Acueducto de Segovia is the town’s prized gem and most recognizable symbol, besides the Alcázar which the Walt Disney World castle was later modeled after. Today, visitors can enjoy amazing stone architecture just a short trip away from Madrid, in Central Spain, and world-class Spanish cuisine. Get lost in the history and beauty of this dazzling town whose city limits hug the nearby Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range.
What Time of Year is Best to Visit?
Based on previous experience traveling to Segovia both in the freezing cold winter Castilla y León is known for and in the rainy autumn, I’ve definitely learned when NOT to visit this lovely, fairytale Spanish town.
The weather in Segovia mirrors that of Madrid but the province gets a lot more snow (or at least has the chance to) than the capital. There are a lot of flat, open fields in the Castilla y León region which means draftier and colder buildings and homes in the winter. In the summer, unlike Madrid, the temperatures cool down much quicker allowing people to sleep fairly comfortably. That is one of the major perks of visiting a town insulated by the mountains during the hot, unbearable Spanish summers.
As a rule of thumb, the best times to visit most of the country (Northern Spain aside) are March-May and September-November/December. Other travel guides and travel bloggers suggest visiting in the off-season which is December to February but I would take that advice with a grain of salt. Wind and dust storms are actually quite common in the winter in various places around Castilla y León and the temperatures usually drop below freezing (0ºC/32ºF)
A blizzard is not so common but it happened this past year when Filomena hit and froze over 45 provinces in the country, including Segovia and the surrounding mountain towns.
Spring and fall would be the best seasons to do a day trip here. I would recommend visiting sometime in late April to early June (when the spring rains will be over and it won’t be too hot). Mid-September to late October would be best for a fall visit (before the autumn showers begin) especially if you want to climb up the Alcázar’s tower or spend a lot of time taking photos or hiking around the area. Wintertime would be cozy and romantic for a couple (and a good time to do an overnight trip) but the cold really acts a buzzkill (and freezes your hands!) for anyone wanting to explore and be out and about in the town.
Best Things to Do in Segovia
El Alcázar y el Museo de la Artillería
Built in the 12th century and originally an Arab fortress, the royal family, prisoners, and soldiers used to make the castle their home. It was where the Spanish royal family lived for centuries. In fact, in 1474 Queen Isabella I was crowned in this very same castle. The most famous castle in the country, what sets it apart from other castles is the fact that it was not only built in a natural defensive advantage (like most castles were) but its foundation rests atop a huge rock shaped like the bow of a ship. The River Eresma and the Clamores stream (arroyo) converge just behind the Alcázar and served as added protection for the royal family against invaders. It’s full of exquisite decorations, interesting tapestries, carefully preserved furniture, and shiny armor.
Entrance is 9€ for the castle, military museum, and access to the tower (152 steps). It closes at 6:30 pm in the winter and 8 pm in the summer. The last entrance to the tower will be 1.5 – 2 hours before closing (if you’re lucky enough to make it up there!) There is a 2€ discount for children ages 6-16 years old and college students up to the age of 25.
Acueducto de Segovia
La Catedral de Segovia (Recommended)
A mid-16th century Gothic cathedral located in the town’s main square, La Catedral de Segovia is most well-known for how it is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It was constructed after the fire that consumed the old Romanesque cathedral a few years before in 1520. Juan Gil de Hontañón’s design was used and it has three main doors, one in particular called the Puerta de Perdón (Door of Forgiveness).
Entrance is 3€ for a general ticket, 6€ for a guided tour of the Cathedral and 7€ for a guided tour of the tower. Visiting the tower is 5€ for the general price. Guided tours are given at specific times during the day so it would be a good idea to be punctual if you book one. The Cathedral usually stays open until 6:30 pm but extends their opening hours to 7:30 pm on Saturdays.
A positive piece of news is that the Catedral de Segovia reported a higher number of visitors in July 2021, showing signs of recovering a bit from the extreme drop in tourism to the town since 2020. Visiting in the fall and winter myself, I just didn’t have enough time to go to all of the major hot spots in Segovia during visits that only lasted a few short hours. Especially when I was shielding myself from the gale force gusts of wind and dust one visit and dodging huge bouts of rain showers during another.
Mirador de la Pradera de San Marcos (Recommended)
If you don’t mind the hike and potentially getting a little worn out on your way up, this free mirador is said to give its viewers postcard-perfect views of the castle. The kind of views that lets you take in the full length of the castle’s spires and the mighty rock formation that it rests upon, all these centuries later.
I would’ve made my way up to this lookout point a long time ago had it not been for the inclement weather that accompanied my visits. I imagine you could get two different views of the castle in the daytime and then at night – which sounds amazing. All the more reason to go back!
Iglesia de San Millán (Recommended)
A stunning Romanesque 12th century church located on the way to the aqueduct, this architectural gem is most known for its lovely tower views of the Segovian old town. Its construction reflects a heavy influence from Aragón, especially its mudéjar (Mozárabe) style tower. It appears to be part of an old church that used to stand where the current one is today. Entrance is free and the church has services and special events for anyone interested.
Museo Rodera – Robles (Recommended)
Owned by the Fundación Rodera Robles, this museo segoviano (also known as the Casa Hidalgo) joins the two personal art collections of Eduardo Rodera and Rafaela Robles, a married couple from the mid-20th century.
It’s also a beautiful example of a royal’s urban residence from the 15th and 16th centuries. It has seen some remodeling and changes throughout the many years it’s existed but its well-preserved interiors have been featured in TV shows and movies. It used to house the Museo de Segovia but that has since been moved over to the Casa del Sol.
General entrance is 1,5€. The Rodera – Robles museum is closed on Mondays (and on other holidays). Tuesdays to Saturdays it’s open until 7 pm with a long midday break. Take a long lunch yourself if you plan on visiting it in the afternoon!
Where (& What) to Eat
Ironically both times I visited Segovia, I packed or bought a sandwich and snacks. It’s the easier of all the towns in this day trip series to eat a packed lunch in since there are quite a few squares and open spaces to sit in. (I wouldn’t recommend doing this now as the pandemic still goes on but I definitely suggest bringing along a water bottle because you will get thirsty with all the walking between monuments.)
With Segovia boasting some of the heartiest Castilian Spanish food, I am sort of eager to get back here for another visit and actually eat at a restaurant in the town. Its most popular dessert is called ponche segoviano, a classic sponge cake (bizcocho) filled with cream and topped with two different layers: one with marzipan (mazapán) and the other powdered sugar. Lastly, a rhombus shaped design is imprinted onto it and served in slices.
Other typical pastries that are eaten on Segovia’s patron Saint day, San Frutos (October 25th), are los florones (made of crispy; thin puff pastry with anise and molded into the shape of a flower) and el pajarito (a delicious rounded cream filled pastry “crowned with birds made from different materials.
Much like Burgos and Ávila, neighboring cities to the north and south respectively, Segovia is very much known for its meat. Being a town that oscillates from extreme cold in the winter and extreme heat in the summer, pork and lamb make up two major components in the Castilian diet.
Cochinillo (roast suckling pig) is by far the most popular dish to try when visiting Segovia and it is what has made the town world famous. Those who have tried it have said it’s tender, moist and some of the best quality pork that they’ve ever tasted. It’s very heavy, too, so make every effort you can to eat it for the midday meal instead of for dinner. Your digestive system will send you a big thank you.
Based on what I saw for menus of the day in Ávila that also offered the dish, I would advise you not to spend more than 25€ for one person and no more than 45€ for two people. A lot of restaurants perform a type of ritual and cut the cooked suckling pig clear across its back with a plate. Restaurante El Bernardino is said to have excellent quality food and is located a little ways away from the aqueduct, where restaurant tend to be more expensive. Aim to make a reservation by either phone or email at the restaurant of your choice as they can book up quicker than you can imagine, especially when space is limited during times like these.
Distance from Madrid
Starting from a central location like Madrid’s Puerta de Atocha station, Segovia is 99.8 km (62 mi) away. From the Estación de Chamartín, it’s 91.7 km (57 mi) away. It rounds out to a nice under 100 km (62.1 mi) trip from the city!
Although many years apart, I’ve taken a direct bus into the city center both times I visited Segovia. Back in 2010 and armed with very little knowledge of Madrid’s transportation networks at the time, I barely knew where I was. I was traveling solo for most of my visit (though I was visiting a high-school friend in her study abroad city). However, with not a real clear idea of where I wanted to go for a day trip, I just knew that I had wanted to go somewhere at the time. I didn’t know about a great deal that most bus and train companies in Spain offer when you book roundtrip tickets instead of an open-ended one-way ticket. If you’ll be visiting the town as a part of a big tour of Spain, a study abroad semester, or a short-term stay, the price difference will really make a difference in the long term. If you’re a Spanish resident, you’ll welcome the extra savings but it likely won’t make or break your trip’s budget.
All those years ago during my first visit, I was wrestling between visiting Toledo or Segovia but couldn’t do both with the less than five days I had in Madrid. At that time, you could actually leave for Toledo from the Moncloa station but, that is not the case today in 2021.
What won me over in the end?
That Disney-inspired castle. Having been to Disneyland in California as a young girl, I longed to see the majestic castle it was modeled after. So, my decision was made but I hastily bought a ticket on the bus itself (when you could do that more often – it was a different time back then).
The roundtrip ticket at today’s price is only 4,19€ each way, for a total of 8,38€ both ways. I remember paying around 16€ in 2010 both ways buying single tickets each time so the overall cost of the bus tickets has relatively stayed the same. There will be a service fee if you book the tickets online (via Busbusgo as an example), around 1,20€, which is low. But, if you’d rather go to the station yourself and book the tickets to save on the fee, especially if you’ll be near or passing by the station before your trip by all means.
The journey will take around 1 hour and 20 minutes and just keep in mind that the last bus usually leaves around 9:45 pm each night.
Depending on the time of day you want to travel to the town, the train could actually end up being more expensive for anyone on a budget or looking to get the best deal on transportation. It’s also a little more inconvenient of the two options because after you arrive at the Segovia train station, you’ll need to look for either a taxi or a city bus to get to the city center itself. I’ll explain why.
My best tip for leaving Madrid would be to catch the RENFE train starting from the Estación de Chamartín instead of Atocha. If you are closer to the Estación Puerta de Atocha, choose the Cercanías route over the Metro to travel to Chamartín as it will get you there much faster. At Chamartín, you will board the ALVIA train headed to Segovia Guiomar via Santander (the final stop). If you already know the estimated time you want to return to Madrid, whether that is the same day or a couple of days later, I would encourage you to buy the ida y vuelta (roundtrip) ticket. There is almost a 3€ difference in the price so it would be worth it. The roundtrip price is 11,10€ vs the one-way ticket price of 13,90€. If you would prefer not to be confined to a specific time frame to end your visit, then by all means book the one-way ticket for the flexibility. Keep in mind that the last train usually leaves around 9:30 pm.
The journey on the AVE train only lasts 27 minutes which is a breeze compared to the bus. However, keep in mind that you will have to add on extra time to go from the station, which, like in many Spanish cities, is at the far end of town, thus not saving you too much time in the grand scheme of things.
To get to Segovia’s city center, you will have to add on a couple more euros for the taxi or bus (check the different ticket prices here) you’ll need to catch. The pros of catching a taxi would be that you could avoid the packed bus (under normal circumstances) and pay about the same per person if you’re traveling in a group of 3-4 people. According to the city of Segovia’s bus routes, Bus 11 or Bus 12 would get you to the city center and/or aqueduct. If you have an Android phone, you can also download the Avanza Bus app to confirm schedules and routes. From the online reviews, the app has issues when it comes to purchasing long-distance bus tickets, so be careful about using that feature. For the bus, you will pay a 2€ flat ticket price to travel to/from the Segovia Guiomar station each way. The taxi sharing might knock off a few cents but it definitely would be more comfortable than a crowded bus. Though, you could always take it on your way back to the station.
This Day Trip is Perfect for Anyone Who Loves…
Exquisite art and architecture
Intricate stonework (and adventure)
I eluded to a twist in the story of my first visit to Segovia as a bright-eyed 21 year old study abroad student but didn’t get the chance to share what it was. Back in late February 2010, I visited a high school acquaintance in Madrid and as we walked around the city together, giving me her own personal walking tour, she told me about the different day trips you can do to nearby towns. Her study abroad program had some local trips around Spain included in the price of her tuition so she had been to a couple of places already.
Since we both had never been to Spain before that year, neither of us knew the weather and seasonal patterns very well at all. We pretty much only knew what we had read from our textbooks, guidebooks and orientations beforehand.
Needless to say, I was not aware of the frequency of high winds and dust in Castilla y León in the wintertime. Also, even though my dad is from the Great Plains which are known for their high winds, I hadn’t spent as much time there in the winter either. The more I got to know different landscapes in Spain, however, the more precautions I took while I crossed large squares or visited flatter regions in the winter.
What happened to me during the high wind warning in Segovia on that cold February day?
Well, on my walk down one of the sloped streets leading towards the Alcázar and around the corner from the Cathedral, a lot of dust jammed itself into the corners of my eyes, the creases in my thick peacoat and directly into my face. The wind, albeit icy and cutting, was actually a welcome reprieve as it pushed me forward like someone pushing you on a swing, down in the direction where I needed to go.
On the contrary, the walk back up those narrow, dusty streets, with the sun shining not so brightly on my back, proved to be almost impossible. I remember choking on the wind as I pushed my whole body forward, against its current. Gasping for fresher, less frigid air at times and raising my coat sleeve up as a shield to block it. A man who was walking arm and arm with his wife on the other side of a very narrow (in my mind) street not too far from the Cathedral – once again – in reality.
The older Spanish man took compassion on me and the couple was actually moved to help me. I didn’t see what was going on between them due to keeping my focus straight ahead but suddenly the man called out, “Campeona, campeona!”
As much as I tried to walk up that street with no shield and no sunglasses (I had left those behind in Andalucía), those two long-time locals (I assume) knew from experience that the battle with those winds couldn’t be won using that tactic.
The man handed me a black felt hat with a small black flower and thin sash around the top of it. “Toma,” he said. Take it. He wished me well with it and on their way they went.
I was taken aback by the gesture but thanked them. Two complete strangers helping another stranger who received nothing in return. Except for the satisfaction of knowing they helped a pale, foreign-looking girl save her eyes from the awful dust storm that was swirling around her with every step she took.
So, other than a few postcards I had bought that visit, I came home with a more precious souvenir that literally flew into my hand. And a story to tell!
You never know what adventures you will have when you travel.
Going on guided tours (personal or private) and learning a city’s deep history
Do you like splurging a little more for a private tour or audio guides at specific famous monuments?
Or maybe someone you know likes to do that in order to get the most out of their experience.
If so, I strongly encourage you to do what you love or would not want to miss out on. I remember my boyfriend, an avid solo traveler himself, telling me how much he loved the fact that I let him be our tour guide during that trip. He provided so much extra detail and historical facts while we strolled through the rooms in the Alcázar. Things I didn’t know even after previously studying both art history and Spain and its history. That was a special moment primarily because he also told me that that was the first time he was sharing all those fun historical facts with someone and not bouncing those well-known facts around in his own head, as he had done many times before.
If you’re like him or just love to get the in-depth explanations on historical monuments, their history and construction, go for it. To challenge yourself even more, grab an audio guide in Spanish or book an all-Spanish walking tour. Whichever language you choose, you will definitely walk away with more knowledge than you had before you started!
Have you been to Segovia before? Is there anything I might have missed or should visit next time? Let me know in the comments!