I once heard that if you find yourself in Madrid, make sure to visit El Escorial. And that’s just what I did.
After celebrating the New Year in Madrid and seeing almost the entire city, I decided to take a day trip down to El Escorial.
From downtown Madrid, I took the Metro to get to Moncloa bus station (or what they call in Spanish “intercambiador”). There were two bus lines 661 and 664 that go to El Escorial and both were being operated by A. Herranz, S.L. Tickets can be bought directly from the bus driver which cost a reasonable 3.50 Euros per passenger for a single trip. The trip was just a short 45-minute drive (50 kilometers) from Madrid. And even before I knew it, I was already in El Escorial exploring the old town and the famous Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen).
My first stop was the Tourist Information Office which was right across the Real Monasterio de El Escorial (Royal Monastery of El Escorial). Armed with a map and some souvenir bookmarks the lady handed me, I was off to the Monastery. It opens at 10 a.m. and closes at 8 p.m. (on April 1 – September 30) and 6 p.m. (on October 1 – March 31). Self-guided tour to the Monastery costs 10 Euros.
By the way, if you intend to go to Valle de los Caidos, I suggest you begin the Monastery tour as early as possible as it takes at least 3 hours to see the entire Monastery (2 hours for a hurried tour). The bus going to Valle de los Caidos leaves the station at 3:15 p.m. and the tickets are not available for purchase until 3 p.m. So plan your schedule accordingly.
The Monastery was very impressive and boasted of 16 patios, 88 fountains, 13 small chapels, 15 cloisters, 86 stairs, 9 towers, 1200 doors and 2673 windows. As if it weren’t enough, it also consisted of numerous secret passages, a Royal Pantheon, a Basilica, Chapter Houses, Art Gallery and Museum of Architecture, among others. Unfortunately taking photos and videos was strictly prohibited.
By lunch time, I found myself at Del Arte Restaurant at Calle Floridablanca 14. Their menu del dia (set menu of the day) was not bad for 14 Euros. As soon as I finished my dessert and coffee, I hit the old town and proceeded to see the Charles III Royal Coliseum, the Infant’s Little House, and the King’s Coach House, among others.
At 3 p.m. I got myself a round-trip ticket to Valle de los Caidos for 2.10 Euros. By 3:30 p.m., I was admiring the views at Valle de los Caidos and firing away my DLSR to capture the spectacular, breath-taking panoramic views. My last stop was the Basilica where Francisco Franco’s tomb was located. Again, taking photos and videos was not allowed inside the Basilica.
By 6:15 p.m., I was on the bus going back to Madrid. It was definitely a day to remember. If I had another day, I would definitely spend the night over and experience El Escorial by night. But hey, that’s another reason to come back.
How to get there: Take the bus 664 or 661 from Moncloa Bus Station, which is located on the 1st floor when coming from the Metro.
Insider’s Tip: Bus 664 (through Guadarrama) has less stops than 661 which goes through Galapagar. Renfe train is about 1 kilometer from the Monastery, whereas the bus station is just about 500 meters.
9 a.m. – Leave Moncloa bus station to arrive at 10 a.m. in El Escorial
10 a.m. to 1 p.m. – Tour of the Monastery
1 p.m. – Lunch at Del Arte Restaurant
2 p.m. to 3 p.m. – Walking tour of the old town
3 p.m. – Return to the bus station to purchase bus tickets for Valle de los Caidos
3:15 p.m. – Bus leaves for Valle de los Caidos
3:30 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. – Tour of Valle de los Caidos
5:30 p.m. – Bus departs Valle de los Caidos for El Escorial
6:15 p.m. – Bus 664 leaves El Escorial for Madrid
The courtyard of the Monastery
Del Arte Restaurant’s outdoor seating at Calle Floridablanca, 14
A snapshot of a 2-star hotel called Hostal Cristina which is located right across the bus station
Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen) and the Basilica where Franco’s tomb is situated