This weekend, I left Spain for the first time this semester to visit London. Though it sometimes feels like travelling around Spain is going to different countries, the lack of Spanish heard on the streets of London was a reminder that I was actually in a different country this time. Though I managed to visit cities in 6 countries last semester, I have spent quite a lot of time travelling in Spain.
One of the best things about Madrid is how easily connected the city is to the rest of Spain and Europe. Since we’re in the center of the country, very few cities are more than a 6-hour bus ride away (even shorter if you were to take the Ave or a flight). Whether you just want to spend the day outside of Madrid, you want to explore for a weekend, or you want to go away for longer, there’s something here for everyone.
There’s a plethora of small and large cities near Madrid that can be easily accessed for a day trip. From Segovia to Toledo to Ávila to Cuenca, there’s something to see in every direction. Personal favorites have included Segovia (a perfect size for a not-too-overwhelming day trip with fabulous architecture) and Consuegra (to see Don Quixote-esque windmills), but I’ve never been disappointed to heading out toward the Sierra de Guadarrama for a hike.
For a little bit longer, you can easily head to Zaragoza (a surprisingly beautiful cathedral that’s worth at least one night), Valencia (a beach only two hours away!), or many charming, small towns that each have their own character and castle. Popular weekend trips include Barcelona (a classic), Mallorca (who wouldn’t want to see the island), and Bilbao (surprisingly northern and beautiful, complete with a Guggenheim museum). Last semester, we had a great trip to Bilbao via Logroño which is the capital of La Rioja. Stopping to tour a winery, before spending a night in the small city was definitely a highlight of the semester.
If you have even longer (like Semana Santa or our week-long break in December) I would recommend going south to Andalucía or north to Galicia. Whether you want to explore the wet and rainy coast, or see the incredible Moorish-influenced art and architecture, you can’t go wrong.
Though I have been to almost everywhere on my Spain bucket list (I’ll be back for you, Cádiz and Córdoba!), I am constantly surprised at how diverse the country is. Given that in square kilometers, Spain is smaller than Texas one might expect a more geographically homogenous looking country. While America’s “amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesties” are pretty gosh darn spectacular, Spain’s mountains, plains, and coastlines do a pretty good job of advertising the natural country’s beauty.
While studying abroad, it can be tempting to run off to explore the rest of Europe every weekend, and there’s something to be said for experiencing it all while we’re here, but we are living in Spain after all. With so many incredible places to see, I guess what we really have isn’t a problem, but just the great dilemma of deciding where we want to go next weekend.