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San Lorenzo del Escorial daytrip from Madrid

The monumental complex of San Lorenzo del Escorial, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984, is located little over 40 minutes (50 km/30 miles) to the northeast of Madrid. It is one of the most emblematic municipalities of Madrid due to its history, cultural richness and amazing landmarks. El Escorial, considered the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, is undoubtedly one of the most recommended visits from the capital. The area’s gastronomy is also known not only for its cooked meats, but scenario in which they are served.

San Lorenzo del Escorial
San Lorenzo del Escorial history

The monumental complex of the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial is situated next to Mount Abantos, in the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range. Philip II ordered its construction to commemorate the victory of the battle of San Quentin (August 1557) over the troops of Henry II, king of France. The work lasted 21 years and with time became a royal mausoleum, a necropolis for the Spanish monarchs. This tradition has been maintained throughout the history of the Spanish monarchy.

Philip II ordered the design of El Escorial to Juan Bautista de Toledo, a Spanish architect who studied in Italy as Michelangelo’s helper in the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica (Rome). After the death of Juan Bautista, Juan de Herrera takes over as the head architect. Juan de Herrera executes the work with a serene style known as “Herreriano style”, characterized by the austerity of its lines. Symmetry and equilibrium are the best adjectives used to define the architecture of El Escorial.

San Lorenzo del Escorial tourism information

Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Madrid
Interior view of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Madrid
San Lorenzo de El Escorial village

Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Madrid. Interior viewThe landmark complex of El Escorial is found within the city, and deserves to be visited by foot. The whole Escorial complex is composed of: The Basilica, The Palace of the Bourbons, The Palace of the Austrias, The Pantheons, The Museums, The Library and the Casitas.

The Monastery attracts attention with the grandeur of its construction. Its interior holds the Basílica, a Doric church that occupies the central part of the complex. Inside the Basílica, the chorus stands out with magnificent frescos adorning the vault. Very significant are also the 45 chapels around it, and the altar presided by an enormous altarpiece, designed by Juan de Herrera and decorated with polychrome marble, bronze sculptures and paintings.

Royal Pantheon in El Escorial, MadridJust under the Basilica’s largest altar lays the Royal Pantheon, which is composed of smaller pantheons where the majority of the Spanish monarchs after Charles V are buried. It is decorated in black marble and golden bronze. The disposition of the urns is curious: the kings are to the left of the altar and the queens, who gave birth to future monarchs, are on the right.

The visiting hours for the Basilica are from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. In spring and summer the hours are extended until 6 p.m.

Next to the Basilica, the visitor can continue the view of the Monastery in the Palace of the Bourbons. In front of the solemnity of the rest of the installations, the room is highlighted by the sumptuous décor that Carlos IV ordered. The Palace is small and therefore visit reservations are recommended. Call 918 905 902 and 918 905 903.

The visit continues to the Palace of the Austrias, residence that Philip II ordered constructed next to the largest altar of the Basilica for his convenience. A window permitted the monarch to follow the mass from bed when illness prevented him from being able to stand up. On the contrary to the Palace of the Bourbons, the austerity of the décor is what calls attention.

As with the Palace of the Bourbons, it is recommendable to call ahead for information about visits to the Palace of the Austrias. (Tel. 918 905 902 and 918 905 903)

Besides being a faithful devotee, Philip II was cultured and well-educated, and hence requested the construction of museums and the library. The architecture of the library includes 11 rooms where one can see the tools, cranes and other materials used in the construction of the Monastery. Also on exhibit are the plans and documents relative to the works.

The pinacoteca (art gallery), divided into four rooms, is a must-see with its works of German, Flamenco, Venetian, Italian and Spanish schools from the 15th, 16th and 17th century.

The library is highlighted by its vaulted ceiling, wooden bookcases and marble floors. It was the first public library in Spain and had a collection of 40,000 volumes. This is owed to the decree Philip II signed in which copies of all publications were required to be sent to him.

Other buildings of interest that form part of the architectural complex of the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial are the Casita del Infante (Infant's house) and the Casita del Príncipe (Prince's house). The first is also known as the Casita de Arriba (Upper house) and the second as the Casita de Abajo (Lower house). Both are luxurious small palaces that Philip II ordered to be built for the lodging of the infants.

San Lorenzo del Escorial gastronomy

Besides the obligatory tour of the landmark complex, the Escorial seduces with its delicious gastronomy, typical in the outskirts of the Madrid sierra. Cooked meats are especially famous in this area. One can choose to eat tapas or from the menu for about 12€, or seated dining for about 25€ per person (depending on the chosen restaurant).

One of the most well-known restaurants is the Taberna La Cueva (Calle San Antón, 4. Tel. 918 901 516). This is an old hostel from the 18th century. Its famous dish is huevos a la cueva: fried eggs with ham, accompanied by potatoes. Other well-known restaurants are Horizontal (Camino Horizontal, s/n. Tel. 918 903 811) y Parrilla Príncipe (Calle Floridablanca 6. Tel. 918 901 611).

Transportation

By car: is 50 km (30 miles) to the northeast of Madrid, approximately 45 minutes via the highway A6. Visit GoogleMaps for more information on how to get to Escorial by car.

By train: The trains heading to the Escorial depart from the Atocha Station (Metro Atocha) and from the Chamartín Station (Metro Chamartín). These are local trains and therefore make stops along the way. The trip takes about and hour. The trains run from 6:30 a.m. until midnight. The price each way costs 2€. For more information please consult RENFE at 902 240 202.

By bus: Buses to the Escorial depart from the Intercambiador de Mocloa (Metro Moncloa). The 661 bus line runs Madrid - El Escorial trips from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. The duration of the trip is one hour and costs about 3€. For more information please contact the Intercambiador de Moncloa at 915 433 645 and 915 438 167.

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