Commissioned by King Felipe II as a testament to Spain's devout Catholic faith, El Escorial was built in the 16th century after the French were defeated in the Battle of Saint Quentin. The highlights of this immense UNESCO World Heritage Site—considered the most important monument of the Spanish Renaissance—include the elegant basilica; the marble Pantheon de los Reyes, where many kings and their relatives are buried; and the Patio de los Reyes, the entrance to the monument. The site is a must-visit for history buffs and architecture lovers.
Most visitors explore El Escorial on a group or private full- or half-day tour from Madrid. The famous royal monastery is frequently combined with either a tour of the Valley of the Fallen (Valle de los Caidos), a trip to the city of Toledo, or a city sightseeing tour of Madrid. Travelers can choose between basic admission, an audio guide, and a guided tour.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Day trips from Madrid typically last between 5 and 11 hours, depending on the options chosen.
- It’s best to wear comfortable walking shoes suitable for uneven surfaces.
- The basilica is the most wheelchair-accessible site, while the palace has a number of staircases.
How to Get There
If planning to visit both El Escorial and the Valley of the Fallen, by far the most convenient option is a guided tour from Madrid, set about 37 miles (60 kilometers) away. Independent travelers can catch a commuter train from Atocha or Chamartin station in Madrid. From the train station, it’s possible to catch a local bus to the monastery. You can also take bus 661 or 664 from Madrid’s Moncloa bus station.
When to Get There
El Escorial is open Tuesday to Sunday, from 10am to 6pm from October to March and from 10am to 8pm from April to September. Each August, San Lorenzo de El Escorial hosts festivities to honor their patron saint, San Lorenzo, and the Virgen de Gracia pilgrimage passes through the streets of town in September.
Visiting the Valley of the Fallen (Valle de los Caidos)
Only 9 miles (15 kilometers) from El Escorial is the Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen), which is frequently paired with El Escorial tours. This monument was built under dictator Francisco Franco's direction to honor those who had died in the Spanish Civil War. For a moving experience, check out the immense cross atop the mountain and marvel at the mosaics in the basilica, where Franco was laid to rest.