Between its Mediterranean climate, gastronomic delights, and rich cultural heritage, Spain draws millions of visitors each year and few Spain destinations rival capital city Madrid for a starting point. While it may not have the glamour of a coastline, the country's largest city dates back to the Middle Ages and is overflowing with both historical treasures and 21st century excitement.
Whether you're a tapas-loving gourmande or want to stamp out a fiery flamenco beat, there are plenty of Madrid tours on the market. But to truly uncover the heart of Spain, nothing compares to the comfort and convenience of car rental. Driving in Madrid can be nightmarish, so stick to hoofing it on foot or taking advantage of public transportation for the first part of your Central Spain road trip. But once you're ready to leave the city limits, pick up a private rental car from one of Auto Europe's convenient Madrid car rental locations and prepare to take in the sights and sounds of Central Spain at your leisure.
A variety of Spain destinations await you among the expansive wheat fields outside the country's capital. Once you've had your fill of the wild nightlife and incomparable art collections in Madrid, head north to stunning Romanesque Segovia to gawk at its fairy tale architecture and tuck into local delicacies like the traditional roast suckling pig. Nearby Ávila, dubbed the Town of Stones and Saints for its high concentration of ancient churches, also boasts UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Finally, wrap up your road trip in Central Spain with a visit to historic hotspot Toledo. Toledo, Spain tours reveal the complex interweaving of religion throughout Spain's past and offer a meditative end to your journey.
With a Spain rental car at your side, you can truly make the most of your Spain trip, both indulging in the modern magic of the city and discovering the meaningful moments of its surrounding countryside.
Read on to Drive to Discover Central Spain
Perhaps the liveliest of Spain destinations, Madrid boasts top-notch museums and legendary nightlife, perfect for kicking off a road trip in Central Spain. Art fiends will find no shortage of beautiful places to visit in Madrid. Begin at the Museo del Prado, a massive collection of paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints from around the world, including Spanish greats like Goya, Velázquez, and El Greco. Continue your canvas-gawking at the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, home to works by Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, and Pablo Picasso's poignant mural Guernica, a pacifist commemoration of the Nazi bombing of the Basque town.
Find lesser-known works at the Museo del Arte Thyssen-Bornemisza. If architecture is more your speed, Madrid is brimming with several centuries worth of stunning buildings and squares, like the 18th-century Palacio Real, where visitors can also tour the Royal Armory and old-fashioned palace apothecary. The 17th-century Plaza Mayor, once home to bullfights and the Spanish Inquisition, now makes the starting point for many guided walking Madrid tour and also holds excellent people watching.
Need a break from museums and tours? Enjoy a refreshing stroll through Retiro Park or rent a rowboat to take out on its central lake. If thoughts of Madrid conjure up images of colorful matadors, take an afternoon tour of Plaza de Toros Las Ventas or catch a Sunday show. Shoulder season and off-peak visitors will be rewarded not just with lower prices and fewer tourist crowds, but also the joy of cheering on the Real Madrid team at a rowdy football match at Bernabéu Stadium. After a day full of sightseeing, let loose at one of the city's fantastic bars or clubs.
Step into old-world Spain with a fiery, soulful flamenco show at Las Tablas or a glass of fine sherry at traditional watering hole La Venencia. For a more modern night on the town, try a cocktail lounge with pumping DJ tunes like Museo Chicote. To see Madrid in all its unhinged, party-hard glory, come during festival time. The Fiesta de San Isidro in mid-May welcomes the city's patron saint day with parades, bullfights, and good ol' fashioned dancing in the streets. Closely following the holiday in early summer is the Suma Flamenca, a wild celebration of all things flamenco.
Madrid is a city that deeply honors culinary tradition and even visitors can get in on the cooking action by cobbling together a lunch of cheeses, charcuteries, and other Spanish delicacies at deli Vinos Gonzalez or the Mercado de San Miguel. Tapas bar hopping is a popular pastime anywhere in Spain, and Madrid is no different. Some small plates stars to add to your list: the tortilla de patatas at Juanalaloca, the croquetas at Casa Julio, and real Andalucian jamón at Bocaito. Adventurous snackers shouldn't miss out on the squid sandwiches (bocadillos de calamares) found up and down Plaza Mayor. For a heartier meal, tuck into truly authentic Spanish fare at Casa Alberto, like grilled octopus or deep fried peppers stuffed with oxtail, or get a perfect paella at the romantic El Caldero. If you can brave the throngs of tourists and accordingly steep prices, dig into the legendary roast suckling pig at Sobrino del Botín, the famous former haunt of Ernest Hemingway. Vegetarians can indulge in a sizeable buffet at Viva La Vida.
If you're really on a shoestring budget, you can snag royal accommodations at a peasant's price - literally - at Cat's Hostel, whose dorms, tiled courtyard, and rockin' basement bar are all nestled within a 17th century palace. Social butterflies will get the most bang for their buck at the student-friendly Los Amigos Sol Backpackers' Hostel. Travelers with deeper pockets can find modern, squeaky clean, business-class rooms at Hotel Liabeny or Hotel Preciados, or get a little funkier at the Mercure Madrid Centro, whose 60 "cultural-themed" rooms are inspired by the 17th century writer.
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The stunning Romanesque terracotta and sandstone architecture of Segovia is a truly storybook-esque microcosm of Spanish history, earning the whole town a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list, and the city's mountainous setting makes it a real hit with Spaniards looking to beat summer heat. The 28-meter-high and mortar-free engineering marvel El Acueducto is the most visible vestige of the Caesars, but Roman foundations lurk beneath many other city attractions, like the Gothic Catedral. The 19th century reconstruction of the medieval Alcázar looms dramatically over the town and makes a stunning tour stop and prime panoramic viewpoint. Modest Moorish architecture and troves of medieval churches line the city streets, making a simple afternoon walk the most picturesque of affairs. While the town itself is quite walkable with some pedestrian-only streets, drivers can branch out and get postcard-worthy views from Vera Cruz Church, a dodecahedronal structure built by the Knights Templar in the 13th century.
No Central Spain road trip is complete without indulging in the regional specialty of a roast suckling pig. Segovia has plenty of spots for diners to do the traditional meal right, like the celebrity-frequented Mesón de Candido or the locals' favorite Restaurante San Martín. If your tastes are decidedly less porcine, there are plenty of tapas bars and relatively pig-free home-style joints in town as well. Get experimental with the chef's choice "mystery sampler" at Narizotas, or gobble up delectable seafood dishes at La Golondrina, like fried octopus or creamy mushroom stuffed squid.
Travelers can secure modern, classy accommodations at Hotel Los Linajes, while those on a tighter budget might prefer the quiet, family-run Hospedaje el Gato, which also houses a smoky tapas and breakfast bar.
Additional Travel Resources: Segovia
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At the crossroads of medieval and Mediterranean lies charming, historic Ávila. The UNESCO World Heritage Site's main claim to fame is its winding City Walls, a remarkably preserved lens to the 12th century and great start to touring the town's innumerable historic churches, from the royal Monasterio de Santo Tomas to the majestic patchwork architecture of the Basilica de San Vicente. For a postcard-perfect view, don't miss the Four Posts - the religious ruin stands alone on the ideal vantage point for snapping a photo of Ávila's medieval walls. If you're visiting during one of the region's famously hot summers, you can beat the heat and break up a day of sacred sightseeing with a refreshing walk through the Grutas del Aguila, full of spectacular natural cave formations.
Dig into hearty home cooking at Los Candiles, a moderately priced joint ready to warm your bones with a piping hot bowl of tomato and bread soup or a tender chuletón rib steak. Get a little more experimental at Padel League with mushroom croquettes and grilled octopus. Ávila also boasts some excellent fusion restaurants like Restaurante Toixos or the painfully hip Soul Kitchen, which is also conveniently located inside the town's 16th century castle. Looking for a sweet treat after your meal? Keep your eyes peeled around town for yemas de Santa Teresa, a lemony custard cake particular to Ávila and named for the town's patron saint.
Drift off to dreamland in luxury at Palacio de los Velada within the central city walls. The expansive hotel has a laundry list of amenities and a breathtaking courtyard housing a restaurant and bar. Just as conveniently located is Parador de Ávila, with large rooms cushioned in authentic medieval setting. Value seekers will find a relative bargain in the expansive stone rooms and terrace restaurant of Hotel las Leyendas.
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Toledo is a magnificent mishmash of Spanish history, filled with monumental vestiges of Roman, Visigoth, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian occupation. Begin your journey through the history of Spanish religion at the Catedral de Toledo. A beacon of traditional Catholic architecture, this towering cathedral is rife with stained glass, glittering gold works, and sacred arts. Move a bit further back in Christian history with a tour of the Franciscan monastery San Juan de los Reyes. The city's Jewish Quarter is jam-packed with sightseeing hotspots including a 14th-century synagogue and a museum on Sephardic history. Finally, exploring the city's labyrinthine streets will give you a small glimpse into Toledo's Moorish influences.
Toledo is no exception to Castilla Y Léon's affinity for carnivory - many of the regional dishes you'll find here are all about the meat, from lamb to partridge to wild boar. Take in a quiet, romantic three-course dinner centered around local game and roasts at Los Cuatro Tiempos Restaurante, or step into the shoes of an old world aristocrat at the palatial Castilian Tobiko Restaurante. Simple and hearty home cooking rules the roost at Restaurante Mesón Palacios where local families and tourists alike can enjoy a steaming, rib-sticking bowl of bean soup with partridge. For a lighter meal that doesn't sacrifice traditional flavors, grab a table and a plate of fresh grilled vegetables at cozy La Abadia or a healthy vegetarian dish at Madre Tierra Restaurante Vegetariano.
Toledo, Spain tours appeal most to Madrid day trippers, but with your private rental car, you can experience even more of this charming historic town with an overnight stay. Once you've settled into the cozy stone-and-wood-beamed digs at Casa de Cisneros, sneak a peek through the glass porthole in the lobby to check out the building's foundations atop an 11th century Islamic palace. Boutique hotel La Posada de Manolo also makes the most of Toledo's religious history with rooms themed around Christian, Jewish, and Islamic culture. Or you can splurge on a room in the Parador de Toledo which looks over the Tajo Gorge to the same view of Toledo that inspired El Greco.
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