Located a short bus ride from Madrid, the monarchical complex of San Lorenzo de El Escorial—situated on a hilltop with stunning views over the Spanish landscape—is critical to understanding Spanish power and politics in the 16th and 17th centuries. A sprawling, palatial complex, El Escorial occupied a central role in Spanish political history as a seat of power outside of the urban center of Madrid, and in this way provides an interesting contrast to Versailles and other rural royal residences throughout Europe. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it's a major must-see site. Our four hour guided El Escorial excursion, one of our many half- and full-day trips from Madrid
, is led by an accomplished historian or art historian. This El Escorial tour will draw connections between politics and religion in 16th century Spain, putting the stunning landmark in a new perspective.
El Escorial Excursion from Madrid
Our excursion begins in Madrid, with a bus ride (45 mins) out to the site. Along the way, we'll look at the figure of Philip II of Spain, who founded the complex in 1563 with a dual purpose: as both a monastic foundation and a pantheon for the Habsburg dynasty—specifically as a burial place for his father, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and other members of the royal family. The direct involvement of Philip II in the project has been discussed by historians at length, and we'll look at some of these interpretations as we tour the site.
El Escorial Tour
Once on site, we'll explore the residential quarters, the monastery, and most of the major buildings. We'll have ample opportunity to explore and discuss the layers of meaning within the complex, which came to symbolize both the international prestige and the private beliefs of a monarch who ruled over a vast empire. Religion and politics are linked together at El Escorial, reflecting the convergence of the spiritual and the secular in the politics of 16th-century Spain.
Our visit will also include the Library whose holdings rival those of the Vatican in number and importance, as well as a collection of Flemish, Italian, and Spanish paintings, and two eighteenth-century recreational lodges for the royal family. (If you wish to see more art while in Spain, consider our Prado tour
.) At the end of the visit, participants are free to remain and continue exploring on their own and will be provided with instructions for getting back to Madrid.
El Escorial with an Expert
An optional visit to the fascist monument of the Valle de los Caídos, a short bus ride from the monastery of San Lorenzo, may be included in the excursion. This basilica, built within the mountain and surmounted by a monumental cross, is the burial place of Francisco Franco and Primo de Rivera. It remains controversial for its use of forced labor in construction and ties to fascism, despite its supposed purpose as a monument to the fallen soldiers of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). (To learn more about the conflict, try our Spanish Civil War tour
.) While this additional visit will entail an extra hour, this site provides an excellent contrast to the monumental El Escorial designed by Philip II in 1563.
FAQ About the El Escorial Day Trip
There are 5 in my family but your website won't allow me to include more than 4 participants. Can't you make an exception?
Unfortunately not. The group size restriction is imposed by El Escorial.
Where do we meet? Where does it end?
You'll meet in Madrid, at Moncloa Bus Station (your confirmation will have the exact meeting point). In total, this is a 4 hour excursion. Travel time to El Escorial is about 1 hour, then we'll spend 3 hours on site. Return time is not included in the excursion. You can stay in El Escorial on their own and eat lunch, or return to Madrid with the guide.
Do we need tickets?
You will purchase your bus and entrance tickets on-site (your guide can assist you with this). It is a good idea to have cash on hand—approximately €25.
Can I participate in another tour in the afternoon?
Depending on the timing of the second tour, it may be possible. Please contact us to see if this is feasible.
Is this tour mobility friendly?
The Palace is not disabled friendly. It is “partially accessible” which means visitors with reduced mobility can see about a third of the palace. There are a lot of stairs throughout the venue. If you are restricted to a wheelchair, the most you will be able to see is the Basilica. Our typical tour involves bus service between El Escorial and Madrid. We recommend private car service for those with reduced mobility.
Can we arrange private car service instead of taking the bus?
For private tours, yes. The car will be at your disposal for the duration of the day. If you'd like to arrange car service, just mention this in the notes section of your booking. We will follow up with you to establish your exact needs in order to provide a quote and then adjust your order accordingly after it's been submitted.