Aranjuez – A Truly Royal Escape

Spring seems to arrive early in Madrid (at least by my Midwestern standards) marked by daytime highs that can flirt with the upper 70’s as early as March. It was on a warm and sunny Saturday morning when my friend and I boarded a commuter train from Madrid’s Puerta del Sol station headed for a destination that I knew little about, Aranjuez. I later realized that the very brief paragraph I found in my Spain guidebook about this small city was unjust for the grandeur that would ensue.

Aranjuez Train Station

Interior of the Aranjuez Train Station

Aranjuez is truly one of Madrid’s hidden gems fit for a king. Located just 28 miles (46km) south of the Spanish capital, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is most prominently known for its sprawling royal gardens and the Palacio Real (Royal Palace). After about an hour-long train ride, we arrived at the Aranjuez station that was architecturally impressive designed in the Moorish neomudejar style.

As with most daytrips from my home base in Madrid, I did very little pre-planning and decided the day before to make the short journey from the city. With this said, I naively figured that a royal palace would be visible from the train station or at least down a well marked pathway. I guessed wrong. As usual my lack of direction was fortunately compensated by my reliance on the Google Maps app on my phone (this is something I’ve been working on since I started traveling).

Aranjuez Arches

Ten minutes later after walking down a wide dirt road, we were faced with the summer residence of Spanish royals dating back to the reign of Felipe II. Unlike other daytrip cities from Madrid like Toledo and Segovia, which are given a lot of hype (and for good reason), Aranjuez is not on the typical tourist’s itinerary when visiting Madrid. Although this might explain for the serene landscape with a much less touristy feel, it is a shame that more people do not know about this underrated sight. Here are my favorites from the day.

Real Iglesia de San Antonio (Royal Church of St. Anthony)

Real Iglesia de San Antonio (Royal Church of St. Anthony)

Royal Palace & Gardens

The plans for this royal complex began in the 16th century and the grounds have been evolving ever since. We opted for the self-guided tour and the interior of the palace was what one would expect with baroque pieces, beautifully painted ceilings, and heavy fabrics. Unfortunately after touring one Spanish palace, you feel like you’ve seen them all. On such a perfect spring day the gardens take center stage. You could spend hours upon hours wandering through the several gardens that are adorned with bubbling fountains and statues. From traditional busts and urns to whimsically trimmed hedges, these green spaces will not disappoint.

Aranjuez Palace Ext Landscape

Jardín del Rey (King's Garden)

Jardín del Rey (King’s Garden)

Museum of Royal Barges

Well, they are not quite barges and more like massive (recreational) rowboats built for Spanish monarchs such as Charles IV and Ferdinand VII to take a leisurely cruise down the Tagus River. This museum is very small, yet it is included with the admission ticket for the palace and perfect for maritime enthusiasts. It was incredible to see the skillful craftsmanship of these half dozen wooden sea craft that are outfitted in lush fabrics to appease royal tastes, of course. One boat had even ‘sailed’ in the once royal gardens of Madrid that is current day Retiro Park.

Strolling through the Prince's Garden

Strolling through the Prince’s Garden

Aranjuez Gardens

Plaza de Toros (Bullfighting Ring)

Can you believe that I had been living in Spain for seven months and still hadn’t step foot inside of a plaza de toros? Well, that quickly changed as I wandered into the brightly painted red and yellow bullfighting ring of Aranjuez housing one of Spain’s oldest traditions. To my surprise, it included a bullfighting museum, but it was too late for us to enter – darn! Although I’ve heard many local opinions on this controversial Spanish pastime, my feelings for bullfighting are still up in the air. I hope to attend one next year and decide for myself.

Have you ever traveled somewhere you felt was underrated? How did you discover it?

Note: historical facts found and/or verified at







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8 Responses to Aranjuez – A Truly Royal Escape

  1. Anne July 16, 2014 at 10:39 am #

    Your pictures always take me right back to Spain 🙂 I never made it to a bullfight myself, and I don’t know how I feel about them. I guess I need to go see for myself, but look forward to a post about it from you!

    • Ryan July 16, 2014 at 7:25 pm #

      Thanks Anne! Some Spaniards are diehard bullfighting fans, but many of the people I met respect the sport with mixed feelings. I do want to go to one when I return to Madrid and will definitely report back with my two cents.

  2. Jenny | A Thing For Wor(l)ds July 16, 2014 at 4:35 pm #

    “Unfortunately after touring one Spanish palace, you feel like you’ve seen them all” LOL I’d have to agree on that. As for bullfighting, I caught a fight on TV once and couldn’t even stomach it, so that squashed any desire to see one in real life. I’m not for it, but since I’m not from the culture tampoco, it’s not really my place to say.

    • Ryan July 16, 2014 at 7:27 pm #

      I wrote that about the palace with some hesitation. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who feels that way. Also, I really appreciate the Spanglish lol.

  3. Mindi @ 2foodtrippers July 17, 2014 at 6:10 pm #

    Unexpected gems are always travel highlights. It seems that you found one in Aranjuez. Very cool.

    • Ryan July 31, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

      I sure did! I want to yell at every tourist in Madrid to visit there lol.

  4. Chanel | Cultural Xplorer July 19, 2014 at 2:32 pm #

    It looks beautiful there! I don’t even think I heard of that area when I went to Madrid, I ended up taking to a day trip to Segovia 😀

    • Ryan July 31, 2014 at 2:20 pm #

      Chanel, how did you like Segovia? I visited last November and it was a snow-covered winter wonderland. I’ll be writing a post about it soon. Did you try cochinita while you were there?

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