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Regions of Spain

Central Spain

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The ultimate guide to central Spain

Central Spain

Central Spain is not an administrative region. We make use here of the notion of central Spain for trip planning purposes, and basically include in it regions and cities which are located within 2 hour driving distance from Madrid. This basically means we include: the region of Madrid, Castilla Leon and Castilla La Mancha.

Central Spain has played a very important part in Spanish history.  Madrid became a region late, since before that it had been part of Castilla La Mancha. In older days there were not two Castillas, but only one kingdom. Isabella was the queen of Castilla and through the marriage with Ferdinand, they both shaped Spain as it is known today.

What follows is an introduction to this huge area in Spain. This post is useful as a first guide to draft your travel plan in central Spain. You will find more detailed recommendations and information in each of our city or attraction guides.  We hope you enjoy your travel planning!

Central Spain guide - Contents

Best of central Spain in a nutshell

Central Spain is extremely rich in heritage. An important number of cities in this large area of Spain holds the status of Unesco heritage sites. The cities of Segovia, Salamanca, and Avila in Castilla Leon own this status. But they are not the only places recognized by Unesco: the cathedral of Burgos, the mines in the natural area and roman mines of Las Medulas northwest of Leon, and the archeological deposits in Atapuerca, northeast of Burgos are also included in this list.
In the region of Madrid, the famous monastery of El Escorial, where Spanish Kings are buried is included in this list. Aranjuez, with the Aranjuez summer royal palace and gardens, the university city of Alcala de Henares (the birth city of Cervantes, author of Don Quixote), and the natural park of the hayedo de Montejo are also included in this list.
If we travel south to Castilla La Mancha, the list continues with the amazing city of the 3 cultures: Toledo. Cuenca, southwest of Madrid is also on this prestigious Unesco list, mainly due to the fabulous hanging houses. Last but not least, Almaden and its mercury mines got included back in 2016. The mines of Almaden have produced one-third of all the mercury used in the world
All the attractions and sites shown above are recognized by Unesco, but by no means it means no other places in central Spain deserve a visit. In central Spain, you will discover beautiful castles, fantastic examples of Romanesque art, some of the best gothic cathedrals in Spain, and natural reservoirs like Daimiel or the park of Arribes de Duero.

This is a region in Spain where the Meseta landscape (plateau) seems to be endless on the horizon, a land traveled by pilgrims in the Camino de Santiago from Burgos to Leon, or where wolves can still be spotted in the Sierras of Zamora.

Stainglass in the Cathedral of Leon
Iberico ham

Weather in central Spain

The climate in central Spain is continental. However, since the area we cover is very large, there are some differences from west to east and north to south. This means cold winters, hot summers and relatively short springs and autumns, but temperatures are cooler in Castilla Leon north of Madrid and warmer in Castilla La Mancha.
Best months to visit are from mid April till end of June and from early September till mid October.

Best way to visit central Spain

Probably the best way to enjoy central Spain is from Madrid. Most of the cities, smaller villages and attractions in this article are located at less than 2 hours drive from Madrid. They make for perfect day trips from Madrid. Since there are many things to enjoy a great idea is to prepare an itinerary that includes spending some nights at different locations.
If you are not willing to drive you will be able to enjoy a day tour from Madrid to at least some of the most important cities in the list. Train is also a very good option since Spain offers a great train network.

Top cities in central Spain

Madrid is by far the largest city in this area of Spain and no other city rivals Madrid in size nor economic importance.

There is a good number of midsized cities which are a guarantee for many discoveries: authentic places where local shops and restaurants have yet not been impacted by global trends, and a pace and way of life which go in hand with the idea of slow travel.

Valladolid, 2 hours north west of Madrid is the capital of Castilla Leon. It has a lively nightlife, great tapas bars and a good number of interesting museums like the museo nacional de Escultura. Valladolid does not hold however the beauty of some of the other cities in central Spain.

Let´s start with Segovia, a fantastic small city with one of the most impressive roman aqueducts in the world. Segovia is located at less than 1-hour drive from Madrid.

This is also the case of Toledo, arguably one of the top visits in Spain. The city can be described as an open museum and a maze of cobblestone streets and alleys. Cuenca is the second most visited city in Castilla La Mancha. The city overlooks two gorges and some splendid houses are built on the edge of one of them.
If we get back to Castilla Leon we should mention Burgos, Salamanca, Avila, Leon, Zamora and Palencia.

Salamanca is probably the most famous of these cities, famed for its university. You may not have heard of Avila and its perfectly preserved walls. Avila is Spain´s highest city, located at 3,700 ft) but it is mainly famous thanks to the 88 round towers that shape the strong walls that seal the old city of Avila.
Burgos is one of the most important stops in el Camino de Santiago. The city of Burgos was born as a stronghold against the moors and it counts amongst it treasures the cathedral, one of Spain´s top gothic jewels.

Leon, the city that shares its name with the region of Castilla Leon, shares with Burgos a unique gothic building; its cathedral, the building with the best colored windows in Spain. It is also a very important stop in El Camino de Santiago. 
Have you ever heard of Zamora or Palencia? The good news is that these 2 cities are left out of most tourist routes. This makes both of them really special and a good contrast to modern life. They both boast fantastic Romanesque architecture.

Top attractions in central Spain

Central Spain is home to some of Spain´s best tourist places. In this guide we are going to show some of the most important attractions and split them in 5 areas: civil buildings or constructions, religious buildings, museums, castles and palaces and natural parks.

Top Civil buildings

In this vast area of Spain you will be able to visit Spain´s oldest theatre: the Corral de Comedias of Almagro with its original rows of wooden balconies facing the stage.
The hanging houses in Cuenca date back from the 14th century and they hang precariously over the cliff of the river Huecar.
There are different areas in La Mancha where you can find windmills. Our favorite ones are in Consuegra and Campo de criptana. The idea of mills was brought by dutch builders to the plains of La Mancha, but their white color and rounded shape is a local adaptation.
The roman aqueduct in Segovia is a masterpiece of civil engineering to ensure the water supply of Segovia. The walls of Avila are also a great architecture example, though in this case architecture was put at work for pure defensive reasons.

Palaces and castles

Castilla means land of castles and so you can expect to find many of these in the different corners of the vast meseta castellana (plateau) . Along with castles palaces were also built, primarily for the Kings, who chose cities in central Spain as their courts. Madrid is only the last in a number of cities in the two castillas that served as court.
Madrid is home to the largest of all these palaces: the Royal palace of Madrid, but there are more royal palaces near Madrid. Aranjuez or La Granja were used as summer residences. In this article you can find more information on Spain´s royal palaces.
There are too many castle to name them all! Among our favorite ones in Castilla Leon: Peñafiel Castle, Coca castle, the castle of Cuellar, the Castillo de la Mota and probably the best known of all: the Alcazar in Segovia.
In castilla la Mancha there are some fascinating ones: Belmonte, Sigüenza, Calatrava, and proably our favorite one; the Almansa castle.

 

Top religious buildings

The number of churches, monasteries, cathedrals and other religious buildings in this part of Spain is vast. Spain´s most famous monastery, El Escorial, is located in the province of Madrid. But there are many more amazing monasteries: Dueñas in Leon, Santo Tomás in Avila. Probably our favorite convent is the one in Santo Domingo de Silos in the province of Burgos.
The most obvious examples of religious art are cathedrals. Madrid is home to the Almudena cathedral and each of the main cities in this region of Spain is home to an impressive cathedral. Toledo, Leon, Burgos, Salamanca, Cuenca, Zamora…. No matter where weyou Will visit you Will be sure to find a gothic or Romanesque cathedral of enormous value.

Beautiful villages in central Spain

The cities in this area of Spain are not too busy and provide already a different travel experience. However, if you would like to get that feeling to a different level you should then consider to visit off the beaten path places. In both castillas there are many quaint villages which are worth including in any travel itinerary to Spain.  Some of these villages are located even near Madrid and make a perfect day trip from the capital of Spain. Some others are not far from one of the important cities (like La Granja in Segovia for instance) while for others you will have to enjoy a longer detour.

This is our top 10 list of small villages in the central area of Spain. Some of them are in among the best small villages to visit in Spain.

 

Pedraza

This small walled village located in Segovia province which cannot be accessed by cars is very well-known to locals who visit its many restaurants in search of suckling lamb. Pedraza is also famous thanks to a concert organized every year during July. The village of Pedraza is only lit with candles and the only noise in the air is that of classical music. A great route to Pedraza and other similar villages includes Riaza, Aylllón and Sepulveda, with the possibility to enjoy a hike in the Hoces del Duraton gorge.


Covarrubias

Timbered houses, cobbled streets, a fantastic setting, a splendid Plaza, and excellent gastronomy. Could you ask for much more? Covarrubias is located at less than 25 miles from Burgos.

 

Santo Domingo de Silos

Silos, also in Burgos, is home to a famous monastery (Monastery of Silos). Santo Domingo de Silos is located near Covarrubias and on the way you will be able to enjoy the fantastic Yecla gorge. Silos monastery became very famous in Spain due to the music sang by the monks.

 

Frias

This small medieval village quenched on the top of a hill could well be part of any medieval movie. On the rough end of the hill stands the fascinating castle of the Duke of Frias. Frias is located halfway from Burgos and the Basque country region

 

La Alberca

As in the case of some of these fascinating villages, cars are not allowed in La Alberca. The architecture of this village in La Sierra de Francia in the province of Salamanca is outstanding, with many ancient half-timber houses. La Alberca is not far from Guijuelo, one of Spain´s best places to enjoy Jamón ibérico, and since it is located in the middle of a natural park it offers great hiking opportunities.


Urueña

If you could imagine a walled village which is also a book store you could get a good picture of what Ureña looks like. Fewer than 200 people populate this amazing village which boasts more than 12 book stores. This love for books has helped in bringing close to 50,000 book lovers every year. There is a very interesting museum dedicated to… yes, you guess it right, books!

 

Castrillo de Polvazares

Time seems still in this par of Leon. Located near Astorga in an area known as La Magaratería, this village with cobbled streets is the perfect place to enjoy the typical stew from Leon: cocido Maragato.

 

Alcala de Jucar

Located in the province of Albacete in Castilla la Mancha is with no doubt one of Spain´s most amazing villages and probably one of the best-hidden gems in the country. A look from the distance is enough to enjoy a village that literally clings to the cliff.

 

Sigüenza

This small town in the province of Guadalajara is well—known thanks to its castle, which today stands as a splendid Parador hotel . Sigüenza is also near other fantastic villages like Atienza, Brihuega or Pastrana.

 

Almagro

Maybe better known than most of the other villages in the list, Almagro is a mid-size town that boasts a fantastic plaza Mayor and the famous Corral de Comedias; one of Europe´s oldest theatres.