Ávila is best-known for its fully intact medieval wall, which fully encapsulates the city center and lets visitors feel like they've entered a Spanish village of yore. It's a charming Castillan town that's definitely worth a spot on your itinerary, but it doesn't quite have enough sites to fill an entire day. The best ways to visit Ávila are:
The problem with visiting two cities in one day is that you need to get your logistics nailed down, or you may be stuck spending the night somewhere you didn't intend to. You could book an organized tour of the Castille and León region that would include all of these historic cities, but if you plan ahead and know your options, it isn't complicated to make the trip yourself.
How to Get from Madrid to Ávila
- Train: 1 hour, 30 minutes, from $14
- Bus: 1 hour, 15 minutes, from $9
- Car: 1 hour, 15 minutes, 70 miles (114 kilometers)
Spanish trains are fast, easy to use, and the most comfortable way to travel between destinations. The national rail service, Renfe, offers several daily trains to Ávila, leaving about once an hour from Príncipe Pio station. The journey takes about an hour and a half, and you can purchase tickets in advance on the Renfe website or buy them at the station when you arrive. The ticket costs about $14 regardless of when you buy it, although there is a small discount if you purchase a roundtrip ticket.
A potential itinerary is to take the train to Ávila in the morning, explore the city center and wall, and then take an afternoon bus to Segovia. The bus trip is under an hour and costs about $8, and leaves you in the center of Segovia underneath its famed Roman aqueduct. From there, you could either spend the night in Segovia or take the high-speed train and be back in Madrid in under 30 minutes (the last train from Segovia leaves around 10 p.m.).
Another option is to spend the morning in Ávila and then hop back on the train and continue on to Salamanca, another historic town with one of Spain's largest universities. You'll have to purchase an additional ticket for the second leg of the journey, which takes about the same amount of time and costs the same as the first leg. If you need to return to Madrid the same day, there are high-speed trains from Salamanca to the Spanish capital that get you back in half the time, but Salamanca is a lively city with a lot of nightlife, so it's worth staying the night.
The bus to Ávila is not only less expensive than the train but also gets you there in less time. The bus ride is about 1 hour, 15 minutes, and a one-way ride costs roughly $9 (the bus also offers a small discount for purchasing a roundtrip ticket). Buses are provided by the private company Jiménez Dorado and leave from Madrid's South Station near the metro stop Méndez Álvaro. There aren't as many daily buses as there are trains, so compare the schedules to find the time that works best for you.
When buying tickets online, a few extra-cost options appear that deceptively don't translate from Spanish—even when you change the website language to English. The options are to choose your own seat, add travel insurance, and receive a pair of headphones. Together, they add a few euros to the price per rider and you can deselect them all if you wish to pay only the base price.
Taking the bus, you can still spend the morning in Ávila before continuing on to Segovia or Salamanca in the afternoon. Remember, lunchtime in Spain starts around 2 p.m., so plan your transit accordingly to leave either before or after lunch and not during.
If you want to visit neighboring cities, the most streamlined way—apart from joining an organized tour—is to rent a car and drive yourself. The drive takes a little over an hour and gives you the freedom to visit Segovia, Salamanca, or any of the small pueblos in the vicinity.
The highway to Ávila from Madrid is a tollway, and machines don't always accept foreign credit cards, so carry some euros with you just in case. Also, parking in any historic neighborhood of a Spanish city is complicated, if not impossible. Cars usually aren't allowed in the city centers, so be prepared to park farther out and walk in. If it's a summer weekend or holiday when many Spaniards are also traveling, finding a parking spot may end up consuming the majority of your day.
What to See in Ávila
The most important site in Ávila is the wall which wraps the entire city center and is one of the best-preserved medieval barriers in all of Europe. You can climb up the wall and walk along stretches of it, earning an unbeatable view of the city and the expansive fields around it. A Spanish city wouldn't be complete without a cathedral, and the looming Ávila Cathedral is believed to be 800 years old, a sign of its historical significance in the region. Continue exploring the stone streets of the Ávila's center, and don't miss out on tapas and drinks in one of the many street-side terraces. Carnivores must try the chuletón de Ávila for lunch, the mouthwatering T-bone steak that the city is best known for.