***San Lorenzo de El Escorial (45km north-west of Madrid) makes a good day trip. It’s very grand and impressive, on the world’s best libraries list. Avoid weekends if you can and allow 2-3 hours for your visit.

The library is spectacular, as is the huge cathedral. There are numerous rooms of art, including multiple El Grecos. Everything is labeled in English. If your time is limited, this is a better choice than visiting the royal palace in Madrid.

Valley of the Fallen

The controversial but astonishing ***Valle de los Caídos Basilica is at the end of a peaceful valley in the San Lorenzo de El Escorial municipality – quite close to El Escorial; you could do both in a single day. Conceived as a memorial to those who died in the civil war, it houses General Franco’s remains (or did). Built with the labor of political prisoners, it is an uncomfortable but awe-inspiring experience. It’s about 50km north-west of Madrid. We found it creepy, almost empty, and extremely impressive.

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