Traveling through the walled city of old-town Segovia, you will find yourself transported back in time to a perfectly preserved, fairytale-like town just a stone’s throw away from Spain’s metropolitan capital of Madrid.
Stay: Day trip from Madrid or 1 night
Region: Community of Castile and Leon, or Castilla y León
Fast Fact: The Old Town of Segovia and its aqueduct are UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Nearby: Madrid, Toledo, Salamanca, Valladolid, Ávila
Located just a quick day trip from Madrid, Segovia is a popular spot for tourists and native Spaniards alike. With more than 2,000 years of history and culture to explore, there is something for everyone here.
Very little is known about the original Celtic possession of the region of Segovia, other than that the population was generally made up of farmers and shepherds. Segovia was placed on the map, so to speak, with the arrival of the Roman Empire, which took possession of the territory between 200 and 100 BCE. In the first century CE, the Romans built the famous aqueducts that supplied the city with water until the mid-19th century. The area thrived during the empire’s presence, but the Romans eventually abandoned Segovia during the Islamic conquest of the Iberian Peninsula.
The area reemerged as a prominent location in Spanish history when Alfonso VI of Leon and Castile conquered the region of Toledo. This allowed for Christians from the north to resettle the area.
The bastion, or castle, became a favorite residence of many royals, as well as a place for them to take refuge amidst battles and claims to the throne. Most notably, during a dispute over who should inherit the crown after the death of King Henry IV, Isabella I was made queen in Segovia’s cathedral in the year 1474. (The cathedral at this time was near the castle, but was later destroyed in military clashes.) This coronation guaranteed Isabella I’s claim to the crown. As he was not present in Segovia at the time, Isabella’s husband, Ferdinand, ascended the throne soon after, and together they would become famous for their support of Christopher Columbus’ journey to the Americas.
Segovia later underwent economic rises and declines tied to the local textile industry, but now experiences economic stability with the aid of steady tourism.
Segovia today boasts three noteworthy attractions for its visitors. The Alcazar, rumored to be the inspiration for Cinderella’s Castle in Disney theme parks, is valued for its historical importance and its architectural grandeur. The last Gothic cathedral built in Spain is located in the city center of Segovia. The stunning Roman aqueduct still stands tall and sturdy at the city’s edge thousands of years after its original construction.
Thirty-minute trains from Madrid to and from Segovia are frequent, so if you’d like to make it a day trip, you can find yourself back in Madrid in time for a quick nap, freshen up, and then be out the door again for some tapas and cocktails—all in the same day!
If you’re not renting a car while in Spain, Segovia is still easy enough to get to by public transportation. The fastest way to get from Madrid to Segovia is to book a high-speed train (book a train ticket here) from Madrid to Segovia’s central train station.
The train ride averages 30 minutes long and costs between €12 and €25 each way. Prices vary based on whether you are traveling during peak commuting hours: early mornings and late afternoons. This applies on the weekends as well. There are some promotional discounts offered for paying for your departure and return in one purchase. Book these tickets in advance, especially during peak holiday seasons.
From the station, you can take a short taxi ride to the city center. On your way back to the station, you can find a taxi stand at the aqueducts.
Once you’re in the historical heart of Segovia, the town is easily navigable by foot.
Top Things to Do
The Alcazar of Segovia
Segovia’s Alcazar is as rich in history as were the royals who once lived inside. Here, the Roman Empire laid the foundations for a fort. This later became the grounds for a Muslim fort during the 800 years of Islamic rule in Spain, and then a royal palace.
This last iteration can be traced to the year 1120, when we find the first historical reference to the Alcazar. At this point, the city was being repopulated by Christians as a consequence of the Reconquista, or “reconquering” of Spain by Catholics.
Since then, the Alcazar has been repurposed several times from a royal palace to a state prison, a Royal School of Artillery, a military college, and a meeting place for parliament. It is currently an active museum and military archive for the general of Segovia.
Its most recent reconstruction and restoration took place in the late 1880s after fire damage incurred more than a decade earlier.
To tour the palace, you can buy a complete entry, which includes a visit to both the palace and the museum, for €8. For one extra euro, you can join a group tour that starts every half-hour. This tour is given in Spanish only.
If your Spanish isn’t quite good enough to join this tour, there are other options. For €3, you can rent an audioguide available in 12 languages. But the most exciting option for history buffs is booking a private guided tour with the keepers of the castle, offered in Spanish, French, or English. You can do so for €40 for one group of up to 40 people, not including the price of entrance per person. To sign up, fill out this form before your trip. Those seeking an in-depth look at royal Spanish drama or interested in finding out whether this castle did indeed host a fairytale romance are sure to enjoy this tour.
As you pass through the rooms of the castle, take your time: the chambers and historical artifacts they house come to life as you learn more about the long history of the Alcazar. Be sure to look up at the elegant ceilings and stop to peer out the windows. Who walked these halls? What would they have seen? What would they think of you here now?
Certainly, most of the royals or elite guests who visited the Alcazar would not have had to climb the palace’s guard tower, the Tower of John II of Castile. But for €2.50 and 152 steps each way, you can climb your way to spectacular views of Segovia.
Hours: 10 a.m.–8 p.m. (April–October); 10 a.m.–6 p.m. (November to March)
Admission: €8 for a ticket that includes the Torre de Juan II; €5.50 for the palace and museum only
The Segovia Cathedral
At the city’s center you will find Plaza Mayor. You might have realized by now that most Spanish towns and cities have a Plaza Mayor—and that makes sense, since it translates to “Main Square.”
In Segovia, the Plaza Mayor boasts an enormous cathedral, built entirely in a late-Gothic style with the exception of its dome, which was added later. After its completion in the 16th century, its original spire made it the tallest building in Spain at the time.
The cathedral—whose full name is La Santa Iglesia Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción y de San Frutos—is certainly worth the €3 visit inside, especially to enter the museums housing exquisite tapestries, liturgical garments, and ornamentation. You can see works of art by popular artists such as Pedro Berruguete, Sanchez Coello, and Van Orley.
The cathedral’s interior is vast and cavernous. Because of this, each stained-glass window and private chapel within the main cathedral stands out all the more.
Hours: 9 a.m.–9:30 p.m.
The Roman Aqueduct
Segovia is best known for its 638-meter long aqueduct. Hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to Segovia each year, and you can find them all taking pictures in front of these ancient arches at some point during their visit.
Dusk is especially lovely in Azoguejo Square as the tones of the sky at sunset meet the neutrals of the aqueduct’s bricks and the yellow-hued streetlights, all blending into a portrait of perfection.
Though we do not know the exact dates the aqueduct was completed, we can place its construction within the first century or early second century CE. The structure was built with granite blocks formed into bricks and, astoundingly, without mortar.
Comprised of 167 arches, the aqueduct was reconstructed and restored throughout its history and must be meticulously cared for today. Still, it managed to provide water to the city of Segovia from its construction through the 19th century—an impressive feat.
Exploring Segovia on Foot
If you find yourself with extra time in the day, you might enjoy walking through the old city at your leisure. You can explore the Jewish Quarter or the many churches, or even opt for a free visit to Segovia’s mint, where you can learn how it functioned 400 years ago.
Once you’re inside the old city’s walls, Segovia is small enough to walk through on your own. It’s best to make a plan of action that will allow you to go from one side to the other, such as starting at the palace, moving to the cathedral, having lunch, and then taking a stroll to find yourself at the aqueduct at the edge of the city.
On Thursday mornings, there is an open market in the Plaza Mayor. You can find everything from leather goods and real fur coats to vests and accessories, and even some candies or canned goodies.
With so much to take in, you’re bound to work up an appetite. And what better place to find yourself hungry than in the old city of Segovia? If you are an explorer, you can wind your way through the narrow streets and find a few little patios or squares that will offer a relaxing atmosphere for a long lunch, in true Spanish fashion. But if you’re looking for a great meal and authentic local fare, we can offer up a strong recommendation.
Specialties: Suckling pig, lamb, duck confit
Address: Calle Cervantes, 2
Price Point: $$$$
Wherever you end up, you may find a gazpacho as a starter in the summer, or a hearty soup as a starter in winter. But one thing you will always see is roast suckling pig.
For a prime example of this local specialty, called “cochinillo,” try El Bernardino, a restaurant established in 1939. El Bernardino offers a day menu, or menú del día, which includes cochinillo along with another course, a beverage, and dessert.
Admittedly, this dish might not be for picky eaters, but an adventurous palate will certainly enjoy this delicacy. At El Bernardino, you and your party will be able to see the whole roasted piglet before it is carved into generous portions.
If pork isn’t your thing, give Segovia’s lamb dishes a try. Afterwards, you can sit back with a coffee and dessert and take in the views from El Bernardino’s lovely viewpoint.
Limón y Menta
Specialties: Pastries, pastel segoviano
Address: Calle Isabel la Católica, 2
Price Point: $$$$
This little bakery is located right beside Segovia's Plaza Mayor, and offers everything from delicious hot breakfast fare to local specialties. You can even order some ice cream from a walk-up window on those extra-hot days that Spain is famous for.
The pastel segoviano (Segovian pastry) is a local almond-flavored specialty that Limón y Menta makes especially well. You can even get an individually-sized one to go. This is a must-try for any visit to Segovia—it is in fact ridiculously delicious.
Specialties: Italian food, vegetarian options
Address: Calle Marqués del Arco, 3
Price Point: $$$$
If you're looking for something completely different, La Almuzara is a cozy little restaurant with hand-painted wall decor and a personal touch. It's located right next to the Segovia Cathedral offering up a variety of Italian fare. Vegetarians will love the veggie lasagna, soups, and wealth of other meat-free options. You can even catch a view of the sun going down, casting golden light on the cathedral, through some of the shuttered windows.
Featured Place to Stay: Hotel Real Segovia
Address: Juan Bravo, 30
Price point: $$$$
If you’d like to extend your stay beyond a day trip, the Hotel Real Segovia comes highly recommended. Located in the heart of the old town, this boutique hotel combines old-world charm with modern comfort and amenities, amounting to a unique and elegant destination you’ll be glad to call home for a few nights.
With chandeliers, marble staircases, and plush beds, every detail is attended to at Hotel Real Segovia. Each room is equipped with heat and air conditioning, and all guests can connect to free Wi-Fi. You can include a breakfast buffet in the price of your booking, and for an additional charge, you can also arrange for a pick-up from the airport in Madrid, or even for childcare.
The staff is always professional and is able to communicate in both Spanish and English. Enjoy the sun deck and terrace; take in the views of the countryside and the town alike; or enjoy some tapas and wine in the bar and restaurant downstairs. Book a stay at Hotel Real Segovia.
Looking for more great spots? Check out these last-minute deals: