The Romans had a knack for selecting places to settle that were both strategic and beautiful. It’s as if they knew that someday Segovia would be a mere half hour train ride away from Madrid. For madrileños, Segovia is a place to beat the heat. For day-tripping families, Segovia offers the Spanish town trifecta: an alcazar, a cathedral and an aqueduct. Segovia was kind of a big deal for a good 1,500 years before Madrid even existed. Walk the same medieval streets that a young Queen Isabella walked before she married Ferdinand. This is the perfect change-of-scenery day trip with kids. Even if you just see the aqueduct, it’s worth it.
Get to / from Segovia
There’s no reason to overthink this. Take the high speed train from Madrid-Chamartin to Segovia Guiomar. The trains depart at least once per hour during the week. If you know what day you are planning this day-trip, buy your train tickets in advance on-line (weeks or even months ahead and save). You’ll want to spend the better part of your day in Segovia, so we recommend departing in the morning, returning late afternoon / early evening.
Arrival at Guiomar train station is a lot like arriving at Denver airport – you’re a mile high, you see mountains in the distance, but you’re not really near anything. You’ll need a lift into town. Catch the Line 11 bus for a flat rate of €2 or splurge on a taxi. Either way, you want to get off at the aqueduct. This is the one bus stop you don’t have to worry about missing because the aqueduct is impossible to miss.
At the end of the day, the aqueduct is where you will pick up the Line 11 bus back to the Guiomar train station. Taxis queue up there as well, if you’re in a time pinch.
Boom! You are immediately thrust back into the time of the Romans. If you’re impressed now, imagine how impressed you would have been two thousand years ago arriving at this colossal structure. You would think Segovia is a sophisticated, modern city and its denizens are well-hydrated!
Be impressed today knowing there is no mortar, but gravity holding the aqueduct together. Be even more impressed today when somebody mentions off-handedly that the acueducto romano could still carry water if pressed back into service. Wow!
There will be plenty of marveling at the aqueduct to come later. We recommend that you beat the crowds to the Alcazar on the far end of the old town. Plan to do lots of walking. And, if you have a stroller, the umbrella stroller will not do, you will need one more performance grade. There will be some inclines, cobblestones and stairs to negotiate throughout the day.
As you pass under the aqueduct you will be standing in Plaza del Azguejo with the official tourist office to your right. There are three prongs emanating from this plaza, you want to be going up and to your right on Calle Cervantes. Follow that up and around as it turns into Calle Juan Bravo. Stop at La Colonial for a quick cafe or snack if needed. Otherwise, find Plaza Mayor and pass through the plaza, past the front of the Segovia Castle (don’t worry you’ll be back to see it later) and follow Calle Marqués del Arco to the Alcázar.
As Byzantine as Segovia looks on a map, it’s actually pretty difficult to get lost there. The rises and falls in elevation have a funneling effect, forcing you back to the aqueduct or Plaza Mayor or the Alcázar. Plus, there are little signs everywhere guiding you to the next point of interest.
Entrance to the Alcazar is doled out in half hour chunks. So, we recommend purchasing your ticket in advance of your visit. Synchronize with your train ticket by giving yourself at least an hour to get from the train station to the aqueduct to the Alcazar. Now, you need to decide if you want to add the optional tower climb. The tower is a tight, spiraling climb – impossible for children under the age of 4 without carrying them.
Strollers will limit your general access within the Alcazar. There are lots of stairs and uneven surfaces. So, either plan to carry your children around or adapt a ‘Divide & Conquer’ strategy. A motivated solo parent can navigate the Alcazar in about half an hour while the kids stay back at Plaza Reina Victoria Eugenia – plenty of space to run around.
Like so many important buildings in Spain, the Alcazar has been rebuilt and repurposed many times over the centuries, spending time as a fortress, a castle (where Isabella was crowned Queen of Castile & Léon), a prison, a military school and a museum. After passing through a few notable rooms that managed to survive renovations and fire, you’ll have the option to climb to the top of the Alcazar (assuming you have the ticket for it). It gives new meaning to a view that “takes your breath away.” Those Romans proved once again that their taste in location is impeccable.
With the Alcazar conquered, make your way back into town, against the throngs of tourists headed your way. Downshift into mosey mode. Feel your way back to Plaza Mayor. Of note: there is a small playground in Plaza de la Merced.
When keeping your church architectural styles straight in your mind, just remember flying buttress = gothic. And this cathedral has buttresses and ornamentation flying flamboyantly all over the place. It’s the last Gothic structure to be built in Spain, woefully out of fashion upon completion – the bell bottom jeans of churches!
You can decide on the fly whether or not you want to enter the cathedral. It’s €4 general admission and free for children less than 8 years old. There is an option to buy a ticket for tower access, but if you already climbed to the top of the Alcazar, this is an either/or proposition.
This cathedral is often falsely attributed as the setting for the coronation of Isabella. For that, you would have to go to the diminutive San Miguel Church on the other side of Plaza Mayor.
Exploring Segovia, Lunch and Beyond
Amble your way back toward the aqueduct. Take your time. See if Plaza Mayor has anything going on (a market perhaps?). Poke down alleys and generally nose around. You will find old Segovia is very quiet and cloistered when you get off the main tourist drag.
No matter which way you go, you should end up down by the aqueduct again. If a restaurant didn’t grab your attention on the walk down, consider a place along the broad pedestrian-friendly Avenue Acueducto. Push past the tourist traps immediately surrounding the aqueduct, find outdoor seating and still have the roman water-transporting behemoth as your backdrop. We have had good luck with the dishes and outdoor seating at the restaurant, El Secreto de San Clemente.
The guidebooks really want to steer you to the old-timey restaurants for suckling pig (cochinillo asado). They are a local delicacy worthy of consideration, but most of these restaurants are indoors and a bit formal.
Now you can casually spend the rest of your afternoon in the shadow of the aqueduct. Set against blue skies and snow-capped mountains, the aqueduct dares you to capture its grandeur and magnitude with a camera. If there’s still time before heading back to the train station, climb the steps behind the tourism office that lead to an overhead view of the aqueduct.