San Lorenzo de El Escorial (also San Lorenzo del Escorial) is a town about 45 km northwest of Madrid in Spain. Set in the foothills of the Sierra de Guadarrama, its chief attraction is the Monastery of El Escorial, a World Heritage Site that was the power centre of the Spanish empire under King Felipe II. It's usually visited as a day-trip from Madrid.
1 Estación El Escorial, C/ Santa Rosa, ☏ (info/reservations). This is the terminus of Renfe regional train C3 from central Madrid. Trains run every 30-60 mins, taking just under an hour from Madrid Chamartín and 70 mins from Atocha station. El Escorial station is about 1.5 km south-east of the monastery, and the road leads up a long hill. Bus L1 connects them every 30 mins.
Autocarres Herranz operates emerald-green buses 661 and 664 from Madrid Moncloa bus station. They run every 30-60 mins, taking about an hour, fare 4.20€. Get off directly in front of the monastery. For the return bus to Madrid, walk to the nearby 2 Estación de Autobuses (bus station) on C/ Juan de Toledo 3.
El Escorial is well signposted from AP6 north from Madrid, exit at Junction 47. Parking just outside the monastery is €5 for 2 hours.
- 1 Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. Oct-March Tu-Su 10:00-18:00; Apr-Sept Tu-Su 10:00-20:00. It was commissioned by Felipe (Philip) II as a mausoleum for his father Carlos V. The site when completed in 1584 included a basilica-church, monastery, royal household and library. Felipe II, his parents Carlos V and Empress Isabel of Portugal, and virtually all Spanish kings as well as all queens who reigned in their own right or gave birth to kings are buried in a royal mausoleum downstairs. After the planned burial of the late Juan de Borbon and his late wife (parents of king-emeritus Juan Carlos) there will not be any space left for future monarchs to be buried here. Highlights include:
The Basilica, with two great cenotaphs by the high altar: for Felipe II and Emperor Carlos V.
The Pantheon of Kings, below the Basilica, is a remarkable royal burial chamber.
The Gallery of Battles commemorates battles from Felipe's military campaigns.
The Chapter Houses hold paintings from Tintoretto, El Greco, Titian and others.
El Greco's painting of "The Martyrdom of St. Maurice".
The Library and its frescoed vaulted ceiling. Adult €10, concessions €5.
- 2 Silla de Felipe II (Philip's Saddle). This is a small granite platform in the Bosque de la Herrería, in the forest, some 4 km south of El Escorial, from where it's said Felipe II and his wife used to watch the construction of the Monastery. Offers excellent views of the mausoleum, the Sierra de Guadarrama, and the Madrid plains.
- 3 Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen) (Off M-600, 500 m west of AP-6 junction 47). Tu-Su 10:00-19:00. This site hosts the world's largest free-standing Christian cross (visible from dozens of kilometres away), Franco′s tomb, and a memorial to Catholics (both on Franco's side and opponents) killed in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Construction was ordered by Franco and erected on rocks through the forced labour of many Republican prisoners of war. You'll need your own transport: the entrance gate is on the main highway to El Escorial, with frequent buses from Madrid, but then there's the 6 km park road through pine forest up to the memorial. The monument is not uncontroversial in 21st century Spain and there used to be pro-Franco demonstrations on November 20th, the anniversary of the death of Franco and Primo de Rivera (both buried here) until the "Historical Memory Law" of 2007 outlawed them. In October 2019 Franco's mortal remains were removed despite much controversy and efforts by Franco's heirs (both literal and figurative) to block the move. There are plans to turn the site into more of a "documentation center" akin to the former Nazi Party Rallying Grounds in Nuremberg, but as the site is owned by the Catholic Church, this has proven complicated. Adults €9, concessions €4.
- La Cueva, Calle San Anton 4. Tu-Sun 13:30-16:00 & 21:00-midnight. Tapas and drinks.
- El Botánico, Timoteo Padrós 16 (500 m W of Escorial), ☏ . 3-star hotel with reasonable prices and a great view of the mountains. Terrace restaurant.
Other small, central hotels here include Miranda & Suizo, Florida, NH Victoria Palace, Sercotel Los Lanceros, and Posada Don Jaime.
On Mondays El Escorial is closed (as are most visitor attractions in Spain) and there's not much else to see or do here, so consider an outing to somewhere else scenic. Choices within an hour's drive include Segovia, Avila and Salamanca.
In and around Madrid are Toledo, Aranjuez and Alcalá de Henares. Reaching more distant cities such as Barcelona and Seville will probably mean travelling via Madrid, see that page for transport options.