A trip by train or car 42 km south of Madrid will bring travelers to the township of Aranjuez. As a UNESCO World Heritage site there is plenty of history entwined into the city’s layout, including the Royal Palace of Aranjuez (9€ for an unguided tour), the acting summer getaway for the royal family since the mid-1500s styled to the wishes of Queen Isabella II and boasting incredibly unique porcelain and smoking rooms, as well as a Plaza de Toros from the 18th century, one of a few still standing from that time (call ahead to schedule a guided tour of the facilities and museum). Yet, it is perhaps the remnants of the town’s lavish Hapsburg and Bourbon royal past that make it one of the best and most easily accessible places outside of Madrid to enjoy a relaxing afternoon.
What visitors to Aranjuez today encounter are wide avenues, bountiful gardens, and gangos, restaurants lining the Tagus River serving up the famous earthy local cuisine, with cooking traditions rooted in the hunts of the monarchy and fresh picked produce (of particular note are Aranjuez’s strawberries, asparagus, pheasant and rabbit). Aranjuez’s historical importance dates back to the Roman Empire, on through the Catholic Monarchs (Aranjuez was deemed an official royal site by Ferdinand and Isabella as it was their preferred summer destination). However, what visitors see today of the city’s historical past began taking shape under the direction of Ferdinand VI. During his reign the age of enlightenment began to take shape and ideas such as the balance between man and nature and harmony began to dictate daily thought. It was under these considerations that the royal gardens of Aranjuez were designed. The three main gardens-the Jardín de la Isla, Jardín del Parterre, Jardín del Príncipe-really make Aranjuez a spectacular and relaxing daytrip destination out of Madrid. Jardín de la Isla boasts a wooded forest with long walking avenues interspersed with fountains and statues of Greek mythology. Jardín del Parterre is filled with exotic and blooming flora encircling large fountains of water. Lastly, Jardín del Príncipe, spanning 3 km, offers a luxuriant walk through grand walkways under a diverse tree line. Within this large garden’s gates are the Casa del Labrador and Falúas Museum, the former a fine example of construction from the Bourbon dynasty and the latter a museum holding the sailing vessels and carriages of the royal family throughout the centuries. In addition, natural reservoirs and historic groves and walks make the Jardín del Príncipe a fine place to pass away an afternoon. In particular are the Mar de Ontígola, a safe haven for aquatic birds and riverside flora, and Regajal, a highly regarded butterfly reserve.
A tourism stand near the entrance of the Royal Palace provides free maps and information on site seeing and prices throughout the city. In addition, for 5€ you can aboard a local train that will tour you through the major sites and gardens of the city.
Aranjuez is reachable by car, however the Cercanias C3, which can be picked up at either the Sol or Atocha metro stops, serves its train stop. But a real treat is the Tren de la Fresa (Strawberry train), leaving from Atocha to Aranjuez on which the famous strawberries of Aranjuez are served by azafatas donning period style garments. The train takes you to varying monuments throughout the city and offers discounts at certain sites.
Aranjuez has a number of special festivities that take place throughout the year and these celebrations often present the best opportunity to enjoy the traditions of the township. During the month of September the city hosts a month long fair, originally meant to celebrate the end of harvest and to entertain the monarchs, and a restaging of the Mutiny of Aranjuez is enacted. Near that time, the Pirate Descent of the River Tagus takes place, a large spectacle where locals sail down the Tagus in vibrant vessels while onlookers cheer them on. The Celebrations of Saint Ferdinand, the townships patron saint, take place on May 30, during which the local traditions of bullfighting and artistry are displayed and celebrated within the streets of Aranjuez.