You've come here wondering what the capital and largest city in Spain, set at the dead-center of the Iberian Peninsula, has to offer you on an adventure scale. Sure, you know about the flamenco, the tapas, the reputation for nightlife; what you may not know is that Madrid has some of the biggest and most beautiful urban parks in Spain, as well as proximity to day trip landscapes that may cause temporary arrhythmia by way of visual overload. Don't say you haven't been warned.
Madrid has a deserved reputation for its host of gorgeous urban parks, making it quite easy from anywhere in the city to find a bit of open space and tranquility, as well as an abundance of culture. The city's main park is the Parque del Retiro, located just east of city center. You'll encounter plenty of green space and a number of cultural landmarks that include the crystal castle that overlooks the boating lake. The Parque del Oeste is a gem in the northwest of the city and is generally less busy, while landmarks like the ancient Temple de Debod (a gift from Egypt) are great photo opportunities. Adjacent to the west is the biggest urban park in Spain, Casa de Campo. It's a bit further from most attractions, but the zoo, amusement park, and general buzz of activity from the Palacio Real make it an intriguing place to see. Another park of merit includes the Parque del Capricho, which is only open on the weekend and limits visitors to a thousand at a time. Take Metro Line 5 just outside of the city, where this colorful area of curious buildings and hidden walks is a fine departure from urban Madrid. Other parks include the Real Jardin Botanico and the Parque Enrique Tierno Galván.
If you're visiting Madrid and have a hankering for attractive landscapes, then a day trip west should be in the cards. Under three hours west is the national park known as Monfragüe, developed around the Tagus River valley. The most impressive feature is the ridgeline that follows the river and the castle ruins you'll encounter during your treks. For mountain climbing aficionados, the Sierra de Gredos range is somewhat closer to Madrid and is home to the Circo de Gredos, which has popular hikes from parking areas to both the glacial Laguna Grande and the range's highest peak, Pico Almanzor (2,592 meters/8,504 feet). A bit further from Madrid, but no less intriguing, is the Arribes del Duero, a park based around the longest river on the Iberian Peninsula, the Duero. The park extends across the Portuguese border, becoming the International Douro Natural Park; the vistas of the uncivilized world from here are fantastic.
Although there isn't an incredible amount to explore south of Madrid (unless you're looking for cultural heritage), there are areas of adventure both north and east of the capital. A short drive north and you'll find yourself in the Sierra de Guadarrama Mountains, where there are numerous peaks over 2,000 meters high. Enter through Puerto de los Cotos and take your pick of trails to a handful of summits with superlative views; most hikes will take a half to a full day, so come prepared. There is another large natural park east of Madrid known as Serrania de Cuenca, a landscape that changes from meadows and streams to imposing limestone formations in the blink of an eye. Of particular interest here is the natural spring from which the Cuervo River originates, creating a picturesque waterfall against a backdrop of caverns near the town of Tragacete.
For more information on what there is to do in and around Madrid, consult our included activity pages. Your best bet for a day trip when in this unique world travel destination may be to visit the incredible number of UNESCO world heritage sites in proximity to the city; we don't blame you. Just squeeze in a hike or two while you're at it.