Travel guide to Salamanca and Segovia, Spain

These two walkable, UNESCO-listed cities in Castile and León put you on the very edge of wild Spain. Take a closer look at Salamanca and Segovia with our comparative travel guide

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The history of Salamanca

Salamanca has been called Spain’s ‘Golden City’ and looking at its honey-toned sandstone spires rising by the banks of the River Tormes, it’s easy to see why. Just two-and-a-half hours north-west of Madrid, this medieval centre of learning, famous for its university, has a UNESCO-listed Old Town that boasts Gothic, Renaissance, Moorish and Baroque elements. With show-stopping cathedrals, grand plazas, and cafes and bars buzzing with students, it’s an eye-catching place to explore.

The history of Segovia

Sometimes described as ‘the most beautiful city in Spain’, Segovia has a lot to live up to, but it doesn’t disappoint. With its UNESCO-listed Old Town set against a dramatic mountain backdrop, Segovia has monuments aplenty, from a spectacular Roman aqueduct and Gothic cathedral to a medieval Jewish quarter and Moorish palace. With concerts in squares and art exhibitions in palacios, the city, around an hour north-west of Madrid, has long attracted artists and intellectuals.

Ancient roman aqueduct in Segovia (Shutterstock)

Ancient roman aqueduct in Segovia (Shutterstock)

Things to see in Salamanca 

Salamanca is very much a walkable town, a place to amble leisurely while craning your neck to admire the architecture. Start at the cloistered Plaza Mayor before heading to the cathedrals: Salamanca has not one but two, adjoining each other and combining different styles. Also visit the 16th-century university, with its filigree facade, and the Casa Lis, an ornate Art Nouveau mansion with a fine collection of Art Nouveau and Art Deco exhibits.

Things to see in Segovia 

Segovia is similarly a city to savour and its key sights are within easy walking distance of each other. The vast, towering, two-tiered Roman aqueduct dominates the city and from here it’s a gentle stroll to the part-Moorish, part-19th century turreted royal Alcázar palace, supposedly the inspiration for Walt Disney’s fairytale castle. For another piece of the jigsaw of Spanish history, look no further than the narrow alleys of the medieval Jewish quarter.

The Alcázar of Segovia has been a palace, a prison, a college and now a military museum (Alamy)

The Alcázar of Segovia has been a palace, a prison, a college and now a military museum (Alamy)

Nature near Salamanca 

About a 90-minute drive west of Salamanca, close to the border with Portugal, you’ll find the Arribes del Duero National Park, a ravine-cut landscape ideal for walking or cycling. With lakes, hills and some of the deepest gorges in Spain, not to mention golden eagles, black swans and other exotic flora and fauna, there’s plenty to take in when you visit. An hour’s drive further north is the impressive Pozo de los Humos, a waterfall that is taller than Niagara Falls.

Nature near Segovia

The Sierra de Guadarrama range between Madrid and Segovia has long been a favourite with walkers and skiers, especially Madrileños looking for some clean air. Easily reachable as a day-trip from Segovia, these dramatic mountains are filled with pine trees, high ridges and granite peaks, famously the backdrop for part of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. There are also three different-sized ski-resorts here: Puerto de Navacerrada, Cotos and Valdesquí.

Arribes del Duero National Park is a 90 minute drive from Salamanca (Shutterstock)

Arribes del Duero National Park is a 90 minute drive from Salamanca (Shutterstock)

Salamanca food and drink

This is meat country, with moreish acorn-fed jamón ibérico taking centre stage, alongside intense, dark morucha beef, wild boar, chorizo and black pudding. The streets around the Plaza Mayor are brimming with tapas bars and restaurants where you can sample these and other specialities. Also try the local hornazo – a latticed meat pie sold by the slab and filled with chorizo or ham and egg – as well as speciality mini doughnuts and sponge cakes.

Segovia food and drink

If you’re a meat eater you won’t want to miss Segovia’s most famous dish, cochinillo (suckling pig). Cooked so tenderly that it’s almost falling off the bone, the pork is then theatrically carved for you at your table by the waiters. Other local specialities worth checking the menu for are wild mushrooms and smoky cantimpalo chorizo, served in all the restaurants and tapas bars around the Plaza Mayor and Paseo del Salon, or at the outdoor terraces by the aqueduct.

Buzzing cafes in Salamanca's Plaza Mayor (Shutterstock)

Buzzing cafes in Salamanca's Plaza Mayor (Shutterstock)

Where to stay in Salamanca

Stay at Hospes Palacio de San Esteban – just because you’re in a former 16th-century convent, you don’t have to sacrifice contemporary style. This five-star palacio, less than ten minutes’ walk from the main sights has an outdoor pool and views of the two cathedrals.

Doubles from £76.

Where to stay in Segovia

The five-star Eurostar Convento Capuchinos, in Segovia’s Old Town, is a former monastery and a wonderful place to rest tired feet – relax amid the old cloisters and visit the spa, complete with indoor pool and Turkish baths.

Doubles from £66. 

Extra information on Salamanca 

Population: 144,825
Average max July temperature: 30°C
Famous for: Medieval University, golden sandstone, UNESCO-listed Old Town, acorn-fed jamón ibérico.

Extra information on Segovia

Population: 52,057
Average max July temperature: 28°C
Famous for: UNESCO-listed architecture, Roman aqueduct, Alcázar palace, local speciality cochinillo (roast suckling pig).

Need to know

How to get from Salamanca to Segovia

A direct train between Salamanca and Segovia takes about an hour; double that time if you’re planning to drive.

How to get there

Madrid is the closest airport to both Salamanca and Segovia. British Airways flies direct from Heathrow. Flights take about 2.5 hours and prices start from around £37 one-way. Trains run regularly between Madrid and Segovia (from 1 hour) and Madrid and Salamanca (around 2 hours).

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