By far the most popular short trip from Madrid is to Toledo, but it’s worth spending more than just a day there. If time is tight, the destinations below offer digestible bites of Spanish history, and getting there is easy. The vast monastery palace at San Lorenzo de El Escorial, northwest of Madrid, embodies the religious fervor that seized Spanish royalty and drove the Inquisition. By contrast, the small university city of Alcalá de Henares, on the plains east of the capital, led a Golden Age flowering of culture. It was the birthplace of Spain’s greatest writer, Miguel de Cervantes.