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10-day itinerary in Spain

We (self + wife) are planning to visit Spain in December - and the tentative itinerary looks like this - I'd like some opinions and suggestions on this. Our interests are mainly sightseeing - we do like to go to museums and indoor attractions, but would also like to balance it with outdoor scenic spots.

  1. Sunday morning - Arrive at Madrid - 4 days in Madrid (planning a day trip to Toledo - any other suggestions for day trips? Or is there enough to do for 3 days in Madrid?
  2. Wednesday evening - Train to Seville - 2 days in Seville
  3. Friday evening - Train (?) to Barcelona - 3 days in Barcelona. Also - I would really appreciate any suggestions for doing something special to celebrate a significant date - like a show/performance - on Saturday evening -
  4. Tue morning - Early morning train to Madrid - to catch 1 pm flight back to LA (is that cutting it too tight?)

Thanks in advance -

Posted by
6525 posts

A trip to Segovia and El Escorial is a good day trip from Madrid.
Otherwise 3 days is enough in Madrid.
You might want to fly to Barcelona from Seville. This only takes an hour and 30 minutes in the air, Otherwise it will take two trains one to Madrid and then one to Barcelona.
And that is cutting it too tight to try to take the train back to Madrid on the day you fly out. I would not try that.

Posted by
5010 posts

There's a lot about your plan that I think is ill advised.

Start by being honest with yourself. You don't have a "10-day itinerary." (Actually, your "itinerary" would work OK for about 14 days, but you don't have that.) You have 8 full days not counting the days you arrive and depart. There's your #1 problem: not enough time. If you want to do all the things on your list, you need to extend your trip. The shortness-of-time issue is made worse by the fact that you're going in December, when days are short, and some things may have limited hours.

Don't plan on much for your arrival day - no matter what time the flight is scheduled (you'll be wiped out from flying across the planet). Same for your departure day - the whole day is consumed by getting to the airport, getting on your flight.

All that aside, I see a number of very red flags in your proposed itinerary...

  1. Fly in to Madrid, move across Spain to Barcelona (it's a large country, even with high speed trains), then return all the way back to Madrid to fly home. Don't do this, it wastes time, money and either burns a full day getting back or puts you at great risk of missing your flight home and requiring a second mortgage.

  2. Never plan to cross a large distance on the day you fly home, to "catch" your flight. The specific answer to your question "to catch 1 pm flight back to LA (is that cutting it too tight?)" is OMG YES THAT'S TOO TIGHT. You need sleep in (or at least near) your departure city your last night. So, you just lost another day (down to 7 usable days now).

  3. You are failing to account for the time it takes to pick yourself up and move to the next destination. For efficient, experienced travelers, between city centers that are well connected, that takes at least half a day, often 3/4 of a day. For you, it's going to consume most of the day. So, when you say "I have X days here and Y days there" you actually have one less day everywhere. So in your proposal, 1 full day in Madrid, 1 full day in Seville, 1 full day in Barcelona...

Honestly, I don't think your plan is realistic or wise, and I think you need to consider some alternative plans. Extend your trip if you can. If you can't, with the time you have, I'd pick 2 (maybe 3) locations. I'd skip Barcelona entirely (are you aware that for some of Barcelona's major attractions, you need to pre-book tickets long in advance?) and stick to Madrid/Seville/Granada. If you must include Barcelona, then just do Madrid (with a day trip to Toledo) and Barcelona, period. Fly in to one, fly home from the other.

Take some time to do a little research about Spain: watch the Rick Steves videos, get the guidebook and read it.

Sorry, I know this is not what you wanted to hear.

Added later: You say you're going "in December" - you mean, December as in next week, or December as in a year from next week? If you're talking around December of this year...good luck. Hopefully you are planning ahead?

Posted by
7124 posts

I suggest you try heading for Sevilla on your arrival day.

Sun am - Arrive Madrid. Train to Sevilla (3)
Mon - Sevilla
Tue - Day to Córdoba
Wed - Late flight to Barcelona (3)
Thu Fri - Barcelona
Sat - Late train to Madrid (3)
Sun - Madrid
Mon - Day to Toledo
Tue am - Depart Madrid

Posted by
7124 posts

However, there is an argument to be made for omitting Barcelona from this trip, and trying for the Alhambra instead.

Sun am - Arrive Madrid. Train to Sevilla (3)
Mon Tue - Sevilla
Wed - Train to Córdoba (1)
Thu - Train to Granada (2)
Fri - Visit the Alhambra
Sat - Train to Madrid (3)
Sun - Madrid
Mon - Day to Toledo
Tue am - Depart Madrid

Posted by
17907 posts

I think you're trying to do an awful lot when you're stuck with a round-trip flight to Madrid and want to visit both Seville to the south and Barcelona to the north. The specific issues I see are these:

  • You appear to be considering your arrival day a sightseeing day in Madrid. You may be very lucky, but for most of us that day is so sleep-deprived and jetlagged that the most we hope to accomplish is walking around outdoors and staying awake. I would definitely count your time in Madrid as less than 3 days (you aren't spending a 4th night there). If you aren't big art fans, that may well allow time for a day-trip to Toledo. If you don't care for art and also don't want to go to the Palacio Real, you might also have time for a day-trip to Segovia. Do note that central Spain will not be terribly warm in December.

  • Realistically, you'll have something like 1-1/2 days in Seville, which is short for that city and doesn't seem to allow for a visit to Cordoba.

  • Three days in Barcelona is quite short. There are at least six major sites in that city that require prepurchased tickets, usually time-specific. Perhaps you won't want to visit many of them; I don't know. But if you do want to see them, you'll find it difficult to set up a highly efficient visit, because you'll have to guess how much time you want to spend at each site and how much time you'll spending traveling between them. To me, Barcelona needs a minimum of 4 days. (I was happy to spend ten days there, with just one short out-of-town trip.)

  • I think it would be imprudent to plan to travel from Barcelona back to Madrid on the morning of your flight back home. You need to be at the airport at 10 AM. The earliest AVE from Barcelona leaves at 5:50 AM (how do you feel about a 3:30 AM wake-up call?) and gets to Atocha Station in Madrid at 8:20 AM. In theory that provides plenty of time to get to the airport, but what if something goes wrong? If you miss your flight, how much will two last-minute one-way tickets cost you? I hate to use the "m" word, but you really must go back to Madrid the night before your flight. So that means you don't even have three full days in Barcelona.

The usual recommendation in a case like this is for the departure city (Madrid) to be visited at the end of the trip rather than at the beginning. The tricky part is figuring out the timing of a train ticket from Madrid to one of your other destinations. Airport-clearance times are unpredictable, and your flight might run late. You'd probably need to just buy the train ticket upon arrival at Atocha. That can be costly (full-fare ticket, rather than some kind of promotional deal), but if you're traveling next month, you may be too late to get the great rail fares anyway.

I highly recommend that you make this either a Madrid-Barcelona trip or a Madrid-Andalucía trip. If the trip is for next month, it may be difficult to get tickets to the Alhambra in Granada, but there is plenty to see elsewhere in Andalucía.

Posted by
7124 posts

Given that December is one short week away then you may prefer the path of least stress/pain in terms of arrangements.

Sun am - Arrive Madrid (4)
Mon - Madrid
Tue - Day to Toledo
Wed - Day to Segovia
Thu - Train to Sevilla (4)
Fri - Sevilla
Sat - Day to Córdoba for the Mezquita
Sun - Sevilla
Mon - Train to Madrid (1)
Tue am - Depart Madrid

Posted by
2 posts

Wow - thank you all so much for the thoughtful, detailed replies - I really appreciate your responses.

djp_syd - I really like your suggestion to eliminate Barcelona - so your second suggestion seems best to me. I'm wondering if this will work -
Sun - Arrive Madrid - take train to Granada
Mon - Granada/Alhambra (The only reason for this - I just checked the website for Alhambra tickets - it's avail Mon/Tue/Wed and not later in the week
Tue - Cordoba
Wed/Thu - Seville
Fri - Train to Madrid
Sat-Sun - Madrid
Mon - Toledo
Tue - Return

Thanks again for all your suggestions - this is a really useful forum!

Posted by
2374 posts

Sorry but I think you are checking off boxes rather than visiting places. You have a week and you are using most of it in transit from one place to another. Do you have your plane tickets? I’m assuming the round trip Madrid is baked in stone. If so, consider Madrid, and Barcelona or Madrid and Sevilla, with your last night in Madrid before departure.