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12 days in Spain + 2 travel days - First time visitor

My husband and I (age in 50's) are traveling to Spain for the first time the last two weeks of March 2020. We will have 12 days/nights in Spain plus 2 travel days-one on each end. We are close to booking airline tickets - multi-city. We can fly out of Chicago into Madrid and out of Barcelona back to Chicago OR Chicago to Barcelona then Madrid to Chicago. Really want to see southern Spain, Barcelona, up in the air about Madrid. Would greatly appreciate a quick response so we can book our flights. Yes, I have read RS recommendations. Many thanks to those who have traveled Spain!

Posted by
1996 posts

With 12 days (11 nights?) and no firm interest in Madrid and its environs, here is what I would recommend taking into account your interests:

Fly in to Madrid
Directly take the AVE high speed train to
Cordoba (2 nights)
AVE Train to
Sevilla (3 nights)
AVE Train or ALSA Bus to
Granada (2 nights)
Fly low cost carrier to
Barcelona (4 nights)
Fly out of Barcelona

Hope this helps :)

Posted by
2373 posts

I think Carlos has a good plan. But I hate air travel in the middle of short trips-it just eats up an entire day. While Madrid is not the most exciting European capital, it does have the Prada, the Royal Alcazar. We loved our tour of the Prada. I would strongly urge you to look at the Rick Steve’s Best of Spain tour. I believe the 2020 dates will be out in a few weeks. This gets you to all the sites you want to see including those with notoriously difficult ticketing like the Alhambra and the Sagrada Familia. Plus every visit will be enhanced by excellent guides. Hard to use two weeks in Spain this efficiently on your own. We’ve done 9 RS tours and Spain is among the tops in our opinion. Whichever you do, brush up on your Spanish as English is not as widely spoken as in other Western European countries. Rumor has it Beta O’Rourke will soon be starting a class...

Posted by
3564 posts

I commend you for grasping the multi- city flight concept. But, if you don't want to do Madrid, why are you flying there? I ask, because numerous airlines code share with Iberia so why not fly to Seville or Granada and save yourself having to get from Madrid airport to train station in a jet lagged state in an unfamiliar city? For the extra $80-100 fly until you reach a city you want to be in. Sure, your transcontinental flight might be to Madrid, but then add to that ticket with a leg to Granada. Or at least look at the options and price it out of $$ compared to train costs and the energy expended. I did exactly that. But if you want to consider Carlos's route, then see if you can fly to Seville instead.
If you want to leave Madrid in 'just in case', then by all means, do so. If that is the case, I might fly first to Barcelona and out Madrid - gives Madrid a little longer to warm up weatherwise.

Posted by
16 posts

Thanks Maria. Our thoughts...if we book directly thru to Seville, our plane would land in Madrid at 7:45 am, the flt to Seville is a 4.5 hr layover. Wouldn't it be better to end in Madrid and take the train?

Posted by
3564 posts

Well, a 4.5 hr lay over seems a little painful, I'll grant you that. However, you have to also consider when the trains are running, and if you want to save costs on the train, you need to buy tickets ahead. How do you decide which train time is best to book for? How long to get through Immigration? What if flights are delayed (mine always are)? My personal philosophy is if it is a single air booking, then if there are delays they will be responsible to get me to Seville. If there are delays and I miss my train, then onus is on me to rebook at my time and full ticket expense. I checked and my flight to Granada was almost a 4 hour wait in Madrid. I didn't find it onerous and was so glad that was how I did it...but I am a little older than you and travel solo.

Alternately, what about Madrid last?

Posted by
315 posts

Our initial goals of travel were to cycle Tour of Spain routes. Oops, we had cycled Palma de Mallorca first. We had explored Granada, Ronda (gorge and bullring), coast south of Granada, Picos de Europa, and NW coast of Spain. We had flown into Granada and Madrid. Rental car had room for bikes. Now, our travels do not include long bike rides. I thought I had missed some of the highlights of Spain. We traveled from Portugal to Seville and recently returned from a trip to Catalunya. The Alhambra in Granada is a must see sight. The tent city hill and old town give you a feel for the locals. My husband is not a museum guy thus I will have to return to see the Prado in Madrid. The Hop on off bus on both routes gave us a feel for the city. We enjoyed walking the city and seeing the sites from the exterior. It is a colorful city. The drives from Evora to Seville and from Seville to the southern coast of Portugal were lovely. With missed opportunities for hiking NW of Seville. We did stop at the Roman City of Italia outside Seville. Great mosaics and amphitheater. The Royal Alcazar>Cathedral (over the top after many cathedrals in Lisbon). For Barcelona, I would suggest taking a look at RS's tours itinerary to see if his priorities meets your needs as an independent traveler. The Sagrada Family>Lluis Domenech i Montaner's Palace of Catalunya Music>Gaudi's work>Tossa de Mar vs Tarragona day trips>Dali Museum in Figueres. There is a great YOU TUBE video: Architecture 15 of 23 Antoni Gaudi The Casa Milia.

Posted by
11203 posts

".if we book directly thru to Seville, our plane would land in Madrid at 7:45 am, the flt to Seville is a 4.5 hr layover. Wouldn't it be better to end in Madrid and take the train?"

For me, no. Here's why.

If you do the flight followed by train, you either buy an advance purchase ticket and pray that you make that particular train, or you wait until landing and pay a LOT of money for a last minute train ticket you are guaranteed to be able to use. Plus, you have to get your bags and yourselves, in a jet-lagged state, from the airport to the train station. And while Madrid's airport is huge, it is very well signed. Atocha station, on the other hand, is large and extremely confusing (and I'm used to New York Penn Station - Atocha is a serious rival for how hard it is to navigate).

If you do it all on flights, you just stay in the airport until your next flight. Any checked bags are transferred by the airline to Seville. And there's no issue of figuring out how to do the train tickets; you know what the flight cost. Finally, if there is some huge problem and you miss your original connection, the airline is responsible for getting you to Seville at no extra charge.

So, even if the cost were equal, I'd take the flight through Madrid to Seville, and just plan to have breakfast in the Madrid airport. And by "equal cost," I mean figuring the last minute train ticket from Atocha to Seville, since you can't guarantee making a pre-booked train. Of course, you can increase your chances of making a pre-booked train by having a longer layover - but that defeats some of your purpose in avoiding the flight from Madrid to Seville!

Posted by
14210 posts

Renfe is selling tickets on high-speed trains in/out of Granada, so flying to or from Granada may be a nonissue. The train from Granada to Barcelona takes upwards of 6 hours because it goes through Madrid. Maybe use Carlos's plan, but train from Granada to Madrid for an overnight before going on to Barcelona.

Posted by
52 posts

The renfe ave train from Barcelona to Granada is direct I thought, without going to madrid

Posted by
16 posts

Thanks for all the ideas...it's making us rethink. Would it make more sense to fly into Barcelona (rather than Madrid)...then go south? What would that itinerary look like? Many thanks. It's taking lots of hours to plan...but we know it will be worth it!

Posted by
1200 posts

You haven't, I think, mentioned whether you plan to hire a car for some or all of this? I'll assume not.

Part of the excitement / frustration of planning these tours is trying to align what looks sensible geographically with what works in terms of transport.

If it were me (& clearly you're not, and I don't know your interests), if you began in Barcelona, I would start with 4 nights as it needs 3 days to see and you might be jet-lagged. Then I'd fly to Granada for 2 nights. Then fast AVE train to Cordoba for 1 night. Then train to Sevilla for 4 nights, including a day-trip to Cadiz or Jerez or a white village tour. Then either (a) fast train to Madrid to stay a night before flying direct home or (b) flying from Sevilla airport with a connection home, which allows an extra night in Sevilla.

Posted by
865 posts

Although you have lots of good ideas, I personally like Nick’s plan. That enables you to give Madrid a portion of a day, depending on your train schedule. But if you have absolutely no interest in Madrid, then use Carlos’ plan and add the extra night on to Seville.

Posted by
2256 posts

Laura, when I was in Spain in Spring of 2016, I flew from the States into Barcelona, then flew back from Seville to the States, with a connection in Frankfurt. I was ticketed on United, and the flight out of Seville was on Lufthansa. The flight was available 3 days of the week, but not everyday. Worked out well for me.

Posted by
14210 posts

Paul - I looked at the route of the Granada-Barcelona train. The train is "direct" and it stops in Madrid. There's one a day, leaving around 3 pm.

Posted by
16 posts

Thanks for all the help! We booked the direct flight to Madrid and will spend one night there. We arrive at 7:45 am...so after breakfast maybe a hop on/off bus for the day. Then the next morning, on to Cordoba, Seville, Granada after that. We would love to go to Valencia before Barcelona, but there doesn't seem to be an easy way to do that. We thought about driving from Granada to Valencia, then train to Barcelona. Any thoughts on that idea....

Posted by
1200 posts

Granada to Valencia must be about 5 hours drive, even without stopping. Essentially, a whole day (or even better an overnight stop along the way, otherwise you'll just be motoring past some good sights), and I don't think you have the time to do that plus add the time you will want to spend in Valencia.

Valencia is delightful. I know people who prefer it as a calmer, less crowded alternative to Barcelona. But they make that decision after visiting both - and I don't think your 12 nights sensibly allows that. You're already squeezing a lot into your holiday and I'd leave Valencia for next time. Instead fly from Granada to Barcelona, in my opinion.

Posted by
1996 posts

Agree with 100% Nick, unfortunately you just do not have enough time to squeeze in Valencia without your trip turning into a marathon race, flying direct from Granada to Barcelona will be your fastest, most efficient, and probably least expensive option. Best save Valencia for when you can devote more time to the eastern (Mediterranean) coast of Spain.

Posted by
16 posts

Thanks Nick and Carlos....we'll save Valencia for another visit. I truly appreciate your advice!

Posted by
14210 posts

Ah yes, that's the biggest problem with visiting Spain - too many wonderful places, too little time.