Please sign in to post.

1st time in Spain: the more I research, the more I second guess all my planning :)

My husband and I will be in Spain October 2nd-20th. That's 18 nights minus the two travel days. I snagged a great deal on R/T airfare LAX-MAD many months ago, so that part is set in stone. Background: we're in our early 50's, fit, adventurous, and love things out of the ordinary. We aren't huge art museum people, but we love ancient history, archeological museums and ruins. After compromising with my husband (who really wants to visit coastal Mediterranean towns instead of the interior; hence missing Granada/Cordoba, etc), here's what I came up with. I've already reserved hotels and Airbnb's, but they're all refundable.
Night 1: hotel in Madrid after flight from LAX. I reserved a tapas tour with Devour Tours for later that evening, jet lag be dammed. I really want to start off the trip getting some cultural and culinary knowledge.
Day 2: AVE to Malaga (train reserved). Airbnb overlooking Constitution Square
Stay in Malaga for 3 nights
Day 5: Rent a car (haven't reserved one yet) and drive to Cadiz along the coast, with scenic stops along the way
3 nights in Airbnb in Cadiz
Day 8: Train or rental car to Sevilla (haven't purchased either of those yet)
4 nights in Sevilla
Day 12: AVE to Barcelona (purchased)
4 nights in Barcelona (Sagrada Familia tour purchased so far)
Day 16: AVE to Madrid (purchased)
2 nights in Madrid
Plane home to LAX next day

Where I'm waffling is really our time in Malaga, Cadiz and Sevilla. Since I've already purchased our train tickets, we're tied to those days, which is fine. But, since the Malaga/Cadiz/Sevilla portion will be with a car rental, we have more leeway. Is three nights in Malaga too many? I've read both sides of that argument. What about a day trip to Nerja and/or Frijiliana while keeping the 3 nights in Malaga? Or, we could spend one night somewhere else on the way to Cadiz. I looked at a night in Ronda, but then we miss the coastal route on the way to Cadiz, which we really want to see. We live in Southern California, and the overall terrain in the interior of Andalucia looks so similar that I'd hate to waste our time looking at familiarity. Would Estepona be a nice stop for the night? Should I add another night in Sevilla instead?

Lastly, since we only have two nights in Madrid at the end of our trip, is it worth it to take that one full day and use it on a day trip to Toledo or Segovia, or just wander and enjoy Madrid? I know I'm over thinking things, but that's why I came here for your advice. Help a frazzled planner, por favor! :)

Posted by
182 posts

Hi, Meredith,

First off, cut yourself some slack. First time in Spain, you're just not going to see everything you might want to, so please don't stress about it. I haven't been to Spain recently, but took much the same path (minus Barcelona) when I went. I did go to Nerja, and while it was pleasant, I felt like I was in a British resort town. I love the Brits as much as anyone, but when I'm in Spain, I want to feel like I'm in Spain. I also spent a couple of nights in Tarifa, which you don't mention. I know that there are some really cool historical buildings there, plus a great beach, which also happens to be world famous for parasailing.

You don't really say how you're going to use the 3 days in Cadiz or the 4 in Seville. I think if it was me, I might try to shave one of those days off, and add it to the Madrid stay at the end. That would make your option for a day trip to Toledo or Segovia more palatable. Not to mention relaxing, as you'd still have time to enjoy some of Madrid the other day.

Not sure if this helps or not, just my two cents worth. I'm sure wherever you end up, it'll be an amazing trip! I adored Spain, and I'm certain you will too.

Posted by
15359 posts

Frankly there isn't all that much in the way of ancient ruins, especially if you've been to Italy. The Roman ruins in Malaga are good. If you drive to Sevilla, visit Italica on the way, before returning the car. You won't want or need the car there. The city center is pretty, there's a really really old wine bar (the name escapes me). What many of us love in Andalucia are the Moorish ruins. Barcelona has some interesting Roman ruins at the underground museum, MUHBA Plaça del Rei.

I once drove from around Marbella to Gibraltar and back. There are two ways - take the toll road which is fast but totally unscenic, or take the local roads which is near the shore some of the time. The local roads take nearly forever. It seemed like there was a traffic light or roundabout every kilometer and quite a few slow trucks. I lived in the Bay Area for 8-1/2 years and did a LOT of driving. The Costa del Sol is boring compared to just about any stretch of West Coast ocean. OTOH I loved driving through the hills, stopping often at the pull-outs to enjoy the views with the white hill towns, occasionally stopping to walk around one for a bit. It's not dramatic scenery but it is very picturesque. Ronda is pretty and interesting, with several quirky museums, highlighting various aspects of local history and folklore. And there's the bull ring and it's excellent museum. Arcos is a charming hill town you could visit either on the way to Cadiz (or later as a day trip by car).

You can day trip to Jerez from Cadiz for a horse show at the Royal Equestrian School (only 2-4 times a week) and the tour and taste at a couple of sherry bodegas.

Posted by
3525 posts

Agree with the justsweetjs--don't sweat it! But I would definitely be focusing on what you will be doing on those days in Malaga and Cadiz. Sevilla will be easy.

I'd like to be confident in justification for having the car. It's not the number of nights so much as what you will do with those days. What was your husband's reasoning for choosing those coastal places--do you have a list? Nick gave some great suggestions. I'd add Antequera, Zahara de los Atunes (some good seafood in this region), and perhaps Donana national park. I don't think you are going to find the interior similar to CA but actually the highlight--a lot of the places you mentioned adding are places I'd be trying to avoid at all costs (e.g., Estepona)--but maybe I have a wrong impression. I found the coast near Los Canos de Meca with its orange sand quite pretty. I'd focus on the area near Tarifa. The green on the map is usually a good sign.

Posted by
1422 posts

Staying up late is a great method to adjusting to Spanish culture as there is so much to gain by extending your day to midnight. TIP: Upon arrival take a long walk and stretch yourself out prior to temptation to take a nap. Devour Tours is a great choice and confident you will enjoy the experience.
We have been going to Malaga for 20 years, but strongly recommend NOT staying there in lieu of the an option to visit Granada. Granada and the Alhambra are magic and a UNESCO heritage site. Take a bus to Granada, great experience and leave the driving to others. Two nights in Granada should do you justice.
We often rent cars in Spain, but that scenic drive from Malaga to Cadiz is more interstate with a view of mountains, the Med and Gibraltar. Think I-5 running from LA to SD.
From the Granada airport you can rent a car and venture west (don't rent a car inside of Granada). Have you obtained an IDP from AAA for driving in Spain?
From Granada recommend heading to Ronda for at lease one night. From Ronda you can drive to a variety of destinations with Cadiz being an excellent choice. ViaMichelin is an excellent routing resource we rely upon.
Drop the car at the Seville airport for driving in old town Seville is impossible.

October is wonderful time to visit Spain.

Posted by
6 posts

Thank you all so much for taking the time to give me your detailed replies. justsweetjs, you definitely helped me calm my planning jitters. I know Spain is a very large country, and I know there's no way to see everything in one trip. I guess I just want to make sure we make the most of the time we have there.
As far as my husband's reasoning for wanting to focus on coastal towns...I actually don't have a concrete answer other than that's the only thing he requested. He usually goes with the flow of whatever I plan (I'm the vacation planner and organizer), so the fact that he had a specific request this time; I just want to honor that to make sure he has a good time, as well.
I didn't write down details of our plans for Cadiz or Sevilla in my original post, simply because I didn't want to write too much, but I definitely have the typical first timer tours and visits planned, so I'm not stressed about that. At your suggestions, I think I may tack a day trip to Cordoba in there, because that's a city I would really like to see.

Posted by
6 posts

Also, thank you Marbleskies and Valadelphia for letting me know your experiences driving the interior hills versus the coast. It sounds like a small thing, but your comparisons with California really did help guide my decisions. Gracias!

Posted by
127 posts

As you mentioned an interest in archaeological museums and ruins, I thought I might point out that there are several Roman ruins, some quite grand, in Merida. However, Merida is rather off your itinerary, parts of which seem already fixed, so this may not be very realistic advice. (Were you to consider it, I believe a direct train ride, or a drive due north on the N630, would get you there from Seville. And if you made that trip, and had the time to spare, a night in the charming white town of Zafra, maybe in its fine parador, would be worth considering.)
As to another question, Toledo is a fine city to visit, but I think that with only two final nights after Barcelona, perhaps it would be best to explore Madrid as well as you can in that last full day.

Posted by
3189 posts

Hi meredith, I'm a big history buff as well, with particular interest in Classical and High Medieval history! Spain is an absolute playground if you are in to history and archeological museums and ruins. Here's some of my top pick from places you will be around:

From Madrid - Segobriga (intact Roman city with hardly a tourist in sight)
From Malaga - Dolmen de Menga (Megalithic tombs burial site)
From Cadiz - Baelo Claudia (Roman town right on the beach)
From Sevilla or Cordoba - Madinat al-Zahra (Ruins of the Caliph's palace of Al-Andalus)
From Barcelona - Tarragona (Roman provincial capital) Empúries (Ancient Greek Colony)

Hope this gives some ideas :)

Posted by
76 posts

Just wanted to say, I feel your pain. My husband and I are going to Spain in October. I'm on version 117 of our itinerary...only a slight exaggeration.

Posted by
9206 posts

A few thoughts- Cadiz has archeological ruins and a Roman theater. We enjoyed it there, Europe’s oldest city. We did not care for Malaga.
Please plan to visit Cordoba! It is a glaring omission to me. It is on the train line between Sevilla and Madrid. The Mezquita is from the 8th century, a must see. One of Spain’s “must sees!”
I do not understand giving Malaga more nights
than Madrid.