Husband, college-aged daughter and I are planning first trip to Spain, late May, 7 nights. Have the option of flying into Madrid and out of Barcelona from D.C. ; or can R/T to one city and use either MAD or BAR as a base vs. trying to get a flavor of both major cities. We like to explore countrysides and vineyards, see a limited number of catherdrals/museums, eat great food, and get a general feeling of culture, people. I am torn between both cities with a side day trip from each city, or just pick Madrid and travel to Seville, saving Barcelona for another time. Thank you in advance.
Hi Carol - flying into Madrid and out of Barcelona would be efficient, avoiding backtracking. If you stayed in northern Spain for the week, though, you could put Sevilla on your aganda for next time, along with Granada, also in the Andalusian south. Or focus on Madrid this time.
Madrid is heavy on great art museums (Prado, Reina Sofia, Thyssen-Bornemisza . . . but you may not be up for all of those), great food, and incredible culture & people. Barcelona has great museums (Picasso, Miró, Catalan history and architecture), a great cathedral and a greater one under construction, interesting Modernista architecture, incredible food, and great culture and people. Either offers worthwhile day trips, including Toledo, Segovia, El Escorial from Madrid, and Girona and Montserrat from Barcelona. In late May, the Barcelona beach scene may not be part of your plans.
You'll get different opinions, but, depending on how much Madrid art you want to see (there's a fabulous royal palace to see there, as well), I'd opt for flying in and out of Madrid, with a daytrip or 2 by train or bus to the towns I listed earlier. You'll have a great trip no matter what you do (as long as you don't try to do too much). Buen viaje/bon viatge!
I see no reason not to visit both Madrid and Barcelona in your 7 nights. The atmosphere of each city is quite different and the fast train between them takes 3 hours or less, similar to the time you would invest in a closer side trip. Buy nonrefundable tickets about 3 months ahead for the best price; http://petrabax.com/renfe/ is a US web site that offers the advance discounts.
Fly into madrid
Spend two nights
AVE train to Barcelona
Spend remaining nights
You expressed a desire to spend less time in museums and Madrid, to me, is predominately about great museums.
Barcelona offers an excellent large menu of opportunities within and outside the city.
Plus offers a beach.
Barcelona metro system is terrific for getting around to include some close day trip opportunities.
Montserrat is an example I urge you to examine.
Definitely do both cities.
If you are great art lovers I would suggest 4 nights in Madrid and 3 nights in BCN.
The Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen in Madrid are truly 3 of the world's finest art museums.
Take a day trip to Toledo. Food is great in both. And yes, save Andalusia for a future visit.
The official Renfe site, www.renfe.com, also offers reduced price tickets if you buy in advance, only without the extra service fee that petrabax charges (change the site to English by clicking where it says "Welcome" at the top of the page). Last year, I bought a ticket in turista class from Barcelona to Madrid for 39 euro, about 45 days in advance. Turista is 2nd class, but is comparable to a first class plane seat terms of room and comfort. The trip is just over 2 hours between the two.
If you want to fit in countrysides and vineyards, the major wine regions of Spain include La Rioja, Ribero del Duero, Penedes and Galicia. Madrid's not a great base for them, but Barcelona would be a good place to base yourself to take a side trip to Penedes. You can see some countryside by taking day trips from Madrid to Toledo, Segovia, etc., but more countryside can be seen by not using Madrid as a base. I would google those locations and see if maybe you want to do one big city like Barcelona, and one smaller one from which to take side trips. I personally would stay in Barcelona longer than Madrid not only because of the potential vineyard side trip, but it's a better food town, and has more character. But, Madrid has some great art museums, but to me is more of a stereotypical big city. I loved Seville, but you're only in Spain for 7 nights!
I agree w/ Courtney re: Barcelona being a better foodie town (sorry in advance, I know I'll get some comments on that). You said you wanted great food, and I think Barcelona is a better choice to spend more time. As far as getting to know the culture & people, I honestly find it easier to do that when I'm NOT in big cities, better the smaller ones. A smaller city close to Barcelona you could check out is Girona (could be a daytrip if you woke up early). As far as daytrips from Madrid: Segovia, Toledo, Alcala de Henares, and Avila. If possible stay overnight in Toledo - absolutely love this small medieval city and it's filled with history & the history of different cultures (Christians/Jews/Muslims).
Spending a night in Toledo is a great idea. If you land in Madrid early in the day, you can easily go directly to Toledo from the airport (change trains in Madrid) for one night, then return to Madrid for a couple of nights before going to Barcelona. It's only about 1/2 hour by train from Toledo to Madrid and frequent trains all day.
I would not try to do both cities with just 7 nights. As a first trip to Spain I would concentrate on Madrid and surrounding area. There are so many places relatively close to Madrid that make for excellent daytrips, add in a one overnight in Toledo and Madrid itself and you easily fill your week. I would then save Barcelona and that part if Spain for another trip. Suggestions for daytrips from Madrid include El Escorial, Avila, Segovia, Aranjuez, Alacala de Henares, la Granja de San Ildefonso and of course Toledo.
I like the idea of a couple nights in Madrid, including a visit to Toledo.
Then spend the remaining nights in and around Barcelona. There is more to see and do in Barcelona - medieval quarter, modernist architecture, beaches, small seaside towns up into Costa Brava.
My wife and I visited Madrid for four days then Barcelona for eight and then back to Madrid for 4 days a month later to end our trip. If I had 7 days. 7 full days. Not, we land day 1 and fly out day 7. I would do 3 in Madrid and 4 in BCN. Jet lag hits at some point. Madrid has three great museums. That would be one museum per day. About all I can stand at a time. BCN has everything else.
Moving from Madrid to BCN is a quick train ride. But packing up, getting to the station, riding, getting to your new housing will suck up most of that day. The train is marvelous, fast, comfortable, and ON TIME!
If you do both cities and do both the Proado in Madrid and Picasso in BCN pay particular attention to the painting Velazquez's Las Meninas in the Prado as the Picasso in BCN has ten (or is it 20) interpretations on this one painting.
If you land day one of 7 and fly out day 7 or 7. Do only one of the cities. Either is great. I liked BCN better.
We are flying in and out of Barcelona because it is a direct flight for us. Then the next day taking the high speed rail to Madrid, then down to Toledo for two nights only. Back to Barcelona for 4 days before heading by rail to our one week barge trip on the Canal du Midi in France (www.leboat.com). We found a 12 hr, 3 country tour, out of Barcelona. Check out day tours on Www.viator.com. It gives us a chance to see part of the Pyreenes. We knew we wanted to stay in the Gothic Quarter, so found an apartment thru VRBO, since there will be 4 of us. Walking distance to Las Ramblas.