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Advice on 9-night Spain itinerary

Hello,

My wife and I arrive at the Madrid airport at around 11:30 AM on March 27th. We will fly out of Madrid at about 11:00 AM April 5th. This give us nine nights in Spain. We visited Barcelona on a previous trip, so do not need to go there. I am wondering if this itinerary is manageable or if you have advice to change it.

3 nights Granada (somehow get to Granada from Madrid airport--rent a car perhaps?)

3 nights Seville (use car to drive from Granada to Seville?)

1 night Cordoba (train)

2 nights Madrid (train)

I am somewhat concerned about my ability to drive 4-5 hours after an overnight flight into Madrid, but am unsure about a bus or train from Madrid to Granada. I'm also unsure about the transportation from Granada to Seville.

We don't particularly appreciate art museums, so this trip is about other attractions. We like architecture so palaces or castles are cool. Our favorite thing to do is walking tours. Mainly we like to go about and leisurely see places, not get stuck in any attraction too long.

During our full day in Madrid I thought this day trip seemed a good option (Toledo and Segovia):

https://www.tripadvisor.com/AttractionProductReview-g187514-d11468813-Toledo_and_Segovia_Tour_with_Alcazar_Entrance_from_Madrid-Madrid.html

Or perhaps this is not a good itinerary. We definitely want to see Seville. Everything else is optional.

Any advice is appreciated. Thank you!

Posted by
13 posts

The Toleda/Segovia tour would be a day trip, fully guided but your point is taken and it probably makes sense to cut that out.

The logistics of Granada are the problem with this itinerary.

How would you arrange Granada as part of this trip? I know the AVE trains from Madrid-Cordoba-Seville are fast and often. The problem is making Granada happen. Would you recommend going to Granada first or putting it in somewhere between?

Would it make sense to do Seville first (straight from Madrid), then take AVE train to Cordoba for one night, then go to Granada from Cordoba? Would it be convenient to take a bus or train from Cordoba to Granada?

And then take a morning train from Granada to Madrid for the final two nights?

So:

3 nights Seville
1 night Cordoba
3 nights Granada
2 nights Madrid

Posted by
6410 posts

We had a good experience taking the 3 hour bus ride from Seville to Granada using the Alsa Bus Company. We went to Cordoba first from Madrid and then to Seville. But we flew home from Malaga instead of having to back track to Madrid. I agree with Nick I would not want to start the trip in Cordoba.

Posted by
20597 posts

Given that Madrid, Granada, Seville and Cordoba are well serviced by trains, why would you want to drive? Second, probably too late but for the benefit of other readers, you should have consider an open jaw ticket into Madrid and home from Granada or perhaps Malaga. Would have save time and money.

I don't think both Toledo and Segovia as a day trip from Madrid works very well given that you can easily spend a whole day at either site and especially Toledo. And one is north of Madrid and the other south - a lot of travel time. You need to put some pins in a map and get a straight line. First, I would land at Madrid and take the train to Cordoba. Later PM the next day the train to Seville, then Granada, and back to Madrid. I would take one night from either Seville or Granada and add it to Madrid if you are doing a day trip from Madrid. We did a similar 9 nights quick hit over New Years a few years ago. It was 3 in Madrid, 1 Cordoba, 3 Seville and 2 Granada and home from Malaga.

Posted by
13 posts

To maximize time, the first day in Spain is ruined no matter what because of travel. We'll be dead tired. So taking a bus to Granada or a train to Seville doesn't make a difference to us unless one is significantly more hassle. What concerns me is our plane getting in late so a need to wait and catch train when we arrive.

How feasible is it to land in Madrid and then go to bus station and get a ride to Granada? Must these be booked in advance? How often do buses go to Granada from Madrid?

The problem with putting Granada in the middle is that it takes so much time to get from Granada to Madrid, compared to Madrid from Cordoba on the AVE, as best I can tell. Or is that not the case? If we take the AVE from Cordoba to Madrid I was thinking that day would be salvageable, in terms of touring half the day in Madrid. But if we instead take a bus or train from Granada to Madrid, I doubt we would be up for much after that lengthy travel.

Basically I'm thinking to make Granada happen, we might need to go there directly from Madrid our first day, or subtract a night from Seville, or cut out Cordoba.

If we do

3 Seville, 1 Cordoba, 3 Granada, 2 Madrid, I think we'll basically only have one day in Madrid since we'll be so tired from a 4-5 hour bus/train ride into Madrid.

Our original plan was to do 4 Seville, 2 Cordoba, and 3 in Madrid. I'm trying to fit in Granada, but maybe it's not worth it. The original logic was to stay on the AVE trains.

Posted by
16748 posts

Renfe.com is the place to check schedules and fares for Spanish trains. In particular, do not use RailEurope, because it often doesn't list all the options, plus it charges more.

Tickets for your travel date aren't on sale yet, but you can check the latest-available Friday (currently February 28) for schedule and fare information. I wouldn't care to predict exactly when tickets for March 27 will go on sale; Renfe is erratic, so you'll need to keep checking. If you buy early, you'll have the option of less-expensive, date- and time-specific (non-exchangeable/non-refundable) tickets. If you wait too long, others may have bought all the Promo tickets, and you'll pay more. For Friday departures to Granada, it looks as if the price range is from about 50 euros (Promo) to 81 euros (Flexible). Seville fares fall in a fairly similar range; the price range for Cordoba tickets is somewhat narrower. Fares are lower for some other days of the week, so it's possible March 27 will not be the same as February 28.

Given the impossibility of knowing when your flight will actually arrive and you will get through Immigration, etc., purchase of a ticket for any specific train entails some risk. If you pad your schedule a lot to allow for a good amount of flight delay, you could end up sitting around Atocha Station for a long time, unnecessarily. Therefore, you might reasonably decide to accept the price penalty of buying that first train ticket at the airport train station after you arrive in Spain. Do not under any circumstances wait to buy the ticket at Atocha Station. The lines there are typically hours long (I am not exaggerating). The vending machines are fine unless they don't like your US credit cards.

However, there is one other wrinkle: If you wait till your travel date (or perhaps even just a few days earlier) to buy, some or many of the trains will be sold out. I have often checked Renfe to respond to a question on this forum and seen a string of sold-out trains for the current or next day. However, I have generally been looking at the Madrid-Seville route rather than Madrid-Granada; I don't know how busy the Madrid-Granada trains are. You can monitor availability for earlier Fridays to see what happens.

Buses can also sell out (though I think less often), and in some cases I believe fares are lower if you buy your bus tickets well in advance. The buses do not depart from Puerta de Atocha train station; there are multiple bus stations; I think they all have a Metro station nearby, but you might prefer to simply take a taxi from the airport to the appropriate bus station if you decide to leave Madrid by bus.

Posted by
13 posts

That is so helpful; thank you for the info on the trains.

We went with roundtrip to Madrid on the advice of a friend who lives in Cordoba. That is now booked so we can't fly out somewhere else. I am trying to make the most of our time there.

Do you think doing Granada is too much? It seems like a logistical challenge to get there.

Basically my friend told me that the high-speed train running from Madrid-Cordoba-Seville is easy to use and fast. Looking at Google Maps, it seems quite a bit faster to get through these three cities than going out to Granada.

But I know Granada is recommended by many so trying to see if feasible.

The only way I see it as feasible for us is doing it at the very beginning. I will probably book a train or bus at 2:30 PM out of Madrid, giving us a cushion of three hours between scheduled touchdown and when the train or bus is scheduled to leave. This to account for late arrival, getting through customs/immigration, and transportation to the train or bus station. We would take a taxi to the station.

It comes down to whether or not the logistics for Granada are worth it at the beginning of the trip and if there is enough time to do the other cities without being overwhelmed. We could probably cut a night from Cordoba and stop there on the way to Madrid from Seville, but would prefer to keep a night on the itinerary for Cordoba.

Thanks for your patience with me as I do not know Spain and appreciate all guidance. Any estimates I have are based on Google Maps.

Posted by
16748 posts

I don't think Granada is particularly difficult to get to, especially now that AVE service is up and running. Yes, it would be nice if there were more trains each day (at 7:35 AM, 2:35 PM and 7:35 PM), but the travel time is under 3 hr. 20 min. I think you'd have a good shot at making the 2:35 train, but it would not be guaranteed. Because there are so many more trains running between Madrid and Seville, there would be less risk of serious transportation complications if you headed first to Seville (roughly 2 hr. 30 min. from Madrid's Puerta de Atocha Station), then to Granada. Again, the departures are infrequent, but there are several departures for the Seville to Granada trip that take between 2 hr. 30 min. and 3 hr.--plus some longer ones.

I think you're looking at between 8 and 9 hours sitting on trains for the entire itinerary (starting and ending in Madrid). That doesn't seem bad to me.

Because AVE service into and out of Granada is still fairly infrequent, some folks end up taking buses. They are somewhat slower, but there is more choice of departure time, and that has value. For example, on March [edit] 27th [edit] ALSA has seven buses running from Madrid to Granada with departures between 2:30 PM and 8:30 PM. Scheduled travel time from Estacion Sur in Madrid is 4-1/2 to 5 hours.

ALSA has ten buses leaving Seville for Granada on the random late-March weekday I chose between 8:15 AM and 6 PM. The scheduled travel time is 2 hr. 45 min. or 3 hr.

ALSA also has ten buses leaving Cordoba for Granada (March weekday) between 8:30 AM and 8 PM scheduled to take 2 hr. 45 min.

Alhambra tickets are still available (as of this moment) for the dates you could potentially visit, March 28 (which I wouldn't recommend--risky in case of a transportation problem) through April 3. Any of those dates could sell out at any time. Although there are additional things to see in Granada, the Alhambra is indisputably the top sight there. I wouldn't try to squeeze Granada into a short trip to Andalucía if I couldn't get Alhambra tickets.

Posted by
569 posts

I do not consider Granada a difficult place to get to. On our trip in 2017, we visited (in this order) Madrid, Toledo, Cordoba, Granada, Malaga, and Seville. We took the ALSA bus from Cordoba to Granada. The trip was about 2.5 hours. The bus is modern, clean, air-conditioned, and the seats are very comfortable. We used ALSA bus twice, and I wouldn't hesitate to use it again. So, I think you should definitely include Granada and the Alhambra on your trip. The Alhambra is magnificent, and was one of the highlights of our trip, along with the Mezquita in Cordoba and the Alcazar in Seville.

Posted by
13 posts

Fascinating. Thanks so much craven.

I did not know the high speed train went to Granada. I now think it would be quite feasible logistically to include Granada as part of this trip. I think you are right that the safer bet would be to start in Seville, take train to Granada, then either train or bus to Cordoba, and then train to Madrid. Do you think it would be easier to take a train from Granada to Cordoba or should we take a bus?

The other consideration is if it is worth it to fit this all into nine nights.

If we make Granada and Cordoba work, I think we would have to do 3 nights Seville, 2 nights Granada, 1 night Cordoba, and 3 nights Madrid. Do you think this is a good balance? Alternatively we would stick to our original plan of 4 nights Seville, 2 Cordoba, 3 Madrid.

Thanks you again.

Posted by
569 posts

Just wanted to add that Granada is definitely worth visiting. Since you don't appreciate art museums, I see nothing wrong with visiting Granada after Cordoba, and then taking the train or bus from Granada to Madrid, if this itinerary works the best for you. As you have said, you will have less time in Madrid, but I think that would be preferable to missing the Alhambra, especially since you aren't art fans. You would still have one whole day in Madrid. I like Madrid a lot, but I think its most important sites are its outstanding art museums. If I had to choose between Granada and Madrid, I would choose Granada to see the Alhambra.

Posted by
569 posts

"If we make Granada and Cordoba work, I think we would have to do 3 nights Seville, 2 nights Granada, 1 night Cordoba, and 3 nights Madrid. Do you think this is a good balance? Alternatively we would stick to our original plan of 4 nights Seville, 2 Cordoba, 3 Madrid."

I saw this post after my last response. Why do you want to spend 3 nights in Madrid when you say you don't appreciate art? I suggest either your first option or this: 4 nights Seville, 2 nights Granada, 1 night Cordoba, and 2 nights Madrid, especially since you say Seville is a must.

Posted by
13 posts

I don't know enough to say. Based on what I researched Seville looked amazing, beautiful, where we could enjoy ourselves for a few days. Yeah I didn't think Madrid was as attractive so we could cut a night there. Cordoba looks beautiful though too, hard to cut that down to one night. Will flowers be blooming in Cordoba while we're there?

I don't want us to be overwhelmed. But I think 2 nights in Madrid is enough, that would allow for an evening tapas tour that would be fun and a walking tour of the city the full day we're there.

So that leaves 7 nights. If we do Cordoba after Seville that might work to only do one night there as the train ride from Seville to Cordoba is only about 45 minutes right? That would mean we could take a 9:30 AM train and still have a comfortable day seeing Cordoba before leaving to Granada the next morning. That would preserve 4 nights Seville, then 1 Cordoba, 2 Granada, and finish up 2 Madrid.

Posted by
16748 posts

I think your latest suggestion is a good one. In your situation (limited time, not caring about art museums), I'd cut Madrid short. As you have discovered on this trip, it's a lot easier to get to Madrid than to the cities to the south. If you find you really love Madrid, you can revisit it easily.

In choosing between train and bus for the trips in and out of Granada, I'd consider the departure times (there may be few convenient ones for you), travel times (trains likely faster), cost (buses likely cheaper), comfort (you can stand up and walk around on the train) and also the locations of the train and bus stations. In Granada, the train station is quite a bit closer to the historic center of town. Depending on where you're staying, you might conceivably be able to walk to your lodgings from the train station. The bus station is about 1.5 miles farther out, and from there you'd almost certain have to take a bus or taxi. Neither of those is difficult, but it takes a little while.

One other thing: it is perfectly acceptable to pack a snack or lunch to eat on the train. It's harder to eat neatly on a bus, and I've been on some buses that didn't allow eating. This won't really matter if you decide to catch a bus right after breakfast.

Posted by
569 posts

I understand your dilemma because it is difficult to allocate the right number of nights for each place. Seville is a beautiful city architecturally, and has many plazas, fountains, etc. We had 4 nights in Seville, so roughly 3.5 days there. The Alcazar is so beautiful and interesting, and we enjoyed the Cathedral, Casa di Pilatos (a hidden gem), Plaza de Espagna, Triana, a carriage ride, a flamenco show, etc. It's a lovely city for wandering.

Cordoba is lovely, too, and is one of our favorite cities, so I definitely recommend at least one night there. Two nights would be nice but I don't think you have the time, and it would not be worth omitting Granada from your itinerary. Especially if you don't think you will return to Andalucia, I strongly recommend visiting Granada for 2 nights to see the Alhambra. You need 2 nights to see the Alhambra properly. Don't rush through it! We spent almost a whole day there, including eating sandwiches on a bench, and then stopping for a drink and snacks at Hotel America. We also had a night time tour, which is just magical.

I like Madrid, too, but I do think its biggest highlights are the art museums. You can do a tapas tour at night as you say, and during your whole day there, you could do a walking tour and also visit the Palacio Real since you like palaces.

And because you like architecture, I am sure you will love the Moorish architecture of the Alhambra, Mezquita, and Seville's Alcazar. Cordoba's Alcazar has gorgeous gardens, so it's worth visiting, too. The building isn't as impressive the gardens and fountains are beautiful.

Posted by
569 posts

And acraven makes a good point in that if you really like Madrid, it is much easier to re-visit than Andalucia.

Posted by
1861 posts

One other thing: it is perfectly acceptable to pack a snack or lunch to eat on the train. It's harder to eat neatly on a bus, and I've been on some buses that didn't allow eating. This won't really matter if you decide to catch a bus right after breakfast.

The AVE Trains are also equipped with a full service dinning car too, that you can eat a breakfast or light lunch, there are tables there too, but nothing fancy like you see in the movies! ;-)

Posted by
13 posts

Thanks all. I am now thinking it might make the most sense to cut Madrid down to one night. We could do four nights Seville, two nights Granada, two nights Cordoba, then take early train to Madrid. Our flight out of Madrid isn't until about 11:00, so I think we could do the tapas tour the night before that and perhaps squeeze in an afternoon walking tour if we get to Madrid from Cordoba by maybe 11:00 AM.

What do you think of this plan?

To summarize, 4 nights Seville then AVE train to Granada for 2 nights. Then train or bus to Cordoba for 2 nights. Then AVE to Madrid for one night.

Honestly, I don't see us getting back to Spain so this is it. Thanks all for your patience and advice.

Posted by
16748 posts

It looks good to me. There's no sense in worrying about what you can't see on a trip. There are always a lot more places missed than hit. Just concentrate on fully enjoying the places you choose to visit.

Posted by
569 posts

You will have a wonderful trip, and you will see some amazing things! I sincerely believe you are seeing important historical and cultural highlights, and some beautiful and lovely cities. It’s impossible to see everything, but you will see the best!

Posted by
4504 posts

To summarize, 4 nights Seville then AVE train to Granada for 2 nights. Then train or bus to Cordoba for 2 nights. Then AVE to Madrid for one night.

Your final itinerary looks great!
Make sure you book your Alhambra tickets ASAP (before they sell out!)

On our last trip to Spain we took this route: Madrid > train to Córdoba on day of arrival > ALSA bus to Granada > ALSA bus to Seville > AVE train to Madrid.

Enjoy your time in beautiful Andalucía!

Posted by
13 posts

Hi all,

I just booked our tickets for the Alhambra for April 1st, what I plan as our only full day in Granada. I am trying to bring up train tickets for Seville-Granada but only see evening options for Tuesdays in February.

Do trains leave in the morning for Granada? I tried changing the option to morning on the search page but that yielded no search results.

If the train isn't an option to get to Granada in the morning, what is the best website to use for the bus?

Thank you!

Posted by
16748 posts

I think Renfe just must not have the April tickets loaded yet. Tomorrow (also a Wednesday) there are departures at 8 AM, 10:45 AM, 11:45 AM, and 3:30 PM. Those are all fast-train connections with a change in Cordoba; the transfer time on the 3:30 departure is just 7 minutes, so hop to it. There are some additional departures that take much longer.