I'd like some advice for a trip we're planning next May/June 2023. We'll be starting our travels with a week in Amsterdam, have a few days unscheduled; either taking a few extra days in Bruges and/or Ghent OR 3 days in Sicily before we join the RS Best of Sicily Tour May 28-June 7th. Our current plan is to fly to Spain on June 7 (returning to the U.S. June 16th) so we have 9 days in Spain (we've never been). We can fly to either Madrid or Barcelona from Catania, which is where the RS Sicily tour ends. My question for seasoned Spain travelers: should we try to split our time between Madrid and Barcelona, or just focus on one city or the other? We're not big museum goers, but I would like to visit a few. We fly out of Madrid on June 16th so if we do both cities, we'd need to end up in Madrid, even if it's just the day before we return. Any input / feedback / opinions most welcome - thanks in advance.
We’re in Barcelona now and going to Madrid Tuesday by train.I can let you know after the 10th when we leave Madrid. But, so far for Madrid we have the following booked: football game, bullfight, Circo Sobre Agua show, dinner at Botin - oldest restaurant in Europe, the Prado private guide, private tapas tour, 4 hour history walking tour with drinks/tapas stops with the Wellington Society, Royal Palace tickets. So much more to see and do in Madrid in my opinion. But, I can tell you more soon. I’m sure others will chime in.
I'm a big fan of both cities—have lived in one of them and plan to move to the other. If you spit the time you've kind of got the bare minimum amount of time I'd recommend. If you spend the bulk/all of the time in one place you'd have time to really get to know the city, sink into neighborhoods, linger in cafes, and take at least a couple of side trips. So the choice could depend on your general taste for relaxed vs packed itineraries, as well as what you might have an appetite for after all the travel leading up to it.
I'll also mention that if you end up in Belgium, Ghent has a lot more going on than Bruge, which is certianly beautiful, but other than tourism, pretty much a dead city.
Since you have to be in Madrid, why not give it 3 or 4 nights (= 2 or 3 days)? Though you say you are cool to museums, the Prado houses some of the greatest masterpieces of Western art. Having a guided tour may help you to better appreciate the collection.
The Reina Sofia should be visited, if for no other reason, than to view Picasso’s “Guernica.” Again, a guided tour may be valuable.
Imho, Barcelona is like no other city on the planet. The modernista architecture gives the city a unique ambience. Whatever else you see, do not miss the Palau de la Musica Catalana.
There is a museum of the history of the city that is well worth visiting. It gives one an understanding of matters that are largely unknown to N. American visitors.
The food in Barcelona is great, and quite different from that of other regions of the country. Tapas allow you to avoid the incredibly late Spanish dinner hours and to sample lots of different dishes.
Fly nonstop from Catania to Barcelona on Vueling for less than $50. Pack light and do laundry so you don’t have to pay to check a bag. The further out you buy on a low-cost carrier the cheaper it is. I don’t see other airlines that fly this route nonstop so this flight will sell out.
Split your time between both Barcelona and Madrid. Buy tickets for the Sagrada Familia before leaving home (Barcelona) but skip the tower since the best views are eye level not from the nose-bleed section.
Buy your train ticket from Barcelona to Madrid before leaving home: https://www.renfe.com/es/en because this train fills up.
I would fly into Barcelona (fares from Catania can be quite reasonable).
IMHO - the biggest draw of Madrid are its museums and the Palacio Real. Museum choice depends on what sort of art you are most interested in. The Prado (which is huge) has plenty of older big names, like Bisch's "Garden of Earthly Delights" triptych or Velasquez's "La Menina." The Thyssen has more impressionists and landscapes. The Reina Sofia has Picasso's "Guernica" and a respectable number of Dali works. Having visited all three, the last takes the least time, the Prado the most time and we enjoyed the Thyssen most (but that may just be personal taste). I suggest visiting two in a day, with lunch between and being done with museums.
Because I think Madrid is less interesting than Barcelona, I would devote more time to Barcelona. While most people associate Barcelona with Gaudi's work, I agree that the Palau de la Musica (by Louis Domenech e Montaner) should not be missed. We also liked the Recinte Sant Pau (a former hospital complex), also by Domenech e Montaner, now a conference center, as a spectacular example of Modernisme. Add in some exploration of the Gotic, el Born and a stroll in the Parc de la Ciutadella - you can easily spend 4-5 nights in Barcelona.
You might consider taking a train from Barcelona to Valencia for a couple nights before catching a high speed train to Madrid for the last two/three nights. Ouigo, the lower cost French carrier, now has high speed service from either Barcelona or Valencia competing with Renfe. (I like the trains because I hate getting to airports early for the security lines and then sitting around so much. Plus they are usually closer to the city centers.) The less visited Valencia is the home of paella, has great architecture (including the UNESCO World Heritage Silk Exchange and the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences - the latter featured prominently in Season 4 of HBO's Westward), a gigantic beach and a fabulous park, the Turia. The city is also quite flat, for easy walking.
Just some other ideas.
Thank you all for this great feedback and detailed information! I truly appreciate the time each of you have taken to provide input and thoughtful suggestions. The suggestions on flights, trains and places to visit are just what we needed. My husband and I have decided that this trip will be more of a "broad brush" overview so we can determine where we want to return to and stay longer for a deep dive in the future. We've decided to split the time evenly between Barcelona and Madrid, and will definitely incorporate as many of these suggestions as time allows. Happy trails and safe travels to all!
I am happy that you have decided to split your time evenly between Madrid and Barcelona. That is what I would have suggested if I had read your post earlier.
Regarding Madrid, I highly recommend visiting the Prado and Reina Sofia, even though you are not big museum goers. These 2 museums are outstanding! Make sure you see Picasso's Guernica at the Reina. And we enjoyed the Royal Palace.
Gaudi's architecture in Barcelona is so unique and quirky. It is an amazing city with delicious food. My Guadi highlights are: La Sagrada Familia, Casa Battlo, Casa Mila (La Pedrera), and Parc Guell.
Barbara: We arrive in Madrid on October 26th. I would love to get feedback on the Prado private guide, private tapas tour, 4 hour history walking tour with drinks/tapas stops with the Wellington Society. I was not familiar with the Wellington Society, but it looks as though they offer exactly what we want .... walking tours that focus on history/culture. Any tips from your time in Madrid would be appreciated!