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August trip, from Barcelona to Granada and Cadiz and then back...somehow

Hi everyone,
We are (finally) able to reunite with our daughter and son-in-law in Barcelona, where they live. Hooray. We have been to Barcelona before so our time spent there will just be to hang and enjoy being together after 18 months separation. We are not in any rush to see the usual sites there, but are planning a day trip to Sitges, and maybe another on the tail end. We would like to travel to Granada and Cadiz with the 8 or 9 days that we have left in between arriving from the US and then flying back home. We are thinking to take the train to travel between cities and are trying hard not to double back nor to spend too much time in transit (the site Rome2Rio is very helpful in this regard). Since everything goes through Madrid I don't think we can avoid double backing there. This is our proposed itinerary - but given that we've been to Madrid and Sevilla in years past, maybe there is a better itinerary between cities that I have not thought of - can anyone help? Am I leaving enough time for Granada and Cadiz, the two cities we especially want to visit?
Day 1 - Barcelona to Madrid
Day 2 - Madrid
Day 3 - Madrid to Granada
Day 4 - Granada
Day 5 - Granada to Sevilla
Day 6 - Sevilla
Day 7 - Sevilla to Cadiz
Day 8 - Cadiz
Day 9 - Cadiz to Madrid to Barcelona

Thank you all in advance.

Posted by
400 posts

Renfe's website shows that for this August (2021) there is one direct train from Barcelona to Granada a day (departs Barcelona 08:30, arrives Granada 14:52, 6h22m) that does not involve a change of trains in Madrid -- the route is via Zaragoza and Ciudad Real. It seems to run every day of the week, though I haven't checked every single day of the month. Is there a reason you don't want to take this train?

Alternatively, there's also flying, which is likely to be a bit quicker, even accounting for travel time to/from the airport and security -- the flight is 1h30m.

Posted by
360 posts

Hi, if using trains from Barcelona to Granada it is not necessary to go via Madrid. There is a train which departs Barcelona-Sants at 8.30am which travels via Zaragoza, Ciudad Real, Córdoba, Antequera-Santa Ana which arrives at Granada at 2:52pm (in time for a good restaurant lunch!)— a journey time of 6hours 22minutes. Price: 107,45€ or 119,40€ one-way.
For your return you could fly Sevilla-Barcelona (flight time 1hour 40minutes). Price: Between 37€ and 85€ plus.

IF using train out-plane back option it may make sense to re-configure schedule to Barcelona-Granada—Càdiz-Sevilla—Barcelona, connecting Granada and Càdiz with approximately 5 hour train journey. Price: 54€ one-way. And connecting Càdiz and Sevilla with approximately 1hour 30mins train for around 25€ one-way.

Another option, worth considering is to take the 8.30am train from Barcelona as far as Córdoba, visit the Mezquita etc etc etc, stay overnight then take the same train (OR any one of four other trains) the next day to Granada. Journey time Barcelona to Córdoba approximatey 4hours 45mins. Journey time Córdoba—Granada: between 1hour 30mins and 2hours. Prices: between 19,70€ and 34,45€.

Another option, obviously, is to fly Barcelona-Sevilla round-trip OR fly Barcelona-Sevilla and Málaga-Barcelona for return leg — this way you get to see Málaga, another interesting Andalusian city. So, by excluding Madrid altogether you could get to visit Córdoba, Granada, Sevilla, Càdiz and Málaga.

The train out-plane back option could be a more relaxing way to go after a transatlantic flight.

Others will likely chip in with suggestions, but it can be extremely hot in Sevilla in August (it was known for many years as the frying-pan of Europe), which can make ambling around visiting sites very tiring and uncomfortable.

Enjoy your re-union with daughter and son-in-law. I can imagine your excitement at the prospect of seeing them. My daughter gave birth to my first grandchild on July 22 last year and I've not been able to visit them (I have not seen my daughter since January 2020)— and, as at writing, still no travel window in sight. Enjoy your trip.

Posted by
38 posts

Thank you Andrew and Bill for your replies and suggestions. I had not thought seriously of the Barcelona to Granada train because the idea of 6 hours-plus travel time seemed, at the time, to be too much time in transit! I see now that's a bit silly and this direct route looks like the best option.
I also like the idea of train out and flight back in. I didn't think about flying between stops because I thought it would be too expensive an option, but I see now that's not the case across the board.
Would two nights each in Granada, Cadiz, and Malaga be enough time to get a feel for the cities? A few years ago we did two nights in Cordoba and two in Sevilla - of course we didn't see everything there was to see but it did give us a feel for the places.
As for the heat, we are coming from South Florida - another frying pan (maybe more like a steamer) - so we think we might be acclimated for the heat.
I thank you Bill for your good wishes on seeing our kids again, and I feel for you your long separation. I hope you get to be reunited with your family soon. Your new grandchild is a blessing!

Posted by
18730 posts

I feel like Granada needs more time than Malaga and Malaga needs more time than Cadiz, but of course the best way to make that judgement is to dig into a comprehensive guidebook and make a list of the sights you want to see in each place, paying attention to the provided maps to guess how much time you'll be spending moving between them--which can substantially impact the sightseeing time needed. I found I walked around a lot more in Granada (which is both spread out and hilly), and of course the Alhambra is a time-consuming sight.

As for the heat, you will not find it worse than south Florida where you have to deal with extremely high humidity. However, I'll bet when you're at home you mostly move back and forth between an air-conditioned house, an air-conditioned work place and air-conditioned stores via some sort of motorized, air-conditioned transportation. Being a tourist in a hot area like southern Spain is more akin to working as a gardener or spending most of the day golfing. That's very different from the way most people live on a day-to-day basis. Dealing with high heat for many hours per day, day after day, is draining. You may well find you are moving more slowly than expected and having to take frequent breaks.

Small shops and cafes in Europe are not always air-conditioned. The same is true of some museums if they hold objects that won't be damaged by high temperatures. Someone joked once about going into supermarkets to hang out in the frozen-food area because it's not so easy to find air-conditioned indoor spaces in Europe, but if it's impractical to retreat to your hotel room for a mid-day break, you may find yourself tempted to do that. It will be very helpful if your hotels are located near your major sightseeing targets so you have the ability to take a quick break when you need to. There's absolutely nothing wrong with relaxing in a cafe or crashing in your room for a while, but doing those things reduces the amount of ground you can cover per day.

Posted by
360 posts

“Someone joked once about going into supermarkets to hang out in the frozen-food area because it's not so easy to find air-conditioned indoor spaces in Europe…”
It’s not a joke—it’s an item of official local government health advice, often printed on cardboard fans distributed free in Barcelona when temperatures rise.

One of the reasons why going to movie theatres in Spain is still relatively high compared with other European countries is that local folk used them, and still use them, as coolers during the hot days of summer. It was not unusual for folk in the 1950s and 60s to go to the cinema four or five times a week, just to get out of the heat. Again, this is still advised by local health authorities.

Think it was four years ago, maybe five, but on just one day here in August, four people died in the Barcelona area because of heat stroke: one guy, in his 60s, was cycling on our street, Passeig de Sant Joan, when he died; two of the victims were road workers and another a construction worker.

I will never forget, many, many years ago, arriving by bus to Madrid mid-afternoon in August, the streets were mostly deserted, and the people who were out and about seemed to be moving in very slow slow-motion. It was quite surreal, watching people through the bus windows, walking very slowly, almost like a movie. As soon as I stepped from the air-conditioned bus, bam, I immediately understood why.

I can’t speak to the heat in Florida — I’ve only ever had to change planes in Miami during summer — but as Anne says, I think you may be surprised at how many places here do not have a/c. We don’t have a/c in our apartment — but we’re fortunate because we have front and back doors— (most people do not) we open up the doors and we get a cooling draft most days, but there are always at least four or five days when there is just no breeze whatsoever— we call them five-a-day shower days.

Another couple of points: The air conditioned exhaust air from apartments, stores and offices obviously often ends up on the sidewalk, and when walking from place to place you’ll unavoidably pass through sudden, invisible walls of hot air. Also, because of increased electricity use, because a/c units, freezers, fans and fridges are all running full tilt, we get power outages in August—sometimes they last less than an hour, sometimes a day or more. It’s quite discomfiting (but sometimes fun if it’s a neighbourly bar) to be in a bar-restaurant when the power goes out.

Sorry, for the long ramble. Just take on board Anne’s observations and suggestions and you’ll be fine.

Posted by
2080 posts

I had not thought seriously of the Barcelona to Granada train because
the idea of 6 hours-plus travel time seemed, at the time, to be too
much time in transit! I see now that's a bit silly and this direct
route looks like the best option.

But, a 6:22 train ride is 6 hours of useable time. You don't have to spend 6 hours in the seat staring at the wall. You can use it to read, watch a movie, take a nap, have lunch, plan your time in Granada etc.

I also like the idea of train out and flight back in. I didn't think
about flying between stops because I thought it would be too expensive
an option, but I see now that's not the case across the board.

Take a close look at the plan first and think about it. Many American often default to flying because they are used that being the only option if you're not driving. But Spain has a good network of high speed trains, and even if sometimes the trains takes a while, it is time you can use. Unlike flying, where a lot of time is spent waiting or standing in line.

Posted by
38 posts

Thanks again acraven, Bill and Badger for all your tips to beat the heat and also for the tips about time spent in each locale. Once we decide on a true itinerary I will post. I am grateful for these forums and for people like you who take the time to help out other travelers!

Posted by
38 posts

Hello all those willing to give advice:
We've changed our itinerary above somewhat because it was hard to find accommodations in Cadiz at this date that were affordable for us (family of four adults) and that were rated high marks in the cleanliness department. It seems Cadiz will be very crowded this summer - not a lot of choices left. Also too many stops on a trip equals lots of stress I've come to realize. (We are only traveling by train this vacation within Spain.)
Having taken your advice, this is our itinerary now.

Day 1 - Barcelona to Granada
Day 2 - Granada
Day 3 - Granada
Day 4 - Granada
Day 5 - Granada to ? to Madrid
Day 6 - Madrid
Day 7 - Madrid
Day 8 - Madrid
Day 9 - Madrid to Barcelona
(Barcelona for a few days and then home to the US)

To put one stop in between Granada and Madrid on Day 5 seems like an odd choice. We had wanted to go straight from Granada to Madrid, but the only direct train leaves around 7am and the thought of gathering together all four of us, getting from the Airbnb to the train station so early in the morning to arrive at the Granada station in time, seems daunting on this vacation. There are a few other choices that would allow us to have a more leisurely morning on the day of our departure from Granada. We have been to Sevilla and to Cordoba before - and loved them both. A stop for a few hours' visit in Ciudad Real seems like an ok choice too but wouldn't buy us a lot of time there because we don't want to get into Madrid so late in the evening.
Again I appeal to you all, who may know more, for any advice on where to stop on that Granada to Madrid route that might be worthwhile for a few hours. I realize I should probably start a new post but I didn't want to lose contact with those who responded before.
Thank you.

Posted by
18730 posts

What's your travel date for the Granada-Madrid transfer? I'm seeing multiple departures, but I just lazily chose August 2nd as the date of travel, which I'm sure is way off base. If you're traveling on a Sunday, it could be very different.

The fast trains don't make many stops. I believe these are your choices:
Loja (not all trains)
Antequera-Santa Ana
Puente Genil-Herrera (not all trains)
Cordoba Central
Puertollano
Ciudad Real

Of those places I've only been to Cordoba. I remember a few positive comments about Antequera, which I believe has a nice historic center, but Antequera-Santa Ana is not near the center of town, so it's highly questionable whether it would make sense to hop off the train there for just a few hours.

If it turns out there are more travel options back to Madrid than you're aware of, you might consider just going straight there, dropping your bags at your hotel, and hopping on the commuter train to Alcala de Henares for the the rest of the day. It's a pretty, historic, university town with very frequent rail service.

Another possibility--again assuming there are more trains than you've uncovered so far--would be to use one of your full days in Granada for a side-trip, then spend the morning of your transfer day in Granada and take a mid-afternoon train to Madrid (assuming one exists). I went to Priego do Cordoba while I was in Granada, which is a seldom-visited, attractive town. On another day I took a bus into the Alpujarras, which are at some elevation and likely to be a bit cooler than Granada. Most people go to the Alpujarras to hike; I just puttered around.

Posted by
38 posts

Hi acraven - thanks for your reply. I'm feeling a little silly now - is it possible more Renfe routes/times have magically appeared for Aug 16, Granada to Madrid?? I think so! I had been furiously going back and forth between Rome2Rio (my go-to, because it's easy to follow and purchase tix from, and they were showing no trains on Aug 16 Granada to Madrid) then to Renfe's website (so often frustrating esp. at purchase time), to Trainline, to Rail Europe and I saw nothing but the very early train departure from Granada at 7:14 am.
I think I sounded the alarm too quickly. More options have since appeared - thank goodness.
I appreciate your suggestion of the Alpujarras - that would appeal to our group certainly - and also the town of Priego de Cordoba, which I had never heard of but looks very interesting.
Thank you!

Posted by
18730 posts

It could well be Renfe. I find it a challenge, too. I confess that I looked on the Deutsche Bahn website because I much prefer the way it presents information. It's especially good if you want to see what stops a train makes. I have occasionally found trains (not German trains) missing from the DB website, though, so I don't think there's always a safe, one-stop solution. And of course DB would [correcting bad typo>] not {<correcting bad typo] sell you tickets for a Spanish train.

I'd be very cautious about using Rome2Rio for more than an initial check. I never use it for train info because there are too many other sources, but it can point you in the right direction on trips requiring buses or a bus and a train. Just don't trust its fares, travel times or travel frequencies. They are so often wildly off base.

I'd be very concerned about buying tickets via a Rome2Rio link going anywhere other than to the website of the operating railroad. In this instance Rome2Rio is apparently cooperating with a company called GoEuro, a third-party seller. There are multiple ways a third-party seller can cost you money:

  • It may not show all your travel options (potentially suppressing the less expensive ones).
  • It may sell the tickets at a surcharge.
  • It may add a service charge on each ticket or each purchase.
  • It may use a disadvantageous exchange rate if you allow your tickets to be priced in US dollars rather than euros.

I spot-checked one ticket (arbitrarily choosing Madrid-Cordoba for later today). The price was given as $96 if I didn't change the currency from the USD default. If I switched the currency to euros, the price was €77, which is only $91.38. So Rome2Rio/GoEuro are making an extra 5% on the ticket just because of the default currency selection. I didn't bother to check to see whether Renfe was selling the same ticket at less than €77. That wouldn't surprise me at all.

Renfe can be tricky to buy from, but I think there may be less expensive options than Rome2Rio/GoEuro if Renfe doesn't work for you. I believe Seat61 usually keeps up with who the best ticket sources are.

Posted by
38 posts

Thanks acraven for all that advice. Rome2rio gives me that great map - but I see that the train times and prices are indeed funky. Seat61 in indeed a great and helpful site. (Renfe makes me crazy when I need to purchase and a recent call to them about why their site kept losing my reservations in between transactions cost about $75. A mistake I won't make again.)
One more question - my husband and I qualify for the tarjeta dorada, which would save us money on train travel, but of course we can't get one until we are in Spain, and then we risk the chance that whatever discount we could get might be offset by the rise in ticket prices the closer we get to travel. Seat61 says to forget the tarjeta dorada and to just buy the tickets online well before the journey commences. Any thoughts or experience with this conundrum?

Posted by
1237 posts

I think the seat61 man is right (as he usually is). If you know what longer journeys you want to make weeks in advance then you can get a better discount buying them early. The TD discount works if you will be buying full fare tickets, close to departure. So, very basically, TD helps for flexibility, but not for pre-planned itineraries.

But, many shorter train journeys don't have a discount from booking in advance, so since the gold pass also includes some discount on those services where you cannot save by early booking it saves money on the full fare amount. However, these are going to be marginal when the fares are low anyway.

Posted by
18730 posts

My experience with the Tarjeta Dorada has been as Nick said. On my 2019 trip to Spain I was traveling during Semana Santa, so I needed to make quite a few hotel reservations in advance (not my usual practice beyond my arrival destination). Having to buy the Alhambra ticket well in advance was a second limitation on my flexibility. Since I knew the days I was to arrive in several cities, I also knew the days I'd be taking the train to those cities, and there was no reason (pre-COVID) not to buy a promo-priced ticket ahead of time when the savings would be greater than those offered by the Tarjeta Dorada.

I checked fares carefully, comparing what I'd pay on my actual travel date for an immediate (nonrefundable) purchase to the current-day ticket price less the Tarjeta Dorada discount. In the end just one ticket fell into the category of enough extra savings to be worth tying myself down to a specific train so far in advance. I was a bit nervous about the transaction on the Renfe website because it shifted back to Spanish mid-way through (which I think was par for the course, at least back in 2019), but I had read about the online-purchase process (I think there's a TripAdvisor thread), and it worked for me. I had 3 credit cards lined up in case the first one wasn't accepted, but it was. I probably called the credit card company ahead of time to warn that a Spanish transaction would be coming through. When you do that, they often ask the amount of the transaction, so be prepared to answer that question.

Through a combination of jetlag, sleep-deprivation and misinformation from a Renfe staff person at Atocha Station, I thought it wasn't possible to buy tickets at the Tarjeta Dorada discount out of the ticket-vending machines in rail stations, but that was incorrect. There's a T.D. option on the machines--which have an English setting--that's not hard to find if you are not a walking zombie. This is critical information, because the staffed ticket counters at Atocha are reminiscent of what you'd have found in shops in the USSR back in the 1970s. I stood in line for three hours.

In the past there have been some rumblings about US credit card issues in Renfe's ticket-vending machines. I can't vouch for whether that's still an issue (or ever was, but it sounded likely). I never had a problem, but I take a lot of short trips on non-express trains, and I think it's possible lower-value purchases might go through on a US credit card when higher-value ones wouldn't, so if you have an issue you could try buying each ticket individually rather than multiple tickets as part of a single transaction. That would be fine on trains without seat reservations; I cannot guess what would happen if you tried that with AVE tickets. All I know is that the long-distance-ticket counters at Atocha Station are to be avoided at (pretty much literally) all cost--unless they have finally fixed the long-term issues there.

I bought my Tarjeta Dorada at the airport train station in Madrid. I'd assume you can do the same in Barcelona. It was very quick, and it should also be possible to buy AVE tickets there using the T.D., thereby avoiding the need to make a later purchase at Madrid-Atocha.

Posted by
360 posts

To back up Anne's observations re: the Tarjeta Dorada (Targeta Daurada in Catalan) — you can purchase, or renew, a TD at all RENFE stations with a ticket office.
It takes, or should take, 2 or 3 minutes—depends on how good the clerk's typing skills are. My partner just bought her's yesterday at Clot station in Barcelona. All you need is your passport, or in her case, residency ID.
And, yes, you can use the TD with RENFE ticket vending machines—saves lining up at the ticket office.

Posted by
38 posts

Thanks so much Bill and Anne for your comments. We will do as suggested, purchase the TD at BCN when we arrive. It seems at this date the price for the tix without the TD for our Madrid-Barcelona leg is the same as the price with, so I will just purchase those tickets online now. I expect with regional train travel (and we will be taking day trips from each of our stops) the TD will come in handy.
Best to you both! Looking forward to being in Barcelona for the festa Gracia too, which I just read about in another of Bill's comments on a different thread! Thanks for that!

Posted by
202 posts

We recently flew from Granada to Barcelona. It was an easy, pleasant flight.

We also recently took a train from Barcelona to Madrid. The air conditioning in our car was not functioning. It was miserable.

I don't know what the point of this is.
-Marc

Posted by
38 posts

Hi Marc -
One family member in our party of four isn't keen on flying, so all the travel for us will be by train. Sorry to hear about your miserable Barcelona to Madrid trip! I appreciate your sharing that so I can prepare for a hot trip, just in case. Just curious, was this in the basic coach or the "comfort" coach? I guess I'm wondering if the a/c is more reliable in certain cars.

I hope the rest of your trip was wonderful.

Posted by
1237 posts

A/C can fail in any carriage. It's usually a mechanical problem and it doesn't happen very often. But when it does, it makes no difference which class of coach you are in since yours might be the unlucky one. Some local & regional trains don't have a/c in the first place (around Murcia for example), but the intercity ones do. I wouldn't pick your class based on whether the a/c will be working as its a rare and random problem.

Posted by
38 posts

Thanks Nick - glad to know it's a rare problem. I've traveled around Spain using the high-speed train system, and found the travel comfortable and efficient, but it was always in the winter. This is our first summer in Spain and we will likely encounter plenty of

un-airconditioned spaces nonetheless.

Posted by
360 posts

RE: A/c on RENFE trains — a couple of years ago we were returning from a day out in Sitges — no a/c, it was early evening, but it was still a miserable experience. However, has to be noted, that this summer is the coolest summer in Barcelona, so far, I have ever experienced. The weather currently is pleasantly warm with infrequent, refreshing showers. And night time temperatures are very cool by comparison with previous summers.

Posted by
38 posts

Hi Bill- Yes, I've been watching the weather and I've noticed cool evenings. I pray they last through the month!