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First timers to Spain, looking for advice on 3wk Itinerary

Hi everyone. I am in the initial planning stages of our first trip to Spain and for my wife her first time to Europe. This is my first crack at a rough itinerary and would love some feedback. We are in our late 30’s, love good food and wine, architecture, art and history. We will have 22 days. We will be there from Feb 19 - March 11, give or take a day or two.

Fly from Vancouver to Seville (4 nights)

Train to Cordoba (2 nights)

Train Cordoba to Granada (3 nights)

Train Granada to Valencia (2 nights)

Train Valencia to Madrid (4 nights)

Bus Madrid to Toledo (2 nights)

Bus to Madrid, Train to Barcelona (5 nights)

Fly Barcelona to Vancouver

QUESTIONS

  1. Does this route make the most sense?

  2. Does this plan seem too rushed? Anything I should lose or change?

  3. I know that Carnival is happening while we’re there. Any advice with regards to that?

Would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you!

Posted by
1862 posts

Consider going from Granada directly to Madrid+Toledo, then take the AVE to Valencia, then after train up to Barcelona. That will eliminate the need to back track back to Madrid. So it will go like this:

Fly from Vancouver to Seville (4 nights)

Train to Cordoba (2 nights)

Train Cordoba to Granada (3 nights)

Train Granada to Madrid (4 nights)

Train Madrid to Toledo (2 nights)

Train from Toledo (via Madrid Atocha) to Valencia (2 nights)

Train Valencia to Barcelona (5 nights)

Fly Barcelona to Vancouver

To add

You could also consider dropping Valencia and switching it out for Zaragoza for 2 nights, which is conveniently on the AVE line between Madrid and Barcelona. Zaragoza has more than 2000 years of history, including Roman ruins, Moorish palaces, and a massive Basilica/pilgrimage site.

Posted by
1514 posts

Excellent Carlos. It's nice to see you again my friend.

Posted by
4128 posts

Seville is wonderful, yes do 4 nights there.
Cordoba 2 nights is probably good, but not sure you need 3 nights in Granada. You can see the Alhambra in about 4 hours, including travel time. Other sites in one more full day and the fraction of the day when you did the Alhambra.
Never been to Valencia, not sure about 4 nights. Seems like a lot to me.
Madrid, 4 nights then two nights in Toledo. I would plan a day trip to Segovia and do Toledo on a day trip as well. Don't miss the Prado Art Museum.
Barcelona 5 nights is good, if you do Monserat from Barcelona. Make sure you go inside the Sagrada Familia. Not sure about Carnival, but except for that, it is the off season.

Posted by
16766 posts

I think Granada is absolutely worth 3 nights, with the caveat that the city is at altitude and will probably be quite a bit cooler than Seville and Cordoba.

The train is a lot faster that the bus between Madrid and Toledo--which city I also think is worth at least as much time as you have given it. Art museums aside, for me Toledo is much more interesting than Madrid. Four nights in Madrid will probably allow you to take a day-trip to Segovia unless you want to see not only the three major art museums and the Palacio Real but also some smaller museums or other sights.

Valencia is a perfectly pleasant place, and the weather will probably be relatively nice, but it does add a considerable amount of train time. Zaragoza is a good alternative if you want more sightseeing and less time sitting on trains.

Posted by
13930 posts

After reading all the replies, you probably now realize that there is much more to enjoy in Spain than you can fit into 3 weeks.It's like going to Italy, assume you will return.

I've been twice in February, once in March. You could have rain in Sevilla and sunshine in Madrid. I wouldn't plan around weather, it's too unpredictable and chances are it will be reasonably good most of the time. Orange trees are everywhere. Once in February, I watched a crew removing oranges from the trees because they were falling down (even saw one tourist get bopped on the head). By mid-March the trees were in bloom and the scent of orange blossoms was wonderful in Valencia and Andalucia.

On my first trip, I went to Cadiz for the first Sunday of Carnival. It's a very big deal there, didn't notice much of anything out of the ordinary anywhere else (Jerez, Granada, white hill towns).

Madrid is my least favorite city in Spain (so far . . . ). I love the fabulous art museums and I enjoyed visiting the Palace and the Naval Museum. The gardens in Madrid and Andalucia were a disappointment, everything was pruned back and while I could see that they would be beautiful later in the year, they weren't very nice then. So my advice is to consider carefully how much time you want to spend in Madrid. If you love European painting, you'll probably want the better part 2 days just for that. If not, you may want to spend fewer nights there.

Posted by
1132 posts

Valencia is a delightful city and well worth visiting. But I wouldn't include it in a first trip given it is inconvenient to get to from Granada. Instead I would save it for next time. You could use the extra two nights to, for example

a) stay longer in Seville and include a day-trip. Jerez is ideal since it's a fairly quick rail journey from/to Seville and its sights are good but limited, so you won't feel you're "short-changing" it. Cadiz is an alternative, although the journey is longer and it's more a place to stop a night or three. But a day-trip at least gives you a taster. A third choice is Carmona - although it might be pretty dead in February. Or

b) if you want an easier seaside alternative to Valencia, spend two nights in Malaga. It would fit well between Cordoba and Granada and is an excellent destination. As well as the beach (but you're not travelling during beach weather), there are many sights both ancient and modern. The trio of sights on the hill are together perhaps Spain's best collection. It also has an attractive centre with a big "foodie" reputation.

P.S. Why are you using a bus between Madrid and Toledo? Railway should be more convenient.

Happy New Year.

Posted by
12 posts

Thanks Carlos, Geovagriffith, acraven, Chani, and Nick! What wonderful insights!

With your advice, I’ve decided to change my itinerary and focus more on the Andalusia region. I will skip Madrid for the most part but probably fly in and out of there. I will post my second attempt at the itinerary soon. Cheers!

Posted by
360 posts

I would strongly encourage you to do your own research and what sites look interesting to you. We really enjoyed Madrid, so I wouldn't skip it based on others' opinions, if there were things there that looked worthy of your time when you were first considering your schedule. While we liked Toledo as day trip, we were glad we didn't choose to spend the night there, and we were ready to leave Seville after two full days -- everyone's different. Of your itinerary, I haven't been to Valencia, but we were in San Sebastian instead and really enjoyed it. For me, I would either fly into Madrid and fly out of Barcelona or vice versa and then do a circle through the cities you mentioned -- the open jaw itinerary isn't usually much more and it's generally cheaper than the train ticket to get back for a round-trip and saves you the time.

Posted by
12 posts

Thanks Becky. We were hesitant about Madrid from the beginning. While we do appreciate a good museum and art, that isn't a priority for us on this trip. Our last trip to Mexico included a long stay in Mexico City and we did lots of museums and art. By the end of that trip we wished we had spent more time exploring smaller towns. What did you love about Madrid?

Posted by
1514 posts

Are you planning any day trips to smaller towns from the base cities listed on your Andalusian itinerary? If you have time in Madrid during your days there then a day trip to San Lorenzo de El Escorial is recommended. It's a fascinating monastery to explore.

https://el-escorial.com/

Posted by
13930 posts

Madrid - most people on the forum with an opinion like Madrid well enough, it's just that they like everywhere else more! I've been to Madrid twice, each time for 3-4 days and have never regretted it. I was even planning to visit again on my 3rd trip to Spain but there were just too many other places. Both times I've spent a full day at the Prado and about 1/2 day at the Thyssen. Architecturally, it's more like other European cities than, say, Sevilla/Cordoba or Barcelona, which are very different to each other and to anywhere else.

I like apples and oranges a lot, but given the choice, I'm taking mangoes or pineapples.

Posted by
12 posts

Here is my second attempt at an itinerary. I've decided to forgo Madrid on this trip to limit big city time. I have chosen Barcelona cause Im a bit more interested in it and because flight times/prices are better from Vancouver.

Travel Feb 19 - March 12 (22 nights on the ground)

Fly to Barcelona (5 nights) including day trips to Montserrat + Wine Tour Day Trip
Train to Cordoba (3 nights)
Train to Sevilla (4 nights) rent car?
Arcos De La Frontera (1 night)
Ronda (2 nights)
Malaga (4 nights) Day trips to Frigiliana + El Caminito del Ray
Bus to Granada (2 nights) (drop off car rental)
Train To Barcelona to overnight before flight
Fly Home

NOTES/QUESTIONS
1. does anyone have experience renting a car in Seville? Wondering the logistics and cost to drop it off in Malaga.
2. still considering option to fly home from Madrid. Watching prices. Flight times and prices are better in and out of Barcelona.
3. Love to hear any additional thoughts :)

Posted by
16766 posts

Can't help with car info.

You might look at flights from Granada to Barcelona if that turns out to be your exit point. There's no telling (at least by me) how the flight and train fares will compare at the time you pin down your transatlantic-departure point.

Five nights in Barcelona sounds like a lot, but that's only four full, non-jetlagged days, and you mention two day-trips. I imagine the wine tour will have to be booked ahead of time, but Montserrat is a do-it-yourself affair. I'd recommend that you remain flexible on that and just buy the combo ticket at the Placa d'Espanya station right before departure if you plan to go. I think you're going to find that two days for the sights in Barcelona is terribly short.

Posted by
13930 posts

The prices/times would have to be substantially different for R/T BCN and open-jaw BCN/MAD to make it worthwhile to change hotels and lose at least 1/2 day to return to BCN - plus the added costs. With open-jaw, consider into MAD and going straight to Cordoba, then flying from Granada to Barcelona at the end.

I've only rented point-to-point in Spain, rates were reasonable. Once I used AutoEurope, once directly with Europcar.

Be sure to get your Alhambra tickets soon after you settle on an itinerary. There are still a good number of tickets available, but that's today's situation. As people get back to routine after the holidays, and make travel plans those tickets may go more quickly.

Posted by
12 posts

Flights are booked! Here's my latest itinerary. My only question is about Ronda and whether we should stay there. Are the white hill towns better as day trips? If so, where should I put those two nights? Thanks again for all your help!

Leave Canada Feb 18
Arrival to Madrid Feb 19 (2 nights)
Train to Cordoba (2 nights)
Train to Seville (4 nights) **Rent car at the end of stay
Drive to Ronda (2 nights)
Drive to Malaga (3 nights) Day trips to Frigiliana + El Caminito del Ray
Drive to Granada (2 nights) *
drop off car rental
Fly to Barcelona (6 nights) Day trips to Montserrat + Wine Tour Day Trip
Fly home on March 11

Posted by
569 posts

Have you purchased your Alhambra tickets? If not, you really need to do so ASAP.