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How much time is too much?

We are two young at heart seniors who love independent travel, we love food, history, art and strolling to get a city's vibe. We are planning an extensive spring trip, starting in London, then Lisbon, then we fly to Seville, early May. We have about three weeks to spend in Spain. This is our thought: avoid renting a car and rely on trains and/or buses. 5 nights in Seville, train to Granada for 4 nights. Train to Cordoba for 3. Train to Madrid for 4-5. Train to Toledo for 2. Train to Barcelona for 4 nights, and fly home from there. We could decide to pick up a day trip here or there, possibly rent a car for a day trip or join a tour. Other wise we are usually happy to absorb the vibe of a city without rushing to see every site. I realize there are probably dozens of places we will miss with this itinerary, but is there enough in these places to absorb us for the allotted time, should we omit something or add something?

Posted by
5011 posts

Three weeks across this region will be fine - in fact, one could easily spend longer and still not hit all the good stuff. If you are concerned that you have too much time allocated for this area, you can cross that off your list of things to worry about. There are plenty of places you could add - not that you necessarily need to, I like the pacing of your trip as-is. If you do feel like adding something, I'd consider adding a few days in the white hill towns (Arcos de la Frontera, Ronda, etc.); this is one side-trip that is best done by car, though; it's a beautiful area and a delightful place to wander.

Posted by
3861 posts

That sounds like a lovely trip. It's a well developed itinerary. I personally do not find Madrid as culturally and historically interesting as other places in Spain. I feel like you are short on time in Barcelona. If it were me, I'd take at least 2 days from Madrid and give them to Barcelona. There are many options for day trips from Madrid, including Segovia which I consider a "don't miss" There are also many day trip or even overnight options from Barcelona including Montserrat and Girona, I consider both of those "don't miss" as well, and there are many other places near Barcelona that I haven't been to that people love--Sitges and Cadaques, for example.

Posted by
2169 posts

This is our thought: avoid renting a car and rely on trains and/or buses. 5 nights in Seville, train to Granada for 4 nights. Train to Cordoba for 3. Train to Madrid for 4-5. Train to Toledo for 2. Train to Barcelona for 4 nights.

Overall looks good to me :) My only note would be to steal one night from Granada and add it to Barcelona, so you spend 5 nights there. BTW I think Madrid has just as interesting (or even more so) day trips as Barcelona does.

Posted by
1238 posts

Looks like a good plan to me. Obviously we can all tinker around a bit (I might take a night from Granada and add it to Barcelona for instance), but perfect is the enemy of the good. I'd think you'd have a brilliant holiday as you currently plan.

Only other comment is that between Sevilla and Granada instead of railway, you might find travelling by coach gives more/easier/cheaper options.

Posted by
2263 posts

Carole who roves, I’m with the others, your plan looks good. They tinkered, so I will too. I agree you could cut a night from Granada, and one or two from Madrid, and spend them in Barcelona, which has many sites and museums spread around the large city. Now if you like to spend many hours in art museums, Madrid has the Prado plus two others nearby, and that would be a reason to stay longer than I would choose. . Also, I think one or two nights in the medieval section of Girona is more satisfying than a day trip, and would give you the opportunity to visit Besalu or other nearby smaller towns in Catalunya. Enjoy!

Posted by
4657 posts

I think your plan makes sense, and I wouldn't subtract Madrid time in favor of Barcelona or anywhere else. A day trip from Madrid to Segovia would be well worthwhile. You might have more nights in Granada and Sevilla than you need, you could give one or two of those to a hill-town location. Ronda has direct train service to and from Cordoba and Granada, and/or you could rent a car.

FWIW, the drop-dead highlights of my recent trip were the Mezquita in Cordoba and the aqueduct in Segovia. And certain art pieces in Madrid, like Guernica and Las Menitas.

Posted by
3140 posts

Same comment as Carlos; take a day from Granada and use it in Barcelona. Leave the rest as you have it. Should be relaxing and you shouldn’t be rushed at all.

Posted by
4841 posts

Spending an extra day or two in a place, enjoying its vibe and not just checking off a list of sights certainly has its merit. Both Madrid and Granada, and the other cities, are worth 2, 3, even 4-5 days. And Segovia is definitely a wonderful place. Our last trip, having already paid rent for an apartment for a week in Madrid, we spent one of those nights staying in Segovia. Paying for that night’s stay in Segovia was well was worth it - having the city virtually to ourselves, after day trippers had left town.

Seville is definitely a place to not have a car. We paid a lot to park ours the days were were there, before continuing to other destinations. Separate trip, we had a rental car for reaching places like Girona, Sitges, and Cadeques, before turning it in upon reaching Barcelona.

In Granada, take in a bath (and maybe a massage, too?) at an Arab Bath/Hammam. Essential part of the Vibe there.

Posted by
3861 posts

Girona is a quick and easy train ride from Barcelona. Definitely agree it is worth an overnight or two or three, even. We stayed 3 nights and took a day trip to Besalu via comfortable bus ride. If you want to rent a car for Catalunya, I would pick it up in Girona.

Posted by
6507 posts

I wouldn’t take any time away from Madrid, a wonderful city to explore. I prefer it to
Barcelona.

Posted by
65 posts

Wow!! You all really are great with quick and helpful responses! I appreciate all the enthusiasm for Barcelona because we were just there in October, which whetted our appetite for more of Spain, so 4 nights will add to what we have already spent there!. Now I am curious about Segovia and Girono, I am a bit anxious about the whole train ticket/reservation thing people talk about. I am used to train travel in Italy where we just show up at the station and use the machines, and then only worry about to validate or not to validate.

Posted by
18739 posts

Your Andalucian time allocations are fairly similar to mine earlier this year, but I had more time and went more places. I wouldn't cut any of your planned stays in that area. I agree with many others here that you're short on time in Barcelona. It's not a quick trip from Toledo--at least 4 hours on the train alone, so you will have lost a good chunk of the travel day by the time you get settled into your Barcelona lodgings. There is just a lot to see in Barcelona; it has both a medieval district and funky modernista architecture, in addition to a lot of museums.

You've taken Toledo out of the Madrid-day-trip equation by planning to spend a couple of nights there, which was a good decision. Segovia is also popular. Not as many people go to Cuenca (buy the AVE ticket early and budget for a taxi into town in case the bus doesn't work out) or Alcala de Henares, both of which I liked. But do you plan to do all three of those day-trips (or others)? If not, 5 nights would be a long visit unless you're going to overdose on the art museums. I did that, but it's not a common plan. Madrid is not a dull place, but to me it's not as interesting as your other stops, not even close--once you set aside the three major art museums.

Posted by
6562 posts

We were in Madrid, Granada and Barcelona in June. You should have a great time. We stayed in apartments in Granada and Barcelona, and really enjoyed the off the beaten path neighborhoods.
Just beware that Alhambra was a 3 1/2 hour tour for us, and it was pretty physical climbing hills and steps. Those physically challenged might have a tough time seeing it.

Posted by
3861 posts

We did the Alhambra on our own making use of information from our RS guide and other sources. We were there from about 9 am until about 5pm. Would have stayed longer but it was getting dark.

Posted by
375 posts

Add me to the list of those who prefer Madrid to Barcelona.

That said, a wonderful day trip from Barcelona is Montserrat.

Posted by
3861 posts

Those that really love Madrid, can you tell me what peaks your interest beyond the art museums, the palace, the squares and day trips? I did enjoy evenings on del sol and walks around the palace and the opera house, etc. Not looking to start anything, we all have different interests and maybe I'm missing something?

Posted by
18739 posts

I can tell you two things you didn't list!

  • The Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales is a convent with a very rich interior. As of 2015-2016 there was a write-up in Rick's guide to Spain. The trouble (at that time) was that you couldn't pre-book an English-language tour, or even find out ahead of time when there would be one. I speculate that they schedule those on short notice when they have an inquiry from an English-speaking tour group. Although things may have changed in the meantime, in 2016 your best shot was to show up before opening time (which is 10 AM), line up, and hope there will be an English tour that day that has at least one empty slot for a solo visitor. Yeah, not so good. I was glad I went even though I had to accept a Spanish tour and didn't understand much except the centuries mentioned by the guide. I very much wished that I had read through Rick's description more than once.

  • Chani has mentioned really liking the Naval Museum (passport required for entry) but I haven't been there myself.

Posted by
2452 posts

I think it looks great. You can shave a day here and there as suggested above. Cafe culture is alive and well in Spain. Rather than take in yet another site we spent wonderful afternoons sitting at cafes with a bottle of cava and some snacks watching the world walk by. Do this!

Posted by
4657 posts

Responding to julesm, one of the other places that piqued my interest in Madrid was the National Archeological Museum, a few blocks north of the Prado, very well done with artifacts from pre-Roman until recent times (mostly older periods), good bilingual labels, some good graphic displays. I spent several hours there. I also liked the neighborhood around Plaza Mayor and Mercado San Miguel a lot, wish I had spent more time there.

I too preferred Madrid to Barcelona, though I may have been influenced by the demonstrations in Barcelona at the time (mid-October). That said, Barcelona has Roman ruins and Madrid none (only museum artifacts).

Posted by
2169 posts

@Dick and Jules, yes I also like Madrid, I find it's charms beyond the blockbuster sights, I guess it just feels livable, less overun with tourists and the like, while in recent years Barcelona has deteriorated, now leading Spain in the crime rate, plus in Barcelona there is a good part of the old town that's become "off limits" to locals due to over tourism, but one can still enjoy the center of Madrid.

Also if you are looking for Roman ruins very close to Madrid, look no further than Segobriga!

Posted by
14267 posts

If you are 60, you can get a tarjeta dorada ("TD", gold card) at any train station in Spain, including at the Madrid airport. Last time I checked it was still €6 per person. You only need to show proof of age, I've used passport and driver's license on separate trips. The TD gives you 25% or 40% discount on full price tickets on fast trains, depending on the day of the week and type of train. Renfe also gives big discounts - some even bigger than the TD - for non-refundable tickets purchased well in advance (tickets usually go on sale about 2 months in advance). To compare prices, check the "TD" box when you enter the details of your search on renfe.com and with a few clicks for specific trains, you can compare TD, promo, and other prices. You can get the TD discount at ticket machines but I'm not sure if you can get the discount just before boarding. I know there's a cut-off time for the discount on the website, not sure if that applies to the machines as well.

Since you've already been to Barcelona, you know how much time you want there. Girona has a well-preserved medieval center, but I think Cordoba and Toledo are much more interesting, lots more to see. You can certainly day-tirp to Girona and I recommend a trip to Figueres to the Dali Theatre and Jewelry Museum. You can do both in one long day, or stay in Girona and go to Figueres from there.

Toledo is on a spur line from Madrid, so you have to change trains at Atocha station. You need to allow plenty of time, maybe 30 minutes. The station is large and some find it very confusing. You have to go through a security check before boarding, and there can be a line. Trains close the doors 2 minutes before departure, so don't be late!!

Everyone's tastes and interests are different. I love the Prado and the Thyssen museums but I wasn't that enamored of Madrid when compared to the other cities you're going to. As acraven said, I very much liked the Naval Museum (golden age of exploration), even though there weren't a lot of explanations in English. I don't remember if there was an audio guide - if there is one, I'm sure I used it. I spent 4 nights in Granada, and would have been satisfied with 3 (at a leisurely pace). Be sure to buy your Alhambra tickets in advance and do NOT take advantage of the senior discount. It is small and the hassles that go with it wouldn't be worth even a large discount. I went first for a night visit to the Nasrid Palaces, then spent a full day on the campus (it's huge). I recommend doing both visits.

I would add 1 night to Toledo (either from Granada or Madrid). There's a lot to see and it takes time because Toledo is very hilly (San Francisco hilly).

If you are 65, you can get discounts at many sights. Always ask.

Posted by
18739 posts

Chani's post reminded me that some parts of the Alhambra have different hours and/or may not be open every day. It's very worthwhile to show up pretty early on the day of your visit, even if your time to see the Nasrid Palaces is much later. You can stop at an information desk and see what's going on that day and plot your attack, being careful not to miss your entry time for the Nasrid Palaces. The Palace of Carlos V has a museum on the ground floor that houses some lovely architectural elements from the complex. I'm glad I had time to see it.

Posted by
65 posts

Any suggestions on fabulous hotels or apartments in these places is also appreciated. I have a few picked out, but you are all so well-travelled I love your advice!

Posted by
18739 posts

For useful lodging recommendations, you need to give us a nightly budget in euros.

Posted by
65 posts

I usually budget an average of 150 euros, adjusting for the particular area of course. We like to stay in highly rated with customer satisfaction rather than luxury per se. location a big thing.

Posted by
2169 posts

In Madrid: I've stayed at Meliá Madrid Princesa a few times when I was in town, it's a great all around hotel, with a very good location and incredible views of the city. Plus the best breakfast in the city, particularly their scrambled eggs!

In Cordoba: Hotel Eurostars Maimonides, literally 5 feet away from the entrance to the Mezquita, the best location in Cordoba.

In Toledo: Sercotel Alfonso VI, very tradition Castillian experience with stunning views of Toledo and quite/comfortable rooms.

Posted by
14267 posts

I agree with Alan, Hotel Amadeus is great. I've stayed there on all three of my visits to Andalucia. BTW Feria in Sevilla ends on May 3. If you are arriving on or before the 3rd, book the hotel soon, it's a hugely popular time to be in the city.

Posted by
3861 posts

In Madrid, Hotel Europa is quite reasonable and on Puerta del sol.

In Barcelona, we liked BCN Fashion House. (a BnB)

In Cordoba, we liked the quirky and well priced Hotel Mezquita, also just steps from the Mezquita

In Sevilla we absolutely loved El Rey Moro. Wonderful breakfast including fresh made juice, coffee to order, and fried eggs all in a great buffet. The inn has local charm and the rooms are situated around a courtyard and is located in the old quarter close to the cathedral and alcazar.

In Granada, Hotel Anacapri is in a great location, reasonably priced and quite elegant. We booked directly thru them and got a free breakfast included and a room with a huge deck.

Thanks every body for the Madrid ideas. It sounds like in a Madrid vs. Barcelona conversation, its less about sites, culture etc., and more about vibe, livability, ease of travel. I would agree that Madrid is lively and "fresh" feeling, etc. It is sad about Barcelona because the city is quite unique with sites that you just can't see anything close to elsewhere. I still would go back to Barcelona, but I also anticipate that we will have more time in Madrid given it is the airport we'd need to use to visit all the many places in Spain we'd still like to visit.

Posted by
4657 posts

I've stayed at the Europa in Madrid, Anacapri in Granada, Amadeus in Sevilla. All were fine. Amadeus is pretty expensive though.