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impulsively booked Spain trip - help!

Hi - I impulsively booked a trip to Spain when Delta came out with business class for 98K miles this week. It's DH's big 50th birthday and he's wanted to go to Spain forever, so I figured what the hell. We only will have 8 nights/7 days. We're flying into Barcelona, arriving March 3 in the afternoon and out of Madrid in the morning of March 11. I did no research before booking so hopefully everything works out! I've booked hotel for two nights in Barcelona and the two nights before departure in Madrid, but the 4 nights in between is a mystery. I know you'll probably say we could spend a week in either of those two cities (that's usually what I say to people asking about big cities) but we would like to go to somewhere smaller in between. Our interests are food, eating good food and planning the next time we'll eat food. I enjoy a glass of wine but we're not drinkers so bar crawling is of no interest. We do enjoy the cultural opportunities where we visit so we'll do the big sites in both cities (I know I need to purchase the tickets in advance), but need some guidance about what may lie in between or if we have time to wander off the direct path between the two. Any suggestions are most welcome. WWYD? And yes, we always assume that we will return.

Posted by
2940 posts

You absolutely need more time in Barcelona. As you now have planned, you’ll have essentially one day there. NOT enough, even for the “big” sights.

Posted by
1188 posts

Firstly, I wouldn't worry. With exception of England, youve landed in the best part of Europe & Britain.

Secondly, I'd include Zaragoza as your third place. It's convenient for travelling between Barcelona and Madrid and also has brilliant sights.

I drink like a fish, but you can enjoy anywhere in Spain without doing so, whilst instead enjoying the food.

Posted by
6479 posts

You have more than enough time to organize this. Why not get a travel guide book on Spain that way you can pinpoint where you want to go based on your own interests so you don't assume that someone is going to recommend bar crawling. Most local taxpayer funded public libraries have a section with travel guide books including the Rick Steves' books that you can check out for free. It is that simple.

Posted by
897 posts

One of the interesting aspects of a Spanish vacation is that of hopping from one bar to another for the purpose of sampling unique tapas. You really don't have to consider it bar hopping, but rather food exploring. In a bar, the attraction is not a small glass of tinto, but rather the sautéed mushrooms, or the crunchy pigs' ears, or the jamon, or the tortilla. The wine is just there to wash things down, and there are other liquids for you to drink. To miss out on the tapas crawl would mean missing out on some amazing food.

Posted by
2040 posts

You have 4 months. Get the RS Spain book. Get a map. Read some of the RS "Spain" forum posts.

You will have a great time, but don't get stressed.

Posted by
6061 posts

You could fill the whole time you have with major sites in Barcelona plus a day trip north to Figures for Dalí Museum or Cadaques, Costa Brave etc. Or split between Barcelona and Madrid, take high speed train between them, 4 Barcelona and 3 Madrid ( andI prefer Madrid myself.) Gets tickets in advance online for Barcelona’s Gaudi treasures starting with La Sagrada Familia. Note that Barcelona is Catalan while Madrid is traditional Spanish.

Posted by
17636 posts

As long as your smaller place doesn't need to be a small town, I think Zaragoza is an obvious third stop. My other immediate thoughts were Girona (north of Barcelona) and Toledo (south of Madrid)--both of which I'd choose ahead of Zaragoza, but they are not as geographically convenient, and you have very little time. Zaragoza has an attractive historic district and a lovely Mudejar palace. However, it has a population of over 600,000.

I know you're probably thinking of a smaller intermediate stop, but it will cost you significant time. The fast trains between Barcelona and Madrid generally take just 2-1/2 or 2-3/4 hours. Some are non-stop, some stop at Zaragoza and some stop at Tarragona. For any other destination you'll need to use a slow train for at least part of the journey from Barcelona to the smaller town and part of the journey between that town and Madrid. I think the resulting total train time between Barcelona and Madrid could increase to something like 6 hours (just guessing).

I assume you know from your earlier trips that you handle overnight flights well. I realize that traveling business class is likely to help a lot. As a coach traveler, I would never pre-purchase a ticket for any attraction for my arrival day. With luck you don't have that concern. However, flight delays and cancellations do occur, and the tickets to the top Gaudi sites in Barcelona are very expensive--probably about the equivalent of US $25 per person. You're going to have only one full day and one time-slot (first thing on March 4) for which you don't have to worry about the amount of time you'll want to spend at the preceding site or the time it will take to get to the next one. Or how long lunch will take. That won't be an issue if you don't actually want to go inside the modernista buildings, but most visitors do seem to want to do that.

Someone reported recently that a good bit of the Monumental Zone at Parc Guell is being refurbished, and he/she didn't think it was worth the time and money. I'd suggest keeping tabs on what's going on there in February so you can decide whether Parc Guell is skippable. It's located outside the center of the city and takes a bit more time to visit than the more centrally located sites. Omitting it would help you. To be clear, it's not hard to get there. The entry ticket includes a shuttle bus from a Metro station. It's just that it takes a bit of time.

A lot of us have really enjoyed the Sant Pau Modernista site, which is quite close to La Sagrada Familia and (unlike the latter) has not so far required pre-purchased tickets. You can normally just walk up to the counter, pay your money and go inside immediately. It's a large place where you could easily spend 2 hours or more--especially if you want to read all the information posted about the history of the complex as a hospital. You might consider making this your first stop on arrival day if you don't feel you need to stay outside to fight the jetlag.

Since you're a foodie, you'll need to keep in mind the extremely late meal hours in Spain. Although you can find tapas and casual food earlier, serious meal times seem to be 2 PM - 4 PM for lunch and 10 P - ?? for dinner. If you want to have a real meal at lunchtime, be careful about the timing of your pre-purchased tickets.

Posted by
49 posts

I Barcelona, we had the best dinner at this place https://www.sensi.es/tapas/ Book ahead as they are not large. We ate at the one on the home page, happened to be opposite the hotel we were staying in. Truly a delicious meal of tapas. Our favorite was the truffle pasta! You can view their menu online, lots of locals seemed to be there the night we went, but we heard several languages to this is a well-known spot. I would go back in a second and get some of the same choices- I think we split 5 or 6 between us.

Posted by
468 posts

You’re right that you could spend a week in either city, but splitting the nights evenly isn’t a bad idea. I found Madrid to be very underrated. The city center is very pedestrian and tourist friendly. It really doesn’t feel like big city sometimes. There’s countless things to see there, and plenty to fill your foodie boots.

If you’re looking for a night or two in a small town, then Toledo or Segovia are easy options. Toledo was packed with tourists during the day, but charming at night. It’s dramatically placed with wonderful views.

Posted by
785 posts

Sorry to have given the impression that I'm worried. I know it'll work out and will be brilliant! I booked the two nights in Barcelona because I had enough points to cover two nights, but thinking I may add a night or two out of pocket depending on what else enticed me. A tapas crawl is "on the menu" for sure, my girlfriend who went to Barcelona earlier this year was all about the nightlife and clubs - should have known that wasn't the M.O. of this forum for the most part (Nick excepted, lol). And I'll definitely be getting a couple of guidebooks this weekend. I haven't been on the forum in a while but I generally know the drill - just looking for the expert opinions I can always get here!
Thanks for the ideas so far - and any others you have. Restaurant recommendations?

Posted by
5010 posts

I jumped on the previous Air France deal which popped up a few weeks ago (in my case, going Seattle - Paris - Istanbul), the costs for flying in business class all that way was just so low I couldn't resist...so I can relate to giving in to your impulses! I will be headed to Turkey around the same time you're off to Spain (although I'll be staying for 2 full weeks).

Good news and bad news for you...

The Good News: you do have enough time to plan your trip, if you jump in to that now. As stated above, get the book, start reading posts, etc. You can do it.

The Bad News: You have 7 full usable days. That's not a lot for any trip to Europe.

But – more good news – if you're flying in business class with a good lay-flay bed (most longhaul Delta flights have a good business class seat, depends on your routing) you should arrive in fairly decent shape - sitting in the forward cabin buys you that, at least.

More good news: your flight routing is efficient (open jaws, rather than inefficient round-trip), in to BCN and out of MAD.

That said, I would suggest you limit your number of "stops". You don't have many days to spend, and you're going to be moving fast. I'd spend 2-3 days in Barcelona, take the high speed train to Madrid, and pick (at most) one or (maybe) two additional stops near Madrid. So Madrid + 1 or (maybe) 2 shorts stops

Maybe go Barcelona to Cordoba (via Madrid), all on the same day, all on the fast train. Overnight in Cordoba, then to Seville for a couple nights. Then back to Madrid.

Or maybe Barcelona to Toledo, overnight Toledo, then to Granada (get Alhambra tickets as soon as you have your plans settled), then back to Madrid.

There are lots of options. Hit the books.

Have fun!

Posted by
571 posts

I agree with the poster who thinks Madrid is underrated. I loved Madrid! We spent 4 nights there and could have used another night. I also like his/her itinerary.

So with 8 nights, do 4 nights in Barcelona, 1 night in Toledo, and 3 nights in Madrid. Take the AVE train from Barcelona to Madrid, then switch to the train to Toledo (this is about a 30-minute ride), stay overnight in Toledo, then train back to Madrid.

I don't see how you can add in Seville, Granada, and/or Cordoba. I think you will be spending too much time traveling and not enough time in each destination.

And, since you assume you will return to Spain, you can do Andalucia (Seville, Cordoba, and Granada) on another trip. Possibly add in Malaga or Ronda. Make it a 10-night trip.

Posted by
5010 posts

I like kmkwoo's suggestion above. Andalucia has plenty to see and do, and makes for a logical grouping for your next trip to Spain after this one. Overnight in Toledo is a smart plan.

Posted by
180 posts

Remember you may be so tired from flying that the first day in Barcelona will be mostly resting or slo-mo. I recommend at least another night in Barcelona. If you're making your way to Madrid, you can either stop along the way or get to Madrid via fast train and then take a couple days in Segovia, Cuenca, Salamonca, Toledo. There is plenty of information in this forum about all of those places. There's a lot to see in Barcelona and there are day trips in the area. Consider booking most of the time there and really see the city. If you love it (and I think you will), then book a return trip to see other areas. Buen Viaje!

Posted by
12 posts

IMHO 3 nights in Barcelona and 4 nights in Madrid. I am not entirely sold on Toledo .... why switch hotel for an one night stay for a city that is merely an hour drive away. If you love Toledo, one night isn’t enough anyway.

Zaragoza isn’t a very interesting city to justify an one night stay .... it is a popular stop for most tours (using bus transportation) simply because it’s mid way between Madrid and Barcelona. IMHO I’d rather give Madrid an extra day for day trips.

Posted by
715 posts

With your time frame and flights I would extend your stays in both Barcelona and Madrid so you only have two hotels to worry about, cuts down on 'wasted' time finding your hotel, checking in/out, etc. But then do day trips from each. From Madrid there are two wonderful options (and lots more) - Toledo and Segovia. Each is worth an overnight (I actually spent three days in each) but many people do them as day trips from Madrid and love it. From Barcelona there are numerous options and guidebooks will explain them. One that doesn't get as much notice as others is Tarragona. About one hour by train, then short walk to the center, it has numerous Roman ruins - a theater, part of the forum, a museum, etc. The town itself is a nice enough Spanish town with a lovely setting right on the sea and there are not hordes of tourists there like there are in other places you are going.

Posted by
5010 posts

The reason to NOT do Toledo (or Segovia) as a day trip is because virtually everyone does exactly that.

The tide of humanity rolls in every day around 10 am, the streets are packed, everything is crowded to the point of being overwhelmed, then between 3 pm and 5 pm, the tide of humanity boards their bus or train, and rolls back to Madrid, leaving Toledo nearly empty, charming, magical, and a perfect delight. The difference in your experience will be like the difference between night and day, literally and figuratively.

It's worth the extra expense, hassle and effort to relocated there for one night. Arrive mid-afternoon, just before the crowds start to thin out (so a few hours later, you can appreciate how smart you were to spend the night), enjoy the place at it's best, for a few hours in the late afternoon and into the evening. Wander the empty streets, drink in the atmosphere, feel the magic. Sleep happily, but get up early. Get out and enjoy the empty streets again in the early morning hours before the fleet of buses roll in. Stand back and watch the human tide flow in and crowd every street. Then get out of town before lunch, knowing you experienced the city at its best. Don't look back.

Posted by
17636 posts

With all there is to see in Toledo indoors, with limited access hours, I wouldn't want to start sightseeing in Toledo in the mid- to late-afternoon and leave early the next day. That's fine for wandering the atmospheric streets--which I very much enjoy, but what about the indoor sights?

Posted by
4509 posts

Before I visited Spain the first time, in 1984, I picked up a green Michelin guide and Frommer's guide. Both said the if you go to Spain, the two places that you must go are Toledo and Seville. I have been to Spain several times and still agree. You don't have time to do Seville, but Toledo is a must.

While in Madrid, do a day trip, you can take the train. If you have time, do another day trip to Segovia. Take the high speed train from Barcelona to Madrid.

Posted by
7 posts

We recently came back from 8 nights in Spain, landing in Madrid and taking off from Barcelona. We did 3 nights in Madrid (with a day trip to Toledo), 2 nights in Cordoba, and 3 nights in Barcelona.

Toledo was probably our favorite place and I loved Madrid more than I expected to (more than Barcelona even). To me, Barcelona feels like it has more sights and tourists but Madrid felt more like a walkable lived in city where we just enjoyed walking around, stopping at the park or a restaurant. Very vibrant city at night! We took the train from Madrid to Toledo and it was a really quick 30 minute ride and spent over 8 hours in Toledo. We took a late train back and like someone else here said, the city really feels magical when all the tourists leave and the streets feel empty.

Some in other groups advised against adding Cordoba to my trip, and while it's true I could have added an extra night to both Madrid and Barcelona, I feel like we got a good taste/overview of all the cities and would be happy to go back and explore more (this was my second trip to Barcelona but my family's first). I loved Cordoba as well so happy we got to add in that experience.

Posted by
29 posts

Toledo has been overrun by tourists going back at least until the 60's. Michener talked about it in Iberia. I love that town, it was the very first city I ever spent the night in in Spain way back when I was a teenager and I would never recommend skipping it, but still it can be a trying experience during the day as previous posters have mentioned.

Has anybody on this board been to Caceres? It was like a Toledo without the tourists (at least in 1999). No El Greco, and the cathedral can't compare, but otherwise awesome place to visit.

Posted by
17636 posts

I went to Caceres in 2016; it would have been late May or early June, I guess. It was still only very lightly visited at that point.

I went to Toledo on the same trip, earlier in May. There was a crowd waiting to go into the cathedral (it was a holiday weekend), and the cathedral area and the direct path to Zocodover Square were rather crowded. I don't remember an issue elsewhere. I spent 3 night in Toledo, and I think that made all the difference, because I had time to seek out secondary sights and just wander. The places where over-tourism bothers me are not the towns like Toledo. It's the very small places with limited areas of aesthetic/historical interest that are totally packed, with not much in the way of worthwhile alternative streets to wander.