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Itinerary advice --15 nights Spain -- first time

My husband, son and I are traveling to Spain for the first time and need some input on our planned itinerary. Our dates are September 7-22. We are flying into Madrid and out of Barcelona. We are interested in seeing the major tourist sights in the big cities but in the past some of our most memorable travel experiences have come in smaller towns. As a general rule, we don't like to stay anywhere for less than 3 nights -- however, I feel somewhat conflicted about this based on what I've read on this forum. We definitely want to visit Seville and Granada (Alhambra). Ronda and the hill towns hold a lot of appeal as do Toledo and Córdoba. I'm wondering about day-tripping to Ronda, Toledo and Córdoba vs overnighting and if it's possible to fit it all in without too much crazy-making. TIA for any advice.

Here's what I have so far:

Sept 7 arrive Madrid,

Sept 8 Madrid

Sept 9 Madrid (day trip Toledo)

Sept 10 morning train Madrid to Seville

Sept 11 Seville

Sept 12 Seville (day trip Córdoba)

Sept 13 pick up rental car Seville - visit Arcos, other hill town -overnight Ronda

Sept 14 Ronda (Cueva de la Pileta)

Sept 15 drive to Granada, drop rental car

Sept 16 Granada (Alhambra)

Sept 17 Granada

Sept 18 fly Granada to Barcelona

Sept 19 Barcelona

Sept 20 Barcelona

Sept 21 Barcelona

Sept 22 Fly to home to Los Angeles

Posted by
2167 posts

Having 3 nights in Granada, you could steal one night and add a stop overnight in Cordoba, conveniently on the way between Madrid and Sevilla. I think the Toledo day trip is justified in this case. I assume you are aware that Andalucia will still be extremely hot and unpleasant in early-mid September?

By design or luck, you will be in Barcelona during our annual city festival, La Merce (around Sept 20-24). The festival itself is huge, there are 100s of events spread throughout Barcelona's squares, streets, museums, and parks. The best part - all the entertainment is free! This is something that we put on for ourselves, not just for tourists. If you want to experience Catalan culture like a local, at least for a few days, this is a great opportunity.

Posted by
4677 posts

It’s not a very relaxing pace and you are short changing Madrid and Seville by at least a day each if you take the day trips as planned. Arguably Barcelona is too short by a day too!

Day 1 is likely to be lost to jet lag.

Córdoba is a third of the way back to Madrid! You could take a night from Granada and add it to Seville.

I liked Cadiz and Jerez, but you don’t have time for these. If you like smaller towns, maybe you need to change your focus, as you are currently planning to visit mostly larger cities. It’s a large country and you can’t see it all in 2 weeks, unfortunately. It’s all about personal travel styles, but I wouldn’t want to cover the places you have listed in less than a 3 week trip.

Posted by
581 posts

Have you made your airline reservations yet? And how old is your son?

I am a bit conflicted about your itinerary, too. Normally, I would suggest dropping Barcelona and spending all 15 nights in Madrid, Toledo, and Andalucia. However, if you have made your airline reservations, then you can't do that. Also, per Carlos, the La Merce annual festival sounds wonderful, and will give you an authentic taste of Catalan culture. And depending on the age of your son, I am sure he would love this festival, too.

Based on your current itinerary, you will get a taste of the different cities and towns, and you will have to carefully pick and choose what you want to see and do. There is nothing wrong with that; it's just a different style of travel.

Three nights is a good amount of time for Granada. But you could take one night and use it to stay overnight in Cordoba, as Carlos has suggested. It looks like you have 2 nights in Ronda. Alternatively, if you don't want to steal a night from Granada, you could take one of those nights from Ronda and use it to overnight in Cordoba.

Your time in Seville is short, too. You will have only 1.5 days for sightseeing. IMO, 3 days is good for Seville. Seville has some outstanding historical and cultural sites, and it's a very pretty city just for leisurely wandering, with its parks, beautiful architecture, plazas, and fountains.

If it were my trip, and it's not, I wouldn't go to the white hill towns. I would use those 2 nights to add to Seville and to Cordoba. We didn't visit the white hill towns, so I am not speaking from first-hand experience. But based on my research from when I was planning our trip, Ronda and the hill towns are considered second-tier. However, you mention that some of your most memorable experiences were in smaller towns, and I assume the white hill towns will give you that.

Three days is also short for Barcelona, which is a larger city with many sites that need to be reserved in advance. But I think the festival makes it worth going there, and you will at least get a taste of Barcelona.

Posted by
30 posts

Kmkwoo— airline tickets have been booked (got amazing fares) and my son is 22 — the trip is a celebration of his college graduation.

Carlos— I had no idea about the Le Merce festival and our timing to be in Barcelona. It sounds like an incredible opportunity to experience Catalan culture firsthand. Yes I have been warned about the hot temperatures that time of year — we will be prepared and looking for places to stay with air con!

Thanks to all who’ve chimed in so far regarding our plans. I’m torn with wanting to see as much as we can while facing the challenge of not shortchanging destinations just to check them off our list. We did a similar family trip to France a few years back and the non-relaxing pace of that trip where we were squeezing everything in and trying to traverse the country has made me cautious about planning this one.

Is Cordoba really worth an overnight stay as a few have suggested? Or should we just skip Córdoba altogether and add that time to sightseeing in Seville instead?

Thanks in advance for any input.

Posted by
581 posts

My philosophy is that if you don’t have time to stay overnight in Córdoba, you should definitely see it as a day trip. Seeing it as a day trip is better than not seeing it at all. And I certainly wouldn’t choose Ronda over Córdoba. The Mezquita (a church within a mosque) is amazing. It’s one of the highlights of Andalusia. The Alcazar gardens are beautiful; we really enjoyed Palacio de Viana (a hidden gem); and enjoyed strolling over the Roman Bridge at night. The Juderia is beautiful with its white-washed walls, narrow lanes, patios, and flower pots. So if you don’t overnight in Córdoba, at least visit as a day trip.

Posted by
14267 posts

Cordoba and Toledo are definitely worth overnight stays.

The question is how much do you want to spend time in Madrid. Madrid is a nice enough city but it absolutely pales in comparison with all your other destinations . . . unless you love European painting. In that case, you will want 2 full days just for the art museums and maybe one other sight - Palace, Naval Museum are both good.

I'd skip Madrid, go right to Toledo on landing (change trains in Madrid) for 2N, then train (change in Madrid) to Cordoba for another 2N, then Sevilla 3N, Ronda 2-3N, Granada 2-3N, Barcelona. With a car you'll be able to spend a lot of time exploring the hill towns with the extra night in Ronda. 2N in Granada is the minimum, gives you a full day for the Alhambra, 1/2 day on the front end for the cathedral, historic center, Albaicin. 5N total, divided by your preference.

Posted by
360 posts

We followed that itinerary fairly closely in May (even the day trips), except for visiting San Sebastian instead of Barcelona and we had one more night in Madrid and Seville. Personally, I think it's fine but we tend to move more than the folks that answer these forums. Probably the one area we wished we'd had more time in was the Andalusian Hill Towns, as the two nights still limited how far we could get around in the area (and it was our favorite). However, I don't know where you'd take that extra time from. Near Cueva de la Pileta, if you're around there near a meal time, highly recommend going to Molina del Santo to eat -- it was one of our favorite meals (on the nicer side, even for lunch) but you're right outside next to a bubbling creek and the food was amazing.

Posted by
30 posts

Thank you all for the input.
Becky — am glad to hear you felt the itinerary was successful— we too wanted to visit San Sebastián but felt we couldn’t miss Barcelona having never been. Am looking at possibly adding a day to Seville and losing one from Granada as folks here have suggested. Thanks again.