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July 2021 Spain Itinerary Help

This will be our families first trip to Spain. We like to try to balance seeing as many things as possible, without feeling like we are rushing. We like history, absorbing the local culture, architecture, etc. We have small children, so will not be doing too many museums (i.e. in Madrid).

Oh and we will be traveling exclusively by bus and train. No rental cars.

Our current itinerary is:

  • San Sebastian - 3 nights
  • Pamplona - 1 night (San Fermin)
  • Barcelona - 6 nights (possible day trips to Montserrat, Girona/Figueres, and maybe Andorra)
  • Cordoba - 2 nights
  • Jerez de la Frontera - 4 nights (possible day trips to Cadiz, Arcos de la Fronterra, and maybe Gibraltar)
  • Seville - 3 nights
  • Malaga - 4 nights (possible day trips to Ronda and Nerja)
  • Granada - 3 nights
  • Salamanca - 2 nights
  • Toledo - 2 nights
  • Madrid - 6 nights (possible day trips to Segovia, Avila, and Cuenca)

My questions:

  1. Should we skip Salamanca? It sounds nice, but seems far for only 2 nights. If we keep it, should we move it to after Toledo to break up the train trip from Granada?
  2. Is this too much time in Andalusia? Especially for July and early August which I understand is a very busy time.
  3. Do we need more time in Seville? (I know this conflicts with the last question)
  4. The order of the Andalusia cities seems off to me, but with the split of the AVE track in Cordoba, not sure how else to make it work. Maybe do Seville -> Granada -> Malaga instead?
  5. If we are not spending much time in museums, is ~3 full days in Madrid (not including day trips) too much time?
  6. Any other recommendations or things that seem "off" with the above itinerary?

Sorry for the long post and thanks in advance for any advice!

Posted by
653 posts

I presume there is a reason for the order of this itinerary as you will be encountering several long travel days (especially Barca to Cordoba). Also, this is a long trip (in terms of travel distance and time) - I'm hoping you have taken this into account.
A few general "likes and dislikes"......maybe shave a day off Barca and a day off Madrid and add one to Pamplona. I'd add Bilbao with a day trip to Guernica and shave a day off San Sebastian (although it is a beach city...probably good for the kids). The fault with my suggestion is that it is a little more challenging to begin your trip upon arrival in San Sebastian by going west (to Bilbao and Guernica) rather than east (toward Pamplona).
I can recommend a great guide in Madrid who is wonderful with kids...even in art museums (Spainfred.com.) and another in Pamplona (Francisco Glaria), and in Toledo (Adolfo Ferraro). All three are superb!
Four days is Malaga is long (although I really like it, there) and you have suggested day trips from there, so maybe that is ok. It is a little easier to do a day trip to Ronda from Sevilla, and you might want to consider staying in Ronda for a night. It is an interesting place. The Costa del Sol region might interest you - very touristy but pretty well connected via train service to Malaga - and it offers another beach opportunity for your kids.

Posted by
8 posts

Blue - Understood that will be a long travel day. I show that the AVE trains can take less than 5 hours from Barcelona to Cordoba, but am fine with budgeting that whole day to travel. We are starting in the North and flying out from Madrid, so wanted to end there.

If you have suggestions to make other travel easier, including my question about the order of cities in Andalusia and whether or not to include Salamanca, it would be greatly appreciated!

Posted by
248 posts

My suggestion would be to skip Pamplona (San Fermines).

How do you feel about large crowds of drunk people? San Fermin is Wednesday, and on the weekends there will be more people from the surrounding areas.

Maybe if you are there on Monday the 12th or Tuesday the 13th it might be passable with small kids. Unless the dads' desire is to see the running of the bulls, the only thing that might appeal to small kids is the Midway.

I think that the 1 day you spend there is better spent somewhere else. If you are looking for a place between Donostia and Barcelona, you might try Olite. The kids might like the castle. Or going a bit farther, Zaragoza.

Posted by
2685 posts

You state families, plural. Is there more than one family? Good idea to skip the museums. Took ours to the Prado when they were 11 and 15 and they hated every minute of it. Personally, I’d drop Pamplona in favor of Salamanca. There isn’t much to see there and during San Fermin, not only is it crowded, but lodging prices are through the roof. At the hotel we stayed at for $125 up the hill from the corrals, the price for the same room during San Fermin was slightly over $500 per night. If your list is in the order that you plan to visit the cities in, then it doesn’t make logical sense. For me, I’d go from Granada straight to Malaga - Jerez de la Frontera or Cadiz - Sevilla - Cordoba - Toledo - Salamanca - Madrid. If taking the train to Toledo, Segovia, Cuenca, or Salamanca, I believe you’ll need to go through Madrid, so possibly do them as day trips from Madrid to cut down on changing hotels. Overall, I generally like the places you want to visit, although a couple are not my favorites, but you will use an awful lot of travel/vacation time to get to them. For Malaga, Madrid, and Jerez, do some research to get an idea of which sights you want to visit in each place. You may find you planned to few/nights in each. I always have a rental car, so my perspective will be different than somebody who uses public transport exclusively.

Posted by
16840 posts

How old are the children?

The problem with Andalucia in July and August is not so much the crowds, it is the brutal heat. Take a look at the day-by-day, historical weather statistics on timeanddate.com to see what I mean. Check at least three years' worth of data to get a decent idea of what you might be facing. If you decide to spend so much time in the south, be especially careful about the location of your hotels. You'll probably need to go back to your room for an air-conditioned break in the middle of the day. You'll find that not every indoor space is air-conditioned, so the hotel will be an important refuge.

For a July-August trip I'd want to spend more time in the north (in the Pyrenees or along the coast between the Basque Country and Galicia) and less in the south. The weather would be much more pleasant--though beware the Cerdanya Valley, which can get quite hot. The Picos de Europa area (inland between Santander and Oviedo) is cooler than the east coast and the south, and there are opportunities for outdoor activities.

There are some lovely places between Barcelona and Andorra, which would be about a 3-hour trip each way. Andorra-the-city seems to have taken on the look of an outlet mall (from reports--I haven't been there since 1972), so I'd choose a closer destination if just planning a day-trip. One of our other posters has spoken highly of a bus tour he took to several medieval villages in Catalunya. You can find it by Googling; it originates in Barcelona. I've been to one of the tour destinations, Besalu, and it was interesting. For considerably less money you could go on your own to Besalu by bus from either Barcelona or Girona.

I believe the only reason to go to Figueres is the Dali Museum (and the jewelry collection covered by the same ticket). It's wild enough that it may well appeal to children. The rest of the town isn't very interesting. Girona, on the other hand, has a large, atmospheric, medieval section with a wall to walk on. You might consider spending a few nights in Girona to allow more time there and make for shorter trips to Figueres and Besalu (if you opt not to take the tour from Barcelona). Girona is also a good base for a day-trip to the former fishing village of Cadaques; you get there by taking a train to Figueres and then a scenic bus ride to the coast. It would be possible to see the Dali Museum in Figueres and the town of Cadaques in one day. I imagine there are places to swim near Cadaques, but I didn't do that.

I think 3 nights is short for Seville, but it's going to be somewhere between miserable and scorching there, so...

Hotels will be very expensive in Pamplona during San Fermin. I day-tripped to the city at a different town and found it not terribly exciting. It's OK (I did like the life-size running-of-the-bulls statue), but Spain has a lot of more interesting destinations unless you must see the running of the bulls. I agree that the castle in Olite might appeal to children; unfortunately, I see that temperatures can spike to 95+ there from time to time.

Zaragoza, though in northern Spain, is very often miserably hot in the summer.

Two things to keep in mind as you consider your routing: Toledo is on a spur rail line that only connects to Madrid, and Salamanca is west of Madrid.

Avila has a wall and really not much else. To me it's imminently skippable, given that you won't have a car. Cuenca is a much more attractive walled town. It is practical as a day-trip from Madrid only if you take the high-speed AVE train. That will be affordable only if you snag tickets at the promo price, so it will be important to buy those tickets as soon as you can after they go on sale for your preferred date.

Posted by
1163 posts

"Should we skip Salamanca? It sounds nice, but seems far for only 2 nights. If we keep it, should we move it to after Toledo to break up the train trip from Granada?"

Salamanca is a very attractive city and certainly has two day's minimum worth of sights (for us, being slow movers it would be at least 4, plus side-trips). However, given how much moving you already have and the location of Salamanca, I think something has to give. Have you checked what public transport links are available? For example, I suspect that to/from Toledo you may need to change in Madrid. There is a route by coach and train between Sevilla and Salamanca, but it would take most of the day and, in practice, I think you'd want to stop overnight along the way in somewhere such as Caceres. So perhaps, leave Salamanca for another time, when it can be a point for a more westerly focused trip covering Galacia, Castile-Leon and Extremadura or some of Portugal.

"Is this too much time in Andalusia? Especially for July and early August which I understand is a very busy time."

At that time of year it is the coast of Andalucia which is busiest, it being peak time for beach holidays. The inland cities are likely less busy, partly because of the heat in August, although they will get many day-trippers taking excursions from the seaside (e.g. to Alhambra or Ronda). The good thing is it's wonderfully hot, but that does mean you probably won't feel like spending all day touring a city. So the more time you can stay the better, giving a chance to tour in the morning and evening and relax in afternoon. If you do drop Salamanca, I would add your two nights to Andalucia, perhaps somewhere coastal.

Posted by
1163 posts

"Do we need more time in Seville? (I know this conflicts with the last question)"

Sevilla is Spain's best city (and Europe's second or third best), so the more time the better. Especially since the heat I mentioned in the previous reply means you are bound to take breaks during the day, if not give-up entirely in the afternoons. There is a lot to see in Sevilla and it is a good base for day-trips - although Cordoba and Jerez, I see, are already on your itinerary for overnight stops anyway.

On the heat question - one advantage of the South is it is a dry heat, you'll be much more sweaty up north.

"The order of the Andalusia cities seems off to me, but with the split of the AVE track in Cordoba, not sure how else to make it work. Maybe do Seville -> Granada -> Malaga instead?"

I'm assuming you arrive in Andalucia from Barcelona and depart for Madrid/Toledo (and that Salamanca is dropped). You can fly form Barcelona to Granada which puts you at one "extreme" of your Andalucia section and the rest sort of falls into place. For example, Granada - Malaga - Jerez - Sevilla - Cordoba - Madrid (for Toledo).

On the other hand if arriving from Barcelona by train and when leaving for Toledo later on there are easy (but for the Barcelona leg not quick) journeys for each of Sevilla, Cordoba, Malaga and Granada - so to some extent it doesn't matter where you start and end. Personally, I'd want to get off the train as soon as possible when arriving from Barcelona, so that would mean starting in Cordoba then looping round Sevilla, Jerez, Malaga (you could stop in Ronda en route between those two), ending in Granada from where there a small number of fast AVE services to Madrid each day.

Posted by
8 posts

dlindstrom - Thanks for the response! We are planning to go on the 12th-13th. We have rented a place with a balcony on the route. It was expensive (one of the reasons we are only doing one night, besides the crowds), but when compared to the cost of a normal inflated hotel/rental rate PLUS the cost of getting on a shared balcony to see the events, it was somewhat reasonable. Plus we can keep the kids out of the crowds for much of it. Understand its not for everyone, but we thought it was worth the hassle to get to see a pretty unique and famous event.

jaimeelsabio - Thanks for the response! And sorry, should have typed "family's first trip". It is just the one family. Your order of the southern cities makes sense, but would it be hard to get from Barcelona to Granada to start that southern itinerary? And other than Barcelona -> Cordoba and Granada -> Salamanca, are there other transfers that take a long time? From what I saw, most were just 1-3 hours on the trains.

acraven - Thanks for the response! The kids will be 6 and 3, and are very good travelers. Appreciate the insight on Andorra, Besalu, Figueres, Seville, Toledo, and Avila. Very helpful! And I just looked up the weather and you are right, that is hot. We are from a hot summer place as well, but you are right an afternoon break out of the sun will probably be needed. Will definitely need to take that into account.

Is there enough to do in Madrid, without spending a lot of times in museums, to justify 6 nights with day trips? Most of the top sights and travel reports I see talk heavily about the museums there.

Posted by
1163 posts

I meant to add - don't get too fixed on the AVE trains. For long-distance sections such as Cordoba to Madrid or Barcelona to Sevilla it makes an important difference. But for some other sections, e.g. between Cordoba and Sevilla, the time difference between the AVE service and other (nominally "slower"), services might not be consequential. For some journeys, coach ("bus") might be better anyway (i.e. faster & easier since direct with no change needed). That certainly used to be the case between Malaga and Granada and I don't think the opening of a new fast stretch of railway line has changed it.

Posted by
8 posts

Nick - Thanks for the responses! Appreciate the detail!

That is what I was leaning towards. Either skipping Salamanca for this trip or alternatively taking a day from Madrid and adding it in Salamanca.

How would you recommend stopping in Ronda en route between Jerez and Malaga? I have not found an easy way to do that in a day, especially because I understand there is not place to store luggage in Ronda.

Posted by
16840 posts

I think of Madrid as primarily a museum city, but of course it is huge so there are other options. It's not as old as most of the other places on your list, so (to me) the architecture is grand more than it is interesting. The Temple of Debod is a small, authentic Egyptian temple moved to Madrid some time ago; it might be unusual enough to interest the children. Retiro Park is large and free. I've walked past it but not in it, so I don't know whether it offers child-friendly activities. I'm sure there would be local children about.

I am not a fan of flights in the middle of a trip, but they sometimes have their place. They can be very affordable if you're in a position to buy the tickets early; the cheap tickets will naturally be non-refundable. Check the Barcelona-Granada options on skyscanner and compare airfare to train fare (taking any rail discounts for children into account). The Barcelona airport is easily reached by the frequent Aerobus from Placa de Catalunya, though with four people a taxi might not cost much more. I don't know anything about the Granada airport.

I do think flying to Granada and working your way north along a clockwise curve is worth very serious consideration. Granada has limited express rail service, and the trip from Barcelona (via Madrid) would be a very long one.

Posted by
1163 posts

Stevenc - re Jerez-Ronda-Malaga, to be honest, I'm not even sure it is practical in one day I probably shouldn't have mentioned it! Although theoretically possible the bus/train times might not allow it in reality. Since there is no rush, I assume, I'd wait and see what the timetables look like when they next get updated (some services are still running a restructured/reduced Covid-19 timetable). If there is a way, I'd guess it involves a TG Comes bus for the Ronda/Jerez section. There is (or used to be, I should say), a hotel near Ronda bus & train stations that offered to store luggage for a small fee. If the journey is practical, it might be worth googling "left luggage Ronda" to see what comes up - but I do suspect that without a car, it wont allow a long stop as a one-day route and you'd need to consider a stop overnight in Ronda (which is no hardship, mind; as its nice without the crowds).

Posted by
158 posts

I haven't read the other responses. We also travelled with three children. We had a shorter time than you though. We had 4 days in Seville (did a daytrip to Jerez de la Frontera and Cadiz), booked a driver from Seville to Granada (stopping at an olive farm, Setenil de las Bodegas, and Ronda). We had 2 days in Granada (one more would have been much better) and took a bus to Malaga where we booked a ride to La Carihuela, just past Torremolinas on the Costa del Sol. We spent 3 days there, took the train from Malaga to Madrid with a stop in Cordoba along the way.

If travelling with kids, I'd really stop for a few days at the beach. Everyone says how busy the Costa del Sol is but the small place we stayed was perfect. Yes, it was busy but we had an inexpensive flat right on the beach and we just explored along that area for a few days. We did a boat tour to see dolphins, played in the water, watched and made sand castles, it really was wonderful.

If you do want to visit museums in Madrid, consider booking a guide that is good with kids. We booked Across Madrid tours and visited the museum and did a kids oriented walking tour. Almudena was wonderful.

Have you thought of doing a daytrip from Madrid to Toledo? We had planned on doing it to see Segovia but by then, we were zonked and just spent the extra day in Rialto Park. But its an option rather than shuffling around too much.

Posted by
158 posts

Oh, just saw Barcelona there. Have you considered flying? We started our trip in Barcelona, flew to Seville and continued on as above. Flew home from Madrid.

Posted by
16840 posts

The local Spanis tourist offices often have handouts showing the current bus schedules. I haven't had much luck finding those online, though I suspect they may be out there. Of course, one needs to go to the appropriate bus company's website to verify the current schedule.

This is a private website I cannot vouch for, and I am confused about the way the days of the week are shown: https://www.horario-autobuses.com/interurbanos/andalucia/ronda.html

The following information is copied from the hardcopy schedule I picked up in Ronda in April 2019. Again, I find the way it indicates which days each bus runs very confusing; I hope I am not misinterpreting. The schedule for summer 2021 may well be different.

Portillo:
Ronda to Malaga: 6:30 AM (daily), 1:45 PM (Mon-Fri), 4:30 PM (daily), 8 PM (daily)
Malaga to Ronda: 9 AM (Mon-Fri), 10 AM (daily), 12:30 PM (daily), 8:30 PM (Mon-Sat)

Damas:
Ronda to Malaga: 7 AM (Mon-Fri), 8 AM (daily), 9 AM (Sat, Sun, hol), 10 AM (Mon-Fri), 12 PM (daily), 2 PM (Mon-Fri), 4 PM (daily), 5 PM (Sat, Sun, hol), 6 PM (Mon-Fri, Sun, hol), 8 PM (daily)
Malaga to Ronda: 8 AM (daily), 10 AM (Mon-Fri), 10:30 AM (Sat, Sun, hol), 12 PM (Mon-Fri), 12:30 PM (Sat, Sun, hol), 2 PM (Mon-Fri), 3:30 PM (daily), 4:30 PM (daily), 6 PM (daily), 8 PM (Mon-Fri, Sun, hol)

Comes (these buses originate/destinate in Cadiz 45 min. before/after Jerez):
Ronda to Jerez: 9:30 AM (Mon-Fri) 4 PM (Mon-Fri), 5 PM (Sat, Sun, hol)
Jerez to Ronda: 9:45 AM (Mon-Fri), 11:45 AM (Sat, Sun, hol), 2:45 PM (Mon-Fri)

Comes:
Ronda to Arcos dlF: 9:30 AM (Mon-Fri), 4 PM (Mon-Fri), 5 PM (Sat, Sun, hol)
Arcos dlF to Ronda: 10:20 AM (Mon-Fri), 12:20 (Sat, Sun, hol), 3:20 PM (Mon-Fri)

I was able to day-trip from Ronda to Grazalema by bus, departing Ronda at 1 PM and returning from Grazalema at 4:10 PM. It was not possible to day-trip to Zahara de la Sierra.

I day-tripped to Arcos from Seville because I was not planning to go to Jerez; I think it would be faster from Jerez, but perhaps the buses wouldn't be as frequent.

Diligent Googling will probably turn up bus schedules, but what you see now may not closely approximate the post-COVID situation. The schedule info on Rome2Rio.com is so inaccurate that it should be totally ignored, but if you keep drilling down you'll probably find the names of the bus companies you need, and often links to their websites.

Be very careful about days of the week and holidays.

Posted by
8 posts

Thanks again Nick and acraven!

acraven - Are Portillo, Damas, etc. names of bus companies?

So, based on the feedback, these are my current thoughts:

  1. Would love to add more time up North, but honestly not sure what I would be willing to give up to make that happen. So, no changes to the Northern part.
  2. Removed Salamanca
  3. Added time to Seville. That should help us see more of the city, especially when including afternoon breaks from the heat.
  4. Moved Granada to before Malaga which seems to make the trip easier with more options and less time going Seville -> Granada -> Malaga -> Toledo
  5. Keeping the Cordoba -> Jerez -> Seville order as that makes each of those trips (and the next trip to Granada) not too long.
  6. Kept the Ronda day trip from Malaga. While also doable from Seville, it appears the views are better on the trip from Malaga and the travel time is the essentially the same.
  7. Still need to do more research on some of the day trip suggestions and suggested day trips to skip, so left those for now.
  8. I will look at buses as well as trains for some of the trip legs.

That makes the itinerary look like this:

  • San Sebastian - 3 nights
  • Pamplona - 1 night (San Fermin)
  • Barcelona - 6 nights (possible day trips to Montserrat, Girona/Figueres, and maybe Andorra)
  • Cordoba - 2 nights
  • Jerez de la Frontera - 4 nights (possible day trips to Cadiz, Arcos de la Fronterra, and maybe Gibraltar)
  • Seville - 5 nights
  • Granada - 3 nights
  • Malaga - 4 nights (possible day trips to Ronda and Nerja)
  • Toledo - 2 nights
  • Madrid - 6 nights (possible day trips to Segovia/Avila, and Cuenca)

Thoughts?

Posted by
8 posts

Joanne - Thanks for the responses!

How old were your kids? Ours are relatively young (6 and 3) so car seats are still in play. I haven't really considered hiring a driver since I assume car seats would add complications or make it impossible. Did you find differently?

I will look at a flight between Barcelona and Cordoba/Seville, but between getting to the airport, getting through security, then getting to the city center on the other end I am not sure it would save time over the AVE. Plus our kids love trains (we will see if they are still as enthusiastic at the end of this trip lol).

I was planning on spending some time at the beach in San Sebastian, Malaga, and possibly Cadiz. Costa del Sol does sound nice though. It looks like there is a train line that runs out there from Malaga?

Posted by
2517 posts

Just food for thought...

Many visitors to these shores repeat, especially when boots on the ground they understand the great number of things to do and nooks and crannies to visit here. Perhaps you're conscientious about this already. If so, I'd seriously consider to limit your visit to an area (ie Catalonia, or Castille and Andalucia, or Euskadi and Castille) and leave the others for your next visit. In this way, you'll be able to really experience and enjoy much more. I can assure you you won't run out of things to do choosing just one area.

But again, this is just a thought.

Posted by
16840 posts

Yes, those are the names of the bus companies.

Geographically, you're doing some doubling back, especially as you take the train right through Seville in order to reach Jerez. However, it is certainly possible that your routing minimizes time on trains/buses. Extra mileage will run up the cost of the tickets, however.

I don't think there's a train line along the Costa del Sol. None of these maps indicate one:

https://www.bing.com/images/search?q=spain+train+lines&id=E806DB3CBFEA1205102CE012FCF00A08379D2456&form=EQNAMI&first=1&scenario=ImageBasicHover

Large swaths of the Costa del Sol were already spoiled back in the 1970s. Do careful research about the destinations; many are known more for their German sausage joints and British pubs than for Spanish character. Also check on sea quality at Nerja. Issues have been reported in the last few years, though they may have been resolved. [<< final sentence corrected]

Posted by
3950 posts

Personally I'd avoid San Fermin like the plague. One of the reasons this barbaric tortuous practice continues is because of the number of tourists who flock to the spectacle every year. If you do intend to go and particularly if you're exposing children to such cruelty then at least check out the following link to ensure that you're fully aware of what happens to those unfortunate animals:

https://www.peta.org/features/what-you-dont-know-about-running-of-the-bulls/

Spain is full of fantastic places to visit, please don't help to perpetuate this archaic and sadistic practice.

Posted by
4161 posts

Sorry, but I loved Salamanca, but you only need a full day there.
Also, you can see Toledo on a day trip from Madrid. Also, don't miss Segovia.

Malaga for four nights, you could cut to three and add to Seville.

Posted by
1163 posts

The Costa del Sol line you are referring to is probably Malaga's "cercanias" commuter service. C1 runs along the coast but it only runs as far as Fuengirola. These surbuban lines may not show up on a search of the standard Renfe website, but they have a separate page for cercanias services with all the details:

https://www.renfe.com/es/en/suburban

Posted by
16840 posts

Thanks for the correction, Nick. I should have checked more carefully. I often have trouble finding the Cercanias lines.

I recommend more than a day-trip to Toledo since you have the time. There are lots of interesting sights there, and the historic district is very large (and rather hilly). It's great to have time to wander freely rather than just traipsing along with the mob between Zocodover Plaza and the Cathedral. I didn't have trouble filling two full days in Toledo. Admittedly, I wasn't traveling with children and I'm especially fond of Mudejar architecture. I think Toledo has one to those little tourist "trains" that runs along the street. I haven't taken it, but I believe it loops outside the historic center to take you to the classic viewpoint you see in so many photos. The children might enjoy the ride.

Salamanca is another city with an expansive historic area. I don't think it has as many sights you might want to go inside as Toledo, though.

Posted by
2685 posts

If you want to go see the running of the bulls, go. As you can tell from his passion, JC is totally against bull fights and things related to them. Others are just as passionate for them. They are very controversial and public opinion and local laws are slowly changing.

Posted by
1873 posts

As a city boy from Barcelona, I've always been personally against bullfighting/running, but I know that it is still very popular especially in the smaller towns and villages, across all of Spain, Catalonia included, a guilty pleasure of sorts. Sanfermines is just the tip of the iceberg in Spain and I know this culture is not going anywhere any time soon. If you or your small children are not fazed by this brutality, go if you like, you will have an unforgettable experience. If you have any second thoughts, don't go. I'd personally prefer a day seeing the Moorish Palace at nearby Zaragoza, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Posted by
4689 posts

I don't agree that Seville is the best, I love Madrid. There is plenty to do there, it's nearly a great city of the world. However, if you don't care about museums, 6 nights are questionable. Does an important convent count as a museum? How about a lovely outdoor Egyptian temple? I liked the museums in Madrid better than the Royal Palace. I also agree that you are wasting travel and time on the ghost of Hemingway in Pamplona (and I have been there, but not during the festival.). Get Hemingway's suckling pig in Madrid instead.

I don't know about your money and personal preferences, but I think it's a mistake to do this by all public transportation. It's a problem to pay for the car and parking during 6-day city stays, but your daytrips will be very difficult from your sleeping locations. You'll spend a lot of time on logistics, and sometimes, the bus won't be there .... maybe mañana. There are great daytrips everywhere, like Carmona and Italica from Seville, but it's tedious by bus.

I haven't been to Malaga (except the airport), but I think it's a northern sun-seeker tourist place. Like in the movie "Sexy Beast." We found Jerez over-rated and hard to navigate, even with a car. The kids would like to go to the Spanish Riding school (sold out in advance), but hard without a car. All your daytrips are easier with a car, especially with young kids.

Having driven to Gibraltar from Ronda for the day (a mistake, a death march even on the very good roads), you have no idea what you are getting into with public transportation. We went to Arcos from Seville, and then on to Ronda to spend 3 nights. (Is Rick's cave still visitable from Ronda?) We loved the fierce air conditioning at the expensive Parador de Ronda after a sweaty day. You need to search for American-style air conditioning.

Posted by
16840 posts

I liked Malaga more than I thought I would; it has a nice historic area right on the waterfront and some worthwhile sights. I haven't been to Jerez; I decided it didn't have enough to interest me.

Some of the planned side-trips are totally doable by train (or occasionally by bus):

  • Barcelona - Montserrat, Barcelona-Girona, Barcelona-Figueres (see previous comment about trying to combine those two, and the suggestion to set up a base in Girona)
  • Jerez-Cadiz, Jerez-Arcos (buses almost hourly)
  • Madrid-Segovia (don't know how easy it is to add Avila and I wouldn't try), Madrid-Cuenca

If I'm just planning to visit one small town (like Arcos), I don't mind all that much if I have to take a slowish bus or the train follows a convoluted route. It's more of an issue if I'm trying to squeeze two stops into the same day. And three stops by public transportation is extremely difficult to pull off. Many travelers interested in Ronda and the white villages rent a car and drive one way to or from Granada for more efficient sightseeing.

One issue with planning so many side trips in this particular case is the miserable summer heat in Andalucia. Inter-city buses are air-conditioned; I'm not sure all the local trains are. For sure bus stations (if they even exist--you won't find them in places like Arcos) and train stations aren't necessarily cooled, and you can't count on finding a/c in a nearby cafe. Since buses and regional trains are not always as reliable as the fast AVEs, ALVIAs and AVANTs, your day-trips may require you to hang around in a non-air-conditioned environment for some time.

On the other hand, there's no way I'd want to drive the long legs served by fast trains; it would waste time, not be as interesting for the children, and require you to pay for parking while the car sits, unused, for days at a time.

Posted by
75 posts

Donostia-San Sebastian is the rainiest city in Spain, so beach weather may not be an option, even in July (today it´s raining all over the northern coast of the Basque Country and 70ºC, while in Toledo they´ll reach 100º and sunny...Spain is very diverse in climate). I´d spend at least a night in Bilbao, and would go to Pamplona, it´s really fun for kids, the atmosphere is amazing (parties in towns in Spain are fantastic for all ages).

Posted by
8 posts

Enric - Appreciate the response! But since we are devoting 5 full weeks to Spain, we want to see all the main cities and sights and we feel we have time to travel from place to place. Some people travel slower, some travel faster. And there are so many places we want to see in the world, it is hard to find time to go to the same place twice.

acraven & Nick - Thanks again for the additional clarification and advice!

JC - Appreciate the response! We are definitely not in favor of animal abuse, but don't always agree with PETA. For example, they are against the Iditarod dog sled race in Alaska. We lived in Alaska for several years, met multiple competitors, spent time around the dogs, etc. Those dogs are very well cared for and seriously enjoy what they do. I won't respond any further on this topic since everyone has their opinion and these topics can get heated, but the point is we like to view things ourselves and make our own decisions.

geovagriffith - Thanks for the response! We will make sure Segovia stays on the list.

jaimeelsabio & Carlos - Thanks for the responses! Appreciate both of your perspectives. You can read above for ours.

Tim - Thanks for the response! We have traveled pretty extensively and have done multiple weeks in Europe using only trains, using only rental cars, or using a combination of both. Each method has some pros and cons and really seems to be a personal preference that can change based on the type of trip you are taking (mainly larger cities, countryside towns, etc.). For this trip, we have decided that we will only use trains and will take the pros (no looking for parking, paying for parking, not having to deal with car seats for the kids) over the cons (less flexibility and more limited options). I will look into the Royal Palace and Egyptian Temple in Madrid.

MikelBasqueGuide - Thanks for the response and insight into weather in San Sebastian! We are considering a day trip to Bilbao from San Sebastian, but it appears to not be the easiest day trip without a car (which as mentioned above we are avoiding on this trip).

jarcosmeenk - Appreciate the advice on Granada, Ronda, Toledo, Seville, Terragona, and Jerez! I will look into your suggestions.

Posted by
16840 posts

Bilbao is a very easy day-trip from San Sebastian. The trick is that you need to take a bus rather than the local train. The train ride is very nice but too slow for a day-trip. Bus service is frequent.

Quite a few of us like Bilbao better than San Sebastian, though the latter certainly knocks it out of the park in terms of the beauty of its beach. (You should be prepared not to have beach weather though. I saw almost no one in the water during my June trip, and those few swimmers were wearing wetsuits.) Bilbao has a much larger historic district, and it's peopled by Spaniards/Basques rather than tourists going from tapas bar to tapas bar.

Posted by
75 posts

There´s at least four buses per hour from Donostia-San Sebastian to Bilbao, in a very easy ride that takes just over one hour, and very inexpensive in excellent coaches, so getting from SS to Bilbao is really, really easy. As acraven says, there´s more to see in Bilbao than in SS and beach weather (this is the Atlantic!) is not a frequent option (but of course, it´s more probable on the dates of your trip). We don´t have tapas here, it´s a whole different thing to "pintxos", our gourmet way for tapas...and a can´t miss!!

Posted by
158 posts

Hey Stephen. Sorry for the delay. I didn't see your response. At the time we visited our kids were 13, 10 and 8. We didn't need car seats but we travelled when they were younger and found that there are always transfer companies that can provide them. I'd just make sure before finalizing the booking.

My kids love trains as well but for Barcelona to Seville I'm glad we flew. Yes it didnt' save much time in total but it allowed for an earlier arrival into Seville with the schedule. There is a train line that stops in Torremolinos. We stayed in La Carihuela, just outside. I can't remember why we didn't opt for the train but it was likely logistics (ie: easy to just get a driver) Here's a link I found on TA regarding the train to LaCarihuela area. It's a bit old but I expect its the same information. You'd want to confirm if you're planning on doing the route. https://www.tripadvisor.ca/ShowTopic-g187440-i353-k10023293-Train_station_at_La_Carihuela-Torremolinos_Costa_del_Sol_Province_of_Malaga_Andalucia.html

And here is the official information about the route https://www.andalucia.com/image/travel/trains/cercaniasmalaga.png

Posted by
5719 posts

Because of the extreme heat in Andalusia, have you considered including the northern regions such as the city of San Sebastián? I love Andalusia but we have gone there twice in November due to the summer heat.