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Madrid and Barcelona May help

Updated our itinterary based on tips but looking to finalize and need help. Plane tickets booked so no changes to start & end. NOT renting a car. dates for activities can be changed around other than the football match which is TBD. accommodation isn’t booked yet so advice welcome.. should we do an overnight in between Madrid and Barcelona in maybe Tarragona or Girona? Not interested in Zaragoza.. thanks

May 13 arrive Madrid 1330
14 Madrid Retiro park
15 Real Madrid game - if can get tix stubhub
16 Madrid
17 Madrid - day trip to Toledo?
18 Barcelona montjuic castle
19 day trip to Girona?
20 Barcelona - Park Guell when to book?
21 Barcelona day trip to Sitges or Tossa de Mar?
22 Barcelona
23 Montserrat
24 Barcelona - Sagrada when to book?
25 Barcelona
May 26 Leave early am.

Posted by
27096 posts

If you aren't nuts for modernista architecture (Barcelona) or art (both cities), you have enough time to go to a third city or take multiple day trips. Girona is north of Barcelona and has good sightseeing options. It's especially recommended (by me) to folks who also want to see the Dali Theatre-Museum in Figueres, the former fishing village of Cadaques (with a Dali home nearby) and/or Besalu (medieval town with a fortified bridge). Those are all accessible via public transportation and closer to Girona than to Barcelona. You can get from Barcelona to Girona and onward to Figueres by express train. Those tickets are cheaper if purchased well in advance. Slower, cheaper trains also run that route.

I haven't been to Tarragona (on the coast south of Barcelona), but it's known for its Roman ruins. Sitges is between Barcelona and Tarragona.

Zaragoza is on the way from Madrid to Barcelona via the direct train line. It's a very interesting, much less touristy city. I think it makes an especially good add-on when a trip doesn't extend south of Madrid, because Zaragoza has a well-restored Moorish palace. train tickets on that very busy Madrid-Barcelona rail line sell out frequently, so be careful about that. You can save money by buying early once you're certain of your plans. Check the Renfe website carefully for rules about changes and cancellations.

Toledo, south of Madrid and served by express trains, is a great overnight destination (or multi-night for some people), but many people make it a day trip from Madrid. Those express trains sell out fairly often, so--even though you won't save any money on the rail fare--it's smart not to wait until the last minute to buy the tickets.

Segovia is another very popular and worthwhile day trip from Madrid. Fares to Segovia vary a bit, so you can save some money by committing early.

I haven't needed to buy tickets to La Sagrada Familia or Parc Guell recently, but those are definitely not places you want to walk up to without having pre-purchased tickets. Tickets are timed. I don't know how early La Sagrada Familia sells out, but I believe it sometimes does. It's one of the city's most popular sights, as is Parc Guell. Both tend to be extremely crowded, which makes the first-time-slot tickets especially popular and likely to sell out first. I'd recommend looking today at ticket availability for tomorrow and the other dates between now and your arrival day in Barcelona (or as far out as tickets are for sale). And I'd keep monitoring ticket sales to be sure I didn't end up with a problem seeing those sights. I'm not a believer in buying sightseeing tickets earlier than strictly necessary, because they are usually not changeable or refundable, and sometimes trips get postponed or cancelled.

There are other sights in Barcelona that also call for purchasing tickets in advance. I mention them here in case you plan to see some of them: Casa Mila/La Pedrera, Casa Batllo, Picasso Museum and the Palau de la Musica Catalana. The Palau's English-language tours sometimes sell out. The first three are subject to painfully long ticket lines that you will not want to wait in.

Some visitors to Madrid have reported significant ticket lines for the Royal Palace in Madrid. It is a popular sight, and not just with tourists. I suspect it might help a bit to go on a non-holiday weekday, and I'd recommend buying a ticket online in advance. I think most of the time it's not necessary to pre-purchase tickets to the Prado Museum, but it would be possible to run into a line.

Posted by
5 posts

Thanks so much this is very helpful! Out of Girona/Tarragona/zaragoza which would you do as an overnight?

Girona we were doing as a day trip because we were told there wasn’t much there and it could be done as a day trip. We were also told the rest of costa brava is impossible without a car but it sounds like at least figueres can be done by train. I know that’s one of the least popular unless you’re a dali fan though

We don’t mind some day trips but we obviously want to soak in our time and enjoy things and not spend all our time on trains which is why we are skipping south of Madrid this time

Any recs on where to stay in Madrid or Barcelona? Barcelona was looking at eixample area and maybe airbnb as it seemed to make a bit more sense if we don’t do an overnight somewhere given how long we would be there

Also do you use train line or something else to book tix?

Posted by
5 posts

Also do we need to book all train tix and day trips now? Or wait until closer?

Posted by
1416 posts

You should buy your train tickets now from Madrid to Toledo and back because they often sell out. Also buy train tix now for Madrid to Barcelona as high-speed train tix will rise in price with time, just as airline tickets do. Check for an overview of prices and schedules. You can also buy train tickets directly from IRYO ( and Renfe (

Express SARFA buses from Barcelona to Tossa de Mar take just 80 minutes and depart from Barcelona’s Nord
( “Estacio de Autobusos”) bus station. The only stops the express bus makes is at Lloret de Mar and Tossa de Mar.

Keeping in mind that Barcelona is the most popular cruise ship destination in all of Europe on top of being the most popular city in Spain among travelers— you should NOW buy admission tickets for reserved times ( reserve for the first possible morning admission or be prepared to stand in long lines) for Barcelona’s most popular attractions: Sagrada Familia; Casa Mila /La Pedrera; Casa Battlo; the Picasso Museum; Park Guell.

For train travel from Barcelona to Sitges and Tarragona, you’ll save a lot of euros by taking the “Rodalies” commuter trains. These tix cost about €6 from Barcelona to Sitges and a bit more for Tarragona.
Rodalies train tix can be bought on the day you travel either from machines or staffed booths at train stations. Tickets for High-speed Renfe trains taking 38 minutes from Barcelona to Girona are currently as little as $13 each way for dates in May if you buy them online today. That price will likely double once May arrives.
You may find tix for a Real Madrid game the most difficult tickets to find.
Have a great trip!

Posted by
5 posts

Thank you! A little nervous to buy tickets to Toledo now since the Madrid game date can change and we secured tix from stub hub. We changed our plan a bit and will be doing Madrid 13 - 18 and Barcelona 19 - 26. Decided on Toledo and Segovia day trips separately and day trip to Girona, Montserrat, and possibly a day trip to Sitges if time allows. Skipping an overnight elsewhere this trip. Would having a timed ticket to Sagrada result in standing in a long line? We were hoping to go around evening as we were told sunset makes for beautiful light inside. We don’t plan to do the towers. Thanks again for all the help

Posted by
27096 posts

I think if you have a timed ticket to La Sagrada Familia, you won't have a long wait in line. Just don't count on getting inside precisely at the time shown on your ticket.