We are a couple taking a cruise from Barcelona on April 17, 2016. We expect to arrive on 4/10/16 to explore before we depart. The Cruise line will provide a tour of La Rambla before we depart. Rick has suggested if we only have 3 days go to Madrid and Toledo, so we thought we could take a train to Madrid for a couple of days and a day & a half in Toledo, before we return to Barcelona on 4/21/16. We then would have two days in Barcelona before our cruise. I should mention the cruise has a stop in ports with visits to Grenada (Malaga) and Seville (Cadiz). I admit I don't know much about Spain yet, but I would hope this would get us a flavor of Spain. Any suggestions? What are the places to see in those three cities? I haven't received my Spain travel book from Rick Steves yet. If you think this is a good option, we may fly directly to Madrid to avoid the train trip from Barcelona.
I am confused.
"taking a cruise from Barcelona on April 17, 2016"
"we return to Barcelona on 4/21/16. We then would have two days in Barcelona before our cruise"
Have you made an error? Or am I missing something?
I'm also confused about your dates. You'll get much better suggestions if you tell us the cruise itinerary. Does it return to Barcelona? Where does it end? How long are you in each port stop? Granada over 2 hours' drive from Malaga. Seville is at least 1.5 hours from Cadiz. On a day trip, you'll barely see the highlights.
Feria in Sevilla will be April 12-17. It's a very special time. If you are in Spain then, you may want to spend 1-2 nights there to experience it.
Madrid is the least interesting city you mention. The main sights are the art museums and the palace. If that's your interest, by all means spend 2 days there. If not, explore Andalusia - Seville, Cordoba, Toledo. Barcelona is a fascinating place. You may want to take an inexpensive TI walking tour that includes La Rambla at the beginning of your stay there, not at the end - when you will have seen much of it already. Then you can choose to take the cruise's tour (on a good tour, you learn new things and see details you didn't notice before) or use that time for another sight.
I agree with previous posters that I can't figure out your dates. Do you mean you arrive in Spain on the 10th, and have until the 17th to explore, and the cruise runs the 17th to the 21st? How many nights in Spain pre-cruise? And how many nights in Spain post cruise?
Nonetheless, I am currently absorbed in research for our Transatlantic next April that also stops in Cadiz, Malaga, Alicante and ends in Barcelona. I have been to Spain once before.
I think flying into Madrid would be a good idea. I don't see why you would fly into Barcelona, and take the train out and back. I have been searching various routes at www.loco2.com. The best fares are about three months out. You could either stay in Madrid for a couple of nights, or proceed to Toledo, and from there Barcelona (although it seems the train connects in Madrid but it looks an easy enough connection). I don't see doing all three (Madrid, Toledo, and Barcelona) in that amount of days.
Barcelona deserves more than two days. At least double that. I think if we are guessing your dates even close to accurately, then you should only look at adding one other location.
As far your port days are concerned, have you joined your cruise's Roll Call on Cruise Critic? I have. So far we have 31 members and have arranged plenty of private, small group excursions to share (not through the cruise line). You should check what is happening on your Roll Call. Plus it is nice to "meet" new people before you go (I've been invited for tea by someone on my cruise who is from Ireland while I am Ireland this September!).
My mistake on the dates. Sorry for the confusion. The cruise begins 4/17/16 from Barcelona and ends 15 days later in Bergen, Norway. The ship travels from Barcelona to the other 2 Spain stops, Grenada (Malaga) and Seville (Cadiz) and continues with stops in Portugal, France, England and finally Norway. My dates should have been - flying into Spain, (Barcelona or Madrid) on April 10th and after 3+ days exploring Madrid/Toledo taking the train to Barcelona on 4/14/16 leaving us with 2 days in Barcelona before our 4/17/16 ship departure from Barcelona. It seem to make more sense to fly into Madrid directly then flying into Barcelona and then going to Madrid. My question is, giving the limited time is Madrid/Toledo a good option or would you recommend something else. Thank you for your help. Again, sorry about the wrong dates and the confusion.
We've done a version of this cruise. I agree that you're best choice is to fly into Madrid for three days before continuing to Barcelona. You'll be jet-lagged when you arrive, so spending three days in Madrid, using one day for the quick train ride to Toledo, is a good plan. You'll have more than enough to do with two full days in Madrid.
Take an early train from Madrid to BCN so you can maximize your time in BCN. Simply put, Barcelona is my favorite city in Europe ... so much to see and do.
As for Malaga, if you're intent on visiting the Alhambra in Granada, please book a ship's tour rather than attempting an independent tour. There will be a lot of travel time from the port to Granada and back, and whatever you save by booking independently puts you at too much risk of missing the ship if anything goes wrong on your return to the pier from Granada.
Cadiz to Seville, on the other hand, could be done independently by bus or train. That said, unless you want to do a lot of research, you still might find it best to book a ship's tour.
Will's given you very good advice. As for Madrid itself, I stand by what I wrote above. Decide if you want to see Madrid or not. If not, you could go to Cordoba (2 hours by train from Madrid) instead. It's your opportunity to see an Andalusian town (and it's my personal favorite) and the Mezquita is the second only to the Alhambra as the best sight in Spain.
Thank you Will & Chani for your insights. You have given me a chance to review some options. Can you help me prioritize my time in Barcelona? We enjoy meeting & observing people & eating locally. Thanks.
Two suggestions ... First, read Rick Steve's Barcelona book, or the section of his Spain book about Barcelona. See what interests you. Certainly Gaudi's buildings alone (including the Sagrada Familia) could easily occupy you for one of your days.
Second, consider buying (when you get there, not before) a one or two-day hop on hop off bus ticket. All the companies operate more than one route and you can use your ticket on all the routes. It's a good way to get an inexpensive above-ground tour of the city, and it can also act as your transportation between the sites you decide to visit. I don't know if I'd recommend this in the middle of the summer, but it probably is a good choice in April.
Finally, BCN is a wonderful city to walk, browse, eat pinxtos (tapas), etc. You can't go wrong.
I'm torn because I enjoyed Madrid, even though the temps were hovering around 90' I thought the palace was stunning, loved the Prado and the parks. I wish we would have had more time for the museums we missed, but enjoyed the flamenco performance ( the one mentioned in The RS guidebook). However, I also loved Córdoba, as Chani suggests. It was a favorite visit. Bottom line, you can't go wrong, just enjoy whatever you choose.
For Barcelona, the most visited sight is La Sagrada Familia (the holy family) designed by Gaudi. I'll pass on to you the good advice that I got: when you buy tickets in advance (which you had better do), get the first entry of the day, then be in line at least 15-20 minutes before that. This way you'll have a little time in the cathedral, to take photos and appreciate it, before it becomes very crowded and very noisy.
I'm not a fan of Gaudi, but I do like art deco very much (Art Nouveau in Spain) and saw 3 places designed by Montaner: Sant Pau (a hospital complex now used for government offices and a tourist sight), Casa LLeo Morera (a private home) and the Palau de la Música Catalana (another top sight in Barcelona).
A visit to Montserrat is the top day trip. You can do it in a half-day on your own or pay for a tour.
Use the metro to get around if you want to save time. Barcelona is "sprawly."
Ah, makes sense now.
10/4 Fly into Madrid
14/4 Train to Barcelona
17/4 Sail from Barcelona
With two full days in Barcelona I would suggest something like ...
Day 1 Ramblas (La Boqueria Markets) + Gothic Quarter (Cathedral) + Palau de la Musica Catalana
Day 2 Sagrada Familia + Park Guell + Passeig de Gracia (Casa Mila & Casa Batllo)
Note: Barcelona Modernism is concurrent with Art Nouveau (1890's to WWI), Art Deco was 20s30s. Similar but different.
Thanks all for your help!