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Spain in 30 days

My husband and I along with another couple who are all retired will be traveling to Spain June 2019.
Here's our itenarary:
1.Barcelona 6 nights beginning June 1
Days trips - Dali House and Cadaques, Monseratt and maybe Sitges?
2. San Sebsastian - 5 nights
Day trips to French Basque Country (Bayonne), Pamplona? , Santander, Bilbo
3. Madrid- 6 nights
Day trip to Avila or Segovia or perhaps Toledo
4. Seville- 2 nights
5. Malaga for duration with day trips from there.

Any suggestions on whether to fly or take train from Barcelona to San Sabastian?
Plan on renting car while in San Sebastian for day trips.
Should we fly or take train from San Sebastian to Madrid?
Though about renting car for day trips from Madrid or is it necessary?
Also thinking about driving form Madrid to Seville and then to Malaga.

Would appreciate any recommedations or suggestions!!
Thank you!
Beverly

Posted by Carlos
Barcelona//Los Angeles
211 posts

In regards to your query on train travel, the AVE train is still undergoing construction in the north of Spain and is not so well connected as it is in the south of the country. There is currently no direct train connection between Barcelona and San Sebastián/Bilbao (it's actually quite convoluted), one has to go via Madrid instead.

One could fly, if it's not too expensive. However, since you will already be renting a car in San Sebastián, why not rent the car in Barcelona to begin with and drive to San Sebastián? I feel like the north is best experienced with a car, which allows you to stop at the more off the beaten path sites in the countryside.

If you can shave off a night from Barcelona, Madrid, and San Sebastián, then I think that you can do a nice little road trip from Barcelona to San Sebastián.

Here would be a rough itinerary for the road-trip:

-Start Barcelona

-Poblet Royal Monastery - a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a still active 12th-century Cistercian monastery located in western Catalonia - one of the largest in Spain. It was a fortified medieval royal residence and now contains the unique hanging tombs of the Kings of Aragon.

-Zaragoza (2 nights) - Capital of the Aragon region. More than 2,000 years of history including Roman ruins of the city walls and amphitheater and the Aljafería, an 11th-century Moorish palace. It also has the famous pilgrimage site of Nuestra Señora del Pilar basilica, housing the miraculous image of the Virgin Mary.

-Day trip to Loarre Castle - One of the oldest castles in Spain, it was featured in Ridley Scott's epic film Kingdom of Heaven. The Loarre Castle is very picturesque as it sits high on a cliff overlooking the southern foothills of the Pyrenees.

-Royal Palace of Olite (1 night) - For me, one of the most impressive medieval castles in Europe, it was seat of the Kings of Navarre. The Palace is sits next to the picturesque walled medieval town of Olite, which I think is worth an overnight. There is a also pretty good Parador hotel next door too.

-End in San Sebastián.

Taking public transport to Madrid from San Sebastián requires taking a bus/train to either Bilbao or Zaragoza first, and then taking an AVE train or ALSA bus to Madrid. Total travel time would be around 5:30 hrs.

Posted by David
Seattle, WA, USA
3328 posts

Beverly, have you been to Spain before? Your itinerary has lots of nice places, but you are completely missing what many (most of us?) would consider some of the best destinations in Spain: Andalucia. Granada (and the Alhambra) - among Europe's best sites. Cordoba. The "White Hill Towns" (pueblos blancos) of Arcos de la Frontera and Ronda (among others).

If you have not already been to this area, then IMHO I would suggest peeling off a few days from your other spots and dedicating around a week to this region. Your proposed pace is nice and very leisurely, but...it would be a shame to spend a month in Spain and miss what are arguably its best destinations.

Also - don't miss Toledo: it should not be on your optional "maybe a day trip" list. It's a must. But by all means, do not do Toledo as a day trip (because that guarantees you see it at its worst: super-crowded and overwhelmed with tourists because EVERYBODY does Toledo as a day trip); instead, stay the night to see and enjoy it at its best when the mid-day crowds are not there. Avila and Segovia are worth a look, too.

Munch of this region is best done by train. There's a wonderful, high speed rail line between Madrid and Seville, use that - it would be crazy to rent a car for that (stop in Cordoba, it's right on the rail line, and amazing).

Where a car does come in handy is the white hill towns. It may also work better for Granada (not well connected by train) but you do not want a car in any of these old cities. Consider this: when you are ready to depart Toledo (after staying the night), you can do a nice trip by car if you pick up a car there, and go Toledo - Avila - Segovia; drop the car in Segovia, and return to Madrid by train.

Posted by Priscilla
California
3734 posts

Beverly,

I definitely agree with David. Do consider adding Andalucia to your itinerary, and plan to spend a few nights in Toledo.

Keep in mind that spending two nights in Sevilla means that you'll only have one full day to explore this beautiful city.
I'd suggest spending at least 4 nights (3 days) there.

If you do decide to visit Granada, make sure you book your Alhambra tickets 3 months in advance.

Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by Suki
New York
2605 posts

Do not miss the beautiful small French villages in Pays Basque- Saré, Ainhia, Ascain, Espellette
Also St-Jean de Luz, on the water. . Hondarribia in Spain on French border. We found maribelsguides.com invaluable, print them out.
North of Barcelona, go to Figueres to visit Museo Dali, such an amazing and unique experience. A do not miss!
Madrid- day trips to Toledo and Segovia, skip Avila.
Only two nights in Sevilla? You need more time
here including a day trip by train to Córdoba.
Madrid to Seville by high speed train.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
10367 posts

It's clear that your group likes to travel like I do, spending a good bit of time in each place. Here are a few thoughts:

Sitges: I enjoyed a day-trip there, but you have only 5 really usable days in Barcelona (arrival day will likely be marred by sleep-deprivation and jetlag) and two other proposed day-trips. And you're not going to Girona, which I think everyone would agree is a better destination than Sitges. Barcelona itself is very difficult to see in three days, so I'd not plan Sitges unless you think it would be a fun thing to do (wandering around outdoors in a small coastal town) on the jetlagged arrival day when your brains are fuzzy. That actually might work well. I skipped the Dali House but did enjoy Cadaques. However, it takes quite a bit of time to get there from Barcelona (I saw it while based in Girona), and guide books all seem to prefer the Dali Theatre and Museum in Figueres--for what that's worth. Figueres is a much shorter trip from Barcelona. Both of those Dali sites require you to buy tickets ahead of time, so they are not day-trips you can decide on at the last minute. Also, the train tickets will be a lot more expensive if not purchased in advance.

San Sebastian: Your 5 nights there gives you only 4 days. Santander is one of my least-favorite Spanish cities. It is a perfectly OK place, but it suffered a devastating fire in the 1940s and lacks the historic architecture most of us seek in Europe. I found it comparatively blah. That's the first place I'd cut. I was not a big fan of Pamplona, but I certainly preferred it to Santander. I'd rather use that potential Pamplona day in some other way, however. There's more to the Basque Country than SS and Bilbao (which is larger and has more to see than SS). You might enjoy Hondarribia or Vitoria-Gasteiz, or some of the cute former fishing villages along the coast (Zumaia, Zarautz, Getaria). Vitoria-Gasteiz is on the way from SS to Madrid. You might also use a day to see Burgos, which is on the way to Madrid from both of the Basque cities.

Madrid: You've allotted more time there than most tourists do. It is fine if you want to overdose on the art museums, but if you are not huge art fans, you may have an extra day. Please believe me when I say that Avila is not worth your time. It has a wall, but you'll be ready to leave within 2 hours if not sooner. (If you must have a wall, Girona is a vastly better choice.) Segovia is a much more interesting destination. And Toledo is magnificent. It is my #1 side-trip in Spain (though I actually spent 3 nights there). Definitely include Toledo. But think about moving at least one of the Madrid nights somewhere else. I don't think you want a car for any of the usual Madrid side-trips. The train will be fine, and you won't have to look for a place to park, or pay for the privilege. You can save a bit of money on Segovia tickets by buying them well in advance if you can commit to a particular departure day and time. Toledo ticket prices do not vary.

Seville needs a lot more than 2 nights, especially if you are not going to make a separate overnight stop in Cordoba.

You need to go to ViaMichelin.com to check driving times from Malaga to the places you contemplate day-tripping to. If you intend to use the train, check the schedules on the Deutsche Bahn website. You'll see that for travel legs along the AVE line (Barcelona-Madrid-Cordoba-Seville), the train is much, much faster than a car.

By proposing to spend so much time in Malaga, I think you're setting yourselves up for far too many day-trips with many, many hours on the road (or on a train or bus). In particular, I wouldn't want to treat Granada as a day-trip from Malaga.

Posted by Carlos
Barcelona//Los Angeles
211 posts

I agree with acraven, Málaga is nice, but I don't think that it merits 11 days (including day trips). You may want to steal a few days from Málaga and give them to other towns like Cordoba and Granada in the south or add them to northern Spain, to explore the Picos de Europa National Park, with its quaint medieval mountain towns and villages like Potes.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
10367 posts

I loved Potes, and the Picos area would be grand with a car. I was stuck with a bus tour, and I even enjoyed that. (The bus tour is the only reason I was in Santander.)

Posted by jaimeelsabio
Maryland
1351 posts

I will assume that after this trip, you will want to return. Making that assumption, I’ll suggest considering dropping Malaga and Sevilla and adding additional places up north where you other stops are. Acraven and Carlos suggested some, but you could add Leon, Burgos, Salamanca, or Santiago de Compostela. On a separate trip one could easily spend a month in southern Spain and not see everything it has to offer.

Posted by Marbleskies
USA
915 posts

Beverly,
You have selected a wonderful country to spend 30 days so lets help make the best use of your time of travel.
Some considerations:
1) Spain is essentially the same geographic size of Texas and your initial itinerary travels great distances.
2) June weather starts the "hot" season so please take into consideration the heat while making your plans. Please drink ample fluids every day.
3) Crowds, plenty of crowds. One method to deal with the crowds is to purchase on line advance tickets to avoid lengthy lines. Taking advantage of this tactic does help save time, keep in mind Spain is a highly popular travel destination.
4) Siesta is a wonderful and adds to enjoying the Spanish experience. A favorite line from the Mama Mia movie is spoken by Meryl Streep when she utters "Keep the meat out of the heat!". Well, this tactic also applies to humans!
5) A great thing about Spain is the significant experiences to be gained by immediately adjusting your tummy clock to the local eating habits. Spain comes alive in the evening and dining at nine adds to the experience. Upon arrival eat some tapas around five and then dinner at nine. Afterwards take a stroll to find families out in the plazas and enjoy the cooler evenings. Stick to this eating habit and you will gain a cultural appreciation for Spain many tourists miss. We immediately adapt and have encountered wonderful experiences by sheer serendipity.
6) Seek to rent two bedroom apartments and strive to stay a minimum of three nights at each destination. The advantages are: a kitchen to assist with light meals (breakfast), room to stretch out, a place to wash and dry clothes, more local contact, we prefer non tourist neighborhoods and often the landlord is highly accommodating with being adept in meeting your travel interests. We also find the apartments to be a better value. Seek apartments which offer functioning air conditioning and a lift (elevator). Having a terrace is a great treat for enjoying some wine/cheese and jamon.
A) Barcelona - well worth six nights, actually more. An excellent system of public transport. Montserrat stands out as an excellent day trip. We advocate attending a concert at the Palau de la Musica as the setting is fantastic and provides an opportunity for further immersion into the local culture.

http://www.palaumusica.cat/en
B) Madrid is a large city with a small tourist area. If art is your passion then Madrid is for you! However, we recommend four nights inclusive of one day trip.
C) Seville offers a bigger menu with day trip opportunities. At a minimum Seville is three nights, add a 4th if you take a day trip.
D) Strongly advocate inclusion of Granada for three nights. You must pre-order Alhambra tickets with a goal of six months prior to the June visit (I am serious).
AT this point you are Barc 6, San Seb 6, Madrid 4, Seville 4, Granada 3 = 23. You are already making four point to point transitions which will chew up a minimum of a half day each of your trip time (and you will likely add a 5th plus the final day to the airport). Even with 30 days this is a lot of transitions = to three days of travel. In lieu of adding destinations we counsel taking deeper dives in planned stops. Example: stay in Barcelona longer and add day trips. Same for Madrid with adding day trips. Suspect you will receive lots of guidance on other preferred destinations, just strive to keep down the number of point to point transitions.
With this journey you will experience at least four different cultures offering wonderful perspectives in history, food, style, geography and cultures. Take the time to invest in spending time outside the tourists sites and sloooooww down to be enriched by people experiences.
Finally, DO NOT BE LUGGAGE MULES! Pack really light and do laundry on the road. TIP: the best souvenir can be the cute blouse, dress, shoes, scarf you purchase during the journey!
We are jealous of the time you have to spend in Spain.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
10367 posts

In support of Marbleskies' suggestion, I offer two additional day-trip possibilities from Madrid (both of which I liked better than Avila):

  • Cuenca, a hill town built along the edge of a ravine, with a couple of nice, modest-sized modern-art museums. Makes a pleasant overnight stay but can also be managed as a day-trip if you don't dawdle in the museums. You'd need to take the AVE from Madrid, and that would be affordable only if you bought promo tickets far in advance.

  • Alcala de Henares, an old university town with a lovely, colorful historic district. It's on a commuter-rail line from Madrid that has really frequent departures even on Sunday. No need to buy tickets in advance, so this is a good option to keep as a last-minute possibility.

One other thing: Atocha Station in Madrid is large and somewhat confusing. The staffed ticket counters are likely to have lines, so either plan to use the ticket machines (have small bills in case you have difficulty with your US credit card) or allow lots of extra time. The long-distance-ticket office is so busy that it uses a take-a-number system, and they often stop giving out numbers long before closing time because of the back-up.

A lot of the most popular sights in Barcelona pretty much require advance purchase of timed tickets so you don't get stuck in extremely long ticket lines. Check back here when you have a list of places you want to see so we can tell you which ones need to be pre-planned.

Posted by bevlawson56 OP
3 posts

Thanks everyone for the wonderful suggestions as this is the first time any of us have been to this beautiful country.

We also want to go to Gibralta while in the south of Spain and a day trip to Tangier. We are so close to Africa we have to go.
Rick Steve recommends taking ferry over on our own then hiring a tour guide while there. Has anyone done this?
Thanks again.
Beverly

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
11218 posts

Hi Beverly. Malaga at the end of June could be okay, with temps usually not much above 30C. But day trips northward often mean higher temps. Even in mid-June Madrid's likely to be in the mid-30s or even higher, Sevilla about the same. Unless you are comfortable with hot weather, consider spending a lot more time in the north instead.

If you do choose the south, a week is a long time in Malaga. I recently spent 2 weeks in Morocco, a beautiful country. I compared various tour itineraries, not a one goes near Tangier. It's like going to Tijuana from San Diego and thinking you've seen Mexico. After getting several opinions, I also opted to skip Gibraltar.

Posted by Marbleskies
USA
915 posts

Beverly,
Resist the urge to fulfill the ultimate tourist wasteland checkpoint of visiting "Africa" via a day trip to Tangier. Resist, resist, resist, tap your red shoes together and resist!
In fact, take the money and time intended for Tangiers, and also Gibraltar (its a rock) and do something useful............
GO SHOPPING!
A much better use of your time and money.

Posted by Nick
Cartagena, Murcia
235 posts

If you are determined to visit Africa then there is, I think, a weekly boat from Gibraltar to Morocco, so perhaps you can combine these trips. Personally, for what it's worth, I think you should definitely visit Gib. It's great and, to me, seems insane to be that close and not go. As for Morocco, I'm afraid I've never been.

Posted by djp_syd
David in Brisbane, Australia
7059 posts

Spain in 30 days

Barcelona - 6 nights
... Day trips to Figueres+Girona & Montserrat
Fly from Barcelona to San Sebastián
Pays Basque - 6 nights
... Road Trip from San Sebastián (3) >> Rioja (1) >> Bilbao (2)
Fly from Bilbao to Granada (via Madrid)
Andalusia - 7 nights
... Road Trip from Granada (2) >> Malaga (2) >> Gibraltar (1) >> Ronda & White Villages (2) >> Sevilla
Sevilla - 5 nights
... Day trips to Cordoba & Jerez/Cadiz
Train from Sevilla to Madrid
Madrid - 6 nights
... with day trips to Toledo, El Escorial & Segovia