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Spain Itinerary - First Timers (Andalucia)

11/10/2019 ~8:00 AM arrival in Madrid and departing 11/19/2019 ~1 PM from Madrid.

We are initially looking to enjoy Andalucía and after researching many sites, Rick Steve's included, I was hoping for some personal insights/feedback on experiences for this type of trip. Has anyone taken a similar leisurely trip , and do you have any recommendations/tips when planning our itinerary? This will be our very first time in Europe, let alone Spain. We are not strong Spanish speakers, but I am not concerned as we are brushing up in preparation for the trip. We are in our early 30's and were looking to focus on ~3 or so major towns/cities to limit travel time. Any input is greatly appreciated!

Posted by
1862 posts

Hello, welcome to the forum! If I am counting correctly you will have nine nights available? Since it will be your first time, I think the classic tour of Andalucia (Cordoba, Sevilla, Granada) would be a good fit for you.

I would recommend something along these lines:

Fly in to Madrid
Madrid (2 nights)
AVE Train to
Cordoba (1 night)
AVE Train to
Sevilla (3 nights)
AVE Train or ALSA Bus to
Granada (2 nights)
AVE Train to
Madrid (1 night)
Fly out of Madrid

The AVE train line to Granada should be up and running by the time you make this trip. Also, good on you for brushing up on your Spanish beforehand, people are often surprised by how little English is spoken in Spain, outside the very touristy hotels/restaurants.

Posted by
1509 posts

Help us help you:
How much time do you wish to spend in Madrid?
What places in Andalucia have you identified as of interest to you?
The obvious three would be Sevilla, Cordoba, and Granada, but there is no rule those much be your three. I like the Rough Guide to Andalucia and found it immensely helpful when planning.
I took a train to Cordoba upon arrival in Madrid and stayed at least one night. It can be visited as a day trip, but I enjoyed being there in the evening.

Posted by
3200 posts

So is the Madrid Barajas Airport simply an entry/exit point, and are you heading directly for Andalusia once you land, not spending time in Madrid?

If so, we used the Rick Steves guidebook for a lot of our Andalusia trip. We rented a car for part of it, but didn’t have one in Granada. Driving to Seville, the car was a liability, as we dodged swarms of young people on motorbikes and scooters, unloaded our luggage at our hotel in the old town, then parked it in an expensive lot some distance way, until we were ready to leave.

There was a strike during our stay, and having our own wheels didn’t limit our being able to drive and get places, although it also caused a lot of sights to be closed. You can prepare and plan, but sometimes surprises come up, so flexibility and some optimism can help get you through rough spots.

The 2 biggies are Granada and Seville. Rick didn’t even cover Cordoba in his book when we were there, but it has a prominent chapter in his book now. As you may have discovered, Rick’s “Backdoor” town in southern Spain is Ronda, a great place to visit. We didn’t actually stay there during our trip, only visited one day, but it might be a convenient place from which to base yourselves if you’re looking for a third place.

In Granada, be sure to treat yourselves to a soak at one of the Hammam Arab baths, and get a massage there, too. You’ll appreciate what it must’ve been like when the baths at The Alhambra palace were operating centuries ago!

Posted by
13930 posts

I would change Carlos's itinerary slightly. Go to Cordoba from the airport (change trains in Madrid) and keep all your Madrid nights together at the end. This avoids a hotel change.

How much time you spend in Madrid depends on what you most interests you. Since it's your first European trip, I'd recommend spending a couple of days there.

I don't speak Spanish and have managed throughout Andalucia and elsewhere in Spain in English. If you can speak Spanish I'm sure that will make it easier and more fun.

You can get train schedules at renfe.com. Read this comprehensive article. It hasn't been updated for some time but it is still relevant and useful. Tickets usually go on sale 62 days in advance, but not always. A few tickets are offered at greatly discounted prices. These tickets are non-refundable, non-changeable, but you will save a lot. I've had no trouble buying tickets on the official site using PayPal. There's another site that accepts US credit cards. You can find bus schedules here. You may find it's more convenient to travel to or from Granada by bus, because of departure times.

Alhambra tickets for November will go on sale soon. They always sell out so it's a good idea to buy them as soon as you know for sure what days you'll be in Granada. The campus is quite large so allow the better part of a day to see it all.

Posted by
4 posts

Thanks all for your input thus far. I know it's not ideal and more time would be beneficial but this is what we have to work with. Secondarily, I asked my wife "where?" and she chose Spain. This is our first time traveling to Europe, so needless to say, while the trip may be shorter than others typically plan for, this is a precursor to future trips I would imagine. What do you all think about the drafted itinerary I've put together so far taking your feedback into account?

11/9 - Depart US for Madrid
11/10 - Arrive in Madrid at 8 AM, Train to Cordoba for day/night
11/11 - Train to Granada; Stay in Granada
11/12 - Granada
11/13 - Train to Ronda; Stay in Ronda
11/14 - Bus to Sevilla
11/15 - Sevilla
11/16 - Sevilla
11/17 - Bus/Train to Madrid
11/18 - Madrid
11/19 - Madrid; Depart for US

Posted by
13930 posts

It looks good.

11/10 - you'll have about 1/2 day in Cordoba. Don't buy train tickets in advance because you never know about delays. After you go through passport control and collect baggage, follow the signs to the train and buy your tickets. You'll get the next possible train to Cordoba (connecting in Madrid Atocha station). Take a taxi to your hotel. Taxis aren't expensive in Spain.

11/13 - bus may be better than train.

11/17 - train, not bus.

Posted by
16761 posts

One or both of you may be totally brain-dead due to sleep-deprivation and jetlag, so I look at your proposed itinerary and see essentially no time in Cordoba. I like Ronda but Cordoba has much more to see. I'd absolutely drop Ronda and use that time in Cordoba.

Posted by
1862 posts

Totally agree with Acraven above, Ronda is not in the same league as Cordoba.

Posted by
1131 posts

I'd also suggest you drop Ronda.

A fuller explanation is that it's a pleasant town. We enjoyed relaxing there for 2 or 3 nights. But there isn't really that much to see in terms of "wow" sights once you've looked at the gorge. With your limited holiday available, I'd add that time to Sevilla or Granada, or - especially - include Cordoba instead.

If you ever return and have a fortnight or more to tour southern Spain, then certainly include an overnight there.

Posted by
4 posts

Noted, based upon the feedback and my hope to have a “home base” in each of the locales we visit here’s the updated itinerary I’ve put together.

11/9 - Depart US for Madrid
11/10 - Arrive in Madrid at 8 AM, Train to Cordoba
11/11 - Cordoba
11/12 - Train to Granada;
11/13 - Granada
11/14 - Granada
11/15 - Train to Sevilla
11/16 - Sevilla
11/17 - Sevilla
11/18 - Train to Madrid
11/19 - Madrid; Depart for US

Posted by
4 posts

Thanks all for your help, it certainly has been appreciated. Any recommendations on accommodations based upon your experiences? I've already booked Cordoba and Granada, with Seville and Madrid still up in the air as to where we will stay.

Cordoba 11/10-12 Booked:
Balcon de Córdoba

Granada 11/12-15 Booked:
Hotel Palacio De Santa Paula

Seville 11/16-18 Need to book still, options I am looking into:
Hotel Alfonso XIII
Hospes Las Casas del Rey de Baeza
Hotel Palacio de Villapanes
Hotel Casa 1800 Seville
Gran Melia Colón

Madrid 11/18-19 Need to book still:

Posted by
21 posts

What are everyone's thoughts about renting a car between Seville, Cordoba and Granada? Any reason not to?

Posted by
296 posts

"What are everyone's thoughts about renting a car between Seville, Cordoba and Granada? Any reason not to?"
Four/five/six reasons:
Rail is center to center — comfortable and hassle-free.
When everything factored in, viz. time locating and negotiating pick-up, car rental is an expensive waste of your time.
You'll need an IDP (International Drivers Permit)
Parking is a nightnare, often expensive and often insecure.
While your driver may feel competent and confident negotiating local traffic by-laws there will be many local drivers, more familiar with local city lane-hopping habits, determined to spoil your journey.
It is inconvenient — ease your strain, take the train.