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Spain Itinerary (with Eurail pass) Oct 2015

Hello everyone!

I am currently planning a trip to Spain for October of next year with my husband. We are travelling 14-16 days total (including flights), depending on which itinerary we decide to go with. We had originally planned to use a guided tour company for our trip, but after much research, we realized it wasn't exactly what we were looking for. Long bus rides and full schedules weren't exactly our cup of tea.

We will be flying out of DFW, and the itinerary we are considering is as such:

Fly into Madrid for 2 nights
2 nights in Seville
3 nights in Granada
3 nights on the southern coast, most likely Malaga or Torremolinos
4 nights in Barcelona

Any suggestions, ideas, tips, or advice is openly welcome! We have never been to Europe or Spain, so we aren't quite sure if this is a feasible itinerary for the time allowed, or if we should try to condense. Of all of the places mentioned, the coast, Granada, and Barcelona are our top 3 spots to visit, but Seville and Madrid follow in a close second place.

Our biggest issue is figuring out if the high speed trains travel to all of these places, as well as if the timeline would be sufficient to actually enjoy ourselves without feeling rushed or overwhelmed. The Eurail website is not much help with this, as you can only begin to plan your trip after you have purchased your passes, which we are definitely not ready to do just yet!

Thanks in advance! I look forward to reading everyone's responses!

Posted by
8889 posts

Re: "Our biggest issue is figuring out if the high speed trains travel to all of these places". Trains will get you to all these places. Go to the Spanish Railways website: http://www.renfe.com/ Click on "welcome" for the (partially) English version.
The timetables are not yet published for October next year. They change in December each year, and you can normally book 2-3 months in advance. Just put in a random date ~1 month in the future to get a feel for the times and prices.

If you find that website too hard, try http://bahn.de which is the German Railways site, but it has most timetables for Spain loaded and is very user-friendly.

Avoid Torremolinos. It has a bad reputation for cheap package tours from northern Europe and rows of high-rise hotels. See this photo.

Posted by
46 posts

Thank you very much! Do you recommend using the Renfe website to purchase train passes, or would Eurail passes work fine for what we are attempting to do?

Posted by
8889 posts

The trains are run by RENFE and it is their passes and tickets. Eurail is merely a travel agent with a markup. Their advantage is you have no risk of language problems, and someone to shout at in your own language if you have other problems, and possibly easier to get the tickets posted to your home address. But they may be more expensive than buying direct from RENFE.

But, I would question whether you need to buy a pass. Go to the RENFE website (= Red Nacional de los Ferrocarriles Españoles), and price up all your individual train journeys:
Madrid --> Seville --> Granada --> Malaga --> Barcelona and possibly back to Madrid.
Then compare this with the pass for whatever pass you are thinking of. My guess is that the individual tickets will be cheaper. Then you can buy them around 2 months before you leave. If you have delivery problems, just buy the tickets on your first day after landing in Madrid.

Posted by
4405 posts

I believe you'll find that Granada isn't yet served by a super-fast train, but you can get there by train. Spanish buses work, too. I imagine you're planning on visiting the Alhambra (worth the trip!) but get the details for acquiring your entrance tickets and understanding the entrance-time policies. Rick Steves' Spain guidebook has all the info.

The Prado in Madrid, one of the world's best art museums, is open (and free) nights, too. You may not want a full schedule on this trip, but perhaps you could fit in a couple of hours, or maybe a visit each day/night you're in Madrid. The Thyssen-Bornemisza museum was surprisingly good, too, on our visit last fall.

You may be aware of this, but Spanish society tends to stay up and eat supper later than the US and the rest of Europe. That sometimes can make for challenging nighttime meals. If you go to a restaurant that's open at a "regular" dinner hour for the rest of the world, you might find just the waiters and fellow tourists. Tapas bars can let you assemble a meal at an earlier hour, or can tide you over until restaurants are serving dinner. Spaniards tend to have a big lunch, then take a siesta in mid-afternoon, then stay up late.

For security, expect to have your bags x-rayed before you board trains in Spain. You don't go through the whole airport procedure (removing shoes, body scanners, carry-on liquid restrictions), however.

If you wind up not getting a long-term Eurail pass, look into fast, budget flights (like on Vueling Air) for getting from Point A to Point B within Spain.

Posted by
46 posts

Thank you so much! Granada seems to be the one area that will give us the most trouble as far as getting to and from. Since we aren't quite fluent in Spanish, we want to try to book/reserve as much of our trip as possible ahead of time in order to avoid needing to figure it out as we go. We hadn't considered flights within Spain, as airports and airline restrictions with baggage can get quite annoying!

I appreciate your input, Cyn!

Posted by
32 posts

Hello! I just returned from a 26-day trip to Spain. San Sebastian -> Leon -> Santiago -> Barcelona (our only flight) -> Madrid -> Granada -> Ronda -> Sevilla (our only bus) -> Madrid (direct flight to Chicago).

The trains worked quite well for us. Something to consider regarding flying is the time it takes to get to and from the airport, the time you have to get to the airport in advance for check-in and security, etc. I would say that in most cases in Spain, it just makes sense to take the train timewise, and due to the fact that train stations tend to be closer to the city center. Our only flight was worth it on all accounts as we were literally flying across the country. You just have to calculate how many hours flying will truly save you. We did save a lot of money buying advance train tickets on the RENFE site.

We also were in Granada 3 nights, and I honestly think 2 nights would have been totally fine, and not rushed at all. I'd much rather have an extra night in Seville (but that's a personal opinion - I fell in love with the city). :) Or, adding a night to Seville would also maybe allow for a daytrip to Cordoba via high-speed train if you're interested in seeing the Mesquita.

Posted by
20972 posts

What is your age? If over 60, you can get a discount card that will give you 25% (weekend) and 40% (weekday) discounts on walk up fares. Eliminates the need for a lot of advance purchases and planning. Go when you want.

Posted by
14227 posts

To add to Frank's advice, the Gold Card (Tarjeta Dorada) costs about €6 and can only be purchased once you are in Spain. The discounts are greater on advance purchase and there are no double discounts. For the longer, more expensive rides, you will save more by buying in advance, even if you are eligible for the Gold Card.

Posted by
46 posts

Thank you everyone! We are definitely going to be purchasing our tickets ahead of time from either the Renfe website or the Eurail website. The only reason we may consider Eurail over Renfe is the fact that we can ride as many trains as needed/wanted in a 24 hour period, as opposed to the Renfe tickets, which are for single ride use only.

We will be 30 and 33 respectively during this trip, so we are not quite to the senior discount, unfortunately, lol! However, we do plan on purchasing the Alhambra tickets ahead of time online.

I would love to do a day trip to Cordoba, so we may change our itinerary to 3 nights Seville, 2 nights Granada. I have heard that the Alhambra, as well as the Generalife and the Palace can take up to an entire day to explore, depending on how you plan your visit, which was part of the reason we allotted 3 days.

It's been very hard to figure out where to cut or eliminate from our trip in order to not feel rushed and actually enjoy ourselves. 2 weeks is the maximum amount of time we can stay in Spain, due to work. I wish we could just live there!

Posted by
4522 posts

We are definitely going to be purchasing our tickets ahead of time from either the Renfe website or the Eurail website. The only reason we may consider Eurail over Renfe is the fact that we can ride as many trains as needed/wanted in a 24 hour period, as opposed to the Renfe tickets, which are for single ride use only.

How many trains will you be riding in a single day? Based on your proposed itinerary, it seems like only one every couple of days. Understand that a rail pass is padded so the rail systems don't lose money, and you'll have to buy a 1st class pass. Spanish trains, and especially their excellent buses, are pretty inexpensive even if you don't get a discount. For example, you can easily take the bus from Granada to Sevilla in the same amount of time, for less money and with far more schedule options.

It's personal preference, but I find Granada only worth about two days. One for Alhambra and one for the rest of the city. It's not big and you can easily see the Moorish quarter and cathedral in a day. I'm not that blown away by the Moorish quarter. With two nights you can also plan a night visit to Alhambra, which is unique to see at night. I like getting a morning Alhambra entry so I can spend the entire day there: see the ticketed sights in the morning, then have lunch and shop or see the museum in the afternoon.

Posted by
46 posts

Thank you! I agree with you on the Alhambra timeline, which definitely changes our itinerary. Aside from the major rides to each city on the train, the only other train ride we may use would be to Cordoba, and that wouldn't be on the same travel day as getting to Seville. I definitely see your point about that. However, travelling from southern Spain to Barcelona, which is the last leg of our trip, may require a change of trains as there doesn't seem to be a direct ride to Barcelona from the coast. We would have to change trains, which with a Renfe pass would require 2 passes. I definitely need to do a little more research.

I tried to look up the train connections from each city to the next, and from what I could tell we could do this train itinerary:

Madrid > Malaga > Seville > Cordoba > Seville > Granada > Madrid > Barcelona. That would equal 8 train passes, I think.

Posted by
8889 posts

MrsV re. "southern Spain to Barcelona, .... We would have to change trains, which with a Renfe pass would require 2 passes."
I don't think you understand what a pass and a ticket is.

  • A ticket will get you from A to B, one single journey. It does not matter how many times you change, you do not (usually) require more than one ticket. The price for the ticket is based (roughly) on distance. Same principles as an airline ticket.
  • A pass allows you unlimited travel within a specified geographical area and a specified time. If you are only doing one trip from A to B per day then a ticket is usually cheaper.
  • There is not a "RENFE pass" and a "Eurail pass". All long distance (and most local) trains in Spain are run by RENFE. You must have a ticket or pass valid on the RENFE train in order to travel on it. Eurail are a travel agent which resells tickets and passes for various railway companies, including RENFE.

"Madrid > Malaga > Seville > Cordoba > Seville > Granada > Madrid > Barcelona. That would equal 8 train passes, I think." - No, if you are doing any of these legs as one journey, that is one ticket (not a pass).

Posted by
46 posts

Chris F, you are absolutely right, I didn't understand! Thank you so much! This makes much more sense, and also is a ton of help! I appreciate your clarification :)

Posted by
1096 posts

Keep doing deep dives into forums for your research as this will provide the richest input from experienced travelers.
Take a deep breath and relax. This trip will be alot easier than you anticipate. In fact, folks who go with the anticipation of encountering issues usually will.
Language will not be an issue as the destinations you outline will be full of fluent bi-lingual speakers.
Do focus on learning how to prevent becoming a target for pickpockets. The key is to keep yourself from being identified as a potential target.
Are you purchasing an open jaw ticket inbound to madrid and outbound from barcelona?
Train and bus travel is convenient, efficient and comfortable. Do not think "greyhound" when considering bus transport. Second class ave (high speed) trains is closer to business class air travel.
October is a wonderful month to be in spain. Great weather, fewer crowds.
Use google earth to plot your travels and use street view to acclimate to locations like your hotel so you will recognize landmarks when you arrive in the area.
Arrive madrid and I recomend Aerocity for transport to your hotel. Inexpensive, great service and should take you to the doorstep of your destination. The right way to start your trip while calming "newbie europe" syndrome. Upon arrival take a walk around the block of your hotel. So many times folks find the neatest shop/restaurant just behind their hotel on the last day of their stay. While you will be destination/event focused, I advocate you invest time into walking and exploring streets. Be sure and sit down and watch humanity flow by while enjoying a beverage. Beyond the Prado is Retireo Parc, a comparison would be central park and a great place to watch locals hang out with their families.
Madrid is the third largest city in Europe and has the audio level to match. Focus on accomodations which can offer a quiet environment to relax/sleep. In Madrid I would skip trying to find a room w a view. Many hotels have terraces with public bars. Give those a try if you want a view. Strongly recommend you invest in a tapas tour to open your taste buds to the many opportunities found in tapas. Be food adventurous. Madrid drinking water is excellent. If you add a day to Madrid you could use the train to take a very convenient day trip to Toledo.

Take the AVE train to Seville. You will have the opportunity to get off and explore cordoba for a couple of hours should you choose. Seville is the place to take in a flemenco dance. Do your research on acoiding tourist trap shows. RS recommends Hotel Amadeus and we greatly enjoy the accomodations, location and people. You might consider adding another night to seville for the purpose of taking a long day trip to Ronda (accessible via bus or train). Ronda offers a different experience which would add to your comprehension of Spain, but I do not recommend it as an overnight due tomtrying to keep you from having the stress of one night stays.
From seville to granada we recomend the train which will place you conveniently to old town granada. A key to gaining the most of your visit to Alhambra is to take a very deep dive into understanding how/when to buy tickets and learning about the history of the place. For a three. Ightbstay you might want to explore renting an apt just to get a taste of the benefits of doing so. Our first choice of accomdations for all stays with a minimum of three nights is an apt.
You mention staying in Malaga, a place we love and often base from, but I am questioning what is your motivation for doing so? The beaches consist more with pebbles then sand and the water will be on the chilly side. I suggest for a first time experience you consider setting a side this portion of your trip and adding one day to Madrid, another to Seville and another to Barcelona. Doing so will also reduce the stress and expense of another relocation.
From Granada I recommend you fly to Barcelona.

Posted by
46 posts

Thank you very much! These are all great tips, especially about the transportation to the hotel from airport in Madrid and also the suggestion of using google earth to acquaint ourselves with the locations, etc.

We have heard many great things about Malaga, which was part of the reason we chose it. Truthfully, we would love to experience the coastal side of Spain, and since we are going in October, we had heard and read that the southern coast is the best weather wise. Being on the coast is something my husband really wants to experience.

Posted by
1096 posts

Okay then stick to your original itinerary. We base out of malaga via apt rental and strive to stay near the old town/fort. I recommend traveling the coast to Nerja for a day trip. Plenty of sites to visit in Malaga and some excellent shopping with great prices. Be sure and locate the market in Malaga. Take a dive into researching local attractions. nerja is east of malaga, heading west becomes challenging as you will encounter a massive condo canyon which is right on the beach. You could consider renting a car for a day and driving roundtrip to Ronda, an easy drive via highway (less then two hours each way).
Still highly recommendyou fly from Granada to Barcelona. Our daughter was in school this summer in Granada and used both modes of transport, she recommends going via plane.

Posted by
1096 posts

Also, Malaga is the place to pay to obtain a south water view so you can watch sunrise and sunsets. Pay for the high private terrace go to the market, buy some wine, cheese, jamon and grapes to set up a spectacular viewing experiene. Bonus for buying a small candle to light after the sun has set.

Posted by
46 posts

Thank you again for all your great advice! Would you recommend any other coastal towns aside from Malaga?

Is the airport in Granada easy to navigate? Would we have any major restrictions luggage-wise?

Posted by
1096 posts

Granada airport is ez to navigate. When you see it you will understand.
Cannot recommend other coastal locations do to our preference of staying in Malaga. Does not mean nothing exist, just need guidance from other travelers.
Luggage..........dont be a mule. You each need only one bag.
Read RS guidance on luggage as it is spot on.
Resist the temptation, go w less and max enjoyment.
Whats the worst that can happen? You aref or ed to go shopping in Spain?
Oh my!

Posted by
46 posts

Haha! Aggie or not, you've given me some great advice! Shopping in Spain will be fantastic!

*Go Frogs!

Posted by
61 posts

We just returned last night from two weeks in Spain. A great time of year to travel. I will post more for you when the jet lag wears off.

You only need two nights in Granada. We did a 2:30 entry into Alhambra with 3:00 Palace entry. We were there in the gardens until 5:30 and that was enough time (we then had a few drinks on the terrace of the wonderful, if pricy and stuffy, nearby Paradores.) Afternoon entry for Alhambra can work for you (pre-purchase tickets.)

See my other post about purchasing train tickets in advance on RENFE also. Very inexpensive Promo fares available if purchased in advance. Most of the Spain ticket websites for trains and museum tickets I used needed a Visa with 'Verified by Visa', so be sure to have that VBV PIN number associated with your card; and have that card with you on the trip.

We took the AVE from Barcelona to Madrid, and we took an Altaria train from Madrid to Granada (only two per day) and that worked. We rented a car in Granada and drove to Arcos, Tarifa, and Sevilla. We then took the AVE from Seville to Barcelona to fly home. We liked Seville a lot and wish we had three nights instead of two nights there. With the car we swam in the Med and Atlantic in and north of Tarifa one afternoon this past week. It was sunny and 80 degrees.

More later. Be sure to use Rick's Spain guide.

Posted by
24870 posts

"Go Frogs"

Mrs (and Mr) V, you have put USA in your profile as where you are from. If you're going to be advocates for the horny toads, it is OK to put Texas instead of USA. You might even try Fort Worth!!

Posted by
46 posts

Just because I root for the Frogs, doesn't mean I live in Fort Worth!

Posted by
46 posts

Allan,

Thank you for the detailed account of your trip! All of your info and tips will definitely come in handy! Your trip sounds like it was a pretty fun time 😊

We definitely want to take in one of the oceans, so we are still trying to figure that out. We've set aside 2 nights in Granada and 3 in Seville. We are planning on flying into Madrid and flying out of Barcelona, but haven't quite planned any day trips.

Posted by
7124 posts

Given your time and interests I would say you have got it pretty much right, with some time adjustments.
Fly into Madrid for 4 nights (it really warrants more time and you may be jet lagged or you may want to visit Toledo for the day)
2 nights in Seville
2 nights in Granada (enough time really for the Alhambra and more)
2 nights on the southern coast, most likely Malaga (definitely AVOID Torremolinos)
4 nights in Barcelona
Enjoy !!

Posted by
4184 posts

We do our best to represent TCU in Vienna! Go Frogs!

Posted by
46 posts

Hey everyone! I wanted to thank you all again for your advice so far.

I have a question regarding the best coastal option for Spain in October. Would staying in Valencia, as opposed to southern Spain, such as Malaga or Marbella, be a better option for a coastal experience? and if neither of these are good options, then what would be a good place to enjoy some beautiful coastal weather in Spain in October?

Thanks again!

Posted by
513 posts

Hello Mrs V,

I travel in Spain by rail regularly and just returned from 3 weeks in northern Spain last week. October is THE time to travel in Spain. Buying your tickets in advance is the way to go. As many times as I have gone to Spain, I am still unable to get the RENFE site to work for me - that is accept my credit card. I seem to have become a regular customer of Petrabax - an agency that sells RENFE tickets with a USA office. I know that I pay a little more that I would if I could get RENFE to function for me, but I still save a bunch over walk-up prices and absolutely get my tickets for significantly less that Rail Europe charges.

Posted by
650 posts

I spent a week in Alicante on the Costa Blanca (south of Valencia) last year. Loved it!!!! So much to see and do. I visited in early September and the weather was hot, so I would assume October would be seasonable.

Posted by
46 posts

Thank you jack and steve!

I'm glad to hear that Valencia's coast is beautiful in the time of year we are planning on going, as it seems the southern coast may not work too well for our itinerary.

I have had to take some time off from planning due to work/school time constraints, but I am finally picking back up. I do feel that the original itinerary is still fairly busy and may be difficult for first-time European travelers. It is just so difficult to narrow down which cities we can live without visiting this time around.

I registered on the Renfe website, but it is a bit difficult navigating as it continues to revert back to Spanish, which I can understand slightly, but not for business transactions too well. I may have to try the website you suggested, jack.

Thanks again! I hope I can continue to ask questions as I run into obstacles while planning this! everyone's advice has been phenomenal!

Posted by
16817 posts

FYI to Chris and all, there are both a "Renfe Spain Pass" and a "Eurail Spain Pass." They work quite differently. Renfe's pass is sold on their own web site an is an e-ticketed product. Among the differences, it counts train segments instead of train travel days (calendar days) and it requires that seat reservations be made in chronological order, whether planning ahead or reserving on shorter notice.

In addition to online schedule resources that show whether or not your destination has train service, most guidebooks will address that issue. In Rick's book, there's arrival info at the front of each city chapter, transportation connections summarized at the end of each chapter, and rail lines are also reflected on various maps in the book. Online, Google Maps and www.viamichelin.com both show train stations and train lines, but you have to view a fairly up-close level of detail before you can spot them.

Posted by
14227 posts

Hi MrsV. Renfe tickets - I spent several frustrating days trying unsuccessfully to buy tickets using my Mastercard, even though 2 years ago I had no trouble buying tickets using the same card. I ended up using PayPal and it worked smoothly on the first try. The exchange rate was reasonable, maybe 2-3% over the mid-market rate I typically get with my MC (and no f/c fees). Everything I read about Renfe indicated that the discounted tickets go on sale only 62 days in advance, but by trying different dates (cumbersome on the website, but I couldn't find a better way) they were on sale earlier, and in some cases, by 62 days in advance the deepest discounts had already gone. So start watching the fares early. I also found that the screens seemed to randomly pop-up in Spanish instead of English. I've found that a right-click on the page will bring up the option "translate this page" if you're using Google Chrome. If nothing else works, go back to the tripadvisor instructions, where there are step-by-step instructions with translations of all the relevant Spanish. It's really pretty simple, especially after you've tried it a few dozen times (grrrrrrr).

Alhambra When you buy, you first choose a morning or afternoon visit, then you choose an entry time. If you buy a morning ticket with an entry time after 11.30, you will be able to use the ticket for the entire day. The entry time is for the Nasrid Palaces entry. The Alhambra is big and while a few of the buildings single-entry by ticket, much of the place has unlimited access, including the extensive gardens. You can enter anytime in the morning and visit the other "ticketed" parts either before or after the Nasrid Palaces. It's quirky, but there it is. I recommend also getting the Nasrid Palaces evening tour. I did the night visit first and was thoroughly delighted, then completed surprised by how different it all looked during the day. I found it easy to spend an entire day there.

Posted by
46 posts

Thank you Chani and Laura! We are still debating on whether we want to use Renfe or go with a One-country Eurail pass, only due to the convenience.

Chani, I will definitely take your advice regarding Alhambra! We didn't consider going straight to Alhambra after dropping off our luggage the first day, but it's actually a pretty great idea! We are most looking forward to just being in the middle of everything and enjoying Spain as its locals do, and the more time we get to do that, the better!!

Laura, what would you suggest in regards to train travel? Do you think it would be more convenient to purchase a Eurail pass, or do they also have similar stipulations as Renfe?

Thanks again!

Posted by
59 posts

Hi MrsV

We're going to Spain next March. By using LOCO2 which the Man in Seat61 endorses, I've managed to already buy very cheap train tickets on our long legs - Barcelona to Seville, Cordoba to Madrid and Madrid to Carcassonne in France.

These are non-refundable so we have to be sure to get on these trains or lose our money. Hopefully if something outside our control like illness occurred to prevent this, our travel insurance would reimburse us.

We bought tickets in France and Italy this way last year and there were no disasters. Of course there can always be strikes, but I think you're reimbursed if there's a strike. It's an extremely cheap way to travel on the long distance fast trains in Europe.