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spain, summer 2023

hello all,
starting to plan a 60-day trip through northern italy to spain and perhaps portugal. haven't bought flight tickets yet but will commit in the next few days. while i have been to italy multiple times and am very familiar with the lay of the land, this will be my first foray into spain. i am willing to spend the bulk of my time there, spain being a significantly vaster country than italy. got the kindle versions of lonely planet and rough guide and ready to figure out the most efficient itinerary! i like to travel exclusively by public transportation and stay in airbnb's. my interests are art, and architecture, and the driving force behind traveling is 'seeing' and photography. don't care about beaches, nature, shopping or gastronomy.

given all of that, i would first like to know what you would suggest as places/sites to visit. Next, what would be the most sensible direction of travel so as to avoid doubling back as much as possible? what are some of the most popular 'bases' or is that not possible due to spain's size? finally, not related to spain alone, your thoughts on 'open jaw/multi city' booking to and from the usa. my initial plan is to start in venice, and then travel west (2 maybe 3 weeks in italy, then the rest of the time in spain).

i know you could write a book answering my questions! i would be grateful for any input. in return, as always, i will post photos on the link in my profile and contribute to the forum. thanks in advance!

Posted by
1188 posts

Definitely book your airline tickets open-jaw (multi-city). Otherwise, you waste too much time backtracking and waste money getting back to Venice from Spain. So perhaps fly into Venice and home from Madrid, unless you go to Portugal, then fly home from Lisbon.

You are right that Spain is a big country! I absolutely love Andalucia. The 3 most important cities historically and culturally are Seville, Granada, and Cordoba. You will find amazing Islamic architecture (the Alhambra in Granada), Mudejar architecture in Seville (Real Alcazar, Casa di Pilatos), and in Cordoba you will find the magnificent Mezquita (a Christian Cathedral inside an Islamic Mosque). And each one of these cities is very different from the other visually and architecturally. Malaga is also wonderful if you want some coastal ambience, and it's a lovely city with a beautiful pedestrianized center, and the gorgeous hike to the top of the Alcazaba. And Malaga has lots of small art museums. There are also the white hill towns, which I have not visited, and other very interesting places I have read about, such as Cadiz, Jerez, etc. So Andalucia would satisfy your love of art, architecture and photography. The only downside is that southern Spain is very, very hot during the summer months. Such as temps in the 90's and 100's.

Madrid would satisfy your love of art with its outstanding art museums. A wonderful side trip from Madrid is Toledo, where you could spend a couple nights. And then you have Barcelona with all its quirky Gaudi architecture and art museums and cathedrals. Barcelona would be cooler than Andalucia.

The Costa Brava is beautiful but I notice you aren't as interested in nature and beaches. However, you could visit Girona (north of Barcelona) which is a wonderful medieval walled city with a river running through it. And there are Dali sites in Figueres and Port Lligat, near Cadaques.

San Sebastian and Bilboa in northern Spain would be cooler. I haven't been there yet but you would probably enjoy the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. And I've heard Bilbao has interesting architecture, too. San Sebasian is known for its pinxtos and beaches.

If you have time for Portugal, Lisbon and Sintra are awesome, too. Especially for architecture, photography, and art museums. I love the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon. I know there are other smaller art museums. Lisbon has interesting neighborhoods, especially the Alfama which would be great for photography. Sintra has many beautiful and unique castles and palaces. But keep in mind it will also be hot in Portugal, too. Italy as well, but I am sure you know that. Perhaps the heat doesn't bother you as much.

Posted by
7572 posts

Let me just throw out a few thoughts. Kmkwoo has hit the high points for Spain.

Six weeks is a long time to travel, and it's very difficult to stay to a set schedule when you're going that long. Following six weeks of a set schedule puts a lot of pressure on you. Just making hotel reservations is more planning than I want to do.
Long trips are best taken in stages--and finding a central location to spend a week or two--doing day trips from there. It's also nice to get to live a few days like a local.

We will take a train up to 4 hours. Otherwise, we're flying on a budget European airline if possible. We like to rent cars when we hit regions where the countryside and close around cities are interesting. 100% travel by trains and planes can sometimes require a lot of walking than we want.

Long trips in Europe can often be mixed with a week or two of a cruise--for a change. Our June, 2022 trip was to London and Athens before taking a cruise to Montenegro, Croatia and Italy. It was a very cost efficient way to see new places.

We prefer to fly into Rome when going to Italy. As you leave Venice or your last stop in Northern Italy, I would suggest flying over to Spain. Lisbon would be good to fly home from on the back side of a round trip

We've come into Europe twice by repositioning cruise, and stopped at cities along the Spanish coast--on the Med. We prefer inland Spain more. I'm sure we would also enjoy the northern parts of Spain we've never been to.

Sounds as if you're going to have a marvelous time.

Posted by
3204 posts

Spain is a big country, almost twice as big as Italy. Are there any particular regions that catch your interest? Regarding art and architecture, are there any periods that you are interested in? Greco-Roman, Moorish, Gothic, art nouveau? Do you plan to come back or are you trying to see as much of the country as you can? How is your travel style, slow and methodical or fast and on the go?

Just off the top of my head, I'd say the top places for art and architecture in Spain are (with minimum time needed):

Barcelona - 5 night
Vic - day trip
Dali Museum - day trip
Valencia - 3 night
Cuenca - 2 night
Albarracín - 1 night
Zaragoza - 3 night
Madrid - 4 night
Toledo - 2 night
Sevilla - 5 night
Cordoba - 2 night
Granada 3 night
Málaga - 3 night
Merida - 2 night
Guadalupe - day trip
Cáceres‎ - 2 night
Burgos -2 night
Leon - 2 night
Bilbao - 3 night
Comillas - day trip
Oviedo - 3 night
A Coruña - 2 night
Santiago de Compostela -3 night

You might find this recent article interesting -

Posted by
254 posts

thank you all for your suggestions! i will certainly add all the named places you have mentioned to my list.

@kmkwoo: yes the heat! certainly, it bothers me but i tolerate it since i can only travel during the summer months. i was in sicily in june july of '21 and southern italy in may, june and july '22. lots of granita kept me alive!

@david: indeed a total of 2 months is my limit as i learned last year. germany, italy, malta and the nederlands in that time frame. i keep doing it because i tell myself that better now while i have my current job and my legs can carry me!

@carlos: well, i am certainly interested in most of the styles and periods you mentioned, perhaps not so much greek and roman. i prefer old but intact buildings. in addition, i love byzantine, romanesque, and baroque. i am just starting to do my research so don't know if there is much of either in spain. modern architecture too, especially anything by santiago callatrava. as far as art i want to seek out el greco and goya. the prado is probably my number 1 must-see in spain.

looking at open jaw vs round trip. seems to be at least a usd 300 to 400 difference. on the other hand, one way from madrid to venice is only about $50 on ryanair! decisions, decisions!

Posted by
254 posts

@carlos: i somehow missed a whole section of your reply. thank you for the itinerary! as for returning i can only look so far into the future. the way things are going in the world...
i can certainly be more specific about my travel style. the routine that has worked for me so far is to base myself in a well-connected city/town for several days and then do day trips. i like to catch a bus or train very early in the morning, sometimes the 1st one out, hang around my destination until about mid-day, and return for lunch and a nap. in the late afternoon i go out locally. i don't know if this will be possible in a big country like spain. your itinerary suggests it may not be, which is fine.

Posted by
23127 posts

I suspect you'll find the transportation time needed to daytrip to a lot of the cities on Carlos's list takes longer than you would think. I don't object to day trips at all; I do not like changing hotels. But, because of the geography and the number of sights on my target list, I've spent the night in all but 3 of those cities; two I haven't visited yet (Vic and Guadalupe); Comillas I did day trip to, from Santander, which is unfortunately one of of Spain's least interesting cities, architecturally.

Valencia has multiple Calatrava buildings. Cuenca is on the AVE line between Valencia and Madrid. I'd rather stop there for one or two nights rather than attempting it on a day trip. In addition to the hanging houses, Cuenca has a couple of small but interesting modern-art museums and an attractive, hilltop historic center. The AVE station is well outside of town, so time must be allowed for getting into town by bus (not sure how often it runs, especially on weekends) or taxi.

Albarracin, as far as I know, is only accessible by bus from Teruel, and the bus arrives late in the day and departs early in the morning, so even spending one night allows precious little time there. Teruel, which has a lot of interesting architecture, is a rather forgotten provincial capital located on a not-heavily-traveled rail line running from Valencia to Zaragoza. I made the mistake of taking an abbreviated day trip to Teruel on my first visit. The town was so attractive I had to go back, upon which occasion I also took the side trip to Albarracin. Unfortunately, I now want to go back to Albarracin and stay two nights rather than one.

You can easily day trip from Tarragona (Roman ruins) to Reus, Gaudi's hometown. There are no Gaudi buildings there, but there are modernista buildings by others, especially by Domènech i Montaner, and the small Gaudi museum is worth a visit.

Oviedo has some very early churches on the outskirts (transportation a bit challenging); I think they're Romanesque.

If you get to Leon, Astorga is a viable day trip. The bishop's palace in Astorga was designed by Gaudi.

Betanzos is an interesting side trip from A Coruna.

There are many more places worth visiting, but I think you'll find you need to cover less than the full length and breadth of Spain, given the time you have available.

From the map Toledo looks like a reasonable day trip from Madrid, and Cordoba from Seville, but those cities have plenty to keep you occupied for long enough to justify at least a 2-night stay--a situation Carlos has indicated via his suggestions for length of stay.

The Ruta del Modernisme website has a lot of information that will be helpful if you're interested in that type of architecture, which is most heavily represented in Barcelona, where the organization is based. Those folks publish a very attractive guidebook that comes with a money-saving discount booklet. The guidebook is very inexpensive but quite heavy.

I hate to tell you this, but based on historical weather statistics, Seville can be expected to be much, much hotter than what you experienced in Sicily. Average high temperatures in Seville vs. Palermo: 9 degrees (F) hotter in June; 11 degrees hotter in July; 9 degrees hotter in August. It will be brutal.

If you want to take a look at actual, day-by-day weather in recent years, you can find that information on the website

Seville weather July 2022

You can use the pulldown box just above the graph on the right to change the month and year. Data should be available for about the last ten years. Use the Search box near the top of the webpage to find information for other cities.

Posted by
706 posts

We leave in 3 days time for our 60 day Spanish trip. We fly in and out of Madrid and are doing a southern loop for around 4 weeks (Zaragoza, Barcelona, Valencia, Cordoba, Malaga, Seville, Caceres), five days in Madrid in the middle, and then a northern loop for 3 weeks (Leon, Lugo, Oviedo, Santillana del Mar,Bilbao and Valladolid). We have been to Barcelona for 6 days before but otherwise are Spanish newbies.

We have planned for day trips to Montserrat, Girona, Granada, Merida, Salamanca, Toledo and Cuenca.

We are interested in architecture (Roman, moorish and medieval) and scenery. Art is also on our list but will mostly be for rainy days. Our only "must do" art is the Picasso museum in Malaga, Reina Sofia in Madrid, and the Guggenheim in Bilbao. In Barcelona we will probably go to at least one Gaudi building and the Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau. We went to Palau de La Musica Catalana (loved it) and Sagrada Familia (disliked it - very tacky and Disneyesque) during our last stay in Barcelona.

We are travelling exclusively by train and bus and staying in a mix of hotels and apartments/Airbnb. I have booked hotels partly to account for some travel days where the transport means we want luggage storage to either catch a late train or when we arrive early. I think we are spending 38 nights in hotels and 22 in apartments. Apartments are for doing washing, eating a healthy breakfast and having some more space.

An early draft of the itinerary included Portugal (for three weeks), but I felt that meant we would be rushing through Spain as our trip length of 60 days was fixed. We will go to Portugal on another trip.

Posted by
411 posts

I´ve noticed you´re an admirer of Santiago Calatrava´s work. As a Bilbao native, and as you´re going to stay in my hometown, you´ll find here two examples of why he´s not very much admired by us locals. Zubizuri bridge (in Basque "white bridge") and the airport of Bilbao (both beautiful constructions) are a sample of some of the problems in his designs for this city.

Posted by
254 posts

hello all,

just an update and not let you think i disappeared after all the wonderful advice you had for me! just committed to my summer plan. arriving in venice on may 4 and returning from madrid on july 5. what happens in between is the fun part i am going to be working on now. as mentioned earlier i hope to move westward through the 'top' of italy and then hop over to spain. i may even veer off to vienna to meet up with family from germany or even head back to amsterdam to catch the vermeer exibit. i am sure i will come back to ask specific questions. thanks!