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Suggested rail itinerary Barcelona-Madrid-Toledo-Cordoba-Seville-Granada-Valencia-Barcelona?

Hi,

Am hoping to see these places using Barcelona as my base.

It seems there's no direct train route from Barcelona to Valencia, and then to Granada (Alhambra) and then Seville. Only option seems to go up the Madrid, and down to Seville with no direct rail route from Granada back to Barcelona?

Can anyone suggest best itinerary and route for these places to save back tracking please?

Really appreciate your take on this.

Many thanks.

Posted by
3284 posts

To clarify, you are not considering doing those cities as day trips from Barcelona? I am thrown by "Barcelona as my base"

Posted by
5010 posts

And how many days do you have to do this? Need to know that before going any further.

Posted by
17871 posts

You are right. By rail, the quickest trip from Valencia to Granada is via Madrid or Cordoba. ALSA runs buses, but they take longer. The bus may or may not be cheaper; you'll probably pay less for bus tickets by splitting the ticket in Murcia. I discovered after I bought a through-ticket that two separate tickets would have been cheaper. If you're prepared to buy in advance and get non-refundable/non-changeable train tickets, I think that will be at least competitive with the cost of the bus. The buses are comfortable enough, but my bus driver thought it was just fine to allow no toilet breaks during the last 6 hours of the ride (yes, I know there are labor laws, but he was apparently trying to make up time). It wasn't a lot of fun to have 5 minutes to run across the tarmac, find the toilet and get back to the bus.

I suspect this (or the reverse of it) might work best:

Barcelona - Valencia - Madrid - Toledo - (Madrid) - Cordoba - Seville - Granada - fly back to Barcelona.

Toledo is on a spur rail line connected only to Madrid, so you'll need to return to Madrid after visiting Toledo. When I've checked in the past, buses did not offer a better alternative than returning to Madrid by train and heading out again.

What I'd do is check the train times for each leg listed above and any reasonable alternatives on the easy-to-use Deutsche Bahn website. And look at it this way: In the whole scheme of things, if a different routing costs you an extra hour or two on a train somewhere along the way, does it really matter all that much?

I see that you're Australian. Does that mean you have a lot of time for the Spanish part of your trip? You have many very interesting places listed; it would be a shame to have to rush through them. Valencia is a pleasant place but not quite at the same level as the others in my view, unless you have a major interest in the Calatrava architecture. And that city costs a considerable amount of extra train time. You can travel straight from Barcelona to Madrid in as little as 2 hr. 30 min., whereas Barcelona-Valencia takes at least 3 hr. 6 min. and Valencia-Madrid takes at least 1 hr. 38 min. The larger impact comes from the extra hotel change and the sightseeing time in Valencia, of course.

If you do have time for Valencia without cutting the other places painfully short, allow me to mention the small hill-town of Cuenca, which is right on the AVE line between Valencia and Madrid (though the station is far enough from town that either a bus or a taxi will be required). It's very atmospheric.

You'll save substantial money on rail fares (except Madrid-Toledo-Madrid, where it doesn't matter) by buying your tickets early and choosing non-refundable/non-changeable Promo fares. Those tend to sell out early, so you may have to pay full fare if you buy your tickets later. The fast trains (AVE, ALVIA, AVANT, etc.) can sell out in advance. It's not terribly common, but it's a risk if you are a spur-of-the-moment traveler like me. Rick particularly warns about sell-outs on the late trains back to Madrid from Toledo. There's probably much less risk if you spend the night in Toledo (highly recommended by me; I love Toledo) and are departing in the morning.

To check fares and buy tickets you will need to use the Renfe website. If you can't get a purchase to go through on Renfe.com (Americans sometimes have credit-card issues on that website), you might try trainline.com. It will charge a fee.

Posted by
21 posts

Sorry for belated response (got caught up in Christmas/New Years festivities). Hope you all had a pleasant happy time.

Thanks everyone, and thank you very much acreven for taking the time to type up all that really helpful information. Greatly appreciated.

Further you question, our time in Spain is approximately two weeks commencing 16 March.

We are flying into Barcelona and staying there for 5 days with someone we know (free accommodation), which I why I sort of considered it a base, but it isn't really.

So that leaves about 9 days to see other parts of Spain in a way to maximise that time and not spread ourselves too thinly.

Does anyone think the following rail route could be achievable?

Barcelona - Valencia - Granada - Seville - Cordoba - Madrid (Toledo or Segovia as day trip & which one?).

I am thinking of the logistics of the order or route of those places including the logistics of our end point (don't have to go back to Barcelona). The logistics of either a rail out of Spain to Paris afterwards, or direct flight to Milan or Zurich (still deciding on next destination but we will definitely be going to Lake Como).

Is there any benefit in car hire in or around some of these Spanish destinations (we drive on left here in Australia - a bit daunting the other way around to be honest, and carparking? Although I will have an international drivers license).

So in a nutshell, what's best order to do this itinerary to maximise time do you think? And how long in each place do you think?

Again, much appreciated and thank you for your time.

Kindly,

Posted by
21 posts

And any good sherry houses to suggest on same route!

Posted by
17871 posts

OK. Nine days is beyond tight for the non-Barcelona destinations, so we're going to need to know exactly how many nights you'll have available in Spain. Are you planning 5 nights or 6 nights in Barcelona?

For me, Seville should have 4 nights, and 3 is the absolute minimum. The Alhambra takes a major chunk of a day if you want to see the whole thing, so Granada really needs 2 nights so you can see some other parts of the city. Cordoba benefits from 2 or 3 nights, but due to its proximity to Seville and Madrid (and the super-fast AVE trains), a lot of people spend just one full day there (try to avoid just day-tripping), which could be accomplished with one night if you take a really early train to Cordoba or schedule your departure for the afternoon of the next day.

I listed Seville, Granada and Cordoba first because they're a sort of cluster and are more time-consuming to reach than Madrid/Toledo/Segovia. You can easily fly back to either Barcelona or Madrid for another visit, probably a lot more cheaply than you can fly to Seville, Granada or the larger Malaga airport. My first priority after Barcelona would be to do a decent job of seeing the three key Andalusian cities.

By my calculation you now have no more than 3 of your 9(?) non-Barcelona nights left. That's not going to cut it for Madrid, Valencia and Toledo-or-Segovia. I like art (where Madrid reigns supreme), but setting that aside, Toledo is by far my favorite destination among those four. However, quite a lot of what I like about it is the Mudejar architecture, and you will be seeing a lot of Moorish buildings in Andalucía. So--though it pains me to say so--Segovia might be a better choice for you. It has the advantage of having fewer and less time-consuming sights than Toledo, so you might get back to Madrid early enough for a few hours of walking around. Yet Segovia is still very interesting.

You haven't confessed to being in love with Calatrava's architecture, so I'd drop Valencia. As I think I mentioned in my earlier post, traveling Madrid-Valencia-Barcelona takes a lot more time than Madrid-Barcelona, so dropping Valencia saves not only the (inadequate for the city's size) day you'd spend there but also the extra travel time.

This is all just my take on it, and my opinions aren't worth more than anyone else's. And I'm heavily biased toward having enough time in each city to absorb the atmosphere, which means walking around outside looking at things, not just running from one indoor sight to another. Many people are satisfied to go to Cordoba and see little beside the Mezquita.

The trains will generally be faster than driving, and you certainly don't have time to wander around the countryside, so I'd not even consider a car. Parking issues would chew up more time than the few minutes you might save traveling in and out of Granada. Granada is the stickiest destination because there aren't many fast trains going there, meaning you won't have total freedom as to when you arrive and when you depart. You may find a bus more convenient in one or both directions. Check ALSA.com for the bus schedules.

As I alluded to above, there are airports in Malaga, Seville and Granada. If you omitted Valencia you'd end the trip in the south and could explore flight options from those cities. You could arrange to end up in either Granada or Seville. Naturally, Malaga's is the largest airport. I use skyscanner to research schedules and fares for intra-European flights. For preliminary checking on what destinations are accessible from any origin airport, you can either to the airport's Wikipedia page (where you'll find a destination chart by airline) or use the website flightsfrom.

There are sherry-tasting opportunities in Jerez (and also horse shows), which is south of Seville and has decent rail service. You could trade Jerez for Madrid or Toledo/Segovia; I don't know any other way you could include it. I haven't been to Jerez.

Posted by
21 posts

Acraven,
Once again you've kindly gone beyond the call of duty to provide me with some great information for which I am very appreciative!
Might I add you also write very well : )
The love affair one got me chuckling a bit. No, I'm not overly into Valencian architecture like I am with Moorish and other ancient styles. For us, the primary focus is (in order of preference) history and culture, gastronomy, and people watching. I am afraid I will get fat from tappas to be honest, so we also like walking through parks, gardens and along shorelines!
It will be five nights in Barcelona. It makes sense I think to fly directly to Granada to do Alhambra, Albaicin, etc, and then bus it to Seville. If we were to still consider Madrid, and I see the train stops at Cordoba en route, would it be prudent to buy separate train tickets for a Cordoba layover rather than rely on Seville - Madrid route ticket?
And, may I kindly get your thoughts as to your order of preference for the following cities:
Cordoba, Segovia, Toledo if we had to rule out one?
And generally speaking, do the train and bus tickets include our luggage/cases?
Thanks again Acraven.

Posted by
17871 posts

If I understand your question correctly, you will need separate train tickets for Seville-Cordoba and Cordoba-Madrid if you want to stop off in Cordoba. All the fast trains have assigned seats, so the original ticket is only good on the train you start out on. The fast-train tickets are also specific to the date and departure time for which they were purchased. Full-fare tickets can be changed (perhaps for a fee); the bargain-priced Promo tickets cannot.

From your triumvirate I'd put Cordoba first for geographical reasons. In isolation, Cordoba and Toledo would be roughly tied (with the advantage perhaps to Toledo) and Segovia would trail them, but Segovia is more different from the other two. It's really an impossible call for me. But I would absolutely say that seeing two of them reasonably well is a lot better than a forced march through all of them, little of which you'll remember a month later.

There's no extra charge for luggage on trains or for any bus I've taken in Spain--and I've been on many. It does happen on buses in Croatia and maybe in Montenegro. Everywhere in Europe, it is the passenger who is solely responsible for getting his bag(s) onto the train and finding a place to stow it/them. The time to worry about that is when you're packing, not when you have a quick connection to make and find the elevator broken or non-existent. If you're contemplating large or heavy baggage, it's worth a stroll through the Packing forum here. It really is an important topic.

Posted by
14210 posts

Las Fallas is a huge deal in Valencia, March 15-19. That would be the only reason I'd consider going there given all the other factors. Is it possible to spend your time in Barcelona at the end rather than the beginning of your trip? It's 2.5 - 3.5 hours by train from Barcelona. If it's possible, consider spending 2-3N. That would mean cutting very short your time in Andalucia. Tough choice, especially because there are no good connections between Valencia and Andalucia.

Back to the latest plan . . .

Cordoba is my favorite Spanish city. People who day trip there don't get to appreciate it. Still, seeing the highlight in a day is better than not seeing the city at all. I would give it priority over Madrid and to encourage you, there are direct trains from Cordoba to Barcelona (not time-saving, but convenient). If you choose to visit Cordoba en route to another city, you can store your bags at the bus station across the street from the train station. Good places to see: the Juderia, especially Casa Sefarad, Palacia de Viana has beautiful patios.

Jerez is the sherry capital of the world and a 1-hour train ride from Sevilla, so you can definitely do it as a day trip. There are lots of sherry bodegas to tour (with tastings of course). Some do not need a reservation. Tio Pepe's is the most fun. The Royal Equestrian School is there and has horse shows 2-3 times a week, well worth seeing, even if you don't much like horses (I don't and loved the performance).

You asked if flowers will be blooming. Yes, though perhaps not tons of them. But the ubiquitous orange trees should be, maybe not visually stunning, but their delightful scent permeates the air. Sevilla has the best tapas in Spain.

As soon as you have your itinerary fixed, you should book your Alhambra tickets. They are selling out for May as I write.

Posted by
17871 posts

Rome2Rio is OK as a starting point if you understand its limitations. It seems to be accurate when it says rail service or bus service exists, and the transfer points have seemed OK to me. What you cannot trust is the fares, travel times and frequencies shown on Rome2Rio. You have to keep clicking through the website until you find the name of the rail or bus company providing the service you're interested in, then go to its website for accurate schedule and fare information. Usually Rome2Rio provides a link to that website.

Posted by
21 posts

Hi again people, thanks for all your fantastic travel tips and information. Really appreciated.

I have a couple more questions if I may?

  1. What is best/economical way to get from Granada to Seville?
  2. Is it correct that I would be charged about 62 euros for two adults return from Seville to Cordoba? Or am I using the wrong website (RailEurope)?
  3. Instead of doing a day trip to Cordoba from Seville, would I be best to buy separate Seville-Cordoba, and Cordoba-Madrid rail tickets on our way north to maximise time? And what rail site should I be using?

Thank you kindly.
Gav

Posted by
17871 posts

If you're buying tickets really early, the fare on one of the fast trains (AVEs, etc.) may be competitive with the bus fare. Once others start buying the cheapest (non-refundable/non-changeable) train tickets, the bus is likely to look like a better deal. But bus fares are variable, too, so they will probably be increasing in value to some degree.

RailEurope is not where you want to buy your tickets. It doesn't always list all the trains (in the past sometimes it omitted the cheaper ones), and its service charge may be higher that what you'll pay to other providers, including trainline.eu. The cheapest source should be Renfe.com. Renfe runs the trains and has no service charge. There are sometimes issues on Renfe.com with US credit cards (don't know about Australian cards), and the website is prone to switching back to Spanish midway through the purchase transaction. That can be a bit disconcerting, which is why a fair number of people end up buying from trainline instead.

Rail fares are date- as well as time-specific. What is the planned date of your day-trip to Cordoba? I randomly chose March 23 and found a round-trip fare of 22.40 euros per person, but that is on a Media Distancia train taking 1 hr. 22 min. Renfe doesn't seem to have the fast trains loaded beyond March 1. That's actually good news, because it means if you check that website frequently, you'll probably be able to score Promo tickets (the lowest priced) for your date--assuming you're ready to commit to a specific date and time when the tickets initially go on sale. It's possible that the Promo tickets will not be less than the 31 euros per person you have already seen.

Sometimes weekend prices are lower, I guess because business travelers make up a substantial part of the passenger base, so it's worth trying a weekend date if that would fit with your itinerary. The best deal I found in spot checking just now was 8.10 euros (February 29) or 12.10 euros (March 1) outbound on a Talgo (1 hr. 10 min.) and 11.20 euros return on a 1 hr. 22 min. Media Distancia train. Those are per-person fares. The AVEs mostly take just 42 minutes, so you can see that saving money means spending more time on the train. You might reasonably decide that a fast trip is important on the way to Cordoba but not so important on the way back.

It is not a terrible idea to visit Cordoba in transit between Seville and Madrid. It would reduce your total time on the train and probably save a little money (though there's a modest discount for round-trip tickets). Reports indicate that there are no luggage lockers at the Cordoba train station but that they are available at the very nearby bus station. I would be a bit nervous about finding an available locker, because you would not be the only folks planning a flying visit to Cordoba that day. It would be very prudent to get an early train out of Seville--and I'd recommend it anyway, because there are so many interesting sights in Cordoba. Traveling from Seville, you will have an advantage over the folks staring out in Madrid. The trip from Madrid takes longer, so--assuming similar departure times, you'll get to the lockers first.

Edited to add: You can explore bus fares on ALSA here. (There may be other companies running the Seville-Cordoba route.) It looks as if buying well in advance can get you a 5.50-euro one way fare that's changeable (but there might be a fee for that) but not cancelable. However, the bus is scheduled to take around 2 hours (there's some variation).

Posted by
21 posts

Thank you for all your thoughtful replies. it is greatly appreciated.

My Spain itinerary is now as follows:

Mid March - late April:
Granada - Seville
Seville - Cordoba (return day trip only)
Seville - Madrid
Madrid - Toledo (return day trip)
Madrid - Segovia (return day trip)

Not sure if this appropriate adding my Italian Itinerary here (please forgive me if I've offended any conventions here):

Early April to mid April:
Milan - Varenna
Varenna - Milan
Milan - Verona
Verona - Florence
Florence base 5 nights (Some Tuscan day trips via rail and / or bus)
Florence - Rome

I'm a bit confused about which types of train trips I need to book in advance now to get the cheap rates (the larger routes only or the local routes as well) and which of the train websites/companies and bus companies (for day trips, not necessarily organised tours) I should use for each of the types of trips?

I'd be very grateful for your knowledge base with regard to these questions!

Thank you kindly,

Gav

Posted by
2530 posts

Sorry to pick up this one so late... but, of course, there are directs trains Barcelona-Valencia, and plenty of them, over 20 each day!
You must have been looking in the wrong site :)

Posted by
17871 posts

I'd use renfe.com for Spain and trenitalia.com for Italy. Some folks have issues with Renfe; it sometimes doesn't like US credit cards, and in my experience it is prone to switching from English to Spanish midway through the purchase transaction. If you have difficulty with one of those websites, you can use trainline.com, but it does charge a (fairly modest) service fee.

I believe Italo also has some trains between Florence and Rome, so it's a second option for that trip, at least. its website is italotreno.it.

The website seat61.com will tell you just about everything you want to know about trains in each European country.

All your Spanish tickets except Madrid-Toledo-Madrid will be cheaper if you can buy promo tickets shortly after they go on sale. Those tickets are non-refundable and non-changeable, so you need to be sure of your plans. Renfe is erratic in when it puts tickets on sale.

In Italy you'll save money by purchasing all the tickets except Milan-Varenna-Milan early. Again, that means committing to a specific date and time.

Posted by
14210 posts

Do you have tickets for the Alhambra? I would not use the extra time and hassle to go to Granada unless I were assured I could spend a day at the Alhambra.

You wrote mid-March to late April but I believe you are still on the same timetable of early April? Has the number of nights in Spain changed? Are you still intending to return to Barcelona or are you going to Italy from Madrid? Is it possible to change? Would make more sense to go to Madrid from Barcelona and fly to Milan from Sevilla if you skip Granada.