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Would love feedback on Spain itinerary & suggestions for hotels and restaurants

My husband and I (early 70’s) are planning a last-minute trip to Spain and would appreciate feedback about time of visit and about the order of the itinerary. We haven't made flight reservations so we are free to tweak it. Suggestions for hotels/apartments (under $175/night) and restaurants (simple, good food; will probably eat a lot of tapas!) would be helpful, too. We are planning to go in late October – early November and wonder whether there is much difference in the weather we could anticipate if we push the dates a little earlier toward mid-October or later toward mid-November. (We know that weather is unpredictable but also know that there are probabilities.)

We look forward to wandering through old/scenic areas of town; visiting cathedrals, mosques, art museums, gardens, and markets; and experiencing local culture and food. We are usually up and out early, are on-the-go all day, and typically walk 6-8 miles/day (more if we need to but would rather not). We did a lengthy driving trip and cruise to Italy, Greece, and Turkey in May and June so we’re trying to keep this trip shorter (2 weeks) and less intense.

We have driven in Italy, France, and England and traveled Switzerland and Italy by train and would prefer to use trains for transportation in Spain. I have some questions about train travel that I’ll post separately.

We would appreciate feedback on this itinerary, particularly the order in which we’ve placed the cities and whether the time in each place seems reasonable for seeing the sights in which we’re most interested. (I’ve marked the “must sees” with an *) We’ve done some research but like to get input in case there are considerations we’ve overlooked.

Note: We plan to book as many sights in advance as possible to save wait times

As always, thanks for your assistance.

Day 1
Leave Houston

Days 2, 3, 4
Arrive Barcelona early in the day; check into hotel or apartment

Las Ramblas walk,
La Boqueria Market,
Palau Guell,

Cathedral of Barcelona *,
Sardana Dances (If there on Sunday),
Santa Catarina Market,
Sagrada Familia *,
Casa Batlo,
La Pedrera *,
Park Guell *,
Barceloneta,
Montjuic

Days 5, 6

Fast train (direct) Barcelona –Granada 6 ½ - 7 ½ hrs; arrive by mid-afternoon; check into hotel

Alhambra *

Days 7, 8, 9
Early train Granada to Seville; arrive noon – 1 pm; check into hotel

Cathedral and Giralda Bell Tower *,
Royal Alcazar,
Basilica de la Macarena,
Flamenco *

Day trip to Cordoba – Mezquita * (versus stopping on our way from Seville to Madrid)

Days 10, 11, 12, 13

Early fast train Seville to Madrid; arrive 12 – 1 pm; check into hotel

Prado *,
Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (Guernica),
Retiro Park (near Prado),
Royal Botanical Garden (near Prado),

Royal Palace

Day trip to Toledo – Cathedral *, San Juan de los Reyes Monasterio (versus stopping on our way from Seville to Madrid)

Day 14

Madrid to Houston

Would adding an extra day for a day trip to El Escorial or Segovia add a new dimension to what we’ll be seeing elsewhere?

As always, thanks in advance for sharing your expertise.

Posted by
3982 posts

Sevilla Hotel El Rey Moro
Granada Hotel Anacapri
Cordoba Hotel Mezquita
Madrid Hotel Europa
Toledo Hotel Santa Isabel

Posted by
116 posts

Madrid - Hotel Airtrip (close to the museums and park, more of a neighborhood and less of a tourist area, great staff)
Granada - Santa Isabel La Real
Toledo - Hotel Santa Isabel
Seville - Hotel Amedeus

We liked the location of all these places, had nice rooms, and thought the staff were great.

Posted by
509 posts

Fly from Barcelona to Granada, faster and cheaper
Bus from Granada to Seville, faster and cheaper
Do Cordoba on way to Madrid instead of day trip

This would open up your schedule a bit

Posted by
6741 posts

Don't bother with El Escorial ,it is a massive tomb with royal tombs stacked high. Segovia would be a much better choice if you can add a day; we preferred it to Toledo. However, you barely have enough time for Madrid.
We have visited Madrid and Andalusia twice in late October, early November and the weather was perfect for walking and enjoying all the sites on both visits. Great choice.
Take a flight from Barcelona to Granada. Book Alhambra ASAP. We stayed at Hotel Alhambra Palace.
In Barcelona, take a look at Las Ramblas but, if you are like us, you will leave it quickly, not to return there. Crowds, touristy. Take extra precautions in Barcelona due to a lot of pick pockets; the police don't seem concerned about it.
Make reservations for La Sagrada Familia ASAP. Look at Aparthotel Hispanos7Suizas on a side street near La Sagrada Familia, apartments with kitchen, W/D.
Cordoba- We stayed there one trip and did a day trip from Sevilla another time. I have read that luggage storage can be a problem, that it fills up quickly. Check on that before deciding to stop en route Sevilla to Madrid.

Posted by
2261 posts

Some initial thoughts on your current itinerary:

  • I would skip las Ramblas walk, nothing terribly interesting there, except for "people watching" other tourists and pickpockets.

  • With limited time, I would stick with only seeing one market in Barcelona, La Boquería is the most famous, but Santa Caterina or Sant Antoni are smaller but more for locals. Whichever you choses make sure to go early in the morning for the best experience, this is when they bring in all the fresh goods.

  • Consider adding the Gaudi inspired Hospital de Sant Pau to your itinerary, just a short 10 min walk from la Sagrada Familia. I like Sant Pau much more than Park Güell, which I see as over touristed and over rated. Don't hesitate to drop Park Güell if you have to.

  • Make sure to see both Cathedrals in the Gotic Quarter of Barcelona, the main one of Santa Eulalia and Santa Maria del Mar (technically a Basilica) closer to the sea, which is my favorite.

  • Flying direct from Barcelona to Granada will save you several hours and will potentially be cheaper than the AVE.

  • You have many days (days 10-14) penciled in for Madrid but only the Prado is a must for you, maybe you should reconsider investing so much time in Madrid? You could add a night or two in Cordoba, one of the nicest towns in Spain, especially after all the daytrippers from Sevilla leave in the afternoon.

Posted by
19163 posts

Is this trip for 2019? You may have to scramble for Alhambra tickets.

You can find actual, day-by-day historical weather data for your planned destinations going back at least 10 years at timeanddate.com. Take a look and see what you think. The risk of cold is greatest in Madrid and Toledo; I don't know about rain. Weather is a roll of the dice; shorter days in the fall are a certainty.

I think you're tight on time in a lot of places. In Spain they eat dinner extremely late (the locals not before 10 PM) so it's not easy to power through the day without a proper lunch, which takes time. The days will not be especially long even at the beginning of your trip.

From your earlier travels, do you expect Day 2 to be usable for more than casual strolling? For me it wouldn't be. When I look at your itinerary I see only two full, non-jetlagged days in Barcelona; with so many sights requiring advance purchase of timed tickets (tough to know how much time to allow at each sight), I think you're going to have difficulties. However, some of the Gaudi sites are open in the evening, which would allow you to extend your sightseeing days.

You don't list MNAC, a very good art museum (and not a small one). In addition to traditional art it has large frescoes rescued from churches in the Pyrenees and an interesting modernism collection (furniture, decorative arts, jewelry).

You have 5 Gaudi sites on your target list; though I enjoyed all of them (during a much longer visit), I recommend replacing Palau Guell with either the Palau de la Musica Catalana (advance ticket prudent but might not be strictly necessary) or the Sant Pau modernista site (could walk up and buy tickets as of May 2019). Those are lovely modernista sites designed by a different architect. Alternatively, you might consider attending a performance at the Palau.

I view the Ramblas as skippable unless you're on your way somewhere and it's the easiest way to go. Keep in mind that if you go there, you'll be sharing space with pickpockets. They are very talented, and they will not be jetlagged.

I didn't find Barceloneta very interesting. I had a feeling the area was full of Airbnbs. I thought the Eixample was a lot more attractive. It has a lot of modernista buildings.

Two nights in Granada, arriving after a long train ride, gets you little more than one full day, and you'll need a big chunk of that for the Alhambra. I'd investigate flying, as already suggested, because there's more to Granada than the Alhambra. Consult your guidebook for more suggestions.

Three nights in Seville with a day-trip to Cordoba leaves you about 1-1/2 days for Seville. It's a large city that really needs more time. I'd say the Alcazar should be asterisked; it is magnificent. I would consider traveling to Madrid later in the day to allow for some sightseeing in Seville on Day 10.

I loved Toledo with its huge historic district. I spent 3 nights there and wouldn't want to try to see it in transit from Seville to Madrid. You'd have to take the train all the way to Madrid and double back, and you'd lose time dealing with luggage storage. In the end you probably wouldn't have much more than a half day in Toledo. Toledo's rather hilly, which tends to slow the pace of ones wanderings.

I enjoyed Segovia a lot, and it's definitely architecturally quite different from your other destinations, but I'd prioritize adding time at some of your current stops.

Posted by
203 posts

Thanks for such quick responses!

I've begun checking out flying from Barcelona to Granada and the only non-stop I see is on Vueling (or Iberia operated by Vueling). Has anyone had experiences with Vueling? Or do you know of other nonstops? The only small European airline we've flown was Ryanair from Glasgow to Amsterdam years ago and it wasn't a pleasant experience. To figure total travel time, how early would we need to be at the airport for an in-country flight? Does Vueling have all those add-ons that jack up the cost? We travel with a Rick Steves rollaboard suitcase and a personal item each but I have the older version of the suitcase and think I would probably have to check it. My husband's new one supposedly meets specifications for a carry-on on European airlines.

Also, while flying would save some time, would the scenery from the train from Barcelona to Granada be something we might want to see? We enjoy riding on the train when the scenery is pleasant.

We have considered staying a night in Cordoba but are trying to keep hotel changes to a minimum. We haven't ruled it out, though.

I'll check out the other suggestions. Thanks again!

Posted by
19163 posts

I haven't taken the train all the way from Barcelona to Granada. I'm sure there is some interesting scenery somewhere along that route. However, there is a great deal of dull scenery in the center of the country around Madrid.

Posted by
2261 posts

A little pre-trip Spanish cultural lesson, our "late" meal times in Spain may seem a bit odd coming from the USA, but it makes sense as we eat small breakfast, large lunch, and small dinner, with meriendas (snacks) in between. As our weather is mostly hot during the day we shift our schedules forward a few hours so we have most of our leisure activities late in the afternoon and into the night, when it is cooler.

Now, I know our Spanish style of leisurely eating and taking time to savor food and present company may not lend itself well to a tourist's busy schedule, which is why we have Tapas! Yes tapas will be your savoir if you cannot adjust to the Spanish style of eating, as tapas are readily available during the American meal times of 6-8 pm and can be quite filling :)

Regarding Vueling, they are the largest airline in Spain, they are perfectly fine for inter city travel within Spain, I would not worry too much, as it's only a 1:30 hr flight after all! If you are lugging along a large carry-on you may be asked to check it in though, but that's nothing unique.

Also, the scenery from the AVE Barcelona to Granada is not the prettiest, as it mainly runs along the plateau of central Spain, a dark brownish mass of flatlands and fields, especially in October/November.

Posted by
3154 posts

I would definitely include the Palau de la Musica in the Barcelona itinerary. It is a Modernista extravaganza. To see the interior, you must be on a guided tour. They are done often, and include English several times a day. You could also see the interior by attending a performance, but it is interesting to find out more about the design through a tour.

Posted by
14404 posts

The first thing you should do is see if you can get tickets to the Alhambra. On the official website, tickets are completely sold out through Nov. 3. If you can't get tickets, it's not worth going to Granada.

Posted by
19163 posts

Although the Palau de la Musica Catalana introduced thr option of self-guided tours within the last year or so, the website indicates that one can tour the building independently only from July through September. At other times, a guided tour is required. Although the tour is offered often in English, the language issue does complicate the scheduling. Therefore, I think it would be risky on a short visit to the city to wait until arrival to try to find slots on an English-language tour.

Posted by
203 posts

Thanks to everyone for the suggestions about other sights in Barcelona.

to acraven - When we arrive early in the day, we always drop our luggage and start sightseeing right away, putting in a full day so that we'll be tired that night and can get to sleep even though our internal clock will think it's still daytime. We are fueled by adrenaline when we travel and are able to get up earlier and go longer and stronger than we could at home. We don't shop or dawdle and are able to see a lot each day. We don't think of our trips as a vacation - we're retired so we're always on vacation - but as a learning experience. They're more like doing one of those intense college mini-mesters during which you cover a semester's worth of material in a few weeks. I understand this style of travel isn't for everyone but it has worked for us and we plan to keep up the pace as long we're physically able to.

to carlos - Thanks for the heads up about Vueling and the information abut tapas. We struggle with the late times for dinner wherever we go in Europe. We just can't eat a full meal late at night, plus we like to get up and out early in the morning so we try to get to bed relatively early. So we're happy that tapas will fill the bill for us in Spain!

to chani and suki - I've been checking availability of tickets for all of the sights that need to be booked ahead and have found tours in case tickets aren't available for our dates. I've gotten up in the middle of the night to book tickets at the Eiffel Tower and Colosseum the minute they're released!

suki - thanks for your positive comment about the weather in October/November. We haven't traveled to Europe that late in the year before but just haven't been able to plan anything earlier.

Thanks again for the feedback!

Posted by
3982 posts

Chris, somehow I missed that you were going October/November. Absolutely. That is a great time to go! We were in Andalusia, Toledo and Madrid area (Segovia) in November and we thought the weather was fabulous.

Posted by
14404 posts

The only sight it's hard to get tickets to more than a couple days in advance is the Alhambra. Trains are a different matter, though not as much for you as for others. Let me explain. While they rarely fill up, you may save some money if you buy in advance. For us golden agers, Spain is kind. Most sights offer reduced prices to anyone 65 or older (if you don't see it on the website, ask when you get there). Once you get to Spain, anyone over 60 can buy a tarjeta dorada (gold card) at any train station, including at the airport, with proof of age (usually passport, but I've used a driver's license as well). They cost €6 each (you each need one) for a full year. As soon as you have the card, you can buy tickets for any of the fast trains (AVAST and AVE) at discounts of 25% or 40% off full fare with full benefits (exchanges, refunds). You can save more by purchasing highly discounted tickets in advance as soon as possible - they should are already be on sale for your dates. Only limited numbers are offered at the discounted rates ( No seat choice. No changes or cancellations. ) and prices only go up. You can compare prices by clicking the gold card box below your chosen route (in Spanish it's the tarjeta dorada box). Then you can see all the prices for a specific train by clicking the options (plus sign) box and then the drop-down menus for class and price. Then decide if it's worth buy ahead or not.

Posted by
14404 posts

As for up early to see sights, most don't open before 10 am. Only a few open at 9.00, more at 9.30.

I should have added about trains - you can buy online using your gold cards once you're in Spain. Don't wait to buy them when you get to the train station - lines can be long, especially in Barcelona and Madrid and even in off-season, Madrid-Toledo trains do sell out, so best to get those a day or two in advance. When you're planning your visit to Toledo, note that there are early morning trains on weekdays but not on Sat-Sun.

Posted by
14404 posts

And I forgot something else. I've stayed at the Amadeus Hotel in Sevilla on all three of my visits. I cannot recommend it highly enough - comfort, charm, location, staff, everything is excellent.

On both my visits to Madrid I stayed at Hotel Europa. It's modern, comfortable, great staff, very good location for sightseeing with a metro/cercanias station just meters away. I didn't eat breakfast there (there are plenty of places around). I had chocolate and churros once and decided I didn't want to eat a meal there. For food, spend a couple hours grazing through the San Miguel market for lunch or a tapas dinner.

In Barcelona, my favorite tapas place is Orio (a small chain). There's one opposite the main entrance to the Santa Caterina market. They serve pintxos (the Basque equivalent of tapas), and of course meals too. The best churros I've eaten are in a hole in the wall place called Xurreria Laietana at Via Laietana 46. Hours Mon-Fri 7.00-13.00, 16.30-20.30, Sun 8.00-13.30. Get them piping hot sprinkled with sugar. A paper cone is enough for 2 to share, costs less than €2. Or have them on-site with a cup of coffee or hot chocate for dunking.

Posted by
12 posts

A charming hotel in Granada and inside the Alhambra walls is "Hotel America" (probably in the 90 to 100 Euro a night range.
Since you are seniors you can get a very good rate at the parador also at the Alhambra. We have stayed in both. The Parador is luxury and we couldn't afford to stay there except for the senior discount. Check both of them out on line.

Posted by
4 posts

Buy "skip the line" tickets for the Prado ahead of time. Unfortunately, you don't get the "senior discount," but the extra Euros are worth it. If you don't want to "do" the Prado all in one day, buy your ticket and go for however hours on that day, then return on another evening when the museum is free, if you have a free evening.

Posted by
203 posts

Thanks for the wealth of tips. I've made notes of hotels and places to eat.
I've booked the most critical tickets (Sagrada Familia, Alhambra, Mezquita) and have reviewed availability at other sights.
I do need to remember to block out a big chunk of time for lunch. I'm content to grab something quick and forge on with the sightseeing but my husband jokes that I try to starve him on our trips so I'm being mindful of that on this one.
I can't believe how quickly this trip is coming up! I usually book about 6-9 months out but this was decided on kind of last minute.

Posted by
104 posts

I can’t give you any specific recommendations as I haven’t been there yet, but I am also traveling to Spain in early November. My TA was there two years ago in early November and said the weather was lovely. Fingers crossed. I am like you and your husband when I travel, I drop my bags at the hotel and begin my sight seeing. I’m not sure if it’s age (I’m 59) or adrenaline but that first day doesn’t seem to bother me, I’ve never walked around like a zombie. This past March I had a private tour guide pick me up at the Dublin airport and did an all day tour of the Boyne Valley before being dropped off at my hotel in the city at 5pm. No problem. I made an early night of it (shower then dinner at the hotel) and was ready to go the next morning. For Spain I decided to book my ticket for the Reina Sofia for my arrival day as I did not have to pick a specific time, the ticket is good all day. I’m also considering an organized tapas tour for dinner (looking at Gourmet Madrid) for my first night and if I decide to do that I’ll probably try a siesta in the afternoon. When in Rome....

Posted by
203 posts

sboh - It looks like we share the same travel style even though my husband and I are older (70 and 72). Travel adrenaline has us up earlier than we awaken at home and keeps us going until well into the evening, though we plan to have early tapas in Spain as we just can't eat a heavy meal at 9-10 pm or even later. Let's both hope for a sunny November! Enjoy your travels.