Hello, I a first time solo traveler to Spain and plan on going in Dec. 2008. I want to start in Madrid and head south to Andalucia. Does anyone have advice with hotels or trains. Should I bother a day trip to Portugal. I do not mind traveling by train often. Thank you and I hope to hear from someone.
michael, my wife and i did a similar trip in december 2006. we used buses and trains (often the buses are cheaper and faster than the train service in spain). we did madrid to toledo (don't miss it!!) then to granada, to tarifa (side trip to morocco), tarifa to sevilla, then sevilla back to madrid. the trains we took were madrid to toledo (ave) and sevilla to madrid (again on ave). hope this helps.
Hi Michael, If you're going to Andalucia, there's a great website www.andalucia.com, it's in English and has just about everything you need to know about the area, including bus and train times.
Your trip sounds great- good luck!
I followed a similar route. Madrid > Seville > Granada > Valencia > Barcelona and daytripping to must-see Toledo. For trains, I researched on www.renfe.es and I took the following trains which complemented my schedule
Madrid Atocha - Seville Santa Justa: AVE
Seville Santa Justa - Granada: Regional (slow, older)
Granada - Valencia Estacio del Nord: Trenhotel
Valencia Estacio del Nord - Barcelona Sants: AVE
Madrid Atocha - Toledo (roundtrip): AVE
Sitting first class is nice but you can easily get by in 2nd class. I bought 1st class Spain railpass but I didn't find it beneficial for me. I'm not sure the crowd is like in Dec but I got all my train tix 1-3 days in advance.
I just did a similar trip this past January. I'd recommend taking the AVE train to Toledo for a night (do not spend time there on a Monday- everything is closed). What I did was spend time in Madrid, then train to Toledo for a day/night, then train back through Madrid and on to Sevilla. The AVE trains are fantastic (30 mins to Toledo from Madrid and 2 1/2 hours to Sevilla from Madrid).
As far as Portugal is concerned, unless you are there for a long time, skip it. It's not a "day trip". The trains require an overnight trip out of Madrid and the flights are expensive.
I was in Spain (also solo) at the beginning of May (Tarifa,Madrid,Barcelona). The best advice I can give you is to make sure you make any railpass reservations (if you're using one) you need before you leave, as RENFE is a pain to deal with in person.
If you are traveling from Madrid to Seville direct, consider saving time by flying. I flew vueling airlines from Barcelona to Seville for 40 euros, and it only took 3 hours. This was a huge time saver, with more time to enjoy the city.
Michael...it depends on how long you plan to be there. If it's for, say, 2 weeks, I would do the Madrid-Cordoba-Sevilla-Ronda-Granada swing. Day trips out of Madrid can include Toledo, Avila, and Segovia. AVE train to Cordoba and Sevilla (no discount flights on that run from Madrid), then bus to Granada, and bus back to Madrid (buses run more frequently, are very comfortable, and are cheaper, but almost as fast as, the trains). But previous posters are correct....Portugal isn't "day-trippable." If more than two weeks is available, I'd make the swing through Portugal, back into Andalucia, then back up to Madrid. Be aware that you'll probably get some rain, and temperatures in Madrid can fall below freezing at nights....but daytime highs there should still be around 50 F. Sevilla will stay above freezing, with daytime highs around 60 F.
A quick add to this post....when searching for accommodations in Spain, look for "hostals," inexpensive two-star hotels, usually family-run, that are great value for the money.