I've booked tickets for an early April flight to Barcelona. I will arrive in Barcelona at 8:55 am on Thursday and fly out at 10:00 am the following Thursday, effectively giving me 6 full days and most of another (the first day). My question is, should I stay in Barcelona for the entire duration of the trip or split it between Barcelona, Madrid, & Toledo? If the latter, what is your personal recommended split of time in each of the cities? I visited Barcelona nearly 11 years ago, but have never been to Madrid or Toledo. The person I'm traveling with has never been to any of them, though we did recently go to Italy, and both regretted not spending a night in Siena (only a day trip). From the photos I've seen, Toledo looks somewhat similar to Siena and very picturesque (important because I'm a photographer).
AVE Train to Madrid from Barcelona is about 3 hours. Spend a couple of days in Barcelona (get over your jet lag), then to Madrid and directly to Toledo (1/2 hour via AVE), then back to Barcelona via Madrid. Check the RENFE site for the train schedule, purchase your tickets 62 1/2 days ahead for substantial savings. This omits Madrid, but your time will be short as it is.
Can you change your flights? If you really want to include Madrid and surroundings, you would be much better off flying open jaws (fly in to Barcelona, then return directly from Madrid). Otherwise, you lose a big chunk of a day needlessly returning to Barcelona at the end of your trip (so you then have only 5 days - and you're going to lose part of a day moving from Barcelona to Madrid in the first place - so then you really have only 4 full days). Toledo is great, and if you liked Siena you'll love Toledo - but you will definitely want to spend the night there (unless you like photos with hundreds of tourists in them). Most everyone does Toledo as a day trip, so it's very crowded from 10 am - 3 pm, but early or late you'll have the place almost to yourself, it's much better and it's magical (and you have golden light). If it were me, I'd fly to Barcelona (day zero) and spend 2 days there (days 1 -2). Then catch an early fast train to Madrid, and continue on directly to Toledo on day 3. If you can manage to get all the way from Barcelona to Toledo (via Madrid) and arrive reasonably early that same day (say, by 1 or 2 pm), you could spend just the one night in Toledo (day 3), then spend most of the next day there, then catch the fast train back to Madrid in the afternoon (day 4) and spend the night there. Spend the remainder of your time (days 4, 5 and 6) in Madrid, and fly home from there. That's still very fast-paced, but it's do-able...as long as 1) you can get an early start on the trip from Barcelona - Toledo, and 2) you can fly home directly from Madrid. Doing so would require you to change your ticket, but that essentially extends your trip by a day. That's what I'd do. Hope that helps.
I agree with David about the open jaw and spending a night in Toledo. But if your flights are set, it's still worth it to go to Madrid and at least daytrip to Toledo. And yes, Toledo is the "Siena of Spain."
Thanks for the advice. Unfortunately, I am unable to change my ticket to open jaw. I got an amazing last minute price on it, so am not complaining though. Initially, I was concerned if 6-7 days would be too much time in Barcelona, and also concerned with spending so much time in such a large city when I typically like to plan my trips with a large hustle & bustle city with specific landmarks to see (Rome) in the beginning of the trip then spend the 2nd portion in smaller towns to relax, where the town itself is the draw (Cinque Terre, Amalfi, etc.) Based on the little I know about either, I would really be more eager to see Toledo than Madrid, but feel like I would have to spend at least a short time in Madrid if going through it. At this point, it will probably come down to the cost of an AVE ticket to Madrid/Toledo.
Madrid is one of Europe's great cities, and quite under appreciated by Americans - don't begrudge time spent there! If you're going to Toledo, you will be passing through Madrid. It's a quick, efficient ride between Madrid and Toledo on the fast train, no big deal. Try to buy your rail tickets ASAP - if bought far in advance, they can be quite reasonable. Besides, you got a killer deal on your airfare. ;)