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Help with Spain Trip Please

I have been lurking and reading here for awhile but now would like some individual help. We are planning a trip to Spain for next October. I hope that is a good time to go? We are thinking of Madrid, Barcelona, and one other city or area. We have about 15 days including travel time. If you have been there at that time (October), can you tell me what will the weather be like in Madrid and Barcelona? What are your must-sees in these two cities? I am trying to decide how much time to spend in each. What do you suggest? We are interested in pretty much everything except bullfighting. For the third stop should we go to Andalucia or to Burgos, Leon, etc.? We will travel by train if that makes a difference. We are non-smokers, will that be a problem? I mean with hotel rooms and restaurants. Finally, I have been reading about problems with US credit cards in Europe. Do we need a chip card for Spain? OOOps, one more-what can we expect to pay in airfare? Should we use miles to get to Chicago or New York and then fly direct to Spain from there? I don't think we have enough miles to get the whole ticket but do have enough for US flights.

Posted by
16919 posts

We have not been there in October, but we did have a wonderful trip to Barcelona, Madrid (actually Toledo) and Andalucia in May of last year. We only had 12 days but it did not feel too rushed. We only spent one night in Madrid, however. Three nights felt just right for Barcelona. Smoking has been pretty much banned in indoor spaces in Spain, so we had no trouble finding non-smoking hotel rooms and restaurants. You will still see people smoking on the street, however. We didn't have any credit card troubles with a regular US card, not even with Renfe (the train website). We flew British airways, Seattle to London to Barcelona, and back from Madrid (via London). We use miles for the Seattle to London portion. If you can use miles to get to the Eaast Coast that might save you some money. Look for direct flights from New York or other city to Spain, so you have only one stop in each direction. I don't know what airlines do that as we always bypass the east coast and fly direct from Seattle to Europe. Try to book open jaw (in to Barcelona and out from Madrid, or vice versa) if possible. You could include a flight between Granada and Barcelona if you want to visit Andalucia and make a triangle, but we just did it all by train, in a "lollipop" path (train to Granada from Seville and from Granada to Cordoba).

Posted by
12172 posts

I'll start backward, we went in April - round trip from Dulles direct to Madrid was $650, adding a hop to Barcelona made that leg $750 (could probably have done better with Vueling or another cheap carrier). No problem with credit cards, don't worry about it. The only places we could have used a chip card was buying Metro tickets but cash works (make sure you have smaller bills, the machines don't take larger bills). Non-smoking isn't a problem, even if you're militant non-smokers. Every hotel we stayed at offered non-smoking rooms and few of the bars were smoky (we went all over the country). There are plenty of smoke-free options available. Our northern loop started in Barcelona and went through Zaragosa, Pamplona, San Sebastian, Burgos (via Vitoria), Valladolid, Salamanca, Avila, Segovia, Toledo. We then went south and finished in Madrid. Madrid was my least favorite stop, except for the Prado (which is a truly great art museum). It became a capital city very late and isn't old or particularly historicalby Spanish standards. I'd spend three nights in Barcelona (a bare minimum IMO), five nights around - but not in - Madrid and the rest south. For south, a day stop in Cordoba to see the Mesquita is enough for a short trip, two days minimum in Granada and Seville, maybe add a visit to Jerez as a day trip. It was freezing in April, we drove through snow between Jaen and Granada, but that's not really normal. Europe had a cold winter and hadn't snapped out of it. Generally, I think October will be fine for travel - not beach weather but comfortable. Up north it may be colder and rainy, but it should be very comfortable in Andalusia. Winter can get very cold and snowy up north and high elevations.

Posted by
951 posts

I have been to Spain once, 7-8 years ago and I will be going back in 2 weeks. I feel that at least 4 nights need to be spent in both Barcelona and Madrid, to be able to see the cities without rush. I would fly into one city and out the other. Now suggestions on must sees, well that is all in the eye of the beholder. I hope you pick up Rick Steves Spain book and he will give you a list of must sees. Of course in Madrid, there is a lot of art museums that will keep you occupied, along with a Royal Palace. There are many plazas to spend time in, drinking sangria, eating tapas in. Not too far from Madrid, are some awesome medieval towns that deserve a visit; Avila, Segovia, Toledo. Barcelona is a great city: chock full of architecture, art, beaches, city parks. Don't miss the Picasso museum, Cathedral, and Familia Sagrada church. 4 nights will fill up fast with Barcelona, especially if you tack on a daytrip to Figueres, to see the famous Dali museum. 4 nights for Madrid Spend time in the awesome towns near Madrid: 2 nights in Avila, segovia, and toledo. Then be off to Barcelona for 4 nights. I have never been in Oct, but I would believe that it would be warm with a little less warm nights. Layers may a the right thing clothing wise.
I have been watch dogging airfare all year and could not find anything under $900 for winter travel (I never paid this much for winter travel). I used up my miles to cover part of the cost and came out having to pay $600. So in October, I am sure airfare is going to be in the $1000. So figure out a price you are willing to settle with. Some say buy tickets 3 months ahead of trip; I keep an eye all year and buy when I figure prices are not going down.

Posted by
951 posts

Going to Andalucia is great but can be a pain to put in between a Madrid/Barcelona trip. Easy to get there from Madrid, takes forever to get get to Barcelona by train from Sevilla. Some may say to take a flight from Sevilla to Barcelona to save time. Another option would be to fly into Madrid and immediately leave to Sevilla on the AVE train, 2.5 hours. Stay there for 3 nights. Spend some time in the hill towns of Arcos de Frontera or Ronda. Take the AVE train back to Madrid for 4 nights, then AVE to Barcelona for 4 nights. I have never had issues using american credit cards in Europe or when I was in SPain years ago. What I find difficult is buying things online from Spanish vendors, like RENFE, who will only let you by your AVE tickets online after you Verified your card by visa.

Posted by
811 posts

i haven't been to leon and cities up north, but visited madrid, barcelona and the andalucia region in about 15 days on the same trip. i flew into madrid and worked my way down to the andalucia region, and took an overnight train from granada to to barcelona. when travelling in spain i took a lot of buses and they worked out really well, so keep all of your options open. i don't know how much is the direct flight from NYC or Chicago to Madrid or Barcelona, but my flight a few years ago was from Seattle to chicago, then paris, then madrid. i paid with miles so don't know how much it's now.

Posted by
12172 posts

Our must sees that may fit your itinerary: Barcelona - Bari Gothic, Ramblas to beaches, Modernismo architecture. Madrid - Prado, Temple Debod, green spaces weather permitting. Cordoba - Mesquita. Granada - Alhambra, Sambra dancing. Seville - Cathedral, Palace and surrounding quarter, Flamenco dancing/nusic. Jerez - Bodega tours (everywhere else in Spain is reservation only). Toledo was our favorite "twisty road" medieval city. Around Valladolid are some great castles.
Gibraltar - taxi tour (apes, history, views). We skipped Costa del Sol in favor of Costa de la Luz, which is much less developed and more to our liking.

Posted by
14 posts

Wow-thanks people. Please keep the ideas coming. I would still love to hear from someone who has been there in the fall. We are thinking of then so it's not too hot, but will it be too cold? I was comparing latitudes and it seems Barcelona is 41 degrees and San Sebastian is 43, so both are south of where I live and also on the coast. So maybe the weather is better? October can be pretty cold and rainy here and we can deal with it but part of the idea of vacation is to get better weather than home. A question for Brad, since you have been all over (and anyone else who can help us figure this out). If you had to choose between San Sebastian/Burgos/Leon etc. and Seville/Granada, which would you choose?

Posted by
112 posts

I was there in October 2011 for 2 weeks, and as I recall the weather was pleasant (pants and t-shirt or shorts and t-shirt) for most of Barcelona and Madrid, though the weather was a little rainy in the northwest. I agree Cordoba is a must-see city; I really liked Madrid and didn't like Barcelona nearly as much - the cities have very different vibes, but both are worth spending time in. May I suggest you consider a day or two in Bilbao. I was there for a short day, and I really wish I had planned more time to spend there. I loved the feel of the city, and there are some lovely thing to see and experience there (the Guggenheim is only one, and I think the building itself is far nicer than the collection inside). A lovely place; I wish I'd seen more of it. To be continued......

Posted by
112 posts

continuation.....it wouldn't take my whole post, even though I fit in the character count! In Madrid, everyone rushes to see the Prada, but I would recommend the other 2 "major" galleries - the Reina Sofia and the Thyssen first. Also, a much overlooked gem of a church is the Basilica San Francisco el Grande - definitely worth a visit, and don't worry if the tour is only in Spanish (tours are included with the price of admission and required). Make sure you spend one late night out and about the Gran Via and Plaza del Sol too - just for the experience - and spend some time just wandering a few neighbourhoods around the Plaza Mayor. In Barcelona everyone will tell you to see the Sagrada Familia church, but I looked at it and found it uninspiring and ugly - I apparently don't like Gaudi's architecture. Yes, it's unique, but that wasn't enough for me to want to spend my time and money there. I think must sees in Barcelona include two museums on Montjuid (MNAC and Joan Miro), Parc Guell, and some time wandering in the Barri Gotic and have breakfast or lunch at the Boqueria market. For a quick day trip from Barcelona, I'd recommend visiting Figueres, where the Dali Theatre-Museum is. I wasn't a huge Dali fan before I went, but I was amazed and stunned. Well worth the 1-2 hour train trip.

Posted by
3205 posts

We loved Barcelona but not because of the Sagrada Familia, we just liked the feel of the city and the people. Didn't care for Madrid much at all. So everyone is different.

Posted by
14 posts

Should we skip Barcelona and visit Burgos, Bilbao and Sebastian instead? I have not seen as much information on that area up north, maybe that means less tourists? How is the train transport, or should we change our mindset and think about renting a car?

Posted by
14 posts

Or is it Madrid we should skip? The more I read other posts, the more I am uncertain. We have 15 days and want to visit 3 areas, but have 4 on the table: (1) Barcelona, (2) Madrid (with daytrips to Toledo, Avila, Segovia, etc.); (3) Andalucia (Seville, Granada, maybe a hill town); and (4) north of Madrid, including Burgos, Bilbao and San Sebastian. We have to drop one of them and which should it be? I still have to figure out flights but probably would fly rounndtrip to Madrid, or fly in to Barcelona and out of Madrid. Open to train or car or a mixture.

Posted by
56 posts

We ended the RS 16 day tour to Spain Nov. 2 this year and added a day to get in Cordova, got home Nov. 4. The weather was by and large nice, but some rain. You will need a rainproof windbreaker and a fleece to layer with it or a light jacket and an umbrella. Nothing heavy though. We did not get into northern spain. I would follow the RS guidebook and fly openjaw into Barcelona and out of Malaga, which is what we did. Cost should be about $1200. Try Delta/AirFrance rates. Trains will connect the whole way once you land. Start Barcelona, then train to Madrid. When you finish in Sevilla, take the train to Cordoba then end in Malaga. You can do Cordoba in a day on the way from Sevilla to Malaga and it is a must see. Leave your bags at the train or bus station per the guidebook and walk to the Mezquita. then reconnect for an afternoon train from Cordoba to Malaga.
Nice modern and relatively inexpensive hotel right at the Malaga train station for your early morning and easy cab ride to the airport. I have priced this trip many different ways and this is the best. When you add in the time and cost to go back to Madrid or Barcelona on the train you are much better to use the open jaw flights. The connections on Delta/ AirFrance are in Paris, and don't add much time to the trip at all over a non-stop.

Posted by
56 posts

Oops forgot to say, no chip and pin card issues. easy to use ATMs and credit cards.

Posted by
3 posts

We spent time there last fall. Flew into Barcelona and then flew to Granada. Loved Granada and the Alhambra! Spent a couple days at Tarifa and did the ferry to Morocco. Very cool. Sevilla was touristy but lovely. Not a huge fan of Madrid but maybe because it was at the end of the trip and we were a bit tired. Found a great hostel (and we're not hostel people) right in the heart of the city and it was very reasonably priced, (private bathroom and shower, a/c, safe, computers free to use). If you really only want to see a few pieces at the Prado, go late in the day when it can be free. We are also non-smokers and it really wasn't a problem .. at least no worse than travelling in the States.

Posted by
9363 posts

Marie, I would eliminate your northern option on this trip. In comparison to the other areas, there is not as much to see in those places, and the other three options flow together much better.

Posted by
14 posts

Is that because the northis harder to reach, oris there less to see there? The emphasis of most guidebooks seems to the main three, Madrid, Barcelona, and Seville, so that is what I started with. But then I keep reading and find interesting things about the north too. But I know we can't do everything in one trip. There seems to be consensus on Andalucia, and I think Granada and the Alhambra are our top priority. Then some people say skip Madrid,others say skip Barcelona, and one says skip the north. I guess in terms of flow it makes the most sense to include Seville and Granada, Madrid/Toldeo, and either Barcelona or the north. Or maybe we should skip those too and concentrate more on Andalucia. I'm glad I started working on this now.

Posted by
1878 posts

I think October would be nice, but check Yahoo weather. September and April are very nice in Spain, or were for us. That's when I have been there. Even January in Barcelona was nice when I visited there on business a couple of years back. I urge three full days, four nights, in Madrid. Another day and night if you can fit it in. Three full days is about right for Barcelona too. That's not including day trips for either. I also found Toledo and El Escorial to be must-see, and Segovia just about rises to that level. We ended up spending too much time on day trips out of Madrid when we were there on each of those places - not that we regretted visiting any. Just should have allocated more night to Madrid. I prefer Madrid and Seville to Barcelona, but all are nice. With 15 days you have enough time for Barcelona, Madrid, Andalusia. Consider the overnight train from Barcelona to Granada - we took it in 2005 and it was great. Spain is a tough country to plan a trip for, because the trade offs are just so difficult. Cordoba is worth a stop too, not to mention Ronda.. so many great spots in this wonderful country.

Posted by
1994 posts

I was there in late sept/early oct. Each year will be different, but my experience over a 2 week visit ranged from warm/comfortable to really quite cold/windy. Like anywhere at that season, I'd suggest layers. I had 4 days in Madrid, which was plenty (my interest was primarily the art); a week in Toledo, because I love el Greco; and 2 full days in Avila (plus travel time), which was quiet and quite pretty, with intact city walls and a well perserved town. I wanted to go to Barcelona (particularly for Montserrat), but it would have taken so much time by train from Madrid, I decided to skip it on that trip; I may go in January for a short 1-week stay.

Posted by
16919 posts

Marie, I don't know what your thoughts are on which of the four areas to omit, and I see also that you are considering travel by car for at least part of the trip. I will explain the train to you in case that helps you decide. We travel frequently in Switzerland, reputedly Europe's "best" train system, but I must say we were very impressed with the trains in Spain. The fast AVE trains travel at 300+ km per hour (around 180 mph) and are very smooth and comfortable. They cover the distance between Barcelona and Madrid in 2.5 to 2.75 hours, city center to center. From Madrid to cordoba is 1.75 hours; Madrid to Sevilla is 2.5. Full price tickets for these trains are fairly expensive, but if you buy 62 days in advance you can get Web fares, which are 60% off, a great deal. If you are seniors, there are discounts in the range of 25% to 40% without advance purchase. The trains to Granada, whether from Sevilla, Cordoba, or Madrid, are not the fast AVE trains but are still very nice and comfortable. They are also much less expensive. The train is a great way to cover the cities I mentioned, plus Toledo, with no worries about parking or getting lost in a car. I can't speak to Castile and Leon or San Sebastian/donastia, as we didn't go thee on our trip. but if you decide to omit the northern areas from your trip, I recommend you travel by train, maybe renting a car only if you visit the white towns of Andalucia (which I believe can also be easily reached by bus).

Posted by
16919 posts

continuing. . . The trio of Barcelona, Madrid, and Andalucia makes a great first trip to Spain, a sampler of three different regions, including the areas dominated by the Moors until the 15th cnetury. To really get a taste of history, I suggest you consider a couple of nights in Toledo instead of making that a daytrip from Madrid. I can suggest a very nice apartment right close to the center, and some great restaurants (which the daytrippers miss).

Posted by
14 posts

Thanks everyone. I think we are settled on Barcelona, Madrid/Toledo, Seville and Granada. And we will travel by train. Now I will start looking at airplane tickets and hotels. Does anyone have a favorite to recommend in each city? We like small boutique type hotels, not big chains. Around 130 euros a night for a double room would be good.

Posted by
182 posts

went from 10/01 to 10/16. san sebastian, bilbao, barcelona, cordoba, sevilla,ronda, malaga, and madrid. no rain. i carried a raincoat for two weeks.fu!!75 to 80 up north. 85 in barca. 90 to 100 down south. i did not know it was primetime for the south of spain. tons of germans and british families on holiday. it was fine. i certainly read more english menus and heard more english than in 25 years in europe. felt kind of no fun. everything in english made it seems sad.

Posted by
12172 posts

We were happy with Hostal Campi in Barcelona. It's nicely located, nice staff and a good budget option. We asked for a quiet room, ours was in the back and perfectly quiet. We didn't ask for an ensuite room, which isn't a problem for us. About half their rooms are ensuite. If that's important, make sure you book one. We stayed in either Hostal Santa Cruz or another one in the same building. The one we stayed in wasn't in Rick's recommendations but is just another floor of the same building. When we got there they walked us down to the floor Rick's hotel is on, so who knows which one we were staying at? It's about a block from Plaza Mayor (don't stay in the Plaza, too many permanent homeless encampments there at night) and a couple of blocks from Plaza del Sol - well located and a decent budget option, but nothing special. This one was ensuite. Both of these were about 65 euro per night for a double. In Seville we stayed in a giant hotel, Silken Al Andalus, because we got a good deal, 4 nights for just under 300 euro total (the standard rate is close to 300 per night). It's a very nice hotel but bigger than we normally stay at. We used a city bus, that runs right behind the hotel to get downtown. April (and October) are considered high season in Spain, so you should expect about the same price.

Posted by
23 posts

Dear Marie: I have been in Andalucia since October and was also here for 10 October days in 2008. It does rain some days but from what I hear, it's better than the 100 degree heat of summer and many fewer tourists. Since I had 2 months, I chose to stay cheaply in wonderful Antequera, the center of Andalucia (which has examples of everything wonderful about Andalucia) and take shorter trips by bus and train to other towns: Madrid, Cordoba, Granada, Nerja, Malaga, Alhurin El Grande (for a meditation retreat at the Buddhist Center),Toledo and Ronda. And 4 days in Morocco. I have soaked up a feel for Spain partly from just staring out of train windows. Madrid is called "the New York of Europe" for a reason (I spent most of my time in the Prado). I much prefer the smaller towns with a walkable old center, like Toledo or Ronda. You know every second you are in SPAIN! The only mistake I think you could make is trying to see everything (which can't be done) and having it all be an exhausted blur when you get home! Walk, walk, walk. Spain is a setting, a feeling, an experience much more than a few buildings you must look at!! Phyllis
(air miles traveler, non-smoker, no-chip credit card and just fine)

Posted by
254 posts

Marie, I didn't read all the posts before mine, but am replying to yours.... my daughter spent the fall semester in Seville. The weather was HOT all of Sept and into Oct. I think the weather will be nice in Oct. Go to weatherchannel.com and see monthly averages for whatever city interests you. Also, buy RS Spain book and use his advice in "planning your itinerary", that's what we did. I do think you should pick one of Madrid and Barcelona, not both. I have only been to Madrid and wasn't that thrilled with it, so I would pick Barcelona. My daughter went there and LOVED it. I have been to Toledo, good side trip. Seville is wonderful and I would spend 3 days there and then go south to Cordoba. You might try flying into Madrid for a day, Toledo, Seville, Cordoba, Barcelona.
No probs with cards, but you should tell the bank/card co. your travel plans. Easyjet is a great budget airline, but strict luggage rules (within Europe). For my December flight this year, SF to Rome, Paris to SF, I paid $1100. October is much cheaper than summer, so you should watch for sales and then go for it.

Posted by
6 posts

Marie, Like previous person, read your question, but didn't read all of the posts. We went to Spain 2011 in October and a few days in November. It was a bit nippy, although not unbearable. We got as far down as Morocco, which was perfect weather, but returning to Spain, it was definately cooler. Layering is the way to go. Between the two towns, we enjoyed Barcelona more than Madrid, seem like there is much more to do in Barcelona. Maybe consider hiring a tour guide for a couple of hours. I know that we got there a few days earlier than our tour started, and although we enjoyed it (and thought we had read everything we could about Barcelona), when we finally did join RS tour, we were amazed at the stuff we were walking past previously and had no idea of the history involved. Toledo was very nice, but any of the small towns are very pretty. We spent some extra days going up to San Sebastian in the Basque country and absolutely loved that, tue it's a little bit of a train ride (well worth it, we thought).