Two 30-something sisters visiting Spain for the first time in October for 13 days. We are starting in Barcelona and flying out of Madrid. We've been recommended Barcelona, Sevilla and Granada. We are also considering Tangier for a day trip just to get a flavor of the Moroccan experience. Does it make sense to go in the following order - Barcelona, Sevilla, Tarifa/Tangier, Granada and Madrid. Right now we are not planning on spending anytime in Madrid besides to fly out, is that a big miss? Are there other cities that we should consider? Are there less "touristy" places we must try? Trying to make the most of this sister trip! Thanks for any help :)
I traveled with my sister last summer and I had a wonderful time. I am sure that you two will as well. There is something about being with someone who has known you your entire life that is strangely fun and comforting at the same time. Enjoy!
There is so much to see in Barcelona and Andalusia that I would recommend your skipping Tangier. You'll use more than 1/2 day to get there from Seville (train, then bus to Tarifa and ferry to Morocco with your luggage), then even longer from Tangier to Granada (ferry, bus, train) to visit what is essentially a port/border town, not "real" Morocco.
Madrid is a nice city, but pales in comparison with your other choices - except for the absolutely top-notch art museums and a beautiful palace. It's only a big miss if you'd be happy spending a couple of days looking at paintings.
4-5 nights in Barcelona. Remember that your first day, and maybe your second as well, you'll be recovering from the long flight, lack of sleep and jetlag.
1-2 nights Cordoba Take a fast direct train from Barcelona. The Mezquita is a must-see.
2-3 nights Granada
3-4 nights Seville
1 night Madrid I like to spend the night before my flight close to the airport. It will take you about an hour from central Madrid to the airport and you should be at the airport 3 hours before flight time.
You can save a lot by buying train tickets now. Use the official train website, renfe.com. Before you buy, read this article. You need to buy tickets to the Alhambra as soon as you nail down your dates. They sell out. If you want to see La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, you should buy tickets in advance.
We spent five nights in Madrid on the RS Barcelona-Madrid tour and really enjoyed it. I agree that it would be a good idea to cut out Tangier- this would cut down on travel time.
Madrid and nearby Toledo (which can be visited as a day trip from Madrid) deserve at least 2 days and 1 day respectively. So if you had the time you could consider it.
However 13 days (not sure if that includes travel time to/from Spain) is not a lot and your itinerary is very ambitious. Spain is very big and the only sensible way to go from Barcelona to Sevilla is to fly, because even the high speed train is a long trip.
Generally I would suggest the following allocation (and order):
Fly to Madrid
Madrid/Toledo: 3 or 4 nights (2 at a minimum if you skip Toledo)
-AVE train to Sevilla
Sevilla: 3 nights at a minimum.
-Bus to Granada
Granada: 2 nights at a minimum
-Fly Vueling to Barcelona
Barcelona: 4 nights (3 at a minimum)
-Fly to US from Barcelona
I'm not familiar with Tangiers. In any case I don't think you have the time to squeeze Morocco in your 13 days. The above list already calls for 12-13 nights on the ground.
Since you are sisters, you might consider staying in convents or other religious lodgings. They are much cheaper.
Just to round out the options, the fastest way from Sevilla to Tarifa would be a 3-hour direct bus, not a 4-hour train to Algeciras. Or, you could start with a cheap flight from Barcelona to either Tangier or Fes, Morocco on Vueling airlines. But, there is more than enough to see just within Spain in your 13 days and the Moorish palaces in Granada and Sevilla are more impressive than architecture you would find in Tangier. The excitement of a Tangier trip is more about the cultural differences, street life, markets.