Over the last few decades, Spain has become one of the world's most popular tourist destinations. It's a well-established retreat for folks living in Great Britain, Ireland, and Western Europe, but much of the world has just recently caught up to its allure. It has a distinct and varied diversity of landscape and climate, amiable and welcoming inhabitants, and a rich history and culture.
The problem is, Spain is quite a large place to visit, and it is overflowing with noteworthy locales. Of course this a good problem to have, but if it is your first time, it might be a little tough to know where to begin. We all know Barcelona and Madrid—and don't worry, we'll spend plenty of time on both. But what about Spain's other treasures? And how might you go about taking in as many as you can in a set amount of time?
We've taken the liberty to put together a couple itineraries for you, so you can make your upcoming Spain trip "plus ultra," as the national motto says. Whether you're on a short stay, or you'd be inclined to extend your time in the Spanish countryside, we've got you covered.
Table of Contents
- Travel Tips And Things To Consider
- Weather in Spain
- Transport in Spain
- Currency Exchange
- A note on guided tours
- 7-Day Spain Itinerary
Barcelona, Montserrat, Zaragoza, San Sebastián, Bilbao
- 10-Day Spain Itinerary
Barcelona, Tarragona, Valencia, Madrid, Segovia, Toledo, Cordoba, Granada, Málaga, Ronda, Seville, Cadiz, Salamanca
Travel Tips And Things To Consider
Before we get too far into your next Spain itinerary, there are a few things you might first keep in mind for your upcoming journey. Here are a couple preliminary thoughts on how to maximize your stay in the country.
Weather in Spain
Spain actually has quite a diverse climate. Andalusia in the south can get so dry and hot that parts are considered a semi-arid desert, while the North, such as the Basque country, can be quite cold and rainy at certain times. That said, the early-to-late spring and early to-late-fall are probably the best times to plan your visit. You will likely get the most of all worlds in this scenario, as the hots won't be too hot and the colds won't be too cold.
If you'd like a personal suggestion from yours truly—a Barcelona local—err on the earlier side of spring for the best stay. Spain is quite a tourist destination these days, and if you like to avoid the crowds, mid-to-late March will treat you very well.
Transport in Spain
Regarding transport, there are a number of options available. Rental cars are fairly affordable and easy to get ahold of throughout the country. If you're not from Europe, consider bringing along an International Driver's License (available from any AAA branch in the US) for added precaution, as some rental companies and apps might not allow you to fetch a rental car or scooter otherwise. On the note of apps, for inner city travel, apps like Yego and Bird can grant you access to pay-as-you-go electric scooters (stand-up and sit-down), and can really open up these cities in terms of what becomes available to you.
If you're not keen on driving, don't worry, there are tons of affordable bus and train options. High-speed trains can get you between just about any two cities, though often times a car or bus will get you there a touch faster. Just about every city in Spain sports its own train station, typically at the city center. For many, a train offers a more relaxed way of travel, and many of the high-speed trains offer you tables and a dining car. The high-speed train line is called Renfe, and the most popular bus option is ALSA.
If you're a first-time traveler to Europe, you'll have to figure out a plan for spending in Euro. The majority of credit cards work in most foreign countries with an added 3% foreign transaction fee. Should this be the route you choose, always pay in local currency when prompted. This way, your bank determines the exchange rate, versus the company processing your transaction.
The problem with this option of payment may arise if you stumble upon an establishment that does not accept credit cards. Europe is certainly catching up on credit card payments in most restaurants, and in most of the bigger cities we mention this won't even be an issue. However, you'll likely still come across one or two spots that don't have a card machine—and they're usually the coolest ones.
Hear from fellow journy travelers
“I was so impressed with the itinerary! It hit all of the main attractions while including plenty of options that gave us flexibility to incorporate the interests of everyone in our group. Journy also found things that I wouldn’t have been able to find, really bringing in the special local knowledge. It made the traveling experience more relaxed without sacrificing the control of personalization.”
So you don't miss out or get caught in an awkward position, be sure to have paper currency on you. If you bank with a larger bank, you can probably use your debit card at Caixa Bank, Santander, or other popular Spanish bank ATM. It could cost you quite a bit to use the ATM—sometimes up to $15 service fees are applied in total, plus a 3% foreign transaction fee. Due to the high flat rate fees, it is advised you withdraw more money rather than less.
There are also several third-party services like Monese that will give you an EU bank card and allow you to load it up with money. These cards will run you the same 3% fee to load up, but save you some extra steps and headache when it's time to pay.
If you're exchanging currency to Euro, avoid doing it at the airport!
Travel insurance isn't a necessity, but if you'd like to be overly cautious, don't rule it out either. Many companies offer very affordable travel insurance rates, and the Spanish healthcare system is one of the best in the world. So—knock on wood—should something happen, you will be in good hands. Refer to travelinsurance.com for the most reputable, comprehensive quotes.
Lastly, many of the cities mentioned throughout this article offer wonderful guided tours through many of the sites we will talk about. If you fancy guided tours, don't let us hold you back, but this article will focus more on a free-roaming travel style. Never to worry, you'll get a great run-down of all the sites and sounds to soak in—guide or no guide.
¿Listos, amigos? ¡Vamos!
7-Day Spain Itinerary (SE to NE)
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Day 1 & 2: Barcelona
As promised, we'll start with Barcelona. In fact, both itineraries will start in Barcelona. It's bound to be one of the most beautiful cities you've ever visited, and it's a fantastic place to begin your journey through Spain. To avoid repetition from trip-to-trip, there will be separate destinations recommended for each visit to Barcelona, so don't gloss over our second Barcelona entry!
Barcelona is in the heart of Catalonia. You may be familiar with Catalonia, as in recent years it has made news for its independence movement. This is far from Spain's first encounter from a province demanding independence, as the Basque country in Northern Spain has desired its own sovereignty for centuries. Either way, this should paint a particular picture of Catalonia—that is, Catalonia very much has its own character and vibe compared to other parts of Spain.
So, too, does Barcelona.
On your first day in Spain, it would not be the worst idea to tick off some of the must-do activities in Barcelona. La Rambla (or Las Ramblas) is a broad street in the heart of Barcelona and, should it be your first time, it is worth a gander and short stroll. A rambla is actually a Spanish word defining the type of street that Las Ramblas is. There is typically a large lane down the center of the road flanked by two streets for cars and then two more sidewalks beyond that.
Las Ramblas is filled with interesting shops and seated terrazas for dining. Peppered along the eye-opening lane are several can't-miss spots. On Carrer Nou de la Rambla, you'll find a building designed by famous Spanish architect Gaudí (the city has many), called Palau Güell. The now famous La Boqueria market also has its home on La Rambla. Any fans of Anthony Bourdain may recognize La Boqueria from his trip to Barcelona, where he recommends Bar Pinotxo. Situate yourself along its narrow bar for a glass of Cava, some grilled botifarra sausage, and seared fresh tiger prawns.
La Rambla is a site to behold, but be warned, it is never short of ambling tourists. If you're not keen on large crowds, it might be worth it to take a quick gander of one of the city's most beautiful streets before wandering into one of the less congested adjoining neighborhoods. It's worth noting that Las Ramblas is never short of pick-pockets either, and sadly the whole city has quite an abundance of thieves. Keep your phones and wallets about you, and don't let any strangers get too comfortable or familiar with you.
After your visit to La Rambla, you'll find yourself directly beside the Gothic Quarter—the city's most magical neighborhood (or barrio, in Spanish). Hang a left on your way toward the beach and check out the cobblestone streets, ancient buildings, and wealth of tapas bars and restaurants. It's a bit easy to get turned around in the Gothic Quarter, but it's not an unwelcome place to be set adrift. Go with the twists and turns and take in the scenery—even Barcelona die-hards can't get enough of this part of town.
If you crave a bit of beach, head to Barceloneta. Barceloneta is both a barrio and a beach (manufactured around 1992 for the Summer Olympics). The neighborhood features an awesome grid-work of residencies and amazing tucked-away restaurants like El Xampanyet. Fill up on some sardines and Cava and then hit the beach—you've worked hard.
For day two, you can't visit Barcelona without having a look at La Sagrada Familia. The cathedral, located about a 30-minute walk northwest of the Gothic Quarter, has been under construction for over 150 years, with plans to finish around 2026. Sagrada Familia was also designed by Gaudí, and might be one of the most mind-blowing structures you've ever seen. A strange juxtaposition of Gothic architecture and modernisme/surrealist design, Sagrada Familia is a twisted, sacred bastion of Barcelona's intersection of the old and new. The guided tour here (at least the audio tour) is worth it.
You might be thirsty afterward—no one could blame you for that. If the weather permits, head to Plaça de Catalunya and hit a rooftop bar. They're not hard to come by, but for starters you might check the Ohla Hotel or the Hotel Pulitzer. The prices might be a little escalated compared to other bars in the area, but drinks and small bites are still quite affordable.
Not a far walk away is the Picasso Museum, showing off an impressive collection by the adored Spanish artist. The Picasso Museum has one of the most complete Picasso collections in the entire world, featuring nearly 5,000 of his works.
Once you've had your fill of art for the day, stop into El Born for dinner and wine. There are many incredible restaurants in the neighborhood, including Bar Brutal.
Afterwards, take a few steps in the shoes of greats like Picasso, Dali, and Hemingway. 15 minutes from the museum is Bar Marsella, in Barcelona's oldest neighborhood, El Raval. Bar Marsella was established in 1820, and is still one of the neighborhood's most popular destinations. Sip a glass of absinthe and lay your eyes on the dust-caked walls that have seen more than 10 lifetimes would show you.
Traveling to Barcelona with kids? Look no further than our family-friendly guide.
Day 3: Montserrat & Zaragoza
Hopefully you didn't overdo it on the absinthe last night, because there is a bit of hiking in your future. Your third day begins with a day trip to Montserrat—a stunning mountain range about an hour and a half from Barcelona.
Montserrat (meaning "saw mountain," because of its jagged face) is home to Saint Jeroni, the highest peak in all of Catalonia. Catalan children frequently hike the mountain overnight as a rite of passage in order to take in the mind-shattering sunrise above their homeland. All along your ascent you'll find winding trails through lush, undisturbed greenery. The park grounds surrounding Montserrat are well protected and maintained. And while the city streets can provide many of civilization's greatest gifts, the treasures of the natural world will surely bring joy to your third day.
Also located in Montserrat is a Benedictine abbey named Santa Maria de Montserrat. Home to one of Spain's only Black Madonnas, the abbey turned 1,000 in the mid 19th century. Santa Maria de Montserrat is nestled impressively within the cliff-face, granting you not only a marvelous dose of history, but also a hearty portion of elegant serenity.
It's worth getting to Montserrat early to beat the crowds, and it's likely your stay will run you four to six hours, depending on how you choose to spend it. Once you feel you've seen it all, it's time to head to Zaragoza for the evening. This step of your journey will take about three hours by car, though it's well worth it for a glimpse of the countryside.
You might arrive just as the sun begins to lower, and, no doubt will have worked up quite an appetite. After you're sorted and checked in, it'll be time pop into Old Town for a delicious meal. A more traditional Spanish city, Zaragoza is overflowing with dining options, wine bars, and taverns. Tapas are undoubtedly the service style of choice, and because Zaragoza is not necessarily a tourist destination, you'll be hard-pressed to find a spot that feels inauthentic.
Along the way you'll be treated to charming cobblestone walkways, narrow streets from years before, and captivating architecture—some dating all the way back to the Roman empire.
Day 4: Zaragoza
Zaragoza's origins date back to the Roman empire, with some estimates putting the city's original founding around 15 BC. However it later became one of several independent Muslim states that formed around 1000 AD. As a result, the city has a very unique combination of Romanesque, Gothic, and Moorish architecture. Certain parts of the city will feel very modern and familiar, while others may have you sitting on a terraza overlooking an ancient castle wall.
At this point, you've had some time in the city, so you've likely noticed the Basilica del Pilar. One of the city's iconic buildings, the Basilica del Pilar is a remarkable cathedral filled with frescos painted by the acclaimed romantic Spanish artist, Goya. The hulking spires and colorful tile rooftop are unmistakable, and the building very much lends itself to Zaragoza as its most defining feature.
Entry to the basilica is free, so even if you shy away from taking in old cathedrals, there isn't a whole lot to lose. The interior is lined with Goya's meticulously painted Biblical depictions, gold-leafed embellishments, and marble columns all centering around the heart of the chapel, a gorgeous statue of La Santa Capilla. You'll also have an opportunity to ascend to either of the basilica's spires overlooking the city. The spire that is open to the public will take you about 60 meters up, and is well worth the climb.
Zaragoza is also home to the Goya Museum, which features nearly 1,000 works by the artist, including frescos, etchings, and a timeline of his life from Spain to his death in Bordeaux, France.
As the evening begins to set in, it's worth catching a sunset and having another stroll down Calle de Alfonso. Grab a lovely dinner at Balcon del Tubo, Casa Juanico, or one of the city's many other treasured tapas bars.
Day 5: San Sebastián
If you've decided to come to Spain during the summer, San Sebastián—which is nestled in Northern Spain in the Basque country—will delight you.
The Spanish Basque is an autonomous region within Spain, and Basque distances itself from Spanish culture in many ways. The Basque language actually predates romantic languages, and shares little to no similarities with Spanish. Much like in Catalonia, you'll be harder pressed to find street signs written in traditional Castellano.
Beyond the language, Basque culture also exhibits its own unique culinary character. The region is home to some pretty unusual wines (often referred to as "Txakolina" for the regions that produce it), some very funky apple cider (check out Isastegi for what is likely the most palatable), and pintxos (if you liked tapas, but wished they were somehow even smaller).
The city in and of itself is simply a perfect destination for a wander. It's not an overly huge area in which to lose yourself for a few hours, and its uncomplicated serenity is enough to woo any traveler.
You might find yourself in need of a fixed destination, and it's worth strolling up Urgull—an ocean-side hill overlooking the picturesque La Concha beach. Once a military defense point, visitors can now climb the hill to take in the ocean and the surrounding city. Afterward, take a casual stroll down to the sand and bask (no pun intended) in the sun. If you don't mind a sea-borne day trip, you can take a ferry to a small island just off the coast of the beach called Santa Clara (which your Journy trip designer can arrange for you). While the island is basically uninhabited, it does feature a lovely cafe, lighthouse, and some picnic areas.
Day 6 & 7: Bilbao
You've done a lot of bouncing around, and it's probably felt like a bit of a blur. Because of this, it seemed most appropriate to end with two full days in Bilbao—a city with space to move around and character like no other.
The most iconic attraction in Bilbao is absolutely a must-see: the Guggenheim Museum. In fact, if there is one thing that just about anyone knows of Bilbao, it's the silhouette of the odd angular and curved machination from the mind of Frank Gehry. Home to controversial modern works such as Jeff Koons's puppy installation and "Iconclastic Controversy" by Anselm Kiefer, the Guggenheim's inside is as odd as its outside. Weather permitting, many works are featured outside the museum as well.
After you've stop at the Guggenheim, it's time to wander to Casco Viejo, Bilbao's Old Town. Bearing some odd resemblance to the architecture of Barcelona, here you can walk the slender, meandering streets replete with pastel exteriors lining the arcane pavement.
Beyond the architecture, Old Town is the heart of Bilbao's bar scene. The aforementioned Txakolina can be enjoyed as the Basque do—in a bong-like receptacle called a porrón. Though the porrón is originally a Catalan contraption, it spread to Bilbao and became a very popular party favor. Basically, you fill the porrón with wine (often red Txakolina, for the true porrón drinkers) and then pour the wine out of the receptacle's side spout and into your mouth. The goal is then to lift your arm, pulling the porrón as far from your body as physically possible without spilling wine all over your face. Sounds fun right? Or not, maybe. But do it anyway.
If you haven't used your porrón responsibly, it might be time for bed. If not, it's time for La Ribera market, which encompasses 107,000 square feet and dates back to the 14th century AD. Here, you'll see fresh seafood being bought and sold, produce, sandwiches, pintxos, wine—anything you could possibly want. Feel free to pop a squat and chow down. You're in Europe's largest indoor market, after all.
“The recommendations have been high quality and highly personalized to meet my needs. The trip designers have communicated well and responded quickly to all of my questions. Being able to have the full itinerary with maps right on my phone and available offline is incredibly convenient and user-friendly."
What better way to cap off your astonishing stay in Spain than a boat ride? From the market you can hope on a ferry to take you down the Ría del Nervión. After all the trekking you've managed over the last week, it's time to relax and let someone else do the driving. A boat-ride down the Ría del Nervión will offer you an opulent view of Bilbao, and can take you through quite a lot of the city itself. Sit back, enjoy, and reflect on a magical trip through just one small part of the beautiful Spanish landscape.
Maybe seven days won't quite cut it, and you're looking for an even deeper dive into the heart of Spain. If you're ready to take your Spain travel to the next level, this next, 10-day Spain itinerary is for you.
10-Day Spain Itinerary (SE to SW)
Day 1 & 2: Barcelona
As we start you once again in Barcelona, you could no doubt refer to our previous recommendations to build out your stay in the city. We do, however, have a few alternative suggestions, as it is so difficult to cover everything in just two days. So when considering your time spent here, you may think about doing just a bit of mixing and matching.
If there is one thing for which you can fault Barcelona, it is that the sheer abundance of tourism can at times negatively impact the experiences it has to offer. Locals steer clear of Las Ramblas and Barceloneta because, honestly, there are plenty of other gorgeous spots that offer the same or better experience with just a tad more peace and quiet.
For this very reason, after you take in La Sagrada Familia, you might instead head southwest to Vila de Gracia. For the traveler who wants a more genuine experience, Gracia is a more local-friendly part of town. Nearly every weekend you could encounter a raucous street festival, even throughout the winter season. Cool little neighborhood spots like La Vermu and La Graciosa will give you the vibe that you're really in the heart of the city, rather than the side you see in guide books.
During your stay in Gracia, take a trip to Park Güell—one of Barcelona's largest and most captivating parks imagined and crafted by Gaudí. Fully in line with his bent and highly characterized style, Park Güell is home to stunning works of architectural prowess such as the Dragon Staircase, the slightly off-kilter Laundry Room Portico, and an outdoor former marketplace called the Hypostyle Room. The park even offers an interactive phone app to plan your best route. Keep in mind that only a certain amount of visitors are let in every hour to combat overcrowding.
If you can't get enough Gaudí, take a short cab to Casa Batllo on Passeig de Gracia. Designed in 1904, Casa Batllo is considered one of Gaudí's greatest works. The colorful, oddly-curved building is meant to represent Saint George slaying a magnificent dragon.
On your second day in Barcelona, you would do well to admire Plaza de España and its surrounding beauty. Some might say this plaza is the true entryway to the city, being one of the first major landmarks you come by on your way in from the airport. The plaza's roundabout surrounds a large sculpted golden fountain display, and flanks Las Arenas, the former bull fighting ring-turned-shopping mall. At the other side of the roundabout are the Venetian towers: two 154-ft towers on either side of a large active convention center. Behind that you will find the jaw-dropping Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC) perched atop the side of Montejuic, one of the city's most massive forests. Watch the sun set across the city on the stairs of the museum, and then stick around for the fountain show at the Font Magica. While a bit more of a touristy destination in the city, it is 100% worth the time.
Not a long walk from Plaza de España is the Michelin-star Mexican restaurant Hoja Santa in Poble Sec. If you really want to swing for the fences and have an unforgettable dinner, make a reservation at Hoja Santa well in advance (or gamble on a last minute walk-in early in the evening). It won't be cheap, but compared to other Michelin-star spots, Hoja Santa is quite affordable and well worth the price tag.
Day 3: 1/2 day in Tarragona, evening in Valencia
In the morning, after a small breakfast and cup of coffee, it's time to head to Tarragona.
Tarragona is a small port city filled with beauty and history, and at just an hour away from Barcelona, it makes for a perfect day trip from the city. The biggest allure to the city is no doubt the abundance of Roman ruins and knotted medieval city walkways. Add in a wealth of fantastic dining locations, and you've got the makings of a splendid day.
The train will drop you just a short distance from the Archaeological District of town, and along the way you'll be treated to the sites of La Rambla Nova including the Monument als Castellers, a statue celebrating a long-held Spanish tradition of building human castles, often reaching several stories in height.
Once in the Archaeological District, you can observe the wealth of ancient Roman ruins stretched throughout the city. The Tarragona Amphitheater, the Circ Roma, and the Colonial Forum of Tarraco are all can't-miss destinations for the lovers of the ancient world. Though if you desire a more laid back approach to the day, you may have already guessed that Tarragona is wealthy with beaches. Paltja Savinosa and Platja Arrabassada are both fine places to set up camp for a few hours, take in the sun, and enjoy the newly-found mental clarity that only great travel can bring.
As the afternoon winds to a close, it will be time to head toward Valencia and continue on with the next leg of the trip. As always, there are ample bus and train routes between the two cities, and expected travel time by car is about two and a half hours.
Valencia is quite an unexpected city in design and magnitude, and you will no doubt understand the energy to be totally unlike other Spanish cities. Most prominently eye-catching is the diverse architectural style of Valencia, and the abundance of futuristic structures tucked among more classic European architecture.
As you've just arrived on an empty stomach, first thing is first. You're now in the home of paella, and it wouldn't be a Spanish trip without indulging a bit. For those unfamiliar, paella is a classic Spanish rice-based dish typically served with seafood and some type of meat. Its preparation takes place in a deep cast-iron dish placed atop an open flame. The rice is slowly boiled down in a rich broth and the ingredients are added bit by bit to enrich the flavor of the base. Eventually the rice on the bottom of the pan chars and forms what is called "socarrat," a crispy, flavorful delight booming with the most concentrated tastes of the entire dish. Paella typically showcases large shell-on prawn and fresh mussels alongside bits of chicken and often pork. You might have grown so accustomed to the golden rays of sun each day that you would prefer your paella beachside. If this is the case, La Pepica will make your day, with a dining terraza overlooking the endless Mediterranean.
The nightlife will find you in El Barrio del Carmen. Though the barrio is situated in old town, it is home to the youth and bohemian vibrance of Valencia. If you're in need of a night cap, a night club, or just a night out, El Barrio del Carmen can offer you any and all that your heart desires. Save up for the morning though, because tomorrow is brimming with sights to see.
Without a doubt, the most striking architectural oddity in the Spain's third-largest city is the City of Arts and Science. At first glance, the odd structures might bring to mind the primal-futuristic shell structure of the Sydney Opera House. What makes the City of Arts and Science all the more special is that it is, in fact, a compound of three separate unforgettable destinations—all accessible with a single 40-euro ticket. If a full-day itinerary at a museum really turns your gears, you should spend the better part of your journey here.
Entrance grants you access to the Oceanografic (one of the largest aquariums in all of Europe), the Hemisferic iMax cinema, and the Principe Felipe interactive science museum. Whether you're with little ones or you'd prefer to play the part of the little ones for the day, all three experiences are sure to satisfy.
The Oceanografic is an impressive park of modern structures projected against the classic Valencia skyline. Several buildings resemble massive alien clam shells, one an Epcot-like golf ball, and several outdoor exhibits will grant you access to playful dimensions inhabited by seals and penguins. The Oceanografic includes several permanent exhibits—among others, the largest collection of sharks in Europe, and a hypnotizing jellyfish exhibit that is sure to awe.
The Hemisferic shares a striking resemblance to the doom-bringing ships from the War of the Worlds, though fortunately it provides a more pleasurable experience. The Hemisferic predominantly features sensational documentary films upon its 900 m2 screen, though it is known to occasionally show children's films designed for the format. The hall is also used for 3D projection light shows when not featuring films.
With the motto "forbidden not to touch, not to feel, not to think," the Principe Felipe interactive science museum will undoubtedly bring out the child in all of us. The 26,000 m2 building features regularly rotating exhibitions, as well as some permanent installments such as "Electricity Theater," "The Chromosome Forest," and "Zero Gravity."
The last mention may take quite a pristine bit of planning, but should you just happen to pass through Valencia in early March, you can witness one of Spain's most enchanting festivals: the Falles. Added recently to UNESCO's list of intangible cultural heritage, the Falles is a both a celebration and display of mind-blowing statues, flaming puppets, paella, fireworks, and a massive climactic bonfire. The painstaking assembly of these monuments can hardly be described with words, and the Spanish know better than anyone how to host a festival. If you can make this happen, you must. And Journy can help.
Day 4: Madrid
So far, you've experienced some fascinating aspects of Spanish culture. You've heard Catalan and Valencian alongside Spanish, and you've witnessed both Spain's second and third city. But now it's time for the first. Madrid might sometimes remain overlooked when seeking recommendations for your time in Spain, but through no fault of the city itself. When people think of the classic Spanish vacation, they have sandy beaches on the brain. While Madrid might be landlocked, there is an energy to the city that is truly, genuinely Spanish, and it isn't to be missed.
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After a two to three-hour trip in the morning, you will arrive to Spain's capital city. First and foremost, head to La Puerta del Sol, considered by many to be the gates of Madrid. Puerta del Sol is one of the busiest and most fascinating squares in all of the city. With landmarks like El Oso y el Madrono ("The Bear and the Strawberry Tree," representing the Madrid coat of arms), an iconic Tio Pepe sign (one of Spain's largest sherry producers), and the Palacio de Gaviria museum, you could get lost for hours taking in the surroundings. Though there is yet so much more to see.
Not far from Puerta del Sol is La Plaza Mayor. As you may guessed by the name, La Plaza Mayor is an immense shopping and dining square iconic to the city. Stroll the picturesque plaza, situated around a large bronze statue of King Phillip III. Have a drink on the Al Fresco terraza if you'd like—although the drinks are available at heightened prices, it's worth at least a quick sit for the experience. Once you've circumvented the plaza, have a walk over to Mercado de San Miguel—one of Madrid's most popular public markets.
If you've saved some time for a lounge, take a 20-minute walk or short cab to the majestic Retiro Park. In fact, one of Madrid's most enthralling characteristics is its immaculately maintained public parks. Retiro Park is a 350-acre park in the heart of the city featuring an overwhelming quantity of charming pathways, a public lake, and several ornate fountains. Dog lovers will have an opportunity to make plenty of new friends during their time here. And should you feel up for another museum visit, just a hop and a skip away is the Prado Museum, home to a wealth of Spanish artistic masterpieces, some dating back to the 12th century.
For the evening, it may be at long last time to take in a Flamenco show. While Madrid has many top-notch Flamenco bars, the most iconic is Corral de la Moreria. It is important to book in advance (or have your Journy trip designer do it for you), as tickets very often sell out ahead of time. Moreria offers some of the world's greatest Flamenco dancers, musicians, singers, and world-class Spanish food. For the decadent diner, order the veal tenderloin with foie gras potato pastry, and become captivated by the energetic Spanish tradition.
Day 5: 1/2 day in Segovia, evening in Madrid
It's time for another day trip! Just one short hour from Madrid is the mesmerizing town of Segovia.
If you've ever dreamed of being a Disney princess, Segovia is the closest you may get—the Alcazar castle in Segovia is said to have inspired Disneyland's castle design. And when you have a look at Alcazar for yourself, the resemblance is unmistakable.
The castle was originally a military fortress, though it has at other times served as a prison, and even a training academy. Though, to our knowledge, it has never held a Disney princess...Cinderella or otherwise. It is now a museum available to visit for around 12 euros.
While you're enjoying your time in Segovia, have a look at the Gothic-style cathedral in their Plaza Mayor, the Iglesia de Vera Cruz, the Roman aqueducts, and the Royal Palace of La Granja of San Ildefonso. It's definitely a day to take in another piece of history. You'll likely get a bit peckish during your stay, and if you'd like something truly special, stop into Meson de Candido after seeing the aqueducts. Candido offers indoor dining in its arcane 18th-century building as well as outdoor seating, and features such mouth-watering dishes as roast suckling pig and grilled pheasant.
For the evening in Madrid, head back to old town for a couple true Spanish experiences. Not far from Plaza Mayor is the 3,400 room Royal Palace of Madrid. For 11 euros, you can enter and explore the decadent interior of the former home to the Spanish royal family. And just a block away is the Madrid Opera House, another architectural site to behold.
While not so popular in Eastern Spanish cities like Barcelona, Spain produces its own regionally-distinct brand of wine known as sherry (or Jerez, named after the region from where it comes). While many think of sherry as sweet, the majority of sherries are in fact quite dry, though often deep and caramel-like. If you fancy a try, look no further than La Venencia in old town. Honestly, even if you think you'll hate sherry, you will love La Venencia. Its interior is dark and musty and its walls are lined with dust covered bottles—making La Venencia just as much an experience as a spot for a drink. If you prefer a lighter style, ask for a fino or manzanilla, and if you're feeling bold, go oloroso or palo cortado. Get a plate of olives, some anchovies, and perhaps a little cheese as well. You won't regret pushing your comfort zone in this instance. And while many folks break the rule, La Venencia asks that you take no photos of the interior, meaning you'll get an experience that you may only share by word of mouth. These days, that's something truly unique.
Afterword, hit up one of the city's many tapas bars. Tapas operate just a little differently in Madrid compared to Barcelona, and it makes you wish every bar in the world held such a policy. For every round of drinks you order, you receive a complimentary dish of food. And the longer you stay, the better the dishes get. While you may begin with a simple plate of pan con tomate, you could end up with mini hamburgers within three or four rounds. So it's worth camping out at one location for while.
Day 6: 1/2 day in Toledo, evening in Cordoba
About an hour southwest of Madrid is the medieval city of Toledo. Another relic of ancient Rome, Toledo is known for its mixture of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian influences throughout the city walls.
Toledo is flanked by two gates: the Bisagra gate and the Sol gate. These were the two main points of defense when Toledo was still a medieval fortress, and they now stand as tributes to the city's unique identity. Within the city walls you may visit the 15th-century monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, the El Greco Museum, and the Iglesia de Santo Tome. For a quick drink and snack, pop by the Plaza de Zocodover, a bustling city center filled with cafes and small restaurants.
Before making your way down the road, gaze upon Toledo from the Mirador del Valle, an awe-inspiring lookout point from outside the city walls.
For the second half of the day, you'll be taking a three-hour drive down to Cordoba.
If you arrive early enough, try to pop into Cordoba's iconic 8th-century Mosque Cathedral. The ornate exterior glistens with porcelain burgundy tiles and gilded archways. Entrance is around 11 euros and grants you access to the lavish interior, outfitted with artwork dating back to the 10th century.
There's a slew of other archaic sites to take in around Cordoba: a stunning Roman bridge that lights up like the stars when the sun goes down, the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos (an ornate royal compound surrounded by castle walls), and a remarkable historic center of town. But, if you're a bit tuckered out from such ample traversing, it might be time to park at one of Cordoba's many fine restaurants. Stop into the Jewish quarter to have a charred pork steak at El Churrasco, munch on Cordoban snails at Tercio Viejo, or grab some African fusion as Casa Mazal. As you probably know by now, it can be quite difficult to go wrong when it comes to dining in Spain.
Day 7: Granada
In the morning, we head to Granada, considered by many to be one of the best destinations in all of Spain.
The Andalusian city of Granada is home to the legendary Alhambra palace, originally constructed in the 9th century AD. Alhambra means 'Red Castle' in Arabic, and the castle is so named for its maroon-hued walls. Located atop a strategic point and surrounded by forest, the Alhambra is well worth the walk for the views, both inside and out. The site is so radically popular that tickets are limited daily, so it is recommended you book in advance (or, of course, have Journy handle it for you). Tickets start around 12 euros.
Adjacent the Alhambra is the Generalife, a relaxation point for the kings of old. Within the Generalife is a long, narrow pool surrounded on either side by exotic floral arrangements, fountains, and opaque pavilions. Due to their close proximity, it would be ideal to plan enough time to visit both locations in one trip.
In the late afternoon, make a stop at one of Granada's Turkish baths. Hammam Al Ándalus is the area's most popular option, featuring hot and cold baths, massage packages, and several relaxation rituals. Other popular picks are Elvira, San Miguel, and the Royal Spa and Baths. Again, booking in advance (or leaving it to Journy) could save you a lot of headache upon arrival!
Granada might be the perfect evening for an upscale dining affair. Several Michelin mentions are nestled within the city, including Damasqueros, La Fabula, and the newcomer Cala. Each restaurant offers a contemporary take on Spanish cuisine and seasonally rotating menus, often with tasting options. Try some of Andalusia's unique wine offerings such as Tintilla, a red-fleshed grape that produces hearty, rich, vegetal wines indicative of the region's strong climate.
Day 8: Málaga and Ronda
The following morning will take you just a couple hours southwest to the port city of Málaga. While Málaga might be most closely affiliated with the panoramic beaches of Costa del Sol, the city itself has much to offer.
Right smack dab in the city center is Málaga's Alcazaba fortress. The Alcazaba features winding rows of trees in every direction, a Roman amphitheater, and the adjoining Gibralfaro castle.
Málaga is also home to a staggering 30 museums of all different shapes and sizes, including their own Picasso Museum, a classic automobile museum, and the newly-installed French-born Pompidou. And should you be keen on Russian history, drop into the Russian Collection Museum, a sort of a newcomer in its own right nestled inside a former tobacco factory.
For food, Málaga is certainly one of the more tantalizing destinations along this journey. Being a costal town, Málaga is of course quite in love with its fresh seafood. One of the staples to Malagan cuisine are boquerones: small silver anchovies, sometimes marinated in vinegar and sometimes simply grilled on the spit. While some of us tend to turn our noses up at the mention of the pungent, salty fish, it's worth a try at least once. You might be surprised to find them quite delectable. And if you're not wild about fish, no need to worry. Málaga's many marketplaces feature the iconic cured Iberian ham legs, fresh cheeses, and fried churros.
If you're able to plan out a bit of time in the afternoon (or perhaps even tomorrow morning), consider taking a day trip to Ronda. You'll be happy you did.
Ronda is a village of about 35,000 people nestled atop a mountain just two hours from Malaga. If you've come to see history, Ronda will be your campfire story for years to come. Surrounding the city are the remains of a village from the Neolithic area—by far the oldest ruins you'll see on this trip. Within the city walls you'll bear witness to Spain's oldest bullfighting ring, the ruins of several ancient Turkish baths, and La Ciudad, a former hangout of both Orson Welles and Ernest Hemingway. While it is quite a bit of time to set aside in a day, Ronda could be a magical side quest during your stay in Malaga.
Day 9: Seville
Your penultimate day will be spent in the charming Andalusian city of Seville (or Sevilla, depending on who you ask). Still within the autonomous region of Andalusia, Seville is another classic showcase of traditional Spanish culture.
The most icon historical edifice of the city is most likely the Seville Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See (Catedral de Santa María de la Sede). The cathedral is hard to miss, sporting tens of spires jutting upward against the clear azure skies, its highest point being the Giralda bell tower at 343 ft. If you'd like to take a look inside, entrance is quite affordable at only nine euros.
Crossing over the river to the Triana neighborhood is an absolute must. Triana is such an independently defined neighborhood that, indeed, many of its residents consider themselves to be from Triana before Seville. Within the barrio limits you'll find the Triana market, unbelievable tortilla and drinks at Bar Santa Ana, and directly across the street the Iglesia de Santa Ana. The order in which you choose to visit those last two is totally up to you.
If you didn't follow our advice on Flamenco while in Madrid, take in a show in Seville. Taberna Gonzalo Molina will offer you a much more casual Flamenco experience. Shows happen every Monday and Wednesday in this centuries old drinking haunt.
For other hip bars, have a look at Bici (a speakeasy in what appears to be a rundown bicycle shop) and Casa Vizcaino for some of the city's best vermouth.
Day 10: Cadiz or Salamanca
And for your final day in Spain, you are presented with a choice. Stay within the region of Andalusia and bask in the stunning port town of Cadiz, or head several hours North to Salamanca along the border of Portugal.
Cadiz is yet another unbelievable little port town with a long history and a fascinating level of mixed cultural history. Originally a fishing town, Cadiz has also served as a strong city along trade routes and a military stronghold throughout various points in time.
If you'd like a beach-filled send off to Spain, Cadiz is your spot. Playa de la Caleta is particularly charming, and is brimming with people socializing and partying from sunrise to sunset. Cadiz is almost disturbingly laid back in that sense—you'll never see a time of day when there aren't folks reclining, chatting on terrazas, or simply having a stroll to take in the day.
And, again, should you simply have the most impeccable timing as a traveler, Cadiz is home to one of Spain's most insane Carnival parties, and implicitly one of the world's greatest (also in early March, if you are hell-bent on catching the Falles in Valencia). The port town experiences an unimaginable influx of visitors for several weeks throughout the Carnival season. But during the weekend of the celebration, you'll be shoulder-to-shoulder with costumed travelers, drinking sherry in the street, eating fresh sea urchins, and dancing to techno on the steps of a thousand-year-old church. Not a bad way to end a week-and-a-half in Spain.
Salamanca, on the other hand, is nestled in the Castille y Leon region of central Spain. It is a bit more of a hike, at four hours compared to the one hour to Cadiz, but maybe you've had enough of southern Spain and you'd prefer to see a UNESCO World Heritage Site with Spain's oldest university... and take in a bit of nightlife.
Salamanca's Baroque-style plaza mayor is your portal to outdoor dining, six connected shopping streets, and the Cathedral de Salamanca. Not terribly far is the University District of Salamanca. During a wander in that direction, be sure to have a stop into the Old University Building. Inside you'll get to take a look at the first university library in all of Europe. And before leaving, try to find the frog on the facade wall. Kudos on you if you do, but typically you'll need a bit of help. Finding the frog is something of a rite of passage for attending students.
Salamanca calls itself the oldest young city in Spain; that is, you would mistake it for a sleepy town set in its ways on sight alone. But you would be wrong.
As the sun sets you might realize the vibrant youth culture attending the Universidad de Salamanca (founded in 1218) brings to this ancient town a riotous nightlife scene of bars, clubs, and chupito bars (a type of Spanish bar that serves only shots). Start the evening off at the cool, chill Taberna La Rayuela for some tapas and a glass or two of vermouth. Then consider stopping in at the bizarre Tio Vivo for a few sips next to carousel horses and live music. From there, if chupitos strike your fancy, have one or two at La Chupiteria. Of course, pace yourself—they go down smooth but they might hit you fast. If you're a club-goer, head to the medieval-themed Camelot for a wholly unique dance experience. For the techno pure-bread, it might be time to check out Morgana—a club sporting a non-stop techno floor and another floor with more of a Latin flair.
Hopefully you've gained some insight and perhaps a future Spain itinerary from everything provided. The tragic bit is how much of Spain was left unmentioned, even with everything that has been covered in these trips. Galicia, Rioja, Mallorca, Menorca, Las Canarias, Ibiza... There simply isn't enough time for everything! But look forward to future articles giving you a deep insider's dive on the many other legendary destinations that Spain has to offer.