For first-timers to Spain, there’s so much you’ll want to see and do that it might feel like there’s no possible way to fit it all in one trip. We get it. However, our 10-day Spain itinerary checks off the bucket-list cities and sights that every visitor should see, and gives some flexibility within each destination. If this isn't your first trip to Spain, consider using any of these cities as a base to explore some of the country’s regions on a deeper level. You can also pick any part of this itinerary to craft three- and five-day Spain itineraries. Read on for the perfect Spain itinerary and start planning your adventure today.
If you want to spend more time exploring Madrid on a deeper level, check out our three-, five-, and seven-day Madrid itinerary.
You’ve arrived in Spain’s vibrant and elegant capital city, likely after a long flight. Hope you got some sleep! Check into your hotel, where you’ll stay for three nights, and drop off your luggage so that you can hit the pavement. Madrid is the heart of all that makes modern Spain tick, offering world-class museums, charming cafes, amazing tapas, cosmopolitan nightlife, and an excellent metro system to get around. Take an Urban Adventures walking and tapas tour through the city’s well-known sites like Plaza Mayor, the Royal Palace of Madrid, and Puerta del Sol, and meander through Retiro Park if the weather is nice.
If you’d prefer a cultural romp through the city, take some time to explore Barrio de las Letras, where several of Spain’s most famous writers lived (including Cervantes). Look for famous literary quotes and colorful bohemian art that line the cobblestone streets. Also known as Huertas, this part of town is located in between Madrid’s most famous museums: The Prado, Reina-Sofia, and Thyssen-Bornemisza. Hitting up all three in one day is a fool’s errand, so pick one for your first day and save another for your second.
Once you’re changed for the evening, head to Templo de Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple moved here from Aswan and rebuilt in the city. Crowds tend to gather nightly to watch the stunning sunset view. Linger through the area until dusk, and then head to one of the cool restaurants in Malasaña or Chueca for dinner.
Our top Madrid hotel pick is the sleek Petit Palace Plaza del Carmen, located on an attractive square near Sol, surrounded by restaurants, shops, and attractions. Modern, yet budget-friendly, rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows, laptops for guest use, and free Wi-Fi; additional hotel freebies include bike rentals and coffee in the lobby.
Day 2: Madrid Like a Local
Spend your second day in Madrid getting to know the city on a more intimate level. Start your day off with a Spanish breakfast of pan con tomate (toast topped with tomato and sprinkled with a little salt and olive oil), which can be found at any cafe. Pair it with cafe con leche (coffee with milk) and a glass of zumo de naranja natural (freshly squeezed orange juice) for a true Spanish experience.
Afterward, take to the streets. This is one of the best ways to experience local neighborhoods like Malasaña, which is the hipster heart of the city, or LGBTQ-friendly Chueca. Both districts — which are side by side — are packed with boutiques and shops (but note that smaller stores close for the siesta — generally from 3 to 5 in the afternoon). You’d also do well to explore Lavapies, which is home to a majority of the city’s immigrant community, amazing art galleries, and community spaces like the fascinating La Tabacalera, and art and activism center that makes a rebellious counterpoint to The Prado and Reina Sofia.
For lunch, head to one of Madrid’s many colorful markets and sample jamon and cheese, patatas bravas, jamon serrano, Spanish tortilla, and a variety of pinchos and tapas. We recommend Mercado de la Cebada in La Latina for something that’s less touristy than the overpriced Mercado San Miguel. If you’re in town on a Sunday, head to the Rastro Flea Market in La Latina, which is an antique-filled street-life spectacle to behold.
End the day with a rooftop drink overlooking the city, and another traditional tapas crawl along Calle Cava Baja. Alternatively, hit up the amazing Middle Eastern and South Asian restaurants in Lavapies. Finish the night off with churros and chocolate at Chocolateria San Gines — the city’s most famous churro institution.
Day 3: Day Trip to Toledo or Segovia (Overnight in Madrid)
Now that you’ve experienced a slice of Madrid, it’s time to take a day trip to either Toledo or Segovia — both medieval walled cities within a 30-minute high-speed train ride from Madrid. Toledo, for its part, was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986, and is where Christians, Muslims, and Jews lived together for centuries. It’s also the place where El Greco lived and painted in Spain, though the museum that was supposedly his house is, in fact, not where his home was. Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating folly that’s cool in its own right. El Greco’s most famous work, “The Burial of Count Orgaz,” is located in Toledo.
Segovia, though, is often considered the prettier, less expensive sister of the two. You can walk from the Roman aqueduct on one end of town, pass the city’s wonderful cathedral, and arrive at the castle all the way at the other end of town in about 15 minutes. Everywhere you turn along the way is a feast for the eyes.
Today, you’ll be traveling south by train to the flamboyant, charismatic, and ever-evolving Andalucian metropolis of Seville. You can reach Seville from Madrid in less than three hours by train, but you should book your tickets online well ahead of time to get the schedule that you want. We suggest one of the earliest departures during the day.
According to myth, Seville (or Sevilla, as it’s known in Spain) was founded 3,000 years ago by the Greek god Hercules and combines gorgeous buildings with the vibrant gitano culture that gave birth to flamenco music and dance (now considered Spain’s national musical style, and enjoying a contemporary moment in the pop music of Rosalia). Major landmarks include the ornate Alcazar, built during the Moorish Almohad dynasty, and the 18th-century Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza bullring. The Gothic Seville Cathedral is where the city’s world-famous Semana Santa processions begin and end, and is home to the Giralda, a minaret-turned-bell tower that offers some of the best views in town when climbed.
For dinner, sample the city’s innovative tapas before seeing a flamenco show. Seville’s close proximity to the Guadalquivir River makes it one of Spain’s most productive agricultural regions, while its location by the coast brings a wide variety of fresh seafood and fish. It’s best to either make a restaurant reservation in advance or arrive before the locals do, as they come in droves. El Rinconcillo is Seville’s oldest tapas restaurant, open since 1670. For nightlife, head to the Alameda de Hercules, especially if you’re after gay bars. Other nightlife options include the Macarena neighborhood, where you’ll find lots of small bars for sangria and cocktails.
EME Catedral Hotel is ideally located right next door to the Seville Cathedral, in the heart of the historic center. With stylish, modern rooms featuring upscale amenities; a rooftop terrace complete with a hopping bar and a pool with striking views; and a relaxing spa offering a wide array of treatments, this boutique property sets the bar for Seville cool.
Wake up in Seville and treat yourself to a leisurely breakfast. Spend the rest of your day roaming the rest of the city’s sights, like the stunning Plaza de España. Wander the streets of Triana and Santa Cruz, checking out the local crafts and boutiques and snapping pictures of the impossibly pretty street scenes. If you’re after a casual lunch, the Mercado de Triana is easily the city’s best spot. Make sure you grab a decent-sized lunch because you have a three-hour bus ride ahead of you in the evening, but trust us that it’s worth it. At the end of that ride is one of Spain’s most beautiful sights — Granada — where you’ll be spending two nights.
Part countercultural university town, part stunningly preserved classic beauty, Granada leaves an impression far larger than its size might suggest. As the last redoubt of the Moors in Spain, the look of the city is unlike anywhere else in Europe, with a heavy Islamic influence seen all over the city’s architecture. If you didn’t see a flamenco show in Sevilla — or even if you did — it’s worth seeing one of the shows that take place in the caves of the Sacromonte of Granada. Cueva de la Rocio is arguably the most famous, though Zambra Maria la Canastera is also quite popular.
In order to make the most of your time, why not opt to stay inside of Granada’s most famous sight — the Alhambra. This upscale hotel has all of the history that you’d expect in a former palace on the grounds of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It also happens to be an incredibly romantic place to unwind after a long day of traveling and exploring.
Granada’s masterpiece is the Alhambra. Since you’re waking up inside of it, spend your entire morning and the early part of the afternoon making you way through the beautiful grounds. With the peaks of the Sierra Nevada behind it, this 13th-century palace complex and walled fort is dazzling. Intricate Moorish motifs decorate nearly every surface of the buildings that compose the Alhambra, most notably in the opulent Palacios Nazaries. This is complemented by the natural beauty of the Generalife gardens. Keep in mind that you could easily spend hours seeing everything, but you’ll need to be smart about your time. Additionally, you must purchase tickets online well in advance, as this is one of the most popular attractions in Spain and entrances are strictly limited.
Head to the center of Granada for lunch and then make your way to the city’s other sights. The Granada Cathedral and the Royal Chapel are great for history lovers, while the Centro Jose Guerrero is an option for culture aficionados. In the late afternoon (before the sun has set), head to the city’s fascinating Albayzin neighborhood. Here, the warren of medina-style streets is an impossibly beautiful place to get lost. You’ll stumble upon too many holes-in-the-wall to count, and sunset is a magical time to be here.
Today you’ll travel from Granada to Barcelona — it’s less than two hours by air, and one-way fares can be found on budget carriers for under $50 if you book in advance. The cool Catalan capital has plenty to offer with its walkable streets, modernist architecture, designer shops, and stylish bars and clubs.
Start your Barcelona experience by taking a mandatory walk through the heart of Las Ramblas, which runs from Plaza Catalunya to the Mediterranean Sea. To either side are equally fascinating neighborhoods: The Gothic Quarter (Barri Gotic) and El Raval. The former is hyper-touristy, but incredibly atmospheric and perfect for getting lost. The latter, El Raval, was once a bit dodgier, then became the locus of Barcelona’s immigrant community, and is now a mix of immigrants, hipsters, university students, and in-the-know travelers.
You’ll find better dinner fare in El Raval, with spots that draw more locals than what’s on the other side in the Barri Gotic. If you’re after tapas, head to Bar Centric, then follow it up with drinks at Madame Jazmine on Rambla del Raval (across from Botero’s cat sculpture). Gay travelers can head to L’Eixample, where the majority of Barcelona’s official gay bars are located, though generally the queer scene is more mixed here than in Madrid.
Hotel 1898 evokes Spain’s opulent late 19th-century past, with its architecture and decor, but guests get thoroughly modern pampering, with top-notch service, plush rooms, a spa, and excellent dining. And unlike other Las Ramblas area hotels, Hotel 1898 has not one but two pools, indoors and outdoors.
You have two options today: Head to one of the nearby towns along the coast — such as Sitges — or go hard on the work of Barcelona’s most famous son. We mean Antoni Gaudí, the modernist architect responsible for the city’s wealth of mind-boggling landmarks. We recommend doing the latter, as Barcelona has its own awesome beach scene if you’re really craving a day in the sun.
While you don’t need a tour guide to see Gaudí’s major works in Barcelona, you do need to be smart about how you plan your visits. Given the increasing number of tourists visiting Barcelona every year, you should purchase all of your Gaudi-related tickets online ahead of time. That’s especially true for Sagrada Familia, his still-unfinished cathedral that’s easily one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, and Park Guell, which has strict visitor caps. Casa Batllo and La Pedrera are also best visited with advanced tickets, and provide a glimpse into Gaudí’s residential work. Simply use Barcelona’s efficient bus and metro system to navigate between these sights.
It’s been a long day, so spend the early evening relaxing by Hotel 1898’s stunning pool before heading out for the night. Start the evening sipping Catalan cava. La Vinya del Senyor is a cozy, understated restaurant with several by-the-glass boutique cavas to choose from. If you’re lucky enough to snag a table on the terrace, you’ll be rewarded with views of Santa Maria del Mar’s 14th-century facade. Keep the bar-hopping going until it’s time for clubbing (which doesn’t start until 1 A.M. at the very earliest). Check out what’s on at Sala Razzmatazz, Input, Nitsa, and Moog if you’re after the best of the city’s late-night party scene (or check listings on ResidentAdvisor for Barcelona).
After two packed days (and very, very late nights), it’s time to slow your roll. Barcelona is one of the most visited cities in the world for a reason: It’s impossibly beautiful, incredibly charming, and packed with everything from amazing cafes and restaurants to culture and shopping.
After breakfast head to El Raval and see what exhibitions are happening at MACBA, Barcelona’s incredible contemporary art museum. If nothing there piques your interest, opt for the Picasso Museum instead. In either case, you’ll want to do some retail therapy at the cool shops in El Raval and El Born in between. If you’d like a neighborhood that’s a little more local, head to Poble Sec, which is below Montjuic and near Caixa Forum, another cool art space. Montjuic itself is a popular place, as views from the top are incredible, and it’s also home to the National Museum of Art of Catalunya, Montjuic Castle, the Joan Miro Foundation, and other cultural spots.
Splurge on a performance at the modernist Palau de la Musica Catalana — an exuberant space designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner. Everything from opera to jazz and folk music takes place here, though you’d be smart to get tickets well in advance. Afterward head to dinner in nearby El Born, which is packed with intimate spots and great patio restaurants, or in the Eixample, where you’ll find Michelin-award winners like Alkimia or Catalan-Asian fusion spots like Topik. Reservations are recommended in the Eixample. If you still have energy, and your ninth day is a Friday or Saturday, there are certainly more nightclubs left to explore.
It’s a quick and cheap flight from Barcelona back to Madrid. Depending on your timing, you may have a day to dip into Madrid from the airport (it’s only a 45-minute trip from Barajas to Puerta del Sol) if you’d like to get in any more exploring. Alternatively, it can be economical and convenient to book your inbound flight to Madrid and your outbound flight from Barcelona. Do this by opting for multi-city fares when you search for flights. You’ll likely have mixed feelings about leaving — Spain has a habit of doing that to people. But don’t worry, that just means it’s time to start planning your next trip!
Simple Tips on Traveling to Spain
Flying into and out of Madrid is likely to score you the best bargains and most flexibility in your travels. It also lets you kick off your trip in one of the world’s best cities (you’ll see why below). However, reasonable flights can be found into and out of different airports, so be sure to check multi-city itineraries too.
English will get you around fine enough in the most touristy parts of the destinations below, though in Barcelona you may encounter Catalan (even in the city center), which is quite different. It will be helpful to pick up some basic Spanish phrases before visiting Spain, in any case, as English isn’t as widely spoken as you might expect.
Additionally, you won’t need to rent a car, as trains, domestic flights, and long-haul buses are perfectly reliable. Flights and buses are also far cheaper than what you would find in the U.S.
Additional reporting by Kyle Valenta.
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