Planning A Trip To Spain: Barcelona, Madrid & More

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Often times when thinking of my next destination, my list is filled with places I’ve already been. A trip to Spain, or rather, back to Spain, is at the very top of my list. While I try to avoid repeating countries, I do know that there is so much more to a country than the small part that I saw, so a return trip could be more than worth it. While my original visit to Spain, Madrid to be exact, was more of an add on to my trip to Portugal, I want to return to Madrid in addition to checking out other cities.

Here is a list of cities you should visit when planning a trip to Spain as well as what you should see and do in them:

Madrid

Madrid is not only the capital city of Spain, but also home to the Prado Museum, the must see Plaza Mayor, and many other attractions. If someone told you to skip this city, ignore them and go if you feel compelled to. You won’t regret it. Madrid is at the top of this list because it’s the city I set my sights on when visiting Spain. I had no clue Barcelona was the place to be, and part of me is happy about that. I thoroughly enjoyed my peaceful time in Madrid and had a magical time wandering around and exploring it.

What To Do In Madrid

I spent most of my free time in Madrid starting and finishing the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, but when I wasn’t cooped up in my hostel (The Hat Madrid) with a good book, I was enjoying seafood paella, fresh sangria, and freshly carved ham like a normal person.

Go on a food tour: I’d began a food tour kick in Lisbon and needed to carry it over to Spain. I opted for Secret Food Tours: Madrid and it didn’t disappoint. I recommend food tours at the beginning of a visit because you learn directly from locals what they eat and why they eat it. You also get to sample from delicious restaurants you may have never noticed.

Visit Plaza Mayor: You probably have seen photos of Plaza Mayor, once the center of Old Madrid, while doing minimal research on Madrid, and it’s something to check out if even in passing. I got to witness the Christmas market set up in the plaza and this is an experience in itself. There are plenty of restaurants around the plaza if you want to sit and people watch while enjoying a meal, but keep in mind that it’ll be pricier than a meal elsewhere.

Check out the Temple of Debod: The Temple of Debod is an ancient Egyptian temple that was dismantled in Egypt, and rebuilt in Madrid. It definitely isn’t something I’d expect to see on a trip to Spain and it’s as mystical as it sounds. I was lucky to see this place because my food tour guide ended up parting ways with me here, and I’m still thankful.

Retiro Park: I think it’s safe to say that Retiro Park is to Madrid what Central Park is to Manhattan. It’s the biggest park in the city and so lush that you may feel like you’re in a different city. It’s a great place to escape to for all of the nature vibes and just like Central Park, there’s a lake (man made) where you can rent boats and go for a row.

Day Trips From Madrid

Toledo: The train from Madrid to Toledo can take as little as 23 minutes and will set you back about $13. I’m a sucker for old towns, and this ancient city is known for having medieval Arab, Jewish, and Christian monuments within its walls. There’s even a 13th century gothic cathedral for those of us that love to wander into these centuries old marvels. Here’s a great full day trip from Madrid.

Toledo, Spain

Cordoba: The city of Cordoba is located in Southern Spain and can be accessed by a two to three hour train ride for $38 to $68 dollars. This is my kind of day trip as it’s far enough away to feel like a whole different trip. You can expect another mesh of various cultures with sites like mosques, a moorish palace and gardens, and a roman bridge dating back to the 1st century BCE. Cordoba is truly one of the best day trips from Madrid.

Valencia : The train from Madrid to this port city on Spain’s southeastern cost can take a little over two hours and can cost less than $20. If you like to take your physical activity while traveling a step further than walking, you may be interested in the bike tour around the city of Valencia. You can also check out its wetlands reserve, one of its many beaches, or the planetarium during your time there.

Cuenca: This city should be on any list of day trips from Spain because it offers sites that may be the exact opposite of what you think Spain is. Set in the mountains, Cuenca is located in eastern/central Spain and as fast as 54 minutes from Madrid with train tickets under $15. Visit the 16th century Ingapirca Ruins while you’re there.

Barcelona

When planning a trip to Spain, Barcelona may be at the top of most lists. I actually know a few people who consider Barcelona to be their favorite city. Located in Spains Catalonia region and just 385 miles from Madrid, these two cities could very well be day trips from the other, however, I recommend you dedicate a couple days to both cities.

What To Do In Barcelona

La Sagrada Familia: Barcelona is known for its art and architecture, and La Sagrada Familia, Designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, is probably the most popular attraction in this city. This building happens to a Roman Catholic Church and is actually a part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Park Güell: Located on Carmel Hill and comprised of gardens and other Gaudí architecture, Park Güell is a must see when in Barcelona. I have to admit that I’m not exactly a fan of this architectural style, but I would still take every opportunity to photograph it and wander the area. There’s always something to be found.

Beach Hop: If you’re looking for beaches in Spain, then Barcelona is the place to be. Check out Barceloneta Beach, Nova Icaria Beach, and Sant Sebastià, just to name a few.

Barcelona Day Trips

Girona: If you’ve actually heard of the town of Girona, chances are you associate it with one of the best shows on television, Game of Thrones. First things first, take this Game of Thrones tour through the town to explore fictional Bravos and King’s Landing in real life. Parts of this town remind me of various pcities in Italy and that’s reason enough to visit. Travel time is 38 minutes.

Girona, Spain

Montblanc: I can’t see the name of this town without thinking of the luxury pen brand, but it’s also a medieval town located just two hours by train from Barcelona. It’s a drastic difference from fairytale-esque architecture you’ll become accustomed to in Barcelona.

Montserrat: The journey from Barcelona to Montserrat is about an hour via train. The highlight of this town is definitely the monastery which was founded in the 11th century. It is always home to about 80 monks and can be reached by road, train, cable, or car.

Sitges: The coastal town of Sitges is located just 21 miles from Barcelona and the train ride is only 45 minutes. While known for its beaches, this could be the perfect town to shop and have a few meals. I recommend this food and wine tasting tour that allows you to explore the village while sampling delicious tapas.

Seville

Seville, Spain

Located in Spain’s Andalusia region, Seville, or Sevilla, is known for the Alcázar castle complex and the popular style of dance known as the flamenco. This city is full of breathtaking structures such as La Giralda, a bell tower atop a former minaret, and Torre del Oro, a 13th century military watchtower. This city deserves at least a few days of your time during a trip to Spain.

Things To Do In Seville

Flamenco lessons: If a flamenco show isn’t enough for you, lessons may be the way to go. This is the type of activity that I’d say is on the same level as a cooking class and is a perfect memory of your travels. You know the saying, spend your money on experiences and not things.

Alcazar Castle: The Alcazar of Seville is a royal palace, but you only have to look at it to see that. If one of you main reasons for travel is for the photographs, then this is a picturesque place you’ll want to see.

Plaza de España: Built relatively recently, as far as European plazas go, in 1928, Plaza de España is located in the Parque de María Luisa. While this is another photo worthy destination in Seville, it’s also somewhere to go for a relaxing stroll through the park or to even take a boat ride along the mini canal. It’s much cheaper than those in Venice , so spend the 6 euros and splurge on yourself.

Canary Islands

Located just off the coast of northwestern Africa is a Spanish archipelago called the Canary Islands. When I see digital nomads inquiring about where in Spain they should visit for a long stint, the Canary Islands always makes the list of recommendations. The seven main islands are Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro

Things To Do In Grand Canaria

The 840,000+ population of this island makes up 40% of the population of the archipelago. You can do everything from take a camel ride in the Dunes of Maspalomas to a dolphin watching boat tour. Dolphin and whale watching is actually a common activity among the islands so you should definitely take advantage of it in a place where the tours aren’t setting you back over $100.

Tenerife, Spain

The Best Canary Island

If you can spend your time on more than one island during a trip to Spain then I say go for it, but it seems that the most popular island of the bunch is Tenerife. It happens to be the largest and most populated of all the islands as well as the home of Mt. Teide, a dormant volcano. Mt. Teide happens to be Spain’s tallest peak. Have you ever been asked whether you prefer beaches or mountains? I have, and while I love a good beach, there’s nothing like a majestic mountain view. For me, Tenerife is the best of both worlds because it contains beautiful, golden sand beaches from which you can view lush, green mountains. It’s a win-win situation.

Ibiza

Ibiza made the list of places to visit when planning a trip to Spain because I know at least one of you out there is a party animal. I am not, but I got ya. People mainly visit this party island for the night clubs that don’t close until 10am, beaches, and rarely anything else. I’ve linked some things for you to do below.

Things To Do In Ibiza

Best Clubs In Ibiza

Swag – (HIP HOP) Carrer de la Murtra, 5, 07817 Sant Josep de sa Talaia, Illes Balears, Spain

Pacha – Av. 8 d’Agost, 07800 Ibiza, Islas Baleares, Spain

Amnesia – Ctra. Ibiza a San Antonio, Km 5, 07816 Ibiza, Islas Baleares, Spain

Ushuaïa – Platja d’en Bossa, Ibiza, Balearic Islands, Spain

Privilege – Urbanización San Rafael, s/n, 07816 Sant Antoni de Portmany, Islas Baleares, Spain

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