Six Amazing One Week Itineraries for Spain
Updated: Feb 21
Here's my guide to how to spend one perfect week in Spain, with six sample 7 day itineraries. Spain is divine. It's unexpectedly and energetically diverse. Every time I've traveled there, I've been seduced by its unspoiled landscapes, culture, foodie scene, and extraordinarily beautiful and vibrant cities.
Spain should be on every traveler's bucket list. In Spain, there's something for everyone. You'll be delighted by ornate palaces, tiny whitewashed villages, world class art, delicious tapas, and massive cathedrals.
But Spain is huge! There's so many thing to do and see in Spain and so little time, at least for most of us. How to choose between the myriad and sometimes confusing options? There are many different routes through Spain.
To help you get started prioritizing, I've picked my top 6 itineraries for spending one week in Spain:
Northern Spain Itinerary
Basque Region Itinerary
Catalonia Region Itinerary
Central Spain Itinerary
Southern Spain Itinerary
Major Cities Itinerary
Some of these itineraries include Spain's most popular cities and sites. Others give you more off the beaten path options. You can pick a sample itinerary to match your own interests -- whether you want a glamorous city, historical and cultural options, outdoor scenery, or beaches. You can also combine itineraries for a longer stay in Spain.
For itineraries #1, #2 , and #5, it's really best to have your own car for maximum flexibility and to visit more remote destinations in your limited time. Itineraries #3 and #4 can be done using trains or a combination of trains and driving. Itinerary #6 requires you to fly or take the AVE high speed bullet trains between cities.
I also give you some options for extending these one week itineraries into a longer stay in the designated region.
The Best of Spain: Six Sample One Week Itineraries For Visiting Spain
We'll start in the northern Spain and work our way to sunny southern Spain.
Itinerary #1: Northern Spain or "Green Spain"
This Northern Spain itinerary focuses on the less touristy and drop dead gorgeous regions of natural beauty -- "Green Spain." Green Spain includes the Basque region, Cantabria, and Asturias. If you're an "is it pretty?" person, northern Spain is for you.
Base yourself in two cities, Bilbao and Oviedo. From there, you can access the best sites and must visit destinations in northern Spain -- spectacular coastlines and natural wonders, tiny medieval villages, and urban cultural hotspots.
Day 1: Explore Bilbao
Begin your week in the Basque capital of Bilbao, pronounced Bilbow. Bilbao is an incredibly cool and underrated city in Spain. It's beautifully situated amid rolling green hills and mountain ranges. Glimmering on the Nervion River, Bilbao is chock full of historic landmarks, Michelin restaurants, and world class museums.
Stroll the "seven streets" of the historic center, Casco Viejo. They are teeming with lively and quirky cafes, pintxos (tapas) bars, tony shops, and tiny squares. Locals mix with tourists and there's definitely Basque energy flowing. The centerpiece of old town is Santiago Cathedral, a 14th century Gothic church.
Art lovers should visit the world famous Guggenheim Museum. Inaugurated in 1997, Frank Gehry's twisting shimmering museum is the star of Bilbao. The museum courtyards are scattered with world renowned sculptures. Inside lies a modern art collection on par with Europe's best modern art museums.
I have big love for Bilbao. Here's my complete guide to the must see sites in Bilbao.
Day 2: Day Trip to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
The next day, take an easy day trip to the absolutely jaw dropping San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, a magical spot about 45 minutes from Bilbao. Gaztelugatxe is really a must see natural wonder in the Basque Region and has become TV famous.
In the wildly popular HBO series Game of Thrones, Gaztelugatxe appears as Dragonstone -- the haunting ancestral home of Daenerys Targaryen, the Mother of Dragons. In real life, Gaztelugatxe is a fantastical ancient stone foot bridge winding up to a tiny hermitage chapel on Spain's Bay of Biscay. It's a dramatic hike.
Because of its remote location, Gaztelugatxe is most easily accessed by car. From Bilbao, take the B1-631 highway. Follow the signs and park on top of a hill off the main road and walk 1 kilometer down to the site.
When you're done with your hike, head to beautiful Sopalena Beach to cool off. It's one of the best beaches in Basque Country, where cliffs drop into the ocean.
Day 3: Drive through Cantabria: Santillana del Mar & Comillas
Now, it's time to head to your next base, Oviedo. The distance between Bilbao and Oviedo isn't that far, about 2:45. If you start early, you'll have ample time for two stops along the way in Spain's Cantabria region. Cantabria is spectacularly beautiful, dotted with rolling hills and cows.
To my mind, the best two stops are Santillana del Mar and Comillas. Santillana del Mar is the jewel of Cantabria and one of the prettiest villages in Spain. It's a "living museum" -- a delightful warren of dreamy cobbled streets, caramel colored architecture, and romantic wrought iron balconies. At the end of its main pedestrianized drag is the Collegiate Church, the most important religious Romanesque monument in Cantabria.
The Altamira Caves aren't far afield. They boast some of the best examples of prehistoric art anywhere in the world, made by Cro-Magnon cave people. No one except researchers can visit the actual caves, for preservation reasons. But the astonishing replica caves accept weekly visitors by lottery.
Fuel up on churros and hot chocolate and then head to the underrated town of Comillas. The town isn't as picturesque as Santillana del Mar, though it has a wide beach for you to sun bathe. Mainly it's impressive for its architecture. You'd never expect to find such treasures in an unassuming, almost unknown, small town in Spain.
Comillas has two main sites, both architecturally interesting -- Antoni Gaudi's whimsical El Capricho villa and the over-the-top Gothic Sobrellano Palace.
El Capricho is a rare Gaudi building outside Gaudi's more well known Modernist architecture in Barcelona. Sobrellano Palace is a magnificent 19th century building. The architect tried to out-Gothic real Gothic.
Day 4: Explore Oviedo
After a day of exploring, you arrive in Asturias. Asturias is squeezed between the Picos de Europa mountains and the Bay of Biscay. It's a wild and unspoiled region. In 2020, the New York Times put Asturias on its list of "52 Places To Go."
The sparkling clean capital of Asturias is storybook Oviedo. Like a giant museum, this stylish city is dotted with time warp architecture and whimsical sculptures. It's surely one of the most beautiful and historic places in northern Spain.
Founded in the 8th century, Oviedo is also an ancient place. It's delightful old town makes you want to stroll endlessly through its parks and plazas, gazing in admiration at its colorful terraces and balconies.
During your walkabout, be sure to visit Oviedo's must see sites -- the flamboyant San Salvador Cathedral, the Romanesque churches, the stately Plaza Alfonso II, Mercado El Fontan, and the university. Oviedo also has one of Spain's best museums, the Museum of Fine Arts, with works by Picasso, Goya, Dali, and El Greco.
Day 5: Day Trip to Cudillero
The next day you're off to the ridiculously eye catching fishing village of Cudillero, which might be Spain's prettiest seaside village. Cudillero is just 40 minutes from Oviedo and well worth the detour. A place of hills, you'll have to park outside the teeny tiny town and walk in.
In Cudillero, white and pastel houses are piled in a mishmash on top of each other. There's a pleasingly startling contrast between the terra cotta roofs and the blue sea. It's said that each house in the village matches the color of the owner's fishing boat.
There are ample cafes to rest your feet, feast on seafood, and take in the sweeping views of the village and the sea. In the late afternoon, return to Oviedo and experience its cider culture at one of the lively siderias (cider bars) on Calle Gascona. For dinner, head to Restaurant Gloria.
Day 6: Oviedo & Day Trip to Gijon
Spend your morning seeing more of Oviedo's sites. Then, head out midday to the town of Gijon. It's less than 40 minutes from Cudillero. Spend a half day there or relax over cocktails and dinner.
Gijon is a handsome oceanfront city. It's packed with buzzy siderias, cafes, cultural attractions, and fishing village vibes. It doesn't have the crumbling old world charm of Cudillero. But it's definitely worth a visit. And it's packed with great restaurants.
If you have enough time, take a walk along Gijon's coastal path. Hugging the crystal clear Bay of Biscay, it goes from Playa de San Lorenzo, Gijon’s main beach, towards La Nora.
Day 7: Drive Along the Coast From Oviedo To Bilbao
Now it's time to head back to Bilbao to fly home. Fortunately, the 3 hour coastal drive from Oviedo to Bilbao is studded with charming beach towns -- Llanes, Ribadesella, and St. Vicente de la Barquero. They're all incredibly lovely in their distinct way.
The beautiful village of St. Vicente de la Barquero had my heart at first sight. The drive toward the town is breathtaking. The ancient Puente de la Maza, with its 28 arches over the river, welcomes you.
The pretty village dates from Roman times. For centuries, St. Vicente de la Barquero was a stop on the pilgrimmage to Santiago de Compostela. Step back in history at the Castillo del Rey, San Vicente's 13th century medieval castle. From atop the hill, you have beautiful views of the town and, on a clear day, the Picos de Europe mountain range.
Llanes is a cosmopolitan European town. Llanes boasts a well preserved medieval city with ancient palaces, still housed within the remains of crumbling city walls. It has a doughty defensive tower, an active harbor, fantastic beaches, and top notch views. Walk out to the breakwater to see the colorful installation The Cubes of Memory.
Ribadesella is a charming old port city, and also very picturesque. Its beautiful golden sand beach, the Playa de Santa Marina, makes it a popular holiday spot. Walk out to the Ermita de la Virgen Guia for clifftop views. And visit the UNESCO-listed Tito Bustillo Cave, with prehistoric rock art.
More Time in Green Spain?
Extra Time in northern Spain? Nature lovers should head to the Picos de Europe National Park. The park's quite large, covering the Asturias, Cantabrian, and Castilla regions. With its breathtaking scenery, the Pico attracts mountaineers and regular adventurers alike.
There are mountains, gorges, verdant valleys, and the stunning Lakes of Covadonga. You may think you've fallen into Switzerland. The atmospheric villages in the Picos de Europe are worth visiting too -- Covadonga, Canga de Onis, and beautiful medieval Potas.
Alternatively, architecture and history lovers should add in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. It's a rather long 3+ hour drive from Oviedo. But it's worth it. The city rivals Seville and Granada as one of Spain's most magical cities.
Santiago's main sight is the ancient Cathedral Santiago de Compostela. It stands guard in the Plaza do Obradoiro square, where all roads in Santiago converge. This hallowed Galician landmark, a magnificent jumble of spires and sculpture, is the final stop on the mystical pilgrims’ journey of the Camino de Santiago.
Built in the Romanesque architectural style, construction started in 1075 during the reign of Alfonso VI. Over the years, Gothic, Baroque, and Neoclassical elements were added to the structure. The cathedral's ornate main gate is an attraction of its own.
Itinerary #2: Basque Country
The Basque region is in northwest Spain. Fly into either San Sebastian or Bilbao. As a major city, Bilbao is likely cheaper. Use Bilbao and San Sebastian as your two bases for the week and various day trips.
The Basque region is all about beautiful eye popping landscapes, delicious food, and Rioja wine. You can visit secret off the beaten path destinations or glitz it up in ritzy resort towns. If you love seafood and sun, this is your itinerary.
As with the "Green Spain" itinerary, you start in Bilbao. But this itinerary is a more laid back, beachy guide. You could also combine my Green Spain and Basque itineraries into a longer 2 week itinerary, to get the most out of northern Spain.
Day 1: Explore Bilbao
Follow the itinerary for Bilbao set forth in Itinerary #1.
Day 2: Day Trip to Onati & Arantzazu
Onati is reminiscent of Seville, Andalusia's sultry capital. It has lavishly decorated buildings and a mystical medieval atmosphere. The town's highlight is its ancient university. The town center is buzzing with eateries, a Gothic church, and the Church of San Miguel Arcangel.
Just outside Onati is the Sanctuary of Arantzazu, an old Franciscan monastery. It's of huge importance in the region and perched at the very top of a winding mountain road. Not far from the sanctuary are the Arrikrutz Caves. They are home to several extinct species including cave lions.
Day 3: Explore San Sebastian
Head to your next base, the popular San Sebastian, a beautiful resort town on the Bay of Biscay. This Basque city is objectively beautiful, and tourists flock there. It's renowned as an otherworldly paradise, foodie resort town, and beachy playground.
San Sebastian's stunning beach, La Concha, is world famous and considered one of Europe's best beaches. In 2019, La Concha Beach was voted one of the Best Beaches in the World by Tripadvisor.
If you're a food traveler, you'll be in seventh heaven. San Sebastian is frequently called the "food capitol" of the world. It boasts three restaurants with the rarest of accolades: a three star Michelin rating. And has an abundance of pintxo (tapas) restaurants and bars.
Spend your day eating and strolling San Sebastian's historic center, Parte Vieja. It's sprinkled with upscale stores, vibrant pintxo bars, and tony restaurants. Be sure to check out the beautiful Bell Epoque City Hall, the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus, San Vicente Church, and the Cathedral of the Good Shepard.
Day 4: Relax in San Sebastian
On day 4, perhaps you're ready for a day on the beach and some time outdoors. Sometimes a mid vacation chill day is the perfect way to break up the trip.
If you want some exercise to leaven the sunshine and delicious food, you can stroll along the dreamy C shaped beachside trail. At the far west end just beyond Ondarreta beach are metal sculptures, the Comb of the Wind, by renowned Basque artist Eduardo Chillada. It consists of iron installations in the rocks, which seems to "comb" the wind as the water crashes.
Hike up Mount Igueldo for the classic San Sebastian vista. Or, hike up the lesser known Mount Urgull to the local castle, the 12th century Castillo de la Mota. The views are amazing.
Day 5: Day Trip to Hondarribia
After braving the tourists in San Sebastian, now it's time to get off the beaten path. Tranquil Hondarribia is a pretty resort town located on the Spanish-French border. The historic city center is surrounded by city walls and a drawbridge. It's filled with cobblestones streets and colorfully painted houses with flowers spilling out of flower boxes.
In the town center, you'll find the Castle of Charles V (now a hotel), the Gothic Church of Santa Maria de la Asuncion, and plazas with al fresco cafes. There's also a nice beach, if you want to relax and swim. This tiny village has two Michelin starred restaurants, Restaurante Alameda and Maison Eguiazabal.
Day 6: Day Trip to Biarritz France
Yes, Basque France is close enough that you can easily day trip there. And who can resist an easy journey to another country? The glamorous jet set town of Biarritz is one of the best day trips from San Sebastian. Half ritzy and half hippie, Biarritz is a popular beach resort.
This charming French resort town feels like another world, both sophisticated and laid back. Admire the postcard views, take a seaside stroll, and lounge on Miramar or Grande Plage beaches. There are loads of beautiful churches, designer boutiques, and modern art galleries. And, of course, amazing Basque food.
Halles Market is a good place to explore Biarritz's food culture. For the best seafood, head to the Place Saint-Eugenie. If you want pintxos, head to the Rue des Halles. Happily, for those who love baked goods, there's a bakery on every corner.
Day 7: Day Trip to Gernika or Lekeitio
On you last day, you have two options, depending on your individual taste.
Gernika is a workaday town loaded with history, which will appeal to history buffs. It's where the Basque Assembly hold its meetings. The entire city center was destroyed by bombs during the Spanish Civil War. The event was immortalized by Pablo Picasso in his famous anti-war piece Guernica at the Reina Sofia in Madrid. There are several museums in the town exploring this history.
Laid back Lekeitio is a beautiful and tiny fishing village. It's one of the best kept secrets in the Basque region, a real hidden gem. It has an idyllic harbor and fine golden crescent beach where you can kick back and wile away a day.
Lekeitio's best attraction is the rocky island, Garraitz, just offshore of its main beach. During low tide, you can walk the trail for a seaside view.
Itinerary #3: Catalonia Region
On to our third itinerary, Catalonia, the historic northeast region of Spain. For a base, you should stay in Barcelona and either Girona or Cadaques in the Costa Brava region. This itinerary starts in iconic Barcelona, one of Europe's coolest cities.
Day 1: Barcelona's Main Attractions
Barcelona is a big city with so many amazing things to do and see. You need 3 days to soak up the incredible Gaudi architecture, devour the savory food, and wander in the Gothic Quarter.
On your first day in Barcelona, head to the Gothic Quarter and stroll down the maze-like Las Ramblas, Barcelona's most famous street. It's a pretty nice (but very crowded) boulevard with a plethora of cafes, restaurants, and souvenir shops.
The must see sites in the Gothic Quarter include intact Roman ruins, Barcelona Cathedral, Royal Square, and the Picasso Museum. There's also a historic market place, La Boqueria, that's well worth checking out, especially if you need a snack.
In the afternoon, head to Gaudi's wildy creative opus, Sagrada Familia (pre-book tickets!) This is one of Spain's most visited landmarks. Sagrada Familia is a place of superlatives both inside and out. Inside, it's majestic star-lit white forest. Click here to read my comprehensive guide to this must see Barcelona landmark.
At sunset, take the metro or bus to Bunkers del Carmel. Bunkers was an anti-aircraft base set up during the Spanish civil war. When it was abandoned, Barcleonians adopted it as a hangout and lookout terrace. Bunkers gets pretty crowded in the evenings. But watching the sunset is well worth the climb and wait.
Day 2: Barcelona's Iconic Gaudi Architecture
After fueling up, head to Passeig de Gràcia, one of Barcelon's toniest neighborhoods. This area has some of Barcelona's most iconic architecture, including UNESCO-listed structures created by Antoni Gaudi.
Casa Batllo is one of the world's most unique buildings. It's Antoni Gaudi at his hallucinatory, dreamlike best. Casa Battlo's creative facades is an emblem of dragon iconography. Click here for my complete guide to the magnificent Casa Battlo.
La Pedrera, or Casa Mila, is another Gaudi masterpiece. In terms of ingenuity, architectural design, and style, it was even more revolutionary than Casa Batllo. The rough hewn building was nicknamed "The Quarry" because of its jagged, rocky facade and weird undulating shape.
But La Pedrera is considered one of the crown jewels of the Art Nouveau movement. It's been used in 15 movies. In classic Gaudi fashion, La Pedrera was heavily influenced by nature -- by air, sea, and water. The building ripples and waves like a burbling ocean. The iconic rooftop has winding pathways and a spiky forest of 30 chimneys.
You should also visit Casa Lleo Morera, one of Barcelona's best preserved Modernista buildings. Casa Lleo Morera was revolutionary in its day for the different forms of artistry on the exterior, including the intricate curved balcony. Inside, in the dining room, there's a brilliantly colored semi-circular stained glass window created by Antoni Rigalt.
In the evening, head to the Park Guell at sunset. Park Guell might be Gaudi's most fantastical creation. It's a 45 acre public park and garden complex, with stunning mosaic art, located on Carmel Hill in Barcelona. Enjoy a gorgeous sunset experience and stroll in Barcelona’s finest park.
Most of the Park Guell is free to visit and you'll have some nice views over the city. But the central Monumental Zone has a fee. If you want to visit the former home of Gaudi, the house-museum is located just outside the Monumental Zone in the park's free section.
Day 3: Barcelona Hidden Gems | Half Day in Montserrat
On day 3, spend half a day in Barcelona exploring its unusual hidden gems, where you can escape the ever present tourist siege. You can visit Gaudi buildings where you won’t have to queue, admire spectacular city views, and gawk at sumptuous stained glass and decorative mosaics in recently opened Modernist works. Click here for my guide to Barcelona's hidden gems.
In the afternoon, take a half day trip to Montserrat. Montserrat means "serrated mountain." The mountain is a unique fantasia of jagged peaks and rocky spires. Nestled in the rock is a dramatic Benedictine monastery, which is still an important pilgrimage site and the most sacred site in Catalonia.
Take a funicular or rack railway up to the top and explore the basilica and museum. The art-rich museum houses works by El Greco, Dali, and Monet. There are also designated hiking trails ranging from 1 to 3 hours.
Day 4: Day Trip to Girona
On day 4, head to the medieval city of Girona. Historic Girona is chock full of beautiful buildings -- churches, monasteries, fascinating museums, and the colorful houses of the Onyar River.
Walk the walled Old Quarter of Barri Vella. Visit the Roman ruins of the Forca Vella fortress. One of Girona's most unmissable sites is the Cathedral de Santa Maria, combining Romanesque cloister and a Gothic nave (one of the world's largest). Located in the old Jewish Quarter, the Arab Baths are also quite breathtaking.
When you're done admiring the sites, take a footbridge across the River Onyar and sit down at one of the terrace cafes lining the Place de la Independencia. If you're a Game of Thrones fan, Girona was also a key filming location for Season 6. You can join a tour, which will take you to Girona's must see sites.
You can visit Girona as a day trip from Barcelona. Alternatively, you could just stay in Girona and use it as your base for visiting your next destination, Costa Brava.
Day 5-7: Explore Costa Brava
The Costa Brava region of Catalonia is situated in the northeast corner of Spain. It's a wild off the beaten path place, with adorable towns and craggy beaches set against rugged cliffs. It's also the birthplace of famed Surrealist artist Salvador Dali.
Spend your last two days in Catalonia visiting Cadaques, Palamos, Figueres, and Tossa de Mar. If you want to base yourself in Costa Brava and not Girona, pick pretty Cadaques.
Cadaqués has a reputation as one of the most painted villages in the world. This once isolated sleepy fishing village attracted artists and writers such as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro and Marcel Duchamp. They came for its whitewashed buildings, vivid colors, and rugged beauty.
While in Cadaques, explore the cobbled streets of the Old Town, the large Church of Santa Maria (beautiful altar and great views from the terrace), and the Cala Nans Lighthouse. You can also walk from Cadaques to the Dali House in Portlligat (you need reservations). This is where Dali created his finest works. Top off your day with dinner at Casa Anita.
Perfectly preserved Palamos is one of the best towns in Costa Brava. And there's plenty to do -- beaches, historic sites, museums, hiking, etc. If you love seafood, this is a perfect stop. Palamos offers up fresh seafood and its signature dish, Palamos Gambas.
Figueres is an unremarkable workaday town. But if you're a fan of Salvator Dali's art, it's a must visit town in Spain. Figueres is home to Dali's fantasy castle Castle de Pol and the stunning Dali Theater-Museum. The museum is the essential Dali site in Spain.
The flashy pink museum is billed as the world's largest Surrealist object. Designed and decorated by Dali, it's a work of art itself. The eccentric museum houses Dali's broadest range of work, from his earliest artistic experiences to his later works. Click here for my complete guide to visiting this fabulous museum.
Tossa de Mar is a well preserved medieval masterpiece. It's a walled town with commanding vistas and award winning beaches. The town has winding cobbled streets and is topped with an enchanting castle. From paella to tapas, the local cuisine is also exquisite.
Itinerary #4: Central Spain
Oh, there's so much to do in central Spain. Andalusia gets all the buzz. But central Spain is overflowing with spectacular cities, UNESCO sites, and Spain's best museums.
Fly into Madrid, which makes an excellent base. In fact, you don't even have to leave Madrid to easily visit other beautiful Spanish towns and attractions by train. You can base there the whole week. Alternatively, stay in Toledo or Segovia for a few days to break up your week.
Day 1: Explore Madrid
You'll likely arrive midday. Settle into Madrid's vibrant vibe with a stroll in Madrid's historic core, the pedestrianized Calle de las Huertas and the main square of Puerto del Sol.
In the afternoon, your first stop is the masterpiece-filled Prado Museum. The Prado is Spain's cultural jewel, boasting one of Europe's finest and most sensuous painting collections. Its artistic anchors are Goya, Velazquez, and Rubens. Click here for my complete guide to visiting the Prado.
In the evening, End your day with a progressive tapas dinner. Head to the La Latina neighborhood. The Cava Baja street is just a few blocks south and east of the Royal Palace. This three block stretch is crammed with tapas bars and restaurants.
Day 2: Explore Madrid
On day 2, begin with a tour of the sumptuously decorated Royal Palace, which rivals Versailles. It's one of Europe's greatest palaces with 2,000 rooms, a king's ransom of gilding and chandeliers, and luxurious tapestries.
The palace is also renowned for its painted frescos and stunning artwork. You'll find paintings by many artistic luminaries -- Velazquez, Goya, Rubens, El Greco, and Caravaggio.
Continue through Madrid's busting Puerta del Sol to the elegant Plaza Mayor or to Gran Via. The 17th century Plaza Mayor is the beating heart of Madrid. Gran Via is a famous shopping street in Madrid, close to other sightseeing attractions like the Plaza de Cibeles and Plaza de Espana.
In the afternoon, head to either the Reina Sofia or the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. Opened in 1992, the Reina Sofia is Madrid’s well-curated modern art museum. There's a special focus on Spain's favorite sons, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. The iconic star of the Reina Sofia is Guernica, Picasso’s grim depiction of the Nazi bombing of Guernica Spain in 1937.
The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum covers every major period in Western art, from 13th century Italian Renaissance to 20th century Pop Art. This is where you'll find some fan favorites -- Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, German Expressionists, and Surrealists.
If you're not a fan of museums, inside take a bucolic stroll and picnic in Madrid's most popular green space, Retiro Gardens. El Retiro is filled with royal remnants and wonderful monuments. There's the Crystal Palace, the Statue Walk, the Alfonso XII monument, and a man made lake to explore.
Day 3: Day Trip to Segovia
Segovia makes the perfect easy day trip from Madrid. Segovia is a history rich town with a beautifully preserved Roman aqueduct. Stroll through the streets of the beautiful town, enjoying the authentic old world charm.
Then visit Segovia's medieval Alcazar fortress, its crowning glory. Built atop a rock with pointy slate spires, the alcazar looks like a castle conjured from a medieval fairytale. Alfonso VIII lived in the fortress in the 12th century before architectural changes transformed it into a Gothic castle in the 13th century.
Segovia's aqueduct is one of Spain's the most ancient landmarks, the best preserved example of Roman civic architecture in Spain. Dating from approximately the 2nd century AD, it's a tour de force of Roman engineering that stood the test of time.
The aqueduct is set in a lively square of Segovia, part of everyday life. On Plaza de Azoguejo, a grand stairway leads from the base to the top of the aqueduct. In its shadows, sits a replica of the She Wolf of Rome, a statue found in the Capitoline Museums in Rome.
Day 4: Day Trip to Toledo
Just south of Madrid and situated atop a gorge, medieval Toledo is one of Spain's best loved UNESCO cities. Toledo is an incredibly well preserved town, with a concentrated mix of art and history stashed within its medieval walls. The best sites stretch out from Toledo's lively main square, Plaza de Zocodover.
At the town's center is perhaps Spain's best and most beautiful cathedral. The primarily Gothic Cathedral is one of Europe's best cathedrals, with a richly decorated interior. The sacristy is a mini-Prado, with an impressive collection of works by the likes of El Greco, Velazquez, Goya, and Caravaggio. Circling the interior are ornate chapels.
If you need even more art, head to the Santa Cruz Museum or the small El Greco Museum for even more El Greco sublime paintings. Then, head to the Alcazar, the former imperial residence that dominates Toledo's skyline. History and military buffs will want to visit the Army Museum housed inside.
Day 5: Day Trip to Salamanca
Salamanca is a historic sandstone city in western Spain brimming with charm and beautiful architecture. It's a less touristy version of Toledo. Salamanca's centerpiece, Plaza Mayor, is Spain's grandest plaza, one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. It's connected to Salamanca Cathedral by the Rua Mayor.
The gold toned plaza is lined with symmetrical Spanish-Baroque architecture. The Town Hall overlooks the proceedings. The Arco del Toro leads to a covered market. The plaza honors cultural and heroes and conquistadors -- Cervantes, Christopher Columbus, as well as kings and rulers.
Then head to Salamanca's Old Cathedral (12th century) and New Cathedral (16th to 17th century). For a bird's eye view of the city, climb the Clerecia Towers of the Ministry of San Marcos. If you're a fan of the Art Nouveau era, Salamanca's Art Nouveau Museum will delight -- with stained glass, sculptures, and pieces by Rene Lalique.
Day 6: Day Trip To Avila
Avila is another popular side trip from Madrid. Avila is a UNESCO-listed town famous for its medieval walls. The town is known as "The Town of Stones and Saints," for its architecture and religious structures. It rivals Toledo as the prettiest walled city near Madrid.
As you approach the town, there's a viewpoint -- Cuatro Postes -- which gives you a bird's eye view of the town. (You can also walk there, just 20 minutes from the town.) The main gate to the city, Puerta del Alcazar, leads you to Avila Cathedral, which is considered Spain's first Gothic cathedral. Then head to Plaza de Santa Teresa and explore the Convent of St. Teresa, Avila's pilgrimage site.
Naturally, you've got to walk the city walls. Built from 1100, Avilas walls are the oldest and best preserved in Spain. There are 88 watchtowers and 2500 turrets. At night, the walls are lit up to spectacular effect.
Day 7: Four Options
For the final day on this Spain itinerary, you have four amazing options. You can either: (1) spend another day in Madrid, seeing more sites; (2) travel to El Escorial; (3) head to the off the radar town of Valladolid; or (4) head to the famed UNESCO town of Cuenca.
The small town of El Escorial is the home-sweet-home of Spanish kings. It's renowned for its Spanish Renaissance architecture and stellar art collection. The monastery-palace was the symbol of Spanish glory and resistance to Protestantism.
Built during the Renaissance era, the monastery-palace is an imposing complex. You enter through the Patio de los Reyes and can explore the somber basilica, two museums, the crypt of the kings, and the Patio of the Gospels. The latter has a cache of El Greco, Titian, and Bosch paintings. The basilica also boasts a beautiful sculpture by Renaissance artist Benvenuto Cellini.
This one time royal getaway also has a cute historic center, filled with quaint shops and eateries. If you're there for dinner, try La Cueva, housed in an atmospheric 18th century building.
Valladolid is the charming capital of the Castilla-Leon region, about 2 hours from Madrid. It's surrounded by vineyards and known as the "Sonoma of Spain," making it a great spot for oenophiles.
Valladolid also boasts some of Spain's best tapas bars. Got on a tapas crawl or settle in at Villa Parmesa. Literary buffs can visit the house-museum of Cervantes.
Undiscovered Cuenca is a dramatic UNESCO-listed medieval town in the region of Castilla la Mancha, the land of Don Quixote. It's the perfect spot to escape the hurly burly of Madrid. Cuenca is especially appealing for art lovers and Gothic architecture buffs.
Cuenca is home to the gravity defying "hanging houses," precipitously clinging to the top of vertical cliffs. The place to snap your instagram photo is on the rather terrifying Puente de San Pablo, a bridge that spans 130 feet above a gorge.
The main drag of Cuenca is Alfonso VIII Street, which is lined with colorful red, blue, and yellow houses. Plaza Mayor boasts an elegant ensemble of buildings, including the Romanesque-Gothic Cuenca Cathedral. If you're in Cuenca for dinner, expect meat-centric meals and try Figon del Huecar.
Itinerary #5: Southern Spain | Andalusia
Ah, now we arrive in sunny Andalusia. Andalusia is essentially the Yankee dream of Spain. This is the sensual home of bullfighting, flamenco, tapas, and flamboyant cathedrals. Andalusia has 3 of Spain's most exciting cities -- Seville, Cordoba, and Granada -- and the quaintest white pueblo towns.
Day 1: Explore Seville
Seville is Andalusia's exquisite capital. You'll likely spend most of day 1 visiting Seville top 2 attractions -- Seville Cathedral and the Royal Alcazar.
The Royal Alcazar is one of the world's greatest cultural treasures, a centuries old complex of palaces and fortifications, lovely courtyards, and extensive water gardens bursting with orange, purple, and green colors. It's a breathtaking 10th century palace that King Pedro the Cruel gave a 14th century Mudejar facelift.
Inside, the highlights are the Hall of the Ambassadors, the Courtyard of the Maidens, the Courtyard of the Dolls, and the Hall of Tapestries in the Gothic Palace. The Ambassador’s Hall, or Throne Room, is the big showstopper. It’s nicknamed the "Half Orange" Room, in honor of its gilded cedar domed ceiling.
Outside, there's a series of verdant lush gardens. They are an exotic, labyrinthian paradise, encompassing 80% of the Alcazar grounds. Don't miss the Baths of Maria De Padilla, King Pedro's mistress. The baths are one of the Alcazar's Game of Thrones filming locations, a place where the Sand Snakes plot.
Here's my complete guide to visiting the magnificent Royal Alcazar. It's my favorite place in all of southern Spain.
Seville Cathedral is a massive Gothic affair. It's the largest cathedral in the world. In 1402, after vanquishing the Moors in the Reconquista, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella began work in earnest on a Gothic style cathedral. They wanted a showy display of Seville’s wealth, power, and influence.
There are 15 doors on the cathedral’s four facades and each one features a unique relief or carving. The nave is the longest in the world. The glittering altar is elaborately detailed and finished in gold leaf. Along the sides, you can explore 80 chapels and the tomb of Christopher Columbus.
In the late afternoon, head to Seville's Barrio Santa Cruz for wandering, cocktails, and dinner. It's a popular district within the city -- a mass of tangled cobbled streets with tiny palazzos and tile covered patios. Some streets are so impossibly narrow, they're called "kissing lanes." There are also orange trees everywhere.
Day 2: Explore Seville
On day 2, head to the Plaza de Espana, one of Seville's most famous landmarks. It was built to host the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition. The plaza has a fetching mix of Baroque, Renaissance Revival, and Moorish Revival styles. The highlight is the Spanish Pavilion, a sweeping half circle structure with rose gold brick buildings.
The tiles show historical scenes and maps from the 49 provinces of Spain arranged in alphabetical order. Entry to the plaza is completely free. You can easily spend a couple of hours here, admiring the square, and strolling in the adjacent Maria Louisa Park.
Spend your afternoon in the Triana neighborhood. Triana is sprinkled with history, flamencos, tapas, and everything Andalusian. It's not nearly as crowded as Barrio Santa Cruz. And it’s chock full of the colorful houses, small cafes, mosaic tiles, and the Isabel II Bridge. This is where you can stock up on beautiful ceramics.
More time in Seville? If you have an extra day, click here for my detailed 3 day itinerary for Seville, which takes you to more of Seville's must see sites and some hidden gems.
Day 3: Day Trip To Cordoba
On day 3, take the high speed train 45 minutes to Cordoba, an exotic stone paved city with both a Roman and Moorish past. Cordoba is a natural film set, it's just so beautiful. Cordoba has an authentic Spanish vibe with fewer tourists than Seville.
Most people come just for Cordoba's #1 site: the magnificent Mezquita, the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba. Dating from the 10th century, it's a UNESCO site and one of the world's most well-preserved Islamic buildings. The courtyard is free to visit. And you can climb the minaret for views.
Stroll across the stunning Roman Bridge, both a UNESCO site and a Game of Thrones filming location. Amble around the narrow streets of the charming old Jewish Quarter and inspect the Instagram popular Calleja de las Flores.
Day 4: Overnight in Ronda
On day 4, drive to Ronda, Andalusia's third most visited city. And there's a a reason -- it's beyond dramatic. Ronda is perched on a mountainous gash carved by the Rio Guadalevin. Ronda is synonymous with its dramatic 18th century bridge, the Puente Nuevo.
Ronda is also famed as the birthplace of bullfighting. The city’s Plaza de Toros is one of Ronda’s most popular attractions, thanks to its beautiful architecture.
Aside from the bridge, Ronda itself is beautiful -- plenty of cozy town squares, cobblestone alleys, balconies everywhere, and lovely architecture. You can visit the Mondragon Palace and the Arabic Baths, if you're feeling ambitious.
Day 5: White Pueblos: Antequera | Frigiliana
On day 5, drive 2+ hours from Ronda to Granada. En route, you can stop and savor some of Andalusia's pueblos blancos. Set amid olive groves, these towns are a photographer's feast. I recommend stopping in Antequera and Frigiliana en route to Granada.
Antequera is Spanish-Baroque town, fittingly dubbed the "Florence of Andalusia." Park your car on the outskirts of town and walk up Calle Don Infante, one of Europe's prettiest streets. Antequera boasts an impressive Moorish Alcazaba, a lovely Renaissance church, and a stunning medieval and baroque historical core. You'll have an eyeful of swoonful scenery.
Antequera's UNESO-listed ancient megaliths/dolmens are outside the old town. You'll see signs. The dolmens date from the Bronze Age and are among the oldest things on the planet. They are essentially Spain's Stonehenge.
Nothing prepares you for the stunning beauty of Frigiliana, just 1:15 from Antequera by car. In Frigiliana, everything is beautiful in a way that it almost never is. Frigiliana is a spotless, secluded, perfectly coifed cliff town dressed in blue and white, with flowing orange and purple vines and potted blood red geraniums.
The Spanish tourist board voted Frigiliana the prettiest village in Andalusia, and you can see why. Frigiliana's main attraction is its cobbled pedestrianized streets with whitewashed houses with colorful doors. There is a pathway through the middle of the village called the Calle Real. But you must stray off the path and investigate all the nooks and cranies.
Then drive another hour to Granada, your last stop on the southern Spain itinerary.
Day 6: Explore Granada
Granada will sweep you away with its authentic Spanish vibe and dazzling attractions. Lorded over by the Sierra Nevada Mountains, it’s an absolutely beautiful ancient city with historic architecture. Granada boasts many atmospheric neighborhoods, each with an earthy distinct character. It’s home to the mighty Alhambra, a Moroccan souk, a massive cathedral, flamenco music, and — perhaps best of all — free tapas.
Start your day at Granada's marquis site, the UNESCO-listed Alhambra, which takes more than half a day. The Alhambra is one of the most popular and best sites in southern Spain, and even in the world. It stands on a stunning piece of real estate, high on Sabika Hill, with panoramic views over Granada and the beautiful countryside.
The highlights of the Alhambra are the Alcazaba, the Charles V Palace, and the jaw dropping Nasrid Palace. The Nasrid Palace offers the world's finest example of the refined, intricate, and elegant architectural style of the Moorish civilization. When you’re done with the lavish palaces, head over to the beautiful Generalife Gardens. Click here for my complete guide to visiting the Alhambra.
When you're done being dazzled, wander around and explore the old Arab neighborhood of the Albaicin, or Albayzin. Built on a steep hill, it’s an ancient area with tight tangled winding streets and a bohemian feel. The lively place was declared a UNESCO site in 1984.
The main drags in the Albaicin, which both run parallel to the River Darro, are Paseo de los Tristes and Carrera del Darro. Amidst a jasmine scented breeze, you’ll find restaurants, cafes, tapas bars, and even street performers. You can enjoy a sunset view at Mirador San Nicolás.
Day 7: Explore Granada
Start your day with a visit to the ornate tombs of the dynasty-builders Ferdinand and Isabella. They reigned over the Christianization of Granada and the exploration of the "new" Americas. 10 minutes away, visit Granada Cathedral in Granada's historic center.
Granada Cathedral is a massive affair. It’s the second largest cathedral in Spain after Seville Cathedral and the fourth largest cathedral in the world. The cathedral’s a mix of Renaissance and Baroque styles. Inside, there’s a towering interior, a grand altar, and side chapels.
In the afternoon, explore the otherworldly barrio of Sacramonte, home to Granada’s Roma community. Time stands still in this unusual rustic quarter of Granada. For centuries, Sacramonte was the home of gypsies, bohemians, artists, and foreign refuges. Sacramonte also sports one of the most mesmerizing views of the Alhambra.
More time in Andalusia? Explore some of Andalusia's other hill towns -- Osuna, Carmona, Arcos de la Frontera, and Cadiz. Many of these are easy day trips from Seville. If you're a beach lover, head to Malaga, Nerja, or Marbella for fun in the sun on the Costa del Sol.
Itinerary #6: Spain's Major Cities
Are you a city person? Or just pressed for time and want to get an overview of Spain's best and most beautiful cities? If so, this Major Cities Itinerary takes you to Spain's three most popular cities: Barcelona, Madrid, and Seville. With 7 days in Spain, it's possible to visit the major sights if you're strategic.
Intra-Europe plane flights are cheap. It's easiest and most efficient to fly to each city. But the AVE high speed trains are a great option too. They whisk you inland from Barcelona and Madrid in 2.5-3 hours and from Madrid to Seville in 2.5 hours. To make the most of your one week, book entry tickets to the cities' iconic attractions well in advance.
Day 1-3: Fly into Barcelona, Spain's fabulous Catalonian city. Arrive and follow the 2+ day itinerary from Itinerary #3.
Day 4 –5: Take a flight or AVE train to Madrid. Stay in a centrally located area to explore the city’s highlights. Depending on when you arrive and leave for Seville, you will have 1.50 to 2 days in Madrid. Follow the 2+ day Madrid itinerary from Itinerary #4.
Day 6-7: Fly or take the AVE train to Seville. Follow my 2 day itinerary for Seville from Itinerary #5.
Essential Tips and Everything You Need To Know About Visiting Spain
Now let's get down to brass tacks. Here's everything you to need know about visiting Spain.
✔ Travel Documents: Travelers with a US/EU passport are eligible to come to Spain, without a tourist visa.
✔ Currency: The currency in Spain is the Euro. Debit or ABM machines can be easily found in the city to withdraw cash.
✔ Language: Spanish. English is spoken at major tourist centers and hotels. But outside of the big cities, don't expect that much English. Brush up on some Spanish terms in advance or bring a small Spanish phrase book.
✔ Getting to Spain: Direct flights to Spain from the United States are available via American Airlines, Delta, US Airways, and United.
✔ Getting around Spain: Driving is an easy and efficient way to get around Spain, outside of the big cities. I've driven all over Spain, in clutch cars no less (which are much cheaper than automatics). The best bargains are with AutoEurope.
I would purchase full insurance just in case. There are routine radar speed traps all across Spain. On the spot fines are outrageous. So let the speedy Spaniards drive on by you. And have some cash for paying tolls.
You don't want to have a car in Barcelona, Madrid or Seville. So if you do rent a car, pick it up when you're leaving the city. Spain's cities are pretty walkable. But an easy way to maximize your time is to take the hop on hop off bus to get to the must see sites, especially in Barcelona.
✔ When To Visit: Spain can be visited in any season, and I have tried them all. Shoulder season, spring or fall, is probably the best, and infinitely superior than the uber crowded and infinitely hotter summer. Sure, some of the more off the radar destinations won't be too crowded in summer. But the popular cities will be mobbed.
I last visited in February and the weather was unexpectedly balmy, especially in mid day, The lines for the must see sites were much shorter. It was an altogether pleasant experience.
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