What should I see in Spain?
January 11, 2006 8:26 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I are going to be in Spain for one week in March. We'd like to take in as much as possible, but not run ourselves ragged (especially since the laid back atmosphere of Spain is one of the draws). What are some things that you must see and/or do if you're in Spain?

We live in NYC, so we definitely don't need to spend all of our time in a sprawling city (we've had our fill of museums and boutiques). We'd like to drink some good wine, eat tapas, see some flamenco dancing, and just generally take in the atmosphere.

We'll be in Dublin for a wedding immediately before this, and we're tentatively planning on flying into Barcelona, staying there for three days, then traveling to the south (possibly by plane, if time is an issue) and seeing the Sevilla/Cordoba/Granada area for the remaining four days.

Is this a reasonable plan for one week? Or are Andalusia and Catalonia better done in two separate trips? Also, can we get by traveling between cities by train, or will we need to rent a car?
posted by Gamblor to Travel & Transportation around Spain (33 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You can fly direct from Dublin to Barcelona, if memory serves, via RyanAir. With only a week, my advice would be to hang around Barcelona and the surronding vicinity. There is way more than a week's worth of shopping, culture, fun, and relaxation to do in Barcelona.

You can easily find a couple of day trips to nearby attractions if you get restless. And if you do, I recommend the overnight by train so you don't waste daylight.

You could consider booking that return flight from another city. Fly to Barcelona, hang out, train to Malaga, fly home?

All in all, I'd vote for staying put for a while. There's a lot to soak up any place that you go. Don't spread yourself too thin.
posted by puddles at 9:04 AM on January 11, 2006

I could spend (and have!) a week and a half in the Barcelona alone. My GF and I (also from NYC) were so taken with it that we did not go to southern Spain, though we definately want to go back.

Highlights of our trip included:

Anything Gaudi -- We went to La Sacrada Familia twice, it was amazing. There is also a good walking tour north of the center of town where you can go in several Gaudi houses. Parc Guiel is worth a trip as well.

Bari Gotic -- A great place to eat, have tapas, and soak up all the atmosphere you can handle. The main road is a great place for people watching after 10PM or so, which is also a good time to have dinner.

The Dali Museum -- This is a day trip by train to Figueres, which is also an interesting little town worth going to. Don't be turned off because you have seen NYC museums. The museum is actaully his home, which he decorated in crazy ways. The only comprable thing I can think of is the Isabella Stuart Gardner museum in Boston.

Girona -- Another day trip by train. A wonderful walled city with lots of history and charm. Good for walking and relaxing.

General advice:

Flaminco -- This is more of a central/southern spain thing as I understand. Don't expect any in Barcelona.

Andora -- Shopping and/or getting a new stamp on your passport may compel you to go to Andora. Ignore this urge. Expect terrible traffic and mediocre outlet stores.

Car/Train -- You can get almost anywhere by train, but get tix between Barcelona and southern spain in advance. Barcelona to suburbs tix can be bought at the station. Going to the Pyrenes or Andora requires a car.

I have not been to southern spain, so I can't recomend things there. The main arguement for going to southern spain is that Catalunya will be on the cool and rainy side this time of year. Not prohibitively so, but expect temperatures to be 10 degrees higher in Sevilla.

But again, I would not recomend trying to do both in a week. You will feel like you've missed something.

posted by Maastrictian at 9:05 AM on January 11, 2006

I would recommend renting a car for the Sevilla/Cordoba/Granada part. Driving is not too bad in Spain compared to some other European countries. Your itinerary doesn't sound too bad if you just want to hit the major attractions.

I've been to both Sevilla and Grenada and both are wonderful tourist destinations. I'm sure that you have plans to go see the Alhambra and the Cathedral at Sevilla, both are worth dealing with other tourists. However, if you want tapas, flamenco dancing, and atmosphere no place beats Toledo.
posted by Alison at 9:09 AM on January 11, 2006

Sevilla is definately a great wandering around town. The aqueduct in Segovia is also pretty awe-inspiring, imho.
posted by phearlez at 9:11 AM on January 11, 2006

I agree that you should focus on Barcelona/Catalunya/Valencia. It would be a shame to spend a chunk of your week in transit, and there's an endless possibility of fascinating villages to visit.

If you're there from March 15-19th, you could check out Las Fallas in Valencia -- a truly amazing spectacle. Bring your earplugs.
posted by footnote at 9:11 AM on January 11, 2006

well, i like madrid - particularly the museums and cafes. seeing the mural "guernica" for real is pretty memorable, and the display opposite (at least late last year) showing how it developed is fascinating.

i'm not as keen on barcelona. the gaudi stuff is a bit of a disappointment, although the miro museum is ok.

the alhambra is pretty neat.

but "must see"? it's a holiday, not a bingo card....
posted by andrew cooke at 9:14 AM on January 11, 2006

If you've only got a week, stay in and around Barcelona - take a day trip to Sitges or to Montserrat if the mood strikes, but as has been pointed out, there's so much going in Barcelona that there's no need to go anywhere else in that limited amount of time.

If you only stay in Barcelona for three days, in my opinion you'll regret not staying longer - I stayed there for six days and still feel like I barely scratched the surface.
posted by pdb at 9:16 AM on January 11, 2006

Even though I consider southern Spain a second home, I have to agree with the above posters - you would be way too rushed if you tried to see Barcelona and southern Spain in one week. If you're really itching to see another part of the country besides Catalunya, I would recommend the Basque country, which is much closer than Sevilla/Cordoba/Granada. Bilbao is a great city, and the entire region has a really interesting history and culture that are independent of the rest of Spain.

If you do insist on getting to southern Spain, the Cathedral in Sevilla, the Alhambra in Granada, and the Alcazar in Cordoba are must-sees. All three cities are small enough that you could feasibly spend 1-2 days in each and see the important stuff.

My favorite part of my time in Barcelona was going to a cava (Spanish champagne) vineyard. Drinking good cava + great tapas = unforgettable experience.
posted by elquien at 9:22 AM on January 11, 2006

I'm going to disagree and suggest that your current itinerary is fine. I've been to Spain many times and once spent six weeks traveling around all over Spain (Barcelona, Mallorca, Madrid, Basque country, Sevilla, Granada, Cordoba etc.)

I love Barcelona but as andrew cooke points out Barcelona may not be for you and so its a bit risky to spend your whole week there. The Seville/Southern Spain area is different enough that that should give you an entirely different taste of Spain. I loved Sevilla and its probably the closest to the image that Americans have of Spain - lots of tapas bar, heat, bullfights etc. Also both Granada and Cordoba have sights that are not to be missed.
posted by vacapinta at 9:29 AM on January 11, 2006

We were in Barcelona in August and spent 5 days just in the city. We just loved it and did exactly what you described-- ate leisurely lunches and late dinners, drank good wine, etc. I would vote for staying north for the week (but I've never been to southern Spain). I would stay in Catalonia and rent a car to drive around (Sitges is supposed to be nice?) and to Bilbao to the Guggenheim (San Sebastian--near Bilbao-- is supposed to the new European food mecca too.) Sounds like a great trip to me!
posted by picklebird at 9:31 AM on January 11, 2006

You could do two separate trips for these places--there's enough there. But I think Barcelona and southen Spain are indeed your best bets for what it sounds like you're looking for. I've done both in the time you're describing. It's doable. If you want to choose one or the other, it depends on what you're looking for. Andalucia is the epitome of Spanish culture--all the things you think of when you think of Spain. Barcelona is just a great vacation spot--it has old world charm, art, touristy stuff, night life, the beach, and everything. It's your choice--you CAN do both. It will just be less laid back. Whatever you choose, I am wicked jealous! Your first sentence of your MI makes me green with envy.

I love Madrid--it's my third home--but it's not as great a tourist spot as Barce or Andalucia. It's got amazing museums, but you said that's not a priority.
posted by lampoil at 9:51 AM on January 11, 2006

I say skip Barcelona and spend the entire week in Andalusia. I agree that it would be too much to do both the south and the north in one trip. I have done Barcelona-Cordoba by train, and it is a pretty trip, and spanish trains are quite a pleasure, but it's long and may be considered a waste of time, depending on your feelings about trains.

The reasons I say you should focus on southern spain are:
(1) warmth - it can still be a bit chilly in Andalusia in March, but it will be more enjoyable than Barcelona;
(2) city v. country - you say you don't need to spend the time in a city, and while Barcelona is a wonderful, wonderful city, it sounds like you want a little more countrified experience, and the smaller cities/towns of Andalusia are great for that;
(3) crime - some may dispute this, but I think - based on purely anecdotal evidence - that Barcelona has a lot more pickpockets than the rest of Spain;
(4) Flamenco - that's an Andalusia thing. You're a little too early for any of the ferias - festivals, where you see tons and tons of flamenco - I think, but still you can find it in Andalusia.

Do either of you speak Spanish and want to test it out? Easier to do in southern spain than in the Barcelona area, given the linguistic differences.

Cordoba is less populated by tourists than Granada and Sevilla - I think it's worth visiting for that reason alone. Otherwise, I wouldn't say Cordoba has too many must-dos. The Mezquita - beautiful moorish mosque - worth checking out.

I'm not big on must-sees, but if you go to Granada, the Alhambra certainly qualifies.

Sevilla is fun and beautiful.

You could also go a little further south, to Malaga and maybe pick a village on the Costa del Sol. Nerja is quite pleasant, beautiful and relaxing. Not all towns on the Costa del Sol are created equally, though - be careful bc there are some real duds. I stayed a week in a predominantly German town, once, and suffered through winds and endless strip clubs. Can't remember the name of the place, but the point is, do a little research if you go there. I wouldn't get too excited about Malaga itself, but those other towns would be extremely pleasant.

Otherwise, for what to do in Spain, I think you're on the right track. Enjoy the slower pace of life. Drink wine; eat tapas (they're cheap!); eat jamon serrano and manchego cheese; drink the hot chocolate drink they dip bread into - can't remember that name either; see flamenco more than once; eat the delicious fresh fruit; if you're into it, go out to clubs until dawn ....
posted by Amizu at 9:52 AM on January 11, 2006

I lived in Barcelona for a while, and it's an incredible city. I'd recommend everything that people above have said (especially day trips to Sitges and Monserrat), plus a trip to the Picasso museum and a leisurely stroll around Parc Guell. The chimneys on top of Palau Guell are a must-see as well.
posted by maxreax at 9:56 AM on January 11, 2006

I echo everything Amizu says above (and the breakfast you're thinking of is Chocolate con Churros). Stay around Cordoba (lejana y sola - Lorca) and drink in the culture of one of the only Moorish places in Europe. You can rent an apartment relatively cheaply this time of the year, especially if you stay away from the coast, and a car is a must.
Pity you'll be a bit late for the Carnival in Cadiz! Feb 26th for a week.
posted by Wilder at 10:05 AM on January 11, 2006

oh, sorry, missed the comment about museums in nyc.
posted by andrew cooke at 10:06 AM on January 11, 2006

Sucks that you don't have 10 days.

Becuase while Cordoba and Seville and Granada are great, they could be done without insane hurry in a few days (3 to 4ish). Espeically if you just want the postcard shots of the Alhambra and the Clocktower in Seville. The history of those cities is so amazing though that it could really be 3 days (or a lifetime, yada yada) each. But yeah, if you had 4 days in Barca and 4 days in Andulucia, I think you'd be pretty happy and not that stressed. It would mean of course, a good bit of travelling (1/2 at least by train from Barca to Seville), but I don't think it would be frantic "I only saw the inside of cabs and trains" travelling.
posted by zpousman at 10:16 AM on January 11, 2006

I've never been to Spain, but some friends just took a trip there and booked hotels and a couple of private guides through a company called LeTango. They were thrilled with everything. (Disclaimer - I do not work for LeTango or any of its affiliates.)
posted by killy willy at 10:40 AM on January 11, 2006

You MUST go and see the amazing organic-style architecture of Barcelona. You'll probably see quite a few of his buildings around there but you really should go and see the Sagrada Familia and the Park Guell. Just outside of the city you can go to visit the amazing monastery at Montserrat (There are some excellent walks in the mountains to be had here too). I'll be going to Barcelona for a few days at the end of the month and, to be honest, I'll spend most my time wandering through the city soaking up a bit of the ambience, eating good food and drinking nice wine/cava. There's not much to beat it.
posted by jonesor at 11:38 AM on January 11, 2006

I did a tour of southern Spain last March, and loved it--weather was cool and mild. For flamenco, our best experience was in Granada, up in the old Moorish quarter. At night, many places will do a package deal of walking tour through the old quarter (very cool, neighborhoods continuously inhabited since c. 900), with a great night-time view of the Alhambra), coupled with flamenco show. The one we saw was amazing.

NOTE: if you plan to do the Alhambra, buy your tickets way in advance!

Sevilla was amazing too, even though we only spent a day and a half there--worth the time, the cathedral, the clock tower, etc. Night life there was pretty fun, too.

But my favorite Spanish city was Madrid (disclaimer: have not been to Barcelona or Basque country)--the museums were amazing (even if you live in NYC--Reina Sofia modern art museum...just phenomenal), night life...much fun.
posted by LooseFilter at 11:41 AM on January 11, 2006

One thing that no one has mentioned is going to Morocco (via a ferry to Tangier, or even Fez if you have the time). It will be a good way to add Africa to your list of continents if you havn't been there yet and see an amazing country.
posted by _zed_ at 11:56 AM on January 11, 2006

Exactly what Amizu said. I say, skip Barcelona altogether and basque (heh) in the southern Spanish sun. You'll get a better cultural experience from Seville and the like (Granada is my favorite) and not feel rushed. There's a lot to do in Andalusia in a week, and any less than that would be cheating yourself.

And don't waste your time on Morocco - you don't have enough time to go anywhere particularly nice and I guarantee it will prove little more than a frustrating, rushed visit. You're better off spending and extra day eating manchego. Bueno suerte!
posted by youarenothere at 12:27 PM on January 11, 2006

I should mention that if you decide to take a train from Barcelona to southern Spain (esp. Sevilla), take an overnight train. While the sleeping conditions aren't ideal, it will save you a whole day's travel. I'm not sure about the status of co-ed train cars, but I'm sure they exist...and if not, you could make some new friends!
posted by elquien at 1:44 PM on January 11, 2006

It's such a shame that you can't go north if it's good wine and food that you like. The Basque Country and Galicia. Can't beat them anywhere. But it will be cold and you want to be south. *sigh*
posted by keijo at 2:13 PM on January 11, 2006

I'd choose either to do Castille/Andalucia Spain.. start in Madrid (see Toledo, Segovia, Escorial mainly, but spend a little time in the plazas in Madrid), then take the fast train down to Corodba or Granada and stay there the rest of the time. OR see Barcelona and then spend two days in Bilbao (Basque) or one of my favorites, Santiago de Compostela (Galicia). If you want to see the "traditional" flamenco/tapas Spain, the first, the second will let you see Gaudi and get a taste of the variety. You could also just do Barcelona/Madrid, but coming from nyc the smaller town might be a nice change.
ps. and if you ever have..like a month off.. the Camino de Santiago walk/pilmigrage is highly recommendable. i daydream about when i can do it again.
posted by ejaned8 at 3:45 PM on January 11, 2006

Clearly you're going to have to make another trip to Spain in the early fall next year so you can see everything.

As long as you don't feel rushed, and you focus on the important things (music, all manner of pork products, and wine), you can't go wrong.
posted by footnote at 4:08 PM on January 11, 2006

If you think you won't make it to Spain again, then you should try to see both Barcelona and some of Andalucía. But if that's the case, I don't know if trying to squeeze Granada AND Sevilla AND Córdoba into an Andalucía leg is going to feel very relaxed.

In that case, I would probably choose Sevilla and Córdoba, in part because they're connected by high-speed train (AVE) and so getting between the two cities is easy.

If you have a sense that you might go back to Spain at some point, then I would choose between Barcelona and Andalucía. And given the time of year you're going, I would go along with what others have said: the south would probably be a better bet.

In the south, you'll find a lot of the things that outsiders think of as typically Spanish: bullrings, cathedrals, tapas bars, flamenco.

As for specifics: When you're in Sevilla, you should see the cathedral (hard not to see it), get lost in Barrio Santa Cruz, head over the bridge to the neighborhood of Triana for late-night tapas. And, honestly, just wonder.

Then, when you get back to NYC, you can start planning your trip to Barcelona. And the Basque Country. And Galicia. And Asturias. And the Balearics. . . And . . . ;-)

Email's in the profile. Drop a line if you want to bounce ideas off someone.
posted by veggieboy at 5:23 PM on January 11, 2006

I think we have now covered just about every corner of mainland Spain in this thread. So Gamblor is back where he started.
posted by keijo at 11:36 PM on January 11, 2006

If you're in the Madrid area, Toledo and El Escorial are unmissable.
posted by salmacis at 2:46 AM on January 12, 2006

In Spain, the train is actually more expensive than flying. Vueling flies Barcelona-Sevilla for 20 euros one-way.

But I agree with the people who say that it's tough to see both Catalunya and Andalucia in a week. I like Barcelona so much that I decided to live there, but it's a city, and it's more Catalan than Spanish.

Barcelona does have great food and great wandering around, and in March you might get a beautiful day where you can go down to Cal Pintxo or Escribà and eat seafood on the beach. The good tapas are at Cal Pep, but you'll have to show up early to get a seat without waiting forever. The flamenco isn't very good, although sometimes you'll get lucky and see someone great at Tarantos (and it's a cheap cover, so you can stop by for the 8:30 set, have a drink and stay all evening if it's any good).

You're not guaranteed great weather, even in the South. It might be 80 degrees with a sky so blue it looks artificial. On the other hand, I went to Granada for a weekend last March, and it snowed, so I caught a 40-minute bus to the Sierra Nevada and went skiing for the day (Europe's southernmost ski resort). I'd suggest saving Barcelona for another trip and giving yourself time to wander through Andalucia and take advantage of whatever strikes your fancy.
posted by fuzz at 4:38 AM on January 12, 2006

My wife are I are new yorkers (brooklyn baby) who now live in madrid. Madrid is a great place, but I would definitely say to make the most of Barcelona. You can go down South, but you will really enjoy that more in the summer. March is still going to be somewhat chilly, but it will be very pleasant in Barcelona and the beautiful countryside surrounding it. people have already given you some good tips (i second Parc Guel) - Barcelona has some really cool tapas bars, hotels, bookstores, etc. I know you don't want more city, but maybe you want to stick around there for a few days and then go out into the countryside. Or down south, depending on how short an attention span you have for places. You can get by on Spanish (or English for that matter), but they will appreciate your efforts to speak Catalan . Also, you might want to see what people tagged in del.icio.us, cause there is some cool stuff.

And if you end up going to Madrid, I can give you some more specific suggestions.
posted by BigBrownBear at 9:53 AM on January 12, 2006

Two more links.

I did a post on some good spanish learning sites. Check them out, especially the BBC site.

Speaking of the BBC, here is their Catalan site.
posted by BigBrownBear at 9:56 AM on January 12, 2006

Ok, we just bought our tickets to Barcelona (Reus, to be exact). We were leaning towards the south, but we couldn't find decently priced tickets from Dublin to Adalusia that worked with the dates we needed. But we are definitely excited to be visiting Barcelona and the surrounding area.

Many thanks to everyone who contributed here; If anything you made the planning even more difficult because you gave so many good suggestions that it made us want to travel everywhere. I'll post a follow-up once we get back.
posted by Gamblor at 9:38 AM on January 19, 2006

I could write a looong post about all of this, but I'll just give the condensed version: We had a fantastic time.

In Barcelona, wandered the Barrio Gotico, shopping in Born, saw La Pedrera, Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell, Olympic Park, the Mirot Foundation. A day trip to Montserrat. Drove the countryside in Girona, visited the old section of Girona city, and drove up and down the small villages along the coast.

Fantastic food (especially tapas), lots of fresh seafood, and terrific Rioja wine.

Two points worth mentioning:

We stayed at the Banys Orientals Hotel in Barcelona. Perfect location, decently priced, dead center between the Gothic Quarter and Born.

In Girona, we stayed at La Placa, which is about a 20 min drive outside of Girona city. A wonderful inn in an old, restored medieval farming village. The rooms were great, the people exceptionally friendly and helpful, and the restaurant was outstanding.

I highly recommend both hotels if you're going to be visiting the area.
posted by Gamblor at 1:07 PM on March 22, 2006

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