Spain: An Ideal 10-Day Itinerary for Barcelona and Madrid
Well, this has certainly been a longtime coming. I mean one of the main reasons I started this blog was because a little Spain itinerary I wrote via FB message 5 years ago made the rounds throughout the years and I was shocked 4 years later to have someone reach out and say they were using it. Truthfully, I couldn’t even tell you what was on there…but it really doesn’t matter, because here goes, the official new and improved Spain itinerary. This post probably showcases my “perfectionist” tendencies more than any other, but disclaimer, I lived in both of these cities for 4 months and a year, respectively, so I mean yea, I have to do Spain justice!
BTW, if you want to cut this itinerary down to 7 days, cut out Day 5, Day 6, and Day 9 and add Parc Guell to Day 1 and Retiro and Mercado San Miguel to Day 7 in place of your siesta.
Transport into Barcelona:
Fly into El Prat airport in Barcelona, Spain. El Prat is not especially close to the city center, so you have a few options. If it isn’t rush hour and you have some money to spend, I suggest taking a taxi. If you are more money conscious, you have two options. 1) Depending on where your hostel, hotel, or airbnb is located, you can take a bus directly to the city center to a square called Plaza Catalunya. The single ticket costs 5.90 euro. There, you can take the metro or walk to your accommodations if you are staying in Barrio Gothico aka the Gothic Quarter, or the Eixample (these are the two places I recommend—there are many hotels on La Rambla which is the main street in Barcelona but it is very crowded and loud and therefore, I think these other two areas are beautiful and centrally located). 2) Take the L9 metro, the orange line where you will most likely make a transfer at Europa Fira stop or Torrassa station. Buy the T-10 metro pass which will be good for, you guessed it…10 rides!
Once you are settled into your accommodation, get out, wander the streets, and find a random tapas bar to sit down at and eat and have a drink. I’m not going to plan too much to do today because everyone’s arrival time will vary! But, if you do arrive in the morning, feel free to add the Arc de Triumph, Parc Ciutadella, Tibidabo, or the Palau de la Musica Catalana to this day.
My personal tradition is to go to a place called Bilbao Berria which is a pintxos-style bar (similar to tapas but a name used in the Basque country) where if you sit outside on the terrace, you have a breathtaking view of the Barcelona cathedral. The food isn’t life changing, but it’s decent, and I go because it’s a locale where you immediately get that feeling that you are in Spain as you sit out on the terrace and people watch. If you wish to visit the cathedral, there is free entry from 8:00 AM to 12:45 PM and 5:45 PM to 7:30 PM on weekdays and open a little later on weekends. With all sights in Spain, though, double and triple check the hours because everything is constantly opening and closing! So expect that at least one activity you try to go to won’t be open when you get there and don’t get too upset about it because that’s the norm!! Take your first walk around of the Gothic district, and check out the shops and souvenirs so you have some idea of what you would like to bring back from your trip. Next, head to El Born the trendy, artsy area of Barcelona which is the barrio (area) right next to the Barrio Gothico. Walk down the charming narrow alleys and grab a drink at one of the many cozy bars. If you aren’t too jet lagged, and interested in nightlife, you could check out Espit Chupitos, a bar with 500 shots or Oveja Negra and try a clara which is a combination of beer and lemonade and therefore obviously quite delicious! Both of these bars have two locations!
Wake up the next morning, grab a cafe and a croissant as Spaniards love to eat sweet in the morning and head back to the Barrio Gothic district for a visit to the Picasso museum. Make sure to book tickets in advance! Otherwise the line to get into the museum is ginormous. Also, I highly recommend purchasing the audio guide. Just add it to the price of admission for the ticket because it really helps hearing the stories behind the paintings. After the museum, walk to La Rambla, the most famous street in Barcelona. You will want to start from the “coast side” and slowly make your way up toward Plaza Catalunya. Marvel at the street performers, artists, and the pure randomness that happens on this street. Just be vigilant with your bags because this is also where pickpockets love to grab your wallet. About halfway up the street, you will see gates to La Boqueria, the open air marketplace filled with every kind of food you can imagine. This is a perfect spot to grab a quick lunch, basically by snacking as you go from stall to stall. Be sure to check out the juice and marzipan vendors and steer clear of the fish section unless you have an affinity for smelly sea creatures. As you can probably tell, I do not…Once you’ve fully examined the market, continue walking past Plaza Catalunya as you enter the Eixample district, a more upscale district with incredible architecture.
You will now be on Passeig de Gracia, another main thoroughfare in Barcelona. Make your way up slowly walking into all of the gorgeous stores along the way until you get to Casa Battlo, one of Gaudi’s famous works. Personally, I prefer Casa Battlo to La Pedrera (also known as Casa Mila) if you want to choose one, but you could always see both if you are an architecture buff. You should purchase tickets in advance for both of these attractions. In the summer, La Pedrera has live musical performances at night which is something to look into while planning to see if there is anything interesting happening. Now would be a great time to siesta before heading to Montjuic, which is a small hill with many different attractions, for sunset. You can choose to walk or take the funicular up to the top. There are a plethora of museums and and events going on at all times, but personally I just like to enjoy the views and watch the Magic Fountain show during the summer. Tonight would be also be an ideal night to enjoy the Barcelona nightlife. I recommend going to one of the beach clubs like Opium, but there are also some great ones in the city like Apollo, Razzmatazz, and Otto Zutz depending on your clubbing style. As for bars, there are seriously too many to name, but keep in mind, dinner in Spain is usually around 9/10 and then people start going to bars around 11 and clubs don’t really get popping until 2 o’clock at the earliest.
Feel free to wake up a little later this morning before heading to Sagrada Familia (another sight you probably want to buy tickets in advance for), arguably Gaudi’s most famous piece of architecture in the whole city. Spend some time exploring both the interior and exterior of this incredible basilica. You will then want to grab the metro at Verdaguer and head to Barceloneta on the yellow line for the BEST part of the trip! La Champagneria! Also known as Can Paixano!!!!! This amazing, incredible place is a dive bar with ridiculously cheap and delicious champagne. Before 5:00 PM, you can buy bottles of champagne to drink at the bar with the purchase of 2 food items. My vote is for the Pollo con Pimientos sandwich. After 5:00PM, you can get glasses of champagne for a little over 1 euro. So you see, it is best to go there early because a) bottle service b) this place gets packed as the day progresses with locals and tourists alike. Afterward, you will no doubt be in a food and drink coma which makes it the perfect time to head to the beaches at Barceloneta. A word to the wise: don’t expect this to be a relaxing, beautiful beach where you can tan peacefully with a mai tai in hand. Instead, picture the most crowded beach you have ever been to and then multiply that number of people by 10 and add vendors coming up to you every minute trying to sell massages, beverages, and knick knacks galore. There are some amazing souvenir vendors near the port though, if you do wish to do a bit of shopping after the beach. Or, grab a bike and ride along the coast once that champagne buzz has worn off. Tonight would be a great night to go out to a nice dinner. There are over 7,000 restaurants to choose from on TripAdvisor so my recommendation would be to put in your current location and find a good spot near you.
Read more: Shopping for Souvenirs in Barcelona
Start the morning with a half-day trip to Montseratt, an incredible monastery on top of a huge mountain. To get there, take a one hour train ride to the bottom of the funicular on the R5 toward Manresa which you can get to from the metro stop Plaza Espanya. From there, it is another 23 minutes up the cable car to the top of the mountain. You want to make it to the top by 1:00 PM so that you can hear the boys choir perform in the Basilica. Continue to walk around the mountain and be sure to sample the fresh goat cheese from the street vendors. It is so delicious! When you are ready, head back the way that you came.
So, I am putting a visit to Camp Nou (Barcelona’s soccer stadium) for this afternoon but obviously there is just no way for me to know when there will be a game; however, you should absolutely plan your Barcelona trip around seeing a futbol match one of the nights. From Monsteratt, you take the green line 5 or 6 stops to Maria Cristina or Palau Reial to get to the stadium. If you are in town when FC Barcelona isn’t playing, you can always take a tour of Camp Nou. Hopefully, though, there will be a game during your visit! Unless you are a major football fan, it is less about where you sit and more about just having the experience of seeing what a game is like in a city that take so much pride in the sport.
I am only recommending a full-day trip to Figueres and Girona if you have the entire 10 days to explore Barcelona and Madrid. Otherwise, skip ahead to Day 6. What are you going to see on this day trip? Well, in Figueres you will go to the Dali museum which is incredible and Girona you will walk around and explore the highlights of this beautiful medieval city. I suggest a guided tour for this trip even though you could plan the day on your own. I just think there are a lot of moving parts and if you are going to splurge on one guided tour, this would be the one.
Before saying goodbye to Barcelona for the time being, head to Parc Guell, the last major Gaudi sight on your list. Buy tickets ahead of time for this one as well because you are actually given an entrance time to enter the park. Parc Guell is a little out of the way, so make sure you wear some comfy walking shoes because once you get off the metro at Vallcarca it is all uphill from there. You could also take the #24 bus from Plaza Catalunya for a shorter walk. From here, go back to your accommodation, grab your luggage, and head by bus or Ave (train) to Madrid. Once in Madrid, you can easily take the metro from Atocha to your next accommodation. Here’s the thing about Madrid to keep in mind. Madrid is less about the sight-seeing and more about immersing yourself in the authentic Spanish culture. So this evening, depending on budget, make your way to another dive bar favorite, El Tigre in Gran Via or El Botin in Sol, the oldest restaurant in the world. The quality of the food at El Tigre is not the best you’ve ever had, but the amount of free tapas you receive with your drink order is hard to believe. I highly recommend getting the sidra (cider) here. El Botin is expensive, but the ambiance is amazing, Hemingway used to write there, and the notoriety of the place is worth it if you can splurge. Once you’re finished, spend the night walking the streets and bar hopping. You will be right near the city center so you won’t have any problems getting in on the action.
Wake up for a free walking tour to get a lay of the land in Madrid. Sandemans New Europe has tours at 10:00AM, 11:00AM, and 2:00PM and meets near the Tourist Information in Plaza Mayor. Here you will learn the history of the city and Spain as a country and have a great overview of the sights. Be sure to tip your tour guide at the end of the tour! Afterward, find a restaurant with a Menu del Dia, which is 3-course meal similar to a price fixe but for only 12-15 euros (approximately)! A menu del dia is a traditional Spanish lunch, so it won’t be difficult to find a spot that has one. After your inevitable food coma, embrace the lifestyle and take a siesta, because that’s what you do in Spain! So. Glorious. Most everything is closed anyway and you just walked a whole lot during your tour. Once you are rested, visit either the Reina Sofia museum (modern art) or the Prado museum (one of the world’s finest collections of European art). Both museums are free nightly; the Reina Sofia from 7-9 Monday, Wednesday-Saturday and 1:30-7 on Sundays, and the Prado from 6-8 Monday thru Saturday and 5-7 on Sundays and holidays. At night, you gotta check out this incredible flamenco place, Tablao Flamenco la Quimera. It is super authentic which is totally unlike the majority of “flamenco” shows you would find in Madrid. Shows are typically at 10:00 PM and you will need to call or email to make a reservation. FYI, it’s a bit outside of the city center, so you will need to cab it or take the metro about 7 stops.
Choose between a day trip to either Toledo or Segovia. Personally, I would go with Toledo and my reasoning is because I think it is a prettier city; however, I feel as though these two excursions are split 50/50 when it comes to what people prefer. To get to Toledo, you can either take a train from Atocha which costs about 14 euros each way and takes a half hour or a bus from Plaza Elliptic for about an hour and a half that costs 5 euros each way. Once in Toledo, make an effort to get lost in the city…it’s small enough where you will find your way back! Highlights include La Catedral Primada and the Mirador del Valle (the view of the city), but there are a plethora of places to see should they strike your interest like the El Greco museum and monastery. Souvenir specialities include swords (although good luck getting that home) and marzipan sweets while lunches are known for partridge stew and a pork dish called carcamusa. Should you choose to go to Segovia instead, you should plan your day around visiting the aqueduct and the castle, Alcazar de Segovia. Sleeping Beauty’s castle at Disneyland is said to have been modeled after this castle, so you know it’s impressive! You can take the AVE train from Chamartin train station for about 10 euros and the ride will only be about a half an hour. After returning from you day trip, make your way to La Latina area, namely Cava Baja street for some of the best tapas all in one centralized area of Madrid. Bars will be filled with locals and tourists all enjoying their evening of eating and drinking.
I’m going to keep it pretty casual today as I think it is important at the end of the trip to collect yourself before flying home the next day. That being said, you can definitely check out some of the sights you may not have fully explored on the walking tour like the cathedral and palace, other interesting places like the Temple de Debod (the sunsets here are incredible), or shop on Gran Via. Afterward, get some grub at the open market, Mercado San Miguel, which is back near Plaza Mayor and Sol, the main plaza of Madrid. Pick up a napolitana de chocolate from Madrid’s most famous bakery La Mallorquina in that same plaza and take the metro to Retiro park. Spend the rest of the afternoon at the park playing cards, drinking boxed sangria and enjoying the scenery. Retiro is a massive park that has a ton of areas to explore. If you aren’t too museum’d out, you can visit the museum you missed out on 2 days prior once again for free in the evening. For your last night, make sure to explore Malasana, a bohemian district that has incredible nightlife. If you wish to go all out at the club, Kapital, Pacha, and Joy are some of the most popular choices. Whatever you do, make sure to end your Spain trip at Chocolateria San Gines for some late night/early morning churros con chocolate. I mean really…how else would you want to end your trip to Spain?!
It’s time to say adios to Spain. The Madrid airport is very easily accessible by metro.
If you are doing your Spain trip in reverse–starting in Madrid and then heading to Barcelona– take the metro to your accommodation from the airport. On Day 6, when you are going from Madrid to Barcelona, the Ave train would leave from Atocha train station which also has a metro station attached and is centrally located. The bus stations are also extremely accessible by metro. Then, you can taxi to El Prat, Barcelona’s airport on your way back home on Day 10.
Leaving Spain, but planning to go elsewhere in Europe? Check out my guide to the best festivals in Europe!
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