You've booked your flight to Spain, and the Spanish vacation of your dreams is now within reach. But before you start browsing accommodation sites, you'll need to figure out exactly how long you'll want to spend in each city or town along the way. After all, there are few things more frustrating than trying to kill days in a city that you're not enjoying, or that you've already "done," just because you've got accommodation booked there when you'd rather move on.
How Long You Should Stay vs How Long You Actually Have
So, how long should you spend in each city in Spain? The answer to this question depends largely on how long you actually have.
On the one hand, you could spend a week in a metropolitan, cosmopolitan destination like Barcelona, which offers endless opportunities to explore. On the other hand, if you only have a week in Spain but really want to visit both Barcelona and Madrid, then the suggestion "stay a week in Barcelona" probably isn't what you want to hear.
With that in mind, we'll help you map out your itinerary in this guide by walking you through the following questions.
- How long you should ideally stay in a certain city?
- Which pairs or groups of cities could you travel between in a week, five days, or as a weekend break?
- What can you do in the main cities in a shorter period of time?
Not only are each of Spain's major cities worth a visit for obvious reasons, but each is surrounded by dozens of equally stunning smaller towns and villages, many of which are also worthy of a day trip. The number of days listed below takes into account the number of days you need to enjoy the city itself, plus a couple of the day trips.
Spending One Month in Spain
A whole month in Spain provides boundless opportunities for travel and exploration. With that amount of time in the country, we recommend not staying in one city or area the entire time, unless you plan to base yourself in a certain place to help you learn Spanish.
There are endless ways that you could spend a month in Spain, but here are just a few suggestions for how to break down your time effectively.
- Start with a week to ten days in Andalusia, basing yourself in the larger cities with more things to do, such as Seville, Granada, and Cordoba. From there, make day trips to smaller cities and towns such as Ronda, Jerez, and Cadiz.
- Next, start making your way up north. Spend a week based in Madrid, with day trips to Toledo, Segovia, and other destinations nearby.
- Next, it's on to the Catalan capital. It's worth spending up to a week in Barcelona, with day trips to places such as Montserrat and the Dali Museum in Figueres.
- End your adventure with a week in northern Spain, splitting your time between the Basque Country and Galicia with one night in Oviedo or Gijón.
This itinerary, of course, involves a lot of travel time. If your travel plans are flexible and you find yourself falling in love with a certain destination, consider cutting down on your time in a different area of the agenda so you can spend more time there. Consider taking the high-speed AVE train to dramatically shorten some travel times.
Spending 10 Days to Two Weeks in Spain
With a week and a half to two weeks to spend in Spain, consider visiting two regions of Spain and spending five days to a week in each. Common combinations are:
- Madrid and Barcelona: Split your two weeks equally between the two cities.
- Madrid and Andalusia: The high-speed train connecting the capital to southern cities like Seville, Cordoba, and Malaga means you don't lose a day traveling.
- Madrid and the Basque Country: Make a stop in the Rioja wine region on the way.
- Madrid and Galicia: Stop in León, Oviedo and perhaps Salamanca along the way.
- Barcelona and the Basque Country: Make a stop in Rioja to break up the trip and enjoy some great wine.
- Barcelona and Andalusia: Consider flying to make this possible. While both areas are absolutely worth a visit, they're each situated at opposite ends of the country.
Spending Five Days to a Week in Spain
We are finally in single-city territory. One of the easiest ideas planning-wise would be to spend the week in Madrid or Barcelona, particularly if you include day trips.
Seville is another city you could visit for a week, but due to its smaller size, you'll have plenty of time left over for day trips. Jerez, Cadiz, and Cordoba are all great destinations.
Barcelona in Seven Days
You could easily spend at least a week at the very least in the Catalan capital just taking in the sights the city has to offer, followed by a second week seeing the countryside and towns around Barcelona. However, as so many of Barcelona's most impressive sights are equally impressive outside as they are on the inside, you could see the city as a day trip (for example, from Madrid or Perpignan), but doing so may feel rushed.
- Must-See Sight: The Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's unfinished basilica
- Best Day Trip: Visit the sacred mountain of Montserrat
- Learn more: How to Plan the Perfect Barcelona Vacation
Madrid in Seven Days
Madrid needs more time than Barcelona, as it is more of a 'slow burner'—that's to say, its sights are less obvious. There's no Eiffel Tower, Colosseum, or Sagrada Familia to be found here. But many visitors seem to like Madrid the longer they stay. And nowhere in Europe has as many fantastic day trips within a 100km radius as the Spanish capital.
- Must-See Sight: The "Golden Triangle" of art museums: the Prado, the Reina Sofia, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza.
- Best Day Trip: Toledo is the most popular choice, but Segovia is another excellent option.
- Learn more: How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Madrid
Seville in Seven Days
Everything traditionally associated with Spain—tapas, flamenco, and bullfighting—is at its best in Seville. The passionate Andalusian capital will enchant you from the moment you arrive in town, and it's quite possible you'll never want to leave.
- Must-See Sight: The cathedral and its stunning Moorish tower, the Giralda.
- Best Day Trip: Fried fish in Cadiz for lunch, capped with sherry in Jerez in the evening.
- Learn more: Things to Do in Seville
Bilbao and San Sebastian
- Must-See Sight: The Guggenheim museum in Bilbao and the incredible gastronomic scene in San Sebastian.
- Best Day Trip: Whichever city you're not based in would be a good start. Additionally, there are dozens of beautiful destinations in the Basque Country worth checking out, and most are easily accessible from the major hubs.
- Learn more: How to Plan the Perfect Trip to the Basque Country
Spending a Weekend Break in Spain (Three or Four Days)
Sometimes you don't have a ton of time to spend in Spain, but still want to make the most of every moment. Here are some weekend break suggestions—some are iconic destinations; others are equally worthwhile hidden gems.
- Santiago de Compostela is the most beautiful city in northwest Spain and the final destination of the country's most legendary pilgrimage.
- Valencia, Spain's third-largest city, is the home of paella.
- León and Oviedo make a great combination for an off-the-beaten-path city break. Stay in Oviedo and visit Leon for a lunch of free tapas.
- Cadiz and Jerez are another great pair. Chow down on fried fish in Cadiz and sip on sherry in the city where it was invented.
- Granada's claim to fame is as the home to the Alhambra, but it's also where you'll find the best free tapas in the country.
Where to Spend Two Days in Spain
Most of these destinations could be seen in a single hectic day or a more leisurely two—whichever best fits your itinerary.
- Córdoba: Come for the iconic Mezquita; stay overnight to give you enough time to check out the Medina Azahara ruins just outside of town.
- Cadiz and Jerez: Stay the night in Jerez so you can drink lots of sherry and not worry about traveling home.
- Oviedo: Tack on an afternoon or evening in Leon for its free tapas.
- Merida: Once you've seen the Roman ruins, spend an afternoon in the UNESCO-protected old town of Cáceres.
- Segovia and Avila: Segovia is usually visited as a day trip, but is worth more time. Spend half a day in Avila en route to Segovia.
- Toledo Also usually seen as a day trip, but worth a longer stay as well, especially for a day in Consuegra.
Good as a Day Trip
Some of these cities could be visited in half a day, en route from one city to another.