Madrid, Barcelona & Valencia Suggested Itineraries & Tours

How to visit Spain's two or three biggest cities in one trip

So you want to visit Madrid and Barcelona? These are Spain's premier cities and you could easily spend a couple of weeks in each, especially if you were to add in day trips.

But few people have so long for their vacation, so you'll have to plan well to get the most into your limited time.

If you want to do your entire itinerary by train, take a look at this Interactive Rail Map of Spain that will give you prices and travel times for your whole trip.

See also:

Where Should You Start Your Trip?

Obviously, which city you can get a cheap flight to will probably dictate where you start, but if you have a choice, I'd go for Madrid. The capital takes a little longer to appreciate, so I'd base myself there and give it a bit more of my time.

Adding in Valencia: How Long to Spend There

Valencia is not what I would call an 'essential' stop for your trip to Spain. It is a great weekend break in its own right: as the home of paella, it is a fantastic city to eat in, it has great beaches and its old town feels a lot smaller than it is. But if you are visiting Madrid and Barcelona on one trip, you are probably a big city kinda person: Valencia will pale in comparison to to the other two. On the other hand, if you're trying to break up your Madrid-Barcelona vacation with a smaller stop along the way, I wouldn't say that the country's third biggest city really fits that bill.

However, Valencia is worth a visit, particularly for the paella. As part of a Madrid and Barcelona trip, I would spend half a day there or, at most, stay the night and leave after breakfast.

At the end of this article you can see my suggestions for how to spend your time in Valencia, as well as some alternatives third cities for your Madrid and Barcelona tour.

  • 01 of 06

    Guided Tours of Madrid and Barcelona

    Atocha train station
    ••• Atocha train station in Madrid, your likely arrival point from Barcelona. PNC / Getty Images

    I don't know of any guided tours that show you both Barcelona and Madrid; instead, they tend to merely depart from one city and guide you in the other.

    If you would like a tour of both cities, consider booking a walking tour in the city you start in.

    Barcelona Tours from Madrid

    Madrid Tours from Barcelona

  • 02 of 06

    How to Visit Madrid and Barcelona in Two or Three Days

    Calle Cuchilleros in Madrid de las Austrias
    ••• Madrid de las Austrias in Madrid's oldest neighborhood. © Damian Corrigan

    You can't spend much time in each city with such a short visit, so you'll need to stay in one city and do a day trip to the other.

    Top Tips for Visiting Madrid and Barcelona in Two Days

    Day 1: Madrid 

    Explore Madrid with a combination of guided tours and exploring by yourself.

    Morning Do a Madrid Walking Tour or take the Madrid Hop-On-Hop-Off Sightseeing Bus for an overview of the city.

    Lunc...MOREVisit El Botin, the oldest continually-functioning restaurant in the world and Hemingway's favorite.

    Afternoon Check out Madrid's Golden Triangle of Art Museum. Pick the one that most suits you.

    Alternatively, take a half-day tour. You can still fit in a walking tour of Madrid or a visit to one of the big museums.

    Evening Tapas, perhaps? Either by exploring the area just south of Sol or on a Madrid Tapas Tour. Or perhaps see a flamenco show at one of several good flamenco tablaos in Madrid.

    Day 2: Day Trip to Barcelona

    Morning The high-speed AVE train from Madrid to Barcelona means that, yes, you can do a day trip to Barcelona. There are guided tours designed especially for this, but you can do the trip by yourself too.

    Afternoon The Barcelona hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus will fulfill all of your transport needs for the day. It will take you up to Parc Guell and the Sagrada Familia, as well as into the downtown Gothic Quarter, Ramblas and El Born areas.

    Evening Return to Madrid.

    What to Do with Your Third Day: A Day Trip from Madrid

    Though both Madrid and Barcelona warrant more than a day, my suggestion for your third day would be to go on a day trip from the capital, or even a half-day trip and spend the rest of your day in Madrid.

    For the options below, you'll want to stay in Barcelona and flip the itinerary around, visiting Madrid as a day trip, or going through the hassle of checking into hotels in both Madrid and Barcelona.

    An Extra Day in Barcelona

    If you don't want to leave the city, but want an experience that is different from the typical hustle of central Barcelona, head up to to Gracia, the village-like district on the other side of the Eixample area. There are also plenty of excellent Day Trips from Barcelona, with two particular ones that stick out as being particularly worth considering. These are in fact both half-day trips, which means you can spend the other half of the day checking out the city.

    A Visit to Montserrat Fantastical rock formations and a famous monastery await you after some gorgeous views on the rack railway and cable car. Visit by yourself or on a half-day tour. But I would recommend combining it with a stop at the Gaudi Crypt and Colonia Guell. Read more: Montserrat and Colonia Guell Combined Tour.

    The Dali Museum in Figueres Salvador Dali is one of the world's most fun artists in the world: and that is well represented in his Disney-like museum, just a short ride by high-speed rail from Barcelona. Visit by yourself in a half day trip, or combine it with a visit to Girona with this Dali Museum and Girona Guided Tour.

    An Extended Stop in Valencia

    You could also use your extra day to visit Valencia en route between the two larger cities. Either check your luggage at the train station and spend just the day in Valencia or stay the night and leave in the morning. At the bottom of the page there is more on visiting Valencia.

  • 03 of 06

    Four-Day Madrid and Barcelona Suggested Itinerary

    Quimet & Quimet, Barcelona
    ••• Quimet & Quimet, Barcelona. © Damian Corrigan

    Four days gives you long enough to split your time evenly between the two cities, meaning you don't need to choose between the options in the two- and three-day itineraries - you can do them all! Bear in mind, though, that four days is still not really enough time.

    Where to Stay: Find a hotel in Madrid close to the train station for the first night and transfer to Barcelona on the evening of the second night.

    Day-to-Day Suggested Itinerary

    For more details on the individual parts of this itinerary, see above.

    Day 1: Explore Madrid.

    Day 2: Visit Toledo or El Escorial and the Valley of the Fallen in the morning and see more of Madrid in the afternoon. Transfer to Barcelona.

    Day 3: Explore Barcelona.

    Day 4: Visit the Dali museum in Figueres or go to Montserrat Montserrat.

    Alternatively, check out this Four-Day Guided Tour of Barcelona and Valencia from Madrid, but bear in mind that there are no days in Madrid on this tour, so you'll need extra time to explore the capital by yourself.

  • 04 of 06

    Five- or Six-Day Madrid, Barcelona (and Valencia?) Itinerary

    Segovia Aqueduct
    ••• Segovia Aqueduct. © Damian Corrigan

    A six-day itinerary allows you to conveniently divide your trip into three days in each city. If you can only spare five-days, then drop the extra day from either Madrid or Barcelona.

    Most of this suggested itinerary is similar to the four-day version, with two extra days.  This gives you the option of either spending more time in one of the two cities or to add in an extra stop between the two.

    • Day 1: Explore Madrid. Visit El Prado 
    • Day 2: Visit Toledo or El Escorial and the Valley of the Fallen in the morning and see more of Madrid in the afternoon. Transfer to Barcelona.
    • Day 3: Extra day in Madrid. 
    • Day 4: Explore Barcelona.
    • Day 5: Visit the Dali museum in Figueres or go to Montserrat.
    • Day 6: Extra day in Barcelona

    Alternatively, day 3 or 6 could be spent in Valencia.

    For the days outside of Madrid, check out this Four-Day Guided Tour of Barcelona and Valencia from Madrid

    How to Spend Your Extra Day in Madrid

    My suggestions for this day would include:

    • Explore Lavapies. Cheap rents here have...MORE brought artists and immigrants into the same barrio, giving you a fantastic mix of ethnic stores and fashionable stores. You have the Reina Sofia here, as well as a cat cafe!
    • Go for breakfast, or a late night snack, at the Chocolateria de San Gines.
    • Visit the Retiro park.
    • Get a classic calamare baguette at El Brillante
    • Check out my 100 Things to Do in Madrid for even more inspiration.

    How to Spend Your Extra Day in Barcelona

    • Visit Montjuic The hill that overlooks Barcelona, home to the Catalan National Art Museum and the Olympic Stadium. See Things to Do on Montjuic
    • Visit Tibidabo The other hill you can see from Barcelona. Read about Things to Do on Tibidabo.

    Read more: 100 Things to Do in Barcelona

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    How to Add in Valencia and What to Do There

    City of Arts Valencia
    ••• City of Arts & Sciences, Valencia. papagnoc / Pixabay

    Considering adding Valencia into your itinerary? As I explained above, I wouldn't really say Valencia was an essential stop. See further down the page for my suggestions of where to go instead.

    How to Get to Valencia from Madrid Madrid and Valencia are connected by the high-speed AVE railway. The whole journey takes just over 90 minutes (sometimes a bit longer) and costs around 45€. But consider adding in Cuenca on the way (see below). See more on travel from Madrid to Valencia.

    How to Get to Valencia from Barcelona The train route between Barcelona and Valencia isn't as quick as the Madrid-Valencia route, with journeys taking over three hours, sometimes a lot more.  See more on travel from Barcelona to Valencia

    Stay the Night or Visit en Route? With four-and-a-half hours of train travel ahead of you, it might be tempting to stay the night in Valencia. However, I would prefer to travel from Valencia to Barcelona in the evening - say from 6pm until 9pm - and then get a late dinner...MORE in Barcelona, rather than waste your morning in transit.

    What to Do in Valencia Paella! The famous rice dish is at its best in Valencia. If you thought paella was a seafood dish, you'll be pleased to know paella valenciana is actually made with meat (while vegetarians will easily find a version for them too).

    The old town area has a great small-town feel to it (but you'll get that in spades if you visit Gracia in Barcelona). 

    There is also the Ciudad de Artes y Ciencias - a huge modern art and science exhibition complex - and the beach.

    Read more about Things to Do in Valencia

  • 06 of 06

    Alternatives to Valencia: Other Detours on the Way from Madrid to Barcelona

    Logroño Tapas Bar
    ••• Tapas bar in Logroño. © Damian Corrigan

    So if I don't advise Valencia as your third stop, where should you go instead? Consider these options instead:

    San Sebastian or Bilbao The Basque Country is an excellent place to visit. San Sebastian is renowned for its tapas (known locally as pintxos) while Bilbao is home to the Guggenheim museum. But, if you're already trying to cram big cities like Barcelona and Madrid into a short tour, adding one of these two is probably biting off more than you can chew. Choose somewhere smaller.

    Logroño Has all of the gourmet food of San Sebastian but it's cheaper and closer to Madrid and Barcelona. This would be my choice.

    Seville You can take the high-speed train down to Seville from Madrid and then fly to Barcelona. But again, this is a big city - do you really want to be adding it to an already hectic itinerary?

    Zaragoza A very convenient stop as it is on the same train line as Madrid and Barcelona, but there's little to see apart from its two cathedrals.

    Cuenca and Valencia I may...MORE have said that Valencia is not a must-see destination when you're already visiting Madrid and Barcelona, but when you add in Cuenca, it suddenly is. Visit Cuenca's stunning ravine and hanging houses en route from Madrid to Valencia; round off your day with paella near your hotel in Valencia and head off to Barcelona the next day: Cuenca and Valencian paella is better than just Valencia.