Spain is home to an incredible variety of landscapes, historical monuments, museums, and local culinary delights. The idea of seeing as much as possible in just one week can be overwhelming, but with clever planning and our ultimate itinerary, you will get a pretty good insight into the essence of Spain. North and South are very different in landscape and culture, so it’s a good idea to start in the south with Malaga and then work your way north as far as San Sebastian.
You’ll have some long distances to cover, so plan on traveling by Spain’s excellent train service coach, unless you opt to hire a car and turn your journey into a road trip.
Day 1: Malaga
After landing at Malaga’s International Costa del Sol Airport, catch one of the city buses from outside terminal 3 to reach the city center in about 20 minutes. Then, after you settle into your hotel, it's time to get acquainted with the Spanish lifestyle, explore the many sights of the city, and have a good meal or tapas with the famous wine of the region.
Malaga is a city where history meets art. Pablo Picasso was born here, and two majestic Moorish monuments, the Alcazaba and the Castillo de Gibralfaro dominate the city on two hills. You can combine a visit to the two, which will fill up your morning. As it’s a long way and rather steep climb, take a taxi or take a city tour on a hop-on-hop-off bus to get an overview.
In the afternoon, it’s time for a museum visit, and Malaga has more than 30! Bear in mind that museums are closed on Monday, and some are not open in the afternoon. Check out opening hours and an overview of your options here, but we recommend paying homage to Malaga’s most famous son at the Pablo Picasso museum.
When you're ready for a bite, head for the Atarazanes Market for some of the best tapas. With all the sightseeing you are going to do during your week long trip, tapas will be a staple meal for you.
Day 2: White Villages, Nerja Caves
Andalusia’s white villages dot the mountains opposite the sea all along the Costa del Sol. Probably the best known are Frigilania and Nerja, best reached by going on a day trip from Malaga with this tour.
Wander though the steep, narrow streets of Frigilania, admire the white-washed houses and the abundance of flower pots. Then head to the marvelous caves of Nerja featuring the world’s largest stalactite and learn about the story of how the caves were discovered.
The tour ends in the town of Nerja itself where you can have a glimpse of Africa across the Mediterranean from the Balcony of Europe. If you want to buy a really pretty souvenir, head for the nearby Calle Pintada 1, and visit the shop of Didier Borgeaud for the most beautiful hand-painted fans with matching jewelry.
Day 3: Granada and Cordoba
Pack your bags and head for Granada. It’s an easy train ride of two to three hours depending on what train you catch. When you arrive, store your luggage while you explore. Granada train station does not have lockers but you can safely leave it at the mini market just 100 yards away.
You are heading to Granada to visit the world-famous Alhambra; enjoying the fabulous gardens and Moorish buildings takes several hours, and because it’s one of the most visited sights in Spain, we recommend taking a guided tour and buying your tickets in advance.
After your visit to the Alhambra and a refreshing meal in town, head back to the train station and catch a train to Cordoba where you will spend the night. Cordoba is even smaller than Granada, so it's easy to explore leisurely on foot. First stop is the Mezquita, a breathtaking monument of Spanish architecture and history; the original mosque remains within the present catholic cathedral. Afterwards stroll across the Roman Bridge, walk around the historic old town and visit the Jewish quarter. Pay particular attention to the houses and the patios which are overflowing with flowers, celebrated with a festival in May.
Day 4: Valencia
The train from Cordoba ride takes three to four hours, so you will likely arrive mid-afternoon, which is lunch time in Spain. Check into your hotel and head out to have the most typical of Spanish dishes originating from Valencia: paella. One of the best places is La Pepica in Calle Neptuno 6.
Spend the rest of the afternoon and evening enjoying the historic center, including La Lonja (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the cathedral, the town hall, and the many busy streets with one café after another. You may only have time to visit one museum, so it should be the ceramic museum located in a baroque palace.
Just opposite the museum are several designer boutiques in case you fancy some shopping.
Day 5: Barcelona
In the morning take the train from Valencia to Barcelona. The average travel time is about three hours, and there are 12 trains per day. Check into your hotel and prepare for a day of art and architecture. What Picasso is to Malaga, Gaudi is to Barcelona—the city is full of his distinctive master pieces. The most famous (and most visited) is probably the cathedral Sagrada Familia. You can also walk along the Rambla de Cataluña, and other main streets like Paseo de Gracia, to see more Gaudi buildings
Later, make your way to the colorful market, La Boqueria, and the picturesque gothic quarter, home to architecturally stunning churches and streets lined with small art and craft shops. A great place to eat with an interesting history is El Nacional, a favorite with locals.
Opera, music, and theater lovers should visit the Grand Teatre de Liceo, a fabulous building and the second largest opera house in Europe (after Paris). Try to catch a performance in the evening, or join a guided tour to look behind the scenes. You should also make time to see Las Arenas, a former bullfighting ring converted into a futuristic shopping center near Plaza de Cataluña.
Day 6: San Sebastian
No trip to Spain is complete without visiting at least one of the great cities in the north of the country, with San Sebastian being one of the prettiest. Take the train; all of them are direct and early in the morning because the trip lasts between five and six hours. Along the way, you'll see how drastically the landscape changes from south to north. Mountains loom in the distance, and deep woods, green meadows, and streams run alongside the train.
San Sebastian, or its Basque name Donastia, is located at the mouth of the river Urumea on the Bay of Biscayne and was the European Capital of Culture in 2016. Check into your hotel and relax on the beach of La Concha or explore the many sights, including the San Telmo Museum, the cathedral, the old town, and the Palace of Miramar built in 1893 as a summer residence for the Royal family.
Be sure to rest up when you get back to your hotel because your next and last day in Madrid is a busy one.
Day 7: Madrid
Take the early morning train to Madrid. The journey lasts approximately six hours, but you really can’t leave Spain without having visited the capital. Even if you're only there a short time, it will be enough to take in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the city.
Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol are the heart of Madrid, bustling with people at all hours of the day and night. Make time for a visit to the El Prado Museum; there are tours available, lasting one or two hours, that guide you through the most famous works of art.
Then spend your last hours of the day (and your trip) in the El Retiro Park, the green lung of the city. Plenty of activities await, from jogging to boating to visiting the Rosaleda rose garden or the glass palace. Or you can hire a bike and pedal along the entire area stretched over the more than 300 hectares.