How to split your 7 days in Spain
You’ll hit two of Spain’s most wonderful cities with enough time to get a good flavor for both of them. Capital city Madrid is big and may seem overwhelming but we’ve broken down the most important points to see during your time there. Barcelona is perhaps more laid back than Madrid while also being more full of life, if that’s possible, it’s got its own Catalonian culture and a lot of pride and history that go along with that. On you transition day you’ll spend time in Segovia, a perfect mid-way stopping of a World heritage city with a lot to show off.
Realistically you can choose to do the trip from front to back or back to front, it won’t make a difference and you should let airline ticket prices or onwards travel guide your decision.
Madrid highlights (3 days):
Museo del Prado:
The Prado holds worldwide fame as the main Spanish art museum housing an outstanding collection of works. 12th to 20th-century art includes Goya, Greco, Titian, only to name a few. Give it the 3 hours it deserves. Tickets should be purchased online otherwise you may end up having to queue a bit. Here is a greta visit plan for Prado.
Plans for Madrid’s main plaza began in the late 1400’s though construction didn’t begin for another 40 years. The plaza remains a central meeting and gathering point in the city and it would be impossible to miss it. The terraced cafes around the plaza are an excellent spot to grab a drink as life in Madrid wanders past.
Centro de Arte Reina Sofia
It’s not often that I’d recommend two art museums in the same city but Madrid’s collection is just that good. The best bit of the museum is the extensive collection of two of Spain’s most celebrated 20th century artists, Picasso and Dali. Give yourself about two hours in the museum, and if you go in the evening, entrance is free.
Where to stay in Madrid:
For a truly high end stay at a top-notch hotel with excellent staff and beautiful rooms go for Hotel Ritz Madrid. Your bed will be just steps from the Prado and El Retiro Park.
For a boutique experience only slightly closer to mid-range Only You Hotel has two choices in the city.
And with 3 days in Madrid, you could even consider barrios that are off-centre and more local.
Transport in Madrid:
You probably won’t need to take any form of public transport through the city as you’ll be sticking to the central area and everything is quite walkable. Should you add outlying spots to you itinerary or have limited mobility Madrid does have an excellent network for transport. A single ticket sells for €1.50 and your best bet for a 3 day stay is a 10 ride pass which will cost you €12.20
Segovia (1 day):
You have two choices for transport between your two stops. Rental car or train. If you get a rental car you’ll only want it for the day as you won’t need it in either of the cities. You can rent for about €40 if you book enough in advance, of course petrol will be more. The drive will take about six hours, three Madrid to Segovia and another three Segovia to Barcelona. Alternatively, on a train you’ll spend just over an hour from Madrid to Segovia and just under two hours from Segovia to Barcelona, so half the travel time of the highway. However, the tickets will add up. The cheapest fast trains add up to about €60 per person. Taking this information into account you’ll have to simply decide if time or money is your priority.
Perhaps the most well-known view of the city is that of the aqueduct. The 15 km of water collection is owed to the historical presence of Romans in the city and their desire to prove their worthiness and superiority to previous rulers. It should be seen both from afar and from on top. You can book a guided tour to have a more insightful visit.
The Jewish Quarter:
The story of the Jewish population in Segovia differs from many throughout Europe. Get a guided tour through the area to get the complete history, or read up on it as you explore the area that is often overlooked by tourists.
Barcelona Highlights (3 days):
The Sagrada Familia:
A visit to Barcelona won’t be complete without stepping into Gaudi’s most famous yet still unfinished accomplishment. The jaw dropping cathedral that can be seen from various points throughout the city is perhaps even more unbelievable inside. You should book tickets online especially during high season or expect to spend time in a queue. €29 will get you an audio guide and access to the towers, it’s worth the money. Give yourself 1-2 hours inside.
Las Ramblas and the Gothic Quarter:
The most famous street in the city which turns more and more into a tourist trap with each passing day should certainly not be avoided. Yes, much of what’s there is for foreigners but it can be cute. And it’s worth learning the history of the street before being what it is today it was much more a part of local life in Barcelona. And around the corner is the gothic quarter, a maze of streets and squares. Spend time to wander and look around at all the architecture around you.
Another of Gaudi’s accomplishments in the city the park was meant to integrate residential buildings into a natural setting, an exhibit of two integral pieces of Gaudi's imagination: nature and architecture. In recent years part of the park have become ticketed, the monumental zone, where much of the mosaics are, will cost you €7 to access. Give yourself 2 to 3 hours for the entirety of the park.
Where to stay:
Soho House Barcelona offers an excellent location on the harbor in the Gothic Quarter. You’ll be steps from the water, the beach, and the old town attractions. This is a luxurious stay with a beautiful rooftop pool and other spa amenities. This isn’t a good choice for kids and is intended for people looking for a club like atmosphere.
The H10 chain of Barcelona hotels, with 14 locations around the city, gets great reviews. Price and amenities vary depending on your choice but quality remains consistent.
And do consider these options of neighborhoods in Barcelona to stay.
Barcelona is a fairly sprawling city so you’ll probably want to hop on some form of public transport at one point or another. Your best choice of ticket is the T-10 which is for 10 rides and can be used for multiple people. It costs just €9.95
Food & Drink during 7 day Spain trip:
Chocolate con churros
A delectable Spanish delicacy is a plate of long warm churros and mugs of chocolate for dipping. This isn’t for everyday breakfast (or desert) but certainly needs to be eaten at least once during your stay. Ask anyone and they’ll direct you to Chocolateriá San Ginés a Madrid establishment open 24 hours a day and 365 days a week.
Not for the vegetarians is one of Spain’s specialty. Processed and called differently throughout the country, Iberian ham (jamon iberico) is the type you’ll want in Madrid. Try it at Casa Gonzalez with another local treat, manchego cheese.
You must try paella at least once on any trip to Spain. Ideally if you can make your way into a Spanish abuela (grandmother) kitchen, that’s where you’ll find the best. But if you’re stuck with the restaurant options you can try Restaurant 7 Portes where paella has been the specialty of the house since the 1940’s
Potato filled croquettes shaped into balls in honor of the bombs that anarchists tossed around the city during the Franco era are now a Barcelona specialty. Where better to try them than the spot they were created, La Cova Fumada.
One week is not ideal for a first time Spain visit. But this 7-day Spain itinerary that will give you a good introduction.
You can choose between starting your week in Barcelona, or starting your one week Spain itinerary in Madrid.
I prefer Madrid to start the 7 day Spain itinerary because it is a more Spanish city than Barcelona.
Best places to visit - One week in Spain starting in Madrid
DAY 1 of your Week in Spain - MADRID: Prado, Royal Palace, Templo Debod
(Fly into Madrid the previous night)
Morning - Visit Museo del Prado (best of Goya and Velazquez), spend 2 hours. Come back to Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, on day 2.
Buy a Madrid Art walk Pass online before your 7 day trip to Spain, for discounted and skip the line entry to all 3 museums of the Art Walk. After the Prado visit, snack at the historic Plaza Santa Ana. Walk to Puerta del Sol, the pedestrian-only, public square in the heart of Madrid.
Afternoon - Walk to Royal Palace of Madrid, through the massive Plaza Mayor where you can come back for dinner, at Hemingway's favorite restaurant, Sobrino de Botín. Tour the Royal Palace for 45 minutes. Focus on the fabulous Throne Room, and with kids the Armoury is a winner.
Walk to Templo Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple re-assembled from its original home by the Nile in Aswan. Watch the romantic sunset that casts a glow over the distant Guadarrama mountains.
Go to Plaza Mayor for dinner, walking by the Royal Palace to see it all lit up. Or eat at Mercado San Miguel, for authentic gourmet tapas.
DAY 2 of your Week in Spain - MADRID - Art Walk, Retiro Park, Tasca hopping.
Morning - Visit Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza for an introduction to important European classical art schools and periods. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía houses Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica, and significant modern art by Dali, Miro, Bacon and others.
Afternoon - Spend a relaxed hour at nearby Retiro Park. See the Crystal Palace and lake. Watch a flamenco show or go tapas bar (tasca) hopping, in the evening. Or relax till you visit Seville, the home of Flamenco and Tapas.
DAY 3 of your Week in Spain - TOLEDO day trip
Toledo was once the capital of Spain, and harmonious home to the 3 cultures: Islamic, Christian, and Jewish. Your day trip to Toledo should start with Cathedral of Toledo, the stunning Gothic building at the heart of this ancient city.
Then visit the Alcazar of Toledo on the hill, which saw action during the Spanish Civil War as Franco’s defense. Tour the military museum Museo del Ejercito.
Come down the hill to the Plaza Zocodover for lunch, and browse around for souvenirs. You could buy a replica sword, made from the world famous Toledo steel, or the Damascene work.
Return to Madrid late afternoon, in time for a rest and dinner.
DAY 4 of your Week in Spain - SEVILLE: Cathedral, Giralda, Alcazar, Plaza Espana, Triana
Take the fast train from Madrid to Seville, heartbeat of Andalusia, and birthplace of Flamenco and tapas.
Morning - Head to Seville Cathedral, the resting place of Christopher Columbus. Admire the rich Almodovar - Moorish - Christian - Renaissance history in the courtyard of orange trees and the Giralda bell tower.
Have lunch in the quaint lanes of Barrio Santa Cruz, the former Jewish quarter of Seville.
Afternoon - Walk to Maria Luisa Park and Plaza Espana, the wide array of buildings lined along the picturesque canal with boats. Scenes from Star Wars and Lawrence of Arabia were shot at Plaza Espana.
Admire the ceramics of Seville on full display at the Plaza Espana, and notice the benches representing each Spanish province.
Take the enacted night tour of the Real Alcazar near the Cathedral. See the Cuartos Real (Royal apartments) and roam the gardens, site of scenes from The Game of Thrones. Walk over to Triana district across the Guadalquivir river.
Eat tapas at the ceramics-clad Mercado de Triana across the Puente Isabel II Bridge. See the Castillo San Jorge Spanish Inquisition Museum, nearby. Or watch Flamenco at a local bar or one of the private clubs or penas.
DAY 5 of your Week in Spain - SEVILLE: Triana
Morning - Walk to Triana via the red and yellow Plaza de Toros bullring. Visit the bullfight museum or buy a souvenir bullfight poster from a roadside stand. Spend a relaxed morning in Triana, souvenir shopping for ceramic tiles, flamenco fans, sherry, or flamenco dresses.
Afternoon - Take a 3 hour bus ride from Seville to Granada, after lunch.
DAY 5 of your Week in Spain - GRANADA: Mirador San Nicolas, Albayzin
Afternoon - Check in and refresh yourself for Moorish Granada. Head to Mirador San Nicolas, the best viewpoint to see the Alhambra. In the day you can see the snow peaked Sierra Nevada mountains in the distance. Wait till dusk to see the lit up Alhambra.
Have dinner in the Albayzin quarter, with distinctly Arab-Moroccan smells and sounds. Linger on sipping teas at a Teteria.
DAY 6 of your Week in Spain - GRANADA: Alhambra, Cathedral, Royal Chapel
Morning - Start early morning to tour the Alhambra. The 4-5 hour Alhambra tour combines the Palace of King Charles V, The stunning Nasrid Palaces, and the Generalife Gardens.
Afternoon - In the afternoon tour the Granada Cathedral and Capilla Real Royal Chapel. Spend the evening with Flamenco in the caves of Sacramento, original dwellings of the Roma community.
DAY 7 of your Week in Spain - CORDOBA: Mezquita, Synagogue, Roman Bridge
Morning - Take a bus to Cordoba from Granada, on the last day of the 7 day Spain itinerary.
Arrive early to see the Cathedral Mosque. Take a tour starting amongst the famed red and white arches of the section that used to be the mosque. Stop in amazement at the part where the old Moorish style meets the Gothic and Baroque architecture of the Cathedral, which is right in the centre of the building.
Walk out to the patio of the Mezquita, with its orange trees and fountains, notice the belfry with its mixed Islamic-Christian architecture.
Walk to the Jewish quarter to see the old synagogue and walk across the Roman Bridge Punto Romano before returning to the Cathedral walls for lunch in the area.
Afternoon - At the end of your 7 days traveling in Spain, head back to Madrid.
One week in Spain is not enough time for an immersion into the local culture and smaller towns. But you can use this week to decide what to do more of on your next trip to Spain.
If you have only 7 days in Spain, you have to make some hard choices on the places to visit.
Option 1. Restrict your visit to only three key cities in one week - Barcelona, Madrid and Seville. Doing so will give you an overview of Catalonia region, modernisme architecture and beaches (Barcelona), Museums and Spanish Royalty (Madrid) and Moorish influence on Spain (Seville).
Option 2. If you are a culture vulture and a foodie, spend 4 days of your one week, in Andalusia, by including Seville, Granada and Cordoba in your itinerary. Seville is home to flamencos and tapas. Granada and Cordoba are famous for Moorish monuments. Granada's Alhambra is the most visited monument in Spain.
If the emphasis is on Andalusia, I will suggest Barcelona for the other 3 days. There is a fair amount of similarity between Madrid and Andalusia (tapas, flamenco). Barcelona is a complete contrast with its beaches, modernisme architecture and cosmopolitan outlook.
Option 3. If you more of a beach bum, you should spend more time on your 7 day Spain trip, at the Spanish Islands (Canary Islands) or Costa Brava. There are some amazing beaches in Andalusia too.
Spain (7 days), combined with France
If you are visiting Spain as a combined trip with France, then my recommendation is to spend time in the Basque Country.
Enter Spain in the Basque region, at the border near San Sebastian. Spend 3 days in the Basque Country of Spain
- San Sebastian (1 day)
- Bilbao (1 day)
- Rioja wine country (1 day)
Then go to Barcelona for 3 days.
After Barcelona, spend 1 day in Girona and Costa Brava before leaving Spain for France.
Spain (7 days), combined with Portugal
Many visitors like to combine Spain and Portugal. The best way to do this is to enter Spain from the south of Portugal (after Albufeira or Faro), and spend 7 days as follows:
- Seville and around (3 days)
- Granada (1 day)
- Madrid (2 days)
- Toledo (1 day)
This will give you a good experience of moorish history, flamenco, and tapas in Andalusia; as well as all the political and royal history, culture and diversity of Madrid.