12-Day Spain Itinerary at a Glance

An introduction to our 12-day Spain itinerary

Valencia, Seville, Granada, and Madrid — highlights and practical information

I don’t usually make travel plans very far in advance, but for our first European trip since pre-pandemic times, I booked flights right after Mr. TWS and I got fully vaccinated. We were looking toward the future with great optimism and hoped that Europe would be open for us about six months later. The timing was perfect.

All aboard!

For this trip, we chose to travel by train between cities in Spain that we had not visited before — Valencia, Seville, and Granada — and one that we’d only briefly visited years before — Madrid. The sequence of the cities was largely decided by hotel availability and rates, and train routes and fares. We arrived in each new city in the early afternoon — just in time to enjoy lunch after checking in to our hotel. That’s always a nice way to start.

Here’s a recap of our trip — hotels where we stayed, restaurants where we ate, and highlights we enjoyed. There will be more photos and details about our activities in future posts. The photos are also posted in the Traveling with Sweeney Instagram gallery. Check it out for more travel inspiration photos.

Four days in Valencia

First stop on our trip was Valencia, the third largest city in Spain located on the Costa Blanca of the Mediterranean Sea. It seemed a very livable city — one with a very mild climate, accessible to beaches and parks, and many cultural features. The architecture, that of centuries past and present, is particularly impressive.

San Vicente Mártir, Valencia, Spain

San Vicente Mártir

“Thinking of Valencia, Spain today, October 9th, the Valencia Community’s national day. Just back from our visit to this and three other cities of Spain. This photo taken while walking sling San Vicente Mártir, a major street of the city. I love the architecture.”

Where we stayed

Hotel Hospes Palau de la Mar (Marriott Design Hotels) – Navarro Reverter, 14

Valencia highlights — more information to come in Valencia post

  • La Catedral — Valencia’s Romanesque and Baroque cathedral has beautiful frescoes and altarpieces.
  • Barrio del Carmen — Get a feel of ancient Valencia as you stroll this medieval district.
  • La Lonja de la Seda — Very interesting history at this UNESCO World Heritage Site, once the center of the silk trade.
  • Jardín del Turia — We loved walking through (and often along) this gorgeous park created on the former riverbed of the Turia River which was diverted to prevent flooding.
  • Museo de Bellas Artes — The Museum of Fine Arts has over 2,000 works of the 14th – 17th centuries.
  • Mercado Central — Valencia’s central market is Europe’s largest covered market and has an incredibly large selections of produce, seafood, meat, and more.
  • Las Arenas Beach — Immerse yourself in the Mediterranean ambiance at this wide beach with numerous bars and restaurants.
  • Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences) —  We didn’t have time to visit, but made a point to drive by at night. Beautiful!
  • The Church of San Nicolás de Bari and San Pedro Mártir — Known as Valencia’s “Sistine Chapel”, it is well worth a visit in the Barrio del Carmen.
Parroquia de San Nicolas in the Barrio del Carmen

Parroquia de San Nicolas in Barrio del Carmen

“I’m so glad we stopped in to see the interior of the Church of San Nicolás de Bari and San Pedro Mártir in the Barrio del Carmen. Built about 1242, it has been restored revealing what is called the Valencian “Sistine Chapel”.”

Where we ate

  • Atic Almeda Palau Terraza Valencia — tapas and wine on a rooftop overlooking the Turia Park
  • Jamon de Medio — tapas and friendly service at this small restaurant with outside seating on Navarro Reverter near our hotel
  • Sagardi – Basque restaurant near the cathedral featuring pintxos (Basque tapas)
  • Panorama — romantic seaside restaurant near Las Arenas Beach
  • Azul Sunset Point — lobster paella at Marina Real Juan Carlos I
  • Q’ Tomas – contemporary restaurant in the city center that combines local dishes with Japanese influences

Valencia to Seville train tip:  Our route included a change of trains in Madrid, just under five hours including the 30 minute change. We found that 30 minutes was sufficient, but didn’t have much time to spare. When you arrive in Madrid, take the escalators up then walk into the main terminal where you will find security at the entrance to the escalators back down to the appropriate platforms.

Alternative train trip tip: There is a direct train from Valencia to Seville. This is an intercity rail route that takes a little over seven hours and arrives later in the day than we liked. This would be a nice alternative if you have the time. With just a couple of full days in Seville, we wanted to arrive as early as possible.

Three days in Seville

My expectation of Seville (or Sevilla, the Spanish name) was that it would be a very seductive city, filled with old world Spanish charm. Indeed, it is. It is also a very busy modern city beyond the old city center and historic landmarks.

The view from Metropol Parasol in Sevilla, Spain

The view from Metropol Parasol

“Captivating Seville! Second stop on our #triptospain is this beautiful city in the Andalusia region of southern Spain.
This photo was taken from the top of the Metropol Parasol (The Mushrooms). Seville Cathedral on the far left.”

Where we stayed

Hotel Hospes Las Casas del Rey de Baeza (Marriott Design Hotels) – Plaza Jesús de la Redención

Note: At the time of our stay, there was construction going on next door to the hotel. The work didn’t begin until about 7:30 or 8:00 am which was fine with us, but if still going on might affect your stay. Check with the hotel.

Seville highlights — more information to come in future Seville post

  • Barrio Santa Cruz — The old Jewish quarter of Seville, this barrio is perfect for getting lost in its maze of narrow streets.
  • Seville Cathedral — This is the third largest cathedral in Europe and renowned for its very ornate interior that also holds the tomb of Christopher Columbus.
  • Real Alcázar Sevilla — This is a must-see Moorish palace built in the 10th century.
  • The Metropol Parasol — Take the winding walkway up to the observation deck of the world’s largest wooden structure for panoramic views of Seville.
  • Flamenco show — Attend a performance at one of the several clubs in the city. We went to El Arenal.
  • Palacio de las Duenas — This 15th-century palace belonging to the House of Alba contains many furnishings, works of art, and personal belongings of the beloved Duchess of Alba.
  • Plaza de España – This famous square and event venue built in 1928 is located is in Parque de María Luisa.
Palacio de las Duenas, Sevilla, Spain

Palacio de las Duenas

“Palacio de las Dueñas, the 15th century palace that was home to the dukes of Alba in Seville, Spain. Beautiful gardens and courtyards, and interior decor, art and artifacts.”

Where we ate

  • El Rinconcillo — oldest tapas bar in Seville dating back to 1670
  • Bache San Pedro — modern Spanish fare in a small charming setting on Plaza Cristo de Burgos
  • Vineria San Telmo — lovely place for tapas and wine across from a large park and gardens (Jardines de Murillo)
  • La Malvaloca — large outdoor seating area near the Metropol Parasol

Two days in Granada

Granada is a joy to visit. Besides being the home to the famous Alhambra, it is a city that offers a look back to the past as you wind your way around the old neighborhood of Albaicín or climb from the city center to the Alhambra.

The Alhambra seen from the Albaicin neighborhood of Granada, Spain

The Alhambra seen from the Albaicín neighborhood

The Alhambra at sunset as seen from the Albaicín neighborhood of Granada, Spain. This was our dinner view on a beautiful night during our #triptospain.

Where we stayed

Hotel Palacio de los Patos (Marriott Design Hotels) – Calle Solarillo de Gracia, 1

Granada highlights — more information to come in future Granada post

  • The Alhambra — Take a 3-hour guided tour of this grand palace and fortress complex.
  • Granada Cathedral — Tour the cathedral for the architecture, ornate interiors, and history.
  • Royal Chapel — Near the cathedral is where you’ll find this 16th century chapel with the tombs of Ferdinand and Isabel.
View of the Albaicin quarter of Granada from the Alhambra, Spain

View of the Albaicin quarter from the Alhambra

“A few views of Granada, Spain — the third stop on our #triptospain — These were just a few vistas that we took in during a tour of the Alhambra.”

Where we ate

  • Salvaje — Lunch of tapas outside on Plaza del Campillo in the city center
  • Estrellas de San Nicolas — Restaurant with terrace in the Albaicín with gorgeous views of the Alhambra (seen in the Alhambra photo above)

Three days in Madrid

Although we’d previously spent a couple of days in Madrid years ago, I was newly entranced with this cosmopolitan city. There is a vibe here that is exciting and romantic and I loved every minute we had soaking up the essence of the Spanish capital.

Calle de Alcalá, Plaza Cibeles, Madrid, Spain

Calle de Alcalá, Plaza Cibeles

“Arrived in Madrid, final stop on our #triptospain — I could spend hours walking around Retiro Park, and watching the boaters on the lake in front of the the imposing Alfonso XII monument. It’s also nice to have a coffee or glass of wine at one of the outdoor cafes around the lake.”

Where we stayed

Hotel Palacio del Retiro (Marriott Autograph Collection) – Calle de Alfonso XII, 14

Part of the Marriott’s Autograph Collection, this hotel was our favorite of the trip. The location across Alfonso XII from Retiro Park is perfect for seeing the highlights of the city without yet being in the main tourist areas.

Madrid highlights — more information to come in future Madrid post

  • Spend time in Plaza Mayor (the most famous of Madrid’s historic squares), Plaza Sol, Plaza Cibeles (shown in the photo above) — all of the wonderful plazas.
  • Museo del Prado — Although art lovers could spend days here, at least take a couple of hours to see the main exhibits, particularly those of the Spanish painters.
  • Palacio Real — Visit the stunning state apartments.
  • Retiro Park — Relax and enjoy the beauty and activities of Retiro Park.
The monument and lake at Retiro Park in Madrid, Spain

The monument and lake at Retiro Park

“Arrived in Madrid, final stop on our #triptospain — I could spend hours walking around Retiro Park, and watching the boaters on the lake in front of the the imposing Alfonso XII monument. It’s also nice to have a coffee or glass of wine at one of the outdoor cafes around the lake.”

Where we ate

  • Aarde — Sunday brunch outside on tree-lined boulevard near the Puerta de Alcalá in the Plaza de la Independencia
  • Taberna Los Gallos — vibrant and popular restaurant in the upscale Salamanca district near Retiro Park
  • Restaurante La Bien Apare — modern Spanish restaurant also in the Salamanca district
  • El Barril de las Cortes – busy seafood restaurant in the Las Cortes neighborhood near the Prado and other museums

General Spain itinerary tips:

Train travel tips: Although we’re quite used to checking airline status information regularly before our flights, I hadn’t checked the status of our train schedules. Arriving at the station in Granada very early on the morning of our departure for Madrid, we found an surprisingly long line for security. Another passenger in line told us about the system-wide strike that had just begun, cancelling many trains throughout the country. As it turned out, we were very lucky and both of our trains (Granada to Córdoba and Córdoba to Madrid) were running as scheduled. Many others on the same Córdoba to Madrid route were canceled. So check rail status regularly.

We traveled comfort class when there was availability primarily for extra space and distancing. However, standard class from Seville to Granada was fine. There are several booking sites, but we have been with happy with the Rail Europe website for its ease of use. We booked ahead to ensure seat assignments and good fares, but not until we knew our itinerary was set so that we wouldn’t have to worry about change fees. Also remember that you must have a seat assignment on the trains in Spain.

Packing tip: Pack light for traveling by train since you’ll have your bags with you at all times — stowing on train, making connections, and navigating through the stations.

Taxi tips: Taxis are very affordable and generally available. Ask your hotel to call one for you, hail one on the street, or wait at a taxi stand. For your taxi fare, tips are not required or expected, but most locals round up to the next euro. A little extra is nice if you feel like it.

Dining on Spanish time tip: I love being on Spanish dining time. Having dinner no earlier than 9:00 p.m. is perfect for me. Even though Mr. TWS enjoys earlier dinners when at home, he easily adjusted to the lifestyle.

Restaurant tip: In each city, we found that reservations were highly recommended or essential. There were a few restaurants that we tried to book too late, but we were happy with each of the selections above. We also enjoyed a meal at each of the hotel restaurants and would recommend them for their quality of food and service.

Attraction tickets tip: It’s a good idea to book ahead for tickets to major venues. Ask your hotel for assistance, book directly with the attraction, or through one of the tour  booking sites like Get Your Guide or Viator. We appreciated having pre-paid tickets (arranged by our hotel) at the Prado, VIP access guided tour (via Get Your Guide) at the Alhambra, and tickets directly pre-booked with the venue for Real Alcázar Sevilla.

We loved our time in these Spanish cities and will share more soon here on the blog and in social media.

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Granada, Madrid, Seville, Valencia photos for Pinterest pin -- Spain

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11 thoughts on “12-Day Spain Itinerary at a Glance

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      We’d been to Barcelona on a previous trip. Loved it, and would like to go again sometime, but this trip was for new places.

  1. Jeff & Crystal

    We have never visited Spain, but have heard about it from our daughter. With o much history and architectural beauty, we really need to find time to see it firsthand. Thanks for giving us the low down on the best way to explore.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      It’s a great way to travel between city bases. I’d like to do a road trip in Spain and stay out of the big cities and just explore the countryside and small towns.

  2. Judy Freedman

    Reading your post about Spain makes me want to go back to some of the Spanish cities I haven’t visited yet. Granada, Seville, Valencia. I enjoyed Madrid and Barcelona when I visited a pre-pandemic. This post has so many great details for the next time I plan a trip to Spain.

  3. Pingback: Valencia, A Mediterranean Delight - Traveling with Sweeney

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