Where to go in Spain? Best Spain Itineraries for 7 or 10 days to 2 weeks
As one of the world’s most visited countries, Spain has a lot going for it and deciding on an itinerary for your first visit is a challenge. Unlike so many other European countries where you mainly focus on the capital and perhaps one other place, Spain has at least a dozen popular destinations within its border and even some very popular islands.
That said, there are some places every first-time visitor should absolutely go, and then quite a few others you can fit in if you’ve got extra time. Below I will go through all of the best choices for a week or more and explain why you might like to add them and how long you should plan on staying in each one. Planning your Europe itinerary carefully is the best way to maximize your time and see the best things efficiently.
If you have 3 days or less, go to Madrid OR Barcelona
Spain’s two largest and most popular cities are each worth visiting, but if somehow you’ve only got 3 days, it would not be worth trying to visit both. Even though the high-speed train running between them only takes 2.5 hours, it takes at least 4 or 5 hours to get from your hotel in one to your hotel in the other, and that uses too much of a sightseeing day to be worthwhile.
Why go to Madrid?
Spain’s capital is truly one of Europe’s great cities and a fascinating place to start a visit to the country. The city has a dense central district, but it’s also got plenty of green spaces, public squares, and wide boulevards, so it doesn’t feel claustrophobic.
The food and drink culture in Madrid are also something to look forward to. This is the easiest place to get involved with the tapas culture, where small plates of food are served free along with drinks that are often fairly inexpensive themselves. The Prado Museum is one of Europe’s finest art collections and the building itself is a landmark worth visiting on its own.
- Spain’s Royal Palace, built in 1735
- Prado Museum
- Public squares and parks
- Tapas food and drink experience
- Reasonably priced hotels for a European capital
How long to stay in Madrid?
As a large and busy city with plenty to see, it’s best to plan on spending at least 3 nights in Madrid, and 4 nights would be good if you have the time. After that your time is probably better spent elsewhere in Spain.
Why go to Barcelona?
Even more popular than the capital in recent years, Barcelona has become one of Europe’s favorite party and leisure cities for people from all over. With actual wide, sandy beaches just off the downtown area, Barcelona is one of very few large European cities that could be confused for a resort area, with plenty of restaurants and bars to spare.
The other distinctive feature about Barcelona is the architecture. While that might not sound interesting to everyone, it’s better than you might expect. Gaudi and his fanciful design for the Sagrada Familia cathedral are the most famous examples, but honestly there are unusual buildings and public areas all over the city that are unlike anything anywhere else in the world.
- Sagrada Familia cathedral and Gaudi architecture
- Beaches and the entertainment district in the port area
- Some of Europe’s best nightlife
- Great museums and cathedrals etc.
- La Rambla: world-famous pedestrian promenade
How long to stay in Barcelona?
Similar to Madrid, Barcelona is a large city filled with worthwhile sights and should be given 3 or possibly 4 nights on your trip. If you only stay 2 nights it really means just one full sightseeing day, and you’ll miss half of the best things to see before having to leave the next day.
If you have 4 to 6 days, go to Madrid AND Barcelona
Again, since the two big cities are so different from one another, they are both worth visiting and they are your two best stops on your first visit to Spain. They also often have different weather since Madrid is literally in the center of the country and Barcelona is along the Mediterranean coast.
How to spend 7 days in Spain?
Since a week is a very popular length of a trip, we will give some suggestions for that exact one.
- Madrid 2 or 3 nights
- Barcelona 2 or 3 nights
- Toledo for 1 night
- Seville for 2 or 3 nights
We will discuss Toledo and Seville below and you can decide whether it’s worth rushing through Madrid and/or Barcelona to fit them into a very-busy one-week first trip to Spain.
Personally, if I only had a week I would spend 3 nights in Madrid then 1 night in Toledo and then 3 nights in Barcelona. You’ll enjoy this trip a lot without rushing around, and then you can see Seville, Toledo, Valencia, and Malaga on your next trip once you know more what to expect.
How to plan a 10 day trip to Spain?
Assuming this is your first trip to Spain and you have EXACTLY 10 days, here is what I would recommend:
- 3 Nights in Madrid including a day trip to Toledo
- 3 Nights in Barcelona
- 2 Nights in Seville
- 2 Night in Granada
Both Seville and Granada are small enough to enjoy in 2 nights if you’d like to see as much as possible. If that looks like too many train trips you could save Granada for your next visit and spend a full day in Toledo and 2 nights in Seville.
The best options after Madrid and Barcelona, if you have time
Hopefully your first visit to Spain will be at least a week or even two full weeks. If that is the case you are best off choosing from one or more of the destinations below. Obviously there are hundreds of Spanish cities that could be interesting in one way or another, but the ones listed below are the most popular for very good reasons.
Why go to Toledo?
This gorgeous walled city was the capital of Spain before they changed to Madrid in the mid 1500s, so it’s a historically important city and is still interesting today. Perhaps the most appealing thing about Toledo for a tourist is that it’s only a bit over 30 minutes by train from Madrid. As such, you can obviously visit Toledo on a day trip from Madrid, but it’s actually better as a full day or two exploration.
Toledo actually dates back over 2,000 years to Roman times and there are some Roman ruins in the area, but overall it’s just interesting to walk the cobblestone streets of the walled city and explore the various cathedrals and other attractions. Toledo is also filled with small, charming restaurants and bars, and it feels very different from the large cities in Spain.
- Toledo Cathedral
- Take a bus tour to get views inside and outside the city walls
- Wander Toledo’s medieval streets
- Plaza de Zocodover – the main city plaza in the Old City
- Iglesia de los Jesuitas: The highest location in the city
How long to stay in Toledo?
Again, even though it’s very interesting, Toledo IS small enough to enjoy in just a few hours on a day trip from Madrid. If you’ve got a free morning or afternoon in Madrid there are worse ways of spending it. That said, spend one night in Toledo if you can because it’s a gorgeous historic city center that looks even better at night. Two days would be good for those on relaxed trips, but probably not more than that.
Why go to Seville?
The capital of Spain’s Andalusia region, Seville is the country’s fourth largest city, but it feels much smaller than Madrid or Barcelona. As another Roman city dating back over 2,000 years, Seville packs in a lot of history and still feels relaxed. The Seville Cathedral is one of the largest churches in the world, and is the largest Gothic church, making it the top of the attractions list along with the Alcázar palace next door.
Seville is a lively place for visitors as it’s the home to Flamenco music and dancing, with weekend shows at a Flamenco Museum. Bull fighting is also big in Seville, but you don’t have to approve of it or watch it as you can tour the arena and museum during the day and judge for yourself. Seville is another city known for its tapas bars where you can get cheap or free food along with your drinks.
- Seville Cathedral and Alcázar palace
- Flamenco music and dancing at many venues
- Bull fighting museum and arena tour
- Affordable hotels with good locations
- Andalusian food and tapas with inexpensive drinks
How long to stay in Seville?
As a fairly large city, it’s best to stay 2 or 3 nights in Seville if you have the time. It’s connected by high-speed train to other major Spanish cities so you could enjoy a 2-night visit with one full sightseeing day, but I wouldn’t try to stay just one night as you’ll be missing most of the best things to see.
Why go to Granada?
Another city with a long and fascinating history, Granada is usually the fourth best city to visit in Spain for first-timers. Like so many other countries, Spain has been invaded and run by a variety of different groups over the years, and the Islamic Moorish people were in charge from the 1200s to the late 1400s. Granada still has many sights and influences from this period, most notably the amazing Alhambra palace, which is the top sight in the city and reservations should be made far in advance.
Granada has a notable cathedral and a wide variety of other sights, but another unusual thing about it is the Moorish-designed street system in the Albayzín neighborhood. The streets wind around in unpredictable ways (on purpose, for defense), and touring these districts are one of the highlights of any visit.
- Alhambra Palace and Generalife gardens (reserve early)
- Cathedral of Granada (16th Century)
- Royal Chapel
- Albayzín neighborhood across from the Alhambra
- Abundant tapas bars with free snacks and affordable drinks
How long to stay in Granada?
Granada is much smaller than Barcelona, Madrid, and Seville, and you can have a memorable visit in 2 nights, although 3 nights is better if you have time. The main thing to see is the Alhambra Palace and it’s usually important to make reservations in advance, so it’s best to reserve for the morning of your full day in town. If tickets are already sold out you might want to save Granada for another visit.
Why go to Valencia?
Only 90 minutes south of Barcelona by high-speed train, Valencia is a very pleasant city that probably isn’t worth visiting if you’ve got less than two weeks in Spain, but if you’ve got the time you’ll enjoy it a lot. Valencia has a gorgeous historic center that is wonderful partly because it is never nearly as crowded as Madrid or Barcelona. Especially during high season, the largest cities in Spain can feel like theme parks filled with tourists, and Valencia is a good way to escape that for a couple of days.
The other two reasons Valencia is notable in Spain are the enormous architectural project called City of Arts and Science that is unlike anything elsewhere on earth, and the lovely Mediterranean beaches that are within the city limits and easy to reach. Valencia also has the expected cathedrals, museums, and markets, and they are worth visiting as well. If you want to make sure at least part of your visit to Spain is not fighting huge crowds, Valencia could be a good stop.
- City of Arts and Science architectural project
- Historic city center
- Sandy beaches in the city
- Mercat Central – enormous farmer’s/food market
- Paella – Spain’s famous rice dish is from Valencia
How long to stay in Valencia?
Valencia is small enough to be enjoyed in two nights, with one busy sightseeing day divided between the historic center and the architectural project, but it’s also pleasant and inexpensive enough that you might want to stay much longer. If you are lucky enough to have 3 or more weeks in Spain, you might consider stopping for a few days in Valencia just to unwind a bit and recharge your sightseeing batteries.
Why go to Málaga/Costa del Sol?
Whether you visit Málaga or the Costa del Sol on your first visit to Spain might depend on the time of year you visit. Located on the southern coast, this is the most famous and busiest summer resort area, beloved by people from all over Europe. In July and August the area might be so filled with beach-going tourists from elsewhere in Europe that you might not want to come yourself, but in the other warm months (May through October) it can be wonderful and usually much cheaper.
The city of Málaga itself is the main transportation hub for trains and a busy airport, and it’s a strangely underrated destination because the nearby beach towns that make up the Costa del Sol are so popular. Picasso was born in Málaga and the historic center is a gorgeous mix of museums, restaurants, shops, and much more. Still, the majority of visitors head straight from the airport to one of the 9 smaller towns that make up the 150-kilometer long Sun Coast. Marbella is the most famous of the beach towns and it has kind of an upscale reputation. Torremolinos is probably the most interesting and least generic of the beach towns, with an abundance of beach bars and clubs.
Málaga/Costa del Sol highlights
- Málaga historic center and Picasso museum
- Costa del Sol beaches
- Alcazaba Moorish castle
- Nightlife and shopping scene
- Hotels are very affordable outside of July and August
How long to stay in Málaga/Costa del Sol?
Málaga is worth a visit any time of the year and it’s small enough to enjoy in 2 or 3 nights, but if you are coming for a beach holiday (even to mix in with the rest of your tour of Spain), then it’s up to you. Most visitors from within Europe come for a week or a long weekend, and there is plenty to keep you busy if you enjoy the sun and the sand.
Which Spanish islands are worth visiting?
Spain has 11 major islands and all of them are popular with tourists to some degree, but in my opinion only one of them is worth considering on your first visit to Spain. The Canary Islands, the largest being Tenerife, are off the northern coast of Africa and they are popular with winter tourists due to a mild climate, but they aren’t very interesting compared to the cities on this list.
Mallorca and Menorca are in the Balearic Sea (just east of Spain in the Mediterranean) and they are historic islands that could be interesting, but they are generally considered “holiday islands” and tend to attract fun-in-the-sun types from all over Europe.
Ibiza is also in the Balearic, but it’s at least a bit more interesting than the others because it’s a major cultural mecca for those interested in mega night clubs and DJ culture. Other parts of the island are famous for attracting celebrities and yacht owners, so Ibiza at least has a few interesting things going on.
Why go to Ibiza?
If you’ve never heard of Ibiza, you are probably better off not bothering with it. This island is famous for some of the world’s most famous night clubs and for being a summer holiday spot for celebrities and the yacht crowd. Honestly, it’s not that beautiful of a place overall and it doesn’t even have many great beaches. The reason to come is to participate in the nightlife with thousands of other people from all over the world.
Ibiza Town is the largest city and it’s a pretty sleepy place with some nice restaurants and such. If you are going to the nightclubs you are better off staying in San Antonio, which is a smaller town on the southern coast. It has a big collection of dance bars and some famous beach bars, although the mega clubs are mostly in the middle of the island and not clustered together.
- Big mega clubs for those who love them
- Cafe del Mar and its nightly sunset ritual
- Cheap drinks in fun San Antonio bars
- Tour the island by taxi to get your bearings and see the place
- Possible celebrity sightings
How long to stay in Ibiza?
Ibiza is in high season all summer, and particularly in July and August. Dance music fans come as a pilgrimage and often only stay a few nights. There really isn’t much to see, so it’s mainly a matter of how long you want to hang out here.