One Week in Espana: Madrid and Barcelona Itinerary

After law school graduation, a friend and I traveled to Spain for a week before buckling down to study for the bar exam. It’s been a few years, but this trip still stands out as one of the best. Take a look below to see what we did during our time in Madrid and Barcelona.

Day One: Get Acquainted with Madrid

  • Visit the Royal Palace and the Cathedral Almudena on your first morning
    • They are situated right across the plaza from one another, so it makes sense to visit them together.
    • As a lover of color and shiny objects, I felt an instant affinity to the Cathedral Almudena. The stained dome is unlike any other I’ve ever seen.
  • In the afternoon, stop at the Mercado San Miguel and get provisions for your own charcuterie board, then wander over to Plaza Mayor to people-watch and enjoy some rioja from one of the many open air cafes
    • A word of caution — Plaza Mayor, like many other heavily trafficked tourist destinations, is known to have pickpockets lurking around. Keep an eye on your bags, especially if they’re on the ground or behind your chair at one of the cafe tables.

Day Two: Culture and Chocolate

  • Visit the Prado
    • Outside of the Louvre, the Prado may be the most famous art museum in the world. Y’all know I’m not the biggest fan of art museums, but the friend I was traveling with in Madrid was BIG into it, so to the Prado we went. I picked up my handy-dandy audio guide and was as happy and cultured as a little clam.
  • Indulge in some churros con chocolat after your arty morning, especially if you’re traveling during a chillier time of year
    • The hot chocolate is really more like cold chocolate fondue in consistency, and the fresh churros are delicious. I highly recommend the Chocolateria San Gines, located near the ever-bustling Puerta del Sol, but check out the Rick Steves Madrid for excellent location recommendations.
  • After dinner at one of Madrid’s many incredible eateries, check out a Flamenco show.
    • Madrid is the birthplace of flamenco dancing, so there talent is unparalleled. Enjoy some sangria and, if you’re like me, marvel at how anyone can make their feet move that fast. We went to Cardamamo Tablao Flamenco, which is also not far from the Puerta del Sol. The venue is dark and intimate, the drinks were good, and the show was fantastic.

Day Three: Day Trip to Toledo

  • Toledo is not just a city in Ohio. It is also (and originated as) a medieval walled city a short distance from Madrid. It is insanely romantic and historical, so if you like pictures in dramatic settings, this is a place for you.
  • There are several trains a day that take drop you off just outside Toledo, and from there you can easily take bus Line 5, 6, or 22 to Plaza de Zocodover where you’ll find a Tourist Information office. Don’t judge Toledo by this square though — while it used to host livestock markets and bullfights, it has morphed into fast food mecca.
  • I highly recommend visiting the Toledo’s Catedral Primada. It’s a stunning example of Spanish Gothic art and architecture. El Alcazar is also worth your time, even if you’re not into Spanish Military history. The terraces at the top of the fortress provide some of the best panoramic views in the city.
  • I honestly enjoyed just taking in the incredible views after getting lost in the maze of alleyways and staircases — obviously the higher up you climb, the better the views of the Tagus River.
  • For lunch, seek out Calle Alfileritos where bars and restaurants are nestled into the old townhomes

Day Four: Travel from Madrid to Barcelona

  • The best way to get from Madrid to Barcelona is via the high speed train. It’s very easy, sometimes scenic, and inexpensive. There are 20+ departures daily from several train stations, and it takes between 2.5 and 3.5 hours, depending on the train you book. Tickets start at $22.
  • Once in Barcelona, you can use the robust metro system to get around. It connects you to all the big neighborhoods, and I found it to be relatively user friendly.
  • After locating your accommodations and dropping off your luggage, wander Las Ramblas. Las Ramblas is a wide, pedestrian only avenue in the heart of Barcelona. It is a beautiful place to stroll, take in the architecture, and pick up some cheap souvenirs (I have a print of Las Ramblas on my gallery wall at home). HOWEVER, it is a notorious haunt for pickpockets and thieves, so be aware of your wallets and surroundings. Don’t ramble Las Ramblas with more than you absolutely need.
  • Round out your afternoon with a visit to the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar. While Sagrada Familia may be the most famous cathedral in Barcelona, I would argue that the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar is equally stunning. As the only remaining example of Catalan Gothic architecture, the exterior appears sever and austere. The interior, though, is spacious and airy, if sparsely decorated. Part of this sparse interior is due to a fire that was set inside the cathedral during the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and burned for 11 days. The smoke stains and scorch marks add to the Basilica’s stark beauty.

Day Five: Haven’t You Always Wanted to Ride in a Sidecar??

  • If there is one thing you take from my blogs, please let it be this. TAKE A MOTORCYCLE SIDECAR TOUR IN BARCELONA!!
    • Offered by BrightSide Barcelona Tours, this is one of my all time favorite tours. You get to ride in a sidecar (or hang onto the attractive guide/motorcyclist) on a completely customizeable half- or full-day tour of the city.
    • Our guide’s was named Matthieu, and the first thing he did was take us to get the best chocolate croissants in the city. This is not just his opinion. It is objectively correct. I wish I had had the wherewithal to write down the name of the bakery, but I didn’t. However, thanks to that handy-dandy Google image search function, I used a picture to determine that this bakery of dreams is the Hofmann Pasteleria in the El Born neighborhood not far from the Picasso Museum.
    • In addition to it being a unique custom tour, you can also access parts of the city on the motorcycle that you couldn’t in a car or tour bus. We pulled right up to a side entrance to Parc Guell and missed a ton of crowds.
  • After you wrap up your tour, you will have surely worked up an appetite, so it seems like the perfect time for a Pinxtos Tour. A pincho (plural pinxtos) is a Spanish appetizer or snack similar to tapas, which is traditionally served with a skewer or toothpick, hence it’s name.
    • It’s unacceptable to visit Barcelona (or Spain generally) and not eat your weight in tapas. Because it’s everywhere, I recommend taking an organized walking tour so that you have someone to guide you to the best options
    • Stops we made: Olimar Artesanos, Boqueria Mercado, Bilbao Berria, and Bar La Plata — allegedly the oldest Pinxtos restaurant in Barcelona.

Day 6: Gaudi, Gaudi, Gaudi Barcelona

  • Speaking of Parc Guell, when in Barcelona, you must visit all things Antonio Gaudi. The Barcelona Card may be a good investment if you want to explore all of the Gaudi sights as they have bundled tickets for fast-pass entry and complementary audio tours.
    • The famous architect designed Parc Guell, Casa Batllo, and the famously unfinished Sagrada Familia Cathedral, among other private homes and buildings.
    • We bought tickets to go up the spires in Sagrada Familia. Very cool, but it will unearth any deep seated issues with heights.
  • Round out your trip with a little Barceloneta Sangria Crawl
    • Barceloneta is the beachfront area, so it’s especially nice to visit on a warm day. It’s a lovely place to end your trip by wandering from beach bar to beach bar for pitchers of sangria. Stop somewhere and order paella. You will thank me for this, I promise.

Let me know if you have any recommendations to add to this itinerary!

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