After the craziness of the silly season (what I thought was going to be a relaxing few weeks has turned into a whirlwind instead), I’ve finally found a few minutes to put together this post and reflect back on our time in Spain.
In short – we loved Spain; I had high expectations and they were constantly exceeded! Perhaps my only complaint is there is simply too much to see and do. It can be overwhelming, so to help you out I’ve put together this guide; you can mix and match the below to put together an incredible (in my humble opinion) 2-3 week Spain itinerary! I’ve included reviews of the Airbnbs I stayed in and also some sneaky inside tips about where to eat, what to see, and how to get around.
Now, if you’re upcoming travel plans don’t include Spain – don’t run yet! I’ve partnered GPSmyCity to giveaway a self guided walking tours app to 20 lucky readers. (They offer tours in 470+ cities worldwide, so there should be something for everyone! Even if you don’t have a big overseas trip planned, it can be fun to play tourist in your own backyard.)
|SORRY FOLKS – GIVEAWAY NOW CLOSED Thank you to everyone who participated!|
Each city has it’s own unique app, and each app has multiple self guided walking tours to choose from. (I was given the chance to try the Madrid app (courtesy of GPSmyCity) and it has over 20 tour itineraries to choose from!) We’ve never used an app like this before and I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical at first, but Mike and I both really loved it! (And Mike is much harder to please than me, hehe!)
There are all different types of tours (shopping, nightlife, major sites, specific neighbourhoods) and the background information at each site was really insightful. Best of all was being able to do everything at your own pace (I love the idea of guided tours but I hate if the pace is too fast or too slow.) This is the perfect solution.
Now – back to Spain. This is the actual itinerary I followed, a south to north route, starting on the Costa del Sol and ending in Barcelona. You could easily do this itinerary in reverse, which would mean ending on the beach (not a bad way to end a holiday) or mix and match destinations if you’re short on time.
Note this post contains some affiliate links, which mean I receive a small commission from any purchases – at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting my writing!
The Costa del Sol is a region (as opposed to a city) and is made up of a collection of small towns along Spain’s south coast. On the surface, it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (the area is very touristy and in parts, it feels like there are more expats than locals.) Even I’ll admit I only initially included the Costa del Sol on my itinerary because I was meeting family nearby, but we did end up staying a week and I realised there is a good reason for so many people flock to this area!
There are plenty of cheap restaurants, gorgeous beaches, stunning views and small friendly villages (like Benalmádena Pueblo, Mijas or Fuengirola). I’m one of those people that likes to have a few days to relax and ease into a new country, so for me, it was a great place to eat, drink and chill out for a few days.
|AIRPORT: Fly into Málaga and from there you can get a bus or train to most towns. Note that it’s worth considering hiring a car here.|
TIME REQUIRED ON THE COSTA DEL SOL: If you’re on a super tight time schedule or if you prefer an action-packed itinerary, skip the Costa Del Sol and fly direct into Seville. However, if you want some downside, I think
INSIDER TIP – OFF SEASON: A word of warning – the Costa del Sol is incredibly busy in the summer and prices go up and up! Consider travelling in spring or autumn to beat the crowds.
MOVING ON – RONDA: We drove from the Costa del Sol to Ronda and it took just under 2 hours. The views are stunning! There is also bus service from most of the small villages.
Ronda is somewhere I had never heard of until I started researching this trip, but after one look at the stunning Puente Nuevo (shown above), I knew that I would have to visit.
And now that I’ve been there, I can tell you the photos truly do not serve the town justice. It’s one of the few places in the world that is even more beautiful in person than in the tourist photos. Ronda is located on top of a mountain, divided in half by a deep gorge, with panoramic views around the surrounding countryside. There are old city walls, winding cobblestone streets, and Spain’s oldest bull ring. It’s like walking through a postcard!
I think I really loved Ronda so much because it was great for exploring. There are trails all around the city and you don’t need a guide or a tour; it’s easy to just wander off. You’re free to climb along the old city walls, explore the bottom of the gorge, or take a lazy stroll through the countryside (as long as you don’t mind a big walk back up the hill to the town centre!) There’s also a secret underground mine, Arab baths, and lots of lovely small tapas bars.
AIRBNB REVIEW: RONDA
One word. This view. (Oops – that’s two words! hehe!)
This was the view from the balcony at our Airbnb rental. This alone would have made the stay amazing, but it was made even more spectacular by our Airbnb host, Jose. He was one of the kindest hosts we’ve ever had; he thought of everything (lots of coffee on hand, a map with his favourite restaurants, and even local wine for sale at local prices) and he was always available when we had questions. The flat is a bit older, but it is very clean and well cared for. Staying here certainly made our visit – I cannot recommend this place enough.
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If you’ve never used Airbnb before you click here to get a credit towards your first stay!
|TIME REQUIRED IN RONDA: A minimum 2 nights, but if you like walking I’d definitely stay another night (or two!)|
INSIDER TIP – GREAT TAPAS: Cross the Puente Nuevo into the New City take your first right. Go to the end of the block and turn left. All along this street (before you to get the major square) are small tapas bars, much cheaper (and better) than the tourist traps.
MOVING ON – SEVILLE: From Ronda head to Seville. The bus station is a 15-minute walk from the Puente Nuevo into the New City. We booked our ticket with the Los Amarillos bus company and it cost approximately 12 Euros. The trip took one hour forty-five minutes.
For me, Seville (or Sevilla) was like a fairy tale; it was definitely my favourite of Spain’s bigger cities. It was so romantic – we loved getting lost in the Jewish Quarter under the orange trees, or parading around the Cathedral in the evening (this was seriously the most gorgeous cathedral in Spain), or holding hands in Parque de María Luisa. It’s the perfect city for sipping wine and watching the world go by.
Seville is also home to the Alcázar of Seville (a palace with Moorish influences), the bizarre Metropol Parasol (also know as Las Setas de la Encarnación, a beloved wooden ‘mushroom’) and the Plaza de España (built for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929.) There are definitely enough sites to keep you busy – bring your walking shoes!
AIRBNB REVIEW: SEVILLE
I do not have a photo of the view from our Seville Airbnb (argh!), which is a shame because it gives our Ronda property a run for it’s money! We loved staying in this one bedroom flat and we particularly loved the view from the shared rooftop terrace – it was right next to the Cathedral! Our host Auxi was a sweetheart (even sending us a message on our first morning to make sure everything was ok.) My only word of warning is the location is very central, so if you’re a light sleeper you might notice the noise (but Auxi does provide earplugs!)
|TIME REQUIRED IN SEVILLE: A bare minimum 2 nights, but I think it would be shameful not to stay at least 3.|
INSIDER TIP – GREAT VIEWS: The one thing I didn’t do in Seville (but really wish I did) was go on top of the Metropol Parasol (Las Setas de la Encarnación). Check out this post for other great views in Seville.
MOVING ON – CÓRDOBA: From Seville it’s a quick bus trip to Córdoba. Just be careful – from Ronda you arrive at the Prado de San Sebastián station, but when you leave for Córdoba go to the Estación de Autobuses Plaza de Armas along the river. (It’s a 25-minute walk or a short taxi ride.) Book your ticket with Alsa for approimately 12 Euros. It’s a 2 hour trip.
Córdoba was a wildcard for me; I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew there was a palace (Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos), a mosque (Mosque of Córdoba) and a bridge (the Roman Bridge) … but that was about it.
So I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed Córdoba. It has a really good vibe! There were tons of locals out having a great time and the city feels young and vibrant.
In Córdoba we stayed at the Funky Córdoba Hostel, because we were only there for 2 nights and it was cheap (plus nothing on Airbnb caught my eye.) I didn’t love the room (but that might just be me getting too old to stay in a 8 bed dorm), but the staff are helpful, the location is central and there is an amazing Moroccan restaurant down the road … so I’d consider giving it another shot (in a private room next time!)
|TIME REQUIRED IN CÓRDOBA: Córdoba is great but perhaps not a ‘must see’ so if your schedule is really tight you could skip it and go straight from Seville to Granada. However, if you have the time I’d definitely recommend trying to fit 2 nights into your itinerary.|
INSIDER TIP – FREE ENTRY: The Mosque has free entry Monday – Saturday from 8:30 – 9:30am, and the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos has free entry Tuesdays – Fridays from 8:30 – 9:30am (excluding holidays).
MOVING ON – GRANADA: The bus station is a 30-minute walk from the main tourist centre or a 6-7 Euro cab ride. Again, use Alsa for around 15 Euros (there are sometimes sale prices if you book early online.) It’s about a 3-hour trip.
Ah Granada – The home of the Alhambra. I adore the Alhambra and wrote a whole post about my visit over here. However, I really enjoyed the rest of the city as well.
It’s a great place to get lost. There are a ton of gorgeous churches, good shopping, and lots of great restaurants. Although it’s very touristy, I particularly liked a few streets behind the Plaza Nueva (across from the Alhambra), which were like a ‘mini Morocco’ with yummy food, gorgeous tea houses and cute souvenir shops.
AIRBNB REVIEW: GRANADA
We stayed in this simple studio in the centre of Granada. It didn’t quite have the character of our Airbnb flats in Ronda and Seville, but it was clean, warm and a great location – plus incredibly well priced. It’s a great option if you’re on a budget, but if you’re willing to pay more you might consider looking for a property with a better view (the terrace at our place wasn’t very scenic.)
|TIME REQUIRED IN GRANADA: A minimum of 2 nights, which will you give you time to see the Alhambra and explore a bit of the city. If you’re planning a short visit make sure you get your tickets to the Alhambra ahead of time because they do sell out (more details here.)|
INSIDER TIP – BEST LOOKOUT POINT: Be sure to hike up to the Mirador de San Nicolas for an amazing view of the Alhambra.
MOVING ON – MADRID: Yet again, the cheapest option is the Alsa bus and it is a really pleasant trip. Expect to pay just under 19 Euros for your ticket. It’s a 5 hour journey but it includes a half hour break at a (surprisingly) nice service stop with good food!
I have mixed feelings about Madrid. It’s a very modern, cosmopolitan city, which of course is not a bad thing but it felt completely different from everywhere else I visited in Spain. My first day there I tried to do the whole ‘get lost and wander down romantic little alleys’ thing but instead I found myself … just lost.
Which is why I was so grateful I had my GPSmyCity app. I used it on my second day in Madrid to explore the Opera and San Francisco neighbourhoods and it was a completely different experience. The app shares stories about the history and popular culture in a really entertaining way (it’s not just like reading Wikipedia.)
Still, I have to admit that my favourite part of visiting Madrid … was actually doing a day trip to Toledo. Madrid is an amazing city and I’m sure I would have loved it if I was studying abroad or working there (I didn’t check it out firsthand but it is supposed to have fantastic nightlife), but on this trip (which is technically my honeymoon!) I preferred quaint, charming cities – which describes Toledo to a tee!
We spent a full day there – get lost down winding streets, eating amazing ham (the best we had in Spain), and taking in the gorgeous views. It is only a short train ride from Madrid Atocha station and a ticket will set you back about 20 Euros return trip.
AIRBNB REVIEW: MADRID
Madrid was a bit more expensive than the rest of Spain, so to help save our budget we booked a private room instead of a private flat on Airbnb. Our host, Mito, was really helpful but he didn’t actually live at the flat. Instead, it was like a mini hostel (there were five private rooms all rented on Airbnb.)
I was a bit worried, but to be honest it was a great experience. We hardly saw the other guests, but when we did run into them they were kind and easy to get along with (I think Airbnb attracts a certain kind of traveller!) The rooms were clean and tastefully decorated (it was like sleeping in an Ikea showroom) and the apartment is located 5 minutes from the Atocha train station, making it really easy to get around. Overall, I’d definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a budget option in Madrid.
|TIME REQUIRED IN MADRID: Personally, I’d cut Madrid out of my itinerary if I was short on time. However, if you do include it on your itinerary stay at least 3 nights; you’ll want one full day to go to Toledo and one full day to explore the city.|
INSIDER TIP – REINA SOFIA: The Reina Sofia is a beautiful gallery, very close to the Atocha train station. It is free Mondays – Fridays 7-9 pm, Saturdays 2:30-9 pm, and Sundays 10-2:30 pm (although when we went on Sunday we didn’t have access to all the exhibits.)
MOVING ON – BARCELONA: From Madrid there is a high speed train that will get you to Barcelona in under 3 hours, but it’s not cheap. The best price we saw was 60 Euros (although you might find a better fare if you book in advance.) We opted to take a slow train (8 hour journey) for 40 Euros. However, note that the slow train does not leave from Atocha train station; instead it leaves from the Chamartín station on the other side town (it costs about 12 Euros to get a taxi between the stations.)
Barcelona is a city of contradictions; it’s old but also young, it’s mysterious but also welcoming, it’s touristy but also authentic, and most of all it’s Spain … but really Catalonia.
To be honest, I didn’t see a lot of attractions in Barcelona (except for the Sagrada Família – pictured below) but I didn’t mind. Instead we walked a lot, got lost, people watched, window shopped and just enjoyed life. It was the perfect way to end our month in Spain and it left me itching to go back already (maybe one day for a longer stay!)
AIRBNB REVIEW: BARCELONA
We stayed in this one bedroom flat and loved it! It is seriously gorgeous, only a 15 minute walk to La Rambla, and for some reason still very cheap (it’s a mystery to us!) We didn’t see much of our host, but we had no problems during our stay and we would definitely go back.
|TIME REQUIRED IN BARCELONA: 2-4 nights – depending on your budget; Barcelona wasn’t as expensive as I was expecting, but it’s the sort of city that makes you want to spend money! I fell in love with all the small shops, independent designers, and hidden tapas bars.|
INSIDER TIP – THE BORNE CULTURAL CENTRE: The Borne Cultural Centre offers an impressive (and free) exhibit explaining the history of Catalonia, as well as a large archaeological site. The history of Catalonia is an often untold story so be sure to stop by and check it out.
BEST EATS: La Llavor dels Origens was so good I ate there 2 days in a row! They serve Catalan dishes, with an emphasis on local food and wine, and the prices are really reasonable. The atmosphere is simple and welcoming and I loved it!
AIRPORT: Catch the AEROBÚS from the Plaça d’Espanya for 5.90€. It’s cheap and easy to find.
I hope that I’ve inspired (or helped) you to plan a Spanish holiday! Have you been to Spain? I’d love to hear your tips or favs, let me know in the comments! x
photo credit: All photos by me