With its beautiful coastlines, quaint provincial towns and cosmopolitan cities, Spain is rightly regarded as one of the world’s best countries for tourists. One of the main reasons for this is that the stunningly diverse country simply has something for everyone.
Spain has so much to offer that you could spend a lifetime there and still have something else to see (I moved to Barcelona for this very reason!). But for those who are short on time, we’ve come up with an itinerary that will let you see the best this country has to offer in just seven days.
…And if you still think you’re missing out, you’ll just have to come back later!
Day 1: Madrid
Start your vacation in Madrid, the cultural and economic heart of Spain. Make your way to Retiro Park and take a pleasant walk round the lake and fountains. Then pay a visit to the Prado Museum. With over 20,000 exhibits, including works by Diego Velázquez, Goya and Titian, it has one of the most extensive collections of European art in the world.
Two other nearby museums are also worth a visit. The Reina Sofia Museum houses 20th century Spanish collections, including Picasso’s Guernica, whereas the private Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum fills the historical gaps that the other two museums are missing.
If you’re feeling peckish after all that art, you can grab an iconic bocadillo de calamares (calamari sandwich) at the nearby El Brillante. But if you want heartier fare, pay a visit to El Mollete, which serves dishes such as grilled rabbit or pulpo gallego (Galician-style octopus).
Day 2: Madrid
If you’re a soccer fan, you can take a guided tour of Real Madrid’s Santiago de Bernabéu Stadium. This iconic ground has been home to such footballing greats as Zinedine Zidane, Ferenc Puskás and current Ballon d’Or holder Cristiano Ronaldo.
Afterwards, visit one of Madrid’s well-known squares. The two most famous ones are Plaza Mayor, a handsome renaissance-style square and Puerta del Sol, which features the iconic Statue of the Bear and the Strawberry Tree. Nearby, you can find Chocolatería San Ginés, where you can treat yourself to a cup of hot chocolate and Madrid’s most well-known artery clogger – churros. This delicious dish of fried choux pastry sprinkled with sugar is one of the great delights of this fantastic city. (Tip: love Spanish food? You’ll adore Intrepid’s food trip in Northern Spain!)
In the evening, make your way towards Gran Vía. This bustling street is the cultural heart of the city and contains dozens of shops, restaurants and theaters. One of its best and most reasonably priced restaurants is GastroVía 61. Here you can try the city’s famous cocido madrileño, a traditional stew of meat, chickpeas and vegetables.
After dinner, check out one of the city’s busy cocktail bars, such as the resolutely old-school Bar Cock, which has served up gin and tonics and mojitos to superstars such as Pedro Almodóvar and George Clooney.
Start your day off at the city’s iconic Ramblas. While the leafy boulevard has seen better days, it is still one of the main arteries through the otherwise narrow streets of the Old City. Your first stop should be the famous Boqueria market, with its vast selection of produce from around both Spain and the world. Perhaps the most well-known product sold here is jamón ibérico, the famous cured ham, but there are also a variety of stalls selling fresh fruit, vegetables and seafood.
Probably the best tapas bar here is Quim de la Boqueria. In business for over 50 years, Quim’s family-run restaurant is most famous for its fried eggs and baby squid.
Spend the afternoon enjoying the delights of Barcelona’s narrow and winding medieval center – Barri Gótic. There are a variety of different sights to see, including Barcelona Cathedral and the stunning church of Santa Maria del Pi, with one of the largest rose windows in Europe.
Afterwards, take a stroll through the tranquil square of Plaça Sant Felip Neri, whose pockmarked walls still tell the story of the bombing of Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War. Nearby is El Call, the medieval Jewish quarter and the magnificent Plaça Reial, which contains two street lamps designed by Antoni Gaudí.
You have plenty of options for dinner. My personal favorite is El Xampanyet, my go-to tapas bar when friends and family come to visit. It can be very crowded, so if that’s not an option, try Bar del Pla, which is located a few doors down on the same street. Both restaurants serve unpretentious Catalan cooking in a laid-back setting: anchovies, baby squid and Catalan sausage. For more adventurous types, there’s always beef cheek or pigs’ trotters in spicy sauce.
Day 4: Barcelona
The next day, it’s time to see some of Barcelona’s world-class architecture. And the jewel of Barcelona’s crown is the Sagrada Família, one of the world’s most famous churches. Construction started in March 1882, and is due to be completed on the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death in 2026. Just a few blocks away is the Hospital de Sant Pau, another UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Take the metro to Passeig de Gràcia. As well as having a great range of boutique shops, there is perhaps a greater concentration of amazing architecture here than on any other street on Earth. The most famous block is undoubtedly the one nicknamed La Manzana de la Discordia, which features three houses by three of Catalonia’s best-known architects, including Gaudí’s renowned ‘house of bones’, Casa Batlló.
If you’ve had enough of Gaudí, you can spend the rest of the afternoon at the shops, or pay a visit to Barceloneta, the city’s beach district. If not, try Park Güell, another Gaudí masterpiece which also gives a great view of the Mediterranean Sea.
Day 5: Barcelona
Take the Metro to Plaça Espanya. Here you can find the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. This museum houses some of the most important Romanesque works in the world. Nearby, on Montjuïc Hill, is the main site of Barcelona’s 1992 Olympic Games and the Joan Miró Foundation, which features many works of modern art donated by one of Catalonia’s most famous artists. You can also take a cable car up to Montjuïc Castle or explore the nearby Botanic Garden.
If you’re feeling fit, this next spot is a great place to spend your last evening in Barcelona. Turó de la Rovira is a 257-meter hill that offers an unmatchable view. It’s a place I have taken many friends and family and the stunning view of the city has never failed to impress. Just make sure to take a jacket as it can be windy at any time of the year.
Day 6: Granada
Under Muslim control for over 700 years, the south of Spain has a notably different feel from the rest of the country. While Seville is both the largest city and the capital, Granada is without doubt the heart of Andalusia, with a gypsy soul that takes the best from the many cultures that have made it their home.
The city’s main highlight is the Alhambra, a former royal palace of the Sultans of Granada. However, only a limited number of tickets are given out each day, so it is advisable to book in advance. Take some time to walk around the sumptuous Nasrid Palaces and the Generalife, the spectacular gardens filled with fragrant roses and gushing fountains.
Spend the afternoon in Granada’s magnificent old town. There are a plenty of interesting sights on offer, including Plaza de Bib-Rambla, the center of Moorish Granada, and the Alcaicería, a reconstruction of an Arabic Bazaar.
In the evening, head out to Peña La Platería, one of Granada’s oldest flamenco bars and spend the night in a maelstrom of crimson passion.
Day 7: Granada
The next day, make your way to the Albaicín, the historic Arab quarter. With its white-washed buildings and crowded, narrow streets, the area is a perfect place to spend the morning. Nearby are a variety of other attractions, including the Church of San Salvador, which mixes Muslim and Christian architectural styles, and the 11th century Baños Arabes (Arab baths).
Another sight worth seeing is the Capilla Real, the resting place of many Spanish monarchs, including Ferdinand and Isabela, who were responsible for financing the voyage of Christopher Columbus to the New World.
Check out Mirador de Morayma for lunch, where you try such dishes as cod with almonds and blood sausage topped with apple. Afterwards, pay a visit to Sacramonte, Granada’s colorful Gypsy Quarter. Stroll through the pleasant neighbourhood and be sure to check out the traditional cave dwellings, as well as the more modern houses decorated with handcrafted ceramics.
Ready to visit this unbelievable country? Check out Intrepid’s range of small group adventures in Spain.
(Image credits from top to bottom: Intrepid Travel x7, Heidi Gallina, Intrepid Travel x2.)