An alluring destination for people all around the world, Spain is a place that transforms you and makes you feel alive. The Spanish people do a great job of celebrating life, working hard, and playing even harder. It’s hard to not get swept up, living fast and loud, spending your days munching on tapas, drinking local spirits, and hanging with close friends. The good weather, interesting history, incredible food, and insatiable nightlife make Spain a destination for those of any age, from young to old. It’s easy to spend more than eight days in this country and once you start to appreciate the Spanish lifestyle, it’s hard to go back to life pre-Spain. This Southern Spain itinerary will highlight some of the most influential cities in Spain and give you a taste of what local culture is truly like.
An 8 Day Barcelona, Madrid, and a Southern Spain Itinerary
WEDNESDAY – Depart from home fly to Barcelona, Spain
One of the easiest European destinations to get to from the USA, Spain is located on the southwestern part of the continent. If you travel to Spain from a major city hub in the US, you can typically fly into Barcelona without needing to make any connections. One of my favorite, affordable airlines – Norwegian – flies from Chicago O’Hare to Barcelona every Wednesday evening. I like to fly into Chicago in the morning, spend the day in the city, and hop on the red-eye flight to Barcelona that night.
If it doesn’t make sense for you to fly from Chicago, instead check out Kayak.
THURSDAY – Arrival into Barcelona
Highlights of Barcelona: Visiting Gaudí’s Works + Barceloneta Beach
Transportation: On this Spain vacation I do not recommend renting a car as it’s more optimal to travel by bus and/or train. For this reason, I’d recommend taking a taxi or Uber from Barcelona airport to your accommodation. Please note that while grabbing a taxi is more convenient, there’s also a higher chance of being ripped off. Before getting in, state your destination and make sure that the meter is working. If you choose to Uber, you will need to put your passport number into the app to utilize Uber in Spain. (If you’re new to Uber, use my code vi9bs for $2 off your first three rides).
Stay: I’d recommend staying in or near the Gothic Quarter. This way you’re able to walk nearly everywhere and you have several restaurants and bars right outside your door. I’d recommend using booking.com to search for hotels and compare prices or renting an Airbnb. If you’re new to Airbnb use my referral code for a $55 credit.
Upon arrival to Spain and checking into your accommodation, head out for food before venturing out to see some of Barcelona’s most famous sites. If you land in Barcelona in the early morning I recommend a takeaway pastry from Chök. If you’ve arrived later in the day and are looking for a more hearty meal sit down for tapas at Vinitus. Once you’ve filled your stomach it’s time to hit the ground running and see some of the most famous sites in the world, courtesy of Antoni Gaudí, a famous Spanish architect.
In Barcelona, Gaudí has created multiple architectural wonders making Barcelona one of the most unique cities I’ve ever visited. The most famous sites include Parc Güell, La Sagrada Familia, Casa Milà, and Casa Batlló. Depending on what time you arrive in Barcelona, I would try to see all of these sites, but if you’re short on time make La Sagrada Familia and Parc Güell a priority.
La Sagrada Familia
La Sagrada Familia is a church and UNESCO World Heritage Site designed by Gaudí with construction beginning in 1882. The incredible thing about this church is the amount of ornate detail that has gone into its design, telling the story of Jesus Christ from birth to death. There’s so much detail in fact, that the church still isn’t finished and isn’t predicted to be finished until 2026. Luckily, Gaudí realized that he wouldn’t be able to see the church through to its completion so he mapped out detailed plans to allow others to finish it long after he passed. La Sagrada Familia is incredibly popular so don’t expect to show up and buy a ticket at the door. To ensure access to this incredible church buy a ticket ahead of time and show up for your time slot. I’d also recommend purchasing the audio guide for a more complete picture of what the church represents.
Parc Güell, also designed by Gaudí and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, serves an entirely different function than La Sagrada Familia. Parc Güell is an open-air park sitting atop Carmel Hill in the La Salut neighborhood and overlooking the city of Barcelona. It’s most famous for having the longest bench in the world. To enter Parc Güell you’ll need to purchase a ticket ahead of time.
Once you’ve seen the infamous Gaudí architectural wonders, head back towards El Poble-Sec for a quick dinner at Quimet & Quimet before heading off to the beach. Overlooking the Balearic Sea, head to Barceloneta beach to watch the sunset. Either grab a spot in the sand or grab a table out one of the many lively restaurants lining the beach for sunset cocktails. If you’re looking for a fancier experience, head to the end of the beach where the W Hotel sits. On the 26th floor of the hotel, you’ll find Eclipse, a cocktail bar overlooking Barcelona. The bar opens at 6 pm and it’s common for a line to form before then.
If you’re planning on spending more time in Barcelona or want more information on the city read:
FRIDAY – Depart Barcelona, arrive in Málaga
Highlights of Málaga: Visiting the Alcazaba of Málaga and Castle of Gibralfaro
Transportation: You can fly to Málaga from Barcelona in under 2-hours or take a train which takes about 6-hours. You can find train tickets on Rail.Ninja.
Stay: I recommend staying near the city center and using Airbnb or booking.com to find hotels and apartments.
The first stop on your Southern Spain travel itinerary will bring you to the coastal town of Málaga near the Alboran Sea. Málaga is a popular vacation spot for fellow Europeans looking to escape the winter. Málaga only sees about 20 days of rain per year and temperatures range from the 60s-80s throughout the year. There’s a lot to see and do in Málaga so I’d recommend getting on the earliest flight/train out of Barcelona so that you can soak up this Spanish city before heading out!
Once you’ve arrived in town, set out to see the two things that make Málaga, Málaga – the Alcazaba of Málaga and the Castle of Gibralfaro. Both of these structures give you an idea of Málaga’s history and set the city apart from the rest of Southern Spain. Make time to visit both whiles in town.
Alcazaba of Málaga
Start your sightseeing at the Alcazaba of Málaga (opening times vary depending on the time of the season and closed on Mondays. You can check times and prices here.) The Alcazaba was a fortification built in the 11th-century by the Hammudid Dynasty. It also happens to be the most well-preserved fortification in all of Spain! The Alcazaba is quite impressive, offering sweeping views over Malaga and an inside look at what life may have been like back in the day. You can easily purchase tickets from machines before entering the fortress.
Castle of Gibralfaro
Once you’ve finished roaming around the fortress make the grueling hike up the hill to the Castle of Gibralfaro. Please note that you can purchase a combined ticket (both Alcazaba and Castle) for cheaper than purchasing them separately. The Castle sits upon a 425+ foothill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. If you aren’t up for walking, the No. 35 bus will drive you up the hill and drop you out front.
Like Barcelona, the highlights of Southern Spain include the incredible food and night scene. Once you’re done sightseeing, end your day in Málaga by visiting Antigua Casa de Guardi for a taste of the local sweet wine. For dinner opt for tapas at Casa Lola, El Pimpi, or La Medusa Ostrería. And for a nightcap finish off your day on the Larios Terrace rooftop overlooking the main shopping street in town – Calle Larios – and for views overlooking the city.
For more information on Málaga and for more recommendations on things to see and do, read:
SATURDAY – Depart Málaga, arrive in Seville
Highlights of Seville: Royal Alcázar of Seville + Catedral de Seville
Transportation: From Málaga, it’s only a 2-hour train ride to get to Seville. I use Omio when searching for trains between these two cities. I would recommend leaving Málaga early in the morning to have plenty of time in Seville.
Stay: I use booking.com or Airbnb when searching for places to stay. When I visited Seville, I stayed in this Airbnb and would highly recommend it.
No trip to Spain is complete without visiting one of the most beautiful and unique cities in Spain – Seville. Located northwest of Málaga Seville buzzes with friendly energy, bright colors, history from once being under Moorish rule, and creativity. Seville was where Flamenco was created, it is known for its bullfighting culture, thick and sweet orange wine, tapas culture, and more.
Royal Alcázar of Seville
When you arrive in Seville and check into your accommodation, quickly head out for sightseeing. Start at the Royal Alcázar of Seville where you will need to purchase tickets before entering. A general ticket with an audioguide costs 12.50 Euros. The Royal Alcázar is a palace that was once a Muslim fortress. When the Christians overthrew the Muslims in 1492, which was known as the “Reconquista” of Spain, King Peter of Castile resided in this newly renovated palace. Expect to spend a few hours touring around the grounds of the palace, a maze of bright colors where you’ll note both Muslim and Christian influence. You may even recognize some of the rooms if you’re a Game of Thrones fan… some scenes were filmed in this Alcazar.
Catedral de Seville
Once you’re done touring the Alcazar, head just steps away to the largest gothic cathedral in the world, Catedral de Seville. While you may have to wait in line for a ticket, it isn’t necessary to purchase before arriving. To enter you can pay the ticket fee at the door – nine Euros, allowing you to access both the cathedral and Giralda Tower. I’d also recommend purchasing the audio guide which will cost an extra three Euros. The reason this cathedral is so big and grand is that after the Reconquista Seville wanted to show how wealthy it was. There are members from the cathedral quoted for saying, “Let us build a church so beautiful and grand so that those who see it finished will take us for mad.”
Once the evening comes there are plenty of places to eat and drink your way through Seville. My favorites for tapas and cocktails include Casa Morales and Casa Ricardo for tapas. And Las Setas De Sevilla for cocktails and Taberna Álvaro Peregil for Sevilla’s famous orange wine.
If you plan on staying in Seville longer or want more recommendations, read:
SUNDAY – Depart Seville, arrive in Granada
Before leaving Seville, wake up early to stroll through Plaza de España. Made up of brick, tiles, and ceramic decorations, Plaza de España is free to access and is located in Parque de María Luisa. The plaza was built for the Spanish-American Exposition of 1929 where multiple countries came to Seville to improve relations between themselves and Spain.
Highlights of Granada Day 1: Granada Cathedral + Royal Chapel of Granada
Transportation: A train or bus will get you from Seville, east to Granada in under 3-hours. I use Omio when searching for trains and buses between these two towns.
Stay: I prefer to use booking.com or Airbnb when searching for where to stay. In Granada, I’d recommend staying in or near the city center.
When you’re visiting Southern Spain, also known as the Andalusia Region, you can’t miss the chance to stop in one of Spain’s most iconic towns – Granada. With both Christian and Muslim influence, Granada sits at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, with the biggest tourist draw being the Alhambra. Granada was founded in 711 AD by the “Moors” (referring to Muslim people), which is why you can still, to this day, see Muslim influence in Granada. Once the “Reconquista” occurred and the Christians overthrew the Muslims, cathedrals, and churches largely replaced mosques and Muslims were required to convert to Catholicism. The stories of the “Reconquista” can be found in the famous buildings throughout Granada.
Granada Cathedral + Royal Chapel of Granada
As mentioned earlier, when the Reconquista occurred, Muslim influence was replaced by Christian influence. At the time the Granada Cathedral replaced a Mosque that was once at the heart of Granada. The cathedral is unique for being the first cathedral to have renaissance art and is the fifth largest cathedral in the world. It costs five Euros to enter and you’re given an audio guide explaining what everything is in the church.
Steps away from the Granada Cathedral is the Royal Chapel of Granada. This is where the Spanish monarchs, Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand have been laid to rest. Like the cathedral, it costs five Euros to enter and you will be given a complimentary audio guide walking you through the Chapel. I was highly impressed with both the Cathedral and the Chapel and think it’s well worth it to visit both places. It is not necessary to purchase a ticket beforehand for either the cathedral or the chapel.
For food options in Granada, I’d recommend either Bodegas Castañeda where you’ll get a true tapas experience. (A true tapas experience is when you purchase a glass of alcohol and food comes with your drink). Ibéricos Alhambra for a variety of meats and cheeses, or Taberna Espirituosa for more of an upscale experience.
MONDAY – Granada
Highlights of Granada Day 2: Alhambra
Perhaps the highlight of this entire Southern Spain vacation is visiting the Alhambra. The Alhambra sits atop al-Sabika hill overlooking Granada. The first historical documents of the Alhambra date back to the 9th-century where it is documented that it was used as a fortification system. It wasn’t until the 13th-century that the Nasrid Dynasty arrived turning the Alhambra into a royal residence. When the Christians overtook the Muslims in what is referred to as the “Reconquista,” the Alhambra was nearly torn down because it was representative of the Muslim faith. Luckily plans were never enforced and the Alhambra still stands to this day.
If you’re coming to Granada to tour the Alhambra you must plan well in advance. Only a certain number of visitors are allowed to enter the Alhambra per day. You can buy Alhambra palace tickets here and hours vary based on time of the year. From April 1-October 14 hours are from 0830-2000 and from October 15-March 31 hours are from 0830-1800. Make sure to show up at your allotted time or else you may not be able to enter. A full visit to the Alhambra tends to take three+ hours.
On your way back to town from the Alhambra, I encourage you to walk along Paseo de Los Tristes, the street running parallel to the Darro River. Paseo de Los Tristes is an idyllic street that takes you right back to the city center.
For a nightcap, before the sun sets, walk through town up to Mirador de San Nicolas. Here you’ll have incredible views of the sun setting behind the Alhambra. It’s sure to be crowded so arrive early for a front-row spot. Or if you prefer a cocktail while watching the sunset, there’s a restaurant nearby – El Huerto de Juan Ranas that gives you front-row views. This also tends to be quite crowded so make sure to arrive well before sunset to snag a seat. (I would not advise eating here and service is quite awful. I’d only recommend coming for sunset, having a drink or two, and moving on).
For more on Granada check out How to Make the Most of One Day in Granada
TUESDAY – Depart Granada, arrive in Madrid
Highlights of Madrid: Museo Nacional del Prado
Transportation: A train can get you from Granada to Madrid 3.5-hours. I use Omio when searching for trains.
Stay: I recommend staying near the city center and using booking.com or Airbnb for finding accommodation.
Upon arrival into Madrid, head to Mercado de San Miguel for lunch. Mercado de San Miguel is a covered market that has been running since 1916 and has multiple food vendors serving Spanish cuisine throughout. After lunch, visit the main Spanish national art museum, Prado Museum, open since 1819. A general ticket runs at 15 Euros, and I recommend purchasing ahead of time so that you can skip the line. You can spend as much or as little time in the museum as you’d like, but if you’re an art lover, expect to spend 3+ hours browsing through the many displays throughout the museum.
On your last night in Spain, head to dinner at the pintxos bar, Juana la Loca.
WEDNESDAY – Depart Madrid, fly home
Because Europe is ahead of the US time-wise, you should be able to leave on Wednesday and arrive back to the states on Wednesday. Just in time to clock in for your shift Thursday without taking any PTO! And just like that, in 8 days your Barcelona, Madrid, and Southern Spain itinerary has come to an end.
If this is your first time hearing about the “8 Day Vacay” and would like some background information please click here.
Useful Information About Spain
Official language: Spanish; most people are also English speaking, making it easy to travel throughout the country
Currency: The Euro
Emergency: If you find yourself in an emergency in Spain call 112
Country code: +34
Packing: Don’t forget to pack comfortable shoes for walking, a jacket depending on what time of the year you’re visiting, and a swimsuit if you want to go to the beach! While Southern Spain doesn’t get too cold, Madrid can get snow at times.
Travel insurance: Lastly, don’t forget to book travel insurance before leaving! I use World Nomad’s for ease of mind when I travel.