Spain: plates of tapas, jugs of homemade Sangria, warm weather and bright, bustling cities. It’s a ray of sunshine on Europe’s Iberian Peninsula – and the ideal place to spend a couple of weeks exploring. The easiest way? By rail.
Student ambassador Sydney’s Spain itinerary? Start off in Barcelona, get on the train to Granada (with a brief visit to Nerja), hop back on the train to Seville, then finish off in the capital city of Madrid.
What do these 5 cities offer? We hear you ask. Sydney has written a post answering that very question…
Everyone loves Barcelona when they visit, myself included. It’s most famously known for its gothic district, La Rambla, and we can’t forget the eccentric artist, Gaudi. Try to see as much of Gaudi as you possibly can – you won’t regret it: an audio tour of the Sangria Familia, as well as Case Batllo and Park Guell (my personal favorites). I saw these when I went on a walking tour of Barca, which included Gaudi’s most famous buildings.
Walking tours are one of the easiest ways to get into the depths of a city in a short space of time, so make sure you go on a walking tour of the city’s Gothic Quarter. Other places that aren’t Gaudi-related? Try La Boqueria, a huge marketplace off of La Rambla and sample some of the best food Barcelona has to offer: full of cheese, meats and everyone’s favorite… gelato. Food and quirky art, what’s not to love?
Granada is best described as a city of fusion: medieval buildings alongside Islamic architecture, Arabian street charm mixed with a culture of graffiti, and a bustling, vibrant Spanish heart in the middle of it. The reason people are initially drawn to Granada? The Alhambra: it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. The Alhambra was first built as a fortress but then later became a royal palace. This place can best be described as an oasis. Set a whole day aside to explore the gardens, buildings and breathtaking views. Also make sure that your camera is fully charged because everything within its walls is photo-worthy. Highlights from inside the Palace include the Torre de Comares, Patio de los Arrayanes, Patio de los Leones (Court of Lions) and Mexuar.
Outside of the Alhambra, you’ve got to check out the tapas in one of the old-school tapas bars (or basically anywhere in Granada) – I would recommend the patatas bravas and croquettes. The perfect way to end your day? Head to the Plaza San Nicolas for sunset. It’s the best place for panoramic views of the Alhambra against the backdrop of warm oranges and reds.
Nerja isn’t as touristy as the rest of the cities on this list, which is kind of what makes it perfect for a relaxing break from exploring the busy streets of Granada. Plus, it’s student-friendly, with lots of affordable places (win win). It’s the epitome of a quaint beach town – if you want, you can wake up and spend the whole day just lounging on the sand. Great for a couple of days of unwinding. And what comes with great European beaches? Fresh European sea food. You can’t leave without trying paella on the beach. If you are one of those people who can’t stop exploring, take a short bus ride to the Caves of Nerja.
Famous for flamenco dancing, the historic capital of southern Spain’s Andalusia region is another vibrant Spanish city that’ll easily win you over. So, where do you start? A visit to Seville wouldn’t be complete without a tour of Seville Cathedral: the Cathedral is the largest in the world and famous for its Gothic style. End your visit by climbing up the Giralda (the bell tower) where you’re treated to incredible vistas across the whole city.
Additional tourist sightseeing includes Alcazar of Seville, Plaza de Espana Seville and the Torre del Oro. The Alcazar of Seville is the real life location for the Palace of Dorne – top of the itinerary for any die-hard Game of Thrones fan. The Metroplo Parasol is another must-see as it’s the largest wooden structure in the world.
And of course, Seville being a Spanish city, it’s another great place to eat your body weight in tapas and drink juicy Sangria by the jug-full – try locally-loved tapas bar La Fresquita, near Seville’s Santa Cruz church.
This list wouldn’t be complete without the pulsing heart of Spain: the famous artsy capital of Madrid. Full of passionate locals with a zest for life, the city is so full of energy it’s contagious. There are so many great things to do that you will never have enough time to do everything… but you can give it your best shot! My recommended tourist stops are the Museo Nacional Del Prado and the Royal Palace of Madrid. And for soccer fans, you can tour the Real Madrid Stadium on your own, or soak up the proper atmosphere and buy tickets to a live match.
If you need a break from the hustle and bustle, head to the Plaza Mayor and grab a drink at one of the Al Fresco Cafes for a bit of people watching. You’ll also more than likely witness some street performances. Spend at least a few days here so you can marvel at all of the historic architecture, dip in and out of world-class galleries to view world-class masterpieces, eat more tapas, and spend your evenings sampling cocktails in one of the many bars or dancing shoulder to shoulder with smiling locals in one of the many barrios. Europe is all about drinking on the streets, having meaningful conversations with strangers as well as friends, and just generally having a good time.
Ready to see what Spain has in store for you? Check out the Eurail one-country pass if you want to follow in Sydney’s steps and see Spain by rail, or alternatively head to our flights page!