Dreaming of the ultimate Europe trip? Spending 10 days in Spain is a must. You can’t pin down what to expect on a Spain itinerary in only a few words. Few travelers realize Spain’s diversity until they experience it for themselves.
You can spend your days soaking up the sun along the coast in Andalusia. Or pad your knowledge of modern & classic European architecture in Madrid or Barcelona. Either way, a trip to Spain will change your perspective on travel—maybe even life. It won’t take long for Spain’s fun-loving nature to rub off on you.
Visiting Spain in 10 days? Make the most out of your time with this complete 10-day Spain itinerary.
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Where to go in Spain: A complete 10-day itinerary
With so many fascinating places awaiting, the hardest part about planning out 10 days in Spain is deciding what to include—and what to leave out.
As with most of our country itineraries, this 10-day itinerary for Spain is designed for first-timers visiting on a time crunch. Regrettably, I had to leave out some fantastic Spanish travel destinations. There’s too much to see in Spain to fit in everything in such a tight amount of time.
Ready to launch your itinerary? Let’s discover what to do in Spain in 10 days or less…
Often overshadowed by Barcelona’s touristic pull, Madrid doesn’t appear as the first destination on a Spain travel plan. It’s a shame. When exploring Spain for the first time, there’s hardly a better place to start than with its capital and cultural heartland.
Unlike other popular European travel destinations, there’s no single monument that defines Madrid. Rather, the city’s a broad collection of moments. When fused together, they create a compelling mix that’s as interesting as any on the continent.
Through Madrid’s veins flows the lifeblood of Spanish culture. In its museums and galleries, you’ll stumble upon the works of famous Spanish artists like Goya, Velázquez, Picasso, and Dalí. On its streets, architectural movements take center stage. From medieval & Renaissance to Baroque and modern Spanish styles, it’s all in Madrid.
Looking for a more tactful experience? Madrid is a city where food & drink reign strong. Spain’s reputation as one of the tastiest places to eat in Europe isn’t lost here. (Nor is the Spanish reputation for enjoying life to its fullest.) Whether washing down tapas with a glass of red wine or rip-roarin’ with cocktails until dawn, Madrid won’t soon be forgotten.
On your first trip to Spain, I’d recommend spending at least three days in Madrid. It’ll leave you two days in Madrid itself plus an extra day for a trip outside the city. (More on that later…)
What to do in Madrid
In a city as eclectic as the Spanish capital, it shouldn’t be surprising that there’s a myriad of things to do & see in Madrid. Here are a few ideas…
Check out Madrid’s art museums
I’m rarely one to spend much time in museums while exploring cities. But it’s nearly impossible to come to Madrid without spending time hopping between a few of the city’s finest. At the very least, try to check out these two must-see art museums in Madrid:
- Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía is a national museum focusing on the 20th century. There’s about over 20,000 pieces here from famous artists, including Salvador Dalí, Juan Gris, and Joan Miró.
- Museo del Prado is Madrid’s most famous attraction. This museum, known informally in English as The Prado, features one of the world’s finest collections of European art. The works here date between the 12th and 20th centuries. Masters like Goya, Bosch, El Greco, Rubens, and Velázquez are well represented.
Chill out in Parque del Buen Retiro (Retiro Park)
Want to catch Madrid’s relaxing side? There’s no better stop than Parque del Buen Retiro (Retiro Park). This gorgeous 350-acre park was once owned by Spanish royalty. It’s a favorite for Madrileños to escape the bustle of the city with a walk, bike ride, picnic, or row along the park’s lake.
Retiro Park is more than a simple green space. It’s also home to several interesting historical sculptures & monuments. Among the most famous is the grand Monument to Alfonso XII.
While you’re in Retiro Park, don’t miss a chance to check out the Crystal Palace (Palacio de Cristal). This beautiful glass pavilion once housed a former royal greenhouse. Today, the “palace” features several art exhibits.
Visit the Royal Palace of Madrid (Palacio Real)
There’s hardly a shortage of royal palaces in Europe. Somehow, I’d venture to say that you’ve never seen anything quite like the Royal Palace of Madrid (Palacio Real).
Originally built in the 18th century by Felipe V, this 135,000-square-metre palace is something to behold. If you think Palacio Real is a tad over the top, you’re not wrong. Much of it was designed with pomp in mind. From its gilded furnishings to its exquisite art collections, it was meant to show off the massive power & wealth of Spanish royalty.
The Royal Palace is open daily from 10 am to 8 pm (or until 6 pm in winter).
Feel the buzz of Madrid at Plaza Mayor
Madrid wears its history on its sleeve at Plaza Mayor. This central square, built in the 16th century, has become one of the city’s most bustling gathering points.
Sure, Plaza Mayor is more than a bit touristy these days. But this elegant plaza still holds the attention of visitors. Along the edge, stunning colonnades swing into its expansive open spaces.
For the full architecture experience, approach Plaza Mayor via the steep steps of the Arco de Cuchilleros. This 17th-century archway is surrounded by picture-perfect examples of old Spanish architecture.
Take a day trip to Toledo
Perched high upon the banks of the Río Tajo, this UNESCO-listed city was once the capital of Spain. And it’s as stunningly beautiful as it is interesting.
Toledo is unique & rare in its architectural tapestry. The city showcases influences from its historic Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities.
If you’ve got time on your trip to Spain, try to spend at least one day in Toledo. To make the most of your day, I’d recommend overnighting there.
Even if you can only fit in a day trip, here are some of the coolest things to do & see in Toledo to add to your sightseeing list:
- Sephardic Museum is set in the Sinagoga del Tránsito. The museum tells the little-known story of Spain’s Jewish community.
- Toledo Cathedral is an imposing Gothic cathedral with roots digging back to the 13th century. Be sure to check out its main chapels—Capilla Mayor, Capilla de San Blas, and Capilla de Reyes Nuevo. The cathedral’s sacristy is worth a peek, too. It contains priceless artwork by artists like El Greco, Raphael, and Velázquez.
- Alcazar is a spectacular fortress overlooking the city from its highest point. And it’s got stunning views to match! Once a bastion of defense, the Alcazar now houses a museum with various military exhibitions.
Where to stay in Madrid
With the immense size of the Spanish capital, figuring out where to stay in Madrid can be a challenge. For most travelers, the Centro is the top option for sightseeing on this itinerary. Here are a few great options…
- Hostal Central Palace Madrid is a budget-friendly hotel in central Madrid. It features spacious rooms with a classic European elegance. The top-end rooms light up with views of the Royal Palace, Almudena Cathedral, and Sabatini Gardens.
- B&B Hotel Madrid Centro Puerta del Sol is a fantastic mid-range hotel located steps from Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor. Rooms are ultra-clean and fitted with stylish modern decor & furnishings.
- Gran Meliá Palacio de los Duques is a spectacular luxury hotel housed in a former 19th-century palace. Guests will love everything at this full-featured property. From the elegant rooms to the lovely rooftop pool with views over Madrid, it’s a winner.
Getting to Madrid
By air: From abroad and from other European countries, the easiest way to get to Spain is by air. Madrid is served by Madrid–Barajas Airport (MAD), Spain’s biggest and busiest airport. Popular airlines serving Madrid-Barajas include:
- Air Europa
- Norwegian Air Shuttle
Although not quite as famous as other Spanish cities, Seville might become one of your favorite European destinations. The Andalusian capital pushes forth some of Spain’s most enchanting city scenes. From its stately Plaza de España to its glorious Gothic mosque-turned-cathedral, Seville is full of gems.
Beyond its historical eye candy, Seville doesn’t just ride its coattails. Seville is a city that’s at the forefront of modern Spain. In Seville, eating, drinking & being merry is as much a part of its DNA as its stunning good looks.
What to do in Seville
As one of Europe’s most satisfying places to visit, Seville delivers a serious impact for the senses. By night, you’ll discover a splendid Moorish, Renaissance, and Gothic architectural palette. In the evening, watch the heart of Andalusia beat during a flamenco dance or wash down tapas with a glass of red wine.
Whatever your tastes, get started with these fun things to see & do in Seville:
Get awestruck at Plaza de España
Located in Maria Luisa Park, the striking Plaza de España might be one of Europe’s grandest sites. Despite its classic Renaissance architectural influences, the plaza only dates back to 1929. It was erected for the Exposición Iberoamericana.
What Plaza de España lacks in authenticity, it makes up for in grandeur. Wander through its colonnades and along the boardwalk to capture its beauty from every angle.
Gawk at the Catedral Santa María de la Sede
From one awe-striking site to another, the Catedral Santa María de la Sede (or Catedral de Sevilla) is bound to leave your jaw sagging. Seville’s biggest drawcard is as impressive a sight as any in Spain.
The 15th-century cathedral was built upon a 12th-century mosque. Seville Cathedral is the world’s largest Gothic building. (Among churches, it’s trumped in size only by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.)
Exploring the entire cathedral needs more than a pass-by. To dig in fully, take time to visit all the chapels & sacristies strewn about the massive complex. Highlights include Capilla Mayor, home to the world’s largest Gothic altarpiece. The tomb of the famed Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus also lies in Catedral de Sevilla.
While you’re visiting, don’t miss a chance to scale up the Giralda. The 104-meter-high bell tower was once the minaret of the original mosque. From the top of the Giralda, you’ll enjoy incredible views over central Sevilla and beyond.
Explore the Real Alcázar de Sevilla
To round out your Seville itinerary, don’t miss a chance to visit the magnificent Real Alcázar. This royal palace, built upon a 10th-century fort, is a masterful blend of Moorish and Christian architecture.
Many of the Alcázar’s most compelling features blossomed in the 1360s under King Pedro. Although Christian, the king sent Muslim artisans to work on his contribution to the fort: Palacio de Don Pedro. With its unique Moorish design, this palace remains the most impressive patch of the complex.
Where to stay in Seville
Like other popular Spanish cities, choosing where to stay in Seville isn’t without its challenges. There are literally thousands of places to stay spread throughout the city.
To whittle it down to a more manageable number, I’d recommend Old Town in the Centro as the most suitable area for travelers. Anywhere you stay around there, you’ll be close to the top tourist attractions. Here are a few ideas:
- Zaida is far finer than its budget-friendly price point lets on. This hotel sits in a lovely Neo-Moorish palace that screams with traditional Andalusian style.
- Welldone Antiquarium is an excellent self-catering option. The comfortable apartment units are decked out with modern decor. Its Old Town location places you front and center among palaces, restaurants, and tapas bars.
- Hotel Gravina 51 is a fantastic mid-range hotel occupying an 18th-century building. The property is quick to dish out the Andalusian charms. Rooms are spacious and elegant, fusing classic southern Spanish designs with modern amenities. The location close to Plaza de Armas and the Maestranza Bullring is perfect for culture lovers.
- Hotel Casa Del Poeta is one of the top luxury picks in the Old Town area. This 4-star hotel delights with its crisp traditional designs and warmth unmatched in Seville. The show-shopping Seville Cathedral and Alcazar are within quick walking distance.
Getting to Seville
By train: By far, the most comfortable way to travel to Seville from Madrid is by train. The route is served by AVE, the high-speed Spanish train system. Travel time between Madrid and Seville is just 2 hours and 30 minutes.
With the majestic Sierra Nevada as its backdrop, Granada feels as if it’s been ripped out of a fairytale. Most visitors head to Granada intent on searching out its crown jewel, the Alhambra. In turn, they leave with a grand appreciation of its lively streets and of daily life in the Andalusian city.
Unsurprisingly, Granada takes its lust for life seriously. (This is Spain, after all!) Granada is the perfect place to fill your belly with good food & wine at small traditional tapas bars or retire to a boisterous club for an all-nighter.
What to do in Granada
Despite its unfair reputation as a one-trick pony, there are plenty of things to do & see in Granada. From coaxing out its Moorish roots in the Albayzín to strolling through manicured gardens, here are a few ideas for your Granada itinerary:
Get mystified at the Alhambra
As one of the top attractions in Spain, the Alhambra deserves all the praise it gets. This massive walled palace complex, drawn in the shadows of the Sierra Nevada, showcases fine Spanish Moorish design. It’s, quite possibly, the most compelling example of Islamic architecture in Europe.
Visiting the Alhambra, however, doesn’t always come easy. Especially in peak season, you’ll need to book your tickets for the Alhambra in advance. There’s only a limited number of entry tickets sold per day. (And with up to 6,000 other visitors per day, the competition can be stiff!)
Once you’re in, be sure to take everything in stride. The Alhambra isn’t one of those in/out destinations that you can fly through in an hour. Be sure to take all its highlights, including the Palacios Nazaríes, Palacio de Carlos V, the Alcazaba, and Palacio del Generalife.
Wander about the Albayzín
The Alhambra hints at the Moors lingering influence on Granada’s cultural & architectural scene. Besides the palace complex, one of the coolest places in Granada to immerse yourself in Moorish design is the Albayzín.
The Albayzin is the former Arab quarter of Granada. Spend time wandering through its warren of narrow stone alleyways. Among its white-washed townhouses, you’ll catch more than a hint of North Africa. It wouldn’t be unusual to feel as if you’re roaming the medinas of Tangier or Casablanca while visiting the Albayzin!
While you’re exploring the Albayzín, be sure to check out Mirador de San Nicolás. The lookout is the finest viewpoint in the city for catching the Alhambra and the Sierra Nevada mountains in their full glory.
Dazzle at Granada Cathedral
Ponder any picture of the Granada cityscape. You’re bound to see its heart, Granada Cathedral, plain as day.
Grenada Cathedral was built in the 16th century over top of Granada’s Great Mosque. Today, the cathedral is still one of the biggest in Spain and slots in among the largest in the world.
Granada Cathedral dazzles with its grand Spanish Renaissance style. It features an intricate façade and several ornate chapels, including the Nuestra Senora de la Antigua.
Once you’ve checked out Granada Cathedral, pop into the Royal Chapel next door. The Royal Chapel is the resting place for several of Spain’s Christian monarchs. Royals buried here include, most famously, Isabella I and Ferdinand II.
Where to stay in Granada
Given the city’s smaller stature, figuring out where to stay in Granada is less challenging than in other larger Spanish cities. The biggest problem comes with Granada’s popularity. Unless you book several months in advance, you’ll often find a limited selection. Be sure to start planning ahead if you want to get your chance to stay at one of these top picks:
- Shine Albayzín is a gorgeous design hotel set in a 16th-century Moorish palace in the old Arab Quarter. The superior rooms, delivering views of the Alhambra, offer more value than you’d expect at the price.
- Catalonia Granada is a mid-range hotel in the center of Granada, pushing out an ultra-modern vibe. Rooms are comfortable, bright & airy. The scales really tip in your favor, though, with the pool and rooftop sun terrace. Chill out to enjoy views of the city and the Sierra Nevada.
- Eurostars Catedral is the perfect Granada hotel if getting central is your main concern. You can’t go wrong booking a room at this lovely boutique hotel. Set in the historic center, the views from the rooms, especially the junior suites, are spectacular.
- Hospes Palacio de los Patos is built in a 19th-century palace that’s important enough to be UNESCO-listed. This luxury hotel is among Granada’s finest. The interior is a work of art unto its own, featuring ornate crown moldings and ceiling frescoes. Extras like a sauna, Turkish bath, indoor pool, and garden area add even more value.
Getting to Granada
By train: As with most itineraries, it’s most comfortable to travel between Seville and Granada by train. Several trains depart per day and can be reserved ahead of time. The journey takes approximately 4 hours.
A city this famous hardly needs an introduction. Not only is Barcelona one of the most popular places to visit in Spain in 10 days or less, it’s one of the world’s top travel destinations. Barcelona is a must-see for any serious traveler.
In recent years, it’s seemed as if every citizen on earth took that challenge to heart. The streets of Barcelona were becoming so packed that it caused an uproar in the community as more and more people got priced out of their own city.
Nonetheless, don’t let everyone’s undying love for Barcelona stop you from experiencing it to the fullest. Visit outside of the summer tourism high season if you can. You’ll be able to forge a little more peace than usual.
What to do in Barcelona
Drop your jaw at La Sagrada Família
One of the world’s most unique buildings, La Sagrada Família should occupy the top spot on your Barcelona sightseeing agenda. The dramatic, ornate arches and fairytale spires of this Catholic basilica are unmatched anywhere on earth. Getting underneath to witness its glory from below is simply jaw-dropping.
Envisioned by the Catalonian architect Antoni Gaudí, the immense La Sagrada Família is, famously, yet to be completed. Work started well over a century ago, in 1882, and continues unabated. An end is finally within sight within the next decade.
Twist your mind at Park Güell
Were the unorthodox stylings of La Sagrada Família not quite enough? Head up Carmel Hill to the north of Gràcia for a taste of one of Gaudí other creations, Park Güell.
The uniqueness of Gaudí’s style is on full display at Park Güell. All the elements strewn about the park reflect the artist’s refusal to create straight lines. He deemed them “unnatural.”
Park Güell was conceived as an upper-class neighborhood. The reality turned out far different. To some, the village-like park resembles a 1960s-era acid-tip hallucination. (The description is not far off.) Whether you love it or hate it, though, everyone can agree: Park Güell is nothing short of interesting.
Sort through the stalls at La Boqueria
Barcelona’s museums & architecture could keep you enthralled for days. Give yourself a break from it all with a walk through La Boqueria. This large marketplace in La Rambla has a long history as the breadbasket of Barcelona. La Boqueria dates back as far as the 13th century by some accounts.
Today, La Boqueria has become a little more crowded & touristy than many would like. It’s still a cultural experience that every traveler to Barcelona should undertake. Filter through the food stalls to find typical local foods like queso de cabra (goat’s cheese), jamón (ham), and olives.
Where to stay in Barcelona
One of the toughest parts of your Spain travel planning experience will be sorting out where to stay in Barcelona. The city’s not just spread out over a wide area but offers an insane array of accommodations.
Narrow down your search to the city center, including Ciutat Vella, Gothic Quarter, and Eixample. Keep in mind many of the most popular hotels get booked up several months ahead. Book well in advance to get your pick of these top choices:
- Hotel Cantón is one of the most budget-friendly picks in Ciutat Vella. This hotel features clean, no-frills rooms that get the job done. Las Ramblas and the Old Port are just minutes away.
- Room Mate Anna is a unique boutique hotel with a super-funky and colorful design. It’s about as far away from the traditional Spanish aesthetic as possible. Deluxe rooms are equipped with private balconies overlooking the wacky Casa Batlló by Gaudí. Don’t miss out on taking a dip in the seasonal rooftop plunge pool with the cityscape as your backdrop.
- Hotel Casa Camper is a sleek boutique hotel with large, colorful rooms and a modern design. The hotel’s free 24-hour buffet doesn’t grab you? Barcelona’s famous Boqueria market might. It’s five minutes away on foot.
- El Palace Barcelona is one of the top 5-star luxury hotels in Barcelona. This gem is located close to many of the top tourist attractions in the city. Relaxing in the Mayan-style spa and the seasonal rooftop pool is enough to lift anyone’s spirits.
Getting to Barcelona
By air: Unlike destinations along the Barcelona-Madrid-Malaga high-speed train route, getting from Granada to Barcelona is most convenient by air. It’s a short 1h25m flight, and when booked with plenty of time to spare, it can be comparably priced to trains.
By train: Granada doesn’t sit on the Barcelona-Madrid-Malaga high-speed train route. To use the high-speed train between Grenada and Barcelona, you’d need to backtrack to Seville, Cordoba, or Malaga. It’s far less convenient than flying, with little cost savings and a much longer journey time.
More Spain itinerary ideas
- Loving the vibe of Madrid? Spend a couple of extra days to experience more of the area, including fun day trips like Salamanca or Segovia.
- Got extra time in Seville? Throw in a day trip to the interesting city of Cordoba, an important Roman settlement and, later, the center of Moorish culture in Europe.
- Looking for some time along the coast? Throw in a side trip along the Costa del Sol to take on an Andalusian beach town like Nerja or Marbella.
- Can’t get enough of the Spanish food scene? End (or begin) with a visit to the Basque Country’s San Sebastian, one of Europe’s upcoming foodie cities.
- Got a little time between Barcelona and Granada? Instead of flying, split up the long bus trip and visit the coastal city of Valencia. Get some ideas for your trip with this complete itinerary for one day in Valencia.
Things to know before you go to Spain
When to go to Spain
Spain’s reputation for blissful sunny skies isn’t far off. It especially holds true when compared to more northern European destinations. But this is hardly enough to go on when planning a trip to Spain!
The best time to visit Spain is in the spring and in the fall. In April/May and September/October, the temperatures in Spain are generally quite pleasant. These months also fall outside Spain’s high season.
Traveling outside the summer high tourism season, you’ll avoid the biggest tourist crowds. (Yes, they can get bad!) You’ll also dodge Spain’s often unbearably hot summer temperatures.
Spain is often seen as one of the best places to visit in Europe in winter. But the temperatures throughout the country might not be quite as warm as you might expect.
If you must visit in winter, add some warmer gear to your Spain packing list. Even areas further south, like Granada in Andalusia, can get chilly at night and in the mornings.
Other Spain travel planning resources
- Guidebooks: Much of my travel planning now takes place online and on the fly. Still, I almost always carry along an old-school paper guidebook as a backup. (And for some extra reading material.) As usual, Lonely Planet Spain is among the most recommended choices.
- Phrasebooks: Chances are you’ll encounter some language barriers as you trot through Spain. The Lonely Planet Spanish Phrasebook & Dictionary is a good place to start coming to grips with the language.
- Language learning resources: Want to dig deeper into the Spanish language? (Who doesn’t?) Two of the top resources out there are Teach Yourself Complete Spanish and Routledge Colloquial Spanish. These courses will take you from absolute beginner to a lower-intermediate level with a little sustained effort.