The very title of this tour is a misnomer. There is no way you can see Spain in 1 week. But you can have a memorable vacation time in Madrid and see some of the highlights of Old Castile if you budget your time carefully. You can use the following itinerary to make the most out of a week in Spain, but feel free to drop a place or two to give yourself a day to relax. One week provides enough time, although barely, to introduce yourself to such attractions of Madrid as the Museo del Prado and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. After 2 days, you can head for the once-royal city of Toledo, the most historic and evocative of all Spanish cities. You'll have time to take in Segovia, with its Alcázar "in the sky," and the austere monastery-fortress of El Escorial, burial place of Spanish kings.
Days 1 & 2: Madrid ★★★
Take a flight that arrives in Madrid as early as possible. Check into your hotel and hit the nearest cafe for a pick-me-up cafe au lait and croissant before sightseeing. Take the Metro to Atocha or Banco de España to begin your tour of the Museo del Prado, allowing at least 2 hours for a brief visit. Since you can't see it all, concentrate on the splendid array of works by Velázquez, and take in some of the works of Francisco de Goya, including his Clothed Maja and Naked Maja.
Break for lunch at Plaza de Santa Ana, known for its outdoor terrazas. This was the center of an old neighborhood for literati, attracting such Golden Age authors as Lope de Vega and Cervantes. Hemingway drank here in the 1920s.
After lunch, walk west to Puerta del Sol, the very center of Madrid. This is the Times Square of Madrid. Northwest of the square you can visit Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales, Madrid's art-filled convent from the mid-16th century and a true treasure trove.
After perhaps a siesta at your hotel, head for Plaza Mayor, Madrid's most beautiful square and liveliest hub in the early evening. For dinner, patronize Hemingway's favorite restaurant, Sobrino de Botín.
On Day 2, take the Metro to Atocha for a visit to Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, whose main attraction is Picasso's masterpiece Guernica. Here you can also view one of the greatest collections of modern art in Spain, taking at least 2 hours. In the afternoon, view Madrid's third great art museum, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, absorbing its many treasures. A visit will easily absorb at least 2 hours of your time.
In the early evening, join in that ritual of tasca hopping, going from one bar or tavern to another and sampling hot and cold tapas or small plates of Spanish appetizers, ranging from fresh anchovies to the tail of a bull. You can discover plenty on your own, virtually on every street corner. After all that food and drink, you'll hardly need to order dinner. Stagger back to your hotel or else attend a flamenco show.
Day 3: Day Trip to Toledo
Having survived 2 days in the capital of Spain, bid adios and take a RENFE train to Toledo. These depart frequently from Madrid's Atocha station (trip time: 30 min.).
Much of Spain's history took place behind Toledo's old walls. There is so much to see here that you need 2 days, but on a hurried visit you can visit the fortified palace, the Alcázar, with its army museum; and the crowning glory of the city, the Catedral de Toledo. The masterpiece of El Greco, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, rests in Iglesia de Santo Tomé. If time remains, see Casa y Museo de El Greco, or the House and Museum of El Greco, although the artist didn't actually live here. Toledo is known for its damascene work, so pick up a souvenir before returning to Madrid by train that night.
Day 4: Side Trip to Segovia
While still based in Madrid, begin Day 4 by taking an excursion to Segovia, leaving from Madrid's Chamartín station and arriving 2 hours later. The thrill of visiting the most spectacularly sited city in Spain is to view its Alcázar, which rises starkly above the plain like a fairy-tale castle created by Disney. You can also view the Cabildo Catedral de Segovia and the town's architectural marvel, Acueducto Romano. After lunch take the train back to Madrid.
Days 3 & 4: Barcelona ★★★
An early train takes you to Barcelona, the capital of Catalan culture. On Day 2 you’ll stroll around the historic Les Rambles and Barri Gòtic, then hit the art highlights at the Museu Picasso, the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, and the Fundació Joan Miró. Day 4 is all about the stunning architecture of Antoni Gaudí at La Sagrada Familia and La Pedrera (Casa Milà;), followed by an afternoon at the beach and harbor.
Day 5: Side Trip to El Escorial
Vying with Toledo as the most popular day trip from Madrid, the half monastery/half royal mausoleum of San Lorenzo de El Escorial is about an hour from Madrid's Atocha station. Felipe II constructed this mammoth complex for "God and myself," with its splendid library, palaces, and some of the world's greatest art. You can spend a full day here, breaking only for lunch, as you wander the art galleries and state apartments, including the throne room.
Day 5: Granada ★★★
Take an early morning flight from Barcelona to Granada, making sure you’ve pre-booked an afternoon slot at the Alhambra. Head to the Cathedral and Capilla Real in the morning before taking a bus or taxi up the hill to the Nasrid palaces of the Alhambra. Bring a picnic to eat in the gardens of the Generalife. In the evening, book a table at a restaurant with floodlit views of the Alhambra, or start at Bodegas Castañeda for a tour of some of Spain’s best tapas bars.
Day 6: South to Córdoba
Leave Madrid early in the morning, taking the 419km (260-mile) train ride (AVE or TALGO) to Córdoba in the south, reached in 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Córdoba was once the capital of the Islamic nation in the West. Take 2 hours to visit its Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba, the greatest Islamic masterpiece remaining in the Western world. Its stunning labyrinth of columns and red-and-white-striped arches alone is worth the visit. With remaining time you can visit Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, a stellar example of military architecture where Ferdinand and Isabella once governed.
After lunch, take one of the frequent trains running between Córdoba and Seville. The fastest train, the AVE, takes only 45 minutes to reach Seville, where you can spend the night.
Day 7: Seville, Capital of Andalusia
On the morning of Day 7, get set to experience the glories of Seville. We like to acclimate ourselves by wandering the narrow streets of Barrio de Santa Cruz, the most evocative district, with its medieval streets, pocket-size plazas, and flower-filled wrought-iron balconies or tiled courtyards.
After that, head for the Catedral de Sevilla and Giralda Tower. The cathedral is the largest Gothic building in the world and the third-largest church in Europe. After spending 1 1/2 hours here, climb La Giralda, an adjacent Moorish tower erected by Islamic architects in the 12th century.
After lunch, head for the Alcázar, the other great architectural monument of Seville, which lies north of the cathedral. This is the oldest royal residence in Europe still in use, dating from the 14th century. Allow 1 1/2 hours for a hurried visit. With time remaining, visit Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla, a converted convent housing some of Andalusia's greatest artwork, including masterpieces by El Greco and Murillo. A standard visit takes 1 1/2 hours.
As the afternoon fades, go for a stroll through Parque María Luisa, which runs south along the Guadalquivir River. In summer you can rent a boat and go for a refreshing sail. After dinner in the Old Town, head for a flamenco show if you still have energy.
The next morning you can take a fast train back to Madrid for your flight home, saving the remaining wonders of Andalusia for another visit.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.