A photo of the Plaza Santa Ana
Javi, Flickr

How to See Spain in 7 Days

By Ross Walker, Photo Editing by Ross Walker

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 and Andalusia 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. In one week you can see world-renowned attractions like Museo Nacional del Prado, the jaw-dropping architecture of Segovia, and the great cultural confluence of Córdoba, with enough time to snack on some tapas. 

A photo of the Prado Museum
Manuel, Flickr
Day 1: An Introduction to 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 café au lait and croissant before sightseeing. Take the Metro to Atocha or Banco de España to begin your tour of the Museo Nacional del Prado allowing at least 2 hours for a brief visit. Because 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. 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 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, but be sure to make reservations as this is a hot spot for tourists and locals. 

A photo of the Thyssen Museum at night
LWYang, Flickr
Day 2: Madrid through a Tour of Art and Tapas

Take the Metro to Atocha for a visit to Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, whose main attraction is one of Picasso’s masterpieces,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 take at least 2 hours of your time.

   In the early evening, join in the ritual of tasca hopping, going from one bar or tavern to another and sampling hot and cold tapas (small plates of Spanish appetizers), ranging from fresh anchovies to the tail of a bull. You can discover plenty on your own on every street corner or you can check our guide for some reccomendations. After all that food and drink, you won't need to go out for dinner. Stagger back to your hotel or, if you're feeling up to it, attend a flamenco show

A photo of the Cathedral of Toledo
Fen Labalme, Flickr
Day 3: Toledo

After two packed days in the capital of Spain, bid adios and take a RENFE train to Toledo. These depart from Madrid's Atocha station (travel time: 33 minutes). Much of Spain’s history took place behind Toledo’s old walls and though you may have a rushed 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 the Casa y Museo de El Greco, or the House and Museum of El Greco. Toledo is known for its damascene work, so pick up a souvenir before returning to Madrid by train that night. 

A photo of the Alcazar of Segovia
Luis Antonio Fernadez, Flickr
Day 4: Segovia

While still based in Madrid, begin 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, the inspiration for Disney's Castle . You can also view the Cabildo Catedral de Segovia and the town’s architectural marvel the Roman Aqueduct, held together for thousands of years simply by the careful arrangement of stones. 

A photo of the front of El Escorial
Eric Titcombe, Flickr
Day 5: 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.


A photo of the Arches in the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba
Armin, Flickr
Day 6: Córdoba

Leave Madrid early in the morning, taking the 419km (260-mile) train ride (AVE) to Córdoba in the south, reached around 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.

A photo of a canal in Seville
Bud Ellison, Flickr
Day 7: Seville

In the morning 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 1.5 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 1.5 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 1.5 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're up for it. 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.