Spain is far from the homogenous culture outsiders imagine. In fact, the country is divided into many distinct regions based on language and lifestyle. A trip around Spain can be, in fact, an amazingly eye-opening experience. While Catalonian coastal giant, Barcelona, continues to attract millions of tourists per year, much of the interior is widely written off as irrelevant. However, the differences between the distinct provinces are incredibly interesting, as are the cuisine, culture, and people. The perfect 10 days in Spain will show you how much the entire country truly has to offer.
Day 1: Barcelona
That being said, Barcelona is definitely the place to start. A better grasp of English and a generational focus on tourism makes Barcelona truly a delight for any visitor. Factor in the fabulous reworking of the city for the 1992 Olympic Games and you have one of the most physically friendly cities in the world.
Spend your first day wandering down the iconic pedestrian boulevard of Las Ramblas. The action there never stops. Make sure to keep your belongings under tight watch or even leave them in the hotel as this is pickpocket central. The street is lined with restaurants that will tempt you, but it’s best to avoid the tourist centered fare and head into the adjacent streets for an authentic Paella. Afterwards, wander through the streets of the city’s quaint old town before retiring a bit early to sleep off that jet lag.
Where to stay in Barcelona
Day 2: Experience Gaudi
Barcelona is practically an exhibition of Antoni Gaudi’s avant garde work. One of Catalonia’s favorite sons, Gaudi’s seashell-esque, acid-dripped stylings dot the city. On Gran Via, one of Barcelona’s most exclusive and expensive streets you’ll find two of his most famous works, Casa Batllo and Casa Mila. The two houses show Gaudi’s unique ability to keep a signature style across multiple projects.
From Gran Via, it’s a bit of a hike to Parc Guell, a hilltop perch full of strange pavilions and outstanding artistry. For easy access, book your tickets in advance so you don’t waste too much time in line or get turned away all together. If you don’t know much about his work or architecture in general, a guided tour can be a perfect option.
Finish the day at Gaudi’s Magnum Opus, The Basilica of Sagrada Familia. The construction is famously interminable but the freshly completed insides are worth every penny. Safe to say this is an outlier in a copy paste world of European Cathedrals. Again, booking tickets in advance is a smart move for planning and peace of mind purposes. At the end of the day you’ll be tired and hopefully have a new appreciation for one of the brightest designers of the 20th century.
Day 3: Food, Fun, and Sun
The first few days were very active. It’s time to take some time to relax, it is a vacation after all. Sleep in and spend the early afternoon at Barceloneta, the city’s eponymous beach. Feel free to bring some beers or some cold wine, but be careful not to leave glass on the beach. When you’ve had enough sun, there are a few excellent places to refuel. La Xampanyeria is a hopping Cava bar with freshly fried cuts of Iberian ham to quench your thirst and hunger. When the sun goes down head to the marvelous peak of Montjuic to watch the sunset and enjoy fantastic tapas/pinchos at world famous Quimet & Quimet.
Day 4: Madrid
Madrid is a modern city bustling with activity. Spend your first day touring the crowded shopping boulevards. When you’ve had enough check out the Royal Palace and the transplanted egyptian Temple of Debod. Enjoy the views of the nearby untamed forest and forget you’re in the city for a while. For a well deserved snack, enjoy a plate of churros with chocolate at the always open Chocolateria San Gines. Go inside to order then grab a place outside to watch the tourists trickle through the alley from Plaza Mayor.
Where to stay in Mandrid
Day 5: The Art of Relaxation
Many visitors to Madrid may find it similar to other big cities, devoid of charm and culture. This is certainly not the case as Madrid houses some of best art collections in the world. There’s the Velazquez and El Greco showcase at El Museo del Prado, which is home to the breathtaking detailed masterpiece Las Meninas.
For a change of pace and period, don’t skip the Museo Reina Sofia. There you’ll find countless entries from contemporary Spanish experts like Picasso, Gris, Dali, Goya, and Miro. These artworks will make you think about meaning in the modern world, as was intended by Picasso’s monolithic mural Guernica. After many hours inside, walk over to the sublime Buen Retiro Park, which is perfect for a picnic or sunset glasses of wine.
Day 6: Sightseeing Seville
Seville (locally Sevilla) is one of Spain’s most underrated attractions. The lovely winding streets, ubiquitous orange trees, and vibrant paints will suck you in and force you to fall in love. When you’re done getting lost, check out the inside of Spain’s largest (and Europe’s 3rd biggest) Cathedral which is said to house the bones of Christopher Columbus and features a delightful mixture of classical baroque and Moorish architecture. The adjacent Real Alcazar, and it’s incredibly maintained tropical gardens may look familiar, as they are often featured in HBO’s epic Game Of Thrones (again book tickets in advance here). From there, take a walk to the monumental Plaza de Espana, and rest your legs in the beautifully wild Maria Luisa Park.
Where to stay in Seville
Day 7: Spain Siesta Style
After all that walking, you need to rest your feet. Luckily, Seville is the home of the midday nap or siesta. There’s no pressure here, so saunter out midday for a delicious tapas feast at local favorites like the inventive Eslava or the more traditional Casa Morales.
Prepare to eat standing up and to try deliciously inexpensive local wines. For sunset, walk along the river or take an elevator to the top of the modern wooden sculpture known as Las Setas (Plaza de La Encarnación, cost 3 euros) and enjoy the complimentary beverage with panoramic city views. Afterwards, head to El Museo del Baile Flamenco for more drinks and a passionate example of the city’s musical heritage.
Day 8: Cordoba
Cordoba was once a massive cultural center. An important Roman city, and then the center of a massive Moorish empire, Cordoba is an essential piece of Spanish history. Here you’ll see the comprehensive melding of cultures by crossing a Roman Bridge to enter the fabulous tiers of La Mezquita. This giant mosque is worth a day on it’s own. Cordoba represents the unique past of southern Spain as well as a strong willingness for cooperation and cultural exchange.
Where to stay in Cordoba
Day 9: Granada
Granada is a mountaintop oasis in the plains of Andalusia. Here you’ll find a bit cooler temperatures and perhaps, some cooler people. A home to a wide variety of artists, musicians, and artisans, Granada is the center of Spanish Bohemian culture. The main attraction is the stunning Alhambra. Again, this amalgam of Moorish-Andalusian culture springs of the pages of guidebooks and helps you understand the region’s unique past. There are a limited number of spaces per day for conservation reasons, once again, you must book a space in advance.
At night enjoy the cool breeze and food and drink. One of the many perks of Granada is a focus on traditional style tapas. Tapas, literally meaning “to cover”, were invented as a way to limit drunkenness, as by royal decree, food had to be served with each drink. In Granada this ancient law still holds, so for every drink you order, you’ll be brought a new dish to try.
Where to stay in Granada
Day 10: Go Spelunking
The caves overlooking Granada are home to some of Europe’s most interesting residents. Once home to settling gypsies, they now offer refuge for those seeking to maintain an alternative lifestyle. You’ll find artists, makeshift Flamenco shows, and artisan crafts. Spending a day in the Sacromonte caves will open your eyes to different lifestyles and show how Granada’s accepting past continues to this day. End your 10 days in Spain with some relaxing tapas y vino overlooking the Alhambra or in Granada’s tight medieval alleys.
Only 10 days in Spain
10 days in Spain is certainly not enough. However, if you’re lucky enough to have a Spanish vacation it’s great to see different parts of the same nation. From the seaside brilliance of Barcelona, to the modern art-mania of Madrid, to the slowed-down streets of Seville, Spain is so much more than you’ve imagined.
Of course, I left many other highlights of the list, so if you have any other suggestions for an alternative 10 days in Spain, please comment below. Regardless of where you go, you’re certain to have a wonderful time, and you’ll be tempted to stay longer.