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14-16 days - where to fly in/out?

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I am beginning to plan 14-16 days in Spain (leaving mid-December) and would like to nail down my air tickets to start (since I know it will take me a lot of time to plan the exact itinerary). I'm wondering where it makes the most sense to fly in/out? I was thinking the logical option would be Madrid/Barcelona, but read another post where the tour started in Granada or ended in Malaga or Seville.

I'm thinking I'll visit the following cities:

Madrid (with day-trips to Toledo & Segovia)

Barcelona (with day trip to Costa Brava)

Valencia

Granada

Seville

Not sure yet how many days in each city and am open to suggestions as to how best to spend my time and other places I should include. I'm thinking I won't likely return to Spain because there are so many places in the world I've yet to visit. So I'd like to get a good taste of the country in the 14-16 days I have to travel.

Thanks very much!

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    It really depends on what YOU want to see and experience!

    My reaction to the realization that I might never return to an area seems quite different than yours: Rather than trying to cram it all in (my take on your itinerary), that realization makes me want to maximize the time I have to actually see and experience the places that I choose to see, while minimizing the time spent traveling between places (unless, of course, the point of the journey IS the time in transit). Rather than skimming the surface and spending time getting from place to place, I choose to skip some places entirely, even if I am sure I would enjoy them.

    I’m most likely to skip or skimp on places that have international airports, because those are the ones that I can most readily visit again. I’ve also realized that if I can return to a region, the LAST thing that I am likely to want to do is spend my time re-tracing all that extra travel time so that I can go back and finally see the things I skipped the first time. In fact, I might end up not returning specifically because it would mean wasting so much time going from place to place.

    Just my opinion!

    I recommend that you get some good guidebooks (or spend some time with a few in your local library), identify the things you most want to see in each location, note their opening/closing times, and mark them on a calendar. Then pencil in your transportation, add some time on either side (for getting to/from your lodging, checking in/out, packing/unpacking, getting oriented, etc.). Then see how things fit together.

    Good luck!

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    I think the way you are approaching the planning, boxing yourself into arriving and departing airport as well as number of days at each location as first steps would constrain what you can do as you realize how things tie together. You see many posts here from those who have boxed themselves out of better itineraries after putting more thoughts into the sequence of visits.

    There are some obvious observations. From most part outside Europe, Madrid and Barcelona are the easiest airport to reach. However, this is just one data point. If, for example, there is something really meaningful to you at the beginning of the trip in Granada, it might make to start trip in Granada even if it is a hassle to fly into there.

    Rather than relying on some "rule" to put together itinerary and the number of days to stay, put together several different routing options and look at all key elements: flights, ground transportation, accommodation availability and price. You will find some of the itineraries occupying in your head right now are not achievable after all and should be tossed out of considerations.

    There are several ways to connect cities. For flights, look at http://www.skyscanner.com/ and for trains look at www.bahn.com - a german site, but is significantly easier to use than the Spanish site for planning purpose. Spain also has bus network that makes sense for some segment, such as Granada to Sevilla.

    If you look at map, Barcelona-Valencia-Granada seem to line up geographically and is temped to sequence this way. But if you plug in this sequence to www.bahn.com, you realize just how long it takes to make this connection. A car is a better choice if you sequence this way. You can quickly find out that, except for Madrid, Valencia does not connect well by air to other cities. But oh, Barcelona connects frequently by air to Granada and Sevilla. Granada connects well by bus and train, and Sevilla connects well to Madrid by train. Then how do you handle Valencia? You realize that Valencia is just 1:40 hrs by AVE train from Madrid. Depending on how much time you plan to spend in Valencia, it could be done as an easy day trip from Madrid. Because certain routes can be connected by AVE trains and planes, some unexpected sequencing can save a lot of travel time.

    Also I am in the opinion of reducing stay in cities with international airports, such as Madrid because you tend to or forced to visit those cities again and again. If you come back and visit Northern Spain, which is missing from your current itinerary because of the season, you will probably go through Madrid again. This points to Segovia as a place you will likely to visit again.

    I have visited all the cities you mentioned. I have visited Segovia, but spent most time in San Ildefonso to visit the La Granja palace. It snows in San Ildefonso.

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    Suggest you fly in and out of Madrid. Both Barcelona, Sevilla and Valencia are short rides from Madrid, city center to city center, with the high speed and very comfortable AVE Train.

    Granada is a bit more troble, 3 hours by bus from Sevilla. Also some five direct flights Madrid-Granada every day (65 mins), but usually quite expensive.

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    Flying into and out of the same city, when you want to visit other parts of the country, doesn't make sense.

    If you have to travel from Barcelona, Sevilla, or anywhere else to catch your return flight departing Madrid, you will have arrive the day before, and spend the night in Madrid if flying internationally as direct flights to North American typically depart before 1:00 pm, with some departing as early as 10:30 am.

    If you where to take a connecting flight, you would have to be up very early in the morning and take the earliest flight, which means you've wasted most of your last day/evening in Spain.

    If you want to start in Barcelona, then I would plan on flying into Barcelona and out of Madrid, saving time in Madrid for the end of your two weeks in Spain. Or do the reverse.

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    Thank you for the quick replies! I understand that some prefer a more leisurely and in-depth exploration of each city, but I enjoy getting a “thorough taste”—and I mean that figuratively and literally! I love doing food tours and hope to be able to do one in as many cities as possible. In fact, we don’t really enjoy art museums so I’m keeping that to a minimum, which means we may need less time in a city than others might. We far prefer scenic drives/strolls, exploring interesting (architecturally, culturally) neighborhoods and shopping in non-touristy local shops (no shopping malls please!). Unfortunately, my husband has trouble with heights so I have to keep that in mind when considering scenic drives. :-(

    Greg, I especially appreciate your alert regarding considering the transportation options. Unfortunately, I’m having trouble researching that (though admittedly I’ve so far given it a quick try). I’ve read there are overnight trains (e.g. between Granada and Barcelona) and that seems like an excellent option to me.

    Here is a first-stab at an itinerary that I’ve based on researching suggested itineraries on various sites—so I’m hoping this means the transportation between cities works well. I’m most unsure about side-trips we might do from Barcelona—hence the various question marks. Montserrat sounds fascinating but also seems like the height-issue would be panic-inducing for my husband. I’m unsure of whether or not this is an issue driving through Costa Brava—rugged coastline could mean something like the gorgeous (but panic-inducing) Pacific Coast highway on the US west coast. Or perhaps it is mostly sea-level?

    The below itinerary has wiggle room since we can include 2-3 extra days. I’m thinking flying in/out of Madrid/Barcelona makes the most sense. Not sure if it matters which city we start in? This itinerary does not include Valencia because I’m thinking it’s not easily worked in if I do an overnight between Granada and Barcelona.

    Any and all suggestions are welcome and very much appreciated!

    1. arrive Madrid in AM– rest & explore city
    2. Madrid – explore city
    3. Madrid – Toledo
    4. Madrid – Segovia
    5. Cordoba – AM train / eve train to Sevilla
    6. Sevilla – explore city
    7. Jerez de la Froentera & Cadiz (rent car in Sevilla/spend night in Cadiz)
    8. Pueblos Blancos & Ronda (Arcos de la Frontera to Ronda/spend night)
    9. Granada – Alhambra & Generalife
    10. Granada – Catedral & Capilla Real, shop in the Alcaiceria, Gypsy Caves of Sacromonte?
    11. Barcelona (overnight train) – explore city
    12. Barcelona – Montserrat?
    13. Barcelona – Girona & Figueres (Dali)? Costa Brava/Cadaques?
    14. Barcelona – Sitges & Tarragona?
    15. Barcelona - depart

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