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Spain lovers – best way to combine Madrid and Basque areas over 10 days?

Spain lovers – best way to combine Madrid and Basque areas over 10 days?

Dec 1st, 2019, 11:35 AM
  #1  
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Spain lovers – best way to combine Madrid and Basque areas over 10 days?

We are excited to have just booked very inexpensive tickets nonstop Phila to Madrid for mid February. We are interested in art, architecture, walking tours, history, light hiking, people watching, café sitting, casual local bars/restaurants. We have been to Seville, Barcelona and along the Mediterranean coast. We know little about Madrid and parts north – our guide books were just ordered and arrive this week.

Current thinking is as follows. We are open to any and all ideas, recommendations and alternate suggestions:

Arrive Friday early morning in Madrid, stay 3 nights in hotel or apartment centrally located

Monday – fly to Bilbao for 4 nights. Prefer apartment with washer. Day trip to San Sebastian and another to Rioja wine region.

Friday – fly back to Madrid for 3 nights. Consider staying in a different neighborhood than the first weekend. Day trip on Saturday to Toledo.

We considered flying to Bilbao immediately upon arrival in Madrid, but don’t want to risk a problem given that the connecting flight will be on a different ticket.

I appreciate all of your ideas!
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GinnyJo is offline  
Dec 1st, 2019, 11:52 AM
  #2  
 
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I haven't been to San Sebastian or Bilbao so can't help you there. But I will suggest staying overnight for 1 or 2 nights in Toledo. Toledo is completely overrun with daytripping tourists during the day time. It is so much nicer at night when the daytrippers leave and the city is illuminated. Because you currently have 6 nights in Madrid, you can easily spare a night or two for Toledo.

Or you could visit Granada instead for a night or two to see the Alhambra, if it's not too late to get tickets.
KarenWoo is offline  
Dec 1st, 2019, 12:06 PM
  #3  
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Thanks, KarenWoo. I like the idea of Toledo overnight; just checked and we can fly there nonstop from Bilbao instead of back to Madrid. And then just the bus/train to Madrid after.
GinnyJo is offline  
Dec 1st, 2019, 12:10 PM
  #4  
 
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I'd avoid the internal flights in Spain. Spain has excellent trains and direct trains between Madrid and Bilbao or San Sebastian take about 5 hours. Crossing the snowcapped mountains of Spain on the ground will be a much more memorable experience than taking another flight, not to mention it helps to reduce your carbon footprint. Taking a Transatlantic roundtrip flight is bad enough, but you don't have any altarnative for that. At least avoid the flights where you can and discover that the journey can be a part of your holiday.

https://www.seat61.com/Spain-trains.htm

You may stop for a night or at least a half day in Burgos(right on the train line between Madrid and the Basque Country) and enjoy its relatively undervisited historic old town and the amazing gothic cathedral enlisted by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burgos_Cathedral

February is a great time to be in the Basque Country, this is the season to indulge in the cider. An experience not to be missed. It may be a bit messy for the untrained, but it's tons of fun.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sagardotegi

Oh, and please make sure to learn the correct way to eat pintxos:

The right way to have pintxos in the Basque Country and how tourism is changing it

Last, but not least my addmittedly subjective opinion(I don't want to convince you, but it is something to think about):

Don't waste your time on the Guggenheim in Bilbao. The "building" is an eyesore and the "museum" is full of junk. There's plenty of real art to enjoy in Madrid(Prado, etc). The unique transporter bridge of Portugalate(a suburb of Bilbao) is a much more interesting site, it's alsoe a World Heritage BTW.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vizcaya_Bridge
BDKR is offline  
Dec 1st, 2019, 12:25 PM
  #5  
 
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Originally Posted by GinnyJo View Post
Thanks, KarenWoo. I like the idea of Toledo overnight; just checked and we can fly there nonstop from Bilbao instead of back to Madrid. And then just the bus/train to Madrid after.
I think this is a great idea! And the train ride from Toledo to Madrid is only 30 minutes. Very easy.
KarenWoo is offline  
Dec 1st, 2019, 12:30 PM
  #6  
 
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Toledo doesn't have an airport. The nearest airport is Madrid.
BDKR is offline  
Dec 1st, 2019, 01:01 PM
  #7  
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Originally Posted by BDKR View Post
Toledo doesn't have an airport. The nearest airport is Madrid.
Ha! Just re-checked my flight search and the flight "to Toledo" is indeed to Madrid. Thanks for all your suggestions, BDKR!
GinnyJo is offline  
Dec 1st, 2019, 02:12 PM
  #8  
 
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Then you can take the train from Madrid to Toledo, stay 1 or 2 nights, and then train back to Madrid, and finish up your visit there before you fly home. It's very easy to do.
KarenWoo is offline  
Dec 1st, 2019, 03:14 PM
  #9  
kja
 
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Both areas are wonderful! I think your challenge will be figuring out your priorities so you can fit both locations into such limited time. For perspective:
  • I wanted 4 full days for Madrid itself.
  • I'm very glad I had 2 nights in Toledo and would easily have enjoyed a 3rd.
  • I wanted 4 full days for Bilbao + San Sebastian / Donostia; trying to see both cities AND fit in a bunch of day trips sounds ambitious to me.
Note that Toledo is just over an hour from Madrid's airport, so it's doable upon arrival or the night before a flight.
kja is offline  
Dec 1st, 2019, 11:44 PM
  #10  
 
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As a Bilbao local, it sounds fine to me. I can´t agree on not visiting the Guggenheim museum, it has a magnificent view from the other side of the river and many people miss it, it´s something really outstanding. And the art inside depends on what they are showing (they change the exhibits at least three times a year), but the permanent collection on the ground floor is a real must. Two days for Bilbao and surroundings, a day trip to SS and a day trip to Rioja is a good plan.

Take into account that most likely February will be a cold month (30s to 40s, but you never know, weather is really unpredictable up here) and you may also expect some rain, this has very little in common with the Mediterranean area. All apartments in Spain will have a washer, no problem on that side, we don´t put them in basements as a common utility.
mikelg is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2019, 12:09 AM
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" And the art inside depends on what they are showing (they change the exhibits at least three times a year), but the permanent collection on the ground floor is a real must."

Are they finally showing some real art(like you can see in the Prado) instead of the so called "modern art"?
BDKR is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2019, 12:28 AM
  #12  
 
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As you can see here, https://www.guggenheim-bilbao.eus/en/exhibitions, there´s currently beautiful paintings ("real art") on the third floor, I was visiting last week and really worth it. And I recall several wonderful exhibitions of, again, "real art" in the past few years (a great one of the Tannhauser Gallery in Berlin, magnificent paintings), by painters of all periods. Also, in 2018, 4 of the 10 most visited (paid) art exhibitions in the world belonged to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (that, I must remind, belongs to the Basques, as it was paid by us).

I believe it´s a unique piece of architecture, best seen from the other side of the river, but once inside, it´s a real must, even if just for the building. You may not know that the area where the Guggenheim sits now was, in the 19 and 20th centuries, a highly industrialized area, full of heavy industries and shipyards (the pictures showing the change are amazing). I´ve been lucky to see the transformation of the city (my parents still live opposite the museum, when they bought the apartment there (moving from the old quarter) it was a very cheap industrial area, but very close too to the University of Deusto, that belongs to the Jesuits -what they call "Loyola" universities in the US and other countries, Loyola is a town south of San Sebastian).

Last edited by mikelg; Dec 2nd, 2019 at 12:45 AM.
mikelg is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2019, 01:04 PM
  #13  
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Definitely will be visiting the Guggenheim, where I hope to see some real and some absolutely unreal art
GinnyJo is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2019, 04:06 PM
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Originally Posted by mikelg View Post
As you can see here, https://www.guggenheim-bilbao.eus/en/exhibitions, there´s currently beautiful paintings ("real art") on the third floor, I was visiting last week and really worth it. And I recall several wonderful exhibitions of, again, "real art" in the past few years (a great one of the Tannhauser Gallery in Berlin, magnificent paintings), by painters of all periods. Also, in 2018, 4 of the 10 most visited (paid) art exhibitions in the world belonged to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (that, I must remind, belongs to the Basques, as it was paid by us).

I believe it´s a unique piece of architecture, best seen from the other side of the river, but once inside, it´s a real must, even if just for the building. You may not know that the area where the Guggenheim sits now was, in the 19 and 20th centuries, a highly industrialized area, full of heavy industries and shipyards (the pictures showing the change are amazing). I´ve been lucky to see the transformation of the city (my parents still live opposite the museum, when they bought the apartment there (moving from the old quarter) it was a very cheap industrial area, but very close too to the University of Deusto, that belongs to the Jesuits -what they call "Loyola" universities in the US and other countries, Loyola is a town south of San Sebastian).
I agree with you..G. is spectacular.
Modern Art is very real for millions who appreciate it.
danon is online now  
Dec 2nd, 2019, 04:17 PM
  #15  
 
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Ditto to Mikelg's take on the Guggenheim. And we really enjoy the somewhat unsung Museo de Bellas Artes (soon to be expanded with a design by Norman Foster), with a solid collection of Spanish Baroque. And until February 23, there will be a special exhibit there of Joaquín Sorolla, Spain's most prominent post-Impressionist.
https://www.museobilbao.com/in/expos...mpressions-279
Maribel is online now  
Dec 2nd, 2019, 04:50 PM
  #16  
 
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Originally Posted by mikelg View Post
I believe it´s a unique piece of architecture, best seen from the other side of the river, but once inside, it´s a real must, even if just for the building. You may not know that the area where the Guggenheim sits now was, in the 19 and 20th centuries, a highly industrialized area, full of heavy industries and shipyards (the pictures showing the change are amazing). I´ve been lucky to see the transformation of the city (my parents still live opposite the museum, when they bought the apartment there (moving from the old quarter) it was a very cheap industrial area, but very close too to the University of Deusto, that belongs to the Jesuits -what they call "Loyola" universities in the US and other countries, Loyola is a town south of San Sebastian).
Agree! I can't even imagine the cityscape of Bilbao without the Guggenheim in it! I didnt enjoy that much the art in it at the time I visited, but enjoyed visiting the Museum itself.

I also love visiting the Mercado de la Ribera, dont miss it!
cruiseluv is offline  
Dec 2nd, 2019, 05:44 PM
  #17  
kja
 
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I can understand that one's appreciation for the exhibits on display at the Guggenheim might vary from exhibit to exhibit, but I will certainly say that I'm glad I visited, and I'm definitely among those who thought the building itself stunning, from both outside and inside. WELL worth the visit. Too, the museum of fine arts in Bilbao is seriously underrated IMO. Not to mention its excellent museum of Basque culture....
kja is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2019, 06:54 AM
  #18  
 
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<<
Not to mention its excellent museum of Basque culture....>>

Oh, now I am so stoked for our next venture into Basque Spain next spring. I am such a sucker for this part of the world and this culture (so much so that I am trying to learn the language, which is frankly a b8itch, and why am I even trying?). I also really like cooking Basque cuisine - OMG they make delicious things. I'm pretty blown away by their complicated history.

It's only a few hours from where I live, but it's another world. Reading The Basque History of the World changed my life.
StCirq is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2019, 07:10 AM
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We spent 2 nights in Bilbao in the rain, but I still wish we had spent more time there. Like many I think the bldg for the Gugenheim is not to be missed. We did not enjoy the particular exhibit there, but it was still worth a lokk inside. The Museo de Bellas Artes is also a very worthwhile museum. I would stay 2 nights in Blibao and 2 nights in San Sebastian. You cant get enough of their delicious food in a day trip. Plus i think it worthwile to visit for 2 nights. I also think Toledo is a nice overnight, but you are short on time for such a desintation rich area. Have a great trip!
yestravel is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2019, 09:56 AM
  #20  
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Thanks for all the input so far. I am now thinking that we'll go (train or plane) from Madrid to San Sebastian for 2 nights (Mon-Tues), then move on to Bilbao for 2 nights (Wed-Thurs), then return to Madrid for F-S-S nights. Trying to remember the last time I stayed only 2 night somewhere, but I think this is my best option for this trip.

Question about San Sebastian though -- is the potential bleary February weather going to seem even more bleary there because it is inherently more resort-y than Bilbao??

I am getting impatient waiting for my travel guide books to arrive...
GinnyJo is offline  

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