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Ask Fodor’s: Best Scenic Drives and Rail Trips in Spain?

Spain Scenic Drive

We here at Fodor's Travel are proud to introduce a new biweekly advice column: Ask Fodor's. Twice a month, we'll be calling upon our editors and expert contributors to tackle burning travel-related questions from readers like you. Our inagural column features a question submitted by reader Reginald Dye via Facebook:

Which is a better scenic drive in Spain? Madrid to Seville or Madrid to Barcelona? Also, what's the best rail to take throughout the country?

As with most countries in Europe, a car can be more of a hindrance than a help in Spain. I recommend forgoing the rental car and taking the excellent high-speed AVE train between these cities. The trip from Madrid to Seville or Madrid to Barcelona only takes two and a half hours, and tickets start at €52 and €40, respectively. Book train travel as early as possible; prices increase the closer you get to your travel date. Be sure to choose the AVE instead of the slower rail lines, which can take over five hours. (See our Spain Travel Tips for more information.) Taking the train, even with multiple companions, may be the less expensive option, given rental car fees plus expensive gas prices. It is decidedly less stressful to take the train and a great opportunity to watch the scenery go by in comfort.

If you are committed to driving, use public transportation within Madrid and rent a car at the end of your city stay. Sightseeing with a car in Madrid can be a headache—it’s hard to find parking spaces and there are often traffic snarls. There’s also no need for a car in Madrid, given the excellent Metro system. Rental car agencies in the city center will be cheaper than airport rental counters; if you’re traveling in the summer, make sure your car has air conditioning, which is not a standard amenity. Be sure to visit the world-famous Prado museum and the Palacio Real before you head out of town. 

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I recommend the route from Madrid to Seville, one of Fodor’s 25 Places to Go in 2013, over the drive to Barcelona. It is shorter, at five vs. six hours, and quite scenic once you enter Andalusia, with some notable stops in Extremadura along the way. Split up the drive over two days and spend a night in a smaller city. Depending on your route, you could spend a night in Mérida, where having a car would allow you to visit the Roman ruins, or stop in Cáceres, and stroll through the Ciudad Monumental (Old Town), an exquisitely preserved medieval quarter. In Cáceres, you can spend the night in the Palacio de Oquendo,a 16th-century palace, with all the modern comforts of the NH brand. A third option: Stop in Córdoba, a top destination in its own right, to see the beautiful Islamic Mezquita, or detour east to Granada to visit the unparalleled Alhambra. Once you arrive in Seville, park your car at your hotel and continue exploring by foot, bus, or taxi to see the Alcázar, Cathedral, and Palacio de la Condesa de Lebrija, or attend a requisite flamenco show. From Seville, a car is handy to see some of the white villages nearby, like Grazalema and Ronda. —Salwa Jabado, Senior Editor, Countryside and Adventure (Follow her on Twitter: @salwajabado.)

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