How to Spend 10 Days in Barcelona and Madrid

Cosmopolitan, glamorous, and architecturally stunning, Barcelona is bestowed with a laid-back ambiance, thanks to its location on the Mediterranean. Madrid, meanwhile, as the seat of Spain’s government, is seen by some as more serious—but wander around, and you will be surprised at what you find. Although there is a rivalry between the two cities, the good news is that you don’t have to pick a favorite. Spend 10 days in Barcelona and Madrid digging into world-class art, fascinating food culture, and quirky hidden gems to gain incredible insight into the country as a whole.

Barcelona in 5 Days

aerial view of a tree-lined street surrounded by a cityscape in Barcelona
No visit to Barcelona is complete without a stroll along Las Ramblas.

Day 1

Experience the wide boulevard of Las Ramblas, one of Barcelona’s most famous sights, then a late-afternoon visit to the light-soaked interior of La Sagrada Familia (book tickets online in advance to avoid waiting in line), followed by a stroll past other Catalan Modernist masterpieces.

Day 2

See the Picasso Museum, then spend the afternoon and evening exploring El Raval, a once-gritty neighborhood that’s been given a new lease on life with a buzzing food and nightlife scene and an engaging contemporary art museum.

Day 3: Day Trip to Sitges

Hop on the local Rodalies train from Passeig de Gràcia for a 30-minute journey to the beautiful seaside town of Sitges. This charming town of whitewashed villas has long been the playground of artists and locals seeking a relaxing seaside break, and is also one of Spain’s most famous LGBT destinations. Spend a day on the beach or walk the town’s pretty promenade, see some Modernista masterpieces in the Museu Cau Ferrat, and learn how to make a mouthwatering mojito at Casa Bacardi, then visit Spain’s first chiringuito beach bar, El Chiringuito, for drinks with a fantastic sunset view. Take an evening Rodalies train back to Barcelona.

water fountains spouting water into the air in front of a museum
Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya is Catalonia’s national art gallery, home to a thousand years of the region’s art. Photo © Vladone/iStock.

Day 4

Explore a thousand years of Catalan art at the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, then chill on the beach next to Mediterranean waters, popping into a chiringuito or paella restaurant when hunger strikes. Catch the sunset over Barcelona before a meal at award-winning tapas bar Tickets (book well in advance).

Day 5

Wander the cool neighborhoods of Poble Nou and Sant Antoni and enjoy a leisurely brunch at Federal before taking an early-afternoon train from Barcelona Sants station to Madrid.

Many hotels’ check-in time is around 3pm, so you should arrive in time to spend the late afternoon getting your bearings in the new city. Explore the area local to your hotel and spend your first evening in Madrid in a tapas bar or two.

Madrid in 5 Days

panoramic view of a large square with people walking in madrid
Madrid’s historic main square is perfect for people-watching and grabbing a bit to eat. Photo © harryfn/iStock.

Day 6

Take in Plaza Mayor, Palacio Real, and the Prado Museum, which houses a wealth of European masterpieces, taking time for a vermouth and a bite at a local market in between. In the evening, enjoy drinks at some of Hemingway’s old haunts in the literary quarter of Las Letras.

Day 7

See Picasso’s Guernica in the Reina Sofía, then spend some time relaxing with locals in Retiro Park. Take in the grand architecture of Gran Vía and hit some top tapas bars on Calle de Cava Baja, Madrid’s famed tapas street.

Day 8

Explore the indie-cool neighborhood of Malasaña in the morning, then take in the current exhibition at Fundación Telefónica, a hidden gem that even locals miss. Cycle along Madrid Río, the city’s rejuvenated riverside park, then end your day back in Malasaña for a dose of Madrid’s legendary nightlife.

roman aqueduct on a sunny day in segovia
Take a day trip to Segovia to stand beneath the Roman aqueduct and marvel at an incredible feat of engineering. Photo © Vladislav Zolotov/iStock.

Day 9: Day Trip To Segovia

The high-speed AVE train will take you from Madrid’s Chamartín station to Segovia in under 30 minutes. Head straight for the city’s awesome Roman aqueduct, an incredible feat of engineering. Settle down for a hearty lunch of cochinillo (roast suckling pig), then explore the fairytale Alcázar palace before walking the medieval streets of the city’s former Jewish quarter. Take a late-afternoon train back to Madrid to be back in the city in time for tapas.

Day 10

Head to the airport for your flight home. Alternately, catch a train or short flight back to Barcelona if you’re flying home from that airport.

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