top of page

Spain

Such and incredible variety of places to visit.  From the beaches of the south, the green parks of the north, the mountains of the east, and the unforgettable cities like Madrid, Barcelona, Seville and Bilbao.  A wonderful places for those who love life; and wine and food, and art and history.

This is one of my favorite countries in the world and on the short list for a place for permanent retirement. To be quite honest, the biggest issue I have with being in Spain is getting used to the hours they keep.  I have never been able to adjust to having dinner at 10:00 in the evening, and going to bed at 2:00 in the morning.  I guess I like my sunrises too much!

As I spend time here, I realize it is not nearly enough, though. Whether or not I end up living here, I will certainly keep exploring.     

Barcelona Sagrada Familia

Barcelona

Somebody needs to invest in a School for Optometry in Barcelona. They cannot keep their buildings or sculptures straight, nor their paintings focused. These guys, Gaudi and Picasso, really needed eye glasses.

Madrid

Madrid is also scattered with architectural gems, including a bull fighting ring (I didn't realize that was still a thing), and of course, Plazas galore!

Plaza de Toros Madrid 2.jpg

Madrid

I spent a week in Madrid, exploring art and architecture and history.

The naive side of me wasn't expecting the art scene that I encountered. But, I should have known better coming to the home of Velazquez, Goya, Miro, Picasso, Dali, and many others. The Prado was amazing, and Reina Sofia was cool (it has Guernica after all); but I honestly liked the Thyssen the best. It is a smaller museum but has a great selection and variety from the 13th century all the way to mid 20th century art. It also has the best international representation including the Dutch masters, the impressionists and the Americas.

So, if you want a city that is famous for open plazas, wonderful food, majestic palaces, incredible museums, and beautiful weather; Madrid is definitely a place you need to get to! 

Gran Via Madrid
Gran Via Madrid 2
Madrid Plaza Mayor
Madrid Puerta de Alcala
Retiro Park Madrid Monument to Alfonso XII
Plaza de Toros Madrid
Royal Palace of Madrid
Royal Palace of Madrid 2

Favorite Places in Madrid

Plaza Mayor

Huge Plaza in the city center, with a statue of Phillip III. 

Plaza Mayor was erected on the former site of Plaza del Arrabal, the home of Madrid’s most popular market until the late 16th century. When King Philip II moved the Spanish court from Toledo to Madrid in 1561, he began to  remodel the square, although it wasn’t till his son, Philip III, was in power, that the new square was finally built. The statue of the king was built in 1616 and was moved from Caso de Campo Parc to the plaza in 1848. 

Royal Palace of Madrid

18th century, 2000 room palace, on a ridge over looking town. In front of the 20 acres gardens of Campo del Moro. 

Long before Madrid became the capital of Spain, Emir Mohamed I chose Magerit, as the city was known by the Moors, as the site for a fortress to protect Toledo from the Christians. The building was eventually used by the Kings of Castille until finally becoming what would be known as the Antiguo Alcázar (Old Fortress) in the 14th century. Charles I and his son Philip II turned the building into a permanent residence for the Spanish royal family in the 17th century. However, in 1734 a fire burnt the Palace of Los Austrias to the ground, and Philip V ordered the construction of the palace that stands today.

Catedral de la Almudena

Next to the Royal palace, A young, and beautiful cathedral (consecrated in 1993), It is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Madrid.

The first plans were drawn up in 1879 as a tribute to the late Queen Maria de la Mercedes and the foundation stone was laid in 1883. However, 2 years later, the pope created the Madrid-Alcalá bishopric and the plans were adjusted to create a large cathedral in the style of 18th century French Gothic. Work was slow due to funding, and stopped entirely in 1911 due to the Civil War. When work commenced plans were changed from the Gothic to what we see today. Finally, in 1993, the cathedral was considered complete.   

The Prado Museum

A huge, and incredible museum with a collection for the 12th century to today. I the center of the famed Paseo del Arte, a 1 kilometer stretch that also includes the Thyssen and Reina Sofia museums,  Having been open for over 200 years, the Prado includes a collection that comprises 8,600 paintings and over 700 sculptures so plan to spend some time here! 

 Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum

Compared to the Prado, this museum seems quaint from the outside.  But, inside, the collection is amazing.  Classical and modern art. I don't know how to choose a favorite museum in Madrid, but this one might be it.  The Dutch masters, the Americans of the 19th and 20th centuries. Modernists like Kadinsky and Picasso. The impressionists and post impressionists. They are all here. And, the design and layout of the museum is among the most pleasing I have encountered.  

Getting around Madrid

Once you are in the center, it is surprisingly walkable. From El Retiro Park east of center to the Royal Palace west of the center, it is only 2.5 kilometers. I felt little need to use public transport.  I think the only times I used the metro was getting from the city to my Airbnb which was outside the center.  

Single use tickets can be bought at all metro stations, and must be used on the day of purchase. If you don't use them that day, they will not work the next day. There are cards that can be bought to add 10 tickets at a time, but I never felt the need since I wasn't using the metro that much. 

Using the metro from the airport will be a different charge. But, can be a great option depending on when you arrive.  During rush hour, it will be much faster to take the metro than a taxi to the center.     

There is an app designed to check the balance of your metro card, but I didn't find an app for buying tickets, so I ended up with single tickets as I needed them. There are also different zones for travel (A, B1, B2), but as tourist, you will almost certainly be exclusively in Zone A.

For more info, visit 

www.metromadrid.es/en

Barcelona

Somebody needs to invest in a School for Optometry in Barcelona. They cannot keep their buildings or sculptures straight, nor their paintings focused. These guys, Gaudi and Picasso, really needed eye glasses.

Here, in southeastern Spain, in Catalonia, people have lived since the Neolithic. But, it was the Romans that started recorded history by founding the town of Barcino in the 1st century BCE.  The remains of those defensive walls that the Romans used to protect those initial 1000 inhabitants can still be seen today in the Old Town. During its history, it was conquered by the Moors, then returned to Christian rule. Under the Aragons in the medieval period, the city built its beautiful Gothic Quarter in the 13th to 15th centuries. 

Centuries of decline followed, then a resurgence in he 19th century with the textile industry.   

Today, the city is known as much for the beaches and nightlife, but I came for the history and architecture. 

As you visit this very popular city, I highly recommend buying your most important attraction tickets ahead of time (Sagrada, Guell, etc). They will sell out, even in the off season.  

Barcelona Casa Mila
Barcelona Casa Vicens
Barcelona Arc de Triomph
Barcelona Gothic Quarter
Barcelona Parc Guell
Barcelona from Parc Mountjuic 2.jpg
Barcelona Sagrada Familia
Barcelona Sagrada Familia

Favorite Places in Barcelona

Sagrada Familia Cathedral

Antoni Gaudí's renowned unfinished church, truly a one of a kind edifice.  

Originally designed by another architect in 1882 (Francisco de Paula del Villar), Gaudi took over after less than a year.  Gaudi was already well known, and busy, but by 1914, he worked here exclusively until his death in 1926. Work still continues and in recent years, the towers are being completed. 

This is a place that I would highly recommend either taking a guided tour, or at least using the audio tour. This may be the only place in the world where I have listened to every bit of an audio tour from front to back. The building is simply that fascinating! 

Park Güell

A park designed by Gaudi with mosaics, parks and sculptures. 

Eusebi Guell gave Gaudí the assignment of drawing up plans for developing an estate for well-off families on a large property he had acquired in the zone known popularly as the Muntanya Pelada (bare mountain). Plans were made for about 60 triangular shaped plots on the estate.  Construction started in 1900, and by 1907, events were being held in the park and the first plot was purchased by a friend of Guell's in 1902. Gaudí himself moved there in 1906 to live with his father and niece.  However, only 2 of the 60 plots ever sold and the idea failed. After Guell's death, the city bought the property in 1922 and made it a public park in 1926.  Today, about 9 million people visit every year. 

Casa Batlló

An apartment building and one of many Gaudi designs in town.  This curving, dragon topped building is now a museum.

Along the famed Paseo de Gracia, this building was built in 1877 and in 1903 was sold to Josep Batlló.

Batllo granted full creative freedom to Antoni Gaudi of a project that initially involved demolishing the building. However, thanks to the creativity shown by Gaudí, the demolition of the house was ruled out, and it was fully renovated between 1904 and 1906.

Like most things in Barcelona, you should buy your tickets ahead of time. 

If you are intrigued, there are a dozen Gaudi buildings in Barcelona. Feel free to keep exploring places like Casa Vicens and Casa Mila that are close by. 

Montjuïc Castle

17th century hilltop fortress overlooking the Mediterranean.  Located about 4 kilometers south of the city center, among a collection of green spaces, the whole complex of parks is worth a visit. But, get your comfortable shoes on. The castle is 173 meters above the port. 

The fort was built in 1640 and restored in the middle of the 18th century to repair damage form the War of Spanish Succession. some fifty years earlier. 

The full castle came to be owned by the city in 2007 and is now open to the public.

As you visit, also enjoy walking around the parks. There are more than a dozens parks and gardens, along withe an archeological museum, Olympic and Sport Museum, and the Catalonia national Art Museum, among many other things.  One could spend an entire day up here. 

Getting to and around Barcelona

If you fly into Barcelona, the airport is about 10 miles south of the city center and there are plenty of public transport options to get to the city depending where you want to go. You can take the A1 or A2 which are the primary lines.

or, maybe you are already in Madrid, in which case you should take the train which takes 2.5 to 3 hours. There are numerous departures per day. And, the trains will drop you at  Barcelona-Sants station, close to the center. 

Once you have arrived, public transport is plentiful.  The subways, buses, trains and trams in Barcelona are one transport network. All you need is a ticket for almost all means of transport. 

You can buy a Barcelona Card for 5 days at a cost of 63 Euro. This will include all transport in Zone 1 (and a round trip to the airport), and free entry to 25 attractions plus discounts at over 70 more. It also includes skip the line at some places.  Shorter visit lengths are also available. 

If you want just public transport, then the Hola Barcelona card is right for you. Sold in 2, 3, 4 or 5 day lengths, the cost also includes an airport trip. 

Since a single ticket cist 2.20 euros and an airport is 4.60 each way, the cards can be a great savings.

Segovia

Segovia, just outside Madrid. That is an amazing town with a castle, a 1st century Roman aqueduct; a grand cathedral, and many wonderful little streets and churches, dating to the 13th century.

Segovia is easy to get to as it is just a 2 hour train ride from Chamartin Train Station in Madrid to the Segovia station. Then, a 15 minute bus ride to the town. Close enough for a day trip. 

Once you are there, your transport will be your feet. Wear comfortable shoes! And, there are plenty of shops and restaurants right next to the bus stop, so you can refresh yourself. 

Alcázar de Segovia

the first documented record of the fortress dates back to Christian writings in the 12th century and kept adding architectural features through to 1587. The edifice has a number of secret passageways that lead to the river and connect several of the city's palaces. it is located about a 20 minute walk north of the town center. 

Roman aqueduct

2 level aqueduct with 167 arches and a length of 13,000 meters. It dates to the 2nd century and continued to bring water to the city until 1973. It will be the first thing you see after getting off the bus. Obviously, you cannot miss it.

Catedral de Segovia

Built between the years 1525 and 1768, To reduce costs, some elements of the old cathedral were moved to the new location. Most European cities build and replace cathedrals at the same location. However, the 6th century, the 11th century and the current cathedral were all in different locations.  The current Cathedral was built in one of the highest points of the city, in the so-called “Plaza Grande” and on the old convent of Santa Clara.

Plaza Mayor

Historic 17th-century square featuring San Miguel church, the cathedral & the Juan Bravo theater.

Casa del Sol - Museo de Segovia

museum dedicated to local archaeology, ethnology and fine arts, housed in a former fortress.

Museo de Antonio Machado

Museum dedicated to the poet Antonio Machado in the home he lived in from 1919 to 1932

Museo de Moneda

Former royal mint from the 16th century, now a museum dedicated to coins and industrial heritage

Aqueduct of Segovia
Alcazar of Segovia
Segovia
Cathedral of Segovia

Bilbao

Bilbao is just so pretty to me because it is a green contrast to what I think of Spain normally being...think Madrid and Seville.

But, the highlight is certainly the Guggenheim.  One of the premier museums of the world, and my favorite modern art museum anywhere so far. Okay...second favorite behind The Pompidou. 

Getting to Bilbao

Bilbao can be reached in many ways. 

It is a 4 hour bus ride from the Madrid airport or a 4.5 hour train ride from the Chamartin Train Station in central Madrid (with 6 stops).

You can also come from Bordeaux in 5.5 hours by taking a train to Bayonne than a bus to Bilbao.  

Of course, you could also fly into Bilbao. The airport is just north of town, and a bus will take you into the town center in about 25-30 minutes (Gran Via in 25 minutes and onto Intermodal station in 30 minutes).  

Getting around Bilbao

Once in town, you will want to get used to the metro. Especially, if you want to visit the beaches, which can be 4 kilometers away.

A single ticket will cost 1.70 to 1.95  euro depending on the zone (2024 pricing). 

If you want to save and simplify, get the BILBAO BIZKAIACARD (BBCard). This will cost 10-20 euro for 1-3 days. It includes unlimited metro transport plus guided tours, fast pass, and discounts at hundreds of stores and restaurants. 

Highlights 

Artxanda viewpoint

Take the more than 100 year old funicular de Artxanda up here for a great view of the whole city.  it leaves from the aptly named Funicular Plaza. or, you could walk up instead, it is only a little over 200 meter climb.

Plaza Nueva

Neo Classical Square in the center of the city, with plenty of pubs and restaurants. 

St James Cathedral

Just a 5 minute walk from Plaza Nuevo, this 14th century cathedral, through many renovations over the years is a great example of Basque Gothic.

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

This Frank Gehry designed museum is artwork inside and out! It is not only the bets thing to see in Bilbao, it is one of the best in Spain. 

Bilbao
Bilbao
Bilbao Guggenheim
Bilbao Guggenheim

Seville

A great mid size city (about 700K people) if you want less hustle and bustle then Madrid or Barcelona. But, there will be crowds because the place is great for exploring architecture, especially if you are interested in Moorish history.

Keep in mind, if you are visiting between June and September. It gets hot here! Temperatures will be over 90F most days, and even 100F.

Plaza de España

large plaza with water features next to the University of Seville and connected to Maria Luisa park.

Iglesia Colegial del Divino Salvador

colorful former mosque that is now a baroque church

Torre del Oro

defensive tower built in 1220 along the Canal of Alfonso XIII

Giralda

Built originally as the minaret for the mosque and years later converted into the cathedral's bell tower, the Giralda is the most emblematic monument in the city and one of the most visited.

Seville
Seville
Seville
Seville

Getting to and around Seville

From the Puerta de Atocha station in Madrid, it is just a 2.5 to 3 hour train ride to the Seville Santa Justa Train Station. This will leave you about 2 kilometers from the city center, so it is time to get on the metro. 

Plus, Seville is a little spread out, about 3-4 kilometers each direction for all of the interesting stuff that I enjoyed. So, the metro comes in handy. 

There is actually only 1 metro line, but there are 44 bus lines. Single tickets cost 1.40 euro, and all day passes are just 5 euro. But, that means 4 trips in a day to break even, so I stayed with single tickets.

If you are staying for a long while, the 30 day card may be a good deal at 35.30.

The airport is about 12 kilometers from the city, but the EA bus will get you into town in about 25 minutes.  

bottom of page