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While you have a few different options in terms of arrival airport for your Spain road trip, we chose Barcelona because flights were cheaper and we could use it as our Eastern most point and do a counter clock-wise loop around the country. Obviously, this itinerary can be reworked if you decide to fly into another airport.
Note: all times between cities are estimations. Exact addresses and traffic conditions will impact the actual time spent in the car.
Picking Up Your Rental Car
There are a few different Hertz car rental offices within Barcelona, but we wanted to very purposeful with which one we picked. Whatever office you pick, you have to drive the car from there and then return it, which could mean additional stressful city driving. Alex’s job was to find a rental office that minimized driving time in Barcelona, as we were already going to be doing enough city driving in other places. The other criteria was that it had to be an office that we could reach by public transportation. Thankfully we found one!
Address: Hertz Rental Car Av. de les Garrigues 1-3 Barcelona (El Prat de Llobregat), ES 08820
Located on the L9S line (which is orange), this place is in an industrial park right off the highway, so it is easy to get to from the city and ensures that you miss the chaos of driving in downtown Barcelona. Bonus, this is also the metro line that takes you to the airport, so, with the right timing, you could drop off the car and continue on to the airport!
This is a doozy of a first day of driving in terms of length, but we wanted to start with the longest section of driving, instead of waiting until the end. There are also a lot of tolls between these two, but they take credit cards along with cash, so no need to stress!
Barcelona to Zaragosa (3 Hours)
Zaragosa is almost exactly halfway between Barcelona and Madrid, so it makes sense as a stop. There are plenty of places to have a quick lunch in and around downtown, plus you can stop at the Palacio if you want to stretch your legs.
The Palacio de la Aljaferia is beautifully carved, but most of the signage is in Spanish with no English translations and we opted not to get the audio guide. (Their website seems to suggest that English guided tours are available, which we didn’t know.) Also know that, if you go during the week, you could be caught between school groups, as we were. All in all, this stop makes sense but it is not essential. If you just want to power on to Madrid, you aren’t missing that much.
Zaragosa to Madrid (3 Hours)
Note that Madrid (like many other Spanish cities) has a bus/taxi lane that they take very seriously. Do not drive in their lane.
Stay over in Madrid for as many days as you choose, then be ready to get up and drive to Segovia in the morning. (We spent two days, in case you’re looking for a suggestion.)
While the trip from Madrid to Segovia is so short that you don’t need a stop, I highly recommend stopping in San Lorenzo anyway.
Madrid to San Lorenzo (1 Hour)
San Lorenzo of el Escorial is a combination between a palace, monastery, and school, this place is huge and worth the stop. It can be a little overwhelming (and a little exhausting) so I suggest choosing the audio guide over the guided tour, so you can go at your own pace.
San Lorenzo to Segovia (1 Hour)
An easy ride and no real reason to stop (unless you need to use the restroom).
You probably only need one day to see Segovia, so I would stay over and then head out the next morning.
As a city, Toledo definitely leans into its connection to medieval times and arts. If you’re looking for some form of Spanish sword, here is the place to get it.
Opinions differ, but I tend to think that one day is plenty of time in Toledo.
Toledo to Consuegra (45 minutes)
Visiting La Mancha and not staring down a windmill would be offensive to one Don Quixote and his heroic adventures. There are a few different towns with windmills, but we chose Consuegra since it was on the way to Cordoba and claims to be the actual windmills Cervantes was describing in his book. (Plus it was free!) You’ll be able to see the windmills from the highway and can follow the signs once you exit into town. As long as you keep the windmills in sight and continue to go uphill, you’ll get there.
Consuegra to Cordoba (2:45)
When planning our trip, we didn’t realize that our time in Cordoba was coinciding perfectly with Feria, which is a festival that includes dressing up in traditional clothing and celebrating in the streets. Which explains why it was impossible for us to get an Airbnb booking, hotel room, or anything else. We stopped in Cordoba to see some of the sights, but escaped some of the crowds by staying in Montemayor, about forty minutes away. (While some people might be disappointed to not get to stay in the thick of the celebration, we were really happy with our small town AirBnB with its quiet streets and beautiful balcony.)
Cordoba to Montemayor (40 minutes)
Montemayor is a small town, but it was a nice reprieve from all of the crowds and traffic in some of the bigger Spanish cities. Our AirBnB was located at the top of the hill, so make sure your car is ready to climb and navigate some narrow streets. Also, as this is a smaller Spanish town, most restaurants follow the later dinner schedule. (Well, later to us. It is the normal Spanish dinner schedule.) We wandered around for too long, thinking that we were out of food options, when, really, it was just too early. Spend a restful night and then be ready to continue on the next morning!
As one of the biggest cities, Seville was something of a shock to the system in terms of traffic. (I would be willing to say that it was crazier driving than Madrid, which I was not expecting.) I think that I was starting to get trip fatigue by this point and found myself more frustrated by the winding and busy streets of Seville than enchanted by them.
Seville to Jerez (1:15)
If I had the change something on our trip, it would be scheduling in more time in the Jerez area. We traveled down for the morning tour at Bodegas Luiz Perez Winery, which was incredible. (Google Maps led us to the wrong address, so make sure you are looking for the big, red building on top of the hill. If your GPS tries to send you towards town, ignore it and head towards the red building.)
We were a little late (besides getting turned around once in Jerez, the traffic out of Seville was also terrible), but the staff was so warm and made sure we quickly got where we needed to be. Be ready to be in awe of the beautiful vineyard and view. The wine tasting plus tapas pairings was worth the money and we had so much fun leisurely tasting, eating, and chatting with the rest of the folks on our tour.
We had two days blocked off for Seville, but you can probably see everything in one and then spend the second in the Jerez area.
Getting out of Seville was trickier than expected with the traffic and confusing patterns in the busier parts of town. Make sure to give yourself a little bit of a buffer in case you get turned around.
Notes on The Alhambra of Granada
Obviously you’re not traveling all the way to Granada not to see the Alhambra, a combination palace and fortress that overlooks the city. Just like you can’t wait to see the beautiful gardens and grounds, neither can anyone else – so get your tickets early. Once again for the people in the back – get your tickets early. We tried to get them over a month in advance and they were sold out. Yes. Sold out.
(Note about tickets – there a million websites claiming to sell them. I have no idea whether they’re legit, but I do know that they are overpriced. Here is the official link to buy tickets.)
So what do you do when the official Alhambra website says tickets are sold out? Cry? Cancel your trip? I’m kidding. When we saw that tickets were sold out, I immediately Googled “What to do when Alhambra tickets are sold out”. (Seriously. I don’t joke about Googling in moments of crisis.) As a number of articles pointed out, there are a few other ways to get tickets. Some of them include booking expensive tours that include admission to the Alhambra. Some indicated being able to buy tickets that day, but I don’t think that is an actual option.
What did we do? We picked a third option and bought the Granada Pass, which includes admission to the Alhambra. However, even with it, we were only able to get tickets for a night tour at the Nasid Palaces. (Which we knew before buying.) Since the Granada Pass is more expensive than Alhambra tickets, we still overpaid, but we did try to recoup some of our money by using it at other sites within the city that were included. Their website is a little tricky to use, but it ended up being worth it.
Since I have nothing to compare it to, I can’t tell you whether or not you should tour the Palace at night. We enjoyed the view and the city did look magical twinkling below us. However, our tour started at ten and, by the time we finally got through the security line, it was well past ten thirty, which was rough considering we had to get up the next day and drive five hours to Valencia. Even though it wasn’t the perfect scenario, getting to see part of the Alhambra was better than nothing.
Poor Valencia probably didn’t deserve the trip fatigue that we showed her during our last city stay before heading back to Barcelona. By the time we arrived, we had been traveling for a week and a half, plus had been driving for five hours earlier morning. So, even while our AirBnB hosts were enthusiastically explaining the charm of the older part of the city, we were struggling.
Although we weren’t particularly excited about the aspect of looking at more old buildings, we left the apartment, map in hand, and started down the street. Which was when fate stepped in. We did a double take at the advertisement by the metro, which said ‘Your Ticket to Hogwarts’, with three familiar faces looking back at us. While Valencia’s historic sites are undoubtedly beautiful and exciting, there were no match for the draw of a traveling Harry Potter exhibit.
(Seriously, I almost feel like I should be apologizing to Valencia. I’m sure the city is wonderful. You shouldn’t ignore her just because we were weak and gave in to magic over true culture.
While the Harry Potter exhibit may not be the most Spanish thing we could’ve done with our afternoon, the Museu de Les Ciènces is part of the Ciutat de les Arts, which includes multiple museums, art installations, and beautiful public space. Even if you aren’t interested in going inside the museums, this is an open, modern, and stunning part of the city. Also, the Harry Potter exhibit was partially in Spanish, so we get some culture points, right?
Since we didn’t arrive in Valencia until mid-afternoon and then rushed off to Hogwarts, we really only had time for dinner and then heading back to the AirBnb. Having paella for dinner was the only plan we’d had for Valencia and our hosts gave us the recommendation of going to Los Toneles. While their three course option was too much food for us, the paella itself was good.
Remember what I said about tolls being more expensive and more prevalent around Barcelona? Keep that in mind as you make your way back to the city. Apparently there is an alternate route that misses the tolls, but, according to Google Maps, it adds over an hour and we didn’t have the patience for it.
Our goal for our last night in Barcelona was to stay somewhere that would make getting to the airport simple in the morning. Since the car rental was located a few steps off the L9 and the airport is the last stop on the L9, we found an AirBnB at one of the stops between them. Once you are this far outside of the city, I think you are technically outside of Barcelona and in the suburbs. Regardless of the actual address, we had the sweetest host who made us breakfast in the morning and we had no issues getting to the airport.
There you have it! Our slightly-less-than-two-week Spain road trip route! Want to save this for future reference? Make sure to pin it on Pinterest!
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Copyright 2020 Dylaninthedetails
Hi, I'm Dylan, a photographer and marketing consultant in the Philadelphia Metro Area. I love iced coffee, red wine, and am always up for binging Gilmore Girls or Parks and Rec..