2 Days in Madrid: Itinerary for a Weekend in Madrid

Madrid is a fantastic city, full of life, food, and culture. Whereas most people in the world end up adoring Barcelona, I ended up head over heels for Madrid. Even in the peak season in Madrid, the tourists feel dispersed (as long as you’re not waiting in line for the Prado, but that’s another story…) and prices are reasonable.

The backbone of any good Madrid itinerary is picking a central and fantastic neighborhood. Since you only have 2 days in Madrid, you’re going to want to stay somewhere central.

If you’re trying to decide what neighborhood in Madrid to stay in, here’s my personal choice: Puerta del Sol. This neighborhood is the heart and soul of Madrid, and our Airbnb was right in the thick of it.

We took full advantage of our prime situation and dove into the Spanish style of life – eating, snacking, drinking, repeat. Oh, and I guess a bit of tourism squeezed in between bites of luxurious ham and gulps of fantastic Rioja. 

2 Day Madrid Itinerary: Day 1

Start at Puerta del Sol

Puerta del Sol is the neighborhood I recommend you stay in if you have only a short amount of time like 2 days in Madrid. But in case you’re staying elsewhere in the city, make your way over to Puerta del Sol to start your Madrid itinerary here.

This is one of the busiest and best-known squares in Madrid, and quite literally the center of the city, as all the main roads radiate outwards from this central point.

There are a few important points in Puerta del Sol: the Real Casa de Correos, an old post office that is now home to the President of Madrid’s Autonomous Community, the Kilometer 0 stone, the “Bear and the Strawberry Tree” statue, and the giant Tio Pepe advertisement that’s now part of Puerta del Sol’s skyline.

Have ham for breakfast at Museo del Jamón

Do I seem a bit ridiculous suggesting you start your 2 days in Madrid by shoving your face with ham? I’m sorry, but I simply must.

(If ham for breakfast is too much of an ask, I recommend a breakfast pastry at La Mallorquina in Puerta del Sol)

Museo de Jamón (Calle Mayor, 7) is truly a pork lovers’ dream, literally packed wall to wall with enormous cuts of ham in every shape and size. And it’s cheap. As in, I wonder how they even turn a profit cheap.

Museo del Jamon Sol Madrid

We got a heaping plate of four different kinds of ham and manchego cheese for less than 8 euros. A beer? 90 cents (and that’s not even the small caña size, which will only set you back 50 cents) AND it comes with a snack. While you could skip the caña of beer since it is technically breakfast, I say screw it – if you only have two days in Madrid, you may as well live them to the fullest. 

I loved Museo del Jámon so much that I went twice: once at night during the Madrid Pride festivities, when it was jam packed with drunken revelers taking a wise break to refuel before returning to the debauchery. We loved it so much we went back again less than 12 hours later for breakfast, where we each had an espresso and a croissant, ham, and cheese sandwich for less than 3 euros apiece.

Not a fan of ham? There are plenty of other great breakfast and brunch spots in Madrid.

(Note: True ham fiends may want to check out this ham & wine walking tour, offered a few times a week)

Location: Calle Mayor, 7

Visit the beautiful Almudena Cathedral

Just a short walk from the Royal Palace, you can’t miss the gorgeous Almudena Cathedral in the Madrid skyline.

Although this cathedral is considered young and relatively new, its beautiful look today belies a history of more than a century of problematic construction. You see, Francisco de Cubas originally wanted to construct a pantheon to honor the late Queen Maria in the second half of the 19th century, influenced by 18th century French Gothic design.

Even though the first stone was laid in 1879, following religious developments, the plans changed for the structure that was planned to be a pantheon to be a cathedral instead. Its crypts opened in 1911, but they were shut down because of the civil war that came on as a result of the Franco fascist regime. Decades after, it ran at a smaller capacity, until it was redesigned and then fully finished in 1993.

While it may be a new building in a city filled with older architecture, I still think it’s worth visiting for its interesting history and gorgeous look that blends into the more jam-packed Madrid cityscape in a beautiful fashion.

Location: Calle de Bailén, 10

Head to the Royal Palace for some culture

Now, pretend you didn’t just shove your face full of ham and beer at my behest and get some culture at the lovely Royal Palace, one of the most important places in all of Madrid (and Spain in general).

Madrid has stood long before it became the capital of Spain. Its original name was Magerit. The spot where the city’s fortress once stood is now where the Royal Palace stands today. Because the old fort burned down, King Philip V ordered a new palace to be built.

It was inspired by the Louvre and as a result of that inspiration, it also has sprawling grounds, gardens, and fountains. The palace has over 3,000 rooms, which include the Main Staircase, Throne Room, the Guards Room, and many more. It’s one of the most visited historic buildings in Spain, and for a very good reason!

Location: Calle de Bailén

Visit a real Egyptian temple in the middle of Madrid

The Temple of Debod is a true piece of Egyptian history in the heart of Madrid. However, unlike most Egyptian artifacts you can find in the West (cough British Museum cough), this temple was actually a gift from Egypt to the city of Madrid!

It was originally constructed in the 2nd century BC, by the orders of the Meroe King of Egypt. The temple was dedicated to the god Amun and goddess Isis, with gorgeous high reliefs carved into the stone.

Egypt gifted this temple to Madrid in the 20th century to protect the city of floods. It was disassembled from its original location and then rebuilt stone by stone when everything was transported. The temple opened to the public in 1972 and it’s been one of Cuartel de la Montaña’s biggest attractions ever since.

Walk back through the Plaza de España

With its massive monument to the legendary author Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, it’s hard to miss Plaza de España on your walk back towards Puerta del Sol, where your lunch stop is.

Near the Plaza, there are a few quick points of interest to note. First is one of the tallest buildings in the city, Torre de Madrid at 142 meters/466 feet tall, and Edificio España at 117 meters/384 feet. Combined with the statue of Miguel de Cervantes, it’s one of the most iconic photos of Madrid.

Another interesting building to note is the gorgeous House of Gallardo, dating back to 1911 and emblematic of the strong Art Nouveau movement that took place in Madrid around the turn of the century.

Have a lunch of vermouth and a few bites to eat at Mercado San Miguel

The covered marketplace of Mercado San Miguel is a great introduction to tapas. My favorite eats there were the sweet and savory toasts piled high with mozzarella or burrata, the olive and pickled vegetable skewers called bandarillas, and some delicious vermouth with orange and ice for a single euro fifty.

Olives, check. Pickled peppers, check. Self-control, not pictured.
Olives, check. Pickled peppers, check. Self-control, not pictured.

Don’t eat too much here, though – this Madrid itinerary has you scheduled for a dinner walking tour exploring the tapas scene of this city at 7 PM, so you’ll want to save your appetite for later.

Location: Plaza de San Miguel

Stroll La Latina

One of my favorite neighborhoods in Madrid is La Latina. The Basílica de San Francisco El Grande is one can’t-miss place in La Latina, and it provides an interesting contrast to the newness of the Almudena Cathedral near the Royal Palace. Dating back to 1760, the church is one of five Royal Basilicas of Madrid and has three chapels, including a beautiful painting by the famous Spanish artist Francisco De Goya.

Another interesting part of La Latina is the Mercado de la Cebada, which has become a major street art hub in Madrid. Both inside and on its outer walls, you’ll find countless murals featuring street art by a variety of different artists both Spanish and foreign.

If you happen to be in La Latina on a Sunday, you shouldn’t miss El Rastro flea market, the largest open air market in all of Madrid. While a bit touristy, it’s great fun to browse and see if you can find something worth the treasure hunt.

Take a tapas walking tour

One of the best things to do in Madrid is mixing up delicious food and awesome history! Going for a tapas walking tour means the best of both worlds: you’ll discover old monuments and historic buildings from your guide’s local knowledge while stopping at 4 to 5 different tapas restaurants to try all the best food in Madrid along the way.

Tapas tastes include Iberian ham (aka the world famous jamón iberico), seafood paella, local Spanish cheeses, and several other surprises as well as a selection of red or white Spanish wine, beer, or soft drinks. For more information, check out tour details here.

2 Day Madrid Itinerary: Day 2

Eat churros con chocolate for breakfast

Yesterday it was ham for breakfast, now it’s churros!

There are many places churning delicious churros con chocolate all over Madrid, but the oldest and most famous is Chocolatería San Ginés.

churros in Sol, Madrid
Churros con chocolate, the breakfast of champions

The churros here are perfectly fried – crunchy on the outside, soft inside, without any taste of grease. They’re one of the best Spanish desserts, but they’re commonly eaten as a snack or even as breakfast!

Unlike their Mexican counterparts, these are not rolled in sugar and cinnamon; instead, you drown each bite in the cup of warm chocolate sauce. Pair with an espresso and you’ve got one hell of a sugar and caffeine rush – ready to take on day two of your Madrid itinerary.

Take in some art at Madrid’s most famous museum, Museo del Prado

Visiting Madrid without visiting the Prado is like going to London and not seeing Tower Bridge or Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower. Simply foolish, in my opinion.

However – the line at the Prado is one of the most insane lines that I’ve seen. I recommend booking a skip the line ticket and putting it at the beginning of your itinerary on day two in order to minimize the crowds that pack the museum after lunch. Simply book it online and present on your mobile (no need to print).

Considered one of the most prestigious museums in Spain, Museo del Prado boasts one of the largest art collections in the country. It’s one of the most visited tourist attractions mainly because its walls are lined with artistic masterpieces the likes of which are hard to find a worthwhile comparison to. It’s on par with the Louvre or the Met in terms of vastness and quality of art.

The Prado has over 8,000 paintings and over 700 sculptures in its possession, which come from different schools of art ranging from the 12th to the 20th century. Here you’ll find masterpieces like Velasquez’ Las Meninas and Goya’s Third of May. The Prado holds the largest collection of Spanish art in the world, and one of the best collections of European art in general. It’s a can’t-miss for any art fan.

Location: Paseo del Prado

Stroll through the majestic Retiro Park

Madrid’s take on Central Park, walking through the scenic Retiro Park with its manmade lake and Crystal Palace is an unmissable part of any Madrid itinerary.

Located in the heart of Madrid, El Retiro Park is the city’s green lung. It spans over 120 acres and includes dozens of thousands of trees. It’s one of the most popular recreational areas in the city. Here you’ll find several different gardens, each comprised of beautiful types of flowers. The park even has a centuries-old Mexican conifer, which is supposedly Madrid’s oldest tree.

The biggest highlight of the park is the Large Lake. You can rent a boat to take out onto the lake (the perfect place for selfies!) for 6 euros on weekdays and 8 euros on weekends. Make sure to visit the exhibitions at the Velasquez Palace and the Crystal Palace, made almost entirely of glass and a can’t-miss Instagram spot in Retiro Park.

Location: Plaza de la Independencia, 7

Walk the Gran Via of Madrid and stop for lunch

Madrid’s answer to Paris’ Champs-Elysees and NYC’s Broadway all rolled into one street, this is the hub of shopping and entertainment in the city. Strolling down this grand avenue is one of the best ways to take the pulse of the city of Madrid, and it’s electric any time of day or night.

Don’t miss the massive Telefónica Building, built in 1928 and an early example of the skyscraper craze that would later change the definition of city skylines worldwide.

There are also several cinemas, bars, and restaurants on this street, so I recommend stopping for lunch somewhere along the way. I recommend De María Gran Vía or La Sirena Verde, located at 72 and 62 Calle Gran Via respectively.

Check out the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales

Literally translated to the Monastery of Barefoot Royals, this monastery a few short blocks away from Gran Via is definitely worth a small detour.

Photo credit; Zarateman [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons

Dating back to the 1500s, this monastery has an interesting and fascinating history. While many monasteries and convents are a bit austere, where the monks or nuns live in rather spartan conditions, this monastery is incredibly ornate. The reason for this is that the convent was primarily for young widowed women or noblewomen who never married — and therefore, for their dowries as well. The convent quickly became one of the richest convents in Europe, and you can see the splendor in the paintings and wall hangings that decorate the monastery to this day.

By the 20th century, the population of who lived in the convent changed dramatically, and rather than housing impossible-to-marry-off noblewomen, it ended up hosting primarily impoverished women. In the 1960s it became the museum that it is today.

The monastery is open daily from 10 AM to 2 PM and then again from 4 PM to 6:30 PM (except on Sundays, when it’s open from 10 AM to 3 PM), so be careful if you are visiting around lunch time.

Grab an espresso and people watch

One of the things you shouldn’t miss when in Madrid is the opportunity to simply people watch. There are countless cafés in the area around the monastery and Gran Via. The monastery is quite close to the Torres Barmejas where the flamenco show is, so I recommend not straying too far from this area.

Catch the nightly flamenco show at the Torres Barmejas

Flamenco is one of the most popular pieces of folklore and a truly unmissable Spanish experience. It’s an energetic and passionate dance and has its roots deep in Spanish history and culture.

There are countless venues where you can watch a flamenco show, but one of the most highly-rated in the city is the nightly 7 PM show at Torres Barmejas near the Gran Via of Madrid. The decors and motifs are a wonder to look at, inspired by the gorgeous Andalusian city of Granada and its majestic Alhambra Palace. The Spanish Moorish motifs and décor really add to the captivating atmosphere of the performance. The choreography and energy of the flamenco dance, including interesting finger and hand gestures, is one of the most unique aspects of the Spanish culture.

You can order dinner here, but in my opinion, it’s overpriced and not high quality enough to justify the expense – especially considering the plethora of amazing restaurants and tapas bars surrounding the venue. So, just order drinks or just take in the show and save your appetite for later. The show at Torres Barmejas is quite popular and often sells out, so I highly recommend booking your tickets in advance to be sure to see one of the best flamenco shows in Madrid.

Have dinner at one of Madrid’s many cervecerias and tapas bars

A good 75% of the reason why I decided I needed a month in Spain was to eat my way through all of the delicious tapas the country has to offer (the other 25% is wine and cider, obviously).

Food in Puerta del Sol Madrid
A media ración size of the ahi tuna – so perfect

I got a good head start on my goal in Puerta del Sol, where we ate at a few delicious restaurants. Lambuzo had delicious tapas and some great wine. As a huge Spanish wine fan, I went for the Ribera del Duero – so tasty! We loved the berenjas (fried eggplant with a dark, rich honey sauce), atún rojo (perfectly rare ahi tuna), and the croquetas de gambas (fried potato and shrimp croquettes).

Location: Calle de las Conchas, 9

My other favorite spot for dinner is La Carboneria. While it is in a touristic area, the food quality is so excellent that I literally ate there twice during my time in Madrid. What can I say – I was just that obsessed with their albóndigas a la casera (meatballs home-style – though I need to figure out who’s home it’s styled after and how I can move myself in there ASAP).

They also have the most perfectly cooked tortilla española I’ve had the pleasure of putting in my mouth. It was simplicity at its finest, a perfectly melting synthesis of potato and egg. It was gooey in the best way – not dry and set like less fresh tortilla españolas can be.

Don’t forget to order their delicious sangria!

Location: La Carboneria, Calle Coloreros 5

How to Spend One Day in Madrid: Your Perfect Mini-Itinerary

Madrid is one of the most vibrant cities in the world, and if you’ve allotted yourself only one day in Madrid, you’ve got your work cut out for you.

As the capital of Spain, Madrid is home to innumerable unique neighborhoods, countless dining opportunities, endless culture.

In a word, Madrid is inexhaustible, and you’ll always find more to do in this magical city.

But since you only have one day in Madrid, concessions must be made so that you see the best of what the city has to offer in a limited time. I’ve collected all my highlights of my many days in Madrid to create a perfect one day itinerary for you to follow.

How I Planned This One Day in Madrid Itinerary

Lit up arch with flowers in front in Madrid

Consider this post your plan of attack for seeing as much of Madrid in a day as you possibly can.

I’ve specifically created this post to have you traveling around Madrid as independently as possible without sacrificing the context and enrichment that the occasional paid experience can provide.

If planning your day in Madrid starts to stress you out, you could always book a full day Madrid sightseeing tour, but I personally always have a lot more fun when I mix and match fortuitous wandering, guided activities, and lots of walking while I’m sightseeing.

For this one day in Madrid itinerary, I nix hop-on, hop-off buses and guided city tours in exchange for long but purposeful walks through the city which make a point of seeing key architectural and historical gems.

I offset the potential lack of context by also opting for a handful of special tours and experiences, namely, a tour of the Palacio Real (the only way to see the interior) and a flamenco show in the evening.

Since time is limited, I also suggest skip-the-line tickets when they make sense to maximize your time and appreciation of the city.

I find that this is the way you’re best able to make the most of your time in Madrid while also not feeling like cattle being carted around from point A to point B!

One Day in Madrid Map

One Day in Madrid Itinerary

Morning: Breakfast, A Palace, & A Walk in the Park

Start your day the Spanish way with churros con chocolate.

Churros with a cup of coffee in Madrid
Churros con chocolate, the breakfast of champions

While to you and me, churros may be a dessert dish, in Spain, churros are a beloved breakfast treat, and nowhere sells more delicious churros than Chocolatería San Ginés.

Running for over a hundred years, this 24/7 achocolatería sells deliciously simple churros fried to perfection, served with coffee and lightly-sweetened chocolate.

Churros in Spain are a bit different than their Mexican counterparts: in Spain, they don’t use the cinnamon-sugar on the outside of the churro, making them a bit more savory (until you dip them in melted chocolate, at least!).

They’re also a bit thinner and more crispy, whereas the ones I’ve had in Mexico have been a little thicker and more custardy on the inside.

Head to the Royal Palace.

A symmetrical view of an ornate gray colored palace

A tour of Madrid’s Palacio Real is a must-do while you’re visiting the Spanish capital.

This is one of the top tourist attractions in Spain, so expect long lines. Beat the crowds by booking a skip-the-line ticket, which you can buy online here.

The palace is massive — as in, largest still-functional royal palace in Europe big, and this is a continent that likes its castles. We’re talking nearly 3,500 rooms big and 135,000 square meters of floor area (imagine those heating bills…).

I recommend going with a guided tour which helps you get an understanding of what you’re seeing and put the massive ostentation and wealth into perspective.

This tour is 2 hours and allows you early access privileges to beat the crowds. It covers all the best highlights of the Palacio Real: the Throne Room, Banquet Hall, Royal Apartments, exclusive artwork by the most famous artists in Spain, and time to walk around the beautiful Royal Gardens.

I’m not the biggest tour person, but I highly recommend this tour. I love having the opportunity to hear the royal stories which are able to bring this marvelous yet imposing palace to life.

Save time and book your skip-the-line ticket today

Marvel at the Catedral de la Almudena.

Side view of a beautiful European church with people walking around in front and a cloudy sky

Not far from Palacio Real is your next stop on this one day Madrid tour, Almudena Cathedral. To be precise, it’s the Catedral de Santa María La Real de La Almudena, which is quite a mouthful.

This cathedral blends Gothic and Neoclassical elements into a synthesis of beauty, yet it’s a surprisingly young cathedral.

The church took over a hundred years to be built, starting in 1883, yet didn’t finish construction until 1993, as its construction was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War and didn’t get picked up again until halfway through the 20th century.

The interior is a true marvel of architecture, showing its modernity with a variety of artistic styles on the interior, ranging from more traditional historical elements to those inspired by more modern elements. The ceiling of the nave is particularly interesting, more inspired by geometry than traditional Christian artistic elements.

Check out the happening Plaza Mayor.

A man on a horse statue and red buildings in the background

As with any great European capital, Madrid is home to several beautful plazas that are the heart of city life.

Plaza Mayor is nearly 500 years old located at the heart of what was once Old Madrid.

Skip the cafés, which are all a bit tourist-trappy, and just wander through and do some people watching as you pass.

Walk through Puerta del Sol.

Symmetical red building with a fountain in the center and pink flowers

Just a few blocks down the road from Plaza Mayor is yet another important square in Madrid, Puerta del Sol.

One thing you’ll notice as you walk through Puerta del Sol is the placard for Kilometer 0.

All the radial roads in Madrid emanate out from this central point, with address numbers closer to Kilometer 0 being smaller and getting larger as they make their way throughout the city.

It’s an interesting quirk of city planning, and while not incredibly interesting, it is cool to stand at the “center” of Madrid!

Stroll down Calle de Alcalá to Retiro Park.

Ornate white palace with a Spain flag and an empty road in front of it

This is one of the longest streets in Madrid, and it’s the best way to walk to your next destination, Puerta de Alcalá, which marks the beginning of Retiro Park.

On the way, you’ll get a chance to marvel at some of Madrid’s most beautiful architecture.

Stop and snap some photos at the Círculo de Bellas Artes as well as Palacio de Cibeles and its namesake fountain.

Wander through the magical Retiro Park.

A building with clear glass walls and yellow details next to a lake on a sunny day

Retiro Park is to Madrid what Central Park is to New York City: an seemingly neverending oasis of calm in the middle of a vibrant metropolis.

I largely urge you to put away your phone and your Madrid checklist for a bit and just enjoy strolling around the park and people-watching.

But, since you do only have a day in Madrid and this is your one chance to make the best of Retiro Park, make a point of seeing the Palacio de Cristal (the crystal palace, pictured above), the Estanque Grande del Retiro (artificial lake with a massive monument), and La Roseleda del Retiro (rose garden).

Afternoon: Lunch & Museum Hopping

Grab lunch near Retiro Park.

A bowl of red soup topped with meat and croutons at a Spanish restaurant.

A central location like Retiro Park would usually be full of tourist traps, but this is Spain, where bad food is nearly criminal.

There are a few places especially worth keeping an eye out for once you’ve finished your stroll through Retiro Park and are starting to feel the first grumblings of post-churro hunger.

If you’d like to try some Andalusian specialties, check out Lambuzo. Their salmorejo (chilled tomato soup which I love far more than gazpacho) is to die to for!

Another great place for traditional Spanish food is the lovely El Perro y la Galleta. I suggest you order mostly from the ‘entrantes’ and sample as much as you possibly can!

My favorites are the berenjas rebozadas (fried eggplant) and the croquetas de cocido (delicious bechamel and meat stuffed fried croquettes).

Get cultured at the Prado, Spain’s top musuem.

The front view of the famous Prado art museum with a statue in front, a must visit on your one day in Spain itinerary

I know that if you only have one day in Madrid, you don’t want to spend the entirety of it in a museum!

However, do please make an exception for the Prado, which is one of the world’s top art museums. It’d be like going to Paris and never seeing the Louvre.

Lines to enter the Prado are often quite long, and with only 24 hours in Madrid, you have super-limited time, so I strongly suggest buying a skip-the-line ticket so you can maximize your time — and skip waiting in a line that can often stretch around the block in the hot Spanish sun!

This museum contains art from the 12th century through the 19th century, and of particular note are its collections of paintings by Velazquez, El Greco (my favorite!), and Goya.

Beat the crowds and book your skip-the-line here.

Check out San Jerónimo el Real.

A stone and brick church with a tree in front and a grassy hill

This monastery dates back to the 1500s and has been remodeled beautifully, staying true to the original Neo-Gothic architecture while maintaining it for the ages.

At one point, this now-humble-looking church was once the official Royal Church of Madrid. Now, this stunning monastery overlooking the Prado from its vantage point on the hill is popular with tourists.

The interior is open from 8:30 AM to 1:30 PM and then from 5:30 PM to 8:30 PM; at all other times, you’ll have to admire it from the outside. Entrance is free.

Wander through the Botanic Garden.

View of a park with a fountain and roses in both background and foreground.

This beautiful Botanic Garden is well worth the affordable 4 euro entry price, and a short 30-minute stroll through the park would be time well spent on your one day in Madrid.

Home to over 5,000 different species of plants, there are 90,000 flowers and plants in the garden… not to mention 1,500 trees and literally a million more individual plants in the herbarium!

Most interesting is the greenhouse which has recreated a desert climate — one of the only places in Europe where you can actually experience a realistic desert.

Visit the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.

Reflection of a traditional architecture building reflected by a modern building

If two museums in a day is pushing it for you, feel free to skip this one.

But if you’re a fan of Picasso, Dalí, Miró, and other famous Spanish modernists, you won’t want to miss this museum focusing on the country’s most innovative 20th-century artists.

If there’s one central piece you shouldn’t miss at this museum, it’s Picasso’s greatest work, Guernica, a tour-de-force of artistic social commentary against the evils of war.

It’s one of the most important paintings of the 20th century (if not all time) and must be seen in person to be believed.

Tip: Book your tickets to Reina Sofia online in advance to save time.

Evening: A Stroll Down Gran Via, Dinner & A Flamenco Show

Walk down La Gran Via.

A grand European boulevard with a building with an angel on top of the roof

Walk up the shady pedestrian street, Paseo del Prado, until you reach Fuente de Cibeles again.

This time, instead of taking Calle de Alcalá, wander down La Gran Via, the most famous boulevard in Madrid. Primarily composed of architecture influenced by Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements, you’ll see innumerable interesting buildings as you walk down the boulevard.

A few of the most iconic buildings you’ll walk past are the angel-topped Metropolis Hotel, the Torre de Madrid, and Edificio Grassy.

Stop for people-watching in Plaza de España.

A giant statue in the middle of the park with two skyscrapers around it.

Your stroll down Gran Via will end at yet another iconic Madrid building, Edificio España, another one of the tallest buildings in Madrid.

In front of it, you’ll find the large public space Plaza de España, a great place for people-watching!

Check out ancient history at Templo de Debod.

A few arches and a larger stone edifice that make up the Temple of Debod, an actual Egyptian temple in Madrid.

Finally, make your way over to the Templo de Debod, a reconstructed Egyptian temple in the middle of a public park!

The temple was gifted to Spain by Egypt in 1968 after the Aswan Dam was constructed, which put this temple and others at risk. It was rebuilt and opened to the public in 1972, and it is free for all to see.

It’s one of the few authentic pieces of Egyptian architecture that you can see (outside of, well, Egypt…) that’s not in a museum!

Cap off the night with dinner and a show.

A female flamenco dancer in a dark room swirling her scarf around artistically.

Finish your day in Madrid in the most epic way possible: a flamenco show at the legendery Torres Bermejas, one of the best places to see flamenco in Madrid.

Order some tapas and sangria while you watch talented performers bring the art of flamenco to life.

Flamenco is a unique blend of dance and theater, marked by nuanced hand and facial gestures, rhythmic tapping of the feet and castanets held in the hands, and utilization of the dress and scarf to create fluid, beautiful movements.

It’s a really beautiful art form you won’t see outside of Spain, so if you will only be in Madrid for one day, you really should make a point of seeing a performance!

Book your flamenco show tickets here!

Where to Stay If You Only Have One Day in Madrid

A view of a famous Madrid boulevard all lit up in pink and orange with sunset colors.

Boutique Luxury: For a chic boutique hotel in Madrid, look to Only YOU Boutique Hotel! With a central location that makes following this itinerary a breeze, a relaxing Thai-inspired spa center, a gorgeously decorated lobby, an outdoor lounge area, large rooms with high ceilings, and individualized rooms packed with personality, you won’t find much better for the price in Madrid.
>> Book online here.

Mid-Range with Views: Remember the beautiful Edificio España from our itinerary? Well, it turns out that the building is actually a hotel: Hotel Riu Plaza España! You can check out incredible views from any one of the 27 floors, sweeping over Gran Via, Parque Oeste, and Madrid’s skyline as far as the eye can see. Amenities include a 21st-floor outdoor pool, 27th floor terrace bar, and a 24/7 gym.
>> Book online here.

Budget: The chic but budget-friendly Hotel Regina is a fantastic budget-friendly option just 2 minutes away from Puerta del Sol, right in the heart of Madrid (making this itinerary super easy to follow to the T). Rooms are minimalist but stylish, with bold graphic designs and pops of color.
>> Book online here.

5 Things Not To Forget For a Trip to Madrid

A light-haired woman with a smartphone taking a photo of a famous Madrid landmark.

A secure daybag: While travel in Madrid is safe, pickpocketing is a major issue. Thwart would-be pickpocketers with a chic, sleek backpack with double-interlocking zippers, slash-proof construction, & RFID blockers! I’ve carried this PacSafe backpack to 30+ countries with me, and it’s my #1 travel companion.

Pick from one of seven colors — I have and love the classic black one! Despite all its security features, it’s really quite classic and stylish, without anything that screams “I’m a tourist, target me!”

Comfortable walking shoes: This one day in Madrid itinerary has you walking a lot — so you’re going to need the best possible shoes for your trip! I strongly recommend an ultra-comfortable walking sandal like these Birkenstocks, which mold to your foot for the most perfect custom fit imaginable.

You do have to wear them for a few days first to get that perfect contour, but once you do, you’ll never want to take them off. In fact, I literally mourn the day each year it gets too cold to keep wearing Birkenstocks, and one day I may just rock socks with sandals to keep Birkenstock season going just a little longer. I’ve had my pair of Gizeh sandals for 3 years and they are still fantastic.

Portable charger: As an electronics-addict, I’m always running out of juice while running around the city on my travels. Bring a portable charger to save yourself many headaches while traveling in Europe! Anker is a reliable brand and this portable charger is what I personally use.

Spain guidebook: While you may only have one day in Madrid, hopefully you have more time allotted for the rest of your time in Spain! If you do, be sure to snag a guidebook — while of course I love blogs, I also think guidebooks are essential for learning the basics of traveling a country, as they cover everything from tipping culture to common scams to useful phrases. I suggest this Fodor’s Spain travel guide as it was recently updated at the end of 2019 and is full of incredible Spain travel inspiration!

Travel insurance: No matter where you travel in the world, travel insurance is a necessity and should be factored into your trip budget. Trust me, you don’t want to have a second thought about seeking medical care abroad if something goes wrong on your trip. Travel insurance also covers you in case of trip cancellation, theft, baggage delays, and other emergencies. It’s a must-have in my opinion. I use and rely on World Nomads to keep me safe and insured throughout 60+ countries of travel!

13 Useful Tips for Visiting Madrid on a Budget

One of the most popular destinations in Spain is its capital Madrid with over 6 million visitors per year.

The city is known for its historical sites and some of the best art museums in all of Europe but it’s also a haven of Spanish culture from bullfighting to Tapas, Madrid has it all.

Not least to mention that it is officially the sunniest city in Europe with 250 days of sun per year!

With all these epic reasons to visit, you’d think it will cost a fortune but it’s actually very easy to visit on a budget. In this guide I’ll show you where to stay, the best affordable things to do and some top tips for budget travel in Madrid.

Where to Stay in Madrid on a Budget

Accommodation in Madrid is quite inexpensive compared to many other cities in Europe, such as Paris or Amsterdam. The most popular neighborhoods to stay on a trip to Madrid are Centro, La Latina, and Malasana.

Malasana is the best neighborhood for those visiting Madrid on a budget as it is close to the city center and you’ll find some great value for money places to stay. As it’s not right in the city center, you also get the added benefit of a more relaxed atmosphere. A typical budget hotel in Madrid will usually set you back around €100 for a standard double room.

If you are looking to keep your expenses as low as possible, hostel dorm rooms are considerably cheaper than hotels, starting from as little as €13. This is an especially great choice if you’re a solo traveler as many of Madrid’s best hostels offer free dinners and cheap activities.

Free and Affordable Things to Do in Madrid

You can still have an incredible time in Madrid without spending a lot thanks to loads of free and affordable things to do. Here is a Madrid budget bucket list for your trip:

Museo Del Prado

Prado Museum is known to be one of the largest art galleries with over 9,000 pieces of artwork. This museum boasts an impressive permanent collection along with temporary exhibits from prestigious artists.

Prado Museum offers free activities and educational talks to those who sign up at the Jeronimos building 15 minutes beforehand. Museo del Prado offers free admission from 6-8 pm Monday-Saturday, and 5-7 pm on Sundays and holidays.  

El Retiro Park

El Retiro, the most famous and the most central park in Madrid, is known for being the green oasis heart of the city. The park is the attraction itself, with many pathways, gardens and even a lake to explore.

A day trip to El Retiro park gives you unlimited activities immersing you into Madrid daily life. You can explore, attend free exhibits, people-watch, meet locals, and make memories for no cost at all. 

Spain’s Royal Palace

The Royal Palace is a gorgeous architectural and historical wonder, standing for almost three centuries and remaining one of the biggest palaces in all of Europe.

The Royal Palace is a top tourist destination, and it’s easy to see why. This ticket is well worth budgeting for the small price of €10 to tour the vast estate grounds, gardens, and palace rooms for a few hours. 

Gran Via

Walking La Gran Via is a perfect way to soak up Spain’s exciting atmosphere for not much money at all. Gran Via is Madrid’s entertainment, shopping, and cultural center, often bustling with life until early into the morning.

During the day, the streets are filled with shoppers and families, and after dark the streets are lit up with nightlife from bars and clubs along the road. Hanging around Gran Via is a guaranteed way to immerse yourself into daily life as locals in Spain. 

Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor is a beautiful Renaissance style square where many come to admire the beautiful architecture, hang out at cafes, or just to walk around the large space.

Within the square are bustling cafes, fountains, and a statue of King Phillip III. Plaza Mayor is free to visit, although if you can afford a coffee at a cafe it is definitely worth the experience to sip your coffee and people-watch.

El Rastro Street Markets

El Rastro is a famously popular flea market, held every Sunday. There is a single main street dedicated to market stalls, however, the side streets contain the hidden antique treasures.

Whether you want to reward yourself for staying true to your budget and hunt for a souvenir, or just explore, the market El Rastro is the perfect scavengers hunt for low-budget travelers.

Free Walking Tours

Free walking tours are easily accessible throughout Europe via hostels, travel agencies, and companies advertised through the internet.

Free walking tours are an ideal way to get oriented within the city, along with learning about historical events, sites, and cultural traditions from a local’s perspective. 

While they are free, be sure to tip!

Templo de Debod

Templo de Debod is an Egyptian temple located close to the Royal Palace in the middle of Madrid’s city streets. The temple was given to Spain as a thank you from Egypt and its one of the few Egyptian works seen outside Egypt.

This site is a unique and underrated architectural gem in Madrid. The park is free to visit but it is closed from 2 pm-6 pm daily. 

Budget-Friendly Tips in Madrid

The easiest way to go over budget is by not planning out your accommodation, food, and travel expenses so here are some top tips to keep you in check.

Accommodation

The most budget-friendly accommodation options, especially for solo travelers, are staying in hostel dorms.

Hostels are budget-friendly, often offering free city tours and sometimes including family dinner in the price of your stay. In addition to being good to your wallet, hostels are brilliant places to meet other travelers with whom to explore the city sites. 

Food & Drink

From a hearty seafood paella to rich gazpacho soup, there is no shortage of delicious foods to find in Madrid. I recommend Taberna Malaspina & Bar El Tigre for cheap tapas and delicious wine close to the city center.

Although tapas are the most affordable food you’ll find around Madrid, the most budget-savvy way to eat is to use a hostel kitchen and cook your own meals. This also allows you to take inspiration from the Spanish cuisine and cook the recipes yourself. 

Transportation

Travel around the city is quite easy as most attractions and nightlife are all within walking distance of the city center. However, if you want to explore further than the city center, I recommend exploring via public transportation instead of private taxis.

Madrid’s metro is one of the largest metro systems in Europe so you’ll be able to get around super easily. A metro ticket costs between €1.5 – €2.5 per trip versus a metered taxi’s starting price of €3.

When combining low budget travel tips such as staying in hostels and mixing up cooking and eating out you can keep your daily cost of living in the city as low as €30. 

Enjoy your budget trip to Madrid, and hopefully you will be able to afford to travel back to Madrid again.  Safe travels!

About the Author

Kieren is a 20-something year old from Wales with a passion for adventure and backpacking. He’s spent time traveling through Europe and Southeast Asia with plenty more on the bucket list. Kieren shares tips and travel guides over at Got My Backpack.

Pin This Madrid on a Budget Post for Later!

Planning to visit Madrid, but have a tight budget? This guide to visiting Madrid on a budget includes tips for where to eat in Madrid cheaply, where to stay in Madrid, free and cheap things to do in Madrid, and other essential Madrid travel tips.

A Perfect 2 Days in Granada Itinerary

If you’re looking for a wonderful yet budget-friendly place to add to your Spain trip, allocate at least 2 days in Granada. This beautiful city is one of my favorite places I visited in my 5 weeks of travel across Spain.

Gorgeous Granada is home to UNESCO darling and Seven Wonders of the New World finalist, the Alhambra. In fact, the Alhambra is Spain’s single most-visited attraction… yet the prices in the city don’t seem to match, with a lively free tapas tradition, affordable hotels, and well-priced things to do.

Yes, free tapas! In Granada, a drink typically costs anywhere from 2 euros to 2.50 euros, and it basically always comes with a tapa. A tapa can be anything from some fries and a bit of stew to a plate of fried anchovies to a small helping of Valencian paella to fried eggplant with honey and beyond.

Generally speaking, you don’t get to choose your tapa at most places, though some do. Also, if you stick to one establishment and order multiple rounds, the tapas are supposed to get bigger and better with each round, though I never really quite noticed a correlation. I could get full (and a bit buzzed!) for anywhere from 4 to 8 euros if I was really making a night of it, and I have a pretty nice-sized appetite.

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All this is two euros. Americans, please pick up your jaws from the floor.

I needed a break after traveling at a fast pace for several months, so I took a longer than normal time in Granada.

Other people with less travel time than me would probably find 2 days to tour Granada to be suitable, so I’ve created this 2 day Granada itinerary with fast-paced travelers in mind.

While you can certainly stay in Granada for longer, this itinerary for 2 days in Granada will cover its highlights — such as the Alhambra, the Alcazar, the Albacin, and Sacromonte — with a few off the beaten path spots I discovered in my week in the city. Plus, at the end of the article I’ll include my bonus tips for saving money in Granada, as I visited Granada during my backpacking days and managed to stick to a $30 a day budget.

Day 1 of your Granada Itinerary

Start your day at the Alhambra (9 AM)

Most people come to Granada for one reason – to see the Alhambra, one of the most famous castles in Spain – so we might as well get started there!

One of the most common mistakes people make when visiting Granada is not booking their ticket with enough advance notice. When I was in Granada, tickets were sold out weeks in advance and I actually missed out on tickets. Luckily, I discovered the loophole that I could buy a Granada Card and get entry to the Alhambra that way.

I strongly suggest booking a tour of the Alhambra to both secure your ticket but also ensure you’ll get all the rich historical context that a building as beautiful and storied as the Alhambra deserves.

I didn’t go on a tour when I visited because I could only use the Granada Card loophole, and it was one of my biggest regrets about my time in Granada, especially since I enjoyed my other tours of the city so much.

How this place didn't get #1 in the 7 Wonders of the New World list is beyond understanding

This 3-hour tour includes your entrance ticket to the Alhambra, priority skip-the-line access, as well as visiting Nasrid Palaces and its stunning Patio de Los Leones courtyard, the Generalife Palace and Gardens, the Medina, and the Alcazaba: basically, everywhere you want to see in the Alhambra complex.

Book your skip-the-line ticket and tour today!

However, even tour tickets are extremely limited, as there is a finite amount of entries allowed per day.

For example, it’s the lowest of the low season as I write this in January. Still, when I look for tickets right now, tickets are still only available a week in advance, and some day’s tickets are sold out even a month in advance.

So for real – book it in advance and thank me later!

Marvel at the Granada Cathedral (12:30 PM)

The Granada Cathedral is one of the most important pieces of architecture in Granada’s center.

Construction started in 1518, after the Muslim Nasrid Kingdom fell into Spanish hands, and it would take nearly two hundred years to come to completion. It was built in the old Muslim medina in order to make a statement that Granada was now under Catholic rule.

Because the building took nearly two centuries and was taken over by several architects, the cathedral shows a unique blend of architectural styles, ranging from Gothic to Spanish Renaissance to Baroque.

Admission to the Granada Cathedral is 5 euros, but it is free with a Granada card.

Walk over to the Capilla Real (1 PM)

The Capilla Real is the final resting place of two of Spain’s most famous monarchs, Isabella and Fernando – the ones who financed Columbus’s (violent) voyage into the so-called ‘New World’. Their monumental tombs are shown on the ground floor of the Capilla Real [Royal Chapel]; their actual tombs are located in the basement level.

Their legacy is a bit complex to dig into in a mere blog post, as their reign was controversial. Having taken over Granada in the ‘Reconquista’ period, when Spain regained control over the Moorish-ruled parts of the country, they either forced conversion or exiled the Muslim and Jewish population which had until then been living there.

At the same time, they brought Spain out of debt and began a period of exploration that would eventually bring Spain to rule over a massive part of the globe, which would have disastrous consequences for the indigenous people of the Americas but was a period of huge economic growth for the Spanish.

It’s an interesting place to visit and an undeniably important piece of Spanish history, so in my mind, even though I may have my feelings about the Spanish empire and colonialism in general, it was an unmissable place to visit on my Granada itinerary.

Admission to the Capilla Real is 5 euros.

Visit the stunning Madraza (1:30 PM)

Located directly across from the Capilla Real and therefore an obvious next stop on this Granada Itinerary is the Granada Madraza.

‘Madrasa’ means Islamic school, and this historic building used to be the first Islamic university in Granada. Now, it’s home to a small museum which you can visit for a small entry fee.

It’s just two rooms, but the prayer room from the 14th century is so beautifully preserved that it alone is worth the 2 euro entry fee.

Stop for a leisurely lunch (2 PM)

Now’s about the time to stop for a long lunch — be sure to have lunch before siesta sets in, an institution that Granada takes quite seriously, as nearly every restaurant will be closed for several hours after lunch and won’t reopen until 8 PM!

For a nice place to eat near the Cathedral and Capilla Real, I recommend one of the following restaurants: El Mercader for Spanish fine dining (reservations recommended), Restaurante Arrayanes for Moroccan food, or Papas Elvira for budget food with vegetarian-friendly options.

End the day with an Albaicin and Sacromonte walking tour (5 PM)

One of the cool cave houses you can see on a free walking tour!
One of the cool cave houses you can see on a walking tour! 

The Albaicin is one of the coolest districts of Granada, and in my eyes, a walk through this historic quarter is an absolute must-do in Granada.

Most walking tours combine both the Albaicin (the historic Muslim district with stunning Moorish architecture) and Sacromonte (the cave district, where historically, Granada’s gitano / Roma community used to live).

The Albaicin is full of winding streets that are leftover from when Granada was part of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada, a Muslim-ruled state. As a result, you’ll see the influence of Moorish architecture here which dates back to the medieval period. The streets weave and wind around, and the white houses are nearly indistinguishable from one another, so it’s ideal to go with a guide who can give you the historical context of this neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Sacromonte is a very hilly part of Granada (bring good walking shoes!) where the Roma community, who settled there in the 16th century after the Muslims were expelled during the Christian conquest of the city. They settled mostly in cave houses on the outskirts of Granada, outside of administrative control (as you may remember, a pesky little thing called the Spanish Inquisition was going on at the time…).

The history of this region is too long to go into in great detail here, and it’s best to get it from a local who can explain it to you while seeing the area with your own eyes. I strongly recommend going with a guided tour of both the Albaicin and Sacromonte districts; this is the tour I recommend.

Most tours start around 5 PM and last 2-3 hours, which is a great time of day to avoid the heat and also finish in time to find a great sunset spot in Granada!

Book your tour now!

A quick note on semantics: I’m purposely not using the word g*psy in English, as it is considered offensive by the Roma community. The word gitano/gitana is used in Spain to refer to people of Roma descent and is not usually considered offensive, though context matters. This is a complex issue that as someone living in a country with a large Roma minority (Bulgaria), I try to be sensitive of.

Language matters, so be careful with how you refer to people in the Roma community. However, also be aware that people who speak English as a second language may not be used this word being pejorative in English and use the word freely, so just be mindful that this is a thorny issue and that while individual opinions vary, most Roma prefer the word ‘Roma’ to refer to their community.

Day Two of Your Granada Itinerary

Take a day trip to La Alpujarra

While you certainly could indulge in a lot more sightseeing around Granada, La Alpujarra is one of my favorite parts in all of Spain and I truly think it would be a shame to end your time in Granada without seeing them — especially since they’re so close and such an easy day trip.

La Alpujarra is a collection of white-washed villages done in the Mozarabic architectural style such as Capileira and Bubion, which are absolutely stunning and look like something taken out of a fairytale.

I actually spent 3 days in Capileira and every day was like waking up in a dream: it’s that magical of a village. But Capileira and the other white-washed villages of Alpujarra are so small and quaint that you can easily get acquainted with their magic on a day trip from Granada.

You’ll also get to visit the highest village in Spain, Trevélez, which is known for its tasty Iberian ham, some of the best in the country.

Be sure to book the lunch option which allows you to try a tasty regional lunch in the Alpujarreño style — it’s very unique to this part of Spain, and it’s not something you’d get elsewhere.

>> Book a day trip to La Alpujarra

End the evening with dinner and a flamenco show

After a busy day exploring La Alpujarra, you’ll likely want to return to your hotel and relax for a bit before getting back out there and seeing a bit more of Granada by night.

One of the absolute can’t-miss activities in Granada is seeing a flamenco show! Flamenco is a traditional Andalucian (and Murcian) art form combining dance and music.

However, that’s a bit of a simplification: the art of flamenco also uses also vivid facial expressions, significant hand gestures and percussion using castanets, and a specific style of guitar tapping called ‘golpe’ which contributes to the stirring rhythm of flamenco.

You will be bombarded with people passing out flyers and trying to invite you to their flamenco show while visiting the city, but frankly, a lot of these shows are too short and not the best. I recommend researching a show before you to go to avoid disappointment or following my recommendation here.

My personal suggestion (and where I went when I was in Granada) is a flamenco show at Cuevas Los Tarantos, which is in a traditional cave dwelling in Sacromonte.

The flamenco performance itself lasts about 45 minutes, but allow some time for seating, ordering food, and waiting for the show to begin, so expect 1.5 hours total in the venue).

The show is affordably priced and highly reviewed, and it includes one free welcome drink. You have the option to add on dinner and drinks for a fairly reasonable price given the venue. I appreciated that it didn’t feel like a tourist trap and that dinner wasn’t too expensive here.

>> Book your flamenco show here

Tips for Saving Money in Granada

1. Drink your dinner

Granada is the only place in the world that rewards my drunken antics, which is probably why I’m convinced it’s my destiny to live there one day.

You will save quite a bit of cash if you tapa wisely rather than paying for raciones (plates). At certain locales, 4 euros will get you two drinks and a reasonable dinner (6 euros if you’re hungry, and 8 if you’re making a night of it).

The two most popular and most affordable drinks are the caña (small) or tubo (large) of beer or tinto de verano, a delicious drink of red wine, soda water, and lemon. You may have your doubts, but trust me, it’s what you want in an Andalusian summer.

These drinks will set you back about 2 euros to 2.20 euros a pop – if you go for mojitos, sangria, cocktails, or glasses of wine you will still get your tapa but you’ll end up paying more.

IMG_5406
A giant plate of fried anchovies along with a beer – just two euros.

2. Follow the business cards

Granada has an odd system of advertising places to drink, where people working for bars will walk by – or even into – your restaurant where you’re eating and drinking to advertise their establishments.

They’ll leave a business card with hand-written details of drink prices, and they’re usually quite cheap – I’m talking 1 euro for a beer or 2 euros for a mojito!

These usually don’t come with tapas as these are bars, not bar/restaurants. However, if you’re full but want to keep the night going, this is the way to do it!

3. Walk everywhere

Granada is so tiny that everything is walkable within about 30 minutes.

The only exception is if you want to do a day trip, such as Güéjar Sierra or Monachil; then you’ll pay a paltry 1.20 euros each way. The bus station is also quite far out of town as well, so you’ll probably want to bus that too.

You just gotta see Güéjar Sierra for yourself, trust me.
You just gotta see Güéjar Sierra for yourself, trust me.

4. Enjoy the fresh mountain tap water!

Granada has some of the freshest, purest tap water on the planet – so why waste money on bottles of water?

I carry a reusable water bottle and refill it in taps and public water fountains around the city. Note that a few are non-potable, but they will be very clearly marked if you’re not supposed to drink out of them!

5. Buy your Alhambra ticket in advance

If you know when you’ll be in Granada, buy your tickets online at least one week in advance.

Admission into Palacios Nazaries are valid for a 30 minute entry window as marked on your ticket, so make sure you’re there on time!

If you don’t book on time, you have to show up around 6:30 in the morning to try for a same-day ticket.

Alternately, you can buy the pricy Granada Card (33.50 euros) for guaranteed access to the Alhambra.

Just outstanding. Screw your budget - you gotta see the Alhambra
Just outstanding. Screw your budget – you gotta see the Alhambra

Barcelona Off the Beaten Path: Unusual Things to Do in Spain’s Most Touristed City

Barcelona is a beautiful and one-of-a-kind city that tops many people’s travel bucket lists… but it’s also the most popular and crowded tourist destination in all of Spain.

This article assumes that you know about places like Las Ramblas, La Boqueria Market, and the Sagrada Familia. It bypasses some of the more famous Gaudí sites like Casa Battló and Park Güell in favor of some equally beautiful but less visited sites.

Nothing in Barcelona is ever truly that off the beaten path, but this guide will give you a good balance of getting a flavor of what makes Barcelona distinctive while avoiding the worst of the crowds. To further get off the path, I recommend staying in one of Barcelona’s neighborhoods that are just a bit off the tourist zone, so you can see a local side to life there.

Casa Museo Amatller

While Barcelona is synonymous with the architecture of Antoni Gaudí, who designed some of the city’s most iconic buildings such as the Sagrada Familia and Park Güell, its architectural cred goes so much further. Barcelona was the heart of the Catalan Modernism style that was booming in the late 19th and early 20th century. The rebellious forms of Catalan Modernist architects signified a greater resistance to Spanish assimilation and a desire to cement to a unique Catalan identity.

To see this intersection of architecture, history, and identity, Barcelona’s “Illa de la Discòrdia” (Block of Discord) is its most emblematic. This is where you’ll find Casa Batlló, easily identifiable by its distinctive windows — and its massive crowd. While the façade of Casa Museo Amatller certainly attracts cameras, the interior is far less visited, especially when compared to the crush of people flooding Casa Batlló. While Casa Batlló is definitely worth seeing, even with its hefty admission fees (I recommend purchasing skip-the-line tickets to avoid the inevitable lines), Casa Museo Amatller is far less crowded and a good way to get slightly off the beaten path in Barcelona while still enjoying what it is most known for.

Originally built for Antoni Amatller — best known as the industrial chocolatier who introduced new methods for making chocolates en masse — to be his private residence in the final years of the 19th century. Built sometime between 1898 and 1900, it’s one of the key works of modernist architect Josep Puig I Cadafalch, and it’s considered one of the best and most unique buildings in all of Barcelona. As you enter, be sure to note the odd carvings in the façade, including a rat with a camera. Inside, the architecture is a delightful mix of traditional and anti-traditional, with geometric stained glass windows and gorgeous spiral pillars.

Walking in this beautiful residence can feel downright amazing, as you’ll feel like passing through living history, while trying out some of the most delicious chocolates ever made in the world.

Shop guided tours and priority entrance tickets here:

Casa Museo Amatller Guided Visit with Chocolate Tasting

Arc de Triomf

While Paris is the city most synonymous with triumphal arches, you’ll find them all over the world — from Bucharest to yes, even Barcelona. This arch was constructed in the late 19th century, and as a result, its form has similar hallmarks to other examples of Catalan Modernisme.

It’s distinct from other cities’ triumphal arches for its red color, four decorative pillars, and intricate carvings which celebrate Catalan identity. You can find it in Ciutadella Park, where you’ll also find other important landmarks.

Dark History Tour

The history of Barcelona has not always been the lively, carefree tourist mecca it is today. Quite the contrary — there’s been plenty of bloodshed and violence raged in ages past, and this tour will guide you in two medieval neighborhoods where you’ll see and understand everything about Barcelona’s dark past.

As a significant medieval city in Spain, Barcelona has a lot of connections to the history of the Spanish Inquisition, one of the darkest chapters in Spain’s history. The neighborhoods you’ll visit, although beautiful and lovely, have seen their share of executions and torture. The tour itself is meant to educate, not frighten, giving you a chance to learn in depth about one of the bloodiest periods of Spanish history.

Check out available history tours here:

Barcelona: The Dark History 2-Hour Walking Tour

Sant Pau Recinte Modernista

While it’s not unknown – it is a component of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, after all – the other component sites tend to get far more notice. Instagrammers flock to the Palau de la Música Catalana and all the Gaudí sites, while the Sant Pau Recinte Modernista doesn’t get nearly as much love as its fellow UNESCO compatriots in Barcelona.

Designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, this 27-building complex takes up nearly 10 city blocks, making it the largest single example of Art Nouveau architecture in existence. Despite this superlative – and partly because its large size means that you’ll feel away from the crowds even if this site is well-known – Sant Pau feels relatively peaceful in busy Barcelona.

This massive, striking building complex was conceived of in 1898 as a place for healing and tending to the ill, the result of a merger of six other hospital buildings in the quickly expanding Barcelona area. However, due to its ambitious size, it took over 30 years to finish construction.

It was subsequently used as a hospital for nearly a century, and recent refurbishments have continued its upkeep. The original hospital was kept functioning until 2009; however, it has since moved to another part of the building complex. Today, you can experience the splendor of its pavilions, gardens, and underground passages, and escape the crowds of Barcelona’s more popular tourist sites.

Pre-purchase a ticket online to save time here:

Sant Pau Recinte Modernista Entry Ticket

Monastery of Pedralbes

Named Pedralbes for its white-stone walls, this former Gothic monastery now functions as a museum, featuring artifacts from Barcelona’s history. The cloister is in excellent shape, with three floors of beautiful archways and a central garden filled with fruit trees.

While visiting the former monastery, you shouldn’t miss the impressive Chapel of St. Michael, which hosts frescos which date back to the 14th century.

Mercat de Sant Antoni

La Boqueria is the most popular market in Barcelona, given its prime location on the tourist promenade of Las Ramblas. During the summer, it’s almost impossible to even pass through the market (it is slightly better in February, but even then – still super crowded).

If you’d like to experience a market in Barcelona with significantly fewer crowds, check out the Mercat de Sant Antoni, with a beautiful historic market with much fewer tourists. The neighborhood of Sant Antoni is beloved as well, so stop by some of the local bars and restaurants after checking out the market.

Picasso Walking Tour

The name Picasso is so intertwined with being an artist that we throw it around as if the two are synonyms. To walk in the literal footsteps of one of the 20th century’s most famous artists, take a 2-hour walking tour that highlights destinations that were significant to the art of his youth and formative years.

On this tour, you’ll visit some little-known places that put Picasso’s life into context. You’ll see his favorite restaurant where likeminded, creative individuals often gathered, see the Llotja de Mar – the art school where Picasso studied – as well as the only piece of public art that Picasso has ever made. You’ll also see the stunning Museu Picasso, set in an old mansion, where you’ll see and understand just how his style evolved before his invention of Cubism.

Bundle together a walking Picasso tour & museum entry here:

Picasso Walking Tour & Picasso Museum of Barcelona

Casa Milà

Of the seven UNESCO-inscribed Gaudí sites, Casa Milà is among the less visited. However, that being said, it’s still quite common on many tourists’ itineraries, given that many people try to see as many of Gaudí’s works as they can. But it definitely comes in after Sagrada Familia, Casa Batlló, and Park Güell, meaning that you’ll have to dodge slightly fewer other tourists to get your shots.

A building with a very quirky, if a bit peculiar, appearance, Casa Milà – or also known as La Pedrera, or “The Stone Quarry” in English, is one of Gaudí’s most interesting buildings. To me, a lot of Gaudí’s works have the appearance of highly ornate sand castles, and this one is no different. Casa Milà is most famous for its intriguing rooftop, with turrets that look almost like faces. In the attic, take time to peruse the exhibition about Gaudi’s life, also known as Espai Gaudi, where you’ll see the fascinating evolution of his work.

Pre-purchase a skip the line ticket & audio guide here:

Casa Milà Skip-the-Line Ticket with Audio Guide

Craft Beer Tasting

Barcelona is no stranger to excellent gastronomy and delighting in celebrating new, unique tastes. While Barcelona has always been surrounded by delicious wine, in the recent years, there’s been quite an innovation when it comes to craft beer.

If you’re interested in sampling what the beer scene in Barcelona is looking like, you can check out a microbrewery tour (see prices and availability here) in the neighborhood of Gracia that offer unique flavors of beer — chocolate beer, truffle beer, and even oyster beer. If those aren’t wild enough for you, many new flavors are being worked on and discovered all the time. There are also several bars specializing in craft beer (Abirradero, Bar Centro, and Barcelona Beer Company all come highly recommended).

Tibidabo

One of the best views of Barcelona can be had at Tibidabo, an amusement park on a hill on the outskirts of the city. This retro amusement park is the better part of 90 years old and has a gorgeous view overlooking not only Barcelona but the beach in town as well.

Despite how easy the Ferris wheel is to see in Barcelona’s skyline, not many people make the trip out, so it’s a bit of a hidden-in-plain-sight gem in Barcelona.

Barcelona in February Is Actually Not a Terrible Idea

There are some cities I click with instantly.

And then there’s Barcelona.

I visited Barcelona twice in the summer and never quite got the love for it. It was throbbingly crowded, maddeningly touristy, made me want to use every Spanish curse word in the book, and was far more expensive than anywhere else in Spain. The Gaudí architecture was cool, sure — but could you even see it over the selfie sticks?

After eating ridiculously cheap food in Madrid and amazing pintxos all throughout the Basque country, I balked at spending upwards of 15 euro on an average meal. Barcelona, I decided, was not for me.

I’m a contrarian at heart. I proudly tell people my favorite country is Albania or Nicaragua just to see the puzzled looks on their faces. I take a weird pleasure in telling people my favorite cities in the world count Sofia and Belgrade amongst their numbers.

And so, I almost wore this resistance to Barcelona as a badge of honor. It was too crowded, too touristy, “inauthentic” – that word that travelers-not-tourists everywhere love. Sorry, I can be a bit of a douche sometimes. (At least I know it? Or does that make it worse?)

A February street scene in Barcelona

So when I came to Barcelona in February, it wasn’t necessarily out of love for the city. It was because I scored a $159 direct flight from Oakland en route to my new home in Sofia. My friend Stephanie who also lives in Sofia came to meet me in Barcelona, and so I decided to give the city another try.

To my surprise, the third time was the charm: I actually loved Barcelona (in February). There was a surprising amount of great things to do in Barcelona despite it being the off-season, and I thoroughly loved my time in Barcelona in winter.

You see, Barcelona is one of the places that — in my opinion — is only good in the offseason. Sure, you won’t be able to take advantage of the beaches, but come on. Do you really want to be packed ass to ankles with every other tourist baking themselves pink?

Do you really want to fight your way through Las Ramblas only to sit down exhausted at some mediocre tapas restaurant?

This is Las Ramblas in February. Imagine the hell it is in summer. Photo credit: Stephanie Craig

Do you really want to pay upwards of 20 euros to get into Casa Batllo, only to barely be able to see anything through the throng of flesh?

Yeah, I thought so.

Mercifully free of people

Which is why I’m here to tell everyone that Barcelona in February rocks. But maybe don’t tell everyone – this is a secret best kept amongst friends.

If you’re wondering what to do in Barcelona in the winter months, here are a few things I loved doing – to help you plan your own Barcelona itinerary and hopefully love this city in the off-season as much as I did.

Explore the Barri Gotic without the crowds

The name Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter) is a bit of a misnomer — this area dates back to the 19th and 20th centuries, not the Gothic architecture era of the Middle Ages. Still, it’s called that for the strong influence Gothic architecture plays in this part of the Ciutat Vella district.

Stephanie and I were even able to score a nice hotel right in the heart of the Barri Gotic for around 50 euros a night — unthinkable in Barcelona’s peak season. Just one more reason to visit Barcelona in February or any other off-season month.

Explore La Boqueria market

Plenty of delicious produce, even in winter

This was one of my favorite places the first time I visited Barcelona in the summer — and let me tell you, La Boqueria is even better in the winter.

There are way fewer people there so you won’t have to deal with lines or crowds the same way you will in the summer.

If you have a kitchen, there’s plenty of vegetables, fresh fish, and delicious condiments to cook with. Or you can just gorge yourself on all the fresh fruit juice, cheese, and sausage like I did. *shrug*

Decisions, decisions…

Juice so colorful, you almost don’t hate being healthy

Do a self-guided food tour

Barcelona’s weather in February is often quite warm and sunny, so there’s no reason to cower inside.

One of my favorite things we did in Barcelona on this recent trip was a self-guided walking tour with bitemojo, who I partnered with on my most recent trip. Basically, it’s an app that guides you to a few hidden gem eateries where you can redeem your “bites” through an app, walking past some historic landmarks along the way.

Combining my love of food and my side-eye towards humanity, genius.

There are two tours, each costing 30 euro (which is not that outrageous a price considering the expensiveness of Barcelona).

We opted for the tour of La Boqueria and El Raval. We got to try 6 bites ranging from cheese, Catalonian sausage, cod fritters, fried eggplant tapas, and fancy Instagrammable donuts. It was delicious and I highly recommend it!

You can also go on a self-guided food tour of Barcelona’s best eats.

Mmm… donuts [/end Homer Simpson impression]

Actually see Gaudí’s sites through the crowds

Photo credit: Stephanie Craig

If you’re an architecture fan like I am, Gaudí is likely one of the main draws to Barcelona. The architect left an outsize footprint on the face of Barcelona and is responsible for some of its most iconic buildings. In fact, his buildings collectively make up one of Barcelona’s two UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Visiting Barcelona in February, you’ll have less of a crowd to fight with to get your shots. You’ll still probably need a bit of Photoshop sorcery to get a people-free photo of the Sagrada Familia or Park Güell, as Barcelona is never exactly tourist-free.

Enjoy Barcelona’s parks

Photo credit: Stephanie Craig

Honestly, Barcelona in February is pretty much equal to summer in Stockholm, and it really reminds me of my home in the East Bay. We enjoyed some really sunny days during our visit, and with a bit of luck, the temperatures will hover around 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit with plenty of sun.

We saw a lot of people sunning themselves out with their pets in February, and there’s no reason not to visit Barcelona’s parks with a bottle of wine or a picnic from La Boqueria market if you have a nice sunny winter day.

This photo is of the stunning Ciutadella Park, one of the most beautiful in Barcelona!

Go on a day trip

besalu girona
Game of Thrones vibes, anyone?

There’s no shortage of beautiful day trips from Barcelona. On our most recent trip, we visited Andorra la Vella — mostly to tick off another country off our list, as Steph and I are both shameless country counters. To be honest, I wouldn’t recommend visiting Andorra la Vella unless you’re a country counter as well.  It’s a pretty boring and not super photogenic city, and the best thing to do there is indulge in a 60 euro day pass to a fancy thermal spa.

If you have more time to explore Andorra, surely the mountains are beautiful and offer plenty of skiing opportunities, but I can’t in good conscience say Andorra la Vella is anything special. Plus, Andorra la Vella is a good deal more elevated than Barcelona, making February not really a great time to visit the Andorran capital (though I’m not entirely convinced there is a good time wow, salty much?).

What I’d recommend instead is taking a day trip to one of Catalonia’s beautiful other cities — I especially loved visiting Besalú and Girona on a previous trip to Catalonia, and I’d recommend them over Andorra in a heartbeat. The summer heat in Spain is no joke, especially inland where you’ll find Besalú, so going in February seems like it’d be a fantastic idea.

Where to Stay in Barcelona

The best part about visiting Barcelona in February or any other off-season month is that you can stay in a super central location for an insanely cheap price. On my last trip to Barcelona, my friend and I shared a massive private room with shared bathroom for about $50 USD per night split between the two of us – in the heart of Ciutat Vella. Meanwhile, when I came in the summer last time, I paid well over $30 for a bed in one of the crappiest hostels I’ve ever had the misfortune to stay at.

Here are my recommendations for where to stay broken down by price. Here’s how I roughly break it down: budget is under $20 per night for a bunk in a dorm, mid-range is $75-150 for a double room, and luxury is over $200.

Budget: If you’re on a budget and traveling solo or in a small group and want to spend as little money as possible on accommodation while still having a nice place to stay, I recommend Sweet BCN. With an 8.8 rating on Booking.com, a prime location in the hip Eixample neighborhood near sights like Casa Batlló, and charming interior décor that pays homage to its Barcelona roots, Sweet BCN is a big step above typical hostels yet the price for a bunk is very fair in February. Click here for rates, reviews, and availability.

If you simply want the cheapest room possible, I recommend Safestay Sea in Ciutat Vella, which has decent reviews but isn’t quite as nice as Sweet BCN, but is a good deal cheaper. Still, I think Sweet BCN offers better value for your buck.

Mid-range: You’ll find a ton of affordably priced mid-range options in Barcelona in February. This is a great opportunity to stay at a fashionable boutique hotel without paying a fortune, as a lot of boutique hotels will be very reasonably priced in the winter months then easily go for over $200 per night in peak season. For a stylish yet affordable stay, I recommend Hotel Omnium, which has great but minimalist design and an excellent location in the heart of Barcelona. Click here for rates, reviews, and availability.

Luxury: For a luxury stay with a reasonable price tag, I recommend H10 Casa Mimosa in the trendy Eixample neighborhood. With stylish yet unfussy décor, a gorgeous private pool nestled between buildings like a little Barcelona secret, and spacious rooms, this affordable-yet-luxe hotel is walking distance from all of Barcelona’s best sights. Click here for reviews, prices, and availability.

***

Have you visited Barcelona in the off season? What were your thoughts?

Note: I was provided with a complimentary food tour courtesy of bitemojo in order to test out their app. All opinions shared are entirely my own.

Why You Must Visit Lekeitio, Northern Spain’s Best Kept Secret

Lekeitio, Basque Country

Little Lekeitio in the Basque country is one of my favorite hidden gems in all of Spain.

About an hour outside of the larger Basque cities of Bilbao and San Sebastián, this quiet town is home to not one but two of Spain’s loveliest beaches, and it’s a must if you’re doing a road trip in Spain, particularly in the Basque Country.

There’s not a ton going on in Lekeitio, but it has its charms. Lots of bars restaurants dot the main road on the way to the beach, specializing in Basque ciders, txakoli (young white wine), pintxos, and – of course – fresh seafood. There is a beautiful gothic church quite close the beach, with intriguing arches that look almost like the ribcage of a whale.

The church of Lekeitio. Click to learn more!
The impressive local church

As you walk past the cathedral, you’ll soon be gifted with views of Lekeitio’s first beach and its picturesque harbor. When I was in Lekeitio, it was in one the Basque country’s rare heat waves, so it seemed like everyone was on the beach. Granted, considering that July’s average high temperature is approximately 75F (24C), Lekeitio’s “heat wave” was more like my Californian’s idea of a pleasant sunny day.

The beach in Lekeitio - click to learn more!
This is Isuntza, the first beach you’ll see in Lekeitio

But as is often the case, walking a little further afield will reward you leaps and bounds. Walk past the beach and you’ll see this magical little vista open up, with turquoise water that seems more befitting the Caribbean or Southeast Asia than Northern Spain. As you walk towards the bridge, there’s an opportunity to walk down to a little rental shop, where you can rent a kayak or a stand-up paddle board. Looking back, I wish I had spent more time in Lekeitio, so I could have rented a kayak and explored this view even further.

The views in Lekeitio. Click to learn more!
Keep walking….

Lekeitio, Basque Country
But make sure you turn back to look at this view!

After walking maybe ten more minutes, you’ll arrive at Karraspio beach, which is the quieter and lovelier of the two, in my opinion. You have a perfect view of Lekeitio’s tiny San Nicolas Island, which is easily swimmable or even walkable during low tide.

Sandy toes and lovely views
Sandy toes and lovely views of San Nicolas Island

Besides having a lovely view of the small island, you’re also directly facing Lekeitio’s colorful harbor. You can also see the first beach clearly and even watch as people appear to walk on water on the small pathway leading them towards San Nicolas Island! Total Jesus vibes.

People walk on the pathway to San Nicolas Island
People walk on the pathway to San Nicolas Island

And when all this beauty gets to be too much....
And when all this beauty gets to be too much….

This being Basque country, pintxos are never far away.
This being Basque country, pintxos are never far away.

Lekeitio, in the Basque Country region of Spain, is one of the best beach towns in Spain. From its beautiful turquoise waters that seem straight out of the Caribbean, delicious fresh seafood, and unspoiled paradise vibes, it's a surprise that this little beauty is widely off the tourist trail.

Pintxos in San Sebastián and Bilbao

solo travel in Spain

Pintxos (also written as pinchos in Spanish) is the Basque spin on Spanish tapas. Pintxo literally means “thorn” or “spike” and refers to the toothpick that customarily holds everything together, usually atop a slice of bread.

They are the quintessential bar snack and go perfectly with beer, wine, or cider. Txakoli (tx is pronounced like “ch” in Euskara, the Basque language, so it’s prounounced chakoli) is a young white wine with slight effervescence, and one of my favorite things to drink with pintxos.

Vino tinto, or red wine, is also quite delicious and usually comes from neighboring La Rioja (the subsection of Rioja Alavesa is actually part of Basque Country). A glass of wine will set you back a maximum of three euros – and likely less than two. Yes, Spain and the Basque Country are a lush’s dream.

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A Dreamy One Day in Girona Itinerary

Catalonia (or Catalunya) is a beautiful varied region with many beautiful sites. I recently spent six days in Catalonia, splitting my time between Girona and Barcelona. And if I’m honest? If I could do it again, I would have spent the entire time in Girona — and then some.

It’s not that I didn’t like Barcelona. It’s just that, fresh off my divorce with New York after almost a decade of common law marriage, it felt too city-like, too Brooklyn, in a way that just didn’t jive with me. Meanwhile, Girona had its own heart and soul – something both so new and so old.

Plus, I’m a rabid Game of Thrones fangirl, and the idea of walking through what is basically a living GoT setpiece was pretty wonderful.

If you’re a language geek like me, you’ll love hearing, reading, and deciphering Catalan. It’s a Romance language, so it has clear French and Spanish influences. With my background in French, Spanish, and Italian, I can read 90% of it, but I can barely speak a word. 

But don’t fret – Spanish is also spoken by everyone, and English by almost everyone as well, so you won’t have any trouble getting around.

Psst – want to save this post for later? Click to pin it!

Want to travel to Girona, Spain? This Game of Thrones filming location is also a wonderful city break in Spain and an easy day trip from Barcelona. With tips for Girona restaurants, museums, photography spots, and the best things to do in Girona in one day, this guide will help you plan the perfect Girona city break.
Want to travel to Girona, Spain? This Game of Thrones filming location is also a wonderful city break in Spain and an easy day trip from Barcelona. With tips for Girona restaurants, museums, photography spots, and the best things to do in Girona in one day, this guide will help you plan the perfect Girona city break.

One Day in Girona: Itinerary

This itinerary is structured assuming you’ve spent the night in Girona and are waking up there.

If you’re planning to Girona mid-day and stay until the next afternoon, you can adjust this Girona itinerary accordingly.

Have breakfast at Palmira Bakery

When we visited Girona, we met some lovely Syrian refugees who opened an outstanding bakery in the Old Town called Palmira. They sold delicious goodies, from baklava to honey-drenched flaky and crunchy desserts I can’t even begin to pronounce.

The owners of the bakery were incredibly friendly, pressing free samples upon us as we drank our morning espressos. We went back every day we were in Girona — I’m jonesing for their delicious pistachio-filled baklava as I write this!!

Discover the city with a walking tour

A walking tour is a fantastic way to discover a city, and if you only have one day in Girona, you’ve got to make it count. Luckily, there are some great walking tours on offer throughout the city, focusing on either the city’s historical and cultural significance or its more recent revival as a pop culture hotspot for Game of Thrones fans.

If you want a well-rounded tour that covers the basic must-sees in Girona, check out this small group walking tour that encompasses Girona’s Cathedral, the Jewish Quarter, its bright houses on the Onyar river, and its famous bridge created by none other than the man who designed the Eiffel Tower!

While it doesn’t focus on Game of Thrones specifically, they do mention filming locations, so it’s a good way to blend both in a well-organized, 3-hour overview of Girona. To book, check out reviews, prices, and availability here.

Alternately, if you’re an avowed GoT fangirl like myself, you can go on a dedicated Game of Thrones walking tour. Many great scenes of this HBO epic series were shot right here in the Old Town of Girona. The Cathedral steps? Where Jaime Lannister’s badass horse charges up to challenge the High Sparrow. The cobblestone stairs and alleyways? Where Arya darts as she’s hunted in Braavos.

For a big Game of Thrones nerd like me – who doesn’t want to deal with the tourist crush of Dubrovnik in the summer (or its prices — seriously guys, Girona is a bargain compared to Dubrovnik!) – this is a huge plus.

While you can certainly walk around with a map and try to spot the famous spots independently, I recommend doing a Game of Thrones walking tour where you can visit the filming locations (and learn about their real-world significance) in an organized, context-driven fashion. This GoT walking tour is highly rated – check out prices, reviews, and availability here – and lasts 2.5 hours. If that’s a little long for your attention span, there’s a 90-minute tour here.

Eat lunch in the most beautiful setting possible at Le Bistrot

Nestled about halfway up the staircase of the lovely Pujada de Sant Domènec, you can’t miss having a meal at one of my favorite restaurants in Girona, Le Bistrot. This chic, romantic restaurant has Catalan food served with a French twist – at about 10 to 15 euros per head. The star of the show was the pagès, the Catalan twist on pizza, which are basically hunks of bread slathered with delicious and inventive toppings.

Alongside our meal, we drank a delicious 10 euro bottle of wine while marveling at the lovely views leading up to the church. The atmosphere was amazing, and when we got the bill, we were all shocked at how cheap the meal was for the quality of food.

Dinner can be quite busy, so I recommend going at lunch when you can see your surroundings better, anyway. It’s open from 1 PM to 4 PM for lunch daily and reopens at 7:30 for dinner.

Learn about Girona’s rich Jewish history

Before I went to Girona, I had no idea that it was called “The Mother City to Israel” and was once a very significant part of the Jewish diaspora. The best way to understand Girona’s Jewish heritage is by visiting the excellent Jewish Museum. It is located right in the Jewish call, the former Jewish neighborhood… before the Inquisition and other unpleasantness pushed the Jews out of Girona and into exile once again.

While the majority of Girona’s Jews have left the city that was once a refuge for them, the city’s Jewish history is quietly remembered throughout its architecture. From preserved mikvehs (ritual baths) to minute architectural details — our Airbnb had Star of David tessellated window panes — keep an eye out and you’ll notice all sorts of interesting details that tell a story of Girona’s history.

Refuel with the world’s best ice cream

Rocambolesc gelato Girona

The Spanish eat quite late in the evening, with most restaurants not even beginning service until 8 PM. This threw me off quite a bit during my five weeks of traveling Spain, as I was fresh off working five years as a teacher and eating dinner every night around 6 PM!

Not too many places are open during siesta… but Rocambolesc is open from 11 AM to 11 PM, making it the perfect “oh please God rescue me I’m about to kill someone out of hanger” treat.

Plus, it is literally the best gelato shop I’ve eaten at in my life. I mean, how many ice cream parlors can say that they are run by the owner of the best restaurant in the world, El Cellar de Can Roca?

If you want to feel like you died and went to Willy Wonka’s ice cream heaven, Rocambolesc is your place. Whatever you do, make sure you try the violet and coconut sorbet if they have it – it’s heavenly!

Indulge in some excellent shopping

Girona knows how to shop. There are so many amazing little stores tucked into the Old Town, where you can buy everything from adorable dresses, breezy tanks, home goods, and my favorite – espadrilles.

You can get gorgeous espadrilles from Tony Pons for a quarter of the price as back home – not even kidding! I’m kicking myself for not buying a pair, as they were absolutely gorgeous, but I really had no space in my backpack. But I just tell myself that’s another reason to return!

Have an incredible pintxos dinner

pinchos Girona Zanpanzar

Everyone who has even a five-minute conversation with me knows that I am obsessed with food. And good god, does Girona deliver.

In our short time there, I ate some of the most amazing pinchos (alternately spelled pintxos if you’re in Basque country) and tapas. One of my favorite places, Zanpanzar, was so good we actually had to go there twice! If you only have one day in Girona, make your dinner meal here.

So, what exactly are pinchos? Basically, they are delicious tapas made of whatever is local and in season, served atop toasted bread.

Some highlights (OK, they were all highlights if I’m honest): truffled goat cheese with candied apricot and walnuts; pate, quail egg and ham; white asparagus, roasted red peppers, and eggplant; goat cheese, ham, and fruit compote; mushroom, ham, and crunchy bits of garlic.

Have it with a strong, dry cider like the Basque do!

Take a nighttime stroll on the city walls for epic views

The iconic Girona Cathedral is located high up in the city, atop steps made famous by Game of Thrones. This makes it a prime spot for sunset views. But if you want to really feel the magic, get even higher on one of the city’s semi-hidden walkways.

Girona is a city meant to be viewed from above. If you start wandering around behind the cathedral area, you’ll find an entry to the city walls, where there are some great vistas to be had. There are lit pathways that lead you up and up, until you have nothing but amazing city views. All this in walking distance from the Old Town!

What to Do with More Days in Girona: Itinerary Inspiration

You can visit Girona on a day trip if you’re traveling to Barcelona, but it can be quicker and more direct to do day trips via Girona (and sometimes cheaper, too!)

We took a quick day trip to Besalú, which was a beautiful way to spend half a day. The old bridge, which was built about a thousand years ago, is just picture perfect. We went around 3 PM when everything was closed, which added some charm to its sleepy medieval vibe. But if you want to make more of a day of it and have lunch or dinner there I recommend going either earlier or later in the day.

besalu girona
Less than an hour bus ride away from Girona, Besalú must be seen to be believed

There are also quick and easy day trips to Figueres, where the Dalí museum is located, and to Cadaqués, a small beach town where Dalí painted many of his works. There are also many tiny beach towns along the Costa Brava, like Tossa del Mar and Lloret del Mar, which are — again — closer to Girona than Barcelona! Check out this guide for ideas!

Where to Stay in Girona

If you only have one night in Girona, make it count! I’ve picked my top three choices for where to stay in this beautiful city.

VALUE WITH A VIEW

In my opinion, the best value-to-price ratio is the surprisingly affordable boutique hotel Gran Ultonia, located in Barri Vell district (the Old Town) just a 5-minute walk to the heart of the city and 500 meters from the Cathedral.

The rooms are clean, spacious, and modern, offering basically everything you’d expect of a four-star hotel… But best of all, it has a stunning rooftop terrace and bar area with gorgeous views overlooking Girona’s cathedral. (And they even have a yoga class there in the morning!)

Check out prices, reviews, and availability here.

AFFORDABLE LUXURY AND A POOL

For a touch more glamor that still won’t break the bank, check out the sleek Hotel Nord 1901 Superior, a stunning boutique hotel just a 5-minute walk from the Girona Cathedral.

With an outdoor pool in the courtyard (amazing during hot Spanish summers, trust me) and sun loungers, a delicious breakfast spread, air conditioning, and massive rooms, it’s definitely where I’d pick to stay in Girona for a special occasion.

Check out prices, reviews, and availability here.

CHEAP AND CHEERFUL

For a budget-conscious traveler, don’t worry, Girona still has some great options for you! Can Cocollona B&B is a hostel with rave reviews. Rooms are simple but clean and modern, and there’s a wonderful outdoor area with hammocks where you can relax. The hostel is social without being too rowdy.

One thing to note: it’s a bit outside of the Old Town, about a 15-minute walk away. But that’s what keeps the prices low!

Check out prices, reviews, and availability here.