- Discover the highlights of Barcelona on a family tour
- Visit the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, an architectural marvel
- Travel to mountain villages and hilltop castles in Andalusia
- Discover the historical legacy of Madrid by visiting its most ancient sights
|Day 1||Arrival in Spain - Self-Guided Barcelona Tour||Barcelona|
|Day 2||Visit Park Güell & Sagrada Família||Barcelona|
|Day 3||Family Tour of the Gothic Quarter - Ascend Mt. Tibidabo||Barcelona|
|Day 4||Train to Valencia - Tour the Historic Center||Valencia|
|Day 5||Family Activities & Flavors of Valencia||Valencia|
|Day 6||Train from Valencia to Madrid||Madrid|
|Day 7||Family Tour of Madrid's Royal Legacy||Madrid|
|Day 8||Family Day Trip to Toledo||Madrid|
|Day 9||Train from Madrid to Seville - Private City Tour||Seville|
|Day 10||Visit an Olive-Oil Estate||Seville|
|Day 11||Day Trip with the Family to Ronda||Malaga|
|Day 12||Train from Seville to Madrid - Departure|
Day 1: Arrival in Spain - Self-Guided Barcelona Tour
Welcome to Spain!
Upon arrival at Barcelona's El Prat Airport, a private driver will take you into the city where you can check into your hotel and unwind. You'll then have the afternoon free to explore on a self-guided tour.
We recommend first visiting Mt. Montjuic and the surrounding area. Montjuic is a famous hill that stands 1,988 feet (606 meters) high and overlooks the Port of Barcelona. Take the Montjuic Cable Car from the metro station near Olympic Park, which takes you up to the 17th century Castle Montjuic and offers panoramic views of the city. You can also access Montjuic via cable car from Barcelona Beach and by funicular elevator adjacent to the cable car.
The Poble Espanyol is also fun to visit. Constructed in 1929, this open-air museum features over 100 recreated buildings in the style of traditional Spanish villages. When the sun goes down over the city, make sure you're near the Magic Fountain of Montjuic, named for the dazzling display of water and colored lights that occur after dark. It's the best free show in the city, one whose effect is heightened by the hundreds of spectators and a communal atmosphere.
Day 2: Visit Park Güell & Sagrada Família
After breakfast at the hotel, you'll meet a local guide who will whisk you away in a chauffeured vehicle for a half-day tour. The destinations are two of the most impressive works by the legendary Catalan architect Antonio Gaudí: Park Güell and the Sagrada Família.
First, you'll visit Park Güell. Located atop Carmel Hill in north Barcelona, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a fine example of Gaudí's boundary-pushing modernist style. The park takes up 42 acres and you'll be able to marvel at every building as you stroll the walkways and gardens. There are also incredible views at many points in Park Güell that look out over the city.
Next up is the Sagrada Família, the iconic Roman Catholic basilica that is an impressive mix of gothic, Catalan-modernism, and Art Nouveau architectural styles. Despite construction on the church beginning in 1882, it's still technically under construction and was only consecrated in 2010. Upon arrival, the guide will reveal insight into the Sagrada Familia's fascinating history, and you'll glean even more info as you explore the interior.
Around lunchtime, it will be time to part ways with your guide. On your own, you can visit Ciutadella Park. Open since 1881, this green lung of Barcelona takes up 70 acres and features sculptures, lakes, gardens, playgrounds, and the Barcelona Zoo. You could easily spend the remainder of the afternoon here and not run out of things to do.
Day 3: Family Tour of the Gothic Quarter - Ascend Mt. Tibidabo
Today you'll visit the most famous area in all of Barcelona: the medieval Gothic Quarter and its trendy El Born neighborhood. You'll enjoy all the fun of strolling its narrow cobbled streets and discovering its highlights, but you'll do so on a two-hour tour geared towards families.
After meeting your guide, he or she will lead you down the streets and point out the rich history as you pass Roman ruins, the grand Plaça Reial, and the gothic Barcelona Cathedral, which dates to the 13th century. Kids between 4 and 12 will have a blast as they take part in a "dragon hunt," learn about Spanish legends, visit candy stores, and stop at the Casa dels Entremesos, a "museum of giants" home to costumed, paper mache figures that locals parade around the city during Corpus Christi celebrations.
After the tour, you'll head to the mountains in the city's north. Here you'll board a funicular elevator and ascend to the peak of Mt. Tibidabo, which sits at an elevation of 1,680 feet (512 meters). It's the best vantage point in Barcelona to look out over the entire city. Besides the great views, the whole family will love visiting the grand Temple of the Sacred Heart basilica as well as the adjacent theme park, which was inaugurated in 1905 and features carnival attractions, rides, and a Ferris wheel.
After all the walking and sightseeing, you'll likely have worked up quite an appetite. For a traditional dinner, you and the family can head to Carrer De Blai (Blai St.) in central Barcelona. This street is known as the "tapas route," as it features many spectacular tapas bars where you can enjoy dinner paired with great wine.
Day 4: Train to Valencia - Tour the Historic Center
Bid farewell to Barcelona as you hop a morning train bound for the city of Valencia. After a three-hour journey, you'll arrive at one of the most beloved cities on the Mediterranean coast. From the train station, transfer to your hotel for check-in. After a rest, a local guide will pick you up for a half-day tour of the city.
Valencia is unique in that there are modern buildings that exist side by side with a well-preserved historic center. There's also a distinct culture here that reveals itself in the city's gastronomy—after all, this is the place that gave the world paella. In Valencia, a perfect pastime is strolling by the historic churches and castle ruins of the city center while breaking for refreshments like horchata (a sugary drink made with tiger nuts) and agua de Valencia (a champagne/liquor/orange-juice cocktail).
On a walking tour of the historic center, you'll visit the major highlights including the Plaza Del Ayuntamiento, where Valencia's baroque City Hall is located; the Mercado Central, which, having opened in 1839, is one of the oldest municipal markets in Europe; the 15th-century Llotja de la Seda, a Valencian-gothic fortress that was once a financial center when Valencia dominated the silk trade; and the UNESCO World Heritage Valencia Cathedral, a 13th-century basilica.
Day 5: Family Activities & Flavors of Valencia
It wouldn't be a trip to Valencia without visiting the City of Arts and Sciences. This architecturally unique complex takes up 300,000 square meters and is home to the interactive Prince Philip Science Museum plus an open-air oceanographic park.
Also of note is that the City of Arts and Sciences boasts one of the most-visited aquariums in the world. L'Oceanogràfic, as it's known, is a celebration to earth's oceans and faithfully recreates the most vital marine ecosystems. It's the largest aquarium in Europe with the longest underwater tunnel in Europe, swimming around which are various denizens of the deep like mantas, sharks, and even beluga whales.
You'll then take a meal break in style when you visit a restaurant sitting on a terrace high above Valencia and which features panoramic views of the city. Amid this incredible scene, you'll enjoy the city's most famous dish: paella.
After this unforgettable culinary experience, you'll take a leisurely walk around the Turia Gardens and the impressive Gulliver Park. The gardens are actually a long green space on the site of the dry bed of the Turia River that encircles the city and is popular with cyclists, joggers, families, and couples out for a romantic stroll. Gulliver Park is a play area where children can have fun climbing on massive structures inspired by the character of Gulliver.
Day 6: Train from Valencia to Madrid
After breakfast at the hotel, you'll transfer to the train station where you'll embark on a 2.5-hour journey to the nation's capital. Upon arrival in Madrid, you'll check into your downtown hotel and then have the rest of the day free to explore the city at your own pace. Tomorrow will be the grand tour of this historic metropolis, so you might want to opt for more leisurely activities this afternoon and evening.
Perhaps you could take in a show. Gran Vía is Madrid's answer to Broadway, and on it, you'll find plenty of theaters showcasing plays and musical productions, many of which are geared for the whole family. Needless to say, the options for culture in this city are vast, and you could also visit museums, art galleries, and live music venues if the mood strikes.
When night falls, be sure to indulge in Madrid's world-class culinary scene. If you want to dine amid history, head to the city center and Botín, which is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest restaurant in the world—it first opened its doors in 1725. No less than Ernest Hemingway described it in his seminal novel The Sun Also Rises as the best restaurant on earth.
Day 7: Family Tour of Madrid's Royal Legacy
Today you and the family will enjoy a half-day tour of Madrid led an expert local guide. Over the course of its long history, Madrid has seen many different eras, and today the city adorns itself with that rich history in its architecture, public spaces, and culture. An organized tour is ideal, as your guide can reveal insight into how these different time periods influenced Madrid's different neighborhoods and buildings, as well as point out the most interesting sights.
One area you'll visit that's awash in regal splendor is the Madrid de los Austrias. It was built in the 16th century during the reign of the Hapsburg Dynasty's first ruler, Charles I. Located in the city center, it's home to one of the grandest plazas in Spain, the Plaza Mayor, which was once the heart of Old Madrid.
Also here is the Royal Palace, which was the official home of the Spanish monarchs until 1931. You'll tour both the grounds and interior of this 3,418-room monument to opulence, entering the parade ground, the bedchambers of Charles III, several salons, the Royal Chapel, and the Hall of the Crown, which displays Charles I's crown, scepter, and throne.
Later you could visit El Retiro Park. This 308-acre expanse of verdure is the green lung of Madrid, abounding with sculptures, fountains, and a man-made lake perfect for taking a boat trip. There are also must-visit gardens here including the Jardín de Vivaces ("Garden of Vivacious Plants"), Jardines de Cecilio Rodríguez (inspired by the Andalusia region), and a garden home to over 4,000 roses (best to see these blooms from May through June).
Day 8: Family Day Trip to Toledo
A half-hour train ride south of Madrid lies Toledo, a historic city that, in the 16th century, was the capital of Spain. It enjoys a dramatic location atop a gorge overlooking the Río Tajo.
In the Middle Ages it was known as the "city of the three cultures," a place where—legend has it—Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities peacefully coexisted. You can see remnants of this in the old Arab, Muslim, and Christian monuments that still stand. These include the 15th-century Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, the former Roman palace Alcázar de Toledo, and the Moorish Synagogue of Santa María la Blanca, which dates to the 12th century.
Accompanied by an expert guide you will visit these historic landmarks as well as others, including the grand 13th century Toledo Cathedral and the 12th century Church of Santo Tomé. Throughout it all, you'll tour the ancient streets of an incredible city that could aptly be described as an open-air museum. After all, it does enjoy UNESCO World Heritage Status.
Toledo is also known for its steelwork. On a visit to the city's historic foundry, you'll see where ancient blacksmiths forged the famous swords made from Toledo steel. These were used by the Roman general Hannibal in the Punic Wars and by the Christian armies in the Middle Ages during the reconquest of Spain from the Muslims. These weapons are of incomparable quality, and you can appreciate the craftwork by viewing some of the swords at the foundry as well as learn about the forging process.
This area is also famous for producing delicious marzipan, a confection made from almonds, sugar, eggs, and honey. You'll head to the outskirts of Toledo and visit a cigarral, which a manor estate that serves mostly for leisure. However, today you'll be able to participate in a workshop where, with the help of a master confectioner, you'll learn the history of traditional Toledan marzipan as well as how to confect this delicious treat. Needless to say, the workshop ends with you indulging in your sweet creations.
Day 9: Train from Madrid to Seville - Private City Tour
After breakfast, transfer to the train station for a 2.5-hour journey south into the Andalusia region of Spain. Your destination is Seville, which is the capital of Andalusia and a historic metropolis in its own right. After checking into your hotel a private guide will meet you and you'll embark on a half-day tour of the city.
You’ll visit the Seville Cathedral, a 15th-century Roman-Catholic church that's home to the tomb of Christopher Columbus. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the largest gothic church in the world, and an awe-inspiring testament to pious grandiosity. You'll also see La Giralda, which is the cathedral's looming belltower. There's a stylistic difference between the two structures, as this 12th-century pillar was originally built as a minaret for the Great Mosque back when Andalusia was ruled by the Moors.
Then you'll travel back to the era of the Christan conquest when you visit the Alcázar of Seville. This royal palace was commissioned for King Peter of Castile in the 14th century and built over the site of a former Muslim fortress. It features well-manicured gardens, and the building itself is one of the finest examples of Mudéjar architecture in the nation.
Besides the Alcázar, you'll visit the fashionable Santa Cruz neighborhood, which was once the Jewish Quarter in the city. It's a colorful and well-preserved part of the historic center, with many options for cafés and tapas bars—the perfect excuse to take a break and enjoy some small plates washed down with local wine. You can also visit crafts markets and local shops where seasoned artisans produce intricate silverwork and elegant garment embroidery.
After completing the tour, you can return to your hotel and relax, or continue to explore the town. Not surprisingly, Seville's gastronomic scene is incredible. You should know that locals love to compliment an evening of tapas with a nightcap at a favorite watering hole.
Day 10: Visit an Olive-Oil Estate
One of Spain's most popular exports the world over is its high-quality olive oil. You'll witness the production process firsthand on an exclusive tour of an Andalusian olive-oil estate. Located just 30 minutes outside Seville, this estate has quite the history, as it was right here back in the 17th-century that Christopher Columbus' son Hernando began exporting olive oil to the New World.
Upon arrival in the morning, you'll be treated to a typical Andalusian breakfast of coffee, hot chocolate, churros, and toast with olive oil and tomatoes. Afterward, you'll tour the old manufacturing center and view the 16th-century olive-oil presses. You'll also visit the estate's working presses, which use modern methods to produce the olive oil they export today.
Also at the estate is one of the biggest olive-oil museums in the world. It features exhibits detailing 150 varieties of olives from 13 countries. A visit to this museum reveals the characteristics and qualities of olives and how their oil has evolved to become one of the most popular culinary ingredients in the world.
But this day trip features much more than olive oil. You'll also relax on the estate’s patios and enjoy some leisure time while basking in the beautiful Andalusian scenery. On the estate, you'll find wide-open fields, purebred Spanish horses, Arabic gardens, and a private collection of horse-drawn carts from the 7th to the 19th centuries. There's more than enough here to keep you and the family occupied.
The excursion ends with a tasting of olive oils produced on the estate, allowing you to put your newfound knowledge of this tasty ingredient to good use. After returning to Seville, you can spend the remainder of the day however you see fit. You could stroll the Plaza de América at Maria Luisa Park, walk around the neighborhood of Triana or pick a restaurant for a dinner accompanied by a flamenco show.
Day 11: Day Trip with the Family to Ronda
In the morning, a driver will meet you for your journey from Seville to the ancient white villages nestled in the Sierra de Grazalema Mountains. About an hour into the trip you'll stop at one of the most impressive villages, Zahara de la Sierra.
Sitting atop a mountain, this village was a Moorish outpost until the early 15th century. You can see remnants of this in the form of the iconic castle perched atop the rocky mountaintop just above the town. You can view these sights as you stroll through town and visit the ruins of the castle.
From there, you'll drive a short way to Ronda, an ancient city dating back to the 6th century when it was first settled by the Celts. It's a storybook locale carved out of a mountain and situated over a deep gorge, one of the most unique and dramatic cities in the country. You won't be exploring on foot here—you'll be doing some off-roading.
Upon arrival, you'll trade the private car for a 4x4 buggy and embark on an-off road excursion of the rugged terrain around Ronda. Your guide will drive you along dirt paths through the gorge that are inaccessible by any other type of vehicle. You'll then drive around the city, passing through Ronda's historic center and by its ancient Plaza de Toros (bullring). There will, of course, be plenty of stops to admire the spectacular views of the gorge.
Then you'll head down from the city for more off-roading along routes that are most definitely off the beaten path. After stopping for some refreshments, the buggy will make its way back to Ronda along the Tagus River, which features even more incredible views of the city.
Day 12: Train from Seville to Madrid - Departure
It's time to say farewell. After a train ride back to the capital of Madrid, you'll transfer by vehicle to the airport, where you'll catch your flight home. This concludes your great Spanish adventure. Adios!