This eight-day tour takes you through the historic districts of Madrid, Valencia, and Barcelona, starting with a tapas tour and a visit to the famous El Prado Museum in Spain's capital. Enjoy a day trip to a medieval city near Madrid before driving to the coast and eating paella in Valencia. End the trip in Barcelona by sailing its coastline and exploring its culinary scene.


  • Discover Spain's capital city of Madrid with a tapas food tour
  • Enjoy a guided tour of the famous El Prado Museum
  • Sail the Mediterranean Sea along Barcelona's coastline
  • Eat your way through Barcelona's Born and Barceloneta districts
  • Try traditional paella in Valencia

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Madrid, Evening Tapas Tour Madrid
Day 2 Tour the Prado Museum & World's Oldest Restaurant Lunch Madrid
Day 3 Free Day in Madrid or Optional Day Trip Madrid
Day 4 Drive to Valencia, Walking Tour & Paella Tasting Valencia
Day 5 Train to Barcelona, Sailing Excursion Barcelona
Day 6 Barcelona Food Tour Barcelona
Day 7 Free Day in Barcelona or Optional Day Trip Barcelona
Day 8 Depart Barcelona  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Madrid, Evening Tapas Tour

Madrid Palace at Night
Madrid Palace at Night

Welcome to Madrid! Upon arriving at the airport or train station, your private driver will transfer you to your hotel in the city center. Take some time to settle in before heading out to explore. Spain's capital is made for walking, with wide, elegant boulevards showcasing a range of architectural styles and expansive, manicured parks such as the Buen Retiro. It's also renowned for some of the best art museums on the continent, including the Prado Museum, with works by Goya, Velázquez, and other Spanish masters.

In the evening, you'll meet your guide for a walking tapas tour to get a genuine feel for the city and sample some of the best local dishes. You'll see Madrid through a local's eyes as you get a feel for its many districts and neighborhoods. The tour begins with a two-hour city walking tour, followed by delicious tapas in local and authentic bars in the Las Letras neighborhood in the historic heart of the city.

Day 2: Tour the Prado Museum & World's Oldest Restaurant Lunch

Views of Madrid Cathedral and Palace
Views of Madrid Cathedral and Palace

Experience the best of Madrid's culture and cuisine at its two most famous landmarks—the Prado Museum and Sobrino de Botín, the world's oldest restaurant. Spend the morning walking through the Prado and soaking up Spain's complicated history. Your 1.5-hour tour will cover 20 masterpieces highlighting Spain's storied past. Your guide will help you understand the characters and events that inspired these works of art with tales of intrigue, power, and mysterious love affairs. You'll learn about artists such as Velázquez, Goya, Bosch, and Titian.

Next up, you'll enjoy a stroll through the gorgeous Literary Quarter, well known as the stomping grounds for many of Spain's literary greats. You'll pop into a century-old tavern to open up your appetite and enjoy a traditional aperitif. Finally, it's time to head to the world's oldest restaurant—Sobrino de Botín—for a three-course Spanish feast. Your guide will walk you through hidden escape tunnels and other history-filled secrets before sitting down to enjoy roasted suckling pig, which is made in their 300-year-old ovens, plus market-fresh vegetables and dessert. All of this, of course, is washed down with plenty of Rioja red wine.

After a fantastic lunch, the rest of the day is yours to continue exploring on your own.

Day 3: Free Day in Madrid or Optional Day Trip

Toledo, Spain
Consider a day trip to historic Toledo

Today, you can further explore Madrid on your own or opt for a day trip to various locales within an hour or so of the city. A great option is Toledo, a historic city that was once the capital of Spain in the 16th century. The layered city is perched atop a gorge overlooking the Río Tajo, its massive 16th-century fortress dominating the scene. In the Middle Ages, Toledo was known as the "City of the Three Cultures," 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.

Another option is the Unesco World Heritage Site of Segovia. The myth is that Hercules founded this ancient city, but that might just be the influence of the enormous Aqueduct of Segovia that runs through the city's midtown. Nowhere else in Spain will you find such a stunning monument to Roman grandeur. Other incredible landmarks include its Gothic Catedral de Segovia and the nearby Royal Palace of La Granja of San Ildefonso, which dates to the 18th century and was a former summer residence of the kings of Spain.

For a real fortress experience, you can visit Ávila. This fortified city is nestled in the rolling green hills northwest of Madrid and enjoys UNESCO designation. Encircling it are imposing city walls featuring eight monumental gates, 88 watchtowers, and more than 2,500 turrets, making it one of the best-preserved medieval bastions in Spain. It's a deeply religious city, which makes sense considering that there are supposedly more Gothic and Romanesque churches per capita in the whole of Spain. This truly is the epitome of Old Spain.

Then there's Salamanca. This is a city of rare beauty that wears its historical legacy on its sleeve. It abounds with golden sandstone architecture overlaid with ochre-tinted Latin inscriptions, more Gothic/Baroque plazas, and palaces. The highlights are many, including the Plaza Mayor, which comes alive once the sun goes down in an unforgettable display of light. Despite dating back to Celtic times, the spirit here is modern and youthful. This is due in no small part to the vitality of the large student population enrolled in the Universidad de Salamanca.

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Day 4: Drive to Valencia, Walking Tour & Paella Tasting

Colorful Streets of Valencia
Colorful Streets of Valencia

After breakfast, you'll start your three-hour drive south to the coastal city of Valencia. Upon arrival, you'll settle into your hotel and explore Spain's third-largest city. In Valencia, you'll learn that old meets new as you view the futuristic buildings of the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, designed by Santiago Calatrava. Other brilliant contemporary buildings grace the city, which also have Modernista buildings, museums, a long stretch of beach, and a large Old Quarter. Valencia, surrounded by its huerta, a fertile zone of market gardens, is famous as the home of rice dishes such as paella.

In the afternoon, you'll enjoy a  private tour as an introduction to the city's attractions. The three-hour tour will start at the Central Market of Valencia, the largest covered market in Europe. You can also visit La Lonja de la Seda de Valencia, a group of buildings that were initially used for trading silk (hence its name, the Silk Exchange). Then, make your way through the city with your guide as you learn about its history of Roman, Moorish, and Jewish influences.

For dinner, you don't miss the city's paella, which you'll find at nearly any restaurant in the old town.

Day 5: Train to Barcelona, Sailing Excursion

Waterfront Promenade in Barcelona
Waterfront Promenade in Barcelona

Wake up early for your five-hour train to Barcelona. After settling into your accommodation, you'll enjoy an afternoon sailing along Catalonia's coast. It's a unique way to view Barcelona's picturesque skyline, completely unobstructed by the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. In a busy city of over 1.6 million inhabitants, sailing out into the Mediterranean provides a relaxing respite from the hustle and bustle.

Depending on weather conditions, your skipper will decide your route, leaving you free to relax and drink in the scenery and sunshine. Between the optional swimming and sunbathing, refresh your energy with beer, bottled water, and soft drinks, which will be provided onboard. You're also welcome to bring your own drinks or a picnic to enjoy onboard. You can also opt to learn the basics of sailing, such as working the winch, trimming the sails, and steering as the skipper demonstrates key sailing skills.

You'll return to the city center in the evening, in time to peruse the Gothic Quarter in search of dinner.

Day 6: Barcelona Food Tour

The Born District of Barcelona
The Born District of Barcelona

Today, you'll enjoy a tour of Catalan cuisine as you explore two of Barcelona's most popular neighborhoods: the medieval Born district and the fishermen's quarter Barceloneta. You'll start in the heart of Barcelona's winding medieval lanes and fascinating history, popping into shops and tasting traditional dishes as you go.

You'll start the morning with a coffee and traditional xuixo, a beautiful deep-fried pastry filled with crema Catalana and covered in crystallized sugar. Next, you'll explore the Santa Caterina Market, a less touristy version of Barcelona's popular La Boquería. As you observe the locals shopping and bartering, you'll try three types of Spanish cheese, cured meats like Jamón Ibérico, and other Spanish delicacies.

Continue your tour as you walk to the neighborhood of Barceloneta. Along the way, your guide will highlight some of the city's most interesting corners. Your first task in Barceloneta is to practice the art of the Spanish aperitif. You'll head to a local bodega to enjoy a glass of vermouth and tapas as you learn about the history of traditional Catalan bodegas and tapas bars. For lunch, you'll visit a locally-owned restaurant tucked away in the fishermen's district, where you'll enjoy homemade seafood paella and local wine. But first, you'll start with the famous "bomba," a glass of cava.

After the tour, you'll have the rest of the day to continue exploring Barcelona at your own pace.

Day 7: Free Day in Barcelona or Optional Day Trip

Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey
Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey

Today, you can explore Barcelona on your own or opt for one of several day trips from the city, which will reveal glimpses of Catalan life beyond its capital. Outside Barcelona's borders is a wonderland of rugged mountains, golden beaches, and pretty, sleepy towns, all just a short drive away.

You might consider traveling to Girona, a historic city along the Onyar River known for its cobbled streets, grand churches, and medieval Old Quarter hemmed in by stone walls. You can walk these ancient ramparts as they afford elevated views of the city. Girona is also home to one of the most well-preserved Jewish quarters in Europe, which lasted for 500 years until their expulsion in 1492. The city's fascinating Museu d'Història dels Jueus de Girona recounts this story. You can also visit the 12th-century Banys Àrabs, the remnants of Arab baths from the days when Moors ruled the land, as well as the Sant Pere de Galligants, a Romanesque Benedictine abbey, built in the 12th century that is now home to the Archaeology Museum of Catalonia.

Further north of Girona is the town of Figueres, which is famous for being the birthplace of Salvador Dalí. You'll find handsome Modernista architecture here, plus the 18th-century military fortress of Sant Ferran Castle. But Figueres is best known for the Teatre-Museu Dalí, which was converted into a labyrinth of surrealism that displays the largest collection of Dalí's works, including many from his personal collection. More noteworthy is that this is Dalí's final resting place, as he was buried in a crypt beneath the theater stage.

The Montserrat Mountains host Catalonia's holiest site, the 16th-century Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat. Located about 28 miles (45km) northeast of Barcelona and sitting at an altitude of 4,055 feet (1,266m), the panoramic views from the church are spectacular. Inside, the big draw is a statue of the Virgin of Montserrat, the patron saint of Barcelona, which sits above the church altar. You can reach the monastery on a 1.5-hour hike from the town of Monistrol de Montserrat or simply take a five-minute cable car up the mountain.

The scenic coastal town of Sitges, located about 45 minutes southwest of Barcelona, makes for a perfect day trip. The pace of Sitges is decidedly more laid-back, with some of the best activities being the simplest, such as strolling the long waterfront promenade or sunbathing on one of the many beaches in and around town. Other activities include dining in one of Sitges' world-class seafood restaurants or visiting one of its fine museums and art galleries.

Day 8: Depart Barcelona

Aerial view of Barcelona's Gothic Quarter
Aerial view of Barcelona's Gothic Quarter

After your final morning in Barcelona, a driver will transfer you to the airport in time to catch your flight.

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Map of Explore the Cities & Culture of Spain: Madrid, Valencia & Barcelona - 8 Days
Map of Explore the Cities & Culture of Spain: Madrid, Valencia & Barcelona - 8 Days