Explore the highlights of Spain by visiting the cities of Madrid, Córdoba, and Granada on this 8-day trip. You'll enjoy private tours of the historic old towns, as well as a day trip to Toledo to learn about its historic steel production and marzipan. End the trip in Spain's southern region Andalusía with tours of the Alhambra in Granada, the Mezquita in Córdoba, and the famous White Villages in the countryside.

Highlights

  • Explore the historic center of cities like Madrid and Córdoba
  • Enjoy a guided tour of Granada's Alhambra palace and Generalife Gardens
  • Learn about the history of steel and how to make marzipan in Toledo
  • Visit the famous White Villages of Andalusía
  • Tour Córdoba's historic Mezquita and Alcázar

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Madrid - Explore the city Madrid
Day 2 Discover Madrid's royal legacy with a private city tour Madrid
Day 3 Day trip to Toledo - Learn how to make marzipan Madrid
Day 4 Take the train to Granada - Explore the city by bike Granada
Day 5 Tour of the Alhambra and Generalife Gardens Granada
Day 6 Transfer to Córdoba - Tour the Mezquita and Alcázar Córdoba
Day 7 Explore the famous White Villages of rural Andalusía Córdoba
Day 8 Depart Spain via Madrid  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Madrid - Explore the city

Cibeles Fountain in Madrid
Cibeles Fountain in Madrid

Welcome to Spain! Upon arrival at the airport in Madrid, you'll transfer to your hotel and enjoy the rest of the day to explore the city at your own pace. 

If you're interested in seeing a show, head to Gran Vía (Madrid's answer to Broadway) where you'll find plenty of theaters showcasing plays and musical productions. The options for culture in this city are vast, so you can also visit museums, art galleries, and live music venues if the mood strikes.

When night falls, be sure to indulge in Madrid's 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. 

Other great restaurant options in Madrid include:

  • San Mamés. Enjoy this family-run taberna by sampling traditional Madrid cuisine. Dishes include callos a la madrileña (a hearty stew of beef tripe, chickpeas, and chorizo), Cantabrian anchovies in pil pil sauce, and bacalao con langostinos (garlic cod with shrimp).

  • Lakasa. Located in Chamberí—a neighborhood heavy with museums and galleries—is this locally-celebrated gem. Its intimate space pairs perfectly with its menu of fresh seasonal produce, wild game, and homemade stews.

  • La Terraza del Madrid. This rooftop restaurant in the city center is the place to come to splurge on an unforgettable meal of haute cuisine, with two Michelin stars, a location in a swanky private club, and a 21-coarse tasting menu on offer.

Day 2: Discover Madrid's royal legacy with a private city tour

View of the Palace and Cathedral of Madrid
View of the Palace and Cathedral of Madrid

After breakfast at your hotel, you'll meet a local guide for a half-day tour of Madrid. Spain's capital city has a long history with interesting architecture, public spaces, and culture. Your guide will reveal insight into how different time periods influenced Madrid's neighborhoods and buildings, as well as explain the city's biggest sights.

The tour will start at 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.

Nearby, you'll find 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, entering the parade grounds, the chambers of Charles III, several salons, the Royal Chapel, and the Hall of the Crown, which displays Charles I's crown, scepter, and throne.

Later, enjoy a visit to El Retiro Park. Its 308 acres is the "green lung" of Madrid, abounding with sculptures, fountains, and a man-made lake perfect for an afternoon boat ride. There are several gardens within the park, including the Jardín de Vivaces (Garden of Vivacious Plants), Jardines de Cecilio Rodríguez (inspired by the Andalusia region), and a rose garden home to over 4,000 bushes. The best time to see these blooms from May through June. 

In the evening, return to your hotel for a little rest before heading back out into the city. For dinner, explore some of Madrid's lively neighborhoods, such as trendy Malasaña, the historic Literary Quarter, or the old Latin Quarter, La Latina.

Day 3: Day trip to Toledo - Learn how to make marzipan

Rooftop View of Toledo
Rooftop View of Toledo

A half-hour train ride south of Madrid lies 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," 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 a local guide, you'll 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 your walking tour, you'll learn about the steelwork that is crafted in Toledo. 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. These weapons are of incomparable quality, and you can appreciate the craftwork by viewing some of the swords at the foundry.

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 to participate in a marzipan workshop. 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. 

After the guided visit, you'll enjoy lunch and explore the city on your own.  Later in the day, you'll return to Madrid.

Plan your trip to Spain
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 4: Take the train to Granada - Explore the city by bike

Views of the Alhambra in Granada
Views of the Alhambra in Granada

After breakfast, you'll transfer to the train station for your 3-hour journey south to the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the city of Granada. Located in Spain's southern autonomous community of Andalusia, Granada is one of the most historic and beautiful cities in the region. Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel and have some time to relax and unwind. 

In the late afternoon, you'll meet your guide for a cycling tour of Granada. Or if you prefer a slower pace, you can opt for a walking tour instead. You'll visit all the major sites, including the Plaza Nueva (the oldest square in the city), the Albaicín (the medieval/Moorish historic center), Barrio Realejo (the historic Jewish Quarter) and the 16th century Catedral de Granada, the largest and most opulent Roman Catholic church in the city.

End the day at a local eatery where you'll enjoy some traditional tapas and drinks. Bring your appetite, as Granada is known for its huge portion sizes.

Day 5: Tour of the Alhambra and Generalife Gardens

The Alhambra and Generalife Gardens
The Alhambra and Generalife Gardens

Granada was once the last bastion of Al-Andalus (the historic Muslim name for the Iberian Peninsula) when it was ruled by the Moors. You can see examples of this history in the form of Granada's most famous landmark, the Alhambra, which receives more than two million visitors annually. In the morning, you'll meet your guide for a private tour of this palace, as well as the surrounding Generalife Gardens

This imposing Muslim fortress was built atop a hill overlooking Granada and dates to the 9th century. It was rebuilt in the 14th century by the Nasrid Dynasty and served as a Moorish palace until 1492 when it became the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella after the Christian reconquest. Your tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site will take you through its grand halls and the gardens filled with colorful flowers, fountains, and panoramic views of the city down below.

After the tour, you'll have free time to enjoy Granada on your own. You can walk around the labyrinthine streets of the Albaicín and Sacromonte quarters, the well-preserved historic neighborhoods of the city. In areas such as these, you can visit the Granada Cathedral, Royal Church, Alcaicería (old silk market), and Madraza (medieval Koranic school).

Day 6: Transfer to Córdoba - Tour the Mezquita and Alcázar

Roman Bridge on Guadalquivir River
Roman Bridge on Guadalquivir River

After breakfast, your driver will transfer you two hours to the city of Córdoba. Once you've settled in, enjoy walking through its historic core on your own. 

You can visit the elaborate Mezquita, a pagan temple that was converted into the great mosque of the Ummayad caliphate and later transformed into a Catholic church (yet it retains much of the original mosque). You'll also visit the winding side streets of the old Jewish Quarter and the Alcázar of the Catholic Kings, where Christopher Columbus negotiated and gained approval for his voyage west in search of the Indies.

In the evening, head to the Medina Azahara. Located in the outskirts of the city, this medieval Moorish palace was commissioned in the 10th century by the first Caliph of Córdoba. Built over nearly 300 acres, Medina Azahara was the de facto capital of al-Andalus. Strolling among its ancient ruins, you'll get a vivid sense of how this archeological site was once the heart of government.

Day 7: Explore the famous White Villages of rural Andalusía

Plaza del Potro in Córdoba, Spain
Plaza del Potro in Córdoba, Spain

For your final full day of the trip, you can either continue exploring Córdoba on your own or opt for a day trip into the countryside of Andalusía. There are many options for nearby excursions, especially to the region's famous White Villages. Some suggested destinations include:

  • The picturesque town of Priego de Córdoba, which is known to have the most beautiful collection of baroque buildings in Spain, is just one hour south of Córdoba. Priego also offers a restored Moorish castle and a historic old town called Barrio de la Villa, which is a cluster of centuries-old white houses sitting precariously atop a cliff. From here you'll have expansive views of Sierras Subbeticas National Park, with one of the best viewpoints being the Balcon del Aldarve. It's also home to plenty of traditional tapas bars where you can refuel, many of which have outside terraces offering views of the surrounding landscape. 
  • A day trip to the scenic Sierras Subbeticas National Park is an excellent way to explore the region's wild countryside.  Enjoy views of Córdoba's highest point, La Tiñosa peak, which sits at 5,144 feet (1,568 m), as well as the intriguing dollinas (rock formations ) and 17 enchanting little towns and villages. Make the most out of your day in nature with a picnic lunch while viewing different species of birds. In particular, the park is home to the largest population of griffon vultures in southern Spain.
  • Located on the northern tip of the Guadalquivir River—which runs down through Córdoba and Seville before spilling out into the Atlantic via the Gulf of Cádiz—is the rural town of Montoro. Enjoy the town’s principal historic attraction, the Puente de las Dondas. According to legend, this 16th-century bridge was financed by local women who pawned their jewelry to pay for its construction. There’s also an olive oil museum, where you can learn about how the region’s most popular product is made.
  • The little town of Puente Genil is known throughout Andalusía for its elaborate Semana Santa (Easter) celebrations and for producing a variety of sweet pickle called membrillo, which is made from quince. Cross the Genil River by way of the 16th century Puente de Miragenil to reach beautiful churches and squares. This town is still relatively unknown among visitors to Córdoba, preserving its peaceful nature even during the summer months.
  • Pozoblanco is one of the better-known pueblo blancos (White Villages) in Córdoba. It has all the charms you’d expect from a small Andalusian town, including whitewashed houses, narrow little lanes, and sun-drenched squares with locals chatting on benches. Pozoblanco’s bullring is famous throughout Spain for being the arena in which Paquirri, one of the most popular matadors of the late 20th century, was fatally gored during a bullfight in 1984.

In the late afternoon, you'll return to Córdoba for your final evening in Spain.

Day 8: Depart Spain via Madrid

Aerial View of Madrid
Aerial View of Madrid

It's time to say goodbye to Spain. After a leisurely breakfast, you'll make the 4.5-hour transfer back to the airport in Madrid.