Spain

Madrid

In 5 words: Monumental architecture and Spanish vibrancy.
For your first visit you need around 3 days to be able to fully appreciate the city and all of its major sights while keeping pleasantly unhurried pace.
Distances are walkable in many cases, but the excellent subway system will come in handy.
Love its stunning edifices and wide central boulevards.
On the other hand: Magnificent fountains on major squares are encircled by traffic with no pedestrian approach, which seriously dulls the impression.
Worthy attractions: Museo del Prado, the greatest assembly of Spanish painting; Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, another magnificent collection of paintings; Palacio Real; Catedral de Almudena; Parque del Retiro, very popular on a nice summer weekend day; Museo Cerralbo; Museo Sorolla.
Recommended day trips: Toledo; Segovia; El Escorial; Alcala de Henares.
Left for another visit: Monasterio de la Encarnación; Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía; Iglesia de San Jeronimo et Real; El Rastro.
Destination appeal
Our verdict
Last visit: November 2016.
Fuente de Cibeles

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Barcelona

In 5 words: Transcendent beauty and vibrant spirit.
For your first visit you need no less than 4 full days to be able to fully appreciate the city and all of its major sights while keeping pleasantly unhurried pace.
Distances are walkable in some cases, but using metro or the bus network will be required for a number of destinations. Funicular and cable cars are another mode of transportation for getting to higher points.
Love its wide boulevards, Modernist edifices, the Catalan spirit.
Don’t miss: partaking in a musical show of Font Màgica; catching Catalan folk dancing on the Cathedral square on a Saturday; exploring La Boqueria.
Worthy attractions: Sagrada Familia, which looks like no other church in the world; Barcelona Cathedral; Las Ramblas with its round-the-clock buzz from Font de Canaletes to Monument a Colom, and a number of imposing palaces, including nearby Gaudí’s Palau Güell [we did not tour inside]; Quadrat d’Or, which encompasses several of Gaudí’s masterpieces (foremost of them Casa Milà) and buildings by his contemporaries, especially Illa de la Discòrdia, a block of wildly different Modernist buildings, including Gaudí’s Casa Battlò; Palau de la Musica Catalana, an explosion of Modernist exuberance; Parc de la Ciutadella, not far from one entrance to which stands the unusual Arc del Triomf; Castell de Montjuïc, with its great views over the port and the city; Parc Güell, another one of Gaudí’s creations; Poble Espanyol; Aquarium; Tibidabo.
Destination appeal
Our verdict
Recommended day trip: Montserrat.
Left for another visit: Hospital de Sant-PauPalau Reial de Pedralbes; Museu d’Historia de la Ciutat; Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar; Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.
Last visit: August 2016
A building on Passeig de Gracia

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Girona and Costa Brava

In 7 words: Beaches, food and quaint towns – Catalan paradise.
The length of your visit will be dictated largely by your beach-going habits. Most of the sightseeing is casual and can be apportioned to coincide with lazy pursuits. Barcelona, depending on your exact location, may be close enough for a day-trip, but far enough to make multiple day-trips impractical.
Love its pristinely maintained medieval villages.
Worthy destinations: GironaFigueres; BesaluPals; Peratallada; Monells; PalamosPubol; Begur.
Last visit: August 2016.
Destination appeal
Our verdict

 

Illes Medes and L'Estartit

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Catalonia: Tarragona

Majority of visitors – we are not really an exception – focus on Barcelona and Costa Brava and Girona province when visiting Catalonia. There are other parts of the region that warrant attention.
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High-speed trains in Europe

Travel by train is considerably more common in Europe than in the US, with multitude of routes, options and departures. Besides vast commuter networks in and around large metropolises and regular long-distance service, there are several high-speed networks that reach most if not all of the major destinations in Western Europe.

We, so far, took advantage with only a couple of those.
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Andalucia

In 7 words: Land of flamenco, sun and Moorish heritage.
Love its history, monuments and spirit.
Worthy destinations: Sevilla; Granada; Cordoba; Ronda and Pueblos Blancos; Marbella.
Left for another visit: Jerez de la Frontera; Cadiz; Gibraltar; Malaga; Antequera; Medina Azahara; Sierra Nevada and Las Alpujarras; Jaen; Ubeda; Baeza; Almeria.
Last visit: May 2008.
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict
Lake Zahara, Andalucia

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Granada, Spain

In 5 words: Alhambra, flamenco, churros and more…
For your visit you need more than a full day to be able to fully appreciate the city while keeping pleasantly unhurried pace. Give half a day for Alhambra alone.
Distances are walkable in all cases, but steep climbs abound in Albaicin; taking a bus to the top may be advisable for some.
Don’t miss: Getting to Mirador de San Nicolas, high in Albaicin, for a late-afternoon look at Alhambra from the best vantage point.
Worthy attractions: Alhambra and Generalife; Cathedral; Capilla Real.
Last visit: May 2008.
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict

 

View to Albaicin from Generalife

 

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Cordova (Cordoba), Spain

In 9 words: Grand Mosque and medieval Jewish quarter like nowhere else.
For your visit you need a day to be able to fully appreciate the city and its major sights while keeping pleasantly unhurried pace.
Distances are walkable in almost all cases; you may need to hire a taxi for Palacio de Viana or a visit to the Festival grounds.
Love its stunning courtyards and the vivid flowers decorating white-washed buildings.
On the other hand: Streets in the medieval town center away from Mezquita get very dark and disconcertingly empty in the evenings.
Don’t miss: Finding the beautiful Callejon de las Flores, a narrow alleyway that brims with colorful geraniums, leading to a tiny square with a fountain.
Worthy attractions: Mezquita, worth a visit all by itself.
Left for another visit: Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos; Palacio de Viana.
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict
Last visit: May 2008.

 

Patio de los Naranjos, Mezquita

 

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Seville (Sevilla)

In 5 words: Beautiful and vibrant Andalusian capital.
For your first visit you need at least two full days to be able to fully appreciate the city and all of its major sights while keeping pleasantly unhurried pace.
Distances are walkable, but we did not venture far from the city center.
Love its colorful and often whimsical architecture.
Don’t miss: Climbing to the top of Giralda; taking a horse-carriage ride around the city; cruising on Rio Guadalquivir on a boat.
On the other hand: By-products of horse-carriage touring industry are rather pervasive. Also, our trip coincided with considerable construction all over the town – hopefully, it is over by now.
Worthy attractions: Cathedral, one of the largest in Christian world, and La Giralda, its stunning bell tower; Casa de Pilatos; Real Alcázar, an impressive Mudéjar jewel; Parque Maria Luisa and the adjoining Plaza de España; Torre del Oro [did not go to its Museo Maritimo].
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict
Left for another visit: Museo de Bellas Artes; Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza [seen only from the outside]; Isla de la Cartuja.
Last visit: May 2004.

 

Plaza Virgen de los Reyes

 
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