One week in Spain itinerary for first-time visitors including Barcelona, Valencia, and Madrid. Find the best short breaks to Spain on a budget (bonus two-week Spain itineraries included).
For your first visit to Spain, you’ll naturally want to get the most for your time and money (vacation days and dollars don’t grow on trees after all). But a Google search for cheap holidays in Spain is bound to make your head spin with suggested itineraries that change cities every single day.
That’s why I’ve put together this one week in Spain itinerary combining three of its major cities (plus an easy day trip) while keeping travel distances as short so don’t have to spend your whole holiday sitting on a bus.
In this article you will find:
- One week in Spain itinerary and map
- 2 days in Barcelona on a budget
- day trips from Barcelona
- 2 days in Valencia on a budget
- 2 days in Madrid on a budget
- 2 weeks in Spain itineraries (add-ons and alternative itineraries).
One week in Spain itinerary and map
This one week in Spain itinerary for first-time visitors includes:
- Barcelona (2 days)
- Day trip from Barcelona (1 day)
- Valencia (2 days)
- Madrid (2 days).
The maximum travel times are less than four and a half hours by bus or train, and two hours by plane. By flying into Barcelona and out of Madrid, you can maximize your vacation time and likely find flight deals for these international airports. Below is a map showing the destinations and routes.
2 days in Barcelona on a budget
As someone who has visited Barcelona on at least four different trips, staying for as long as two weeks, I’ll be the first to tell you that two days is not enough for this magnificent city. However, we don’t always get the luxury of having as many vacation days as we would like, so it comes down to experiencing the most you can in the time you have. Luckily, as a city with well-developed transportation and tourism infrastructure, it’s incredibly easy to move around the city and pack a lot into your itinerary.
Additionally, two days is a good taster for Barcelona and it is possible to do on a budget. Especially if you stay in a hostel and look for cheap eats such as sandwiches, focaccia pizza, falafel wraps, and pizza which you can pick up for less than 6 Euros. Many of the outdoor attractions in Barcelona are free including Plaça de Catalunya, Park Güell (with paid entrance to the Monumental Zone and Gaudí House Museum), La Rambla, the Gothic Quarter, Arco de Triunfo, and Parque de la Ciudadela.
Day trip from Barcelona
It might be hard to pull yourself away from Barcelona but if you can manage, there is a heap of fantastic day trips to choose from. Montserrat is the hot favorite for tourists, with an awe-inspiring view, monastery, and even mountain hikes. The monastery is just over an hour out of the city and easily accessible. My friends and I bought our train and rail pass from the ticket office at Plaza Espana.
Alternatively, you could consider other day trips within Catalonia such as Figueres, Sitges, and Girona. Or even cross into a whole new country by taking a bus north to Andorra.
2 days in Valencia on a budget
Valencia is south of Barcelona, about four and hours by bus or three and a half hours by train. You’ll be leaving the region of Catalonia and entering into Comunitat Valenciana with the official languages of Valencian and Castilian (Spanish). English is also widely spoken. As a different region with a different language, it is nice to see the contrast to Barcelona (located in the region of Catalonia with the language of Catalan).
Most known for its Valencian oranges, which you’ll see dotted around the city, and as the birthplace of paella. It’s also a university city with many young international students, so you can find cheap eats. Join a free walking tour (payment by donation) or just stroll around the city yourself taking in the various styles of architecture.
In total I spent three days in Valencia, however, it could easily be fit into two days without rushing.
2 days in Madrid on a budget
The capital of Spain is a must for any first-time visitor’s itinerary. Madrid has so much to offer with distinct and varying neighborhoods for every type of personality and budget. When not staying with friends, I’ve slept in a hostel in the Justicia neighborhood which is close to Gran Via Street, Puerta del Sol, and walking distance to El Retiro Park.
Like Valencia, many sites in Madrid can be enjoyed while walking around and not having to pay an entrance fee. You’ll want to save all your money for wine and tapas anyway!
2 weeks in Spain itineraries
Extend your vacation with these add-ons or alternate Spain itineraries.
Barcelona, The Balearic Islands, Valencia, and Madrid
If you are flying into or out of Barcelona, why not skip across the water to one of the Balearic Islands? You’ve probably already heard and maybe even dreamed of Ibiza, the popular party destination. Personally, I found the accommodation prices for Ibiza to be way outside of my budget (and it was off-season) but, luckily, was able to stay with one of the few Couchsurfing hosts on the island.
The neighboring Mallorca was more my style with a lovely combination of a charming city center, spectacular beaches, and diverse terrain that’s possible to enjoy without spending a ton of cash. Mallorca is easily worth at least a week of your time if you want to see more than just the capital of Palma de Mallorca. Otherwise, you could split a week between Mallorca and Ibiza, or even Menorca, which is the smallest and quietest of the Balearic Islands.
You can take a flight or a boat from Barcelona to Mallorca, then Mallorca to Ibiza or Menorca, then Ibiza or Menorca to Valencia and continue along your itinerary. The boats may take longer than the flights so check the costs and duration when planning your transportation.
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Madrid and the Canary Islands
To get to the Canary Islands, you are likely to fly through Madrid (although there are some direct flights to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria from England, Norway, Germany, and Italy). So, I’d recommend making the most of your layover by spending 2-3 days in Madrid, then 7 days on Gran Canaria, and 4 days on Lanzarote.
Gran Canaria is the third largest of the Canary Islands, after Tenerife and Fuerteventura. I spent over four months living in Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Canaria, and was amazed by how much the island has to offer. It’s also a very budget-friendly destination, especially in July and August, when the other beach spots around Europe attract hoards of tourists and increase their prices accordingly.
Lanzarote is the fourth largest island as well as a surfer’s haven with stunning beaches and moonlike landscapers in the interior. I chose to visit this island from Gran Canaria, as it was the cheapest flight at the time. However, you could also choose to visit one of the many other islands, depending on your travel style and budget.
Andalusia in Southern Spain
Most well-known for its distinct art and architecture, Andalusia stands apart from other Spanish regions after being influenced by centuries of different inhabitants from the native Iberians to the Muslim Moors. This is why you will see such a wide range of architecture throughout Andalusian cities, from mosques to roman theatres.
On a two-week trip to Andalusia, I visited Malaga, Granada, Sevilla, Cadiz, Tarifa, and La Linea de la Concepcion in a circular route, traveling mainly by bus. Getting to Andalusia is easy with its bustling international airport in Malaga. There are plenty of free and cheap activities, making it a budget-friendly Spanish holiday.
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