A Week’s Vacation in Spain

Spain was more my wife’s trip than mine, as she is a big fan of Antoni Gaudí’s architectural designs in Barcelona. That was the main goal of the trip, though it made sense to expand it into a bigger vacation and include Madrid. Thus, we started the trip in Madrid and ended in Barcelona. Here’s the full breakdown:

Day 1: Madrid

We arrived in Madrid with enough time in the afternoon to see at least one thing, which was the Temple of Debod. This is an Egyptian temple that was donated and relocated to Spain to help preserve it. The wait to get inside can be quite long (about 90 minutes for us), so a quick look at the outside might be all you have time for:

An Egyptian temple with two stone arches in front of it

Day 2: Art Museums

For our first full day in Madrid, we wanted to visit two separate art museums. The first, the Reina Sofía, was a bit of a letdown. The layout of the museum was confusing, and there just wasn’t much in there to get excited about.

The second museum, the Prado, was much better. Alas, they didn’t allow pictures in this one! Some notable exhibits were a room dedicated to Bosch, some early wax figures, and a copy of the Mona Lisa done by a direct student of da Vinci.

Day 3: Park and Palace

This was our favorite day in Madrid. We spent several hours walking through El Retiro Park, which is basically the Central Park of Madrid. There are many nice photo ops here, but my favorite was probably the Palacio de Cristal:

A large, glass greenhouse next to a small pond

We had booked a tour of the Royal Palace for the afternoon. You might not find much enjoyment in seeing room after room of overindulgence, but it’s still interesting. Just make sure you also visit the armory. It is not part of the main tour and is easy to miss!

The white facade of the Royal Palace in Madrid

Day 4: Barcelona and Gaudí

In the morning, we took the 2-hour train from Madrid to Barcelona. In Barcelona, we bought the Modernista tourist card that grants you free public transportation and access to a handful of mostly Gaudí-related venues. Between the things we saw this day and the next day, and the number of times we took the subway or bus, we definitely got our money’s worth.

We were only able to fit in two of the venues on this day, though: Casa Batlló and La Pedrera-Casa Milà. These were homes designed by Gaudí. For me, Casa Batlló was a bit too silly-looking. Casa Milà was better. Here’s a look at the front of the building and the rooftop:

The wavy facade of the Casa Milà building

Spires on the rooftop of the Casa Milà lit by the sunset

Day 5: All Things Gaudí

Every vacation needs a cram day, and this was definitely ours. We had to justify buying the Modernista card, after all! The day started with the Palau de la Música Catalana concert hall:

Looking down at the stage in the concert hall

We also visited Güell Palace (another Gaudí home), the Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau (old hospital grounds), and Casa Vicens (Gaudí’s first big project in the city):

The colorful, checkered facade of Casa Vicens

The main event, though, was the La Sagrada Familia cathedral. This was not part of the Modernista card and requires a reservation, but it was definitely the highlight of the entire trip. Yes, this place has been under construction for over 100 years, but most of the remaining work to be done is on the outside. The interior is 99% complete and packs a lot of wow factor:

Stained glass windows in the cathedral

Day 6: Figueres Day Trip

For our last day in Spain, we made a day trip to a smaller city called Figueres. Figueres is about an hour’s train ride from Barcelona, and the main attraction there (or rather, the only attraction) is the Dalí Theater and Museum. This theater-turned-museum was designed by Dalí as his final legacy and resting place, so it’s a very interesting (and at times weird) experience:

The red exterior of the Dali Museum

Because Figueres doesn’t have much else going on, we returned to Barcelona early enough to visit the Picasso Museum. Frankly, we did not care for this museum. It is more about Picasso’s early works and his friend, Joan Miro. We wished we’d skipped it and squeezed in one more Modernista freebie instead.

Join the Conversation


  1. Spain has some amazing architecture. My vote goes for Palacio de Cristal as best in show.
    The ceiling in the concert hall is very impressive. It had to be hard to construct it overhead.
    Question: Does the rain in Spain fall mainly on the plain or plane? Couldn’t resist.

  2. We felt privileged to travel vicariously with you two to Spain and see the elaborate architecture. The narration was appreciated, as well, although we couldn’t pronounce the names. We’d mainly considered the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao the main draw to going to Spain, so we are glad you enlightened us to other attractions. Thank you.
    Larry and Syd
    Our vote goes to Clark’s highlight of the trip. What was Sarah’s?

    1. I didn’t know about the Guggenheim Museum. Looks cool! Sarah’s highlight was also the Sagrada Familia.

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