Now that holiday season is over and yearly planning has begun, I’ve been getting a few questions about my travel recommendations. From how to make time for a trip, to where to go and what to do, I thought these answers might be worth posting. I’m not going to flood your feed all at once, so instead, I’ll plan on releasing a thoughtful itinerary every two or three weeks (until I run out, of course).
Most importantly, how do I make the time? If travelling is important to you, then you need to just sit down and set aside the time to do it. In my mind, you’re a much better friend, partner, and employee if you’re relaxed and happy, rather then burnt out and feeling overwhelmed. My best advice is to sit down at the beginning of each year (read: NOW) and block of a few weeks around the time when you think you might want to take a vacation. This doesn’t mean that those dates are set in stone, but it at least leaves you room to take a breath. If not, dates get filled up and events get booked, and sooner than later you will realize that you don’t have any free time left even if you did want to go away.
Next, depending on where you might want to go, make sure that you book enough time off. If it’s a quick flight away, an extended long weekend might do. But, if you’re flying from Canada to the EU, for example, I would book 10-14 days. By the time you use up two days for travel and a few early nights for jet-lag, things are getting pretty crunched otherwise. The whole point of a vacation is to relax, so don’t make your itinerary so busy that you end up needing a vacation, post-vacation. There are many ways to keep costs low if you’re concerned, from planning out a budget, staying in Airbnbs, or hunting for other travel deals and if you need more specific ideas, just ask. Cole will attest to the fact that I’m quite the budget-planner for our vacations.
Now, to the good stuff. This itinerary is made for the sun worshipers and tapas lovers. You guessed it, it’s Spain.
I did this trip over 2 weeks, but you can pick & choose points that interest you to make your own plan. Perhaps you will want to pick the main sites and then hop on a plane to Portugal? I know that was on my mind when I was deciding.
Recommended time: 4-5 days
Stay: I booked an Airbnb a few blocks from Les Ramblas. It was the perfect location for touring the main square, exploring the gothic quarter, and taking a bike ride down to the beach. Plus, there are tons of metro stations close by that can take you straight to the airport or main train station. If you’re open to splurging and plan on spending lots of time at the beach, you might want to look into the W.
Do: One thing I would recommend doing right off the bat, is to take a guided bike tour through the city. It will not only help you get your bearings, but it is the perfect way to see all the major spots in a short amount of time. What would otherwise be impossible on foot, an afternoon tour can take you around the majority of the city while making time for a few quick stops. Once you’ve checked out the sights and learned a little about their history, you can determine if anything requires a second (and longer) stop.
There are some fantastic parks in Barcelona and a lot of monuments to check out. I would recommend a visit to the Parc de la Ciutadella, where Spain hosted the exhibition. The entrance to the park is marked by the Arco de Triumfo de Barcelona and a row of palm trees.
In terms of districts, make sure you visit Les Rambles (the main tourist street), the Gothic Quarter (old and cultural), and El Raval (more trendy). Notable streets outside these areas include Av. Diagonal (where you can find Gaudi’s Casa Batllo and Casa Mila), Av. Del Parallel (a beautiful local street that leads you to Placa D’Espanga), and Passeig de Gracia (the main shopping street).
During afternoons, spend a day sticking your toes in the hot sand of the Barceloneta and rinsing yourself off in the cool Mediterranean sea. There are a few restaurants and bars along the boardwalk if you need a drink or get a little hungry.
On the way back to your residence, stop in at Mercado de la Boqueria, Barcelona’s main market off Les Ramblas and grab a few handmade empanadillas and some fresh fruit.
And finally, only at night, you MUST visit the magic fountain of Montjuic. You can get to it by heading down Av. Del Parallel, and turning at Placa d’Espanga. Check the times of the light show and head on down early to grab a spot. The show is about fifteen minutes long and a written description really can’t do it justice. In efforts to try, however, the jets of the fountain move and rise to great heights, illuminated in a variety of colours, and paired to a compilation of music. Easily, my favourite memory and here are my attempts to capture it:
If you’ve got extra time, a few other ideas include visiting Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, and taking the cable car up to Montjuic Mountain.
Eat: Barcelona is all about tapas. There are some great restaurants in Placa Reial, but anywhere in the gothic quarter or el raval will have lower prices and local cuisines. The main thing is to snag yourself a patio seat and enjoy your time outdoors.
Recommended time: day trip
Stay: If you’re going to spend the night, try and book something close to the Basilica Del Pilar.
Do: Stop into Basilica Del Pilar and then stroll through the main square and the narrow streets that extend from it. Then, take a walk down the Ebro river and admire the giant lion statues. Somewhere along the way, you’ll find the Museo del Teatro de Caesaraugusta – with ruins of a well preserved roman theatre. The main attraction of Zaragoza, however, is the Aljaferia Palace – a moorish castle and a UNESCO heritage site. You can walk, drive, or take the bus to the castle and then spend a few hours weaving in and out of the luxurious rooms, admiring the vibrant tile flooring in each one.
Eat: There are some great restaurants (especially if you like Italian) if you start in the main square and walk in the direction away from the river. And in the square itself, there are a few spots to grab a scoop (or three) of cheap gelato.
Recommended time: 3-4 days
Stay: Again, I stayed in the most fantastic Airbnb in the heart of Valencia (check it out here). At a reasonable price, it’s located on one of the main shopping streets, close to the train station, and the space itself is bright and relaxing (plus, there’s a kitchen if you want to grab some fresh produce from the supermarket nearby). If booking an Airbnb isn’t your thing, I would still recommend planning on staying in the Ciutat Vella district as there are a lot of great restaurants and shops, transportation is nearby, and it’s sort of in the middle between the old city and the art & science centre.
Do: Spend some time walking around and getting to know the city. Make sure to make your way through Plaza del Reina – a beautiful square with regal white buildings (keep an eye out for the Ayuntamiento building), and stop by Barrio del Carmen, Plaza de Toros, and the main Valencian market. On a sunny day, walk through the largest inner city park in Europe, which has replaced the old Turia river bed. A bit of history here, the Turia river flows around the city, but it used to overflow and flood the city quite frequently, so the water was diverted. Now, in its place stands lush green grass, trees to lay under, cooling water fountains to dip your toes, and a number of other activities to help you enjoy the outdoors. Grab a picnic and pick a spot to hang out for a few hours. As the park does surround the city, you can use it as a main walking point to travel from one end to the other.
Starting, with the Torres de Serranos – a large and well preserved monument that guards the heart of Valencia’s old city. Make sure to take time to explore this district as it’s rich with culture and historic buildings. You can then reverse your trip and walk down to the City of Arts & Sciences. An extremely modern and artistic set of buildings, the science centre is bustling with activities for all ages and divided into three main categories. If you’re only going to choose one, make it L’Oceanografic – a giant aquarium filled with beluga whales, walruses, and hundreds of varieties of fish. Somewhere in the middle you’ll find yourself walking through a giant aquatic tunnel, surrounded by fish as big as small cars and bright green eels.
And finally, because it’s Spain, take a trip down to Malvorosa Beach, where the sand extends for miles and the sun pours down in rays above your head. You can get to it by taking the city tram line, but be sure to pack a snack as there aren’t any restaurants or bars close by. If you plan on dunking into the water, you’ll want to keep an eye out for jellyfish as they like to populate near the shoreline.
Eat: Valencian paella. Saffron rice, vegetables, and either seafood or rabbit, all mixed into a giant shallow cast-iron pan. If you can’t tell from the name, it’s Valencia’s staple dish. It’s usually ordered for two and most restaurants will cook it at your table. My favourite part is the crunchy caramelized rice that hides in the creases of the pan. If you’re looking for restaurants, there is a tiny street with a couple excellent ones tucked just behind Plaza del Reina, as well as a lot of trendier ones in the old quarter. My recommendation is to let yourself get lost in the smaller streets and then look for places that look busy.
Recommended time: 1-2 days
Stay: Try to stay closer to the port as you’ll find a lot of your time is spent near there. Use the area between Calle Alamos, the river, and Plaza de la Marina as a guideline.
Do: Walk through the old town, noting the Catedral de la Encarnacion de Malaga and the giant Roman theatre. Be sure to also walk along Paseo Parque – a long inner city park that lines the roadway before the sea. Within this park are lush trees as well as a blooming rose garden. If you’re looking for boutique shops, head down to the Peurto de Malaga. The heart of the city also holds a number of other shops (boutique, department, and luxury), which you can get to by walking along the pedestrian street of Calle Marques de Larios.
Other notable sights for the explorer in you include the Alcazaba of Malaga and the Mirador de Gibralfaro. With cheap admission prices, you can tour the inside and outside of the castle and fortification, while getting some great photo-worthy views of the city.
Finally, if the sun is shining (which it likely is), visit the Malagueta beach for a few hours and work on your tan. Like Barcelona, it’s lined with restaurants and bars to keep you entertained (and your stomach full).
Eat: The inner city district (accessed by Calle Marques de Larios) has a lot of great options for food & drinks. In the evening, the streets are covered in tarps and twinkling lights sparkle underneath. It’s worth a walk if nothing else. Another option is to pick one of the many restaurants along the Peurto de Malaga, which will often give you complimentary aperitifs.
Recommended time: 2-3 days
Stay: La Villa Marbella. Hands down. The rooms are luxurious, yet comfortable. The prices are reasonable. Service is absolutely exceptional. Breakfast is included (order the donuts) AND the hotel has a pool. What more could you want? There’s a reason it consistently wins travellers choice awards on Trip Advisor (and that reason is because it’s phenomenal). If you’re looking for a party, however, you might want to stay somewhere along the beach.
Do: During the day, visit the beach and walk along Marbella’s Golden Mile. It’s about an hour walk and will take you to Peurto Banus, a little village where you can stop for lunch. Along the way, keep your eyes peeled for luxurious mansions and hotel resorts (and perhaps the odd celebrity or two). At night, head to the town square for some live music and fresh air. This town is the perfect spot to focus on relaxing and immersing yourself in Spanish culture, admiring the colourful low-rise houses each overflowing with bunches of fresh flowers.
Eat: If you’re staying at La Villa Marbella (like I recommended), just ask one of the concierge staff for a local’s recommendation.
Recommended time: 3-4 days
Stay: In the area near the Catedral or just on its outskirts towards the north.
Do: The most obvious thing to visit in Seville is Plaza de Espana. Built in 1928, it’s golden walls are stunning and utterly impressive. Walk around the entirety of the balcony and then down below to admire the alcoves filled with colourful tiles. You can also rent a boat and row along the canal out front. Afterwards, walk through the tree-filled park out front and take a break from the heat.
Stroll along the river at night, walking along Paseo de Cristobal Colon and admiring the houses twinkling in the distance. This will take you to the trendy Triana district where you can have a few drinks before dinner, and by major city sights like the Plaza de Toros. Then, walk up streets like Calle Garcia de Vinuesa or Av. de la Constitucion (one of my favourites), which are bustling with tourists and locals alike. This street will take you to one of the notable cathedrals in Seville, the Catedral de Sevilla, which is worth a quick pop inside. It’s also worth walking along the outside admiring the tiny squares and parks that surround it. The narrow and windy streets extending from this area are also worth checking out because they’re just cool.
One final district worth touring is the Pl. de la Encarnacion, where you will find the Metropol Parasol. It’s a giant looking waffle structure and is actually the world’s largest structure made from wood. This area is a little less touristy, but still charming to say the least. It’s full of cool buildings, narrow streets, and town squares that you can immerse yourself in.
Eat: The area behind the Catedral is great for small restaurants and good food. We landed on a pizza shop which was utterly delicious (but it was long before I started recording names). There are loads of tiny restaurants if you make your way down behind Calle San Jose. I can particularly remember grabbing a patio seat in a little square of restaurants, on a tiny little road, that was somewhat uphill. I know that isn’t much to go off of – but I did have one incredible paella there.
Recommended time: 3-5 days
Stay: For my stay, we grabbed a room at the Hotel Francisco I. The rooms are large, modern, comfortable, and clean. In addition, most rooms have large windows and a balcony door that opens into the heart of Madrid and floods your room with a warm breeze. The area is perfect, located close to a few metro stations (which can take you to the airport), and near all the main attractions.
Do: The majority of Madrid’s attractions are all located in the city centre. A walk along the busy pedestrian street of Calle del Arenal will take you from the Peurta del Sol, to the main Opera house and is highly worth checking out. Close by, you will find the Palacio Real (royal palace), with an incredible garden space along the river. You can then cross over and spend the day taking in the warm air and sleeping under a tree or two. The Temple of Debod is located in the Parque del Oueste, which is just a few blocks down from Palacia Real. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s an Egyptian Temple that was originally built close to the Nile before being designated a UNESCO site and donated to Spain for their help in its preservation. The visiting hours are a little odd, so be sure to look them up beforehand. Walking back towards the city centre, you can also stop to take note of the Real Basilica de San Francisco el Grande and a number of other historical sights.
Another sight worth visiting is Plaza Mayor – Madrid’s vibrant town square. Surrounded by a red-bricked building, it’s bustling with tourists, locals, shops, and restaurants. Just a few blocks away is an indoor market, Mercado de San Miguel, which houses boutique tapas shops, fresh fruit, and lots of seafood. It’s fun to walk around inside and take in the local culture (and even more fun to try a few of the dishes).
Other streets worth mentioning are Calle de Atocha, Paseo del Prado, Calle de Serrano, and Calle de Alfonso XII. Outside of the centro district, Retiro (trendy local markets) and Salamanca (luxury shopping) are also worth visiting.
And last but not least, while you are walking down Calle de Serrano, make sure to walk through the iron fence and into Retiro Park. Perfect for a lazy afternoon, this park is absolutely breathtaking. There is also a large fountain area where you can rent a row boat and explore every nook & cranny.
Eat: The Golden Mile (Barrio de Salamanca) has some high priced restaurants which serve excellent food & pastries. For more affordable meals, check out the University district or Retiro. As stated above, other recommended options are to grab something to eat near Plaza Mayor (there are lots of restaurants on the side streets such as Calle del Prado) or tapas at Mercado de San Miguel.
Most of these places are easily accessible by the train system which makes transportation without a car quite easy. You can always rent a car, however, and explore the coastline, using this guide to determine where you might want to stop & rest for a night or two. By June, the weather in Spain is quite warm and it’s perfect for baking yourself on the plethora of beaches. Just be sure you keep an eye out for Prince Felipe & Princess Letizia! We managed to spot them twice.
If you’ve got any questions (or additional recommendations), comment below. I would love to hear about your travelling experiences.