How Should I Spend My Time in Spain?

Ask Rolf: Vagabonding traveler Rolf Potts answers your questions about travel

08.21.08 | 12:48 PM ET

Rolf Potts

Dear Rolf,

I will be traveling to southern Spain and possibly Morocco. What is the best way to travel if we have five days for Seville, Tarifa, Tangiers and Granada? How would you distribute your time?

—Joan, Alaska

Dear Joan,

This might not be the answer you were looking for, but my advice would be to pick one town and spend all five days there. Better to have the relaxed, deliberate experience of one place than a rushed taste of four. Which place you choose is up to your own tastes (I’d personally go with Tangiers, since I’d reckon Morocco is grittier than the Spanish towns—but that’s just my own preference).

In general, whether traveling to Spain or Suriname or Syria—for five days or five months or five years—it’s best not to be overambitious with your itinerary. This can be hard to do sometimes, since the world is huge and you naturally want to see as much as possible during your allotted travel time.

The fact is, however, that you actually see less when you schedule many sights into a short amount of time. Trying to see Seville, Tarifa, Tangiers and Granada in five days is the perfect way to see almost nothing of any one destination—since most of your time will be spent in taxis, buses, ferries and hotel lobbies, rushing from one location to another. And even in one location, it’s hard to truly acclimate to a place in a single afternoon. That’s why the best way to see Spain is not to shuttle through several destinations in five days, but savor a single place for five days. Both your experience and your memories will be richer as a result.

Has Rolf already answered your question? See the Ask Rolf archive. If not, send your questions to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


Columnist Rolf Potts is the author of Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, and Marco Polo Didn't Go There: Stories and Revelations From One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer. His stories have appeared in National Geographic Traveler, the New York Times Magazine and Conde Nast Traveler, as well as in “The Best American Travel Writing.”


14 Comments for How Should I Spend My Time in Spain?

LaDron 08.21.08 | 2:09 PM ET

Should you go to Barcelona, be warned.

It was the only time I have had an attempted pickpocket, grabbed her on crowded train, she dropped chained wallet, two accomplices pretended to be concerned passengers .

LaDron… Spanish for thief, remember it and shout it loud many times if needs be.

Went for a week, 2/3 days adequate.

Debbie 08.24.08 | 3:06 PM ET

I couldn’t agree more.  It’s tempting to rush through allowing just enough time to see the sites & while there are some wonderful things to see in Southern Spain, the culture more than the sights is what makes it special.  There’s nothing like sitting in a bar late at night listening to guitar music or sampling tapas at one bar after another.

Andrea Kirkby 08.25.08 | 8:55 AM ET

If you’re tempted to see Granada, give it at least two days. Get up extra early one day to get into the Alhambra queue at 715 - you’ll see the palaces in the first hour of opening, with hardly anyone there. Wander round the Albaicin back streets, up to Sacromonte - these are streets of the old Moorish city, with cisterns and fountains, white walls and hidden gardens. And then head for the modern city in the plain for a completely different experience - the Spain of the Renaissance and Baroque.  You may also want to see the Alhambra by night - a very different experience.

You guessed it - out of all these cities, Granada is my favourite. The mixture of fine Renaissance buildings and elegant Arab architecture makes it a cultural high point; you may also make the acquaintance of some friendly cats in the Albaicin - they tend to sun themselves on the brick roofs of the Arab water-cisterns!

Seville can be fun but it’s much less laid back - a bigger, busier city. Definitely for you if you like nightlife - seek out some of the flamenco bars (head for the sessions, not the shows), eat tapas on Plaza Alfafa, take a paseo on the Alameda de Hercules. The Alcazares Reales is for me the one unmissable sight - a mini-Alhambra, an Islamic style palace built for a Christian king, Pedro the Cruel - but it’s the streets and bustle that are the real draw.

Steve 08.27.08 | 6:44 PM ET

Rolf is right - don’t do 4 cities in 5 days! Seville is a find, one of my favorite cities in Europe. It’s very manageable and safe, with lots of culture. At that time of year - I spent 3 weeks in Andalucia in January a few years back - it’s not crowded, so you can get around without much hassle. And it’s on the high-speed rail from Madrid, which is definitely worth it.  Granada is worth 2 days easily.

Brett 09.01.08 | 12:47 PM ET

Go to Granada if you want to never want to leave.

Cristine 09.01.08 | 9:22 PM ET

Rolf,
Going to Italy in May,
what City in the South of France would be a good jump off point to Venice?
I’d prefer to take a train, over air travel and have limited funds, but I dont want to miss out on France.
What do you think, bag the France idea and spend more time in Venice or try to “squeeze it in”?

Majorca 09.02.08 | 11:16 AM ET

I heard horror stories about Barcelona too - a group of ten girls went for a few days and during the trip 8 had been robbed!
I got sandblasted in Tarifa - very windy!

p.miller 09.02.08 | 5:24 PM ET

Going to Ticino, Switzerland (20 miles north of Italy)to study abroad x 4 months.  Will have three day weekends.  I will have to budget my money well for the four months, but would like to see some cities in Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Austria.  I would appreciate any suggestions on cities to visit and the most economic way to travel there.

Adam 09.02.08 | 7:07 PM ET

I lived for a year on the southern coast of spain.  Granada and Seville are both gorgeous and warrant 5 days in each.  Tarifa is a 13 km ferry ride from Tangiers and you could definitely splut 5 days between the two.

Scott 09.10.08 | 8:12 PM ET

I agree with Rolf to a point. I prefer to give a place two days.  If I’m not feeling it then I move on.  In your situation I would try to pick one town for five days but if after two you feel the need to move on than pick one, and only one other place.  Otherwise all the travel could make your trip more stressful than your normal life.  Also, check out the “suburbs” or close surrounding areas of a city.  They may have a lot to offer.

Soultravelers3 09.12.08 | 10:43 AM ET

Rolf is soo right, less is more when it comes to travel. We have spent tons of time in Spain and Morocco during the last 2 years of our open ended world tour, and still feel like we have so much to experience.

I would spend all 5 days in Seville ( with a day trip by fast train to Cordoba) if I just had 5 days. Add Granada if you must add one more.

We helped relatives with a short visit, so check out that and our website for ideas on what to see in Spain and Morocco!

Chuck Berman 09.23.08 | 8:57 PM ET

My 18-year-old daughter is traveling to India for a 3-month-gap year program next February. When it is over, she wants to continue her travel. Hopefully, she will find a good companion. How safe is India for a solo girl who is open to new ideas and people? Thanks.

Richard 10.02.08 | 12:54 PM ET

Hi
We just spent 5 months in India and then 3 in a beautiful farmhouse in a tiny village in south western france near carcassinne
we were thinking about going back to india but thought we would give spain a try
loved tarragone it is like a baby barcelona that you can walk around hated benedorm my heavens (do you appreciate the control) what an awful place
The caves on the way to granada are fantastic but we still havent found anywhere to put up for 2 or 3 months
In relation to India it is safe for women but respect there sensitivities
For example a woman in a bikini is thought of as a women in her lingerie
Places like goa are fantastic and very westernised so for a girl alone `perfect
it is worth spending 3 weeks in rajistan to do the delhi, agra, jaipur, jodhpur bit
some trains are fantastic
but that also have sleeper coaches where you getr a full double bed to sit on or sleep
we took it from pune to goa and it was great
i am not sure what happens if there is only one of you you may have to share a compartment which is not as good

Troy 10.05.08 | 1:53 PM ET

The most overlooked region in Spain by far, Extremadura, is also arguably its most beautiful. Out here in Extremadura you have mountains to the north, one of the biggest national parks, crumbling Moorish castles that sit atop lost white villages and of course 3 UNESCO World Heritage sites.

If you really want to see Spain in such a short period of time, the Spain far away from the concrete coasts of fish and chips shops, out here is the place to do it.

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.