For years we sampled Spain’s periphery, usually by cruise ship. Cities like Barcelona, Málaga, Bilbao, Alicante, and Cartagena were built by the sea, and we returned to them over and over, learning more about them with each brief visit.
In 2023 we went straight for the heart of Spain, spending three weeks in Madrid, with side trips to Toledo and Segovia, and now we can add them to the list of places we will happily return to. Other awesome new cities in 2023 were Sevilla, Valencia and Granada and the Alhambra.
Madrid (March 2023)
We started our nomad adventures by spending three weeks in Madrid, Spain. Although it was pretty cold in March, it was a great experience. Having visited Spain’s coastal periphery – places like Barcelona, Málaga, Bilbao, Cádiz – we didn’t know what to expect from Madrid, the capital city located right in the center of Spain. We weren’t sure we’d love it – but we did. Madrid is vibrant and lively, as you might expect from a capital city, and we had a one bedroom airbnb in the Malasaña neighborhood which we highly recommend. It is a hip cool neighborhood within easy walking distance to all the central sites. Madrid is such a walkable city. We started with a walking tour, in fact, then transitioned to a couple of food tours. There are several really great food markets in central Madrid, and no shortage of awesome bars and restaurants. Churros and chocolate for breakfast? Are you kidding me?
Toledo (March 2023)
We spent a day in Toledo, the historical capital of Spain until it was moved to Madrid in 1561. For centuries, Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived side by side. It is one of Spain’s most interesting and intriguing cities, where you can see a Gothic cathedral, a 10th century mosque and two synagogues in the space of just a few feet. We started with a walking tour to see the sights, particularly the famous cathedral. Afterwards, we had lunch at Bar Skala for carcamusa (pork stew) and carrillera ibérica (beef cheek), delicious local homemade specialties. We also ordered manchego, croquetas, and beer, just in case the two heavy meat dishes didn’t fill us up.
Segovia (March 2023)
Segovia is small, but it features three amazing architectural features: a fortress, a cathedral, and (my favorite) the 2000-year-old Roman aqueducts.
The fortress (Alcázar) was built in the 1600s. It is one of the most distinguished castle-palaces in Spain due to its shape – like the prow of a ship. The cathedral was built in the 1500s and was the last Gothic cathedral built in Spain. It is enormous, with 23 chapels
The Roman aqueduct is an absolute feat of engineering. We’ve seen Roman ruins all over Europe and we’re always astounded at what they built so long ago. This absolutely gorgeous structure was built in 1 AD from 20,000 granite blocks using gravity instead of mortar. It’s about 10 miles long and delivered water to Segovia up until 1973! It’s 93 ft tall and has two rows of over 160 arches. I have no idea how they built this thing but it’s a marvel.
Sevilla (April 2023)
We were very excited to go to Sevilla and it did not disappoint. It is an absolutely stunning city. Established by the Romans, then conquered by the Moors who ruled for over 500 years, it was eventually captured by the Christians. However, the Moorish architecture was embedded in their aesthetic, and many buildings include these elements still today. The massive Gothic cathedral is one of the largest in the world. We arrived during Holy Week, which precedes Easter, and the city was preparing for festivities, which includes processions through the streets. Red banners were hung everywhere along the route in advance of this event. Our favorite feature was the Setas (Mushrooms) of Sevilla, the world’s largest wooden structure.
Cádiz (April 2023)
Cadiz is one of the oldest cities in Europe. Its history goes back to its founding by the Phoenicians in 1100 BC, so historical sites are scattered around the city. Teatro Romano is one of the most impressive. Built around 70 BC, it is one of the oldest and largest Roman theaters on the Iberian Peninsula. We are really impressed with the parks in Spain. There are so many and they are really beautiful. It’s so nice to just stroll around and take in the architecture, fountains, and enormous banyan and palm trees.
Alhambra (Granada, April 2023)
The Alhambra is a palace and fortress complex located in Granada, Andalusia, Spain. It is one of the most famous monuments of Islamic architecture and one of the best-preserved palaces of the historic Islamic world, in addition to containing notable examples of Spanish Renaissance architecture. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Spain’s most popular attractions. The grounds are filled with palaces, a fortress, countless gardens, elegant fountains, terraces, orange trees, arbors and porticos. Inside the palaces you will find walls, floors and ceilings intricately detailed with lace-like patterns and repetitive motifs.
Valencia (April 2023)
Valencia is the third largest city in Spain. It was our first visit but it won’t be our last. There’s a lot to see here! We did a walking food tour and sampled some of the local delicacies.
Palma de Mallorca (April 2023)
When we visited the port of Palma on the island of Mallorca, we did a five-mile hiking excursion in the foothills of the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range (a UNESCO World Heritage site). It was gray in the morning but cleared up and became absolutely stunning in the afternoon. We hiked from the town of Deià to the town of Sóller, along a wooded path of dirt, rocks, and knobby roots, past ancient gnarled olive trees, lemon and orange trees, old stone walls, and the odd villa perched on a bluff above the sea. It looked like Tuscany with an ocean view. Mallorca is rocky and hilly, so terraces were built to create farmland. We stopped along the way at a house in the hills where a French family fed us coffee and quiche. While in Palma, don’t miss the Royal Palace of La Almudaina and Catedral-Basílica de Santa María de Mallorca.
Barcelona (April 2023)
We spent about eight days in Barcelona, where chilly mornings have given way to sunny afternoons. Sadly, they haven’t had significant rainfall in over two years – bad for them but good for us . We’ve done a food tour, several visits to the various food markets, a bike tour, and a really terrific tour of Gaudí’s masterpieces Park Güell and Sagrada Familia, including the inside! Gaudí is all over this city and he is beloved, justifiably so.