Starting and Ending a Road Trip in Madrid

When we I started planning our road trip adventure around Spain, the only solid plan was that we had to start and end in Madrid.  We I did a lot of cost analyzing before planning.  Reviewing the flight cost is easiest when you have a handful of possible dates.  It was not difficult to determine that flying in and out of Madrid would be the cheapest on our desired dates.  I always play around with the flexible dates during booking to decide if one or two more days will get us a cheaper flight.  An extra day to travel never bothers me!  As an added bonus we were able to maximize the weekends for this trip so that means consuming fewer PTO days.  The trip became a total of 8 nights and 9 days.  Our initial research pushed us in the direction of the Andalusia region of Spain.  Still, at this point nothing was concrete except our plane tickets.  When we did a road trip in New Zealand, it was much easier to plan because the NZ tourist website gives you pre-planned road trip itineraries.  It was more challenging to come up with our trip itinerary for Spain.  Lucky for you, I have detailed our agenda below!  We came up with a strategy to focus on what we wanted to see or do.

Things we wanted to see or do:

  • Alhambra
  • Gibraltar
  • Ronda Bridge
  • Free Tapas
  • Hike
  • Mediterranean Sea
  • Bullfighting Plaza
  • Retiro Park
  • Calpe Rock
  • Barcelona
  • Calder Mercury Fountain
  • Flamenco Dancers
  • Mosque of Córdoba
  • Flowers in Córdoba

Inevitably, our list grew longer as we researched more.  This happens everywhere we go! In fact, I already have a growing list for the next time we make it to Spain!  Google maps was a critical research tool for this trip!  We used it to figure out distances and times it would take us to visit all the places above.  Unfortunately, we concluded that we had to pick between Seville and Barcelona.  The time would not allow us to explore both.  I should say the real choice came down to Gibraltar verse Barcelona.  The minute I told CJ that Gibraltar had monkeys our minds were made up.  Therefore, we declared we would explore the south of Spain (Andalusia) and skip Barcelona.

I wish that we were able to allot more time to spend in each of these cities.  In most of the cities, we could have easily spent another 2 or 3 days to explore everything.  Instead we would maximize our day time at our current location, then drive to the next to get dinner.  Unbeknownst to us at the time, due to siesta, dinner was never available upon our arrival at our new location.  This made us a little hangry a handful of days.  If you are a not familiar, siesta is a break between lunch and dinner where most stores and restaurants in Spain close for a few hours. It usually takes place anywhere between 4 pm and 8:30 pm and is not very convenient when you arrive in a new city famished.  On the other hand, it is very useful if you arrive in a city late and were hoping to get some exploring done that night.  Many of the restaurants and stores reopen after siesta around 8:30 pm.  We frequently would get to a city later in the afternoon and be pleasantly surprised that we could still experience the culture of the city.

Our Road Trip around Andalusia:

As I mentioned we had a concrete starting and ending point which was Madrid.  When I started dividing the nights into the cities on our list I tried to spread the distances out over the course of our trip.  This way we CJ only had to drive 2-4 hours a day.  But something we learned from our trip to New Zealand was that we feel a lot more relaxed when we can stay more than one night at the same hotel.  Any chance I could make this happen without sacrificing site seeing I did and so our final itinerary was created.  We started in Madrid and you can read more details about our first day in Madrid if you click here.  The first day of our road trip starts below:

Day 1: Madrid-Valencia

222 miles; 3 hrs 43 mins: After spending a night in Madrid we woke up early, picked up the rental car and headed out to Valencia.  The first toll of our trip was of course the first day of driving!  We read about the toll roads in Spain.  (Side note: Germany rarely has tolls if you decide to go there!)  We wanted to make sure we avoided them because we read they can be very expensive.  Clearly, we did not do a great job at that!  We made it to Valencia sometime in the afternoon.  We were still a little jet lagged but wanted to go out and explore.  Valencia has a ton of different historical sites to see, but since it was not a high priority for us personally we used this day to continue to recover from the jet lag.

Street View of Valencia with pedestrians

Day 2 & Day 3: Valencia-Calpe-Granada

76 miles; 1 hr 22 mins then 257 miles; 4 hrs 10 mins: On the other hand, Calpe and Granada were both top priorities on our list!  I had read about the rock in Calpe called Peñón de Ifach and it was a must do for us!  We love hiking and finding that great view from above!  The Calpe rock that is sometimes referred to as “Mini Gibraltar” was able to feed our senses.  The rock gets very hot if you wait till the middle of the day so we did our best to hike up as early as possible.  We were up and back down before 10 am and we reached Granada by the afternoon.  We spent 2 nights in Granada which gave us an entire day to explore the Alhambra.

Landscape Photography of Rock of Calp
View of Peñón de Ifach

Day 4: Granada-Ronda-Esteponia

110 miles; 2 hrs 8 mins then 43 miles; 1 hr 9 mins: Granada was definitely a favorite place on this trip!  We also spent a bit of the following morning there to continue exploring.  Then we headed to Ronda to see the beautiful bridge that I saw photos of on the internet!  The plan was for it to be a quick stop and get lunch.  Then we would head to our hotel in Esteponia so we could get a good rest while enjoying the setting sun over the Mediterranean Sea.  We wanted to relax so that we could use all our energy hiking up to the top of Gibraltar the next day.

Landscape Photo: Ronda Bridge Puente Neuvo
The famous bridge of Ronda known as Puento Neuvo.

Day 5: Esteponia-Gibraltar-Seville

26 miles; 34 mins then 121 miles; 2 hrs 7 mins: Gibraltar was obviously another highlight and a must do priority on our trip agenda.  It was something we debated about because we knew that we could not take the rental car out of the country.  This meant we had to walk across the border and we were not sure how we felt about it.  However, we are so glad to have kept this in the itinerary.  Gibraltar is so unique.  It was also a relief to be in an English speaking area.  We did not learn enough Spanish to communicate very well which was frustrating at times.  We could have easily spent days on the rock, but after eating a late lunch we ventured off to Seville.

Seville was another city that we booked our hotel for 2 nights.  We got there pretty late in the day since we spent so much time in Gibraltar.  I promise you that the time in Gibraltar was all well spent!  Our hotel for Seville was 15 minutes outside of the city which means we did not venture into Seville until the next day.  If you are going to Seville, it is worth finding and staying at a hotel in the city with parking.  The parking was extremely difficult to find.  It was also expensive.

View of Spanish Coast from on top of Gibraltar
View of the Spanish coastline from the top of Gibraltar.

Day 6 & Day 7: Seville-Cordoba-Toledo

87 miles; 1 hr 40 mins then 213 miles; 3 hrs 21 mins:  After exploring Seville for a full day, the next morning we departed straight for Cordoba.  We had several things we wanted to see here.  We only spent a few hours and we raced through everything, but I think we would have enjoyed booking a hotel in this city.  We had to get to our Toledo hotel by a certain time because it was a small business hotel and the owner asked us to give a set arrival time.

Highway in Madrid, Spain

Day 8: Toledo-Madrid

46 miles; 55 mins: As I mentioned previously we had to end in Madrid.  Most of our visit in Toledo was spent the night prior.  We woke up with enough time to pack and take off to return the rental car by our schedule time.  Knowing that we might have to wait for the shuttle we scheduled our drop off on the earlier side so we had plenty of time to get to the airport for our flight back home.

Our total trip was approximately 1201 miles and we spent about 22 hours driving.  My recommendation for anyone who might follow in our footsteps is to try and allow yourself more time for this kind of road trip.  We saw a ton of sites and did a bit of hiking, but we barely scraped the surface of any of these cities.

Let’s Chat:

      • How do you determine your itineraries for your trips?
      • Where else should I go in Spain next time I get there?
      • Where are other good road trips you would recommend we go?

Recommended Readings that helped us plan our trip:

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