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2016 Spain's Cultural Capitals

Sold out in 2016

Madrid • Valencia • Barcelona

Trip Experience

Follow travelers as they explore the gems of Barcelona, from towering cathedrals, to sampling bite-sized tapas in cozy cafes.

Trip Itinerary

Get more information about your detailed itinerary, like optional tours, exclusive Discovery Series events, and more.

Program Director

Ramon Romero takes you on a quick tour of his homeland—join him for a preview of what you'll see when you reserve this trip.

Courtesy Small World Productions
Barcelona and Costa Brava

Join travel expert Rudy Maxa for a stroll through Barcelona, with lively festivals, modernist architecture, and more.

Courtesy Travel
Going Local: Madrid

Get the locals-only lowdown on the where to find Madrid’s unique and unexpected wonders.

Courtesy Travel

Experience Barcelona through the eyes of one of its locals—encountering skateboarders and local artists alike.

Courtesy Travel
Bad Vibrations in Barcelona

Enjoy this short animated vignette about an encounter with a street vendor in Barcelona.

Courtesy Travel
Finding Mimo in San Sebastian, Spain

Learn about San Sebastian’s eclectic cuisine—which you can experience on our pre-trip extension.

©2014 The New York Times
36 Hours in Madrid

Discover the cultural, culinary, and commercial innovations of modern Madrid.

Courtesy CNN
Barcelona's Best

In Barcelona there’s always something new to find, from little ice cream shops to sprawling fountains.

Courtesy of Small World Productions

Join travel expert Rudy Maxa in the extravagant city of Madrid, "the next thing to heaven."

Courtesy of Silvia Santamaria and Ian Cross
Metropolis: Barcelona

Witness Barcelona's ancient neighborhoods and modern highlights—and learn the history that shaped them.

Sold out in 2016
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Find the Adventure That’s Right for You

Our Activity Level rating system ranks adventures on a scale of 1 to 5 to help you determine if a trip is right for you. See the descriptions below for more information about the physical requirements associated with each rating.

Activity Level 1:

1 2 3 4 5


Travelers should be able to climb 25 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 1-2 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last at least 1-2 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 2:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderately Easy

Travelers should be able to climb 40 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 2-3 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for at least 2-3 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 3:

1 2 3 4 5


Travelers should be able to climb 60 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 3 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 3 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.

Activity Level 4:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderately Strenuous

Travelers should be able to climb 80 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 4 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 7,000 to 9,000 feet.

Activity Level 5:

1 2 3 4 5


Travelers should be able to climb 100 or more stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 8 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 10,000 feet or more.

Itinerary Overview

Experience the cultural diversity of Spain on a journey through three of this vibrant nation's most fascinating cities. Discover the country's cosmopolitan pulse in the modern capital of Madrid, then travel east to visit Valencia, a seaside city with more than 2,000 years of history, that is quickly establishing itself as one of Spain’s most enticing modern travel destinations. Finish your journey in Barcelona, where the old medieval charm of the city’s Barri Gotic competes with the modernist architectural innovations of Antoni Gaudi for your adoration. With four nights in every city, you'll have ample time to see the sights and immerse yourself in each region’s unique cultural traditions as you tour Spain.

Day-to-Day Itinerary

  • 4 nights from only $995

    Discover Basque culture on a tour of Bilbao

    Finding Mimo in San Sebastian, Spain
    This film was first published on Travel. Produced by Brad Cohen and Hyde Harper.
    This independent film features destinations you can visit on this pre-trip extension.

    More than a third of our travelers have reserved this extension in 2016

    Basque culture is known for its lively traditions, distinctive cuisine, and fierce regional pride. You’ll experience two of its gems, Bilbao and San Sebastian, in a four-night stay that introduces you to treasures of culture and nature. From Frank Gehry’s architectural masterpiece, the Guggenheim Museum, to seaside San Sebastian, the playground of kings, you’ll enjoy a rewarding blend of included features and ample time to experience the leisurely rhythm of Basque life on your own.

    View Extension Itinerary
Madrid Barcelona Expand All
  • Leave the United States today for your overnight flight to Madrid, Spain.

  • Land in Madrid this morning, where a Grand Circle representative will meet you at the airport to transfer you to your hotel. This evening, meet up with your Program Director for an orientation briefing, in which you'll get a preview of your upcoming discoveries as you tour Spain, before getting to know your fellow travelers, including those returning from their Bilbao & San Sebastian pre-trip extension, over a Welcome Drink.

    Dinner is on your own tonight—your Program Director will be happy to suggest a local restaurant for you.

  • Spain’s vibrant capital city enjoys a reputation as an extraordinarily welcoming one. Though the metropolis boasts a population of more than three million people, a great many of the city’s residents (called madrilenos) are transplants from other parts of Spain or the world at large, calling Madrid their home by choice rather than by birth. As a city of outsiders, its people know how to welcome visitors, giving rise to the phrase “if you’re in Madrid, you’re from Madrid.”

    After breakfast this morning, you’ll begin your exploration of the city with a half-day panoramic tour. You’ll drive by important landmarks like the opulent Royal Palace, constructed in the 18th century in the style of Versailles. You’ll continue on to drive past the Almudena Cathedral. The building's construction was completed in 1993, making it one of Europe’s youngest cathedrals, though with its massive size and unique blend of modern and traditional influences, it is still one of Madrid’s most remarkable-looking religious buildings. You’ll also see the Temple of Debod, a 2,000-year-old Egyptian monument that was dismantled and then painstakingly reconstructed in Spain as a result of Nile River flooding caused by Egypt’s Aswan High Dam project.

    After your tour, you’ll have the rest of the afternoon to make your own discoveries. In addition to the sites shown off during your tour, Madrid boasts a number of other important cultural attractions, including the world-renowned Prado Museum, a repository of treasures from Spain’s artistic golden age, including masterpieces from El Greco, Velazquez, Goya, and more.

    Tonight, regroup with your fellow passengers for an included Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant to toast the day’s discoveries along with those that lie ahead.

  • Today is yours to make your own discoveries in Madrid, if you'd like. Or you can join an optional full-day tour to Segovia, which, with its dramatic hilltop location and stunning medieval architecture, might feel like a fairy tale come to life. Your tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site begins with the Roman aqueduct, which was constructed without the use of mortar and is still standing today, due to the passionate efforts of the local community to preserve it. Then stroll through the charming, narrow streets of the old Jewish Quarter before visiting the Plaza Mayor, a picturesque square surrounded by many of Segovia's most important buildings, including its Gothic cathedral, an imposing 16th-century church that was one of the last of its kind built in Spain. The last stop on your tour is the Alcazar, a skyline-dominating castle perched idyllically on the top of a hill, whose romantic gables and turrets inspired Walt Disney's design for the castle of Sleeping Beauty. Later, enjoy lunch at a local restaurant (included with the cost of the optional tour).

    Return to Madrid late this afternoon, where dinner is on your own.

  • Spend another day acquainting yourself with Madrid, or join an optional half-day tour to another one of Spain's historic cities (and another UNESCO World Heritage Site), Toledo. This quintessentially Old-World city boasts a rich multicultural legacy—throughout the centuries, it has been home to Romans, Jews, Catholics, Muslims, and more, all of whom have left their indelible mark on the city's culture and architecture.

    Your tour of the city starts in its Old Town, where you'll visit the Synagogue of El Transito. The building is unique in that it was built during a time in the 14th century when construction of synagogues was generally forbidden in Spain. In 1492, Toledo's Jewish community was expelled from the city, and the synagogue was converted into a church. Today, it is a museum. You'll also stop at the Church of Santo Tome and the Gothic Toledo Cathedral, an important spiritual center of Catholic Spain since its construction in the 13th century. You'll go inside to see its elaborate decor, including the magnificent altarpiece, a towering depiction of scenes from the life of Christ.

    Return to Madrid this evening, where you'll enjoy an exclusive Discovery Series flamenco experience, followed by dinner. You'll learn about the romantic Spanish dance and even get the chance to try your hand at it yourself to experience the passion of this iconic form of expression.

  • Depart Madrid this morning for Valencia, stopping along the way to explore the breathtaking mountaintop city of Cuenca. The Moors who founded the city chose its hilltop location, straddling a rocky ridge dividing two river gorges, for its strategic defensive benefits. But the area's enchanting aesthetic qualities cannot be denied, as you'll discover for yourself during an included tour of the city's medieval walled Old Town, which has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

    As the population of Cuenca grew into the 18th century, the city faced a problem: Though beautiful, the local mountain topography provided limited opportunities for physical expansion. The people came up with an ingenious solution, to be mimicked later by the skyscrapers of the industrial era—rather than expand outward, they built upward, building homes alongside the very cliffs of the mountain. These are the casas colgadas, or Hanging Houses, seven- or eight-story homes which hang precariously over the Huecar Gorge. Today, the peculiar houses are home to Cuenca's Museum of Abstract Art, a symbol of the city's flourishing artistic community.

    You'll have a chance to see the Hanging Houses from the outside, then your tour continues with a stop at Cuenca's Old Walls, a relic from the Moors' original fortifications. Then explore the Plaza Mayor, a picturesque square lined with colorful buildings alongside the city's Gothic Cathedral, built in the twelfth century after the Catholic Reconquista of the region.

    Following your city tour, you'll venture off the beaten path to experience what is likely to be another highlight of your trip—a Home-Hosted Lunch with a local family. During this exclusive Discovery Series event, you'll have the opportunity to practice your Spanish, and sample authentic, home-cooked cuisine as you learn about local culture during meaningful, up-close and personal interactions with local residents.

    After bidding farewell to your gracious hosts, you'll continue on your way to Valencia, arriving at your hotel this evening. Dinner is on your own tonight.

  • Continue your tour of Spain in Valencia, the country's third-largest city, as well as one of its oldest. It has been many things over the centuries—a Roman settlement, a Moorish stronghold, and even an independent multicultural fiefdom under the short-lived rule of El Cid, the famous Spanish warrior. You'll become acquainted with the city this morning on a half-day panoramic tour, which will take you past a rich blend of Moorish architecture and medieval squares existing alongside contemporary avant-garde buildings.

    Your tour starts with a drive past one of Valencia's most impressive ultra-modern institutions—the City of Arts and Sciences, a massive cultural complex built in the dry riverbed of the Turia River (now converted into a picturesque set of garden walkways), which features an opera house rising like a leviathan out of a massive reflecting pool. You'll then discover the historical side of Valencia, with a visit to the site of the old city walls—the walls are no longer standing, but several impressive medieval gates and fortifications still remain. Then continue to the Mercado de Colon, an upscale marketplace built in 1914 and renovated with a modern flourish in 2003. Conclude your city tour with a stop to view La Lonja de la Seda (The Silk Exchange), a 15th-century Renaissance trading hall recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and a unique example of Gothic secular architecture.

    After your tour, you have the afternoon to explore the city on your own, or to simply unwind before rejoining your fellow travelers for an included dinner at a local restaurant.

  • Today is yours to spend in Valencia as you please, with lunch on your own. You might choose to stroll idly along the manicured gardens of the Turia riverbed, or seek out local restaurants to find the perfect paella, chased with a refreshing Agua de Valencia, a local fruity cocktail. Your Program Director can point you toward the treasures of this Mediterranean city. Tonight, enjoy an included dinner with your fellow travelers at a local restaurant.

  • After breakfast this morning, you'll visit the Lladro Museum, where you'll find a collection of highly valued handcrafted porcelain figurines. Lladro figurines are internationally renowned for their painstaking attention to detail and intricate coloration. You'll see the collection and tour the Lladro factory, to watch the specially trained artisans at work and learn about their creative technique.

    Next, head to scenic Malvarrosa Beach for an included lunch, where you'll have the opportunity to sample authentic Valencian paella, a dish of rice, meat, vegetables, olive oil, and spices. Paella is enjoyed around the world, but was invented in Valencia, whose residents consider it to be an important part of their cultural heritage.

    After lunch, you'll return to Valencia, where the rest of the day is at leisure. Dinner is on your own tonight.

  • Depart Valencia by motorcoach this morning for Barcelona, stopping along the way to stretch your legs in Peniscola, a scenic seaside town. Here, you'll have some time on your own to wander the town's streets and admire its medieval castle, perched on a hill overlooking the sea, before returning to the bus to resume your journey.

    You'll enjoy an included lunch along the way before stopping again at the Catalonian coastal city of Tarragona for an included tour. Tarragona was first founded as a Roman settlement and soon prospered as a vital port city. Much of the original Roman construction still stands today, as you'll discover on a tour of the city's archaeological sites (collectively hailed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site). You'll visit the Praetorium, an imposing ancient tower that in the middle ages was converted into a Royal Palace for the Kings of Aragon, as well as the well-preserved Roman Circus, where horse and chariot races were held. Then explore the amphitheater, which in later centuries became the site of a Christian church.

    After your tour, continue your transfer to Barcelona, where you'll arrive this evening to check into your hotel. Dinner is on your own tonight.

  • Today, begin your exploration of Barcelona, the second-largest city in Spain and the capital of the autonomous region of Catalonia. Barcelona has been a vital center of trade in the Mediterranean from the Middle Ages up until the present day, which has helped to cement its status as one of the great cities of Europe—an important center of cultural, artistic, and scientific innovation for centuries.

    You'll start your discoveries here with a panoramic tour of the city, beginning with the wooded slopes of Montjuic Hill, which hosts Castell de Montjuic, a 17th-century fortress. Scattered along the hillside are buildings from the 1992 Olympic Games, including Santiago Calatrava's Olympic Needle. Then continue to the city's scenic waterfront, a modernized, trendy district with shops and pedestrian walkways that still retains much of its old medieval charm. Next, you'll drive along the Passeig de Gracia, an upscale boulevard which showcases some prime examples of Barcelona's Catalan modernist architecture, a standing legacy of the late 19th- and early 20th-century cultural movement to assert an independent Catalan national identity. The architectural style, spearheaded by the brilliant architect Antoni Gaudi, is characterized by unconventional, asymmetrical, borderline chaotic, yet visually striking designs. You'll enjoy an included lunch during your exploration.

    After your tour, you have the rest of the afternoon to make your own discoveries. Dinner is on your own tonight.

  • Today you have the opportunity to explore Barcelona on your own. You might choose to wander through the winding alleyways of Barcelona’s old city center, or Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter), which offers visitors a glimpse of medieval Barcelona. Some of the structures in this charming section of the city date as far back as the first Roman settlements of Barcelona. Today, centurions and garrisons have been replaced by quaint antique shops, hidden courtyards, and strolling street musicians.

    Or, you can choose to join an optional half-day tour to Montserrat and the Codorniu Winery. Begin your tour in Montserrat, a jagged mountain range outside the city which offers exhilarating hikes past peculiar rock formations and spectacular views of the Catalonian countryside below. The mountain is also home to a Benedictine abbey, which hosts the Virgin of Montserrat, a Black Madonna statue which attracts many devout pilgrims.

    You'll then continue on to the Codorniu Winery, a major producer of the local Spanish sparkling wine called cava. You'll learn about the production process and tour the cellars, where you'll have the opportunity to sample some of the finished product. The wine isn't the only thing on display—the building itself is visually impressive, as it is designed in the Catalan Modernist style for which the area is so well known.

    The remainder of your afternoon is yours to explore Barcelona as you please, before you rejoin your fellow travelers for an included dinner at a local restaurant.

  • One of Barcelona's most significant contributions to the European cultural scene is its one-of-a-kind architecture, designed in the Catalan Modernist style. The man who spearheaded this architectural movement was the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, and today's exclusive Discovery Series Event will take you on a journey through his life, as you survey some of Gaudi's most famous works while discussing his historical legacy with an expert local guide.

    One of the highlights of your tour is sure to be the Sagrada Familia basilica, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While construction of the cathedral began in 1882, the colossal structure isn’t scheduled for completion until 2026. Originally started by architect Francisco de Paula del Villar, Gaudí took over in 1883 and then devoted his entire life to its construction. When he died in 1926, after nearly 43 years of work on the cathedral, the project was only 15 percent completed. At first blush, the breathtaking mixture of Gothic and geometric Art Nouveau forms appear to be dripping in melted wax, but closer inspection reveals a meticulous stone tapestry depicting the life and acts of Jesus Christ. Once completed, the church will accommodate some 13,000 worshipers.

    This afternoon is yours to seek out the many treasures of Barcelona. Rejoin your fellow travelers tonight for an included Farewell Dinner.

    • Meals included:

    Transfer to the airport today for your flight home. Or continue your tour of Spain as you begin your optional post-trip extension to Malaga.

    Malaga, Spain

    4 nights from only $745

    Discover Spain’s Mediterranean Costa del Sol in Malaga

    84% of our travelers rated this extension “excellent” in 2015

    On Spain’s Mediterranean Costa del Sol, Malaga provides a warm welcome for all who seek the balmy pleasures of Europe’s southernmost major city. In a leisurely four-night stay, you’ll be introduced to its rich history, which stretches back to the Phoenicians, and experience the seaside charms that drew Roman guards and Moorish caliphs, inspired native son Pablo Picasso, and still beckons sophisticated travelers today.

    View Extension Itinerary

Click below to read our Travel Planning Guide on Spain's Cultural Capitals

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