La Tomatina Festival is a great excuse to plan a trip to Spain in August. If you have a few days to spare, take advantage of the opportunity to visit Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona during the week of the “World’s Largest Food Fight”. Here is my 5 day Spain itinerary, centered around La Tomatina Festival.
Day 1: Madrid
Spend your first day in Spain immersing in the culture – eat tapas, drink cava and admire priceless works of art. Madrid boasts interesting architecture, beautiful gardens and a number of galleries and museums to explore. For art lovers, Museo del Prado is probably the most renowned, but Reina Sofia wins my vote as it is home to Picasso’s “Guernica”. After a gallery or two, stroll through Parque el Retiro, a 125 hectacre green space featuring an impressive rose garden and the historic Crystal Palace. End your morning sightseeing tour at Palacio Real, the opulent official residence of the Spanish Royal Family.
Experience the culture and heritage of bullfighting at Madrid’s La Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas del Espíritu Santo, better known as Las Ventas. The bullfighting season runs from March through October, and tickets can be purchased until the day of the fight. Even if there isn’t a fight on or if you don’t care to watch the fights, it’s worthwhile to tour the stadium to learn about the rich history of the sport in Spain. Tours are available from 10 am – 6 pm on regular days and until 2 pm on fight days.
Immerse in the madrileño food scene with tapas and cava at one of La Latina district’s many tapas bars or the bustling Mercado de San Miguel. Tapas are complimentary with the purchase of a drink at many bars, so take advantage of the opportunity to taste locally produced chorizo, manchego cheese, olives, pimientos de padrón and albóndigas. When you think of Spain you may think of sangria, which is always great in the hot afternoon sun, but for a real taste of Spain try cava, a sparkling white or rosé wine primarily produced in Catalonia.If you had your heart set on drinking the iconic sangria, go the less-touristy route with a tinto de verano, a cocktail of red wine and lightly sweetened lemon soda.
As a note on where to stay, I was impressed by Madrid’s selection of AirBnB rentals. Within walking distance of the central sights are apartments running under $100 per night. We managed to find a beautiful apartment with helpful and friendly hosts just minutes from El Prado for around $80 per night.
Day 2: Valencia
Leave Madrid on the early morning AVE train and arrive in Valencia a little over an hour and a half later. Start your day at the north end of the central Jardín del Turia, a stretch of green space intersecting the city, that was once a river prone to flooding. The river was diverted around the city in 1957, so today the Jardín offers ample space for running, walking, biking and playing. Bicycles can be rented near the Torres de Seranos for transportation to the City of Arts and Sciences at the south end. The bike ride is worthwhile for a glimpse of the architecture alone, but do spend some time exploring this forward-thinking interactive science museum and aquarium.
Fuel up after your bike ride with the staple of Valencia, paella. Due to its popularity paella can be found in many regions of Spain, but it originated in Valencia and has been perfected here. Try the traditional version made with chicken and rabbit, snails and butter beans, or if you prefer to eat along the shore opt for the seafood version, brimming with fresh mussels, fish, squid and lobster. Wash it down with agua de Valencia, a classic cocktail made with cava, vodka, gin and the juice Valencia’s infamous oranges.
Enjoy history, architecture and culture in one of Valencia’s main plazas. Drink café con leche and people watch in the central Plaza de La Virgen, known for its statue of Neptune, Cathedral of Santa Maria, the Basílica de la Virgen de los Desamparados and the Palace of the Generalitat. Stroll through Plaza del Ayuntamiento, home to administrative buildings such as Town Hall and the Central Post Office, to marvel at the mix of classic architectural styles. The plaza is brightened by rows of flower stalls during the day and multicolored lights at night, so its a perfect spot for taking brilliant snapshots. Other options include visiting the sprawling Mercado Central and the unique Plaza Redonda, or exploring Old Town starting from the Plaza del Colegio del Patriarca.
Day 3: La Tomatina Festival – Buñol
Wake up early on the last Wednesday in August and board the C-3 train from Sant Isidre Station to the quaint Valencian village of Buñol for La Tomatina Festival. Spend a few raucous hours participating in the “World’s Largest Food Fight” before taking the afternoon train back to Valencia.
Once you’re back in Valencia, regain your energy with a much needed shower and afternoon siesta. Fully refreshed, pick up tickets at Estadi de Mestalla for a Valencia C.F. match. Arrive early to watch as spectators march through the streets to the stadium, singing and chanting in support of their team.
After the match, head to trendy Bario del Carmen in the Old Town to start an evening pub crawl down Calle de Caballeros. Explore the bars on your own, or sign up with a guided pub crawl available at many bars as a great way to to meet other travelers.
Days 4-5: Barcelona
Book another train ticket from Valencia to the Catalonia region for two days in hip and trendy Barcelona. Get an early introduction to the city with a stroll down the wide pedestrian lane of Las Ramblas, one of the most visited spots in the city. It is noticeably touristy, but worth the visit for its architecture, cultural centers and street markets. Spend some time getting lost in the nearby Gothic Quarter, exploring the picturesque alleyways and squares. Make a stop at Europe’s largest food market, La Boqueria, to sample Catalan classics. Morning is the best time to avoid the crowds.
One of Barcelona’s most interesting features is its modern art nouveau architecture, the most exemplary created by Antoni Gaudi. The most famous of these are the Sagrada Família, Park Güell and Casa Batlló, but many others exist throughout the city. Use the map provided to create a self-guided tour, or sign up with an official Gaudi tour to explore many of his works.
Barcelona offers a variety of nightlife, so once again sign up with an organized pub crawl at a local bar or hostel to explore the many great bars and clubs. If you prefer to go on your own, check out Las Ramblas, the Gothic Quarter, El Born, Raval, Gracia or Port Olimpic for everything from touristy pubs to upscale lounges and clubs. You can also opt for a more low-key evening drinking wine at one of the many bars and restaurants lining the beachfront.
After a hectic week full of museums, bullfights, soccer, walking tours, biking tours and most importantly food fights, take some much needed R&R on Barcelona’s three mile stretch of sandy beach. Spend your day basking in the sun, or leisurely strolling through the attractions at the old port.
Just as the history, language and culture in the Catalonia region is unique, so is its food. Traditional dishes pair seafood and meat in uncanny ways, and if you didn’t get your fill of jamon or tapas in Madrid, now is the perfect opportunity. Barcelona is obsessed with pork, and offers many varieties of cured, baked, grilled or smoked pork and sausages. Other staples include patatas bravas, croquettes and pa amb tomàquet, although you may not be able to stomach vine-ripened tomatoes smeared on crusty bread so soon after La Tomatina. It’s been years and I still have a hard time around the Roma tomato stall at my farmer’s market.
Relax on your last night in Spain with a glass of local wine and pinxtos, bite-sized treats atop bread, at one of the many patios located in Barcelona’s iconic squares. Later in the evening sample vermouth in a traditional bodega before saying buenas noches.
This is a brief guide for quick stops in each city, but are many more things to do and see in each one. What are your recommendations? Leave a comment below!
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