Jul 21, 2022 • 9 min read
Be inspired to travel Spain with these great itineraries © Getty Images / iStockphoto
Highlights of Spain: 3 great travel itineraries to make the most of your visit
Jul 21, 2022 • 9 min read
Seductive Spain attracts travelers to its diverse land, comprising 17 distinct regions. To help you decide where to start, here are three of our best itineraries to inspire you.
To understand why many visitors fall in love with Spain and never want to leave, look no further than its vibrant, passionate, beautiful cities. This 14-day tour takes you through the best Spain has to offer.
So many Spanish trails begin in Barcelona, Spain’s second-biggest city and one of the coolest places on earth. You’ll need at least three days to explore the main attractions here, including nightlife and restaurants. From the standout Gaudí highlights – the incomparable Sagrada Família and colorful Casa Batlló – to its wonderful art museums of Picasso and Miró and the historic sights hidden among the narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter, there’s more than enough to keep you coming back for more. Dine on Catalan classics in the Ciutat Vella, tapas in hip El Born and international delights in the neighborhood of Gràcia.
Catch the fast train down the coast to Valencia in just three hours for a dose of paella, nightlife and the 21st-century wonders of the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. Spend some time exploring the narrow winding streets and charming plazas of the Ciutat Vella, then hit the city’s fabulous modernist Mercado Central for some local treats. Hire a bike to tour the lush Turia Gardens set in an old riverbed, before relaxing on Malvarrosa Beach with a traditional paella valenciana at Casa Carmela.
A fast train whisks you inland to the capital, mighty Madrid, in just two hours where you will find irresistible street energy, pretty plazas and one of the richest concentrations of art museums on the planet. Soak up the atmosphere in the grand Plaza Mayor with some chocolate-dipped churros from Chocolatería San Ginés, then make your way to Madrid’s Golden Triangle to marvel at the collections of the Reina Sofia, Prado or Thyssen-Bornemisza art museums. In the afternoon, relax in the vast Parque del Buen Retiro before hitting the stands at the Mercado de San Miguel or the famous bars on Calle Cava Baja.
Yet another two-hour fast train takes you deep into Andalucía, with Córdoba your entry point into this wonderful corner of Spain; the most obvious highlight is the city’s 8th-century Mezquita. Local dishes to try include a traditional flamenquín (a breaded and deep-fried wrap filled with ham, cheese and pork) and salmorejo (a thick cold gazpacho-like soup of tomato and garlic).
From Córdoba, it's a short hop (just 50 minutes by train) to fabulous Seville. You’ll want at least two days in this most romantic of southern Spanish cities or even three, if you can spare it. Climb to the top of La Giralda, the cathedral’s Moorish minaret for the incredible views, followed by more Moorish discoveries at the opulent Real Alcázar. On your second day in the city, head to the gorgeous grand sweep of Plaza de España and its exquisitely tiled pavilions, before hopping over the river to check out the atmospheric neighborhood of La Triana, where most of Seville’s tiles were once created. Andalusia serves up some of the best tapas in the country and, as its capital, Seville’s offerings are second to none. Make your way around the old Jewish neighborhood of Santa Cruz to dine in its fountain-filled plazas.
Another short train ride takes you down to Málaga, often merely a stopping point on the way to the beach resorts of the Costa del Sol, but definitely a city that warrants a little more exploration. Discover the palatial fortification of the Alcazaba, visit the childhood home of Pablo Picasso, then head to the chiringuito (beach bars) for some classic grilled fish, cooked right on the sand.
We’ve saved the best until last: Granada boasts the extraordinary Alhambra, its soulful alter ego the Albayzín, and an eating and drinking scene that embraces Spanish culinary culture in all its glorious variety. Bar hop your way along Calle Navas for free tapas bites with each drink, then head up to the caves of the Sacromonte neighborhood for a traditional flamenco show.
Is 10 days enough for Spain? Well, it might not be enough to see the whole country, but it’s plenty to explore a particular section in depth. Spain's Mediterranean coast may get the crowds, but the country's northern coastline from San Sebastián to Santiago is one of the most spectacular in Europe. Here’s how to see northern Spain in just 10 days.
There is no finer introduction to the north of the country than San Sebastián, with its dramatic setting and extraordinary food scene. Two nights is a minimum here. Begin with a stroll around the sweeping bay of La Concha to see the impressive Peine del Viento sculptures by the famous Basque artist Eduardo Chillida, then learn all about Basque culture at the Museo San Telmo. Later, make your way around the Old Town stopping for pintxos bites along the way, followed by the best baked Basque cheesecake for dessert at La Viña.
West of San Sebastián, three hours by train, Bilbao is best known as the home of the showpiece Museo Guggenheim and warrants at least a night, preferably two. After visiting the masterpieces inside Frank Gehry’s titanium ship, there’s much more art and architecture to see, including Philippe Starck’s Azkuna Zentroa building and the city’s innovative street art. In the evening, go barhopping for tasty pintxos in the Casco Viejo. If you have two days in the city, spend your second day at nearby Arrigunaga Beach learning how to surf the waves.
Leave Bilbao behind and head west through Cantabria and Asturias. To make the most of the coast, you'll need a car. Cantabria's cobblestone Santillana del Mar, the rock art at Altamira and the village of Ribadesella will fill one day.
Drive south into the steep gorges and soaring peaks of the Picos de Europa, one of Spain’s largest and best national parks. Spend your time here hiking through the verdant green valleys or up into the clouds and, if you’re lucky enough, you may spot golden eagles, wild boar and brown bears.
Head to irresistible Oviedo, the capital of Asturias, known for its historic medieval old town and its Unesco World Heritage 9th-century stone churches. Make sure to take a break to visit a traditional sidrería for a glass of local Asturian cider.
Tackle Galicia's coastline, one of Spain's great natural wonders, punctuated by secluded fishing villages and stunning cliffs. Don't miss Cabo Ortegal peninsula where the Bay of Biscay meets the Atlantic Ocean, the Glass City of A Coruña with its gorgeous galerías and the dramatic Costa da Morte. Along the way, stop for a traditional plate of pulpo a feira (Galician-style octopus sprinkled with paprika).
For the last two nights, linger in the thoroughly Galician city of Santiago de Compostela, a place of pilgrim footfalls, fine regional cuisine and a cathedral of power. There’s plenty to see here besides the cathedral however, including several impressive monasteries and convents. Feeling hungry? Make your way to Bar La Tita for – dare we say it – the tastiest tortilla de patatas (potato omelette) in Spain.
This journey takes you from the shores of the Mediterranean in Valencia to Mallorca, Ibiza and their hip little cousin, Formentera, three of the most beautiful islands anywhere in the Med. You'll need a car to explore the two bigger islands.
Begin in Valencia, that most appealing of Mediterranean cities, which is worth staying in for a couple of nights. Spend your first day looking around the Old Town, the impressive Cathedral to search for the Holy Grail, the large Modernist food market and the exquisite Unesco La Lonja de la Seda. On day two, marvel at the futuristic Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (The City of Arts and Sciences). If the heat gets too much, cool down with a traditional glass of horchata (tiger nut milk) at the 200-year old Horchatería Santa Catalina.
Fly or catch a boat to Palma de Mallorca, the capital of the Balearics and a dynamic city with stirring architecture and world-class food. It’s well worth a couple of nights here before you head to the countryside and the beaches. Visit the city’s landmark La Seu Cathedral, explore the Casco Antiguo and tour the opulent Palau de l’Amudaina. There are plenty of museums and great restaurants to occupy your time too. When you need a break, stop for a delicious powdered-sugar-covered ensaimada (a typical Mallorcan pastry swirl).
After a couple of nights, take two days to drive Mallorca's west coast and the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range. Stop for one night in the charming mountain village of Valldemossa and the other in pretty Sóller, surrounded by orange groves and just a short hop to the coast.
Base yourself in Port de Pollença to explore the island's north for a couple more days, including the idyllic Cap de Formentor and the historic town of Alcúdia, surrounded by old medieval walls. Return to Palma to catch the ferry to Ibiza.
On arrival, take a couple of days to soak up the considerable charms of Ibiza Town's fortified old town of Dalt Vila and its superb nightlife. Here it’s more chic outdoor cocktail bars and romantic candlelit restaurants than thumping discotheques.
Leave it all behind for Ibiza's quiet and natural north coast, stopping in Sant Llorenç de Balàfia, with its great restaurants where you can order the traditional bullit de peix (fish stew), remote little Sant Mateu d'Aubarca, and artsy Santa Gertrudis de Fruitera.
When you can tear yourself away, head for the Parc Natural de Ses Salines, some of the wildest and most beautiful country in Mediterranean Spain. Comprising both sea and coastal ecosystems, these salt flats and wetlands are home to over 200 bird species including pink flamingos, cormorants and ospreys.
Head back to Ibiza Town to catch the ferry (35 minutes) over to the tiny former hippie island of Formentera for your last two nights before heading home. It’s the perfect place to explore by bicycle, just 19km (12 miles) long and crisscrossed with many bike lanes and green routes.
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