Travel Ninja

Top Tips for Planning a Memorable Trip to Spain

Planning a trip to Spain, nestled at the southern end of the European continent, offers a myriad of unique experiences. From the fascinating landscapes and different cultures to the rich traditions, Spain boasts vastly different travel experiences. Whether you’re drawn to skiing in the snow-dusted Pyrenees, relaxing on the golden beaches of the Mediterranean coast, or exploring the diverse topography, there’s an array of adventures awaiting every intrepid traveler.

Natural spaces abound for outdoor enthusiasts, while the cities, towns, and villages showcase storied history, culture, and mouth-watering gastronomy. Picture yourself immersed in the vibrant scenes of bulls, flamenco dancers, and grand cathedrals, or savoring delectable paella amidst vibrant people who embrace a way of life that’s warm, welcoming, and deeply connected to their tight-knit communities.

This slow, deliberate approach to life plays out in sun-dappled squares, crowded restaurants, and historic streets, where generations come together to enrich each other’s lives. The infectious energy of Spain leaves visitors wanting more, making it a destination like no other.

Local Help With Your Planning

Are you overwhelmed by the sheer amount of possibilities when planning your trip to Spain? With so much to see and do, it’s impossible to cover everything in just one article, but here’s some of the best advice to get you started. Finding the perfect, first-time itinerary that matches your interests can be challenging. You might need some personalized help in figuring out the right plan for your trip.

Consider scheduling a Spain travel consultation with one of our Local Experts. These one-hour Zoom calls allow you to chat with a Spain-based travel pro who can offer tailored tips and advice. They’ll answer your travel questions and help you craft the perfect itinerary. Don’t stress over the details—let the experts guide you towards an unforgettable Spanish adventure.

Best Time To Visit Spain

Visiting In spring

Wondering when the best time to visit Spain is? Spring is an ideal season, especially in April and May when temperatures are pleasantly rising without the scorching highs of June, July, and August. With less rainfall than September and October, and visitor numbers still relatively low, the palpable energy in the air makes the days feel warmer and ready for summer vacations.

Best Time To Visit Spain

Explore vibrant cities, hike the mountains including the loftiest peaks of the Pyrenees, spot bears in Asturias, and relax on the beaches in the south. Spring is also the season of large festivals celebrating Spain’s rich traditions.

Visiting In summer

Looking to visit Spain during summer? Prepare for huge crowds as July and August are the busiest time in Europe. Temperatures soar to hot levels in the main cities, causing many shops and businesses to close for holidays. However, this can still be a fantastic time to explore the north of Spain, where the weather is more comfortable and you can enjoy occasional rain and cooler climes in the mountains. For a perfect retreat, consider spending the afternoon in these refreshing areas, escaping the heat of the day.

Best Time To Visit Spain

Visiting In Autumn

Looking to experience Spain in autumn? It’s a great time to visit with fewer rainy days compared to July and August, which are uncomfortably hot. In September and October, you can enjoy the feel of a real summer in many places, perfect for lounging on a beach along the Mediterranean, hiking in the mountains, or admiring the vibrant fall foliage. The cooler climes make it ideal for outdoor activities, though there’s always a chance of poor weather.

Best Time To Visit Spain

Visiting In Winter

Winter in Spain offers a unique charm, with mild temperatures and the allure of the winter sun. The country’s different climates provide a refreshing contrast to the rest of cold Europe. Head to the high mountains for some snow and enjoy skiing in popular spots like the Picos de Europa or the Pyrenees. While the northern coast experiences more rain, you’ll find Spanish apartments often unprepared for the chill, so it’s wise to stay rugged up.

Best Time To Visit Spain

How Long Do You Need For A Trip To Spain?

3–5 Days At A Minimum

If you have a minimum of three to five days to explore Spain, focus on the major cities like Barcelona, Madrid, and Seville. For first-time travelers, these cities offer an incredible mix of historical monuments and vibrant culture. Spend your entire 3-5 days immersing yourself in the endless things to see and things to do in Madrid and Barcelona, or venture out for a day trip to the nearby countryside and historic towns.

Enjoy the fantastic destinations within easy distance like Toledo, Segovia, Ávila, and Salamanca, where you can explore the ancient side of Spain. From Montserrat Monastery and the natural beauty of the Costa Brava beaches near Barcelona to the historic charm of Seville and Andalucia, including the stunning Alhambra Moorish Palace in Granada and the Grand Mosque in Cordoba, your journey will be filled with unforgettable highlights.

12–15 Days For An Ideal Visit To Spain

For a longer stay in Spain, a 12-15 days trip is perfect to cover all the major highlights and explore other attractions that match your interests. This ideal visit allows you to spend 3 days each in Barcelona and Madrid, delving into the heart of these vibrant cities. Dedicate a week to Andalusia, visiting captivating cities like Malaga and Cadiz, and exploring the rugged, white mountain-top villages and fantastic beaches.

With a full 15 days, you can venture to the north, experiencing San Sebastian and Bilbao in the Basque Country, known for the best food despite the occasional rainy weather. This comprehensive 2-week countrywide itinerary ensures you see the best of Spain in 14 days.

How To Get To Spain

When considering how to get to Spain, you’ll find multiple options to suit your needs. The major airports in Madrid and Barcelona are primary hubs for international travel, especially if you’re flying from the US or Australia. Upon arrival, you’ll also have access to smaller airports in Seville, Valencia, and Malaga for more localized travel. These airports are well-connected with numerous international routes across Europe, often offering direct flights.

Best Time To Visit Spain

Once you land, reaching the city center is straightforward; in Madrid, the train is the cheapest and fastest method, delivering you directly to the train station. In Barcelona, the Aero Bus is an affordable and fast option with regular departures to Plaza Espana and Plaza Catalonia.

Where To Visit On A First Trip

When planning your first trip to Spain, consider the excellent rail network connecting its major cities, secondary cities, and even tertiary cities. Start with Madrid, Barcelona, and Sevilla; with 7 days, spend 3 days in Madrid, 2 days in Barcelona, and 2 days in Sevilla. This itinerary allows you to explore iconic sites and even take a day trip to places like Toledo, Segovia, or the El Escorial complex.

Extend your stay to 10 days to more flexibly include destinations such as Valencia, Granada with its stunning Alhambra, or the picturesque white villages of Ronda. For those with two weeks, venture into northern Spain to visit Zaragoza, San Sebastian, and Bilbao, exploring the beautiful places and itineraries of this region.

Spain, a large country with a rich culture and unique history across its 17 autonomous communities, offers a diverse range of plains, valleys, plateaus, mountains, and coasts from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.

Central Spain: Madrid, Castilla y León, Castilla-La Mancha, & Extremadura

Exploring Central Spain offers a journey through diverse landscapes and rich history. Start in Madrid, the capital and largest city, known as a cultural, historical, and gastronomic powerhouse. Head to Castilla y León to discover stunning mountains, plains, and amazing castles in Ávila, Segovia, and Salamanca—all must-visit historical towns.

Central Spain

In Castilla La Mancha, immerse yourself in the land of Don Quixote, with its endless plains and iconic windmills, and explore the medieval city of Toledo. Journey to Extremadura, on the western edge bordering Portugal, a frontier land traversed by kingdoms for millennia. This rural territory rewards visitors with traces of ancient civilizations at every turn.

Northeast Spain: Navarre, La Rioja, Aragon, and Catalonia

Northeastern Spain is a treasure trove of experiences, starting with Navarre, where the main attractions include endless outdoor opportunities in the Pyrenees mountains, wine and agricultural tastings at local farms and vineyards, and the famous running of the bulls in Pamplona. In La Rioja, the smallest autonomous community, savor the eponymous wine and visit this surprising skiing destination during wintertime to hit the slopes.

Aragon spain

Aragon offers a less crowded experience, with tourists often missing out on Zaragoza, a non-touristy city boasting a magnificent cathedral and some of the highest mountains in Spain. Finally, Catalonia is home to Barcelona, the second largest city and arguably the most famous in Spain, known for its beautiful coastline along the Costa Brava and charming mid-sized cities like Girona, perfect for hiking and camping adventures.

The Mediterranean Coast: Valencia, Murcia, & Andalusia

For an unforgettable journey along the Mediterranean Coast, start with Barcelona and head down the eastern coast to Valencia, the third largest city in Spain, known for its sun, beaches, and excellent food. Discover the modern urban attractions like the City of Art and Sciences and relax in tourist resort towns such as Alicante and Benidorm.

Murcia spain

Next, venture into Murcia, an arid region dotted with sleepy towns and rich in Moorish architecture. Finally, immerse yourself in Andalusia, the quintessential postcard image of Spain for many foreigners, with its sun kissed land, flamenco, tapas, and cobbled streets. Sevilla captivates visitors with its charm and gorgeous architecture, especially the Royal Alcazar palace.

Explore the mountaintop white villages like Ronda, marvel at the Alhambra palace in Granada, and admire the Sierra Nevada mountains. Don’t miss the Mezquita Grand Mosque in Cordoba or the Costa del Sol, famed for its wide sandy beaches and sunny days.

The Atlantic Coast: The Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias, and Galicia

If you’re dreaming of exploring Spain’s Atlantic coast, you’re in for a treat with some of the greenest, wettest, and leafiest regions in the country. Begin in the Basque Pyrenees near France, and journey to the Atlantic seaside of Galicia at the northern border with Portugal. Marvel at the breathtaking landscapes where mountains meet the sea, and indulge in regional cuisines in charming villages, towns, and mid-size cities.

Galicia spain

In the Basque country, don’t miss San Sebastián and Bilbao, renowned as a cultural hotspot. Continue to Cantabria to explore the Picos de Europa park with its dramatic coastal mountains. In Asturias, visit the maritime city of Gijón and the architectural gem of Oviedo. Finally, discover Galicia, the wildest, greenest, and most remote part of Spain.

Balearic Islands

Dreaming of an island getaway? The Balearic Islands, off the coast of Catalonia, offer a perfect escape with Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera each having a distinctive vibe. These popular destinations are known for their stunning beaches, picturesque backroads, and quiet countryside. Explore the historic cities and experience the vibrant nightlife with night clubs featuring world-famous DJs during the summer. Whether you seek relaxation or excitement, the Balearics have something special for every traveler.

Balearic Islands spain

The Canary Islands

Looking for an exotic escape? The Canary Islands, located off the coast of North Africa, form a breathtaking volcanic archipelago comprising seven main islands: Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, and El Hierro. Each island has a different vibe and geographical makeup, offering unique experiences for all kinds of travelers. Known for their beach resorts, the Canary Islands are a favorite among European travelers seeking sun and adventure.

The Canary Islands spain

Transportation And How To Get Around In Spain

Navigating Spain, a big place with diverse landscapes, is made easier by its excellent train system. For those with time constraints, combining domestic flights and train travel is the way to go. The high-speed train connecting Madrid and Barcelona, the two biggest cities, is fast and efficient. To reach Andalusia or northern Spain, it often makes sense to fly as train travel can take an entire day. For smaller areas, you can rely on trains, but in rural areas, buses or renting a car may be necessary.

Domestic Flights

Considering a domestic flight for your trip within Spain is often a good idea. These flights are generally affordable and can save time and money compared to traveling by train. Key routes like Barcelona to Seville or Valencia to Santiago are well-served. Major airports in Madrid, Seville, and Bilbao offer numerous direct flights. Even smaller airports like Santander and Oviedo are accessible via airlines such as Iberia Air, Vueling, Ryanair, and Air Europa. Whether you’re heading to the mainland or the Canary Islands, flight times are short and convenient.

Train Travel

Spain boasts a wonderful rail network, featuring the second-most developed high-speed train system in the world. Although train prices can be more expensive than flying for medium distances, increasing competition is helping to lower prices. A direct train route between cities is often more convenient. Renfe, the national train company, operates most rail services in the country, including the AVE service (Alta Velocidad Española), which connects major cities at speeds of up to 310 km/h (193 mph).

Train classifications include Avant, Alvia, Media Distancia, regional trains, Cercanías (suburban trains), and Trenhotel (overnight trains with sleeping cars). The Renfe-SNCF collaboration offers high-speed trains between Spain and France. From Madrid, located at the center of the country, there are fantastic connections in all directions via the high-speed railway.

Train travel spain

Traveling to Barcelona takes 2 hours and 30 minutes, with ticket prices ranging from €10 to €90. The same travel time applies to Seville in the south, costing between €40 and €65. Trips to Valencia take 1 hour and 30 minutes, costing between €5 and €20. High-speed rail links to Santiago and Bilbao average 3 hours 30 minutes and 4 hours 30 minutes, respectively.

Where To Book Train Tickets

Wondering where to book train tickets for your Spanish adventure? Tickets can be booked online through the companies’ website, such as Renfe, or directly at train stations. For lower priced tickets, it’s best to book in advance and opt for off-peak time, such as the early morning. To compare all your public transport tickets from various service providers, using an aggregator like Omio is very helpful.

Omio allows you to see options for public transport routes including trains, buses, flights, and ferries from different companies, comparing prices easily. Its great design makes managing your bookings simple and convenient.

Bus Travel

For those looking to explore Spain affordably, bus travel offers a fantastic option. Buses are cheap, making it an ideal choice for budget travel compared to the train. Major hubs like Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, and Bilbao are well-connected, and even larger cities in each autonomous region are linked by bus routes. While buses take longer, they are operated by reputable bus companies such as Alsa, Avanza, Daibus, Damas, and Flixbus, offering widespread routes including to neighboring countries.

bus travel spain

Whether for short or medium-distance travel, especially to the south, low-cost bus travel is prevalent across Europe. Booking tickets in advance ensures you get the best price and secure a seat. For long-distance routes, overnight buses are available, and you can easily compare options using online platforms despite some providers having bad websites.

Booking Bus Tickets

When it comes to booking bus tickets in Spain, doing it online is the most efficient method. Bus stations also have offices for all the bus companies if you prefer to buy in person. To ensure you secure a seat and get the best price, it’s generally advisable to book in advance. For long-distance routes, consider overnight buses that get you to your destination by morning, though you might feel a bit tired from disrupted sleep. Using platforms like Omio is very helpful for checking bus schedules and comparing options from various providers, especially since some have bad websites or are only in Spanish.

Renting A Car

For those seeking flexibility and adventure, renting a car in Spain is an excellent option. If you’re basing yourself in one area and exploring the surrounding region, having a car is particularly useful. In La Rioja, you can visit numerous wineries at your own pace. Discover the charm of white mountain-top villages in Andalusia, or navigate the scenic roads of Mallorca and Tenerife. On these islands, public transport can be limited, making a rental car essential for reaching more remote and picturesque locations.

Car Rentals spain

Where To Find A Car Rental

Wondering where to find a car rental in Spain? You have plenty of options. Major international car rental companies are available alongside smaller local agencies. In any medium-to-large city, you’ll find numerous rental agencies. For the best selection, head to an international airport or a busy train station.

To check prices and book, use platforms like DiscoverCars, which offers options from both international rental companies and local agencies, often providing better pricing and great deals. Another good option is RentalCars, known for listing mostly larger companies and backed by Booking.com, a reputable brand with good prices.

Cost Of A Rental Car

Curious about the cost of a rental car in Spain? On average, you can expect to rent a car for around 30 euros per day. Major car rental services like Hertz, Europcar, SIXT, Avis, and Enterprise are available, along with local companies offering competitive rates such as Record Go, Gold Car, and Centauro. Keep in mind that most cars are manual transmission, and you may need to pay more for an automatic vehicle.

Driving In Spain

Driving in Spain can be a delightful experience if you’re well-prepared. The road conditions are generally good, especially on the main highways and routes. However, be aware that rural roads are often not well maintained and can be narrow winding roads that require you to drive with caution. As you traverse the countryside, you’ll encounter tolls on many freeways (autopistas), but expressways (autovías) are typically toll-free. Payments at toll booths can be made with cash or a credit card, and the prices can add up quickly, so plan accordingly.

Taxis And Ride Share Apps

Navigating major Spanish cities is a breeze with taxies and rideshare apps. You can easily flag them down—a green light means they’re free, while red indicates they’re occupied. You’ll find taxis at bus stations, train stations, major hotels, and popular tourist attractions. Although rideshare apps like Uber have faced legal challenges and opposition from taxi drivers, alternatives like Cabify and Freenow are popular in major cities. In more modest cities and towns, you might need to track down a taxi at a taxi rank, have your hotel order a taxi, or call the company directly.

Hotels & Accommodation

Finding the right hotels & accommodation in Spain can significantly enhance your travel experience. Spanish hotels in popular touristed destinations can be pricey, especially during the busy season in July and August. However, travel during off-peak times for more affordable rates, which are often cheaper compared to the USA and other parts of Europe.

Hotels & Accommodation spain

Spain offers a variety of accommodation options including hotels, hostels, serviced apartments, and bed and breakfasts. Airbnb also has a strong presence, although recent protests in larger cities like Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia due to rising rent and a housing shortage suggest that it might be more practical to stay in a hotel.

Spain’s Paradores

A unique accommodation option that sets it apart in Europe is Spain’s paradores. Established by the Spanish government in the 1950s to boost tourism, these spectacular hotels are housed in old monasteries, palaces, and castles located in little-visited areas. These sought-after accommodations offer a blend of historical charm and luxury. A standout is the Parador de Santiago de Compostela, which holds the title of the oldest hotel in Europe still operating.

Alternative Accommodation In Spain

Exploring alternative accommodation in Spain can enhance your travel experience, especially if you’re seeking different types of lodging. For adventurous travelers, mountain hostels are ideal during the summer months, offering a place to stay for long-distance trekkers in the Pyrenees. Those embarking on long-distance treks like the Camino de Santiago will find inexpensive albergues and hostels dedicated to pilgrims on their journey to Santiago.

Is Spain expensive? Average Travel Costs

Accommodation

When planning for accommodation in Spain, it’s important to consider the costs. On average, you can expect to pay between €70 and €100 per night for a double room. Prices vary based on the season and location. During the high season and holiday periods like Easter and Christmas, rates tend to increase, especially in popular destinations such as Madrid, Barcelona, and the islands.

Meals

Curious about the cost of a meal in Spain? Dining at a modest restaurant typically costs between €12 and €18 per person. If you prefer cooking your own food, a weekly budget of €60 for groceries should suffice. However, be aware that food prices have been rising in recent years. Don’t miss out on the menú del día (menu of the day), a tradition dating back to Franco’s era, which mandated restaurants in touristy areas to offer a 3-course meal and a drink for as little as 8.50 euros.

Car Rentals

Considering renting a car for your Spanish adventure? The cost is around €30 per day for a small vehicle with basic coverage. Keep in mind that most rentals come with manual transmission, so if you prefer an automatic, it might cost a bit more. This flexibility allows you to explore Spain at your own pace and visit places that are off the beaten path.

Car Rentals

Taxi Rides

When planning taxi rides in Spain, knowing the price can help you budget effectively. From Madrid Airport to the Madrid city center, expect a fixed fee of €30. In Barcelona, the cost ranges between €30 and €40, depending on the terminal and your destination in the city. Within cities, taxis typically charge a starting fee of €1 to €2, plus €0.90 to €1.20 per kilometer. A trip from the city center to a residential neighborhood usually costs around €10. Be aware that at night, the price and rate often increase. Check the sticker on the back window for detailed prices and times.

Public Transportation

Navigating Spain via public transportation is both affordable and convenient. Trains are comfortable and often faster than buses, although they typically cost more. For example, a high-speed train ride from Madrid to Barcelona costs around €60, while a bus ride for the same route is about €30. For slower trains and shorter distances, prices drop significantly. To get the best prices, it’s advisable to book in advance, especially for early morning departures.

Entrance Tickets

Planning your budget for entrance tickets in Spain is essential, especially for museums and ticketed sites. Prices vary depending on the destination, with museums in major cities typically costing between €10 and €20 per person. For historical and cultural attractions, expect higher fees; for instance, the Alhambra Palace in Granada costs €19, while admission to the Sagrada Familia is €26.

Guided Tours

When considering the cost of guided tours in Spain, you have various options to enhance your experience. Audio guides, walking tours, and combination tours with a guide can provide in-depth knowledge of local attractions. For example, a 3-hour group walking tour in Seville costs around €25 per person, while a 3-hour group bike tour in Valencia is about €35. For nightlife, the Valencia Pub Crawl is an affordable option at €15. If you prefer a more personalized experience, private tours start at approximately €50 per hour, excluding the cost of private transportation.

Paying For Things And Using Credit Cards

Using Credit Cards

In Spain, a modern country with diverse payment methods, credit cards and debit cards are widely used and accepted at hotels, restaurants, and most establishments. However, it’s wise to carry some cash since some places might not accept cards or may have a minimum amount requirement, often around 5 euros. For small purchases at a convenience store or buses in cities outside Madrid and Barcelona, you might need to purchase tickets directly from the driver.

Using Credit Cards

Withdrawing Cash

Need cash while traveling in Spain? ATMs are widely available throughout the country, in both cities and towns. You’ll find them everywhere, making it easy to withdraw money no matter where you are.

Tipping

In Spain, tipping is seen as a bonus for great service rather than an obligation. Spanish service workers earn a decent wage, so leaving a 5-10% tip at a restaurant for good service is appreciated but not mandatory. It’s also common to just leave some change. For taxis, rounding up to the nearest euro or adding a few extra euros is standard. Remember, tipping is entirely up to you and not expected, so you won’t risk offending anyone if you choose not to tip.

Safety In Spain

Spain is one of the safest and most inclusive destinations in Europe, with low rates of violent crime and terrorism. However, petty theft can be a problem in bigger cities like Madrid and Barcelona, where pickpockets often target tourists in crowded places such as train stations, the metro, and popular attractions. To stay safe, always be alert and aware in heavily touristed areas, keep your wallet and phone in your front pockets or backpack, and never leave them on the table at a café or restaurant.

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