Planning Your Stay in Spain
Most visitors to Spain opt to spend it in one or two of the country's more famous regions. There's good reason for this: Madrid embodies the sophisticated European capital with medieval roots; Barcelona is a culture unto itself, boasting historic Gothic neighborhoods like nowhere else on earth. However, there are other equally unique areas, from Spanish Basque Country to the rugged coast of Galicia to the sunkissed beaches and Moorish palaces of Andalusia.
Even with five nights to spend in the country you can enjoy the highlights of one region plus embark on day tours. With a week or more, you could discover multiple regions while acquainting yourself with Spain's world-class food and wine. If the mood strikes, you can jet off to the Balearic Islands, spend time lazing on white-sand beaches, and sailing around Menorca and Mallorca. The sky is the limit.
When is the best time to visit Spain, you might ask? Learn all about it here.
5-6 Days in Spain
Travelers to Spain will likely arrive in Madrid or Barcelona. If arriving in the capital, base yourself in the historic center since the major sights are within 10-15 minutes walking distance. The epicenter is Madrid de las Austrias, an area built in the 16th-century during the reign of Charles Ist. It's home to the opulent Royal Palace, Plaza Mayor, Teatro Real opera house, and the Puerto del Sol, a plaza abuzz with activity day and night.
After nights out in the city, spend a leisurely afternoon in El Retiro Park, a 308-acre green lung that dates to the 1700s. Besides the over 15,000 trees, there's a lake, a 4,000-flower rose garden, and the Palacio de Cristal, a glass conservatory built in 1887. Then continue this highlights tour by hopping train south to Andalusia and its capital, Seville. Tour its Gothic churches, Moorish palaces, and take in a flamenco show. After all, it's in Seville where flamenco dancing was invented.
Catalonia is also a great option if you have less than a week in Spain. Upon arrival in Barcelona, stretch your legs with a stroll down Las Ramblas, the main pedestrian thoroughfare. It runs not only past Barcelona's most famous neighborhood, Barrio Gótico (the historic Gothic Quarter), but it terminates on the water around Barceloneta Beach and offers great sea views. You can also opt for an off-the-beaten-path vacation that includes things like tapas tours and sailboat cruises.
No trip to Barcelona is complete without visiting Ciutadella Park and Catalan-modernist landmarks like La Sagrada Familia and Park Güell. But you should also venture outside the city, perhaps to Montserrat, an 11th-century cliffside monastery. Or visit the Costa Brava, home to stunning beaches and medieval villages. Be sure to spend one sunset in Barcelona at the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc. At night it comes alive in a spectacle of light and water and is the best free show in the city.
Spain in 7-8 Days
7-8 days is enough time to take a road trip to lesser-visited regions in Spain, like Galicia. After a day or two in Madrid, head northeast to León. This ancient city, which began as a settlement in ancient Rome, is a popular starting point for the legendary Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, which has its terminus in Galicia’s capital of Santiago. This is where you’ll find the famous 13th-century cathedral that’s home to the remains of St. James the Great.
From Santiago, travel further east to see some of Galicia's coast. Spend a night or two in the port city of Vigo, then make a day trip to the nearby Cíes Islands. Here you'll find Rodas Beach, which has some of the brightest blue waters outside the Caribbean. There's also great seafood and shellfish in the area, which is harvested fresh from the nearby Rias Bajas fjords.
Another off-the-beaten-path option, just south of Madrid, is La Mancha. This arid plateau is famously the setting for Don Quixote, and yes, the iconic white windmills dot the horizon. Moreover, La Mancha is one of the globe’s most productive wine regions, so you’ll want to indulge in a tasting of its famous Chardonnay and Torrontes varietals. Also, you can visit the region's national parks, which include the wetlands of Las Tablas de Damiel and the waterfalls of Ruidera Lakes.
You can finish the trip by heading into the Extremadura region, which borders Portugal to the east. It’s home to some of the most beautiful and well-preserved medieval towns in Spain, like Mérida, Cácere, and Trujillo. These throwback villages are home to historic castles, large central plazas, and even the ruins of ancient Roman theaters.
If you're dead set on sun and sand, plan an eight-day beach holiday starting in Barcelona. Spend the first day or two enjoying city tours then perhaps head north to the Costa Brava and overnight in the romantic seaside village of Bergin. After five days on the mainland, fly to Mallorca and Menorca, in the Balearic isles, for your remaining two or three days. Here you can explore hidden coves fronting turquoise waters and enjoy horseback rides to secluded beaches.
Spain in 9-12 Days
In between nine and 12 days you can immerse yourself in multiple regions of Spain plus even visit Portugal if you choose. Consider combining the aforementioned excursion to Galicia with a road trip to Basque Country. This self-drive tour begins in Madrid, where you can see another side to the capital by visiting artisans workshops where you'll meet everyone from the tailors who produce bullfighters' costumes to makers of handcrafted flamenco guitars.
After a couple of days in Madrid, hop in the car and head north to Basque Country. know that there's a great opportunity to stop along the way in the medieval villages around the La Rioja region for a wine tasting. When you do arrive at the Atlantic coast after stopping in Santiago, you could overnight in San Sebastian and enjoy the crescent beaches and great food scene.
For a tasty experience, you could plan a food-and-wine-tour of Spain over 10 days that begins with cooking classes in Barcelona before transferring to Madrid. Here, dine at the tapas bars in the literary quarter of Barrio las Letras, which was once home to Spain's most celebrated author, Miguel de Cervantes. For something more modern, go shopping or take in a show on Madrid's most popular thoroughfare, Gran Vía.
Or make it a family trip that combines Madrid, Barcelona, and Andalusia, which is famous for its mix of Moorish, Jewish, and Christian cultural influences. In Seville, you'll find the largest Gothic church in the world, the 13th century Catedral de Sevilla, plus the region's grandest plaza, the Plaza de España. If you do make it down here, definitely don't miss out on Seville's tapas scene. Andalusians like their portions big!
Spain in 2 Weeks
if you have 14 free days you owe it to yourself to see as much of the country as possible. And there's no better way to combine the history and culture of Spain than on a two-week southern road trip. Spend your first couple days in the capital, touring historic Madrid de Los Austrias and the El Prado Museum, which features an impressive collection of Spanish art.
Then hop in the car and head south to the city of Toledo, which was the capital of Spain under the Visigoths until the 8th century. From there keep south through the plateau region of La Mancha before arriving in Spain's southernmost region, Andalusia.
Your first stop in Andalusia will be Córdoba. See the mix of cultures on a tour of its alcázars, churches, and Jewish Quarter. Then head to Seville, and from here you can make day trips to the countryside for sherry wine tastings and equestrian performances. Then travel southeast to Ronda, the mountaintop town that Ernest Hemingway called "the place to go if you're on a honeymoon." The romantic 360° views overlooking the Andalusian countryside confirm that observation.
The best way to end this history/culture road trip of Spain is with a tour of the Alhambra palace in Granada followed by a stop in the seaside metropolis of Málaga. Here you can visit the Picasso Museum, which is dedicated to Málaga's most famous son, who was born there in 1881.
Or you could eschew the south in favor of a road trip to Spanish Basque Country. Make it a food and wine tour, stopping at the Ribeira Sacra mountainous wine region and see its terraced vineyards on a riverboat cruise. Eventually, you'll reach the rugged Basque coast. You can travel between the cities of Bilbao and San Sebastian, stopping at Michelin-starred restaurants on the coast for some incredible food accompanied by the perfect glass of Txakoli (a sparkling white wine).
Check out more 14-day itineraries.