Venture off the tourist trail in two of Europe's most popular countries, from the Iberian coast to the wilds of central Italy. Start with a road trip on Spain's epic pilgrimage route through Galicia and the Basque Country, stopping for tours in León and Bilbao. The excitement continues in Italy, where after enjoying the best of Rome, you'll travel north to Lazio, famous for its ancient fairy-tale villages.


  • Get a bird's-eye view of Madrid's skyline during a rooftop tour
  • Discover the joys of Galician cuisine in Santiago de Compostela
  • Marvel at Gothic architecture in historic cities like León
  • Immerse yourself in art and culture in the Basque capital of Bilbao
  • Hit the highlights of Rome, then travel to ancient towns in Lazio

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Madrid (Spain), Rooftops & Food Tour Madrid
Day 2 Transfer to Santiago de Compostela, Food Tour Santiago de Compostela
Day 3 Day Trip to Pontevedra & Cambados Santiago de Compostela
Day 4 Drive to León, Self-Guided Tour León
Day 5 Drive to Burgos, Visit Atapuerca Burgos
Day 6 Drive to Bilbao, Pintxos Tour Bilbao
Day 7 Fly to Rome (Italy), Highlights Tour Rome
Day 8 Drive to Viterbo, Stop in Calcata Viterbo
Day 9 Drive to Bolsena, Stop at Civita di Bagnoregio Bolsena
Day 10 Lake Bolsena Boat Tour Bolsena
Day 11 Drive to Orvieto, Tour & Wine Tasting Orvieto
Day 12 Drive to Spoleto, Walking Tour Spoleto
Day 13 Day Trip to Piediluco & Marmore Waterfalls Spoleto
Day 14 Drive to Rome, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Madrid (Spain), Rooftops & Food Tour

Bustling, Vibrant Madrid at Night
See the highlights of Madrid, like Gran Vía, from the terraces of trendy rooftop bars

Welcome to Spain! You've heard the stories and seen the travel shows, but this country is much more than tapas and flamenco guitar. Instead of one homogenous country, it's a collection of regions (known as autonomous communities), each unique in terms of culture, food, and even language. You'll see these beautiful idiosyncrasies right when you arrive in Madrid, the nation's capital.

A driver will meet you at the airport and transfer you to your hotel. Rather than attempt to glean the full scope of this historic city (its origins date to the third century BCE) from street level, you'll get a bird's-eye view of Madrid on a rooftop tour. After meeting a guide at your hotel, head out on a three-hour excursion to some of the most exclusive sky-high venues in the city.

From the street, the buildings may look nondescript; however, inside, you'll ride elevators up to chic sun terraces and rooftop bars offering panoramic skyline views. Mingle with local Madrileños over wine and tapas while learning about the city's rich history from your guide. He or she can even point out famous landmarks dating to the Hapsburg dynasty of the 17th century. Also, this tour might coincide with sunset, so you can watch the golden glow over the rooftops as the sun disappears behind Madrid.

Day 2: Transfer to Santiago de Compostela, Food Tour

See the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela before joining a food tour

Transfer to Atocha station in the morning and catch a train for the three-hour ride northwest into the region of Galicia. You'll arrive in the capital of Santiago de Compostela, which isn't only a historic city but also the terminus of the Camino de Santiago. This famed pilgrimage route begins in France and spans 500 miles (800 km) across Spain, ending at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, a Romanesque/Gothic/Baroque church that's the most iconic landmark in the city. Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel and then head right back out for a tour.

After meeting a local guide, you'll embark on a walk to discover what makes Galician cuisine world-famous. It's a half-day excursion, during which your guide will lead you to some of the city's food markets, where you can browse fresh produce and sample some of the region's legendary seafood, regarded as some of the best in the world. Traditional dishes you can try include pulpo a la Gallego (Galician octopus) and gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp). Pair these delicious morsels with the region's famed white wine or, if you're feeling adventurous, the local queimada, a type of flaming brandy. 

Day 3: Day Trip to Pontevedra & Cambados

Visit authentic seaside cities in Galicia, like Pontevedra

After breakfast, meet your driver for a full-day tour of Galicia's gorgeous coast and historic cities. About 45 minutes south of Santiago is your first stop: Pontevedra. Sitting at the mouth of the Lérez River, this charming city dating to Roman times is known for its well-preserved historic center.

While here, you'll wander the maze of cobblestone streets and secluded plazas that are abuzz with activity. As you go, marvel at medieval landmarks like the Gothic-style Basilica of Santa María, the Pilgrims' Chapel, and the San Francisco Monastery. Cap the visit with a stop at the Mercado de Abastos, a famous riverfront market and meetup spot where you can browse vendor stalls while enjoying views of the 12th-century Burgo Bridge.

About 30 minutes up the coast is the seaside resort of Cambados. Besides its scenic coastal location, excellent seafood, and 17th-century palace, Cambados is famous in the Galician wine industry. It's the capital of Albariño, a delicious white grape variety grown in the region. Be sure to enjoy a glass before strolling the picturesque seaside promenade. Afterward, transfer back to Santiago with your guide.

Day 4: Drive to León, Self-Guided Tour

Explore a lesser-known work designed by Gaudí called Casa Botines

It's time for a road trip! This morning, you'll pick up your rental car and leave Santiago for the province of Léon and the capital city of the same name. The scenic drive takes about 3.5 hours, but you can stop at regional highlights along the way. Las Médulas is known for its ancient Roman gold mines; Templar Castle, in the city of Ponderrada, is a 12th-century fortress built by the Knights Templar; and the historic town of Astorga sits at the crossroads of the Camino de Santiago. It's famous for its iconic Episcopal Palace, built in the 19th century by renowned Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. 

Eventually, you'll arrive in León. What began as a Roman military camp on the Bernesga River in the first century BCE then thrived through the centuries, reaching its peak in the Middle Ages. After checking into your hotel, meet an expert guide for a walking tour. The historic center has many remarkable sites, including the well-preserved Roman Walls, old manor houses, and churches housing Romanesque and Gothic artworks. Also, there's the expansive Plaza Mayor, lined with medieval buildings and long arcades. Plus, you'll visit Casa Botines, another incredible work designed by Gaudí.
The highlight of the walk is undoubtedly the 13th-century Catedral de León (Cathedral of Santa María de Regla), a marvel of Gothic architecture and one of the most beautiful churches anywhere in Spain. It's an enormous place with impressive stained glass mosaics dating from the 13th through 16th centuries. Interestingly, the cathedral was built over the ruins of Roman baths. At the end of the tour, say goodbye to your guide and enjoy the evening on your own.

Day 5: Drive to Burgos, Visit Atapuerca

Spend the night in Burgos, a hidden gem of a city with roots dating to Roman times

Get behind the wheel and head east out of León on a two-hour drive to Burgos. This attractive city has played a significant role in Spanish history since its founding as a settlement during Roman times. However, it was in the Middle Ages that it really gained prominence as a major stop on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. Burgos' historic center is remarkably well-preserved, so much so that it's been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Before arriving in Burgos, you'll stop just west of the city in Atapuerca. This town has also earned UNESCO status due to its wealth of paleontological and archaeological discoveries. The greatest came in 2007 when archaeologists uncovered a jawbone and teeth dating back 1.2 million years, which are believed to be the remains of the oldest-known European human. On a two-hour tour, you'll visit some of the sites and exhibits to learn more about the area's prehistoric wonders. Afterward, you'll continue to Burgos and check into your hotel. 

Day 6: Drive to Bilbao, Pintxos Tour

Sample tasty pintxos, the go-to snack in every city in the Spanish Basque Country

Eat a light breakfast because this morning, you're headed north into the famed Spanish Basque Country, where incredible cuisine awaits. From Burgos, it's a two-hour drive north to Bilbao, the largest city in the province of Biscay and the de facto capital of the Basque Country. Sitting on the River Nervíon and surrounded by lush green mountains, this metropolis offers innovative architecture, world-class art museums, and a venerable dining scene.

On the way to Bilbao, you can stop in the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz, the official capital of the Basque region. Though a bit off the beaten path, Vitoria, as it's commonly known, offers a rich history, a well-preserved medieval quarter, and a vibrant cultural scene. You can discover some historical landmarks on a self-guided tour. Your first stop might be the 17th-century Plaza de la Virgen Blanca, which features an impressive monument to the 1813 Battle of Vitoria. Also, don't miss the Gothic-style Cathedral of Santa María, which dates to the 13th century.

After checking into your hotel in Bilbao, you'll finish the day by indulging in the city's finest pintxos (pronounced "peen-chos"). This type of tapas is prevalent in the Basque region and is served in most bars, cafés, and restaurants. An expert guide will take you on a private gourmet walking tour, stopping at the city's top food spots and teaching you about the local cuisine. Over three hours, you'll taste everything from lamb skewers to oxtail croquettes and cheese and mushroom pancakes.

Day 7: Fly to Rome (Italy), Highlights Tour

See the most famous sights in Rome, including the Forum
Plan your trip to Spain
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Drive to the airport in the morning and drop off your rental car. Then, catch a connecting flight via Barcelona to Rome, Italy's fashionable and historic capital. Upon arrival, a driver will transfer you to your hotel. There's no time to waste because after checking in, you'll meet a local guide for a highlights tour of the city. Start by hiking up the Spanish Steps to enter Rome's maze of charming cobblestone streets. As you go, your guide will recount stories and historical anecdotes of the many fountains, buildings, and hidden piazzas tucked away in the corners of this magnificent city.

You'll eventually wind up outside of the Pantheon, the only intact pagan temple left in Rome. The tour continues to the ornate Trevi Fountain, arguably the most famous fountain in the world. Toss a coin in to ensure this isn't your last visit to Rome! Next, stop for gelato at an authentic Roman gelateria, where you'll get a tasty lesson in the difference between gelato and ice cream. The tour concludes at Piazza Navona, home to Bernini's Four Rivers Fountain.

Later, meet up with a historian guide for a private tour of the world's largest amphitheater: the Colosseum. At its prime, it held 50,000 spectators and was the central venue for gladiator fights. Learn about some of ancient Rome's most famous and illustrious citizens, such as Julius Caesar, Emperors Augustus and Nero, and the Flavian emperors who built the Colosseum. From here, continue to two other testaments to the grandeur of ancient Rome: the Forum and Palatine Hill, which were built between 46 BCE and 113 CE. Afterward, you'll say goodbye to your guide and enjoy the rest of the day on your own.

Day 8: Drive to Viterbo, Stop in Calcata

Check out ancient hilltop towns that are untouristed, like Calcata in Lazio

Pick up your rental car in the morning and drive from the capital north to Viterbo. This historic city is located in the Lazio region of central Italy and enjoys a fairy tale location perched atop a hill. The city is known for its well-preserved medieval quarter, thermal baths, and impressive architectural landmarks.

The drive to Viterbo takes about two hours, but you can break up the trip with a stop at Calcata. Also in Lazio, this ancient town sits on a volcanic rock formation rising out of the surrounding forests of the Treja River Valley. Experience its medieval charm as you stroll Calcata's narrow cobbled streets around the historic center, which abounds with colorful houses and artisan shops. Also here is San Michele Arcangelo, a humble church whose small size betrays an interior adorned with beautiful frescoes. You'll quickly discover that the entire town of Calcata is itself a work of art.

Afterward, continue to Viterbo. Founded by the Etruscans and later taken over by the Romans, Viterbo developed into an important medieval center and, in the 13th century, was briefly the seat of the papacy. It was heavily bombed in World War II, but much of its historic core survived, and its attractive tangle of grey-stone buildings remains in excellent shape. Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel and have the rest of the day free.

Day 9: Drive to Bolsena, Stop at Civita di Bagnoregio

Take a detour in Civita di Bagnoregio on your way to Bolsena

This morning, you'll leave Viertbo on a quick 19-mile (31 km) drive north to Bolsena. Located on the shores of Lake Bolsena (Europe's largest volcanic lake), this medieval gem of a town is famous for its well-preserved historic center. This part of town is characterized by narrow cobblestone streets, Romanesque/Gothic cathedrals, and charming piazzas.

You can stop at Civita di Bagnoregio, located just east of Bolsena, for a walking tour. Known as the "Dying Town" (La Città che Muore), this remarkable and ancient village (it was founded over 2,500 years ago by the Etruscans) is perched atop a narrow pinnacle of volcanic rock. Adding to its uniqueness, the town is only accessible by a pedestrian bridge.

Over time, parts of Civita di Bagnoregio have collapsed into the valleys below (hence the nickname). However, the town's ancient main square, Piazza Donato Bramante, remains. Around it are historic churches, such as the Church of San Donato, a Romanesque gem believed to date to the ninth century. After the walk around Civita di Bagnoregio, you'll drive to Bolsena and check into your hotel.

Day 10: Lake Bolsena Boat Tour

Visit the islands and medieval towns in and around Lake Bolsena

Trade the car for a boat, as this morning, you'll head to the harbor for a full-day tour of the azure waters on Lake Bolsena. The lake was formed in the crater of a now-extinct volcano, and a couple of historic islands—Martana and Bisentina—were also the result of past eruptions.

On a stop at Bisentina, you'll hike to its beautiful Renaissance-era Farnese Palace, the summer home of an aristocratic family in the 16th century. Another famous landmark here is the Gothic/Renaissance Church of St. James, which dates to the 13th century. You'll also stroll the island's famous gardens and enjoy panoramic lake views.

The tour continues with visits to the charming towns and villages dotting the lakeshore. At midday, you'll stop for lunch at a restaurant overlooking the water. Be sure to try the local pasta and fresh lake fish like carp and perch. At the end of the afternoon, you'll return to the harbor in Bolsena.

Day 11: Drive to Orvieto, Tour & Wine Tasting

Take a sunset stroll along the walls surrounding the fairy tale hill town of Orvieto

After breakfast, leave Lake Bolsena on a 30-minute drive northeast to Orvieto, located in the Umbria region of central Italy. Known as the "Green Heart of Italy," Umbria remains off the radar to many tourists but rewards those who do make the journey with its rolling green hills, vineyards, and rich artistic/religious heritage. Orvieto is a fine example of all that Umbria has to offer: an attractive medieval town perched on a hill in the scenic green countryside.

Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel and kick off your time here with a wine tour. Meet a local guide who will lead you to a winery in the area. Here, you'll enjoy a private tour of the estate as well as a sampling of some of the famous wines produced in the area, like Orvieto Clasico, a semi-dry white.

After the tasting, you'll return to town for a walk around its many highlight landmarks. The star is the Duomo di Orvieto, a Gothic masterpiece dating to 1290 and one of Italy's most awe-inspiring churches. The tour also includes lunch in a restaurant in town where you can enjoy some traditional dishes. Umbria is famous for its rustic cuisine, which features olive oil and black truffles. One tasty specialty is strangozzi, a handmade pasta with truffle sauce.

Day 12: Drive to Spoleto, Walking Tour

Spend the day walking the streets of Spoleto and visit its iconic fortress

Say goodbye to Orvieto this morning and drive about 1.5 hours east to Spoleto. This is another of Umbria's ancient towns dating to the Roman period. Over the centuries, the Etruscans, Romans, Goths, Lombards, and the Papal States have influenced Spoleto's history. You'll see all these cultural influences and more on a guided tour. 

Meet your guide in the morning and head out on a two-hour walk around town. Along the way, you'll see the famous historical landmarks spanning the ages. These include the ruins of Roman temples, forums, arches, and even pre-Roman fortifications that still stand today. One of the more recent highlights you'll visit is the Duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta). This Romanesque/Gothic masterpiece dates to the 12th century, and inside are frescoes painted by Florentine Renaissance artist Filippo Lippi.

After the tour, you can continue exploring on your own. Another icon you shouldn't miss is the Rocca Albornoziana. This 14th-century castle is perched on a hill overlooking the town and is an impressive example of medieval military architecture characterized by its massive stone walls, towers, and battlements. Hike up its towers and enjoy sweeping views of the rolling green hills, vineyards, and olive groves surrounding Spoleto.

Day 13: Day Trip to Piediluco & Marmore Waterfalls

Walk to viewing platforms of one of the tallest and most impressive waterfalls in Italy

Buckle up for a day trip that focuses on Umbria's unspoiled nature. It begins with a 45-minute drive from Spoleto to Piediluco. This idyllic little town sits on the shores of Lake Piediluco at the base of a pyramid-shaped hill blanketed in lush forest.

A short drive away is Marmore Waterfall (Cascata delle Marmore), one of Italy's tallest waterfalls. The largest of its three-tiered cascades plunges an impressive 165 feet (50 m). Even more interesting, this marvel is human-made, created by the Romans in the third century BCE. You can witness the falls' raw power from viewing platforms and snap plenty of photos. Afterward, you'll transfer back to Spoleto.

Day 14: Drive to Rome, Depart

Until next time, Rome!
After a leisurely breakfast in Spoleto, hop back in the car, turn the engine over, and hit the road one last time on the ride back to Rome. There, you'll head to the airport and drop off the rental car in time to make your flight home. Until next time!

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Map of Off-the-Beaten-Path Road Trip in Spain & Italy - 14 Days
Map of Off-the-Beaten-Path Road Trip in Spain & Italy - 14 Days