Part of the fun of traveling through Spain is seeing how the culture changes from one region to another. You'll experience this phenomenon over 12 days as you travel from the nation's capital Madrid to Galicia. This is a unique part of the country that has it all, including historical religious sites, unspoiled coastlines, exotic islands, and some of the best seafood anywhere in the world.


  • See the most famous sights of Madrid on a guided way
  • Visit the Ribera del Duero wine region for a tasting
  • Travel the pilgrimage route and stop at beautiful locales in Galicia
  • Enjoy the white-sand beaches of the Cíes Islands
  • Take a day trip to the Costa da Morte

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Madrid, Evening Tapas Experience Madrid
Day 2 Madrid's Highlights, Prado Museum & Food Walk Madrid
Day 3 Drive to Ribera del Duero Peñafiel
Day 4 Free Day in Ribera del Duero Peñafiel
Day 5 Drive to León, City Walk León
Day 6 Drive to Ribeira Sacra via Astorga Monforte de Lemos
Day 7 Boat Excursion of Ribeira Sacra, Drive to Vigo Vigo
Day 8 Day Trip to the Cíes Islands Vigo
Day 9 Drive to Santiago de Compostela via the Camellia Route Santiago de Compostela
Day 10 Santiago de Compostela Cooking Class & City Walk Santiago de Compostela
Day 11 Day Trip to Costa da Morte Santiago de Compostela
Day 12 Depart Santiago de Compostela  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Madrid, Evening Tapas Experience

The Fountain of Cibeles, in Madrid
The Fountain of Cibeles, in Madrid

Welcome to Spain! Upon arrival at the nation's capital, you'll enjoy a private transfer to your hotel in the city center. Take some time to settle in before heading out to explore highlights like the Puerta del Sol, one of the city's most historic and expansive plazas. There's also Madrid's famous Fountain of Cibeles with an 18th-century sculpture depicting Cybele, the Greek goddess of fertility, riding in a chariot pulled by lions.

In the evening, you'll dig into Madrid's culture on a two-hour walking excursion that stops at some great tapas bars. On this walk, you'll visit Barrio Las Letras, which is known as the "literary quarter." This historic neighborhood in the city center was once home to Spanish literary legends like Cervantes and Quevedo. Besides visiting some historical sights around here, you'll also stop at Calle Huertas for a bite at one of the many tapas bars that line the street.

Day 2: Madrid's Highlights, Prado Museum & Food Tour

El Prado Museum, Madrid
El Prado Museum, Madrid

After breakfast, a private guide will pick you up from your hotel and take you on a half-day walk in the city. This excursion covers all the highlights from throughout Madrid's long history, from the times of the Habsburgs and the Bourbons to the present day. Of course, you'll stop at the opulent Royal Palace, the former residence of the King and Queen of Spain. You'll also visit the expansive Plaza Mayor, the shopping area along Gran Vía, and El Retiro Park, the "green lung" of Madrid.

The excursion culminates with a visit to the magnificent El Prado Museum, which features one of the world's finest collections of European art. This includes works by Velázquez, El Greco, and Goya. Your guide will lead you through some of these exhibits before leaving you to continue exploring on your own. There's a lot to see, too, as the galleries here are home to masterpieces from the Spanish, Italian, and Flemish schools.

After the museum, you'll have a break to relax and recharge after all that walking. Then, you'll head out for an evening hopping from one great tapas bar to another. These are the classic taverns that have defined Madrid for centuries, and at each one, you'll be treated to delicious and authentic Spanish food. Your guide will accompany you and offer insight into this cuisine as well as which wines pair best with certain dishes. 

Day 3: Drive to Ribera del Duero

Onward to Ribera del Duero wine country
Peñafiel Castle in Ribera del Duero wine country

In the morning, you'll pick up your rental car and drive north from Madrid for two hours toward Valladolid, a medieval city known for its Gothic churches. This route heads deep into Spain's Old Castile region, which is famous for its high plateaus and mountain scenery. It was once the heart of the Kingdom of Castile, which thrived in the 11th century, and its old castles stand to this day. You'll see one fortress, Peñafiel Castle, when you arrive in the town of the same name. Nearby is where your hotel is located.

The town of Peñafiel sits in the Ribera del Duero wine region. This fertile grape-growing area enjoys Designation of Origin (DO) status, a certification reserved only for the top wine-producing spots in the country. It has earned this appellation, too, as the wines from Ribera del Duero rival those produced in Spain's most popular viticulture region, La Rioja.

Upon arrival in Peñafiel, you'll check into a hotel located right on the vineyards. You'll have the rest of the day to enjoy the hotel's amenities or head out for some fresh air and a walk amid the grapevines. You could also venture into Peñafiel for a self-guided walk. From the expansive Plaza del Coso, you can see the famous castle overlooking the town.

Day 4: Free Day in Ribera del Duero

Peñafiel Castle
Peñafiel Castle

You can spend the day enjoying Ribera del Duero however you like. This can include a horseback ride around the vineyards, cycling in the countryside, or hiking around the hills. Of course, this region is most famous for its wine, so a wine tour/tasting is in order. You can opt for a day tour of a couple of different wineries in the region, including a driver for the excursion.

Another option is to head back to the village of Peñafiel and its iconic 10th-century fortress. Declared a National Monument in 1917, Peñafiel castle not only features impressive views of the town from its battlements, but it also houses the Provincial Wine Museum, a fixture of Spain's wine-tourism trail. Visiting the museum, you'll receive an introduction to the history of wine cultivation in the area, which dates back to Roman times, as well as the production process.

The museum also features a tasting room where you can sample some incredible DO wines from the region. The Ribera del Duero is most famous for its Tempranillo, also called Tinto del País, known for its contrasting flavors of leather and tobacco combined with fruits like cherries, plums, and figs. Other popular Ribera del Duero wines include the Spanish favorite of Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Albillo, a white grape.

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Day 5: Drive to León, City Walk

The Catedral de León
The Catedral de León

Today you'll drive north to the coast, stopping in the city of León. What began as a Roman military camp on the Bernesga River in the 1st century BCE then thrived through the centuries, reaching its peak in the Middle Ages. The medieval and Roman heritage of León is well preserved, and you can see it in the many historical landmarks, including the famed Roman Walls (remains of stone defensive walls from the first century), beautiful old manor houses, and churches housing Romanesque and Gothic artworks.

You'll also visit the expansive Plaza Mayor in the city's Old Town, framed with medieval buildings and long arcades. Plus, there's a stop at Casa Botines, an incredible work of modernist architecture designed by the legendary Antoni 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 Spain's most beautiful churches. It's an enormous place that features impressive stained glass mosaics dating from the 13th through 16th centuries. Interestingly, the cathedral was built over the ruins of Roman baths. 

Day 6: Drive to Ribeira Sacra via Astorga

Astorga, Spain
Astorga, Spain

Today you'll drive west from León into the Galicia region of Spain. Not only is Galicia regarded as one of the most beautiful parts of the country, but the city of León actually sits at the crossroads of one of the most famous walks in the world: the Camino de Santiago. This ancient network of pilgrimage routes begins as far away as France, leading to the cathedral in Galicia's capital of Santiago de Compostela, where the apostle Saint James the Great is supposedly buried.

You'll witness Galicia's beauty firsthand as you drive west from Léon into the Ribeira Sacra region. The rivers Sil and Miño wind through the green mountains of this unspoiled area, which is dotted with monasteries and hermitage sites that date back to when the first Christians arrived in the 12th century. The name Ribeira Sacra actually translates to "Sacred Riverbank." To start, you'll stop in the village of Astorga, the capital of Maragatería County in the province of León.

The town is also a throwback to earlier ages. Stone walls dating to Roman times encircle Astorga; within them, you'll find many medieval churches, convents, and hospitals. On a tour of its cobbled streets and town square (the Plaza Mayor de Astruga), you'll see these landmarks plus the most famous of all: the Episcopal Palace. This late-19th-century modernist masterpiece by Antoní Gaudí is one of only three buildings designed by the legendary architect that exists outside his home region of Catalonia.

After walking around Astorga, stop at a restaurant for a traditional lunch. Be sure to try a Galician specialty like a roast suckling pig or polbo á feira (boiled octopus with paprika and olive oil). Other regional favorites include caldo gallega (a hearty broth of potatoes, beans, greens, and pork), fried padrón peppers, and queso de tetilla, a soft, cone-shaped white cheese. Afterward, you'll press on by car to the Ribeira Sacra region and your hotel near Monforte de Lemos.

Day 7: Boat Excursion in Ribeira Sacra, Drive to Vigo

Ribeira Sacra
Ribeira Sacra

You'll have the day to enjoy the Ribeira Sacra, a mountainous river canyon of unparalleled beauty. Remote and lesser-developed than many parts of Spain, since the 12th century, this area was primarily home to monks and hermits who came to live ascetic lives near the confluence of the rivers Sil and Miño. The River Sil winds between green mountains and through canyons, affording incredible views of sloping hills, high plateaus, cypress and chestnut trees, and grapevines.

Ribeira Sacra is a fertile grape-growing region that enjoys DO status for its wine production. It's uniquely referred to as "heroic viticulture" because most vineyards here are terraced due to the steepness of the mountains and hills. With so many vines hanging off the sides of hills and canyons, the simple act of grape harvesting in Ribeira Sacra requires much dexterity and agility.

After the boat ride, you'll head to a local guesthouse, where the friendly hosts will prepare a homemade meal for you to enjoy. Then you'll hop back in the car and drive a couple of hours west to the coastal city of Vigo, where you'll stay the night.

Day 8: Day Trip to the Cíes Islands

Rodas Beach, Cíes Islands
Rodas Beach, Cíes Islands

About 10 miles (16 km) west of Vigo, off the coast of Spain, lie the Cíes Islands. This archipelago is a national marine park comprised of three islands so beautiful that the ancient Romans called them the "islands of the gods." Two of them, Monte Agudo and O Faro, are linked by a crescent strip of fine white sand called Rodas Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. You'll get to discover this paradise on a private, day-long boat excursion accompanied by an expert guide.

In the morning, you'll embark from the port at Vigo and first head to a group of nearby Spanish fjords known as Rias Bajas. These beautiful inlets serve a functional purpose in that it's here where Galicians harvest much of their famously delicious shellfish. The microclimate in the waters of these fjords makes an ideal breeding ground for scallops as well as perfect spots to cultivate mussels and oysters. 

After stopping on the islands for some beach time and light hiking, you'll enjoy lunch onboard the ship. This will be a delicious gourmet meal featuring locally sourced products, including some of that world-class shellfish. Afterward, you'll return to Vigo and will have the remainder of the day free to enjoy however you wish.

Day 9: Drive to Santiago de Compostela via the Camellia Route

Stop and smell the camellias
Stop and smell the camellias

In the morning, hop in the car and begin the hour-long drive north from Vigo to Santiago de Compostela. But first, you'll stop to smell the flowers—literally. The region of Galicia is home to over 8,000 varieties of camellia, an exotic far-east plant typically found in China and Japan. Spain began importing them in the 18th century to fill the gardens of Galician aristocrats. Eventually, they spread to public green spaces, too.

Accompanied by a guide, you'll drive along the Route of the Camellia, a network of flower-rich areas in the provinces of Galicia. You'll stop at some of the most ornate camellia gardens in rural pazos (country homes), where you can marvel at the wide variety of colors in bloom. It's a beautiful and sweet-smelling detour into the world of Galician flora.

In the afternoon, you'll reach Santiago de Compostela. This historic city is Galicia's capital and the culmination point of the Camino de Santiago. Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel and will have the remainder of the day free.

Day 10: Santiago de Compostela Cooking Class & City Tour

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral viewed from Obradoiro Square
Santiago de Compostela Cathedral viewed from Obradoiro Square

In the morning, you'll discover the secrets to Galician cuisine in a cooking class with a private chef. You'll prepare (and eat) some of the region's most popular dishes, like fried padrón peppers and savory empanadas stuffed with fish, shellfish, or meat. Be sure to try queimada, the famous "Galicia fire drink." Made with a liqueur called orujo (similar to grappa), it's mixed in a  clay bowl with sugar and lit on fire until the flame turns blue, then served hot.

In the afternoon, you'll embark on a guided walk to the main sites in Santiago. This includes Obradoiro Square, at the east end of which sits the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Construction on this Romanesque/Gothic/Baroque church began in the 11th century over the site of what is believed to be the burial place of the apostle Saint James the Great. It's been a religious pilgrimage site since the Middle Ages and marks the end of the famous Camino de Santiago walking route.

Other stops include Colexio de San Xerome (San Jerónimo College), a learning institution dating to 1501; the 16th-century Hospital de los Reyes Católicos, a hospital built to treat weary pilgrims after their arduous journey; the Pazo de Raxoi (Raxoi Palace), an 18th-century neoclassical palace that's now Santiago's City Hall; and the 18th-century San Fructuoso Church. Here you can witness pilgrim rituals and see the Botafumeiro.

Day 11: Day Trip to Costa da Morte

Cape Finisterre, the
Cape Finisterre, the "end of the world"

In the morning, you'll head out for a day trip to the Costa da Morte ("Death Coast"). This craggy section of the coastline earned its nickname due to the many sailors who perished in shipwrecks along its rocky shores. Macabre history aside, this is a ruggedly beautiful section of the wild coast that runs for about six miles (10 km) and includes attractive fishing villages, coves, and sea cliffs. There are over 100 beaches in this region alone.

Driving along the Costa da Morte, you can stop when you like. Some noteworthy fishing villages include Muros (a colorful bayside town with a waterfront promenade), Carnota (home to the longest beach in Galicia and the region's largest granary), plus Cee and Corcubión (famous for their large harbors and terraced homes with flourishing gardens). There's also Cape Finisterre, which the ancient Romans believed was the end of the world. Snap a photo in front of the iconic lighthouse.

Needless to say, fishing is a dominant industry in this region. Costa da Morte offers perfect conditions for harvesting shellfish, and the oysters, scallops, and mussels in this area are some of the best in the world. You can sample these delicacies when you stop for a traditional lunch. If you want to try a real Galician staple, opt for the polbo á feira, which is a boiled octopus with olive oil and paprika.

Afterward, you'll return to Santiago, at which point you'll drop off your rental car. You'll then have the evening free to enjoy one last night in Spain.

Day 12: Depart Santiago de Compostela

Adios, Spain!
Adiós, Spain!

It's time to say farewell to Spain! Depending on your flight or train reservation, squeeze in one more morning of sightseeing, perhaps picking up some last-minute souvenirs. At the designated time, you will be picked up at your hotel and transferred to the airport or rail station for your departure.

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Map of Spain Road Trip: Madrid, Leon & Santiago de Compostela - 12 Days
Map of Spain Road Trip: Madrid, Leon & Santiago de Compostela - 12 Days