Top Five Spanish Road Trips (+ an extra!)
Spain is a fantastic country for road tripping. From the green north and the mountainous interior to the gorgeous coasts, you’ll find all the best road trips in Spain here.
From the lively attractions of Barcelona to the historic cities of the interior, and endless summer days in Andalucia, Spain is a seriously great country for road tripping. Read on to find out pick of the best routes, itineraries and places to see.
Spanish Road Trip Resources
Driving in Spain
Car travel in Spain is easy, with a good network of Autovias (A) and Autopistas (AP). The latter were toll roads until 2020 when many (but not all) became toll free. Fuel and parking are some of the cheapest in Europe making Spain a really cost effective place to take a road trip.
Touring Spain by car in rural and mountainous areas can take longer than you think although the standard of non-motorway roads in rural areas is generally good. Allow time to get off the beaten track and experience the real Spain as you tour this fabulous country.
Whether you’re driving your own vehicle to Spain or you’re in a rental car, follow our driving in Spain tips;
- You must have at least six months remaining on your passport to travel and drive in Europe.
- You will require a green card to prove you have vehicle insurance cover when travelling in Europe, if your vehicle is registered in a third country like UK.
- If you’re travelling from the UK to Spain you will need a GB sticker on the rear of your vehicle (even if you have the EU style plate fitted) and your headlights must be adapted for driving on the right.
- Your UK licence allows you to drive in all EU countries. If you only have a paper driving licence or a licence issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man then you will need an International Driving Permit. Citizens from other countries may need an IDP, you can check here.
- You must carry two warning triangles for front and rear. These warning triangles are now being phased out and from 1st July 2021 a new law requires that a V16 flashing emergency light is used, although both means of advising other traffic will be legal until the end of 2024.
- You must also carry a reflective jacket (for the driver and all passengers) and a spare wheel and the tools to change a wheel, or a tyre repair kit.
- If you wear glasses you must also carry a spare pair in the vehicle.
- UK cars will need headlight beam converters to be fitted (unless they adjust automatically).
- The use of winter tyres in Spain is regional. Look out for traffic signs indicating that winter tyres or snow chains are compulsory where you are.
- Anything with a screen (television, video, DVD etc.) which could distract you when driving should be positioned where you can’t see it. This doesn’t apply to a sat nav but you must not touch or program your sat nav unless parked in a safe place.
- Using radar detection equipment is prohibited under Spanish law and new regulations from January 2021 mean that it will also be illegal to be in possession of such equipment.
- On roads with single carriageways, the speed limit established may not be exceeded by more 20 km/h when overtaking.
- Car rental in Spain is simple, and it’s one of the cheapest countries in which to rent a car in Europe. One way drop off is widely available, making linear routes a real possibility.
When to visit Spain
Spain has varied weather and different climate systems, depending on where you are in the country. Check out the best time to visit Spain before booking a trip – it’s not all about palm trees and beaches!
Madrid – Segovia – Salamanca – Zamora – Leon – Valladolid – Penaranda del Duero – Madrid
This fantastic seven to ten day road trip through the land of frontier castillos and roads which stretch into the distance for miles, will take you across the high plateaus and rugged mountains of central Spain. This is a viaje (road trip in Spanish) for those that want the real Spain.
It will be unbearably hot in summer and bitterly cold in winter in this part of Spain. This road trip in Spain should be taken in spring when the fields are carpeted with colourful wild flowers, or in autumn/fall for the late summer sun and the beautiful ochre and red of the Duero vines.
Pick up your hire car at Madrid airport and spend a day in Madrid seeing the most important attractions, before heading to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Segovia, a walled city with grand squares and and mansions from its days as a royal holiday resort.
Next up, visit Salamanca, known as the Golden City because of the prolific use of honey coloured sandstone in the civic and religious buildings of the city. Salamanca is beautifully graceful, with learning at its heart, and the most elegant Plaza Mayor in Spain.
Zamora is your next stop. With its Romanesque churches and charming streets and squares of the old town, this makes a good stop for an overnight stay. Onwards to Leon, a sociable city with a fabulous casco antiguo, packed with great architecture and atmosphere.
Valladolid, your next stop is high on the mesta (plateau) and has been lived in by many of Spain’s famous historical figures. Despite that, it is a more modern town than it’s neighbours. You’ll find restored plaza’s and churches along with some excellent museums. To the east, Peneranda del Duero is deep in lush rolling vineyards, where some of the best wines in Spain are produced. This gorgeous town sits beneath an impressive castle and is a popular weekend getaway for Madrilenos.
If you have an extra day at the start or end of your road trip, visit Toledo, an hours drive to the south of Madrid. Known as the Imperial City, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has one of the most well preserved old towns in Spain and more historical sites per square metre than Rome!
♥ Eat suckling pig in Segovia, a truly delicious local speciality.
♥ Head for the tapas bars of the cathedral quarter in Leon. Order a small beer for €1 and get a complimentary tapa!
♥ Visit a bodega in the glorious Ribera del Duero and enjoy a wine tasting.
Where to Stay
Madrid ⇒ Only You Hotel Atocha for its hip vibe, contemporary luxe decor and fabulous public spaces.
Leon ⇒ Hotel Real Colegiata San Isidoro for its superb location, complete uniqueness and fabulous history.
Valladolid ⇒ Abadia Retuerta LeDomaine for sheer luxury, fabulous restaurants and an incredible spa. A hotel for the perfect end to your road trip.
Catalonia, Aragon and the Basque Country
Barcelona – Tarragona – Zaragoza – Pamplona – Donastia-San Sebastian
This seven day Spain road trip from Barcelona takes you through two of Spain’s most distinctive regions, both fiercely independent and with unique identities. From the beaches of Barcelona to the foothills of the Pyrenees, you’ll find variety and diversity along with fantastic regional foods and traditions..
We start on the Costa Brava in Barcelona, Gaudi’s city and home to the sublime but unfinished Sagrada Familia cathedral. Head for the Gothic quarter and while away an evening bar hopping in this most lively of cities. There is so much to do in the city; this Barcelona one day itinerary will help you work out what to see. If you have time, try hiking Montserrat, just an hour from the city. Famous for the cliff hugging monastery and distinctive serrated rocks, you don’t even have to hike, you can get a cable car to the top! And if you drive one hour north of Barcelona, you can stay on the Costa Brava at Hostal de La Gavina, one of the most romantic hotels in Europe.
Head south along the coast to Tarragona, stopping at Sitges if partying is your thing…but be prepared to party hard, the town is famous for its’ nightlife. Tarragona is beautifully situated on a rocky hill above the sparkling Mediterranean Sea. With a fine medieval town and a scattering of Roman ruins, this is a great place to spend the day.
Head inland to the enjoyable city of Zaragoza, an ideal half-way house between Catalonia and the Basque Country. The drive from Barcelona to San Sebastian can also take a more northerly route through the ancient mountain town of Ainsa with its fabulous views and summer music festivals.
In the northern Spain foothills of the Pyrenees, Pamplona is a town with a compact and enticing casco antiguo and a hulk of a citadel to visit. From its’ powerful fortress city history to the modern day Fiestas de San Fermin (running of the bulls), this city is as swashbuckling and red-blooded as they come. Visit in early July for the festival and nine days of riotous partying and entertainment, but book early as thousands of visitors descend.
On to San Sebastian, the jewel in the crown of the Basque resorts. A picturesque city with fabulous beaches, San Sebastian is perhaps best known as a foodie town, with some of the finest restaurants in Spain here.
♥ The works of Gaudi define Barcelona, the Sagrad Familia and La Pedrera are the must sees.
♥ Bar hop and eat pinxos, the delicious gourmet tapas of the Basque Country.
♥ Watch the bulls get a fair chance at Pamplona’s Fiestas de San Fermin.
Where to Stay
Barcelona ⇒ B Hotel for it’s handy location between airport and city, glitzy rooftop terrace with pool and welcoming staff.
Zaragoza ⇒ NH Ciudad de Zaragoza for it’s excellent location, modern style and superb breakfast.
San Sebastian ⇒ the Lasala Plaza Hotel for it’s La Concha bay location, supremely stylish decor and rooftop pool.
Malaga – Marbella – Ronda – Cadiz – Jerez da la Frontera – Seville – Cordoba – Granada – Malaga
Andalucia in southern Spain is the quintessential Spanish region and is home to some of the most colourful and vibrant cities in the whole of the country. This southern Spain road trip starts on the Costa del Sol, in the lively city of Malaga, and takes you to all the major attractions on a fabulous loop through the stunning Andalucian landscape, including the spectacular Sierra Nevada mountains. This is very possibly the best road trip Spain.
♥ Watching live Flamenco in Seville, passionate, sensual and a true art form.
♥ The Alhambra Palace, the most exciting and romantic of all of Europe’s ancient palaces.
♥ The Mezquita in Cordoba, one of the most spectacular mosque-cathedral’s in the world.
Where to Stay
Malaga ⇒ the Hotel Molina Lario for its perfect location, buzzy rooftop bar and incredible cathedral views.
Seville ⇒ Case del Poeta for its perfect Santa Cruz location, live Spanish guitar gigs and stunning roof terrace views.
Granada ⇒ the Hotel Santa Isabel la Real for cozy rooms, spectacular Alhambra views and a really special cooked breakfast.
Spain Road Trip Planning Resources
Valencia & Murcia
Valencia – Xabia – Altea – Alicante – Cartagena
This delightful and easy seven day trip down Spain’s eastern Mediterranean coast by-passes the worst of the high-rise excesses and explores the best of the Costa Blanca.
Valencia is a seriously under-rated city and preferred by many Spaniards to Barcelona. The city is much less touristy than Barcelona but has the cultural variety of Madrid and charm of Seville. Alive with noise and colour, the city will surprise and delight you. Visit Valencia during the fabulous Las Fallas when the city erupts with bonfires, music and life. Don’t forget to sample to traditional drink of horchata (made from tiger nuts) when you’re in Valencia, it’s not to be missed!
Head south and make for La Albufera, a huge lagoon separated from the sea by a sandbank and surrounded by rice paddy fields, still irrigated by systems installed by the Moors. An important wetland and the stopping off point for thousands of migratory birds, the area is also where paella originated, due to the perfect growing conditions for rice. Check out the ‘paella’ villages, Perel-Lonet is probably the best to get a taste of the real thing, not with seafood but chicken, rabbit and snails.
Xabia (or Javea), is a pretty sea-side resort close to Cabo de la Nao, a beautiful rocky promontory where you’ll find hidden coves and beaches. Lively in the evenings in summer, you’ll also find a beautiful sandy beach and a pretty old town. For the best beach in the area, head south by around 5km to Playa la Barraca, a shingle beach with perfect turquoise water and a fantastic seafood restaurant.
Altea is your next stop, a small resort that sits below an historic hilltop village, which has incredible views. The old village is gorgeous with bougainvillea and jasmine in bloom, alongside alleys lined with alfresco dining and interesting boutiques and gift shops.
Bypass built-up Benidorm and head for the very Spanish city of Alicante, with it’s wide and spacious esplanades and seafront paseo. The renovated old town is a perfect place to stroll and people watch, especially in the early evenings. You’ll also find good tapas restaurants and bars in this area.
Swing by the pink lake at Torrevieja. Las Salianas Torrevieja is a real sight, with it’s bubblegum pink water and fascinating history of salt production. Head south, ignoring the outskirts of Cartagena and make for the medieval narrow and twisting streets of the old town. The city will surprise you with its eclectic architecture, historic sites and modern feel.
If you have a few extra days, extend your east coast of Spain itinerary and continue south to the unspoilt and undeveloped resorts of Aguilas and El Puerto de Mazarron or make for the wild and beautiful Almeria, one of the driest places in Europe and home to some weird and wonderful landscapes both on dry land and in the surrounding sea. The Cabo de Gata particularly is a scuba diving hotspot and hikers paradise.
Or head inland from Alicante to Guadalest, justifiably one of the most popular tourist attractions in the region. Getting there is also one of Spain’s scenic drives, through twisting mountain roads with stupendous views.
♥ The authentic and vibrant city of Valencia, where there are more Spanish than visitors.
♥ The gorgeous Mediterannean beaches of the Cabo de la Nao, perfect for snorkelling.
♥ The sheer exuberance of Alicante, with its magnificent beaches and atmospheric old town.
Where to Stay
Valencia ⇒ One Shot Mercat 09 for its historic location, rooftop pool and hip vibe.
Alicante ⇒ Melia Alicante for its stunning views, casual style and excellent service.
Cartagena ⇒ NH Cartagena for its central location, contemporary style and welcoming feel.
Want exclusive road trip resources & itineraries to help plan your perfect road trip?
North of Spain
Bilbao – Comillas – Oviedo – A Coruna – Santiago de Compostela
This northern Spain road trip will take you through the beautiful and lush, aptly named Green Spain, hugging the north coast along the Atlantic Ocean. From Bilbao through Cantabria, Asturias and Galica, you’ll see some of the most picturesque landscapes in Spain, enjoy amazing food and criss-cross the famous Camino de Santiago.
Start in Bilbao, home of the incredible Museo Guggenhiem and backed by beautiful green mountains. The museum itself is a work of art, with beautifully curved and sweeping architecture. Bilbao now rivals San Sebastian with its vibrant restaurant and bar scene, and offers fine Basque cuisine and freshly caught seafood in its atmospheric restaurants and bars.
Head west to the stunning Santillana del Mar, known as the town of the three lies. Not holy (santi), not flat (llana) nor by the sea (del mar). This medieval town is well preserved and worth a meander before you make your way to Comillas, further along the coast. Traditionally low rise, you’ll find a lovely beach, tiny fishing port and a charming cobbled casco antiguo here. If you have a few extra days, head into the Picos de Europa for excellent hiking in the beautiful peaks of this small, but perfectly formed mountain range.
Oviedo is the next stop and the starting point of the lesser known Camino Privitivo (the oldest Camino). This compact and elegant city is another foodie delight, with a vibrant gastronomic scene. Home to Spanish cider, you’ll find traditional sidrerías along Calle Gascona, known as cider boulevard.Visit in September for Fiestas de San Mateo, a live theatre and music spectacular. If you go in October, you’ll be in the middle of the apple harvest in Asturias, a region in which you could easily spend several weeks.
A Coruna is up next, passing by the spectacular Playa de Las Catedrales en-route. A Coruna is a dynamic city which is home to a busy port, a relaxed beach front resort and an atmospheric old town. The sea food here is some of the freshest and most delicious in Spain, with sea food tapas being a speciality. Take a walk out to the Tower of Hercules, a lighthouse that looks nothing like a lighthouse!
Finally, you’ll reach Santiago de Compostela, the end point of the famous Camino de Santiago and your last stop. As you enter the city, you’ll see pilgrims covering the final few miles and proudly displaying their vieira, the scallop shell badge that you’ll have seen along your route. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Santiago de Compostela is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in Spain, full of labyrinthine alleys, dramatic squares and historic religious buildings. There are too many must-sees to list them, consider a walking tour with a local to make the most of the time you have in this gorgeous city.
It’s a hop and a skip from here into tiny Portugal, another amazing country with incredible coastlines and vibrant cities. A Portuguese road trip makes the perfect compliment to visiting Spain!
♥ Visit the highly recommended Museo Guggenhiem in Bilbao and be awe-struck by both architecture and art.
♥ Walk along the boardwalks at Playa de Las Catedrales and marvel at the extraordinary natural arches and racing sea.
♥ Explore the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela and make the climb to Las Cubiertas, the cathedral roof, for incredible views of the city and landscape beyond.
Where to Stay
Bilbao ⇒ Hotel Tayko for its minimalist style, hip location and excellent restaurant.
Oviedo ⇒ Barcelo Oviedo Cervantes for its laid-back vibe, modern decor and smooth service.
Santiago de Compostela ⇒ Parador De Santiago de Compostela for it’s history, traditional decor and HUGE breakfast buffet.
Right across Spain, from the largest cities to the smallest villages, fiestas (parties) are an important annual marker and a great excuse to celebrate life. Usually held to mark a religious day, these riotous parties are one of the greatest pleasures of travelling in Spain.
The streets are adorned with decorations, street food is prepared, wine flows and live music is played as people come together. Everyone is welcomed; to visit Spain and not join a fiesta is to miss the ethos and spirit of this country entirely. You can find a fiesta calendar here to help you plan your tip and coincide your visit with the best of them!
Madrid – Salamanca – Santiago de Compostela – San Sebastian – Barcelona – Valencia – Alicante – Granada – Malaga – Cordoba – Seville – Madrid
If our five great driving tours of Spain have whet your appetite but you have a bit more time and want to experience all that Spain has to offer, why not try this epic Spanish road trip? From coast to mountains and taking in all the major cities and must see places, this ultimate Spain road trip will give you the drive of your life and show you Spain in all its wonderful guises.