How to Tour Spain in a Motorhome

how to tour Spain in a motorhome

Spain has one of the best winter climates in Europe; with welcoming and friendly locals, Spain is a perfect country for a motorhome trip. As the second most mountainous country on the continent, it offers dramatic hiking and cycling.  With the colourful traditions, good food and wine and fabulous architecture, you have all the ingredients for an amazing tour.  We share all you need to know about how to tour Spain in a motorhome here.

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Spain’s fabulous climate will seduce you and its’ people charm you.  This is a generous and joyous country, full of colour and extremes.  For us, Andalucia is our favourite part of Spain, full of life and dramatic contrasts between sparkling turquoise seas, verdant green mountains and arid desert landscapes. 

The Spanish Costas can feel crowded with touring motorhomes over winter  with Northern Europeans seeking a milder climate.  For this reason, we have focussed on destinations away from the Costas  in what os perhaps a more authentic Spain. 

Routes & Destinations

Travelling to Spain

The age old conundrum about getting to Spain is whether to pay for a long ferry crossing or pay for fuel and tolls doing long miles in expensive France. Your options are these;

  • Portsmouth / Plymouth to either Santander of Bilbao depending on which day of the week you want to depart. Brittany Ferries run this service, the crossing time is 24 hours.  You don’t have to have a cabin but the alternative reclining seats are uncomfortable and noisy.  This sailing navigates the Bay of Biscay and may be choppy in winter. 
  • Get to France and head down the west side of the country, via Tours, Bordeaux and Bayonne. This route is the cheapest from a toll perspective (see more about tolls in the driving section below) and lends itself well to ferries which arrive in Caen or Cherbourg. It is also the best motorhome route from Calais to Spain as you can travel south on a diagonal route, which is always quicker.
  • Get to France anyway you like and take a slow meander south using non-toll roads and enjoy the country, ideal if you have plenty of time and are planning a winter away. Check out our post about travelling to France in a campervan for route ideas.
  • If you’re interested in motorhome hire in Spain, check out Indie Campers. Flying and hiring is a great way of touring Spain in a campervan if you don’t own one.
  • If you’re looking for a specific road trip itinerary in Spain check out these ideas.
Use Mappy to work out and compare the toll and fuel costs of each route;  you can configure their navigation tools for a motorhome. 
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Top Motorhome Destinations in Spain

The Pyrenees

The Spanish Pyrenees are absolutely stunning.   Look out for Ainsa, a beautiful medieval hilltop town in Aragón, with incredible mountain views.   Top Tip – if you like to hike, head for  the Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park, to hike the famous Circo de Soaso, high on our list of all time favourites.

Hiking Circo de Soasa, Pyrenees
Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park

Picos de Europa

A miniature masterpiece, 40km across and wedged between three great river gorges, the Picos are a natural paradise.  The Peaks of Europe, so called because they were the first landmark to be seen by sailors of old on approaching the continent, are well worth a visit. There is a lot of diverse hiking here but the weather can be unstable and the terrain unforgiving.  

León

A prosperous and cosmopolitan city with a great vibe.  The aire here is on the banks of the river Bernesga, which affords some good running routes along level paths.  You will also be within easy walking distance of the Casco Antiguo, the old town.  Wander here for a day and see the cathedral, Plaza’s Mayor  and Santa Domingo and the Basilica de San Isidoro.  All that walking demands you sample the tapas scene, arguably the best in Spain, with regular live music and tapas that’s a bit more inventive than the normal tourist offering.  Top Tip – order a cerveza pequeña (small beer) for €1 and get a free tapa, you can do this in all the bars in León and literally have your dinner for nothing!

Santiago de Compostela

This corner of Spain, including Galicia, is known as Green Spain, because it rains so much! It’s probably best visited in Spring or September/October on your way to sunnier climes.Santiago de Compostela is a stunningly beautiful city full of twisting alleys, elegant squares and historic religious buildings, with interesting nooks and crannies everywhere. The medieval centre of Santiago de Compostela is almost entirely pedestrianised, in keeping with its’ UNESCO World Heritage status. If you only see one thing, it must be the Cathedral, where all roads seemingly lead, including the famous Camino.

Madrid

The beautiful capital city of Spain has to be visited.  Packed with great museums and atmospheric squares and quarters, this is a great city in which to spend a day or so.  

We stopped at Camping Osuna on the east of the city, close to the airport. At €35 a night this is without doubt, the poorest value for money site we have ever stayed on!  However, in common with most cities, the choice of where to stay in a motorhome is not great. The roads within the site are deteriorating badly and the showers and sanitaries are poorly designed (although clean and with plentiful hot water) but this is all surmountable if you want to see Madrid!

What this site does have though, is great access to the Metro. The nearest metro station is Canillejas,  about a 10 minute walk and on the same line as all the major tourist destination stops, so no changes required.  Reception at the campsite will give you more information about the Metro and explain the different types of tickets.

From the research we have done, this is by far the best place to stay when you visit Madrid in a motorhome.  If you want to check the competition out for yourself, have a look at ACSI or Park4Night.

How to Visit Madrid in One Day
How to Visit Madrid in One Day

Madrid is a beautiful and cultured city with stunning architecture, tranquil parks and some of the best art museums in Europe.  This cosmopolitan and capital city has contemporary and historic attractions galore and is packed with character on every street corner.  Find out what to see and how to visit Madrid in one day; we’ll show you all the best places!

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Huelva

Visit La Rábida to see the amazing full-scale models of the three ships in which Columbus and his crew sailed across the Atlantic to discover the New World.  I stood looking at these tiny vessels in awe of the courage and belief it must have taken to start that famous voyage. We parked for the night at the top of the hill by the Franciscan monastery where Columbus met Queen Isabella of Spain to successfully seek funds for his journey to the new world.

Tarifa

We loved Tarifa with it’s laid back surfer dude feel and abundant opportunities for activity.  We found some of the best hiking in Spain here and were able to kite-surf, cycle and run.  

How to Live the Vanlife in Tarifa, Spain
How to Live the Van Life in Tarifa, Spain

Tarifa, Spain is one of our favourite places for vanlife.  Why? Hiking, cycling, kite surfing, incredible beaches and views, all with the sun shining down on us!  If you’re an active and adventure seeking vanlifer, then Tarifa, Spain is for you!

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Seville

You will fall in love with this captivating and romantic city.  Spend a few days wandering the old town and Barrio Santa Cruz; admire the architecture and enjoy the typical Spanish ambience. There are a number of must-see’s including the Plaza de España, the Real Alcázar, the Giralda Tower and the Cathedral. We stayed at the Port of Gelves  just outside the city but accessible by scooter or public transport.  

How to Visit Seville in One Day
How to Visit Seville in One Day

Seville is hot, steamy and so very Spanish! A gorgeous city, full of colour and atmosphere. This quintessential Andalucian city is perfect for wandering, with cool bars and cafes on every corner, perfect to enjoy tapas and a glass of crisp white wine whilst watching the world go by. If you are road tripping in Spain, then visiting Seville is a must, follow our Seville one day tour here!

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MOTORHOME TOURING SPAIN

All across Spain, you will find a network of Via Verdes – literally translated as ‘the green ways’. They are old, disused railways lines that have been converted to cycling and walking tracks, often through stunning scenery with few other users.

Córdoba

Another beautiful city to fall in love with!  Córdoba is full of Moorish treasures. The most famous of these is the Mezquita; the grandest and most beautiful mosque ever built by the Moors which is now a stunning Cathedral.

We parked and stayed at the Municipal Camping Car Parking (1 Av. del Corregidor). This is designated motorhome parking, well lit and manned with CCTV and services but no EHU.  Not all spaces are level and the majority were originally designed for cars so have kerbs in what is now the middle of the space!  We paid €17.95 per night.  You can see reviews and more details, including co-ordinates on Park4Night. 

When visiting Córdoba in a motorhome, this is the only designated parking allowing overnight stays; we found it to be great value for money, with security being important.  You are literally over the road from the old town and within 5 minutes, you will be at the Mezquita.

How to Visit Cordoba in One Day
How to Visit Córdoba in One Day

Home to the famous and breathtaking Mezquita, Córdoba is a sublime city. Rich in history, architecture and Spanish charm, you can easily wander the streets and alleys for hours, soaking up the heat and atmosphere whilst stumbling upon gorgeous plazas and cool bars around every corner. If you’re road tripping Spain, then don’t miss Córdoba!

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Ronda & Grazalema

From here, drive south towards Ronda and the Parque Natural de la Sierra Grazalema.  This dramatic and wild space is iconic Andalusia; it seems like every hillside cradles a pueblo blanco.   Ronda is surrounded by mountains and is split in half by the gaping gorge of the river Tajo. This gorge is spanned spectacularly by an 18th century arched bridge and tall houses perch precariously along its’ edges.  Top Tip – follow the spectacular CA531 road which climbs to the Puerto de Las Palmas (Pass of the Doves), at 1350m it is the second highness pass in Spain and worth the fuel to get there!

Caminito del Rey

Further to the east, you’ll find El Chorro and the famous Caminito del Rey,  one of the most dangerous hikes in the world until the H&S experts got hold of it!  Not only is this a noteworthy hike along the route of the river Guadalhorce, it is in an area of outstanding natural beauty worth exploring further.  We stayed several nights at this great spot, perfect for the hike.  Top Tip – book this hike well in advance and go with a guide, for an extra few pounds you will learn so much!

How to Tour Spain in a Motorhome
Caminito del Rey

Sierra Nevada

The mighty Sierra Nevada is home to the highest point of continental Spain and the third highest in Europe after the Caucasus Mountains and the Alps; Mulhacén peaks at 3,479m above sea level. Head for the whitewashed villages of the High Alpujarras, Pampaneira and Trevélez, the highest village in Spain. In both Pampaneira and Trevélez, we were the only motorhome in their car-park, here and here respectively. Although this was in late February, we found all the bars and restaurants open and welcoming.  Find out more about hiking in the Sierra Nevada here.

Hiking Poqueira Gorge, Sierra Nevada
Towards Mulhacén, Sierra Nevada

Almeria

Heading east, stop in the pretty and modern city of Almeria for an afternoon lunch along the promenade. Continue to the arid and wild Cabo de Gata national park, 71,500 acres of protected land since 1987. This is a fascinating and ecologically diverse part of Spain with over 80 species of birds living and breeding here.

Camping Los Escullos is a great site, which is situated in the park.  Top Tip – go out along the coast in a kayak, canoe or SUP and marvel at the crystal clear water, abundance of sea life and weird rock formations.

how to tour Spain in a motorhome
Cabo de Gata Natural Park

Cartagena

Cartagena is a city we really enjoy for its’ eclectic architecture and unexpected cosmopolitan feel. Founded by the Carthaginians around 220 B.C., the city boomed during the Roman period. Among its many Roman ruins are a 1st-century B.C. theater and Casa de la Fortuna, a villa with murals and mosaics.

Valencia

Valencia is a green and vibrant city, with great night life. Visit the very modern science museum with contemporary architecture and wander the old river bed which runs right around the city. If you’re feeling brave, go during Las Fallas, the fire festival. The festival commemorates San José, the patron saint of carpenters and is held from 15th-20th March every year. There is limited motorhome parking in Valencia, especially during the festival; we would suggesting staying here.  Top Tip – head south to the wetland of La Albufera and try traditional paella which originated here.

Valencia

Serra d'Irta

This tiny national park nestled between Alcossebre and Peniscola is gorgeous for hiking with stunning sea views. Stay at the lovely Camping Ribamar (although be aware that getting there requires a few km of unmade road) and hike into Peniscola along the coastal path.  

Motorhome spain
Serra d'Irta

Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre

This tranquil and beautiful nature wetland nature reserve is known for it’s birdlife and encompasses rivers, dunes & beaches.  You’ll find great hiking and bird watching trails here.  Stay here on the north of the l’Encanyissada lagoon and if you’re lucky you’ll spot flamingoes migrating. On the way, stop at Sant Carles de la Rapita a charming Spanish town with lots of great seafood restaurants.

Barcelona

Continue north from here to the cosmopolitan and must-see city of Barcelona.  With fantastic beaches and a beautiful old town, this makes a great final stop on your motorhome tour of Spain. Find out everything you need to know about Barcelona and some top travel tips too!  Barcelona is a real foodie city, with a great central market and lots of fantastic tapas bars and sea-food restaurants. You’ll find some of the best restaurants in Barcelona in this post, you must try some of them when you visit if you want an authentic experience.

Motorhome camping in and around Barcelona is challenging.  Try your luck and risk a break-in at the free parking spots, park underground safely and overheat or try this campsite, who provide a reasonably priced shuttle into the city. 

Barcelona

Driving a Motorhome in Spain

Spanish roads are typically well maintained, the drivers considerate and relaxed. In the interior of Spain in your motorhome, you may well have long stretches of sweeping autopista (motorway) and autovía (dual carriageway) to yourself. The trade-off is the Costas where traffic ramps up and tailbacks are frequent. Driving around Spain in a campervan is generally safe and easy, but be mindful of smaller towns without by-passes if you’re in a longer vehicle; you may want to consider a sat nav or sat nav app which can be configured to your motorhome size and weight.

  • Always observe the speed limits when campervanning in Europe. There are cameras just as in the UK and the Spanish (and other EU) authorities have been known to pursue Brits for non-payment of fines;
    • Motorhomes < 3,500 kg
    • In urban areas: 50 km/h
    • Outside urban areas: 80 km/h
    • Main roads: 90 km/h
    • Motorways and autovías: 100 km/h
    • Motorhomes > 3,500 kg:
    • In urban areas: 50 km/h
    • Outside urban areas: 80 km/h
    • Main roads: 80 km/h
    • Motorways and autovías: 90 km/h
  • You must carry your driving licence and have a minimum of third party insurance cover for your motorhome.  Post Brexit you will need a green card as proof of insurance. The Spanish authorities have stated that an International Driving Permit will not be required.
  • You must also carry a warning triangle, 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! Check here for more information about driving in Spain.
  • If you are driving a motorhome or campervan in Spain and towing and the overall length is more than 12m (which would be one large motorhome and trailer!) you must have one (130cm x 25cm) or two (50cm x 25cm) yellow reflectors at the rear. 
  • You may carry a load, such as bikes on a rack,  extending by up to 10% of the length of the vehicle to the rear. The load must be indicated by a panel with diagonal red and white stripes.
  • 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.
  • Toll roads are pay as you go and are very reasonably priced. You can pay with cash or credit card.  Due to the huge swathes of nothingness in the interior, tolls are definitely worth taking if you are trekking from one side of Spain to the other in your motorhome.  Updated January 2020 – as of 01/01/20 some motorhome tolls are being removed and you will no longer be required to pay.  The AP7 on the Costa Blanca and Costa del Sol retains some charges, but they are minimal. 
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Staying in Spain in a Motorhome

Motorhome Aires

Motorhome aires in Spain are not as plentiful as in France but they are out there! As in France, sometimes there is a fee per night but often there is no charge and basic services are provided. Bear in mind that you are more likely to find a Spanish aire inland than on the coast. You can read more about aires, how to find them and road trip planning here.

You cannot book aires for camping in Spain, it is advisable in the holidays and in popular places to try and get there early in the morning or just after lunch-time.  If you arrive at 6pm expecting a place, then you will probably be disappointed. Always have a second choice in reserve, one of the best resources to use is All the Aires Spain and Portugal.

Campsites in Spain for Motorhomes

Spanish campsites range from very basic in less tourist areas to full on touring stops where people pitch up for six months and want entertainment every night, direct access to a sandy beach, three different bars to choose from and a covered, heated pool. Whichever is your bag (and there is a lot of choice), if you’re heading south in your camper in Spain for the winter and a long site stay, make sure you book in advance!  For more information about over-wintering, check out our post about whether you should take your motorhome to Spain for winter.

  • In Spain, your ACSI card will come into its own if you’re planning on touring and stopping for less than seven nights at sites.  If you are staying longer, then it is likely that the site’s own rate will be better value; the longer you stay the cheaper it becomes.  If you are stopping for over 30 nights it is possible to stay at a good quality site for €10 a night including electric.
  • Some larger sites or those run by corporates, will have a fixed number of ACSI pitches which will have EHU but no water or drainage. They will probably be smaller than other pitches and perhaps not as favourably placed.  If you want a different pitch, you will be charged a supplement which often wipes out the benefit of the ACSI card!
  • In the south east of the country, water is in very short supply.  Many sites will provide de-salinated instead of potable water.  In the short term, this is fine but you may want to clean out your fresh water tank with a high pressure hose once you have moved away from this part of Spain due to the sediment found in de-salinated water. 
  • Utilise the campsite bar; a glass of wine and a beer will typically cost €3…bargain!
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Wild Camping in Spain in a Motorhome

Wild camping for motorhomes in Spain (sometimes called free camping or wild parking) is generally tolerated away from beaches and outside of national parks Make sure you do not display any signs of ‘camping’, such as leaving chairs out or having your step out when you go to bed. Thus you are ‘parking’ not ‘camping’ and this is a legal activity. Free motorhome parking in Spain is easy and safe as long as you follow a few basic guidelines. Check out our post on wild camping for rules on camping in the UK and Europe and where to find the best camping locations and motorhome stopovers in Spain.

Spanish Life

Culture

Spanish life is all about family, religion, food and tradition.  Spanish people live a more relaxed life than perhaps any other country in Europe and this is reflected in the organisation of the day.

  • Mealtimes in Spain are noticeably different to the rest of Europe. Lunch, which is the main meal of the day, is eaten between 2 and 3pm. Traditionally it was followed by a nap, the famous siesta, a sacred art in rural Spain. Walk around any Spanish village or town in the early afternoon and you will clearly hear the sounds of cutlery on crockery, amid laughter and loud chatter as families lunch together.  
  • La cena (dinner or supper), a lighter meal, is also taken late, between 9 and 10pm, or even later during the hot summer months.  Often restaurants will not open their doors until 8pm, this is considered early!
  • Businesses reflect these timings and many will close between 12.30 or 1pm until 5pm and then open again until 8pm.  This can vary a little from town to town but fundamentally the afternoon is for relaxing and spending time together as a family; if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!
  • Spain celebrates fourteen public holidays a year, many religious in origin; you can check out the dates here.  There are a whopping 32 regional holidays and every town and village has its’ own annual fiesta, religious in origin,  but really all about the music, dancing and often bullfighting.   Some of these fiestas have become internationally recognised and are incredibly popular with tourists, this guide has all the information.
  • Sundays are truly sacred days in Spain.  Many people will go to church but it is the extended family lunch, hosted by the matriarch, which is the most important part of the day.  Very few, if any, shops are open on Sundays so make sure you’ve stocked up!
  • Following on from Sundays, many shops and restaurants will also close on Mondays with a sign on the door stating ‘cerrado por descanso del personal‘ (closed for the rest of the personnel).  So make sure you stock up for Mondays too!
  • Dog poo is a real issue across Spain.  It looks horrible, smells disgusting and it’s a real bummer when you tread in it. Some towns are making real efforts to combat this issue (one traces the poo and posts it back….how??) but in others it seems to be accepted as the norm.  
  • Spanish people talk LOUDLY and over each other constantly.  It is not a fight breaking out or a lover’s tiff, it’s just everyday conversation!  How four people together all talking at the same time can ever take in what the other is saying is a mystery to me, but they seem to manage it!
  • Spanish supermarkets are generally ok, all offering the basics and some a bit more upmarket, such a Carrefour.  Mercadona, SuperCor and Eroski are similar in price and quality but do not carry the range of goods you would expect in a UK supermarket.  Fruit and vegetables are seasonal; if you want something exotic you will have to search it out and it will be expensive. Lidl carries a good basic range and has by far the best value wine in Spain. Lidl and Carrefour have great parking facilities for motorhomes, the others less so as they are often more centrally situated in towns.
  • Spain is not as ‘finished’ as you might be used to.  There are lots of failed projects around and many, many half built houses and buildings.  This is because of the financial crash in 2008 and the subsequent bursting of Spain’s property bubble.
  • Whether you like it or not, bullfighting is a huge part of Spanish life and culture. Bullfighting is seen as heroic, a test of wills involving courage, intelligence, and elegance; matadors are national heroes.  The bullfighting season runs from March to October with fights usually taking place on Sunday afternoons.
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Food & Eating Out in Spain

Mealtimes are revered in Spain, as much about the sobremesa as the food.   Sobremesa has no equivalent word in English, it simply means the time you spend at the table after your meal, which in Spain is often several hours!

  • Tapas is famous in Spain; traditionally it was an appetiser and  a small portion of anything on the menu. Like all good things, tapas has evolved and can now be combined to make a whole meal. In some bars, you will get a bowl of pattatas bravas or tortilla with your drink; these portions can be large and we have been known not to finish our meal because of too much beer and tortilla!
  • Desayuno (breakfast) is simple and usually sweet.  Hot chocolate with churros is a favourite, the chocolate thick gloop and the churros freshly cooked. The Spanish have even invented a takeaway cone with cup holder for chocolate y churros!
  • Spanish cooking is very regional, with fish, shellfish and pork featuring heavily on most menus.  Vegetarian or vegan food can be hard to find outside of bigger towns and cities. Often ‘vegetarian’ means made from vegetables, not vegetarian in the true sense of the word.  You might get parmesan cheese in a ‘vegetarian’ dish for example, or prawns in a ‘vegetarian’ salad.  If in doubt, double check with the chef or waiting staff.
  • If you’re planning on dinner, expect your restaurant to be quiet and soulless before 9pm.  If you’re going later and you’re in a popular town or city,  expect to wait for a table or book.
  • Many restaurants will serve a menu del dia or menu of the day.  These are usually exceptionally good value and will give you a taste of the local and seasonal flavour and cooking style.  Try a dish like berenjenas rellenas (stuffed aubergine) when this mediterranean vegetable is in season and you’ll be blown away. Service is usually included in the fixed price, which can range from €8 to €16 or possibly more if you’re in a big tourist city.
  • Unless you are in an absolute dive or the service is dreadful, it is expected that you will leave a tip, usually around 5%.
  • If you are ordering a chicken dish in Spain, be very careful with your pronunciation of pollo.  If you ask for polla, it is unlikely to be served to you as it’s the Spanish word for penis!

We have been living and travelling in Europe in our motorhome for over two years. To find out more about motorhome living in Spain, road trip itineraries and other places we have visited, head across to our destinations page.

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