When planning a trip to Europe, Spain and Italy are undoubtedly two of the most popular countries for a vacation. Both Spain and Italy generally have temperate climates, allowing tourists to visit year-round. Furthermore, both countries offer a cornucopia of historical sites, delicious cuisine, and warmer cultures with welcoming locals. However, not everyone has the time to see Spain and Italy in one trip! So, which place is better to visit: Spain or Italy? Well, the answer will vary from person to person. So, in this post, we’ll go over the best places to visit in each country, the best time of year to visit Spain and Italy, and the ultimate advantages and disadvantages of choosing one over the other! Ideally, this article will leave you equipped to make the best decision between Spain vs Italy for your upcoming Europe trip.
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Best places to visit in Spain
Since Spain is such a diverse country, it can be difficult to choose a specific destination for your trip. Each region has its own culture, traditions, and even climate! So, before you leave for your vacation, you may want to check the weather. I suggest packing layers no matter where you visit in Spain. The following are some of the country’s main highlights to consider visiting:
Madrid, Spain’s capital city, is the perfect introduction to the country. Plus, it has an international airport and is super well connected to Spain’s other regions. Therefore, it’s easy to explore both Madrid and another destination in one trip. While in the capital, check out Plaza Mayor, the Royal Palace of Madrid, El Retiro Park, and Puerta del Sol! There are also three famous art museums in Madrid that you won’t want to miss: the Prado Museum, the Reina Sofía Museum, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.
As the capital of Catalonia, Barcelona has a unique flair that draws millions of tourists to visit each year. Gaudí’s creations, such as La Sagrada Familia, Park Güell, Casa Milà, and Casa Batlló are some of the most popular attractions in town. Barça is also a popular spot for sports fans visiting Camp Nou and for foodies looking to sample Catalan cuisine. Furthermore, Barcelona is the perfect destination for someone looking to experience a beach town and a huge metropolitan city at the same time–it has multiple beaches within a few minutes of the city center.
Known for flamenco dancing, tapas, and the Feria de Abril, most travelers will agree that Seville is the main city in Southern Spain you shouldn’t miss. The main things to do in Seville include the Alcázar of Seville (GoT was filmed here!), the Seville Cathedral, the Plaza de España, and Casa de Pilatos. I would give yourself an absolute minimum of two to three days in the city to cover the majority of these sites. Especially if you’re visiting during the summertime, plan to buy your tickets for the attractions in Seville in advance or book a guided tour.
Costa del Sol
The Costa del Sol, which translates to “sunshine coast”, is one of the best places to vacation in Spain, particularly for European families. As you might imagine, this region has the most agreeable climate in Spain, with warm weather and very little rain. For those who love watersports, seafood, golf, nightlife, and hanging by the beach, the Costa del Sol is a great option. In particular, Málaga, Marbella, and Nerja make ideal bases to explore all the beaches and activities this area has to offer.
As another popular beach escape in Spain, San Sebastián is considered the gem of the Basque Country. Relax in the sand at Playa de la Concha and Playa de Ondarreta before hitting up San Sebastián’s classic pintxo (Basque word for “tapas”) bars. This resort town is a foodie’s paradise, with many renowned restaurants, including Arzak and Akelarre. It’s also a great base to explore the rest of the Basque Country!
The main reason people visit Granada is to see the famous Alhambra. Nonetheless, the city itself is also quite charming, especially the Albaicín neighborhood! Since Nasrid Palace tickets can be hard to come by in high season, you may want to opt for a guided tour. After you visit the palace, make your way the Realejo area for some authentic “tapas granadinas”.
The Canary Islands
Between its many beaches and national parks, the Canary Islands has become a popular vacation spot for many Europeans. The most visited islands include Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, and La Palma. This destination is ideal for someone who’s looking to relax by the beach! Plus, good weather is almost guaranteed, no matter when you visit.
Best time to visit Spain
In general, the best time to visit Spain will be during one of its two shoulder seasons: spring (March-May) or fall (September-November). During the spring, you’ll experience long days, mild temperatures, and a lower amount of tourists compared to the summertime. Additionally, Holy Week, Seville’s April Fair, and Córdoba’s flower-packed Patio Festival are all exciting spring events. You may even want to consider planning a beach vacation to the famous Costal del Sol towards to end of April. In the spring, you can have the best of both worlds–sunshine and a lack of crowds–that is, if you plan correctly. Fall is another great time to visit Spain, especially if you’re hoping to visit Madrid or Barcelona. Hotel prices drop in these more expensive cities, and you won’t have to battle the heat to see the most famous attractions.
Summer is the most popular time of year to travel to Spain, so expect prices to reflect this. While most of the country is lovely to visit in the summertime, you may want to keep an eye on the temperature. In July, in particular, you’ll want your hotel to have air conditioning, especially in Seville and Madrid. During the summer, you’ll have to fight the crowds, but this won’t be a problem if you plan your itinerary well in advance. As June through August is the busiest time to visit, of course, the lowest season is November through February. Nonetheless, don’t count out visiting Spain in the winter just yet! If you enjoy empty museums and perusing Christmas markets, you’d love a winter trip to Spain. In fact, this is the perfect season for a budget-friendly vacation. After all, Spain has one of the mildest winters in Europe!
Pros and cons of visiting Spain
Here, I’ll discuss some of the main advantages and disadvantages of visiting Spain instead of Italy. Although there are pros and cons to both destinations, hopefully, this list will help you make your choice!
- Would you like to avoid crowds? Although Spain receives more international tourist arrivals than Italy, these visitors are more spread out throughout the country. By comparison, visitors to Italy tend to be more concentrated among the four hotspots of Rome, Milan, Venice, and Florence. So, depending on the time of year, you may rather visit Spain than Italy.
- Will this be a budget-friendly trip? All in all, Spain is generally cheaper to visit than Italy. For one, food and hotels are more affordable, even in larger Spanish cities, like Madrid, Barcelona, and Seville. Nonetheless, the cost of transportation (for example, train tickets) in both countries is pretty comparable.
- How do you feel about Spanish food? If you’re a fan of tapas, then you’ll love the food scene in Spain. However, I will admit that Italian food is a little more varied than Spanish food. I mean, I adore paella, but does anything compare to homemade pasta?
- Will this be a beach vacation? If you’re planning to travel to one of these countries to sit seaside in the sand, the better option is Spain. In fact, Spain is currently the world leader in blue flag awards, meaning many of its beaches have been distinguished for their quality and safety.
Best places to visit in Italy
Since Italy is home to some of the world’s most visited cities, you may have a hard time choosing which destinations to add to your itinerary. As in the case of Spain, Italy is also an extremely diverse country! To see if any of these options pique your interest, here are some of Italy’s main highlights:
The “Eternal City” is frequently considered to be one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. This ranking shouldn’t be a surprise, as Rome is home to important historical sites such as the Colosseum, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, and the Pantheon. Due to Rome’s acclaim as a destination, you’ll want to plan your trip well in advance to secure tickets to the top attractions. I recommend checking out Dark Rome’s “no wait” tours. On your vacation to Rome, it’s also easy to add in a day trip to Pompeii.
Florence, the capital of Tuscany, is a city that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. Many tourists even name Florence as their favorite destination in Italy due to its unique culture, food, and romantic Renaissance architecture. During your visit, you won’t want to miss the Duomo di Firenze, Uffizi Gallery, Ponte Vecchio, and Pitti Palace. Florence is also a great base to explore more of the Tuscany Region. For example, plan to take a day trip to the countryside to go wine tasting! Another option is to fly into Florence and take a road trip through Northern Italy.
Venice may be one of the first places you picture when you think of Italy. Due to its fame as a “floating city”, lined with canals and colorful homes, Venice receives approximately 20 million tourists per year. Saint Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, the Grand Canal, Burano, and Piazza San Marco are some of the top attractions that continue to draw new tourists each year. Venice is also a rather divisive city among tourists–some people love it, while others consider it to be more of a tourist trap. You’ll have to visit to see what you think!
As a fashion capital, Milan offers some of the best shopping in the world. However, even if you don’t have a big budget, this northern Italian city is still worth a visit. Check out the terrace at the top of the Duomo di Milano, take a stroll through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, and tour Sforza Castle. Afterward, relax in Sempione Park and then grab an Aperol Spritz at Terraza Aperol.
Approximately 80km north of Milan, you’ll find the beautiful Lake Como, a popular vacation spot for the rich and famous. Here, you can relax by the beach, take a boat ride, or even participate in water sports, like windsurfing, sailing, and kitesurfing. Nature lovers will want to hike to Villa del Balbianello, go zip lining at Jungle Raider Park, and spend an afternoon at the botanical gardens at Villa Cipressi Hotel.
This famous stretch of coastline in northwestern Italy actually comprises five small fishing villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Monterosso and Riomaggiore are the largest towns, while Vernazza and Manarola are often considered the most beautiful, and Corniglia is more of a hidden gem away from the crowds. One of the best ways to experience the Cinque Terre is to take the hiking trails that connect the five towns (note: you’ll need a Cinque Terre Card). Other than hiking, you can also swim, go sailing, kayak, or even snorkel or dive.
If outdoor activities are right up your alley, you’ll want to visit the Dolomites, a mountain range in northeastern Italy. During the winter, the Dolomites are perfect for a ski trip. Meanwhile, in warmer months, tourists flock to the area to go hiking, climbing, mountain biking, cycling, and rafting. No matter the time of year, the Dolomites are the ideal destination for any adventure traveler.
Best time to visit Italy
As with Spain, the best time to visit Italy, in general, is either during spring (March-May) or fall (September-November). During the spring, you can expect cooler temperatures compared to the summertime and much fewer crowds–that is, as long as you avoid visiting close to Easter. Remember that Rome is an extremely popular destination for religious tourism! If you’d like to travel to Rome, Florence, Milan, or Venice, you should ideally avoid planning your trip during July and August. Instead, aim for March, April, or October. If you’d rather hit the beach in the Amalfi Coast or the Cinque Terre, spring (April and May) and fall (September and October) can also be a great time to experience these areas.
Summer is the heaviest season for tourism in most Italian destinations, so expect higher prices for food, accommodations, and flights. When booking your hotel for June, July, or August, make sure that the property offers air conditioning. Summertime temperatures can be sweltering and often over 90° F! Although you’ll have to fight the crowds during the summer, this shouldn’t be a problem if you book skip-the-line or no wait guided tours. The low season in Italy is December through February (except Carnival), so you may want to consider a winter vacation. However, be sure to actively check the forecast as rainfall is common during these months.
Pros and cons of visiting Italy
- Is this your first trip to Europe? If so, many first-timers to Europe opt for Italy, as this country is home to tourist attractions that you’re probably more familiar with. For example, the Colosseum, Pompeii, the Vatican, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa are destinations that most Americans would know. On the other hand, Spain offers a more off-the-beaten-track experience.
- How do you feel about museums and archeological sites? If you don’t like history, Italy might not be the ideal place for your vacation. In fact, many of Italy’s highlights, like Rome and Florence, have a heavy focus on history and architecture. If history’s not your thing but you still want to visit Italy, consider an adventure-packed trip to the Dolomites or a beach vacation on the coast.
- What kind of history do you want to experience? Both Spain and Italy are two of the best countries to visit as far as historical sites. In Spain’s favor, some of the most popular sites are the Mezquita in Córdoba, the Alhambra in Granada, the Alcázar in Seville, and the Sagrada Família in Barcelona. At many of these sites, you’ll learn about how these buildings were repurposed from ancient Moorish structures. If you’d like to learn about the Romans specifically, you’ll want to go to Italy.
- Are you a vegetarian? This may seem like a random question! However, I’ve had many people tell me that they’ve had an easier time finding vegetarian menu options in Italy over Spain. Picky eaters may also prefer food in Italy due to familiarity.
So, which place is better: Spain or Italy? Ultimately, you’ll have to decide that for yourself. However, I hope that this post helps to make your decision a little easier!