When planning a trip to Europe, Spain and Italy are undoubtedly two of the most popular countries for a vacation. After all, both Spain and Italy generally have temperate climates, allowing tourists to visit year-round.
Furthermore, both countries offer a plethora of historical sites, delicious cuisine, and warmer cultures with welcoming locals. They’re also both considered to be highly family-friendly destinations. However, not everyone has the time to see Spain and Italy on one trip! So, which place is better to visit: Spain or Italy?
Well, the answer to this question 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 home to 17 autonomous regions, choosing a specific destination for your trip can be difficult. At the end of the day, each area has its own culture, traditions, and even climate! In fact, did you know that Spain is the most climatically diverse country in Europe?
So, before you leave for your vacation, you’ll definitely want to keep an eye on the weather forecast. We suggest packing layers no matter where you travel to in Spain. The following are some of the country’s main highlights to consider visiting:
Madrid, Spain’s capital city, is the perfect place to start your trip. Plus, it’s home to the Madrid–Barajas International Airport and is super well connected to the country’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 visited attractions in town. We suggest taking a free walking tour on your first day here to get your bearings in this bustling city.
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 simultaneously experience a beach town and a vast metropolitan city. It has multiple beaches within a few minutes of the city center, or you can take a road trip from here to the Costa Brava.
Known for flamenco dancing, tapas, and the Feria de Abril, most travelers will agree that Seville is the principal 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.
We recommend 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 are ideal places to explore all the beaches and activities this area offers.
As another prominent 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 various renowned restaurants, including Arzak and Akelarre. It’s also a great base to explore the rest of “El País Vasco”!
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 visiting the palace, go to the Realejo area for some authentic “tapas granadinas.”
The Canary Islands
Between its countless beaches and national parks, the Canary Islands has become a popular vacation spot for Europeans. The most visited islands include Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, and La Palma.
This destination is ideal for tourists looking to relax by the beach! Plus, good weather is almost guaranteed, no matter when you visit.
Best time to visit Spain
Generally, the best time to visit Spain is 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 fewer 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 Costa del Sol towards to end of April. Ultimately, you can have the best of both worlds in the spring–sunshine and a lack of crowds–that is, if you plan correctly.
Fall is another great time to visit Spain, especially if you want to visit Madrid or Barcelona. Hotel prices tend to 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 overall, so expect prices to reflect this. With this in mind, you’ll want to avoid booking anything last minute during this time of year. Additionally, while most of the country is lovely to visit in the summertime, you may want to keep an eye on the temperature.
In July, you’ll particularly want to double-check that your hotel has air conditioning, especially in Seville and Madrid. You’ll have to fight the crowds during the summer, 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, you might be able to guess that the lowest season falls between November and February. Nonetheless, don’t rule out visiting Spain in the winter just yet!
If you enjoy empty museums and perusing Christmas markets, one of our best travel tips is to plan a winter trip to Spain. In fact, this is the perfect season for a budget-friendly vacation. After all, thanks to its mainly Mediterranean climate, Spain has one of the mildest winters in Europe!
Read More: The Best Times to Visit Spain
Pros and cons of visiting Spain
In this section, we’ll discuss some of the main advantages and disadvantages of visiting Spain instead of Italy. Although both destinations have pros and cons, hopefully, this list will help you make your choice!
Would you like to avoid crowds?
In 2019, Spain received 83.5 million tourists, while Italy received 64.5 million. Although more international tourists choose to travel to Spain, we would argue that these visitors are better dispersed throughout the country. For example, Barcelona, Madrid, and Seville are big attractions, but so are Granada, Córdoba, Valencia, and Málaga.
By comparison, visitors to Italy tend to be more concentrated among the four hotspots of Rome, Milan, Venice, and Florence. So, especially for a summertime vacation, you may encounter more crowds in Italy than in Spain.
Will this be a budget-friendly trip?
All in all, Spain is generally cheaper to visit than Italy. Mainly, restaurants and hotels are more affordable, even in larger Spanish cities, like Madrid, Barcelona, and Seville. Note that you will use euros as currency in both Italy and Spain.
The cost of public transport (for example, high-speed train tickets) in both countries is relatively comparable. They each have easily accessible trains, buses, and metro stations, so you don’t necessarily need to have a rental car in either country. Remember to check flight prices between cities, too!
How do you feel about Spanish food?
If you’re a fan of tapas, then you’ll love the food scene in Spain. Some of the most famous Spanish dishes to try include paella, jamón ibérico, gazpacho, tortilla española, and patatas bravas. For those with a sweet tooth, you won’t want to miss trying churros con chocolate.
However, we will admit that Italian food is slightly more varied than Spanish food. After all, we adore paella, but does anything compare to homemade pasta? Note that you can expect lots of olive oil in both destinations!
Will this be a beach vacation?
When we compare Spain versus Italy for a beach vacation, the better option is Spain. In fact, Spain is currently the world leader in blue flag beaches, with 614 of its beaches having been distinguished for their quality and safety.
The most famous Spanish beaches tend to be more expansive with powdery golden sand. For example, think of La Concha Beach in San Sebastián, Playa de Las Catedrales in Galicia, and Platja Gran in Tossa de Mar. By comparison, Italian beaches tend to be smaller and more rugged. For example, picture the popular Spiaggia del Fornillo in Positano.
Best places to visit in Italy
Since there are 20 regions in Italy, you may have a hard time choosing which destinations to add to your itinerary. As in the case of Spain, Italy is also an incredibly 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 one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. 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 its acclaim, you’ll want to plan to spend at least three days in Rome and secure tickets to the top attractions in advance. We recommend checking out Dark Rome’s “no wait” tours. On your trip to Rome, adding a day trip to Pompeii is also easy.
Read More: 25 Interesting Facts About Rome, Italy
Florence, the capital of Tuscany, is a city that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. Many tourists even rank 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 day trips to Pisa, Siena, or Lucca! 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 annually.
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 somewhat 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 visiting. 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 grab an Aperol Spritz at Terraza Aperol.
Approximately 80km north of Milan, you’ll find the beautiful Lake Como, a trendy 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 most significant 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). Besides hiking, you can swim, go sailing, kayaking, 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, tourists flock to the area in warmer months to go hiking, climbing, mountain biking, cycling, and rafting with incredible views. No matter the time of year, the Dolomites are the ideal destination for any adventure traveler.
Read More: The 25 Best Books About Italy
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 a top-rated 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. During the summer, we recommend visiting more off-the-beaten-path attractions to avoid crowds.
If you’d like to visit some of the more well-known sites, we advise aiming for March, April, or October. Or, if you’d rather hit the beach on the Amalfi Coast or the Cinque Terre, spring (April and May) and fall (September and October) can also be great times to experience these areas. We propose spending at least ten days in Italy for the whole experience.
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, ensure 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 normally December through February. So, you may want to consider a winter vacation to save money. However, we suggest actively checking the forecast, as rainfall is expected during these months.
Moreover, be aware that the country does experience a surge of tourism during its Carnival celebrations (Carnevale in Italian). This event typically takes place on Fat Tuesday, although activities begin the weekend prior. The most famous carnivals in the country take place in Venice, Viareggio, and Acireale.
Pros and cons of visiting Italy
Is this your first trip to Europe?
If so, many people visiting Europe for the first time opt for Italy, as this country is home to tourist attractions that they’re 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.
If you’d like to travel on a non-stop flight from the United States to Italy, you can fly into Rome (FCO) or Milan (MXP). Meanwhile, if you’re planning a trip to Spain, there are direct flights into Madrid (MAD) or Barcelona (BCN).
How do you feel about museums and archeological sites?
Italy might not be ideal for your vacation if you don’t like history. In fact, many of Italy’s highlights, like Rome and Florence, heavily 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?
Italy and Spain are two of the best nations to visit for history lovers. Currently, Italy is home to 58 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, while Spain has 49. In Spain’s favor, some of its most celebrated historical attractions are the Mezquita in Córdoba, the Alhambra in Granada, the Alcázar in Seville, and the Sagrada Família in Barcelona.
You’ll learn at many of these Spanish sites how these buildings were repurposed from ancient Moorish structures. However, if you’d like to learn about the Romans specifically, you’ll want to go to Italy. There, you can find highlights such as the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Roman Forum, and Pompeii.
Are you a vegetarian?
This may seem like a random question! However, we’ve had plenty of people tell us 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.
For example, you’ll find lots of Italian dishes with flavors based on fresh tomatoes, basil, oregano, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and cheese. You’ll want to try the pizza, pasta, gnocchi, risotto, and, of course, gelato for dessert.
So, which place is better: Italy or Spain? Ultimately, you’ll have to decide that for yourself. However, we hope this post helps make your decision a little easier!
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This post was originally published in June 2020 and has since been updated.
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