Spain is such a diverse country, with many regions to discover! So, one of the best ways to truly experience each area is to plan an incredible road trip. If you’re not in a rush, you can take your time and see the whole country in one visit. However, since most travelers only have a week or two to see Spain, this guide covers the overall best options for road trips in Spain. You can even complete some of these Spanish road trips in just a few days! Ideally, with each Spain road trip itinerary, you’ll be able to experience one or two of the country’s regions at a time. Thus, you’ll have plenty of time to spend at each stop instead of rushing through your route! Plus, this means that you’ll get to fully experience the unique food, culture, and sights of each region.
Keep reading for five quintessential road trips in Spain, covering Southern Spain, the Basque Country, Galicia, Barcelona, Valencia, and Madrid/Central Spain. Depending on how many days you have and your interest, you can mix and match these road trips to create your ideal trip. Remember that you can also combine all of these routes into one ultimate Spain road trip! Additionally, we’ve included some helpful tips for driving in Spain at the end of this article. Especially if this is your first time traveling by car in Spain, you’ll want to make sure you review these suggestions before taking the wheel.
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Table of Contents
Southern Spain road trip
On the map above, I’ve plotted the “ultimate Andalucia road trip” in blue with additional optional stops marked with red stars. I recommend making this a 7-10 day road trip. However, if you don’t have enough time for all of these stops, the main three are: Seville, Córdoba, and Granada, which form “the Golden Triangle”. You can begin this South Spain road trip at any point on the map. For example, I flew into Madrid from the U.S. and then caught a train to Córdoba. From there, I followed the circle and ended my drive in Seville. However, you may be flying from a European city into Málaga. In this case, start in Málaga and follow the route ending in Granada right before you return to the airport. Here are the major stops along this trip itinerary:
Begin your driving tour of Spain in Córdoba, which is home to four UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Its main attractions include the Mezquita (mosque), the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, Palacio de Viana, and the Roman Bridge. You may want to wake up early one morning because the entrance to the Mezquita is free from 8:30-9:30 a.m., Monday-Saturday. One of the best times to pass through Córdoba is during the first two weeks of May for the Patio Festival. During this celebration, residents decorate their homes with an explosion of flowers.
It would be a shame to take an Andalusia road trip without passing through Granada to visit the famous Alhambra. After all, the Alhambra Palace is the most visited place in Spain, and for a good reason. If you’re planning your trip close to time, I recommend signing up for a guided tour. If not, you’ll want to grab your Nasrid Palace tickets far in advance to avoid paying the big bucks. Afterward, check out Granada’s picturesque Albaicín neighborhood! While in town, make sure to watch the sunset from San Nícolas Church for a wonderful view of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. For any foodie travelers, don’t miss Granada’s unparalleled tapa scene, especially in the Realejo area.
Welcome to the Costa del Sol! Whether you’re looking to spend time at the beach or in the city, Malaga is a great place to do both. Head to the Atarazanas Market to sample fresh fish, meat, cheese, fruits, and vegetables for an authentic coastal experience. Leave enough time to wander the picturesque streets of the city before you make your way to the beach. I’d also recommend checking out the view from Gibralfaro Castle, where you can snap a few photos of this 360° panorama.
Ronda is one of the most famous white villages in Spain and is part of Sierra de las Nieves National Park. Due to its beauty and precarious location, Ronda has inspired many famous artists, including Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles. Frequently, visitors come to town to see Ronda’s most famous attraction: Puente Nuevo (“new bridge”). For an impressive view of Puente Nuevo, drive down to the Ronda Bridge View Point along the Carretera de los Molinos. Later, take your time while strolling through the Old Town.
Often, tourists skip Cádiz and head straight to Seville; however, I think this ancient port city is the perfect blend of historical and coastal and shouldn’t be missed! The main attractions in Cádiz include Torre Tavira, Mercado Central, Parque Genovés, the Catedral de Cádiz, and the Museum of Cádiz. If you’re driving through during the summertime, you’ll want to head to Playa de la Victoria or Playa la Caleta for some beach time! As a snack after your day in the sun, stop by Heladería Pazza Mina for the best ice cream in Cádiz.
Famous for its flamenco dancing, tapas, and the Feria de Abril, most travelers will agree that Seville is the principal city you can’t miss while driving through Andalusia. During your stay in Seville, make sure to leave enough time to see the Alcázar of Seville, the Seville Cathedral, the Plaza de España, and Casa de Pilatos. I would plan to spend an absolute minimum of two to three days in the city to cover most of these sites. Especially if you’re visiting during high season, try to buy tickets ahead of time for the Alcázar and the Cathedral. It’s possible to buy last-minute tickets at the gate, but you may have to wait in a long line.
If you have extra time, consider adding some of these stops to your Southern Spain road trip: Priego de Córdoba, Frigiliana, Mijas, Marbella, Gibraltar, Arcos de la Frontera, Setenil de las Bodegas, Vejer de la Frontera, and Jerez de la Frontera. All of these extra stops are marked on the map with red stars.
Basque Country road trip
For a road trip through one of Spain’s most beautiful regions, look no farther than the Basque Country. This is a wonderful area to explore if you want to take a road trip, but don’t have a ton of time to do so. In fact, driving the entire loop outlined above should only take approximately 5 hours! So, if you only have about 3 days for your Spanish road trip, this could be the ideal route for you. If you have more time, you can always take this itinerary at a slower pace. Additionally, consider adding on a few days to travel to the La Rioja or Navarra regions. If you’re planning to begin and end your road trip in San Sebastian, you can make Getaria your second or second-to-last stop since you have to pass through to reach Vitoria-Gasteiz. Here are the stops you can expect:
With some of the most stunning beaches in Spain, it’s easy to see why San Sebastián is considered the gem of the Basque Country. Between Playa de la Concha and Playa de Ondarreta, this coastal city is the perfect place to catch some rays. Afterward, don’t miss the chance to visit San Sebastián’s classic pintxo (Basque word for “tapas”) bars. You’ll be happy to know that this resort town is a foodie’s paradise! There are many renowned restaurants in the area, including Arzak and Akelarre–each of which holds three Michelin stars.
You can’t have a real road trip through the Basque Country without visiting its capital! Consistently ranked as one of the best Spanish cities to live in, Vitoria-Gasteiz feels a lot more comfortable than the average city. With its charming medieval quarter, you may find yourself not wanting to leave! Make sure to see the Catedral de Santa María, the Artium, and the Bibat Museum (Museo de Arqueología and the Museo Fournier de Naipes) on your tour of the town. If you like cycling, you’ll particularly enjoy Vitoria’s Green Belt. This strategic pathway connects some of the city’s parks to conserve natural sites and integrate green areas into Vitoria’s urban fabric.
You may be familiar with Bilbao already, as this city is home to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao–one of the most famous works of contemporary architecture. Due to this attraction, Bilbao has become a significant hub for art. Therefore, plan to spend at least a few hours exploring the museum and its latest exhibits. Sometimes the larger pieces are even displayed outside! Later on, fill up on some delicious pintxos before taking a stroll through the Old Town. Don’t miss the Bilbao Cathedral, Plaza Nueva, or La Ribera Market.
As one of the most important fishing ports in the region, be prepared to see lots of beautiful coastline in Bermeo. Many tourists decide to visit to hike the scenic steps to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (better known as “Dragonstone” from Game of Thrones). Although this castle island is difficult to reach, it’s well worth the views if you have time to take the uphill trek slowly. After your long hike, reward yourself with a cold beer and tasty pintxos!
One of the most unusual attractions in Basque Country might be Isla de San Nicolás (also known as Garraitz) in Lekeitio. During low tide, visitors can walk from the beach straight out to this rugged island. Make sure to bring walking shoes with excellent traction, as the pathway can be slippery. Furthermore, be cautious of the tide rising so that you don’t have to swim back to shore! After a short walk to the island, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning view of the beach and small town. Lekeitio’s Basílica de la Asunción de Santa María is also quite the impressive 15th-century Gothic church.
Getaria is another beautiful coastal village that’s well worth a visit during your road trip. Since this town is a fishing port, you can expect tasty fresh fish at the local restaurants. Moreover, fried fish is often served with txakoli, an acidic white wine typical to the region, and pairs nicely with this dish. Since Cristóbal Balenciaga is from Getaria, the founder of the Balenciaga fashion house, you can also find the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa in town.
If you have extra time, consider adding some of these stops to your Basque Country road trip: Guernica, Hondarribia, Rioja Alavesa, and Zarautz. These optional destinations are marked on the map as red stars. Moreover, you could continue your driving holiday in Spain to the La Rioja or Navarra regions.
Galicia road trip
I’m listing the Galicia road trip itinerary right after Basque Country as you can easily combine these two regions into one continuous road trip. All you have to do is keep driving west after San Sebastián and you can have the ultimate Northern Spain road trip! Alternatively, you could also continue south into Portugal and explore the Portuguese coat. Why not visit both Spain and Portugal at the same time since they’re so close together? However, for those wishing to acquaint themselves better with Galicia specifically, this shorter route is a wonderful introduction to the region. In particular, Galicia is ideal if you’d like to avoid the tourist traps that you’ll find in other areas of Spain. This entire drive will take less than three hours; however, it has many options for additional stops. Here’s what you can expect from the route pictured above on the map:
Begin your Galicia road trip in the region’s second most populated city: A Coruña in Gallego (Galician language) or La Coruña in Spanish. This port town makes an ideal first stop as it’s considered Galicia’s gastronomic center. Therefore, if you’d like to try authentic Galician food, you should do it here! While wandering A Coruña’s Old Town, plan to pause for a snack at La Bombilla. This tapas bar is an essential attraction for any tourist seeking to experience tapas in true Galician style. A Coruña is pretty walkable, so you’ll most likely be able to explore the whole city on foot. Make sure to tour the Tower of Hercules, Monte de San Pedro, and the Plaza de María Pita before heading to your next stop. Another fun option is to explore A Coruña on an e-bike!
This ancient port and fishing village is located at one of Spain’s westernmost points. Therefore, “fisterra”–coming from the Latin word for “Land’s End”–seems like an appropriate fit! Its biggest attraction is the Fisterra Lighthouse, which offers gorgeous views of the Atlantic Ocean. As this village sits right along the coast, you can also expect stunning beaches with turquoise waters! Don’t miss the chance to snap a photo at Playa Lagosteira or Playa Mar de Fora.
Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela is the capital of Galicia. However, it’s most popularly known as the final destination of the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James), a pilgrimage route. The city itself was built around the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, which supposedly holds Saint James’s remains. After visiting the cathedral, spend some time wandering the historic center! UNESCO protects this beautifully preserved area as a World Heritage Site. At the heart of the Casco Histórico, you’ll find the stunning Praza do Obradoiro. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to Bar La Tita, where you can taste one of the best (and largest) tortillas in Spain!
Vigo is popular as both a cruise ship stop and a base to see the dreamy Cíes Islands. I’d recommend spending at least one night in Vigo and one day exploring the islands on a boat tour. You may want to pack some snacks for a picnic on the beach while visiting the islands or take a short hike! Back on the mainland, top attractions in Vigo include Castro Fortress, Monte Do Castro Park, Casco Vello (Old Town), and Samil Beach.
If you have extra time, consider adding some of these stops to your Galicia road trip: Muxía, Pontevedra, or Lugo (marked with red stars on the map). You could also drive into the Basque Country to the east or head south to the Portuguese coast.
Barcelona to Valencia road trip
If you’d like to see Spain’s Mediterranean coast without committing to long hours of driving, rent a car and take a road trip from Barcelona to Valencia! The direct route from Barcelona to Valencia only takes approximately four hours. Nonetheless, there are numerous stops that you can make along the eastern coast in addition to Montserrat on your way out of Barcelona. The route that I suggest above should take just over five hours to complete. Moreover, this Barcelona road trip makes for a great addition to any vacation as flights are often cheaper into Barcelona than directly into Valencia. Here are some of the destinations you can explore on this journey:
Barcelona, Catalonia’s capital, is one of the most popular places in Spain for tourists. There’s pretty much something to do for everyone in this city! If you like quirky architecture, don’t miss Gaudí’s creations, which are sprinkled throughout Barcelona. For example, La Sagrada Familia, Park Güell, Casa Milà, and Casa Batlló. Sports fans will want to stop by Camp Nou, home to FC Barcelona. Make sure to take a walk through the Gothic Quarter and then head to Boqueria Market for some delicious eats! With so much to do, you’ll want to spend at least 24 hours in Barcelona.
For spectacular views, you’ll want to make Montserrat your next stop on this road trip. This mountain retreat, which is only about an hour from Barcelona, is of religious and natural importance. Many visitors travel here to visit the Benedictine monastery, Santa Maria de Montserrat, which sits up against the peculiarly shaped mountains. Nonetheless, there are many other things to do here, such as walking the Camí dels Degotalls, hiking to Santa Cova, or even rock climbing!
You may not have heard of this port city before, but you should definitely add it to your bucket list! Tarragona is home to the Roman ruins of Tárraco, designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Attractions you’ll want to see on your stop include the Tarragona Amphitheater, the Tarragona Cathedral, the Circ Romà, the Mediterranean Balcony, and Les Ferreres Aqueduct.
Peñíscola, coming from the Latin word for “Peninsula,” is often called the “City in the Sea” by locals. It’s easy to see why, as this town is narrowly connected to the mainland, leaving it almost surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea! Most notably, you may have seen photos of Peñíscola Castle, which served as a filming location for Meereen in Game of Thrones. After visiting this landmark, check out Parque Natural de la Sierra de Irta, Casa de Las Conchas, and the old town Casco Antiguo area. If you’d like some time at the beach with views of the castle in the distance, don’t miss Cala del Pebret y Russo Beach.
You’ve made it to Valencia! This port city is the ideal combination of new meets old between its historic center and modern City of Arts and Sciences. Especially if you’re traveling with kids, you’ll want to visit L’Oceanogràfic, a giant oceanarium, and the Prince Philip Science Museum, a museum filled with interactive exhibits. If you’d rather explore Valencia’s historical side, head to La Lonja de la Seda. I recommend taking an audio tour through this 15th-century Silk Exchange, listed as a World Heritage Site. For a full tour of Valencia, check out the Central Market, the Valencia Cathedral, and Malvarrosa Beach.
If you have extra time, consider adding some of these stops to your Barcelona to Valencia road trip: Sitges and L’Ampolla (marked with red stars on the map). You could also explore Costa Brava before heading south to Valencia or continue south after Valencia towards Andalucía!
Road trip from Madrid
If you’re looking for a short but sweet road trip out of Madrid, this route is a great option. On this drive, you’ll explore some of the most important highlights of Central Spain. This entire circle takes about five hours to complete, but I suggest three to five days for a nice road trip. Plus, you’ll loop back around to Madrid, so you won’t have any trouble catching your flight home! If you’d like to extend your trip further, you can continue north in the Castile and León region. Many tourists choose to do Segovia, Ávila, and Toledo as day trips from Madrid. However, with the flexibility of travel in Spain by car, you’ll be able to dedicate more time to these Spanish gems. Below, you’ll find some recommendations of things to do along this route:
Madrid, Spain’s capital city, is extremely well connected to the rest of the country, making it a great starting point for any Spanish adventure. While in town, check out Plaza Mayor, the Royal Palace of Madrid, El Retiro Park, and Puerta del Sol! Additionally, if you enjoy visiting museums, you’ll want to make room in your itinerary for Madrid’s Golden Triangle of Art. These are three famous art museums located within close distance: the Prado Museum, the Reina Sofía Museum, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. For authentic churros and chocolate, head to Chocolatería San Ginés!
Segovia is one of my favorite cities in Spain because it looks like a storybook village that came to life! In fact, the Segovia Alcázar was even used as inspiration for Cinderella’s castle in the Disney movie. The main attractions at this stop are the Segovia Roman aqueduct, the Alcázar of Segovia, and the city’s cathedral. As you can tell, this adorable town is indeed dripping in historical sites! For a spectacular view of the castle and a fantastic photo opportunity, drive to Mirador de la Pradera de San Marcos.
Your next stop is the stunning fortified city of Ávila! Medieval walls that were constructed between the 11th-14th centuries still surround this town. The most popular activity in Ávila is to walk these walls, about half of which are open to the public. Afterward, make time to see the other historical landmarks here, including the Basílica de San Vicente, the Ávila Cathedral, and the Four Posts. It’s also worth taking your time to wander Ávila’s narrow streets in the Casco Histórico (Old Town).
This city is a fantastic place to witness how Christians, Muslims, and Jews influenced Spain and its culture. Therefore, it’s often called “the City of Three Cultures.” You’ll find some of the most beautiful and interesting houses of worship in this town, such as the Toledo Cathedral, the Synagogue of El Tránsito, the Church of San Idelfonso, and the Mosque of Cristo de la Luz. For a breathtaking view of this colorful city, you won’t want to miss the Mirador del Valle. Another popular landmark is the Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, which the Catholic Monarchs intricately constructed in honor of their son’s birth. Don’t forget to sample some of Toledo’s most famous dishes, like “carcamusas,” before making the drive back to Madrid!
If you’d like to see even more of Spain, you can easily add more stops in the Castile and León region. For example, visit Salamanca, Valladolid, or Zamora (marked with red stars on the map).
Tips for driving in Spain
- If you’re a driver from the U.S., you’ll need to obtain an International Driving Permit. You can do so through the mail, and it only costs $20, so it’s not a big deal. Just make sure to think about it when planning your trip! If you don’t have one, you may run into issues with renting a car or if you get pulled over by a law official.
- When choosing a rental car in Spain, remember that the smaller the car, the better. I would honestly pick the smallest car that will still hold all of your luggage and passengers. Why do I say this? Well, Spanish towns are old and so are their roads! Therefore, the roads are often extremely narrow, and you may have a hard time navigating the historic centers in a large vehicle.
- Factor in toll roads. Depending on the route you take, you may run into toll roads. To be safe, I’d recommend carrying cash!
- Invest in a Spanish SIM card for your phone. This way, instead of having to pay for a GPS from the rental car agency, you can use Google Maps like normal! Plus, it never hurts to have a functioning phone in case of an emergency.
- If you’d like to be as budget-friendly as possible, plan to have only one driver and then return your car to the same city where you initially rented it. Extra drivers will incur an additional fee, and so will choosing to return your vehicle to a different city.
- Know that the Spanish “siesta” is a real thing. You can expect shops to close during the afternoon, especially in smaller towns. So, if you’re traveling with kids, I’d recommend stocking up on snacks.
- Parking in Spain can be a little tricky. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to book hotels that you know have parking or to research parking garages before you start driving to your next destination.
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This article was first published in January 2020 and has since been updated.