Tips for the first time traveler
Spain is a magnet for package vacations and city breaks, but that doesn’t mean it’s just about beaches and Barcelona. Down the coast from the high rises, there are quiet coves and fishing villages. In the interior, hillsides ring to the sound of cowbells and towering mountains rival the Alps for scenery, hiking and cycling. And then there’s the wildlife: think whales, bears, wolves, endemic lynx and some of Europe’s most spectacular bird watching.
Stunning views, beautiful sunrises and sunsets, crystal-clear night sky, amazing accommodation and great activities (kayaking, rock climbing, horse riding, milking a goat (!) and making cheese and bread).
– Nick Levitsky on our Altiplano de Granada activity vacation
That’s not to say that you should shun the tourist draws altogether. This is, after all, your first time in Spain and sights such as the Alhambra and Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia are popular for a reason. Just be aware that high-season crowds can take the shine off. Whatever you go for, getting around won’t be a problem. Spain has excellent roads and train links, while tours will get you doing everything from kayaking the coastline to exploring the Catalan countryside on horseback.
Our Spain Vacations
What to expect
Nature & wildlife
A male lynx walked right next to us! To see one of the rarest and most endangered species of wild cats on the planet so close was a truly amazing and memorable experience.
– Marie Aude Danguy on our Iberian lynx watching vacation in Spain
Language & culture
Andrew Hawkins on our Spanish course and walking vacation in the Picos de Europa: “All of the walks were spectacular, but my best memory was the day a guide took us round a beautiful local farm and into a cider orchard – an excellent opportunity for me to put my Spanish into practice whilst learning so much more about the local culture than I would in any tourist attraction!”
If you'd like to chat about Spain or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.
You’re bound to leave Spain feeling like you’ve barely scratched the surface – there’s a huge amount to see and do here. Don’t try to race around, seeing as much as possible. Instead, look through our highlights, choose a couple of favourites, and take your time to really enjoy your destination.
It’s rumoured that this balmy corner of Andalucia has the best climate in Europe, with 300 days of sunshine a year. This makes it ideal for off-season walking breaks, where you can wander deserted beaches, vast mountain valleys and semi-desert scrublands. Then there’s Nijar National Park in Cabo de Gata – a stunning land and marine park with barren wilderness walks.
Basque countryPaís Vasco – or the Basque Country – is an enticing blend of tradition and modernity. Culturally closer to the French Basque Country than the rest of Spain, its language is unrelated to any other. Bilbao is a vibrant city with the distinctive Guggenheim; San Sebastian sits on a beautiful bay; and Guernica is immortalised in Picasso’s shocking painting. The region is famed for its tasty pintxos, meaty stews and excellent cider.
Balearic IslandsIt’s easy to escape the superclubs and crowded beaches of this Mediterranean archipelago: just head to the hills or the more remote coastlines for tranquillity and fresh air. Here, you’ll find vineyards, traditional whitewashed guesthouses, medieval villages and olive groves. Ibiza may be the jewel in tourism’s crown, but Majorca and Menorca are the best islands to explore
Camino de Santiago
The Camino de Santiago began life as a medieval pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. Today, people come from across the world to walk its hallowed trails. Traditionally, nights would be spent in basic hostels along the route, but these days there are more upscale options available. This means you can enjoy the classic landscapes and historic hotspots safe in the knowledge that you have a comfy bed to collapse into at the end of each day.
CataloniaCatalonian natives see their region as distinct from Spain. This is a country within a country, where Catalan is the dominant language and attractions range from snowy Pyrenean peaks to sun-soaked Mediterranean coves to the lively cities of Barcelona, Tarragona and Girona. Catalonia has its own distinct culinary traditions, and food is simple, seasonal and full of flavour.
GranadaGranada lures thousands of travelers to its Alhambra – a stunning 14th-century palace complex that stands guard over the city and testament to 800 years of Moorish rule. The Islamic stone and tilework are astounding, and the gardens are a tranquil haven away from the noise of the city. Granada’s elevated location, tucked into the foothills of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada, make it a cooler prospect in midsummer than its coastal counterparts.
Plush, eco-friendly digs are the best way to see this spectacularly volcanic island. You can kick back in an off-grid family-friendly finca or a sumptuous yurt with a shared solar-heated pool a short stroll from a quiet beach and a traditional fishing village. Otherworldly lava fields, palm-filled valleys and volcanic vineyards are all there to be explored.
Picos de EuropaPicos de Europa National Park is paradise for hikers, bikers and outdoor enthusiasts thanks to jagged limestone turrets, mile-deep canyons and unexplored subterranean caves. Yet it’s surprisingly underexplored. Find isolated yet welcoming villages, fabulous food and the chance to see plenty of wildlife, from chamois goats and bearded vultures to Iberian wolves – and even brown bears.
Roland Cherry, on our wildlife and walking vacation in the Spanish Pyrenees: “We were blown away by the scenery of the Spanish Pyrenees. One highlight was a private vulture viewing: 80 griffin vultures, two Egyptian vultures and nine Lammergeiers. They circled high up above the mountains, scanning the ground below with their keen eyes for the next meal. It was a remarkable sight to behold.”
The PyreneesThe Spanish Pyrenees will leave walkers breathless – and not just because of the steep mountain terrain. There’s beauty everywhere you look, including the lush Basque foothills of the west, medieval villages, glacial lakes and cliffside monasteries. The mountains are also ripe for outdoor adventures. There’s world-class biking, hiking, climbing, kayaking and rafting, with winter bringing access to hidden snowshoe trails.
Seville proudly flaunts just about every Spanish cliché – but it’s for real. The whitewashed Moorish buildings, streets fragranced with orange blossom, the exquisite Alcazar palace, the sounds of flamenco tapping down from wrought iron balconies, tapas bars on every narrow street corner, and year-round sunshine. It’s sultry, seductive and super Spanish.
...and what not to do
Best time to go
How long is needed to see Spain?
In a week
With just a week to spare, it’s best to stick to one region. Decide what you’d most like to do and find out where it’s best to do it. For example, you could brush up on your Spanish on a walking vacation in the Picos de Europa, practise yoga in Valencia, or cycle your way around Catalonia, sampling fantastic local produce along the way. Prefer something less energetic? How about a painting vacation in Andalucia or chilling at a beach house in Lanzarote?
In two weeks
With a couple of weeks to spare, you could explore in greater depth, perhaps experiencing the best of northern Spain on a self drive tour or walking part of the legendary Camino de Santiago. Alternatively, cover more ground on a small group exploration of Spain or travel the country in search of wildlife.
Three weeks or more
This is where you get to embark on some serious adventures such as spotting whales and dolphins, visiting the Alhambra, and exploring mainland Europe’s only desert on a three-week walking and driving tour of Andalucia. If you’re up for a serious challenge, then how about three weeks spent punishing your thighs on a cycling tour of the Camino de Santiago? Or combine Spain with a neighbouring country or two – perhaps traveling overland from Madrid to Marrakech.
More about Spain
Spain holds a rich variety of landscapes which will no doubt have an effect on the best time to visit Spain where personal interests are concerned.
Our Spain travel guide includes everything from a brief history of Spain to food, shopping & people to help you travel like a local on your Spain vacation.
Check out our interactive highlights map detailing our favourite places to visit in Spain as well as information on travel times between larger cities such as Barcelona and Madrid.
Our top activities in Spain take you off, or on, the beaten track and range from cycling and languages to a trek on the Camino de Santiago.
Areas like the Altiplano de Granada and Sierra de Castril mountains will make you forget days by the pool, offering everything from hiking and biking to canyoning.
Unlock the secrets of Spain as you walk the country’s mountainous interior and wonderfully wild coastlines, discovering an authentic slice of Spanish life, with not a parasol in sight.
Catalonia packs a world of landscapes into one region, from 3,000m snow-capped Pyrenean peaks, to the warm turquoise waters of the Mediterranean.
Rich with influences from Moorish, Roman, Greek, Phoenician and Byzantine civilisations, Andalucía is one of the most diverse and fascinating regions of Spain.
You’ll have a wild and wonderful walking vacation in the Picos de Europa, where small group and tailor made trips get your adrenalin pumping against the most bucolic of backdrops.
Yoga vacations in Spain rejuvenate the senses with a combination of Pilates, language lessons and guided meditation adding to the joys of year round warmth and sensational Spanish cuisine.
Leave the tourist trails on two wheels and see a side of the country far removed from the costas and the big smoke.
Winter vacations in Spain don’t necessarily mean sun-seeking along the coast. Instead, look upwards, to the mountainous magnificence of the Sierra Nevada and the Spanish Pyrenees.
Our top six small ship cruising vacations in Spain unlock the Moorish heritage of the Iberian Peninsula, as well as providing safe passage to the ports of Portugal, Morocco, France and the Netherlands.
From the sites of spaghetti westerns to whitewater rafting, we know what to do with little ones so all you have to do is pack and go.
We value tips from our friends in Spain really highly so read on for recommendations from the experts and from travelers who have been there.
Travel right in Spain and you’ll quickly discover why the brain drain, dolphinaria, bull fighting and corruption in the construction industry are all worth researching.
Find all of our Spain guides in one place, from guides to Andalucia, Valencia or the Canary Islands to advice on activity vacations including walking and cycling.