A hand-picked collection of the best road trips in Spain. Choose the one that's right for you and enjoy driving through this astonishingly diverse country.
THE BEST ROAD TRIPS IN SPAIN
Driving in Spain is a real joy provided you can handle the cities. This list of the best road trips in Spain gathers together my personal and professional experiences of driving through the Iberian peninsula to help you plan your fly-drive journey. There are so many unusual and beautiful things to do in Spain that you can't do it all in one go.
Instead, enjoy this collection of fly drive itineraries and enjoy your Spanish road trip.
1 - THE ULTIMATE SPANISH ROAD TRIP
This two week Spanish road trip picks up the highlights of the country. It's a challenge, and I'd always recommend you should go slow if you can.
However, if you don't live in Europe and this is your one and only chance to visit Spain then here's a Spanish highlights itinerary you can drive yourself.
But wherever possible, slow down and choose one of the others instead! Of all the places in the world, Spain is no place to rush. This itinerary will keep you busy - but you'll see some absolute beauty.
The Spain Road Trip Itinerary
- Day 1 - Barcelona
- Days 2 - 3 - Girona and the Pyrenees
- Days 4 - 6 Valencia
- Days 7 - 9 - Granada, Cordoba, Seville
- Days 10 - 14 - Madrid and Toledo
Historical city centres in Spain were designed for pedestrians and, at a stretch, horses. They were not designed for cars! Be careful when following SatNav instructions into steep, old towns. You can find yourself unable to make some tight turns and then somehow need to reverse backwards down a narrow road. Stick to the main roads in town!
2 - SOUTHERN SPAIN ROAD TRIP
Fiery and passionate Andalusia covers a lot of ground and a lot of landscape. Malaga is the biggest international airport but you can also fly into Seville and Granada with relative ease.
You can easily fill two weeks with UNESCO World Heritage Sites like the Alhambra in Granada, the Real Alcazar in Seville and the unbeatable mosque turned cathedral in Cordoba.
But a self-drive plan allows you to visit off the radar places and explore local traditions like joining the olive oil harvest in the mountains. From the beaches to the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada, driving through Andalusia really is one of the best road trips in Spain.
How about the Madrid to Seville drive?
With so many international flights arriving in Madrid, you may be wondering whether or not you should drive from Madrid to Seville or take the train instead.
A Madrid-Seville Road Trip can pass through many off the beaten path destinations, like Zafra and Merida, but in my opinion, it's not one of Spain's best road trips.
If you are short on time, I'd highly recommend taking the extremely fast and efficient Madrid-Seville train and then picking up your rental car in Seville to tour Andalusia.
It's also possible to drive from Madrid to Granada by car, swerving up and down the Alpujarras Mountains, but again, I'd suggest picking up your wheels in Andalusia.
3 - NORTHERN SPAIN ROAD TRIP
This northern area of Spain swaps dry plains for rocky coves, lighthouses and saltmarshes amid the green. Famed for its seafood and the finishing point for the Santiago de Compostela, here you can't help but find an authentic side of Spain. This two week road trip itinerary is a combination of the two seven day road trips: the Galician Road Trip and Basque Country Road Trip.
Recommended reading: Road Trip Galicia, Spain; The Undiscovered Northern Coast
4 - Tenerife (CANARY ISLANDS)
As the largest Canary Island off the northwest coast of Africa, Tenerife is famous for its fly and flop beach holidays. But there are so many unusual things to do in Tenerife, from UNESCO World Heritage cities like Laguna to primitive biosphere reserves in Anaga. It's a hiking paradise and if tight turns and steep roads don't phase you, a great wild landscape awaits.
5 - CATALONIA / CATALUNYA
Barcelona is beautiful but I wouldn't be the first to notice that, well, other people have noticed too. Overtourism is a growing problem for this classical Catalan city with the Sagrada Familia, yet the biggest shame is that it is surrounded by amazing places to visit.
It's easy to travel to Girona by train, for example, but hire a car and you can explore the sandy coast by morning and hit up the mountains in the afternoon.
You can even visit a corner of France, completely surrounded by Spain. The area around Costa Brava offers volcanoes, sleepy coves and some of the best restaurants in the world. That's not a boast. That's a validated claim!
6 - CENTRAL SPAIN
While it would be madness to take a car into Madrid for no reason, pick one up at the airport and treat yourself to a literary, gastronomic and thoroughly authentic journey through this central part of Spain, the region of Castilla La Mancha.
7 - MALLORCA OR MENORCA
One of the best road trips in Spain involves flying to one of her smaller islands and taking a laid back approach to plans and itineraries all together. Mallorca and Menorca are the two main Balearic Islands and each has a distinctive character. Mallorca has party spots, UNESCO World Heritage and wild hiking routes. Menorca specialises more in family beaches, quiet streets, small towns and an awful lot of gin.
Set yourself up with one home base for a week and take a series of day trips to explore either island.
8 - SPAIN'S EAST MEDITERRANEAN COAST
Drive from Barcelona to Valencia to experience two of Spain's most interesting cities and her sparkling coastline as well. Find the Roman amphitheatre at Tarragona and the rice fields that gave us paella outside Valencia. If you have more than one week to ten days, continue south to the Moorish fortress in Amería.
9 - GALICIA
Decked out in deep green hues and bursting with salty seafood, a road trip through Galicia provides a completely different experience of Spain.
With a coastline more reminiscent of the rugged, craggy inlets of Ireland than the white sand of the south, it's no surprise that Galicia offers seafood to make even the uncertain smile. Expect lighthouses, green fields, great walking routes and great food.
10 - BASQUE COUNTRY
Link up San Sebastián, Bilbao and Santander for an epic road trip through Spain's Basque country. Taste arguably the best food in the country in the pintxos bars in San Seb and take in the curls and swirls of the Guggenheim in Bilbao.
Add in secluded coastal curves and surprise museums, like the Balenciaga museum in Getaria, and you will find yourself with an unforgettable Spanish Road Trip.
TRAVEL TIPS FOR ROAD TRIPS IN SPAIN
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Typically, it's best to pick up a vehicle at at the airport unless you have your heart set on exploring an historic city centre first. Bring your full driving license and book in advance. I'd highly recommend booking your car rental through Hertz.
Planning in Detail
I rely on the AA Route Planner to give me times and directions in Spain. Make sure you check for:
- Tolls (or factor them into your budget anyway)
What You Need to Drive in Spain
For a robust rundown of what you need to drive in Spain head to the Government website. From here you can check the latest recommendations and legal requirements, including information on an international driving permit.
Many smaller, boutique hotels in the centre of cities will not have parking options. It's best to either park on the outskirts of town and walk in (in some places, such as Seville, taxis will struggle to get in as well) or if that's too difficult for you then book a hotel on the outskirts of town and use their transport to travel in.
Driving in Spain
Cars drive on the right and you'll need a full and valid driving license.
While the big cities can get the pulse racing, for the most part, driving in Spain is a beautiful experience. Here are five reasons why:
1) THE ROADS ARE EMPTY
Outside the main cities that is. Gleaming wide main roads covered with smooth tarmac are the rule rather than the exception. Drive from Granada to Seville or Segovia to Merida and you’ll hardly see another car for miles.
2) THE SCENERY IS STUNNING
Low swirling mist rising over olive groves, intense sunshine hugging the contours of rust-red rock. Sparkling coastlines and white-washed towns with church towers spiking out of scorched plains. The green cloaked mountains of Galicia, the almond-scented mountains of Alpujarras and the Catalan curves of the eastern Pyrenees. Unlike driving in some countries, these views are visible from the windscreen of the car – you don’t have to wait until you park and get away from the roads.
3) GIANT BULLS ON THE HORIZON
Not real ones, of course. But building-sized, black, one-dimensional bull cutouts. Apparently, these first appeared as part of an advertising campaign for sherry. They were due to be removed until people clamoured for them to stay. Now, they add to the fun, as you never quite know when the next one will appear.
4) FRESH TAPAS AT SERVICE STATIONS
Forget about crisps, biscuits and overpriced coffee. Most petrol stations along the road in Spain are family run affairs with a chef on site. Coffee costs less than a euro while a plateful of patatas bravas, chocos, gambas or more is only a few minutes away. And if you’re feeling too hot? Try refreshing gazpacho instead.
5) FREEDOM AND GETTING OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
For reasons I’ll never quite understand, Spain has a reputation as a sand-and-sea destination and that’s about it. Visitors tend to cling to the coast and never realise just what they’re missing. Hiring a car and hitting the roads is the first step towards fixing that. Stop off in one of Andalucia’s pueblos blancos, for example, and you’ll probably be the only foreigner in town.
And that’s just for starters.