From rocky volcanic coasts to medieval city charm, driving in Spain can be an absolute joy. After years on the road as a travel writer and resident, I bring you the best road trips in Spain, plus the ultimate Spanish road trip itinerary. Bucket lists at the ready? Let's go! Updated 2021.
THE BEST ROAD TRIPS IN SPAIN
If walking is one of the best ways to see a city, then driving is one of the best ways to see a country. Driving in Spain has brought me deep, deep joy, rising through the red dust of Andalusia and plunging through the deep green of Galicia.
You can find the separate road trip itineraries through Spain dotted throughout the article, but this article focuses on the best road trips in Spain.
TRAVEL SPAIN BY CAR
We start with the ultimate Spain road trip itinerary, taking in the mainland for first time visitors. But don't forget Spain's islands, not to mention delving deeper into the regions to find a richer, more authentic experience when you have more time.
Whether you call it fly-drive, self drive or want someone else to help you travel Spain by car, this is the collection of the best road trips in Spain.
The Ultimate Spain Road Trip Itinerary
If all you have is two weeks, then this is the best Spain road trip itinerary for you. This two week self-drive Spain itinerary brings you the highlights of the country at a reasonable, but not relaxed, pace.
However, I'd always advise that you take is slow if you can. It's far more enjoyable to spend more time out of the car than in. With that in mind, check out some of the other regional road trip ideas below.
Of all the places in the world, Spain is disinclined to rush. People here like to take their time and savour the joys of everyday life. Racing to fit your busy schedule does not usually rank highly in that regard.
The Ultimate Spain Road Trip Itinerary At a Glance
- Day 1: Arrive Barcelona
- Day 2: Barcelona
- Day 3: Girona and the Pyrenees
- Day 4: Valencia
- Day 5: Valencia to Madrid
- Day 6: Madrid
- Day 7: Madrid to Toledo
- Day 8: Toledo to Granada
- Day 9: Granada and the Alhambra
- Day 10: Alpujarras Mountains
- Day 11: Seville via Cordoba
- Day 12: Seville
- Day 13: Cadiz via Doñana National Park
- Day 14: Malaga to fly home
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!
Southern Spain Road Trip Through Andalusia
A road trip through Andalusia, Spain's biggest region, unsurprisingly covers a lot of ground. This passionate place is the home of flamenco, jamon and sherry, as well as staggering, world-renowned monuments.
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 road trip through Spain 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.
Andalusia Road Trip Itinerary At a Glance
- Day 1: Arrive Malaga.
- Day 2: Drive to Cadiz
- Day 3: Cadiz to Seville via Doñana National Park
- Day 4: Seville
- Day 5: Seville to Granada via Cordoba
- Day 6: Granada & Alpujarras Mountains
- Day 7: Back to Malaga to fly home.
- Malaga is the biggest international airport but you can also fly into Seville and Granada with relative ease.
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 instead.
Northern Spain Road Trip Itinerary
Prepare to be surprised when you find out what makes this one of the best road trips in Spain.
The northern area of Spain swaps dry plains for rocky coves, and bull rings for lighthouses and salt marshes amid the green. Famed for its seafood and as the finishing point for the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route, this northern Spain road trip itinerary will show you a different side of the country.
- Want more detail? Explore this Galicia road trip itinerary.
Northern Spain Road Trip Itinerary At a Glance
- Day 1: Arrive San Sebastian
- Day 2: San Sebastian to Bilbao
- Day 3: Bilbao to Aviles
- Day 4: Aviles to A Coruña
- Day 5: A Coruña to Santiago de Compostela
- Day 6: Santiago de Compostela to Vigo
- Day 7: Back to San Sebastian to fly home
Recommended reading: Road Trip Galicia, Spain; The Undiscovered Northern Coast
Road Trip Through 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.
Driving through Spain takes on new and heady heights when you're bounding over black volcanic stones and watching the clouds appear beneath you. This is one of the best road trips in Spain because it is also one of the most beautiful.
It's also easy to combine with staying in one place and organising a series of day trips around the island. So if packing and unpacking on a road trip becomes a chore for you, try this instead.
Road Trip Through Tenerife at a Glance
- Day 1: Arrive and stay in UNESCO World Heritage La Laguna
- Day 2: Drive El Teide Volcano
- Day 3: Los Gigantes for a whale watching excursion
- Day 4: Hiking in Anaga National Park
- Day 5: Orotava, Icod de los Vinos and Garachico
- Day 6: Pyramids of Guimar
- Day 7: Explore La Laguna and fly home
Road Trip Through Catalonia (Catalunya)
Barcelona is the most famous part of Catalunya but to see more of the Catalan character, get behind the wheel and enjoy one of the best road trips in Spain.
Travel by car in Spain to discover the curious city of Girona, the sandy coast of Costa Brava and the smoky peaks of the Pyrenees.
Costa Brava offers volcanoes, sleepy coves and some of the best restaurants in the world. That's not a boast. That's actually a validated claim (read more about that here.)
You'll also find flamboyant artwork from local household name Salvador Dalí, a great spot for a hot air balloon ride and a renewed appreciation for the difference between Catalan and Castilian Spanish.
Road Trip from Barcelona At a Glance
- Day 1: Arrive Barcelona
- Day 2: Barcelona
- Day 3: Barcelona to Girona
- Day 4: Figueres and Cadaques
- Day 5: Garrotxa Natural Park
- Day 6: Tarragona
- Day 7: Return Barcelona to fly home
Road Trip Through Central Spain
Treat yourself to a literary, gastronomic and thoroughly authentic journey through this central part of Spain, the region of Castilla La Mancha. It's one of the best road trips in Spain for hidden gems and a sense of exploration.
Take in Toledo, the former capital and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Search the hills for the windmills made famous by Don Quixote. Hike through one of the best bird reserves in the country. And relish taking your time amid small Spanish villages, far from the crowds.
Road Trip Through Central Spain at a Glance
- Day 1: Arrive Madrid
- Day 2: Madrid
- Day 3: Madrid to Toledo
- Day 4: Toledo
- Day 5: Don Quixote Countryside
- Day 6: Hike through the Tablas de Daimiel
- Day 7: Return Madrid to fly home
Driving the Balearic Islands
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.
Road Trip Along 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 as part of a road trip through Andalusia.
Road Trip Through the East Coast of Spain At a Glance
- Day 1: Arrive Barcelona
- Day 2: Barcelona and Girona
- Day 3: Valencia via Tarragona
- Day 4: Valencia
- Day 5: Alicante and the Costa Blanca
- Day 6: Almeria and Cabo de Gata
- Day 7: Back to Barcelona to fly home (or to Malaga)
Road Trip Across 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.
Road Trip Around Galicia at a Glance
- Day 1: Arrive La Coruña
- Day 2: Pontedeume and Redes
- Day 3: Porto do Barqueiro & Viveiro
- Day 4: Praia das Catedrais
- Day 5: Torre de Hercules Lighthouse & home
Road Trip Around the 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.
Road Trip Through the Basque Country at a Glance
- Day 1: Arrive Bilbao
- Day 2: Bilbao
- Day 3: Bilbao to Logroño via Pamplona
- Day 4: Logroño to San Sebastian
- Day 5: San Sebastian
- Day 6: Hiking in Getaria
- Day 7: Back to Bilbao to fly home
What to know if you travel Spain by car
Cars drive on the right and you'll need a full and valid driving license.
Tips for Spain Road Trip Itineraries
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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.
Highlights of Driving in Spain
Travel Spain by car and you'll find all the following benefits.
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.
What is the best way to travel across Spain? Road trip or by train?
Great question. And the answer is: it depends.
Driving through Spain is an absolute joy, once you are out of the cities. Road tripping through Spain allows you to reach hidden villages and hike through unspoilt landscapes. It also makes life much easier if you are travelling with your children.
If you mainly wish to city hop between the big cities like Madrid, Barcelona and Seville, then the train is the better option. If you want to get off the beaten track and explore, go for a road trip.
Tools & Planners for the Best Road Trips in Spain
Also, check out our road trip planning series on YouTube: