A road trip around Spain is an excellent way to explore the country’s unique natural and cultural heritage as well as savor its delectable cuisine at every pit stop.
On the road, you’ll be awestruck by medieval castles and ancient cities, charming seaside towns, towering mountain ranges and coastlines that stretch for miles. And Spain’s pueblos (villages) offer a great respite to recharge with traditional tapas (small plates) among warm locals.
Get into gear with these five outstanding driving routes to inspire your Spanish road trip itinerary.
1. Castilla y León road trip
Great road trip for medieval-era castles and churches
Madrid – Salamanca; approx 165 miles (265km); allow 2 days
Walled medieval cities, fortified castles, Romanesque architecture, Gothic cathedrals and Unesco World Heritage sites — this central Spain road trip takes you across plateaus with the dramatic backdrop of the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range and into some of Spain’s most outstanding historic towns in the Castilla and León region.
Departing from Madrid, the first stop just over an hour away is Segovia, famous for its magnificent Roman aqueduct, Gothic cathedral and the 12th-century Alcázar of Segovia castle.
The next stop is the medieval-era walled town of Ávila, “the town of Stones and Saints”, known for having the most Gothic and Romanesque churches in Spain. Spend a day walking its cobblestone streets and visit the El Salvador Cathedral, San Vicente Basilica, and the Convent/ Museum of Saint Teresa, the town’s iconic saint.
End your road trip in the charming university town of Salamanca, known as “La Cuidad de Oro” (“The Golden City”) because its honey-colored sandstone walls glow with infinite golden hues in the late afternoon light.
Local tip: It’s hot and sunny here in summer, but in winter it can get cold. The climate is relatively dry, even in winter, so it doesn’t snow very often but temperatures can drop below zero overnight. Pack for a proper winter.
2. Costa Brava road trip
Best road trip for Catalonia’s art and history
Barcelona – Cadaqués; approx 153 miles (246km); allow 3-4 days
Spain is blessed with over 3000 miles of coastline, and one of the country’s most spectacular stretches is the Costa Brava along the Mediterranean on the northeastern coast. This drive will reward you with long, sunlit beaches, historic cities and picturesque fishing villages that inspired the region’s most famous artist, Salvador Dalí.
Start in Barcelona. For spectacular scenery, take the GI-682 road from Tossa de Mar to Sant Feliu de Guíxols, where there are designated viewpoints to stop at. Detour from the coastline for a pitstop at the ancient city of Girona. Visit the city’s iconic cathedral, featuring one of the widest Gothic naves in the world, and the archaeological treasures at Banys Àrabs (Arab Baths).
Art lovers will not want to miss the famous “Dalinian Triangle” formed by the municipalities of Figueres, Portlligat and Púbol, where you can immerse yourself in Salvador Dalí’s outlandish world in his former residences, now open to the public.
The road trip ends at the quaint seaside town of Cadaqués on the bay of the Cap de Creus peninsula. This was a favorite summer playground of iconic artists and writers, including Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Daphne Guinness, Man Ray, Frederico Garcia Lorca, Amanda Lear, Walt Disney, Melina Mecouri and Marcel Duchamp, among many others.
Local tip: Girona’s El Celler de Can Roca has been named the world’s best restaurant numerous times over the years, and it takes bookings up to a year ahead. So what are you waiting for? Get those reservations in now.
3. Northern Spain road trip
Best road trip along Spain’s Atlantic coast
San Sebastián – Santiago de Compostela; approx 466 miles (750km); allow 6-7 days
Because the north of Spain sees more rainfall than the rest of the country, its landscape has some of the most verdant green spaces. You’ll be treated to a visual feast of lush hillsides, snow-capped mountain peaks and Atlantic Ocean views. This road trip will take you across four autonomous communities of Spain, departing from the Basque Country and crossing Cantabria, Asturias and ending in Galicia.
A great jump-off point is the gastronomic coastal city of San Sebastián, which has the greatest concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants per square meter in Europe. It would be ideal to spend a day or two here to explore the city’s Parte Vieja (Old Quarter), and savor the endless array of pintxos (appetizers) tempting you at every turn.
Not too far away is the Basque islet of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, which has become world-famous as the film location of Dragonstone in the Game of Thrones TV series. This breathtaking rocky precipice juts out into the Bay of Biscay, connected to the mainland by a long, winding stone staircase. A small chapel crowns the islet which has a bell at its facade — tradition calls for visitors to ring the bell three times and make a wish.
Stretch out your legs on the spectacular golden sand beach, Playa del Sardinero, in the port town and Cantabrian capital of Santander. The oceanfront Magdalena Palace was built in the early 1900s as a summer residence for the royal family.
There are dramatic views of the Picos de Europa mountain range as you drive onwards into the region of Asturias. Stop by Oviedo to explore the charming old town and try the traditional fabada asturiana bean stew. Finally, join pilgrims from all over the world in Santiago de Compostela, the final destination of the thousand-year-old pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James), where you could visit the Basilica of Santiago de Compostela, the reputed final resting place of St. James the Apostle.
Planning tip: You can hire a silla infantil (car seat) from most car-hire firms for an additional cost. You should always book these in advance, especially around holidays like Christmas and Holy Week (when getting a car hire can also be a challenge).
4. Andalucia road trip
Best road trip for Spain’s Moorish past
Malaga– Seville; approx 293 miles (472km); allow 5 days
Andalucia in southern Spain is the only European region that has both Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines, linked by the Strait of Gibraltar. A drive through this fascinating region takes you along the Costa del Sol.
Start in the sunlit coastal city of Malaga, and enjoy stunning views of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Head for the enchanting cities of Granada and Cordoba, legacies of the Muslim dynasties that once ruled Spain until the 15th century.
Granada is home to the Alhambra palace, the ancient fortress and citadel of the Nasrid Dynasty that showcases Moorish and Christian decorative styles. The same entrance ticket will get you into the nearby Palacio de Generalife, a summer palace for the ancient Nasrid sultans.
Córdoba is a captivating city that is home to the La Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba (the Córdoba Mosque), the city’s shining jewel which alongside the Alhambra is one of the most emblematic monuments showcasing Islamic architecture. It was built over the remains of a 6th-century Visigothic cathedral by Abderramán, the Emir of Córdoba of the ruling Umayyad dynasty back in 786.
Stay a few days in the Andalusian capital of Seville to explore its idiosyncratic dreamscape composed of horse-drawn carriages, citrus trees, colossal Gothic cathedrals, Mudéjar (Moorish) architecture and flamenco tablaos (flamenco performances).
5. Ibiza road trip
Best road trip for coves and beaches
Ibiza Town – Cala d’Hort; approx 22 miles (35km); allow 1-2 days
Renting a car in Ibiza is the best way to explore the island’s stunning calas or coves, and will save time and expensive taxi fares. While Ibiza has a reputation as a 24/7 party destination, its timeless allure lies more in its natural attractions — rugged cliffs, turquoise-colored waters, and ancient archaeological sites.
Starting from Ibiza Town, drive over to Ses Salines beach at the southern tip of the island, just about 10 minutes away, to get a taste of glamorous beach life. It’s not uncommon to spot celebrities soaking up the sun or enjoying cocktails in one of the many beachside bars and restaurants.
A fascinating contrast awaits at Sa Caleta (Es Bol Nou), a more secluded beach tucked between rugged red cliffs. Take some time to hike up the ancient Phoenician civilization World Heritage site of Sa Caleta ruins, and pause for some fresh seafood at the cala’s restaurant, with its shady Mediterranean garden bar.
End your drive at Ibiza’s emblematic Cala d’Hort, featuring the mythical Es Vedrà island that rises 382m from the glittering Balearic waters. Everything from UFOs to the Virgin Mary have reportedly been seen on this island, giving it its legendary status. It’s a spellbinding sight at any time of the day, but viewing it for the first time at sunset is a transcendental experience.
Local tip: The Balearic Islands, including Ibiza, are pushing forward long-term projects to transform tourism into a more sustainable and less seasonal industry. Check out Illes Sostenible and Ibiza Sostenible for information on ways you can get involved from “plogging” to restoring corals.