Updated: Oct 3
Ever since my family bought an apartment in Spain, it seems more people are coming to me about how to start planning their first trip to Spain. Spain is putting itself on the map as more than a destination for studying abroad or retired couples seeking sunshine - it's a family destination. Here's some of my tips for planning out your itinerary and getting some of those creative planning juices flowing.
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1) Don't plan too much for your first trip to Spain
Everyone wants to see everything - Barcelona, Granada, Malaga, Madrid and maybe even Mallorca or Ibiza while they're at it.
Here's the thing - it's too much. Too many train rides, too many days of travel, too much go go go. These are the classic spots that everyone wants to hit, so no wonder it's such a coveted itinerary! The problem is, it's like flying into New York, visiting Miami, then going to California and eventually flying out of Denver (I'm exaggerating a bit, but you get the idea).
A few things to consider:
1) Days one and two are shot - day one is your fly to Europe day and day 2 is 'what time zone am I in' day, where all you want to do is stop moving
2) Every day you spend traveling is less time enjoying a destination
3) Every train ride, cheap plane ticket or one-way car rental fee is more $$ on top of the bottom dollar.
I recommend immersing yourself in one place at a time. Visit the local markets, enjoy some long lingering meals, and root yourself in two or three cities or one general region.
2) Focus In On One Region
Keep it easy on yourself. Don't spend the whole time trying to get from point A to point B. You'll find that whatever you are looking for can likely be found all in one place. This article primarily focuses on Aragon (near Zaragoza, between Madrid and Barcelona), but it's one example of how a region hosts many many options that you don't necessarily need to bounce all over the country to see.
Here's a couple general itinerary ideas:
1) When in Barcelona:
Rent a car and check out the beach towns like Tossa de Mar
2) When in Madrid:
Visit Segovia, Avila, Toledo, etc. by train or car
3) Granada and Southern Spain: rent a car and work your way round trip Madrid
3) Go To Wine Country
Wineries - they are everywhere. Focus on the areas near Aragon including Rioja, Campo de Borja, Carinena, Navarre and Somontano.
4) See Some History
See castles (Olite) and medieval villages (Alquezar, Segovia, Toledo), see a ghost town from the Spanish Civil War (Belchite), monasteries and so on. These literally dot the map all over Spain. Use some good Google Searches to get you going. Be sure to reserve winery tours online or by email in advance.
5) Stay at a Parador
These are basically government owned castles all over the country that you can stay in for the night. Stunning in architecture, come for the historic vibes and stay for the fancy dinner. You can find these online at Booking.com or Paradores.es.
6) Check Out Some Nature
I recommend Monasterio de Piedra near Calatayud. Pair this amazing day of hiking and waterfalls with a stay at the Monastery hotel or with a wine tour and an overnight in Calatayud. Have you noticed I really like enotourism?
7) Visit Basque Country
Like an alien nation with its own wild language and weird cuisine, you'll find plenty to do from castles to beach days, tapas crawls and cider houses. This makes the list because it is so often overlooked.
San Sebastian is known as a foodie capital and a gorgeous oceanfront one at that. Soak in some scenery and go for a tapas crawl. Check out nearby Bilbao or Hondaribbia while you're at it.
8) Follow the Footsteps of Spain's Famous Artists
Goya, Dali, Velazquez, Picasso...museums are plentiful and you can visit the towns they grew up in.
9) Catch a Futbol Game
That's soccer for Americans ;-)