Let’s go to Spain or vamos a España, as the locals would say! Spain is every traveler’s dream destination. Great food, sultry culture, amazing history and scenery so diverse you’ll think you’re in a different country.
One day you could be hiking through the snowy mountains of Picos de Europe in the north and the next day you’re sipping absinthe in a dingy old bar in Barcelona that used to be frequented by Hemingway.
Take a road trip along the northern coast, explore medieval towns and eat your way through absolutely every dish that gets put in front of you!
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For a summer vacation, there’s no shortage of European beach destinations to soak up the sun. From the Greek Isles to the French riviera, there are a plethora of quiet towns and bustling seaside cities for your getaway. But for us, there’s nothing like the beaches in Spain. Perhaps it’s the custom of an afternoon siesta or the promise of cold sangria at every beachside cafe, but we think Spain is the perfect spot for a beach holiday. To help narrow down your choices, though, we’ve chosen our favorite top 5 best Spanish beach holidays.
We’ll admit, Ibiza is not for everyone. This incredibly iconic party island is expensive, loud and crowded. But if you’re looking to party till sunrise (and way past it), then this is your island. With some of the world’s best clubs attracting the world’s best DJs and musicians, you’ll find yourself with plenty of options for nightlife. And if you do need a day away from the madness, there are plenty of things to do in Ibiza besides partying.
You can rent a car in Ibiza to get outside the tourist zone and see some of the quieter and less touristy attractions. Check out the museums for a slice of the local culture or one of the many restaurants in Ibiza town. And if you just want to zone out for a couple hours, find one of the secluded beaches perfect for a nap before the party starts again.
One of Spain’s beautiful Baearic islands in the Mediterranean, Menorca is a good alternative to it’s busy neighboring islands of Ibiza and Mallorca. Much less party-centric than its neighbors, this island is popular with families on holiday. The calm waters on many of its beaches lend well to slow afternoons lazing about on the warm sand, occasionally dipping a toe in the clear blue waves. Cala Macarella and Macarelleta are two favorite beaches known for their soft white sand and picturesque views.
For something a little more off the beaten track, the islands of the Galician coast in Northwest Spain offer a quieter, but equally beautiful set of beaches. The Cies Islands are known as the “Galician Caribbean” for their white sand and turquoise waters, but don’t expect the same warm water of the Caribbean – it’s still the chilly Atlantic. And if you need a break from the beach, there are plenty of mountains and lakes perfect for hiking in the area.
Monsul in Spain’s southern state of Andalusia is located in the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Nature Park. This land was protected by its owner, an environmentalist who passed away in 2014. The park is still protected from development and it’s no wonder why. It’s dramatic landscape filled with sand dunes and volcanic rock gives way to pristine beach. Monsul was dubbed “the best beach in Spain’’ by Steven Spielberg when he filmed an iconic scene from Indiana Jones here. Today the beach is popular with locals and travelers who have done a little research to get off the beaten track.
This stunning beach in northern Spain is located in Pais Vasco, or Basque Country. The Basque have their own language, food and culture, and it is absolutely worth visiting to experience all three. In addition to this, it has one of the most gorgeous coastlines we’ve ever seen. San Sebastian is a big city on the water with plenty to do. You can stroll the waterfront and then spend the afternoon eating and shopping in the city. But don’t stop at just San Sebastian. We recommend road tripping the whole Northern coast to explore lesser known gems like Zarautz, a lovely little beach town just 15 mins from the city.
Ibiza, Spain is world-renowned for its party scene, but this little island in the Mediterranean offers plenty to do apart from its nightlife. Here are a few ways to get off the beaten path and explore the culture, history, and tranquility of Ibiza.
Ibiza has several UNESCO World Heritage sites, so there is plenty for history lovers to explore. While you’re in Ibiza Town, enjoy its rich cultural heritage by exploring the 16th century fort that guards the city from above. Be prepared to do some climbing and walking around winding streets, and you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views from the top. If you’re looking for a place to stay that takes advantage of these views, one of the best boutique hotels in Ibiza is located within the old town section of Dalt Villa. Also be sure to check out the nearby ancient tombs at Puig des Molins, which is one of the best Phoenician burial grounds in the world.
If you’re more interested in the culture of Ibiza today, you can visit the Museum of Contemporary Art, a small but beautiful building that’s juxtaposed against the backdrop of the old city. The museum features art from Ibiza, other Balearic islands, and around the world.
Another great way to enjoy Ibiza’s culture is through its food. Ibiza Town has plenty of restaurants and markets to choose from, but there’s no better way to get acquainted with the food scene than by hearing from a local. Take a food tour to taste some of the island’s best food and hear the stories behind the dishes at the same time.
When you’re ready to get away from the crowds and nightlife, there are plenty of options to get you off the beaten tourist track. Most destinations are easily accessible within an hour’s drive from Ibiza Town. Whether you make Ibiza Town your home base and take day trips around the island, or whether you want more time to enjoy the tranquility of smaller towns, hiring a car in Ibiza will make it easy to explore on your own schedule.
In Santa Eularia d’es Riu on the southern part of the island, you can climb the hill to walk around a beautiful whitewashed church that overlooks the seaside town. The church, which is an important landmark in the area, was fortified in the 16th century due to pirate attacks. It was later extended and still holds services today. You can visit the nearby Can Ros ethonological museum for more insight into the history of the island. There is also a nearby house museum that holds works of the painter Barcelona Laureà Barrau i Buñol.
Traveling to Spain? Don’t miss our Spain Road Trip Guide for everything art, culture, food and must see sights!
Nature & The Outdoors
When you’re ready to enjoy nature, going underground is a great way to do it. The caverns in Sant Miquel are not only geologically fascinating, but were also once used as a hideout for smugglers. You may want to make a day of it in Sant Miquel and hit the beach. Whether you want to enjoy water sports, a walk up the pine-covered hill for a nice view, or just a relaxing day at a small beach, Puerto de San Miguel Beach is a nice option.
For those who crave more space to explore the shores, classic beachy vibes, and a great sunset location, head to Cala Conta Beach (Platja de Comte). Cala Conta is one of the best beaches on Ibiza, and the shallow water makes it a relaxing place to swim. The downside is that this beach gets crowded during the high season, so it’s not the place to go if you want to be alone. If you want a quieter place for a sunset or to enjoy a scenic overlook from the rocky cliffs, head to the nearby Mirador Punta Roja.
Ibiza also has some unusual attractions to explore. What used to be a rock quarry is now a somewhat hidden beach, and it’s aptly named Atlantis. Finding it in the first place and making the trek down the steep cliff may be equally challenging, but what you’ll find once you arrive is worth it.
Another interesting attraction in Ibiza is what locals have nicknamed Stonehenge. But this cropping of stone columns isn’t a prehistoric monument–it’s a contemporary art sculpture called Time and Space that was commissioned by the founder of Cirque du Soleil and created by Australian artist Andrew Rogers. The mystical Island of Es Vedra is seen in the distance from the cliffs where Time and Space is located, and a view of the island was incorporated into the design of the art installation.
Ibiza isn’t just for the partygoers–it’s a great option for anyone looking for a beautiful island escape.
Picture this… you’re cruising along the northern coast of Spain, windows down, sea breeze whipping through your hair and your favorite tunes blasting from the speakers. Up ahead in the distance you spot an awesome viewpoint. Jagged rocks jut out from the shoreline; crystal clear water splashes upon the beach and the sun is shining. This is a clear sign that you need to stop and car, take a break and absorb all of the beauty around you!
This experience is just one of many Jules and I found while on a 3 week road trip through northern Spain. We started our road trip in Madrid, cruised up and along the northern coast, took a couple pit stops in southern France & Andorra (because, you know, Europe is awesome like that) and ended with Barcelona birthday celebrations for Jules’ big day.
The trip was nothing short of epic!
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Why Rent a Car in Europe
These days the European backpacker trail can feel pretty worn out, as thousands of tourists trudge along the same path every couple of weeks. It’s not that these places aren’t worth experiencing, but for us it’s important to find some escape from the crowds and explore some quieter unknown places.
Having a car in Europe made it so easy to get off the beaten track (literally) and check out areas we didn’t even know existed. Deciding to rent a car in Europe not only made our trip easier, but also more memorable for the unique opportunities it gave us. Here’s why road tripping in Europe is the best way to travel.
Having Complete Flexibility
Probably the best reason for renting a car in Europe is the flexibility you get by driving instead of taking other public transportation. Busses and trains are limited to set stops and from there its difficult to wander off the beaten track. Renting a car allows you to explore literally wherever you want (well, private property excluded).
For example, we went a bit out of our way to check out Castrillo de los Polvazares, a small rustic village near Leon. We were able to walk the cobblestone streets and take in the historical buildings, all because we had the car to get us to this fairly remote area. The big cities in Europe are amazing, but renting a car means being able to explore the gorgeous European countryside.
Crossing Borders with the Rental Car
The amazing thing about traveling in Europe is that the region has so many small countries close together. Within hours you can be in a new country, experiencing a new culture, tasting an entirely new food. With a car, zipping between countries becomes even easier.
Crossing borders in a rental car in Europe isn’t a problem either. Countries within the EU have no official border check-ins so you don’t have to worry about wasting time at immigration waiting to get your passport stamped. Although we originally planned just to visit Spain, we decided to squeeze in southern France and Andorra because they were so close. Adding two extra countries to our itinerary only resulted in a couple extra hours in driving time. Totally worth it!
Easy to Transport Luggage
When you’re backpacking you get really used to carrying your entire life on your back. If you’re like us with a lot of baggage, then you may be rocking the pregnant turtle look (big bag on the back and small bag on the front). Or perhaps you’re dragging a wheelie bag through Europe’s notorious cobblestone streets. Whatever your baggage style, it’s so much easier to toss it into the back of a car than lug it through the streets.
Our car became our second home during the trip and much of our luggage made it out of the bags and into the backseat. Although it got a bit messy it was so nice having easy access to all of our stuff, unlike when taking the bus and our bags are stored down below. Gotta have those road trip snacks at arm’s length away!
Travel at Your Own Pace
Not a morning person? Us neither. Who can be bothered running off someone else’s schedule? Renting a car means being able to take off and arrive when you want. Had a big night? Sleep in the next morning and leave later. Don’t mind pulling in to your destination a bit late? Grab dinner on the way. It’s all up to you!
Make Friends Along the Way
Remember the first of your friends to get a car in high school? Remember how popular they suddenly became? Having a car while traveling takes that to a whole new level. Hitchhiking is popular in Europe and backpackers are always happy to grab a ride in an air conditioned car rather than take the stuffy bus. We drove a couple of hostel-mates from Andorra across the border to Spain and it was great to be able to pass on the favor after we’ve been gifted so many rides during our travels.
Have Fun Getting Lost
Thanks to the wonders of modern satellite systems, you can now feel free to get lost knowing your handy GPS will always guide you back home. This was probably one of our favorite things to do with the car. We would drive along the highway and see a tiny local village, so naturally we’d duck off and explore the old country roads leading to even older houses.
We got lost while driving to Picos de Europa and ended up in one of the smallest villages in all of Spain (well it seemed pretty small anyway). We drove up to an elderly lady in front of her house who looked at us as if we were aliens. We asked if tourists ever entered her village and she said nunca, never. It’s special instances like these that remind you that you don’t need to travel too far to get far off the beaten track.
Start and Finish Where You Want
One of the best parts about renting a car is being able to pick it up in one spot and drop it off in another. No longer do you need to pick and return at the same location, now you can make a trip that suits your road trip itinerary. We picked our car up in Madrid and after driving over 2000km we dropped it off in Barcelona. It was the perfect way to maximize our trip without having to backtrack to Madrid.
Advice for Renting a Car in Europe
Organizing a rental car in Europe isn’t expensive. We were fortunate enough to partner with Auto Europe on our experience, but they’re a quality company and have very competitive prices. We wouldn’t recommend them otherwise. Think of them like the Kayak of renting cars. They are a big search engine that pulls the best rental deals from all of the well know companies (Avis, Budget, etc) and hook you up with the best prices.
Booking a rental car is also really easy. Simply put in your details, dates, locations, car preferences and press search. Bookings can be made with a credit card and you’ll receive the receipt and car rental voucher straight to your inbox. All you need to do is take the voucher to your indicated pick up spot and collect the car. In Madrid the process took less than 20mins.
In order to rent a car you will need a passport for identification, credit card to put on file in case you have any mishaps and a valid drivers license for back home.
Do I need an International Driver’s License to Rent a Car in Europe?
Technically it’s probably not a bad thing to have, but I’ve never heard of anyone needing it. Having a driver’s license from back home is enough to pick up the car. The rules may be different between European countries, so it’s always best to double check.
Not from Europe? Doesn’t matter. Americans renting a car in Europe, or any other country at that, won’t having a problem picking up a sweet ride. Jules is from Australia and didn’t have a problem at all.
Whether you’re exploring new areas, picking up new traveling buddies or simply cruising Europe on your own pace. Renting a car is the way to go! It’ll ensure you save money, experience authentic Europe and have the trip of a lifetime!
Special thanks to Auto Europe for providing us with a car during our 3 week road trip! As always, we never promote something we don’t road test (get it) and highly recommend!
Taking a road trip is one of my favorite ways to travel. It easily lends itself to unique experiences you couldn’t get traveling by bus or plane. There’s nothing like kicking your feet up on the dash, chucking on your favorite road trip tunes and grabbing some munchies for the road.
And Europe is the perfect place to do it. Although many travelers opt for the trusty train pass, renting a car in Europe gives you an infinite amount of flexibility on where to go and what to see.
As soon as we started thinking about our European road trip with Auto Europe, we knew exactly which country we wanted to cruise through: Spain. Having studied abroad in southern Spain back in 2008, I was already smitten with the culture, but knew I’d have to come back someday to explore the North. Since Jules had never been to Europe before (!!) this would be an entirely new experience for him as well. We started devising our Spain road trip itinerary to explore the land of paella and flamenco and here’s what we got to see over 17 days!
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Starting the Road Trip in Madrid
Spain’s capital city. Granted we didn’t spend much time in Madrid, which is unfortunate because the city has some really cool things going on. We were originally thinking of starting our trip further south, because we heard there were some awesome things to do in Granada, but there’s only so much you can see! Instead we decided to book a flight from Portugal at the ungodly hour of 6:30AM (meaning the alarm clock was set for 4AM! #neveragain).
So when we arrived in Madrid delirious from lack of sleep, we parked ourselves on the sunny lawns of the El Retiro Park and waited for our hostel room to be ready. We spent the afternoon eating 1 Euro tacos and napping, which is really just our idea of a dream afternoon. When we finally regained consciousness, we explored the streets and had dinner at one of the famous tapa houses, Sidreria El Tigre.
The next day we picked up the car from the inner city Avis. Holy cow! Navigating the streets of Madrid was no easy feat. Within a ten minute period we almost hit a motorcyclist, Jules almost ran me over and we went the wrong way down a one-way street. We had to get the heck out of the city. Madrid is fantastic, and there is plenty to see (including the Prado National Museum and the Reina Sofia), but we recommend exploring by foot before picking up your vehicle.
Typical Plaza Mayor in Salamanca
Avila: Classic Castles and Cobblestone Streets
Madrid to Avila – 110km (70mi) – 1 ½ hours of straight highway
Our first stop on our road trip through Spain was through Avila, a small town just a couple hours outside of Madrid. If you’re heading north of Madrid on your road trip, definitely check this place out. Although a bit on the touristy side, it’s an idyllic small town that will be a breathe of fresh air after leaving the capital.
The old town is surrounded by a castle wall and the interior is a maze of cobblestone streets. Does it get any more Spanish than that? There’s also a lot of homage to medieval times, so if you’re a history geek like Jules you can pick up some wooden swords and knight’s armor. Don’t miss picking up the famous local dessert, Yemas de Santa Theresa. These sugary little balls made of egg yolk are a perfect pick-me-ups for the rest of your day’s driving.
You could spend the night in Avila, but it’s probably better to just visit for the day or afternoon for lunch on your way to Salamanca.
Aerial view of Avila
Salamanca: Oldest University in Spain
Avila to Salamanca – 110km (70mi) – open highway just over an hour
Just a few hours north of Avila is the city of Salamanca. It may be the bustling capital of the Leon and Castiles region, but the city’s old town will make you feel like you just stumbled on a medieval civilization. The cobblestone streets are beautiful, but the real sights are above your eye-line, as the incredible architecture of the city’s churches and buildings tower above into the skyline. Salamanca is also famous for having the oldest university in Spain and one of the oldest functioning universities in the world.
Old town gets popping on weekend nights when patrons crowd the cafes that line the streets. If you’re looking for budget accommodation head outside of old town where you can find much cheaper rooms (we got a private for 3 people for 45 Euro). Spend one/two nights to get a feel for the town and explore the streets.
Salamanca’s old buildings
Leon: Best Tapas Bars
Salamanca to Leon – 200km (125mi) – open highway for 2 hours
One word of advice: come to Leon hungry. While the old town of Leon has just as much old world charm as the previous cities on our list, what really sets it apart is the culinary scene. The narrow winding streets of old town are packed with tapas bars. From the upscale sit-down restaurants to the stand-up and eat your tapa over a bar kind of place, there’s something for every eating style. Just like in the town of Granada (Southern Spain), most places in Leon serve free tapas with your drink. Chin chin!
Like Leon, a night or two in Salamanca means you have time to enjoy the nightlife, sleep off the Sangria hangover and still get time to check out the town.
View point between Leon and northern coast of Spain
Picos de Europa: Amazing Hiking and Nature
Leon to Picos de Europa area – 250km (155mi) – 3 hours via a little bit of northern Spain coast. Gets windy towards Picos.
Picos de Europa was not on our radar until our Spanish friend suggested we had add it to our northern Spain road trip. And boy are we grateful! Driving into Picos, Jules and I could not stop gasping at how gorgeous the mountain ranges looked. We were surrounded on all sides by cliffs towering right overhead.
You can stop at any of the small towns within the area and sleep at one of the many inns. Our room was next to a field with grazing sheep and a spectacular view of the Picos right from our window. Does it get any more peaceful than that? Besides just enjoying the serenity of the area, there are plenty of great hikes up into the mountains.
If you have the time spend at least two nights around the area and take on some hikes. Go deeper into the mountains if you really want to find some secluded spots.
Poncebos at Picos de Europa
Bilbao: Heart of the Basque Country
Picos de Europa to Bilbao – 200km (125mi) – Half windy half highway for 2 ½ hours
After cruising through Northern Spain we finally made it to the coast! The most important thing to note when entering Bilbao is that you’re officially in Basque Country. The Basque locals are a fiercely proud people and many of them don’t identify with being Spanish. In fact in the city of Zarautz not far from Bilbao, there is a big sign hanging in one of the main plazas in town reading “Tourists: You’re not in Spain, you’re in Basque Country!”
As you drive into the city you’ll start to notice a few apparent differences. Road signs will be written in Basque (as well as Spanish) and you’ll see Basque names for shops and restaurants. The Basque version of tapas is called Pinxtos and while you have to pay for them, they are generally much better size and quality than the free versions in other parts of Spain.
Bilbao itself is a wonderful city. We were lucky enough to experience it from a local’s perspective when we visited our friends from the area. You can easily walk the whole city center, taking a stroll down the riverside to check out the Guggenheim Museum and the Zubizuri Bridge, then looping back up to the shopping district if you’d like to do a little window shopping. We recommend a picnic lunch in Doña Casilda Iturrizar park, a sort of Basque version of Manhattan’s Central Park. One full day and night is enough to see the main things, but more time always helps you appreciate an area better.
San Sebastian, Basque Country
San Sebastian: More Than Just a Pretty Beach
Bilbao to San Sebastian – 100km (60mi) – one hour of highway
If you’ve come up to northern Spain to catch a glimpse of the famous coastline, San Sebastian is the spot to do it. San Sebastian may seem like a big city upon entering, but once you explore the center you can get a good idea how to navigate the city. The commonly photographed beach Playa de la Concha, is one of the city’s iconic attractions, but there’s so much more to explore than just the shell-shaped beach. You can walk on the promenade along the water from the aquarium back to the city center. The city hall, the San Sebastian Cathedral and the Miramar Palace are all beautiful sites for architecture lovers. Foodies will find no shortage of delicious places to grab Pinxtos! Pro tip: wash your meal down with a bottle of Txakoli, a refreshing dry white wine local to the area! One night in San Sebastian, but stay in Zarautz (see below) if you want a chiller and more local experience.
Cathedral in Leon
Zarautz: Hidden Gem on Spanish Northern Coast
Just a quick 15 minute drive outside of San Sebastian (towards Bilbao) is the small beach town of Zarautz. Popular with local holiday goers and packed during the summer, Zarautz has a beautiful strip of beach that rivals San Sebastian. There’s not a ton to do in town, but it’s perfect for lazy summer days eating delicious fresh seafood and polishing off an afternoon at the beach with ice cream cones.
If you have time we highly recommend the walk to Guetaria, you can either walk up through the wineries giving you a spectacular view of the coast, or walk along the main street by the water (just watch out for rogue waves that may come up and splash you!). If you can spare it this is where you want to spend a few nights. You can do day trips to San Sebastian, go for a surf, hike the mountains or head to an authentic Basque cider house in Orio that you’ll never forget!
Bonus Extra Locations: Spain to France Road Trip
Technically, this is a northern Spain road trip guide, but if you have a couple of days to kill (and are headed down to Barcelona), we definitely recommend checking out a bit of southern France and Andorra. Hitting up the towns of Pau and Foix in France and then crossing through Andorra really only adds a couple hours of driving time to your trip. For us it was definitely worth it to get a taste of French culture and enjoy the beautiful countryside and Pyrenees Mountain range.
Roquefixade Castle, 30mins outside of Foix, France
Pau: Classic Southern French City
San Sebastian to Pau – 180km (110mi) – 2 ½ hours via Ainhoa and gorgeous French countryside
After saying goodbye to our friends in Zarautz we continued our cruise to the border and crossed into France at Saint Jean de Luz, through the gorgeous Ainhoa and onto Pau.
I’m not sure if it’s the culture, the language or the landscape but crossing the border you can feel an immediate shift reminding you that you’ve just entered a new country. We cruised through Saint Jean de Luz, a beautiful town with a lovely pedestrian walking street that makes for a perfect place to stop for lunch. Then we made our way to Pau. Pau is a relatively small city tucked right next to the Pyrenees mountain range.
From the city, especially the Boulevard de Pyrenees, you can catch some beautiful views of the iconic mountains. The city has some interesting sights including the Pau Castle, as well as a few museums, but our favorite things to do was walk along the boulevards and take in the french lifestyle. Arrive at night, explore the next day, stay a second night and leave early the next morning for the Pyrenees.
Cute French country town on Ainhoa
Foix: More Castles and Incredible Views
Pau to Foix – 200km (125mi) – 2 hours through the start of the Pyrenees mountains
Driving further West to Foix is an experience in itself. The treelined streets are absolutely gorgeous. Our only gripe with Spain was that during much of our trip we were surrounded by flat, dry landscape. Southern France is the opposite with lush greenery all around. Foix itself is an adorable little town with friendly people that really break the “French snob” stereotype. The main attraction in town is the Chateau de Foix (Foix Castle). It’s definitely worth the entrance fee (only about 8 or 9 euros) to climb the towers and look out to the view of the Pyrenees. One night in town to explore the castle and then head to Andorra.
Main city castle in Foix
Andorra: Where’s That?
Foix to Andorra (via Roquefixade) – 125km (80mi) – slow windy roads for parts and an easy border crossing
I’ll be the first to admit that I had even heard of Andorra before planning this road trip (extra embarrassing considering I was a global studies major!) But when we finally figured out that Andorra is its own autonomous country (nestled right between Spain and France), we knew we had to check it out.
First off, Andorra is tiny. Only 468 sq km. That’s pretty damn small. Andorra is super popular in the winter with travelers coming from all over Europe to ski and snowboard down the luscious slopes. In summer the country is less crowded but still worth a visit to see the gorgeous mountains and hike some of the legendary trails. Try to spend a night or two in Andorra to do some hikes if its summer, as the view points are unbelievable.
On our way to Andorra
Barcelona: This Isn’t Spain Either!
Andorra to Barcelona (via Vic) – 215km (135mi) – 3 hours
What can we say about Barcelona that hasn’t already been said? It’s a wonder in itself, and just like Basque citizens, many Catalonians don’t identify as Spanish. I learned this the hard when we I was filming a Facebook Live video from the famous human castles in Vic and was called out by a Catalonian for mistakenly saying we were in Spain. My bad!
Barcelona is one of those cities that you could live in for a year and still not experience all it has to offer. We visited for Jules’ birthday and had an absolute blast (you can read more about celebrating a birthday in Barcelona here). From the iconic Gaudi architecture to some of the coolest bars and restaurants in the region, there is literally something for everyone in Barcelona.
Pro tip: If you want to see the famous buildings like Park Guell or the Sagrada Familia, make sure to book ahead online because tickets do sell out. We learned this the hard way when we tried to squeeze in a Park Guell visit on our last day in Barcelona and the park was full.
There are so many extra locations that we could have added to the best northern Spain road trip guide, but with 2-3 weeks these are the spots that shouldn’t be missed! But hey, you’re renting a car in Spain, you can always decide where you wanna go!
Super cute town of Castrillo de los Polvaraes near Leon
Finding Accommodation on Your Road Trip
If you’re looking to get the best deals on accommodation we strongly recommended planning out your road trip and then booking your accommodation in advance. There are plenty of great options depending on your budget.
AirBnB – is a great option along the way and we used it for a lot of spots. It gives you a chance to meet locals, but doesn’t have to be intrusive and gives you your own space. You can book a private room in a house, get your own apartment or even rent out a villa. If you’re new to AirBnB use this link to get a FREE $30 credit!
Hostels – The budget friendly and social aspect of enjoying your time in Spain. Share a dorm and make new friends, or take a private and interact in your own time. Check the best list of Spain hostels at Hostel World.
Hotels and Guesthouses – Want to splurge a little more, but still want to save? No worries, HotelsCombined always has the best deals, even some good last minute ones. Saved our butts in Picos de Europa when we left accommodation to the last minute!
Total Stats for the North Spain Road Trip
24 hours driving time (incl. 4hr for side trips)
200 Euro on gas (apx.)
14 bottles of Txakoli
Unknown pintxos consumed
Special thanks to AutoEurope for providing us with a car during our 3 week road trip! We should also note that a couple of links in the accommodation section will provide us with a small commission at absolutely no extra cost to you. So you get the best deals and also help us stay online to provide more great free content to would be travelers!
I just turned 31! It’s not a significant age by any means, rather just another indication that as life goes on it only gets better and better. Whether I’m 31 or 41, the number is not important when it comes to celebrating life.
The only thing that’s really important about birthdays these days is making sure you enjoy them to the fullest. Which can sometimes be difficult if you’re in a foreign country, or traveling the world, already taking on new adventures and exhilarating experiences everyday.
How do you make it different? How do you top taking a road trip in Spain for three weeks, dining on gourmet fresh fish in the Basque country and staying in quaint little cottages in the Pyrenees region?
Easy, have your birthday in Barcelona! Drive a Ferrari, get a baller apartment, hit the local absinthe bar until 4am and celebrate in true birthday style!
Whether you’re celebrating a birthday, about to get married, or just want a really fun weekend in Barcelona, this is the city that won’t disappoint. Take a look at how I celebrated my birthday in Barcelona and have fun planning your trip today!
Driving a Ferrari in Barcelona
Time to really treat yourself! If you’ve ever dreamed of racing around in a red Ferrari, then Barcelona is the place to give it a shot. For as little at 88 Euro you can have a drive through Barcelona in a bright red Ferrari California and feel like an absolute boss on your big day. Cruise up to Montjuïc Parc and get some of the best views of Barcelona. Drive on the old Moto GP track; put your foot down and hear the thunder as the motor roars into life at 0-100 in 4 seconds.
Trust me, when you stop at the lights people will literally start taking pictures of you in the Ferrari like you’re a rock star. The only downfall about this incredible experience is that after driving a Ferrari, everything else feels so bland! Don’t go from the Ferrari experience to a taxi! Walk off the exhilaration high for a little while, puff out your chest and strut about with confidence until it fades out naturally.
Drink Absinthe at Bar Marsella
At Bar Marsella (on Carrer de Sant Pau) you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back into the 1920s with Ernest Hemingway and Salvador Dali. The true drawing point to this bar is that vey little restoration attempts have been made since its original glory. All the old charms from over 90 years ago are still aging and evident all around the bar.
Old liquor bottles, caked four inches thick in black dust, line the walls; tattered patches of paint peal back from the roof; and stained mirrors advertise everything from old Coca-Cola to requesting patrons not to dance on the tables. Order a round of Absinthe, grab a small table and kick back with the local scene.
Renting an Apartment in Barcelona
Needless to say when it’s your special day you should be looking to do it in style. And getting your ownBarcelona apartment is a well deserved upgrade from sharing a dorm or booking yourself into a little hotel room for the night. There’s nothing like having your own space to really kick it in. An apartment means you can chill your own beers in the fridge, cook up some mean breakfast the next morning when you’re starving and just lounge on the couch and watch movies when you’re inevitably hungover. You can even wash your clothes from any messy shenanigans that may have occurred the night before!
Accommodation in Barcelona is expensive, regardless of whether you’re in a 10 person dorm or getting a private room. So if you’re traveling with a few friends it can actually be cheaper to get a 4 person apartment for a couple of nights. We recommend getting a place in the El Poble Sec area. If you’re traveling alone, or simply want to meet people, than finding a good hostel is going to be your best option over an apartment. But don’t just book at any old place, be sure to do your research and find one of the best hostels in Barcelona.
It’s less than 15mins walk out of the main Gothic Quarter area of the city and it’s got a really great selection of local tapas bars along Carrer de Blai. Sit out in the street, with a 1 Euro beer and 1 Euro tapas (also called pinchos) and watch the evenings go by. El Poble Sec has a much more local feel to it compared to the hordes of tourists you’ll find along La Rambla and Plaça Reial (a main plaza in the Gothic Quarter).
Walk the City and Explore
As well as couple of really fun experiences, one of the best things to do in Barcelona is just walk around all the different neighborhoods to explore local life, street architecture and the abundance of cool tapas bars.
Like many tourists that come to Barcelona you can go on the hunt to find famous Antoni Gaudi works of art scattered all throughout the city: from the towering masterpiece of La Sagrada Familia (134 years in the making and still not completed) to the decorative Parc Guell. The architecture is fascinating and intricate for its time and has continued to drive visitors to the city in the thousands every single day.
For a fun music experience (that isn’t local to Catalonia, but is still amazing) see a Flamenco show. Sure it’s a little touristy, but there’s a reason why everyone flocks to see the shows. The music is rhythmic and the dancing is enchanting. For that half hour during the show you transcend into a space where music is your only reality and you’re intoxicated by the passion of strumming guitars and stomping feet.
The city of Barcelona offers many other exciting opportunities to celebrate a special occasion, but these are some of the more unique experiences that will ensure you have an amazing time. Here’s to many more years of excitement in your life!