Exciting news! I finally booked a flight to Spain in April this morning! I‘m literally giddy with joy while writing this post.
Just thinking of going back to Spain brings back so many sweet memories- some of which I’m realizing I never got around to writing about on my blog! One of my good friends also happens to have, not only a trip to Spain but a ROAD trip, coming up and I decided to pump myself up for my coming trip by putting my experience to good use and creating an itinerary for her.
Before I finished the chapter in my second Spain living experience (notice how I didn’t say close the book… ) I did one hell of a road trip with my family.
We started in Madrid (where I was living at the time), drove a bit northwest to Salamanca and then even further north up to the coastal city of Santander. Then we hopped over east to San Sebastían and continued on to Barcelona.
We had limited time to complete this trip, so we only hit the cities that I either hadn’t been to yet and was dying to visit or couldn’t leave Spain without visiting once more. There are a ton of noteworthy cities in this sector of Spain, and really all over Spain for that matter, but for sake of time (and not rushing), this itinerary will cover 5 cities in 10 days!
Starting Point: Madrid
Madrid is an awesome (not to mention extremely logical) starting point for any Spanish adventure- it’s home to a major international airport, very centrally located and, in my opinion, the perfect place to get a first introduction to Spain and Spanish culture. Maybe I’m biased considering Madrid just happens to be my Spanish home, the coordinates of my tattoo, and one of my favorite cities on the face of this Earth, but I like to think I have these feelings for a reason. If you take a trip to Spain and skip over Madrid- you’re just doing something wrong.
For purposes of this road trip itinerary, rent a car in Madrid and then start your journey up north.
I’d suggest spending a few days in the city, maybe to recover from the journey’s jet lag or even just to take in the sights and like I said before, see what Spain’s all about.
If you need some ideas of things to do in Madrid, I happen to have written pretty extensively about my beloved city- from where and what to eat, a DIY walking tour around the center sights, my perfect one-day itinerary from your morning cup-o-joe to late night churros and even a complete Madrid bucket list!
Madrid to Salamanca (~2 hours 30 minutes)
Second stop: Salamanca
1 day & 1 night
I have to admit, Salamanca is the city that I know the least about on this itinerary, but I knew only after a day that it was a magical place. The young, lively town is full of gorgeous sandstone architecture, stories, and history that dates back to 3rd century B.C. and is also home to one of Europe’s oldest universities. It also so just happens to be the perfect place to split up your journey from Madrid to the Northern Coast of Spain.
While in Salamanca be sure to check out the city’s central square- Plaza Mayor, both the old and new cathedrals, the university, the Roman bridge and the historical ‘Casa da las Conchas’ or House of Shells.
Salamanca to Santander (~3 hours 30 minutes)
Third Stop: Santander
1 day & 1 night
Your first stop on the northern Spanish coast and capital of the Cantabria region of Spain is the little port city of Santander. Yes, you probably recognize the name from your neighborhood bank. Santander may not be exactly what you’d expect in a typical Spanish city and is pretty off-the-beaten ‘tourist path,’ but that’s why I like it. After a few days of traveling and a long drive up to that coast, it’s a great place to take a breather, rest and recharge.
While in Santander, take some time to just wander around the city, check out the center, admire the belle-époque inspired architecture, take a leisurely stroll down “Paseo de Pereda,” and maybe even hit the beach!
Santander to San Sebastián (~2 hours 20 minutes)
If you have more time I would plan for a stop in Bilbao or even a night or two there.
2 days & 2 nights
After only a few short days in stunning seaside San Sebastián, I completely fell head-over-heels in love. This city is made up of a few of my favorite ingredients- golden beaches, stylish youth, and most importantly, incredible FOOD!
If you go to San Sebastían for one reason, and one reason alone, let it be their mouthwatering pintxos (the Basque country’s take on bite-sized bar snacks). This Spanish culinary capital is praised for not only its fancier world-renowned restaurants but also its no-frills corner mom and pop style joints. You could seriously spend all 3 days (and possibly a lifetime) exploring the many bars and restaurants in San Sebastián’s “Parte Vieja.” Make sure to eat as many pintxos as you can possibly bear- either DIY ‘budget-friendly’ style or if you have a little cash to spare, spring for a tour with an expert foodie guide (it will be worth it).
In between bites, you can also check out the area’s amazing beaches- La Concha being short walking distance from the city center– climb up to Monte Urgull for one hell of a view (& maybe to burn off some of those pintxos) and check out the trendy shops and tree-lined plazas of the Gros neighborhood.
San Sebastián to Barcelona (~5 hours 45 minutes)
If you want to split up this drive you can stop in Pamplona or Zaragoza.
The last stop: Barcelona
3 Days & 3 Nights
And on to your last stop- Barcelona!
I have some slightly mixed feelings when it comes to the city of Barcelona. Don’t get me wrong, I love this city, but I’ll always be partial to Madrid. I guess I got a little caught up in the whole ‘rivalry’ BS.
Still, when visiting Spain, it would be silly not to make a trip to the colorful cosmopolitan tourist hotspot. Looking past my deep Madrileño loyalty, Barcelona is undoubtedly an amazing destination!
I could go on and one about must-dos in this Spanish metropolis- but one of my favorite, unique activities to do in this city, is take a trip off the crowded tourist grid and wander around the artsy and alternative “Born” neighborhood. Here you can pop in and out of small museums and art galleries, treasure hunt through small, artisanal shops and find a unique, one-of-a-kind Spanish souvenir!
As for the Barcelona must do’s: make sure to hit up ‘La Rambla’ (and take extra care of your things in the process), eat your way through ‘Mercado de La Boqueria,’ and dip your toes in the extremely pleasant waters of the Mediterranean. If it’s your first time in the city, you may also want to take a Free Walking Tour to get the lay of the land and you wouldn’t want to miss my two Gaudi favorites: La Sagrada Familia and Park Güell!
After 3 action-packed days taking in the best of Barcelona, you can either head back to Madrid (~ 7-hour drive) or return your car here, and catch a flight from Barcelona’s international airport- El Prat.
Have you ever been to any of the above Spanish cities? If so, what did you do there?
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