Discover Spain through these 9 road trips

Is there anything better than getting your keys out of your pocket and hitting the road? That is not a problem, but choosing your route can be one, especially if you are in a country as diverse as Spain. The good news is that you can see both the north and the south of Spain in three, four, or five days, while enjoying very different landscapes and very different cultures that  complement each other. Get in your car or motorcycle and get ready to enjoy the diversity of the peninsula as much as you can. Let’s go!

Road trip in peninsular Spain: routes to discover it

You will need a couple of hours to complete most of the routes mentioned. However, those routes that follow winding roads or that connect very distant villages to the cities will take you six, seven, eight, or even ten hours to finish. Take your time to enjoy as many of these routes as you want without haste. And remember that you can modify these itineraries to visit every destination on your bucket list.

A Coruña – León: from the green Galicia to the Modernist León

A Coruña – León route.

A Coruña – León route.

This option starts in A Coruña, a city of great cultural and historical heritage that never sleeps. Before hitting the road, you must wander around the city and reach Torre de Hércules to imagine how life was in the 1st century, when the oldest Roman lighthouse was built. The only reason to ever leave A Coruña is to begin your journey, to discover places like Betanzos, in the south, and to follow your path to Lugo and its fascinating walls.

Galicia wouldn’t be the same without the Camino de Santiago. After visiting Lugo, in Sarria, following the Miño river, you will meet the thousands of pilgrims that begin their Camino Francés to Santiago every day. Santiago is, precisely, the next stop.

It will be even harder to say goodbye to Santiago, but just half an hour away, you will find places that show the charm of Rías Baixas, like Noia. Down the way, two of the most beautiful villages in Galicia, Catoira and Combarro, will welcome you. And that’s how you get to Pontevedra, whose old town centre will have you falling in love, or to Vigo and its eclecticism. This is the moment to say goodbye to the sea, to get lost in the greenest Galicia and find places like Ridavia or the quiet Ourense that guards the gates to a Ribeira Sacra some people still don’t know about.

Before leaving Galicia, you can enjoy this sacred land in Os Peares, where the Miño and Sil rivers become one, or in Monforte de Lemos, the Ribeira’s capital. The road will take you to León. You can stray to enjoy the northern mountain range of Os Ancares, or follow the path to introduce yourself to Castilla y León through Las Médulas. Undoubtedly, this is one of the most impressive landscapes in Spain, the result of Roman mining labour. Enjoy the views of Gaudí’s Palacio Episcopal in Astorga, your next stop.

This journey concludes in León, another historical city whose cathedral, Santa María de Regla, shines especially bright. Gaudí left traces of his Modernism here, in the gorgeous Casa Botines, or the San Marcos convent, a Renaissance masterpiece. These buildings explain why León is a city you should circle on your map.

Gijón – San Sebastián: the northern coast is yours

Gijón – San Sebastián route.

Gijón – San Sebastián route.

The Cantabrian sea becomes one with the road in this road trip, that stays as close as possible to the Asturian, Cantabrian, and Basque coasts. You can discover these three communities in a journey starting in Oviedo or Gijón, that is your choice to make. No matter which one you choose, your next stop should be a coastal town. Tazones is a good option to enjoy the Rodiles or Misiego beaches, living proof that Asturias is a true paradise. The wonderful Asturian coast includes localities like Lastres, Ribadesella, or Llanes that will lead you to the east until you reach the border with Cantabria.

This community is equally green, beautiful, and historical. Time stops in places such as San Vicente de la Barquera, and lies are lovely in Santillana del Mar, the triple liar, since it is neither by the sea, nor flat, nor holy, although its name suggests the opposite. Near this town you will find the Altamira caves, popular around the whole world since it explains our past. In this cave art treasure there is a road to Santander, the ideal place to discover every charm of the capital of Cantabria. La Magdalena palace is a mandatory stop.

In Euskadi, Bilbao welcomes every traveller. You should take your time to explore and walk around this city. Getxo and Santurce might surprise you, the beautiful area where the Nervión river disgorges. Back on the road, there is another river, Oca, that goes through the Biosphere Reserve of Urdaibai. This is one of the most impressive natural settings in Euskadi, a land that is actually full of them. The Oma forest lies in this place, a forest where the pictorial work of Agustín Ibarrola in the 1980s stands out.

Zumaia could be your next stop, or maybe you’d prefer Guetaria or Zarauz, which are very close one to each other and announce the arrival at San Sebastián. This city, its old town centre and its beaches will charm anyone who visits them. This might be the last stop on this route along the northern coast. However, you can go even further and explore Irún or Hondarribia, which wait for you in the border with France.

Echalar – Bausen: living the Pyrenees

Echalar – Bausen route.

Echalar – Bausen route.

A route on the Pyrenees isn’t an easy task, and you should keep that in mind before hitting the road. The further you go into the mountains, the roads get more difficult. Many of the routes mentioned here require you to step back sometimes in order to follow your path. However, every single kilometre is worth it.

Echalar is a Navarrese village that lies in the lovely region of Cinco Villas. This is the perfect starting point, since it allows you to connect with the traditional architecture and culture of the area, which can also be discovered in Elizondo, in the gorgeous and popular Baztán valley. Before getting lost in the Pyrenees, you should stop at Pamplona, the Navarrese capital, that waits for you with its slow tourism, where the journey is more important than the destination.

Back to the mountains, further on towards the north, time stops in the towns of Ochagavía and Isaba, in the Salazar or del Roncal valleys. Time works differently in the mountains, immense and quiet.

Crossing the border, in Aragón, lies Ansó, a medieval village straight out of a fairy tale, such as Jaca and its fortress. If you want to breathe the Pyrenean essence, you’ll need to dive further into the north. Biescas, Lanuza, and Salent de Gállego seem unreal in comparison with the noisy city. But wait to discover the most popular place in the Aragonese Pyrenees: Parque Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Perdido. The villages of Torla-Ordesa and Broto are mandatory stops. Although the road might hint at the Catalan Pyrenees, you should take your time at the lovely Aínsa or Benasque, where you will discover the dimensions of the Aneto peak, the highest mountain in the Pyrenees.

In Cataluña, life looks like a dream in the Bohí valley. Declared a World Heritage Site due to its many Romanesque temples, Durro is the next stop. It is home to less than 10 inhabitants and plenty of wonders. Vielha, in the north, presents the gorgeous Arán valley to its visitors, a place of cold winters and green beauty. If you step further into the north, you might discover Bausen, hiding near France between cursed love stories that led to the construction of Spain’s smallest graveyard. This is the end of your journey, but remember that there is much more to see.

Vitoria – Teruel: remarkable lands

Vitoria – Teruel route.

Vitoria – Teruel route.

This route will take you from Vitoria to Teruel through five autonomous communities and thousands of unexpected treasures. Vitoria itself might be the most underrated Basque city, but it will charm you with its social and cultural life, its two cathedrals, and its welcoming atmosphere. Isla de Burgos awaits to the south and breaks Euskadi into two areas. Now, both Treviño and the cursed village of Ochate can be good first stops to understand the story of this area.

Back in Euskadi, the capital of Rioja Alavesa awaits you. Laguardia, or “the Navarrese guard,” is a historical spot near a picturesque corner known as Chabola de la Hechicera. This ancient dolmen brings witch tales to our days, making it a cultural stop as well. Taking the road to the south, you will get to Logroño and its Laurel street, where you will see Riojan gastronomy and lifestyle at their best. Once you have explored it, following the borderline between La Rioja and Navarra, you will get to Calahorra. Every single secret about history can be revealed in this city, guarded by the Ebro and Cidacos rivers.

By this point, Navarra (and a brief stop at Tudela, if you feel like it) will be the only thing standing between you and the Aragonese land. Here lies Tarazona, made of stone, the gate to Parque Natural del Moncayo, 11,000 hectares of nature and calm. But calm can also be found in the capital, Zaragoza, with its basilica of Nuestra Señora del Pilar and its labyrinth of lively streets.

The path then leads to the south, to the ruins of what once was Belchite. In spite of its current state, once you get there, you will start to believe that it should stay this way so that the past, especially the Spanish Civil War, is always remembered. Happier times await you in the beautiful Anento, which also belongs to Zaragoza, or Albarracín, located in Teruel and considered by many to be the most beautiful village in Spain. This route concludes in the city of Teruel. Our recommendation is to walk to El Torico square, enjoying everything Teruel has to offer.

Girona – Cartagena: along the Mediterranean

Girona – Cartagena route.

Girona – Cartagena route.

In this route, the Levante is the main character, but it shares the stage with the big Mediterranean capitals. Colourful Girona, with its labyrinth of streets and a mix of architectural styles that become evident in its cathedral. Barcelona, the witch city, “haunts you to never let you go,” as the Spanish writer Carlos Ruiz Zafón once wrote. The historical Tarragona guards the Roman past of the peninsula like no other city does. Castellón, where you will park your car without a doubt and wander around at a quiet pace. Valencia, with its gardens, its arts, and its sciences. Alicante, the city that doesn’t look like one because the air is unique here—the Santa Bárbara castle that watches over it might have something to do with this feeling. And finally, Cartagena, but you can also visit Murcia if you are willing to deviate your path for a while. Cartagena is past, present, and, like every other place listed here, Mediterranean.

Between these cities, you will find villages of surprising beauty, such as Lloret de Mar or Sitges in Cataluña, beside those splattered throughout the Delta del Ebro, a breathtaking landscape. In the Community of Valencia, the stories of Peñíscola, the nature of the Sierra de Irta, and the unique life at Albufera de Valencia surprise and delight every visitor. You might want to stay forever at Cabo de Palos, in Murcia, with its crystalline waters and quiet pace. Or maybe you would rather discover Algameca Chica, one of a kind known as the Shangai of Cartagena. It’s a good ending to this journey. Purely Mediterranean.

Burgos – Guadalajara: Castilla’s sea

Burgos – Guadalajara route.

Burgos – Guadalajara route.

There is a sea at Castilla, but this sea is yellow. Sometimes it is actually green, but yellow is its usual colour. Anyways, it is extremely large. The horizon seems to never get any closer. The eyes can’t perceive its totality, and the feeling of a never ending vastness and the consequent freedom is constant. This is even more evident in this route, which allows you to travel and know some of its most cherished places, including its capitals.

Burgos is the starting point for this route, whether you prefer to begin at its cathedral or at its Santa María la Real de las Huelgas monastery. You will meet the sea once you leave. A thoroughfare of waves leads to Santo Domingo de Silos, one of the most important Romanesque monuments in Europe. From this point, you can also go to the Romanesque Palencia. The province as a whole holds the largest compound of buildings and remains of this style on the European continent.

The path gets harder when you can’t stop every time you want to see some of its magical corners. But the destination remains the same: west. Ampudia awaits with its castle, its Colegiata de San Miguel, and plenty of other monuments that will make you wonder why only 700 people live there. In the province of Valladolid, at the west end, you will be welcomed by the walled Urueña, one of Spain’s most beautiful villages, declared Villa del Libro (“Village of the Book”) due to the great importance it gives to its libraries.

The road doesn’t feel any different when you keep moving to Zamora, but some green spots stand out among its yellow sea. Zamora is made to enjoy the Duero river and its history, its castle, and its Santa Iglesia Catedral del Salvador.

While Salamanca has its university, Ávila has its walls, and Segovia has its aqueduct. Any of them can be your next stop, but you probably won’t want to leave any of them out of your itinerary. You might want to stop at Alba de Tormes, in Salamanca, or Bonilla de la Sierra, in Ávila. It will be difficult for you to leave behind the capital of Segovia to explore the whole province, thanks to its cathedral or its alcázar. But you will encounter villages such as La Granja de San Ildefonso, Navafría, or Riaza, depending on when you want to arrive in Madrid. You should get as close as you can to Hayedo de Montejo de la Sierra. The Segovian mountain range is lovely, and this beech forest is worth a visit. There is a reason why it was declared a World Heritage Site.

From this point to the south, before heading to Guadalajara, Patones awaits. It has gained popularity over the last few years. And after you have visited Patones, you cross the border between Madrid and Castilla-La Mancha. This path can conclude in Guadalajara, but you can also travel to natural landscapes, such as the Entrepeñas reservoir, which looks like the typical sea due to its 3,213 hectares. Simply blue.

Plasencia – Sevilla: Extremadura’s essence, Andalucía’s soul

Plasencia – Sevilla route.

Plasencia – Sevilla route.

In northern Extremadura, near its border with Castilla y León, Plasencia amazes with its gorgeous town centre, its two cathedrals, and its fortress. The journey to the Andalusian lands begins here. Therefore, you must travel to the south to cross the Tajo river, through Parque Nacional de Monfragüe, and find lovely places like Trujillo, Cáceres’ most beautiful village for many people. In fact, the city of Cáceres can be your next destination if you take the road that leads to the west and provides infinite horizons. It’s never stressed enough, but Cáceres is actually one of the most beautiful cities in the peninsula, and its pebbled streets are filled with monuments.

You could drive straight to the south, to Mérida, but this route in particular diverts to the west. It almost reaches the frontier with Portugal, where plenty of stories await you—stories in which La Raya is an invisible line. Towns such as Valencia de Alcántara will fascinate you, and you will probably want to end your journey here. But let’s keep driving to the southeast because you have to visit two indispensable places besides those you find on your way.

The first one is Santa Lucía del Trampal church, one of the few Visigothic pieces left on the peninsula. Mérida is the second one, a World Heritage Site where history stays alive. If you want to go back to the west, the city of Badajoz houses Europe’s largest kasbah. If you choose the south instead, you will discover the Andalusian soul of Zafra, which has given it the name “la Sevilla chica extremeña” (“the small Sevilla from Extremadura.”) Palacio de los Duques de Feria is this beautiful town’s most renowned destination. It’s time to say goodbye to the astonishing Extremadura.

Once you have crossed the borderline to get to Alájar, you will feel the true Andalusian soul. Alájar is a great destination due to its location, since you will find it in the Parque Natural de la Sierra de Aracena y los Picos de Aroche. It’s a gorgeous white spot in a gorgeous green space. It’s proof of the natural charm of Huelva, but this route ends in Sevilla. Sevilla has a special colour and hosts Parque Nacional de Doñana, a natural space it shares with Huelva and Cádiz. This spot is great to park and enjoy a different ecosystem. Here is a tip: look for sunsets and dusk in its waters.

Toledo – Málaga: mills, mountains and sea

Toledo – Málaga route.

Toledo – Málaga route.

Toledo is the starting point for this route, but the truth is that Málaga can also act like it if you would rather follow this path the other way around. But that actually happens with all of these routes. However, this option will take you to the sea, the perfect end to every journey. So let’s begin it in Toledo, one of the most historical cities you will ever see. The medieval charm of Toledo is all in the air, and walking around its town centre will take you back in time.

This isn’t exclusive to Toledo, but the whole La Mancha feels like Don Quixote’s journey. In the south, you will find localities like Consuegra and its 12 windmills, aligned on top of Calderico hill. The landscape is everything anyone could ever imagine. So is the Parque Nacional de las Tablas de Daimiel. But you could never guess that more than 300 volcanoes sleep under the ground of Campo de Calatrava, in Ciudad Real. One of them, Cerro Gordo, has been converted into a museum. This is a mandatory stop. And then you will meet the immediate Almagro, a place of great heritage.

Before heading to Andalusian territory, you should explore Parque Natural de la Sierra de Andújar, where threes watch over every path and colours merge into the most breathtaking landscapes. Montoro awaits on the other side. It’s one of the most beautiful villages in Córdoba. Now it’s time to visit the city whose colours change from one day to the next. However, the Mosque-Cathedral always remains identically majestic.

The southern Subbaetic system houses villages such as Zuheros, Priego de Córdoba, or Doña Mencía. And there is another surprise waiting for you in Córdoba: Iznájar, one of the most beautiful villages in Andalucía. This is your last stop before diving into the province of Málaga, whose road leads to Comares, in the lovely region of Axarquía. This province is made of beaches and sun, but it’s also made of mountains and leaves. Places like Benalgabón, in Rincón de la Victoria, are living proof of this. And now it’s time to jump into the sea—you have finally arrived at Málaga.

Cuenca – Almería: the value of nature

Cuenca – Almería route.

Cuenca – Almería route.

Hang in there! This route begins in Cuenca, the city whose houses hang staring at the void, its Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Gracia, and its old town centre. The path then heads to the south, to places such as Alarcón, Alcalá del Júcar, or Jorquera, keeping its eye on Andalucía.

You can stop in Albacete, but you should enjoy the whole province. Ayna is known as “the Manchegan Switzerland.” But this comparison is unnecessary because Ayna sparks on its own. To understand this place, you have to visit its surroundings and feel its nature. This happens to Liétor and Letur as well, two nearby localities that are a great stop before leaving this community and heading to Andalucía.

There are two possible ways now. Murcia is the first option, and Parque Natural de las Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas is the second one. You should decide on your own, depending on your preferences. In the first case, you could visit Vélez-Blanco, a village in Málaga. If you prefer the second path, Castril, in Granada, is a lovely option. At this moment, the route will take you to Parque Natural Sierra de Baza and the western Guadix in Granada, Europe’s capital of inhabited caves. Deviating is worth it just to discover this unique place. And if you want to stay longer, you can visit Parque Nacional de Sierra Nevada.

But in the end, you will get to Almería. First, you will find the Tabernas desert, a unique place on the European continent. This infinite desert will make you believe you have travelled away, to a different world. Cabo de Gata is another world as well, where time has stopped in places like Las Negras or La Isleta del Moro. Just like our previous route, this one also ends with a jump into the sea. But the journey never ends for those who wander. You will always find new places to discover.

You can also read this article in Spanish here.

About the author