Planning on visiting sunny Spain soon? This comprehensive Spain trip planner will provide plenty of ideas on activities to try out in Spain. As always, I try to accommodate a variety of travellers with different interests and personalities. I provide in-depth information on Spain and discuss the cities, towns and villages I visited and that I believe is worth visiting.
Comprehensive Spain Trip Planner
Things You Need To Know Before You Leave For Spain
- Surprisingly, Spain’s culture is heavily influenced by Northen Africa. The Moors once ruled parts of Spain and thus the architecture, food and culture truly reflect this. You’ll find Moorish (Moroccan) influences in places like Seville, Ronda and Granada. These buildings are unlike anything you’ll see in the Mediterranean or even the rest of Europe.
- Locals living in different parts of Spain will speak different languages. There are 6 official languages in Spain but most will speak and/or understand Castillian Spanish. Those living in Barcelona, which is part of Catalonia, will speak Catalan.
- Cultures are varied in different parts of Spain. Travelling through Spain is like travelling through numerous countries all while being confined to Spain.
- Spaniards are relatively relaxed and easy-going. They don’t like being rushed and they do not like rushing others. It is considered rude to rush others.
- Learn a few basic words in Spanish as the Spaniards are not all fluent in English. Plus, it’s a sign of respect to learn a few basic terms so that you can get by on a daily basis.
- Make sure that you don’t carry all your cash with you while you’re out and about. This applies to any country but you’d be surprised by how many tourists make this mistake. While I was travelling around Spain, I learnt that a South African tourist was carrying all his cash with him in the pocket of his shirt. On his first day in Spain, while travelling on the metro, his money was stolen from him. Don’t be like that guy. Make sure you carry a little bit of cash with you and have a backup credit card somewhere safe.
- Don’t assume that every local is friendly. I had a minor incident on the metro whereby a local asked me where I was from, attempted to get super close and asked if I would get a drink with him. It was 8 o’clock in the morning. Drinking at 8 am seems a little weird, doesn’t it? Needless to say, I politely declined the invite but shuddered to think of naive tourists who would go get a drink with that guy.
- The best season to travel to Spain would be Spring and Autumn. Summer is scorching hot. Plus, it’s a lot more expensive to visit during the Summer months. Other seasons to avoid would be Holy Week and Christmas time where the crowds are too big.
What To Do And Where To Visit in Barcelona
Exploring Barcelona For The Architecture Lovers
It’s unheard of to visit Barcelona and not visit Gaudi’s work. Antoni Gaudi was a Spanish architect who’s colourful and uncommon architecture took inspiration mostly from religion and nature. His unusual architecture can be found scattered around Barcelona and is a must visit, regardless of whether you love architecture or not.
La Sagrada Familia
This is arguably the most important and impressive work designed by Gaudi. The unfinished church was started when Gaudi was in his 30s and was still not even halfway completed by the time he died. The church is set to be completed in 2026 which will mark 100 years since Gaudi’s death. The inside of the church is so impeccably detailed filled with references to the Bible and nature. For example, the columns inside the church resemble lofty trees found in a towering forest.
Booking in advance to visit the La Sagrada Familia is advised, especially during high season. It will allow you to skip the queue. I booked a ticket that took me to one of the towers as well as get an audioguide that could direct me around the church. It was worth paying more for the audioguide as I spotted and understood the symbolism a lot more than I would have if I were just aimlessly wandering around the church.
You can choose one of the two towers to visit. I chose the Nativity Tower over the Passion Tower because it has better views over the city/sea and it was built while Gaudi was alive. The climb down the tower is unnerving if you are scared of heights or unfit. Bear in mind that both towers have stairs that you’d climb down from.
Lastly, wear respectful clothing while visiting the church. It is a place of worship and it’s important to be mindful of that.
Cost: 32 euros per person
This is another Gaudi masterpiece and it is advisable to book your ticket in advance. This fairytale-like park is filled buildings that look like gingerbread houses, visual tricks and stunning city views. The crowds are massive so get an early morning ticket. I ended up queing to get a shot of the Barcelona skyline, so I can’t imagine how busy it will get in the afternoon.
The park is mostly outside so it’s important to bring a hat and sunscreen, especially in the summer because the temperatures can get unbearably hot.
Cost: 10 euros per person.
Tickets can be bought online but the queue for this wasn’t too long so it is possible to buy at the door. The house was designed by Antoni Gaudi and again, it does not disappoint. Gaudi took inspiration from the ocean when designing the house so you won’t find any straight lines. Instead, you’ll find curves, shades of blue and lots of natural light. Colours at the bottom of the house are a lot more subdued than the colours at the top. The top floors have a more vibrant hue of blue representing the ocean and the roof looks like it could be scales of a fish. The outside structure resembles skulls, thus the name “House of Bones” was given to Casa Batllo.
Once you enter the house, you’ll be given a smartphone and headphones. These two can be used in conjunction to explain the history behind the house as well as visually show what the house would have been like with the original furniture in it. You could also purchase tickets for a personal guided tour of the house. The house also has a shop that you could buy little trinkets from. I ended up buying a drawing of Casa Batlló to frame and hang up in my room.
Cost: 25 euros per person.
Exploring Barcelona For The Trendy
This charming labyrinth is filled with trendy bars, restaurants and boutiques. Walk around and you’ll probably get lost but that is the beauty of the Gothic Quarter. Barri Gòtic is the centre of Barcelona and it used to be a Roman village. It has since been modernised however, you will still spot loads of ancient-looking architecture.
The Gothic Quarter has something for everyone. If you like culture, you’ll find gorgeous buildings as well as a cathedral. If you enjoy eating and shopping then you’ll be spoilt for choice. Be prepared to walk a lot and lose your bearings. The Gothic Quarter could easily be the highlight of your Barcelona trip.
Exploring Barcelona For The Food Lovers
You might be thinking: why eat burgers when you’re in Spain?
Well, because these are bloody amazing, that’s why. It’s just a really cute and cosy restaurant with friendly waiters. Based in the San Antonio neighbourhood, it’s in a central location and they also have great vegetarian options too. Just check them out if you’re in the neighbourhood.
This restaurant surprised me because it’s in the hub of one of the touristy areas. It’s a 1 min walk away from the La Sagrada Familia. The general rule of thumb is that restaurants aimed at tourists are overpriced and have horrible food. This restaurant is an exception. The food was awesome, the waiters were kind and it is in a central location. What more could you ask for? Definitely worth checking out this restaurant while visiting the La Sagrada Familia.
After exploring the Goth Quarter, you’ll want something to quench your thirst. I recommend Zzumo Mas. I stumbled on this affordable juice bar gem after walking around on the cobbled streets on a particularly hot afternoon.
Exploring Barcelona For The Photographers
- For the most wonderful city skyline view, you should go up the Nativity Tower in La Sagrada Familia. This will give you panoramic views of the city.
- If you want to take some unique pictures of the La Sagrada Familia then head on over to the park opposite the church. From there, you’ll have a view of the pond and the church. It’s a stunning shot because the water will reflect the church.
- Las Ramblas is a great spot to take pictures of the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s a very touristic road but fantastic nonetheless. The street is lined with trees, people and shops. Just be careful with your valuables in this spot. It’s a pickpocket haven.
What To Do And Where To Visit in Salamanca
Exploring Salamanca For Those Short On Time
Salamanca is a quaint town close to the border of Portugal. I stopped in this town for lunch and got to explore the area. The biggest attraction is the Old Cathedral. The Old Cathedral is two churches joined together. The first church was built in the 12th-13th century. The second church was built in the 16th century. I spent the afternoon outside the cathedral. Eating some sorbet and just gazing upon the church – taking in all the impressive details.
There was a fantastic live band playing in the streets when I arrived in Salamanca. The group started drumming outside the Old Cathedral and continued playing down the main road. If there’s a band playing when you arrive, and let’s be real, in Europe, there’s always live bands in the streets. Just follow the band while exploring the shops for a pleasant afternoon.
What To Do And Where To Visit in Madrid
Pro tip: You might be tempted to do the red bus tour in Madrid but personally I think it’s a waste of time. I didn’t do my research on what I wanted to see in Madrid and when the bus stopped at certain sites, I wasn’t sure if it was a site I would be interested in. And sometimes I’d get off the bus and walk around without having any clue where or what the attraction is. And because I was in Madrid during Summer, the lines to get back on the red bus tour were very long. So this wasted a lot of precious time. It’s a lot easier to walk around to get to the best spots. If you’re short on time – give the bus tour a miss.
The hotel I stayed at: JC Santo Domingo
Exploring Madrid For The Culture Lovers
There are free walking tours as well as (paid) private tours available in Madrid. There are so many walking tours available that you’re bound to find some that will suit your budget.
The benefit of tours is that it can differentiate between a pretty building and a pretty building that has historical value. I can’t count how many times I’ve walked past a historical landmark and kicking myself for not knowing/finding out the significance of the landmark. These tours add so much more depth to your travels. You’ll get to understand the culture a little bit more, meet new people on the tours and perhaps venture off the beaten path too.
Also, it goes without saying that using a local tour guide company would not only be a more sustainable way of travelling (supporting local businesses) but it would benefit you because you’d have someone who knows the ins and outs of the city you’re visiting.
These are the points of interest I visited using a tour guide:
- The Royal Palace (including off the beaten track to get the best photo of the Palace)
- Plaza de Oriente
- Catedral de la Almudena
- Plaza de la Villa
- Sobrino de Botín (the oldest restaurant in the world)
- Royal Theatre
- Plaza Mayor
- Puerta de Alcalá
Exploring Madrid For The Romantics
Hire a Row Boat in the Retiro Park Lake
This tranquil lake can be found in El Retiro Park. I stumbled upon the lake by accident and decided to spontaneously take a boat on the water. There is a time limit for how long you can be on the water. I loved getting on the water so much that I rented out the rowboat twice (on two separate days). It’s a relaxing and tranquil activity but there’s also a dose of adrenaline when you’re navigating the waters trying to avoid other people’s boats, almost hitting them and praying you don’t capsize in the middle of the lake.
Cost: 6 euros per person on weekdays.
Take a Long Stroll in El Retiro Park
El Retiro Park is right in the middle of the city and perfect for a midday stroll. It’s free to enter and there are a variety of flowers, trees, sculptures to see. As with the usual European style, there are musicians playing beautiful music on the sidewalks.
Bring along a picnic basket, set up in the shade near a musician and spend the whole afternoon eating and people watching.
Once you’re in the park, you’ll need to visit the Palacio de Cristal. The conservatory was built in 1887 and it is free to enter. Don’t expect to see much once you’re inside but rather just enjoy the open spaces, the natural light entering through the glass and a few artistic sculptures scattered around the greenhouse (although no plants are housed in there anymore).
Just outside the Palacio de Cristal is a small lake where you can sit down by the stairs and have tiny little turtles visit you at your feet. It can get quite crowded but I was lucky enough to find space right by the water where I could observe these cuties up close.
Exploring Madrid For The Foodies
If you love food and are adventurous with your eating then this should be a must-do activity. I enjoyed learning about the history of tapas (bartenders served drinks with saucers over them to keep the flies away and eventually placed olives and ham onto the saucers to keep customers coming back) as well as seeing old-school tapas bars.
Unfortunately, the food didn’t blow my mind because I sent through my dietary requirements beforehand (lactose intolerant) and most restaurants didn’t provide the most creative dishes for me. For example, the first restaurant gave me a plain Greek salad. Firstly, that’s not even Spanish and secondly, it’s probably the most unimaginative dish of all time. If you are able to eat meat and dairy then I completely recommend the tour because the dishes for those who could eat everything looked amazing.
So the tour guide also showed us a traditional Spanish wine bag, also known as a Bota bag. The bag is made out of leather and is generally used to carry around liquids. The guide did a quick demo of how to drink from the Bota bag before asking the group to try. You hold the bag in your hands and keep the nozzle away from your lips. The wine will pour into your mouth and you are meant to lift the Bota bag up and aim the wine into your mouth; all while not spilling on yourself. I didn’t try it myself (I’m way too clumsy) but the other group members seemed to have loads of fun trying out this new way of drinking wine!
Cost: 25 euros per person.
Brunch Club Cafe
Ok, so I didn’t have brunch at this restaurant but I did visit for breakfast. It’s really close to the Gran Via. I stumbled across this gem by accident while searching for an open breakfast spot on Google Maps. The Brunch Club Cafe has a great aesthetic and vibe to it. It’s filled with quirky furniture, loads of plants and don’t get me started on the food!
At initial glance, the prices look exorbitant but you get so much food for what you pay. I had the mini brunch option for breakfast which comes with fresh orange juice, coffee and an option of one main dish. You could also swap out the orange juice for mimosas but I thought 9 am was too early to start drinking. Or is it?
The Brunch Club Cafe also has a really cool system whereby you can swap books. You bring a book and take a book. It’s just a really unique and fun idea for guests to constantly have a fresh supply of books.
Cost of the mini brunch: 12 euros per person.
What To Do And Where To Visit in Puerto Banus
The hotel I stayed at: H10 Andalucia Plaza (I would highly recommend this fantastic hotel)
Treat Yourself in Puerto Banus for the Luxaholics
If you drive a sports car, own several yachts and have a flair for showing off your wealth, then Puerto Banus is somewhere you should visit (or possibly live). Puerto Banus is where the rich and famous Spaniards live. Take a walk along the harbour and you’ll find so many yachts waiting in the dock. There are so many beautiful boutiques as well. So if you’re in the market for buying luxury items – then Puerto Banus should have you covered.
There are so many bars and beach clubs along the beach so if drinking cocktails and going for a swim in the sea is your thing then you will love Puerto Banus. There aren’t too many activities to do besides drinking and dining but your stay at Puerto Banus will be a luxurious one. I would recommend staying for no more than a day due to the fact that there isn’t a variety of activities to do.
What To Do And Where To Visit in Mijas
Explore in Mijas for the Photographers
I wrote a blog post around the beautiful town of Mijas. In my opinion, Mijas is the most photogenic town in Spain. It reminds me a lot of Santorini, which is perhaps why I adore it so much. Walk around Mijas and explore every nook and cranny. You’ll see lots of little alleyways with the cutest houses and awesome views of the Mediterranean sea. You’ll have a blast exploring the town and going into the little tourist shops (if that’s your kind of thing).
There is also a church made completely out of stone. The Virgin of the Rock is a very small chapel with minimal decor inside. The views from the chapel are incredible and a must-see! The chapel itself is quaint, tranquil and one of the highlights of visiting Mijas. It’s free to enter however, you can donate some euros once inside the chapel.
Pro tip: Don’t ride the donkeys (Buro Taxis) as they spend all their time in the sun with no water or food. I urge everyone that visits Mijas to please not ride the donkeys which is essentially just humans exploiting animals for personal gain.
What To Do And Where To Visit in Granada
Granada is very different from the rest of Spain. It’s heavily influenced by the Moors and you can get a feel of this from the architecture and cuisine. It is a must visit if you’d like to experience a part of Spain that is so different from what you have imagined.
The hotel I stayed at: Hotel Monjas del Carmen
Exploring Granada for the Culture Lovers
Alhambra and Generalife
The Alhambra is the number 1 reason why people visit Granada. You need to book your tickets in advance (at least 90 days prior to visiting) because it is very popular and there is a limit of daily tourists. Only 300 people are allowed to enter every 30 mins so you need to pick a time and make sure you’re there for the allocated time. The tickets to get in are relatively affordable, however, going with a personal tour guide is a lot more pricey. It is worth spending a little bit more so that you can understand what you’re visiting and you can learn the history and culture. Plus, booking a tour will help you skip the line. On the downside, going on a tour will be a lot more rushed because the tour guide will want to finish the tour at a certain time.
The Alhambra is difficult to describe, it was once a city and a Palace surrounded by beautiful gardens and pools. Alhambra means ‘The Red’ which refers to the colour of materials used during its construction. This city within a city was built from 1232 to 1492 by the last Muslims to rule Spain.
The Generalife is made up of lush gardens, pools and fountains, which is a significant theme across this Muslim kingdom. The Generalife is meant to symbolise the afterlife which stated in the Koran, is filled with gardens, underneath which water flows. The Alhambra has some tourist shops where you can find some keepsakes to take with you back home. I was so impressed with the gardens that I bought a coffee table book called ‘Plants of the Alhambra’ which I now look at and remember the luxurious gardens inspired by paradise. Visiting the Alhambra should be on your bucket list.
If you’re visiting in the Summer, book tickets for the morning slots because the heat will get unbearable. There are a lot of shady spots scattered around the Alhambra but visiting in the morning could also mean fewer crowds. On the plus side, the gardens will be filled with colourful flowers and greenery during the Spring/Summer months. So I would recommend visiting the Alhambra when it’s a bit warmer.
Additional information you might need to know before you arrive:
- Generally, people spend 3-4 hours at the Alhambra so keep this in mind when planning the day’s activities.
- Start off by visiting the Generalife gardens first as it close to all the other attractions.
- You’ll also see the Alcazaba which a ruined fortress. I didn’t go inside however, I know there is a good view of Granada from the towers.
- You’ll also come across the Charles V Palace which was built from 1527 to 1957 by the Catholic Monarchs.
- The most exciting architecture to see is the Nasrid Palace, which has surprisingly stayed intact even after the Catholics took control.
- The Nasrid Palace is made up of three buildings, namely the Mexuar, the Palace of Comares and the Palace of the Lions.
- The Alhambra is considered a UNESCO site and also the most visited sight in Spain.
- You’ll need to have paid for a ticket for the Nasrid Palace, Generalife and the Alcazaba. There is security to check your tickets at each point.
Cost: 39 euro per person for a guided tour or 14 euros per person for a general ticket with no guided tour.
Granada is known as one of the birthplaces of the Flamenco dance. If you decide to see a Flamenco Show at Maria’s Tavern then you will be picked up and dropped off at your hotel and you’ll also catch sight of some really stunning views of the Alhambra at night. At first glance, the tavern is small, authentic-looking and head to toe with ornaments and pictures on the wall. This tavern is found in the old Roma Gypsy neighbourhood.
The tavern (or cave if you will) is filled with chairs lined up against the walls so that the audience can be up close and personal with the Flamenco dancers. There are old black and white photographs and newspaper clippings of famous Flamenco dancers from years ago dancing in the very same tavern. There is also traditional Sacromonte craftwork (pottery and hammered copper) draped on the walls.
Maria’s Tavern was a delight. The Flamenco dancers were mesmerising and the little cavern made it feel a lot more intimate and special. Drinks are served to those who want ( which is included in the price) and the dancing lasts for about an hour. You could pay for dinner as well and have a traditional Spanish dinner at the nearby restaurant.
The Flamenco dancing at Maria’s cave has won numerous awards and has been visited by the King and Queen of Spain themselves. The Flamenco show includes the Zambra which is the dance of a Gypsy Wedding. This dance is not often displayed at regular Flamenco shows. It truly is worth seeing the Flamenco show live because you’re helping keep Spanish traditions alive.
Cost: 22 euro per person.
What To Do And Where To Visit in Seville
Visiting Seville in July is boiling hot. I arrived in the afternoon and had a guided tour that same afternoon. Walking around in 39-degree heat while visiting all the sights is absolute torture. The guide mentioned that the previous year in July, the temperatures reached 47 degrees. Can you imagine walking around in that heat with no water and carrying people on your back while you’re at it? I certainly can’t.
Imagine my surprise when I see there are horses pulling uncaring (and disgusting) humans in the heat in Seville during the Summer months with no water and no shade while being whipped at the same time.
Pro tip: Don’t support the exploitation of horses for human greed. Have a heart. Lastly, you can walk without the assistance of the horse regardless of warm Seville is.
The hotel I stayed at: Novotel Sevilla
Exploring Seville for the Photographers
Plaza de España
Plaza de España is a semi-circled playground for photographers. It’s over-the-top beautiful with large fountains, a moat and Venetian looking bridges. There are 48 colourful pavilions that display tiled maps for each Spanish province. You can rent a rowboat for 6 euros pp while someone rows you around the plaza. The architecture is a mix of Spanish and Moorish influences. A trip to Seville would be incomplete if you didn’t visit Plaza de España.
Cost: free to explore
Jardin de Murillo
This is a really cool spot to hide from the scorching heat and relax in the shade. This urban park is filled with monuments, flowers, Magnolia, and orange trees and water fountains. Bring a book, a picnic basket and chill out.
Barrio Santa Cruz
Right next to the Murillo gardens is Barrio Santo Cruz which is also known as the Jewish Quarter.
The narrow streets lined with shops and restaurants form an immersive labyrinth. You could easily spend hours walking up and down the streets, looking at all the shops and seeing the beautiful houses. Seville is famous for houses with attractive courtyards. You’ll get a bit lost but that’s what makes it so special. Leave your GPS and get lost in the maze.
The shops are not your usual run of the mill tourist shops either. There are hand-painted Spanish fans, leather notebooks, ceramics and unique jewellery waiting to be discovered. There are a lot of restaurants to try out in this area and all of them look so appealing. After wandering around, I ended up having dinner at a restaurant called Alianza which is in the Plaza Alianza. It’s a shady and small plaza with a fountain in the middle surrounded by brightly coloured apartments.
What To Do And Where To Visit in Ronda
Ronda is the perfect day trip from Seville and there is plenty to see. Apart from all the leather shops, there are gorgeous viewpoints of the gorge, cobbled roads and outstanding scenery to admire. Ronda is also home to one of the oldest bullrings, however, since I don’t support the sport, I did not want to visit the ring.
Exploring Ronda for the Architecture Lovers
The bridge is the main attraction of Ronda and why Ronda is so special. You’ve got the white houses placed on the edge of the cliff, the bridge connecting the old and new town and the Guadalevin river down below. It’s really spectacular and something to see in person. Photos don’t do it any justice.
Plaza del Socorro
There’s are several of restaurants around the Plaza del Socorro. After some exploring, it’s perfect to sit down, relax and drink something refreshing.
Exploring Ronda for the Shopaholics
Old and New Town
Ronda has plenty of leather and trinket shops. If you’re tired of gazing upon the gorgeous views (as if that could ever happen) then spend some time walking around the old and new town. There are some great boutique gems amongst the usual tourist shops.
Exploring Ronda for the Nature Lovers
The viewpoint is right by the Plaza de Toros where the bullring is located. You can look out from the balcony and admire the scenic beauty from above. You’ll see valleys, fields of greenery and houses residing on the edge of the cliff.
What To Do And Where To Visit in Toledo
Toledo would be a good option for a day trip from Madrid. Luckily I got to stay over in Toledo overnight. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and it gives off some serious Middle Ages vibes. Walking through the town feels like you’ve time travelled through to a completely different era. Toledo is well known for making swords and the swords from Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings were made in Toledo. As if you needed another reason to come here!
The hotel I stayed at: Hotel Carlos V
Exploring Toledo for the Photographers
Mirador del Valle
This is a well-known viewpoint of Toledo. Apart from being well-known, it wasn’t packed to the brim with tourists. You get a spectacular view of Toledo and the Tagus river down below.
This Cathedral is massive so you can’t really miss it. Most of the Toledo attractions are really close to each other and the Cathedral is no different. It is the second largest Cathedral in Spain and it’s really unique because it started out as a church, then built into a Mosque and finally it became a Cathedral.
Puente de San Martin
This bridge was built in the 14th century and it’s built over the Tagus river with views looking over the city. There is also a zip-line that runs parallel to the bridge. I wanted to try it but unfortunately, I wasn’t dressed for the occasion. My red flowery dress would have flown up to my face if I attempted to zip-line.
Cost: Walking on the bridge is free but if you want to zip-line then it will cost 10 euro per person.
Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes
This is really close to Puente de San Martin and is a really beautiful monastery. Look up close and you’ll see images of the Christian prisoners being freed by the Catholic Monarch.
The Jewish Quarter
This neighbourhood is beautiful but go in without a plan or GPS. Get lost and wander around the cobbled streets. Immerse yourself completely in this well-preserved historic centre. Look out for the tiles on the streets marking the quarter’s boundaries.
Wrapping Up the Comprehensive Spain Trip Planner
My trip to Spain was filled with a ton of exploring, walking, tapas and beautiful sunny weather. My wish is that this Spain travel guide/planner will assist you in experiencing only the best that Spain has to offer. There’s still so much more to see in Spain and I want to add new itineraries for other cities and towns to this post in the future. Let me know if you’ve been to any of the locations above and if not, let me know what you’re most excited about seeing first!