Insider Tips for Where to Go in Spain

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Looking for insider tips on where to go in Spain? You’ve come to the right person. I’ve been living in Spain for going on 12 years and it’s been a wonderful experience to settle into life here. Among the many surprises that the country has thrown my way over the years is that Spain is much more diverse than people give it credit for being. Yes—siestas, tapas, paella and beautiful beaches are probably what pop in mind when thinking about what the country has to offer, but in reality, there’s so much more.

Insider Tips for Where to Go in Spain

Anyone on a trip to Spain for the first time will hit up Madrid—don’t miss Madrid’s Parks in spring—and Barcelona, because well, they are both spectacular cities that deserve to be explored. For those boomer travelers with a bit more time on their hands and who want to explore off-the-beaten-path, I have some personal recommendations for you. To make it a bit easier I’m going to break my Spain travel tips into four sections (here’s a map for reference).

Where to go in Spain from an insider’s point of view

Sun shines on Segovia's castle as it rises from a forest of green trees.
Segovia is my all-time favorite day trip from Madrid.

Northeast Spain: more than Barcelona

Northeast Spain includes the regions of Catalonia and Aragon. And, of course, you’ll find one of Spain’s most famous cities—and popular cruise ports—here. Barcelona! But once you’ve had your fill of gawking at Gaudi architecture, walking Las Ramblas or perhaps biking in Barcelona, follow my insider tips for going off-the-beaten-path in northeastern Spain.

Sunset view of girona's cathedral.
View of Girona’s beautiful cathedral.

Go to Girona. Sounds simple, but Girona, which is a great medieval city on its own, is also a wonderful place to use as a base to explore the beauty of this region of Spain. From here, you can go to Pals, Figures, Cadaques or any number of picturesque towns. Have you read my tips for day trips from Girona?

Looking for a guided tour in Girona? Check out what we found at Get Your Guide:

Are you inspired to begin planning a trip to Spain? Check out our Spain Travel Planner to get started!

Whitewashed buildings crowd the Cadaques harbour in Spain.
From Girona, make your way to Cadaques. It’s such a beautiful town, you’ll think you’re on a movie set.

Hop in the car and explore the quaint fishing villages and hidden beaches found along the coastline known as Costa Brava. Or if you’re into hiking lush green forests, you could always head inland to hike the many trails around the Garrotxa Zona Volcanica region. Or take a half-day hot air balloon flight.

Northwest Spain: one of the most beautiful places in Spain

If I had to choose, I would say that this is my favorite area of the Iberian Peninsula. Unlike most of Spain, it’s very green—as in fairytale green with rolling hills and rain. Yes, this area is gorgeous. If you’re Spain travel plans begin in Madrid, drive northwest to explore the regions of Asturias and Galicia to see what I mean.

Mountains and green grass frame the view of the Asturias landscape in Spain.
Asturias is known for its green, rolling hills and the rainy weather that keeps them so verdant.

If you can, travel down the coastline. Start at Santiago de Compostela (see the cathedral, of course!) and kick off a beautiful Road Trip Down the Lower Rias.The views are stunning, and the area is packed with tiny fishing villages, hidden coves, and some really incredible people that you’re sure to meet on your way.

Santiago de Compostela cathedral is bordered by green trees while a cloud-filled sky soars overhead. Santiago de Compostela is a must for your where to go in Spain list.
Santiago de Compostela is known for its majestic cathedral, the stopping point for thousands of pilgrims that make their way to the city every year.
Men dressed in white with red kerchiefs and hats play at a drum party in Galicia, Spain.
If you get there in summertime, you’ll most likely find yourself enjoying some of the local festivities!

Southern Spain destinations: take it slow

Andalucia, or southern Spain, offers boomer travel experiences that are rich in culture and history. If you’ve traveled to Spain looking for tapas, bull fighting, and flamenco, you’ve found it, not to mention lots of sunny weather. So slow down to soak in the Spanish ambiance.

The Alhambra sits on a green, forested hillside overlooking the town of Granada, Spain.
The beautiful Alhambra is one of Spain’s most prized gem. Sure, there’s lots of people, maybe lots of lines, but it is definitely worth it to see this beautiful landmark.

Many people will tell you that the beating heart of Spain is in Andalusia. And they’d be right. There is so much to see and do in Southern Spain. In Granada,visiting the Alhambra, a Muslim fortress that became a Moorish palace, is a must-do. Of course you’ll want to learn about flamenco in gorgeous Seville. And you’ll definitely want to spend time exploring Cordoba, another Spanish city rich in history.

Looking for a guided tour? Get Your Guide offers:

Red and white arches inside Cordoba's mezquita
A trip to Cordoba is not complete without seeing the Mezquita. Trust me – it’s worth it!

Although exploration is key when visiting a new destination, be forewarned that in southern Spain you’ll have to slow it down a bit. I’m talking slow travel the way it’s meant to be, taking your time, enjoying a tapa or twenty, strolling, exploring, but at a slow pace that you hardly find these days.

Inspired to go on a Spanish adventure? Start your search for hotels in Spain with us.

Which Spanish Islands to Visit?

There’s lots to explore when it comes to Spain’s two major island chains. So much in fact, that it makes it hard to choose where to go. The Balearic islands and the Canary islands are the most popular islands, but don’t leave out the Cies Islands off the coast of Galicia. CN Traveler has a great list of the best island destinations to visit if you’re looking to escape the crowds.

I haven’t visited all of the islands, but of the ones I’ve been to, I’d have to say that the most beautiful Spanish beach I’ve ever seen is a tie between the Cies Islands (on the western coast) and Formentera (in the Balearic islands).

The Cies Islands

Stunningly idyllic and natural, Cies Islands are just off the coast of Galicia. The Spanish government does a really good job of conserving these islands’ natural state. While important for preserving the environment, it does present a hassle for getting there. You have to make a reservation on the ferry, and there is a limited amount of people allowed on the island per day. You can camp there—something that is definitely on my bucket list!

White beach bordered by sea grass on a blue sky day in Spain's Cies Islands
The Cies Islands is not easy to get to, but once you’re there, the natural beauty is breathtaking.

The Balearic Islands

Going from my favorite west coast destination to my favorite Spanish east coast island, Formentera is in the Balearic Islands. But there’s lots more to explore in this Mediterranean island chain.

There are four islands here—Majorca, Ibiza, Menorca, and Formentera. I haven’t been to Menorca (Donna explored the Talus ruins on a Menorca cruise excursion), but I can attest to the gorgeousness of the other islands.

Majorca has been our go to beach spot for years. When I first moved to Spain, I went to Ibiza a few times and loved it. Although it’s known as a party island, the beaches and natural state of Ibiza is way more impressive in my opinion than its club scene.

However, as much as I love Majorca and Ibiza, I have to say that Formentera is really near and dear to my heart. Again, this island is not easy to get to, but it is so worth the hassle. It’s very small, just 4 miles across, which makes exploring easy. But, in all honesty, you’ll most likely want to find your perfect beach and sit and enjoy instead of running all over the place. It’s a paradise!

Formentera beach with grassy hillocks and a turquoise colored sea.
Simply put – Formentera is a natural paradise.
Green covers the low mountains of ibiza's coastline.
Don’t let Ibiza’s party reputation fool you. There are so many gorgeous beaches once you venture out from the thumping nightclubs.

The Canary Islands

As far as the Canary Islands, there are seven islands to explore, but I’ve only been to Lanzarote. I must say that this place is really out of this world.

Unique in that the whole island has a volcanic landscape, the beaches are made of black sand, which creates incredible shots for photographers. This island is spectacular in many ways, and has a ton of interesting things to see including cactus gardens, whitewashed villages and the rugged Timanfaya National Park.

Black rock juts into the sea on a black sand beach in Lanzarote. A few colorful small boats are pulled up onto the sand.
Lanzarote has black sand beaches that make for some stunning photos.

I hope I’ve given you some insight into the best places to visit in Spain. It really is a very diverse country with tons of things to see and do!

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Text on photo: Where to Go in Spain, Tips From an Insider. Photo: Medieval bridge reflecting into the water in the Spanish countryside.

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