Spain, my first big travel love. It is a country of culinary diversity, with small „pueblos blancos“ (white villages), beautiful nature and remarkable people. I traveled to the mainland of Spain for the first time in 2011 und cruised through Andalusia for a week with a rental car. Already then the Spanish lifestyle and joy of living grabbed a hold of me and hasn’t let me go since. In the past years I have visited Spain many, many more times and have discovered a few remarkable areas and places. Here I want to share with you my personal Top 10 destinations in Spain.
What is it about Spain that fascinates me so much?
I think mainly it’s the way people in Spain go through life: with total ease, the way they are so laid back and don’t worry about every little thing. They have a certain open-heartedness and kindness that you are greeted by when visiting the country. It is the passion when they dance, sing, speak and even eat. It’s the way Spaniards eat late in the evening, enjoying the warm evenings outside, just savoring the moment.
Of course there are a few spots here and there that are touristy, especially on some of the islands (which I have not been to yet at all, by the way!), but if you avoid the tourist hot spots, Spain is a mekka for individual travelers. No matter if you go by bus, car or hitch hike, there is just so much to discover. Especially for travel newbies I find Spain absolutely perfect- the infrastructure is great, prices are OK and it is a very safe country to travel. You should definitely learn a few Spanish phrases though, since not everyone speaks English here. Here are my 10 absolute favorite spots on the mainland of Spain:
Individual travel in Spain: My top 10 destinations
Granada is without a doubt one of the most impressing cities in Spain- a place that I have grown very fond of and that I would return to again and again. Characterized by the Andalusian flair and a rich and long history the city has so much to offer. Especially the neighborhood of Albaicín is one of my favorite parts of the city. And even though I am not into the tourist hot spots and like to avoid them- seeing the Alhambra is definitely worth it! And of course you cannot miss out on the tapas in Granada!
Hostel tip: Maktub Adventure Guesthouse
A rustic, small hostel with a typical Andalusian style, a lot of charm and character, a perfect location and an amazing rooftop terrace.The owner, Francois, offers his guests some really cool excursions and activities every day, like paragliding, canoeing etc. If you’re interested in Flamenco, there are classes for that, as well.
#2 Sierra Nevada
Only a short ride from Granada by bus or car the Sierra Nevada is without a doubt one of the most beautiful nature parks in all of Spain. Best thing to do is grab a rental car for a few days and just cruise along the very curvy roads while enjoying the amazing views. Here and there (mostly in the outskirts of the Sierra Nevada) you can also find some amazing, chrystal clear lakes. There are a few hotels, but I chose to grab my tent when I was there and camp on one of the campsites in the park.
My advice: While you’re at it you can take a trip further down South to the Alpujarras, that reach all the way to Almeria. It’s very well worth it!
What’s so special about Tarifa? Honestly, I couldn’t even tell you exactly. It’s pretty much just a small place (the windiest place in Europe, by the way, so it’s a mekka for kite surfers), but this place just has something special about it. Best thing is to just camp out on one of the nearby campsites and then just take a stroll in the city with the beautiful whitewashed houses and the old fortress. Today Tarifa is also a hotspot for digital nomads, so if you’re working location-independently Tarifa just might be a great place for you. Check out the coworking hostel „La Cocotera“ if you’re interested.
Daytrip- Tip: Tarifa is only a short ferry ride away from Morocco, which makes it a perfect base to take a day trip. Just ask at one of the many tourist offices at the harbor of Tarifa, you can get your ticket there.
The first time I visited Cadiz I didn’t really like it that much. It very likely had to do with the fact that I was only there for about half a day, had to drive into the center with our rental car and couldn’t find a parking spot anywhere. The second time I went though the city really grew on me. Because Cadiz really has everything you could want: The ocean, a beautiful old town, a wonderful market, amazing people and great destinations nearby for day-trips.
Hostel tip: Paella nights together, chilling in hammocks on the rooftop terrace, making music together.. that’s a typical evening at Casa Caracol in Cadiz. If you’re not into the hostel atmosphere and want some quiet time Casa Caracol might not be for you, but for a hostel it is really a wonderful place with a cool hippie-vibe and a very chill setup. (Link)
Destinations nearby: From Cadiz or on the way there it is definitely worth checking out some of the pueblos on the way. Especially Vejer de la Frontera and Caños de Meca are places that I instantly loved. Vejer, a white village high up on a plateau in the mountains, is surrounded by a town wall and offers visitors the chance to just take a stroll in the beautiful city centre (and take some amazing pictures!). Caños de Meca town that used to be a gathering place for the hippie movement in the 60s and where today hippies still intermingle with surfers, locals and vacationers. A pretty cool place with a beautiful beach.
#5 Las Negras/ Cabo de Gata
Further Southeast there is a little part of Spain that still has not been hit by tourism and is therefore rather serene. Especially in the nature park „Cabo de Gata“ nature is absolutely stunning: extinct volcanoes, black mountains, a rugged shoreline, partially interrupted by beautiful, almost empty beaches. Here the landscape very desertlike and the climate pretty dry. Las Negras is a great little place to stay while checking out all the surrounding nature.
Ronda is another very beautiful place in the Andalusian province of Málaga. Here you do run into a few tourists, especially on weekends, who stand by the breathtaking slopes of Ronda to take their pictures. But it is definitely worth it! When I was in the area I stayed with this wonderful woman and her daughter (through Couchsurfing.org) and therefore lived in a very small place called Alpandeire for a few days, about a half hour from Ronda. Here the landscape is also incredibly beautiful and, apart from a few small villages, the area is scarcely inhabited.
After just recently popping up on my radar, I found Valencia really cool right off the bat. The street art, the people, the whole vibe: I personally felt inspired right away. Since I only spent a half day there before heading to Jávea, I will definitely be returning to check the city out more thoroughly. I visited Jávea for the first time at the beginning of this year because I went on a little workation to the Sun and Co Coworking and Coliving space. You can read about my trip here.
#8 Zarautz/ Mundaka
Zarautz and Mundaka are two small, former fishing villages in the Basque country in the North of Spain that have their own unique charm and attract mainly younger travelers and especially surfers. I’ve been to Zarautz many times with friends, always on road trips and with our tents and surfboards in the trunk. Here you can not only hang out at the beach and surf though- the city centre of Zarautz also has a lot to offer!
Mundaka is known mainly to surfers because of the 400 meter long wave, that runs across the entire bay of Mundaka.
Suances is another place that attracts a lot of surfers. When a friend and I headed to Suances last year it wasn’t the town itself that wowed us that much, but more the surf-camp that we stayed at.
Accommodation tip: We really loved the so-called Biosurfcamp, mainly because of the wonderful people we met there and due to the fact that nearly everything took place outside. With a lot of love for detail the owner, Pablo, created this surf-camp and offers his guests a really great experience. Check out his camp right here.
#10 Picos de Europa
About a 4-hour drive from Zarautz (just cruise along the coastline and you’ll find some more really cool places) you’ll arrive at the national park „Picos de Europa“. The Picos are a limestone massif in the Cantabrian Mountains in the North of Spain- hiking here is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience! The gorges, the massive mountains, the valleys: The nature is just breathtaking! Surrounding the national park there are a few villages that can serve as a starting point for hikes in the Picos.
Do you have any other favorite destinations in Spain or any small places that you really enjoyed? Let me know in the comments’ section 🙂