Far from the resort holidays, the new generation prefers road trips as the perfect way to explore a country (and at their own pace). Spain is every backpacker’s dream but its interiors remain elusive to tourists. This has lent the country to maintain a certain mystery with travelers. And those who take a long drive around Spain will soon realize there’s much more to the country than beaches.
We have listed some of our favorites stops that are bound to turn your heads and let you enjoy the best that Spain has to offer. But it’s worth noting first that Spanish law requires short-sighted drivers to always have a spare pair of prescription glasses. Taking care of the road safety rules on your road trip is of the utmost importance. And getting travel insurance is an added advantage. Now – Vamos!
El Carmel (Barcelona)
Many Spanish holidays begin in Barcelona for good reason. It’s the perfect place to fly into the country, stock up on supplies and set off from. As one of Europe’s leading cities, there’s plenty of famed attractions to queue for – but those looking to escape crowds of tourists can even find lesser-known places inside the city limits.
El Carmel is a residential neighborhood which includes a grassy hill called Turó de la Rovira. Here, locals gather each evening to see the sunset over the city– enjoying a 360-degree view. Bus drivers can drop you at the right spot if you ask for ‘Bunkers del Carmel’ (the site also plays host to Civil War-era fortifications).
Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (Valencia)
Driving down the coast, you’ll soon come to the lively port city of Valencia. The most obvious attraction here is architecture – though many would say the must-see buildings are not historic but futuristic.
A visionary complex of cultural institutions, the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia was designed by one of the most sought-after architects alive, Santiago Calatrava. The museums themselves host an opera house, a 3D cinema and an aquarium amongst more traditional gallery spaces – and, if you head there on a Sunday, you’ll find some offer or free entry.
If you happen to be in Spain in August, don’t forget to check out the La Tomatina festival, held during the last Wednesday of August. If you already don’t know it, the La Tomatina festival is a food-fight festival where people throw ripped tomatoes on each other. The festival is believed to have been originated from a street fight back in 1945 where one ruffian local started to pelt everyone with vegetables from a nearby market stall.
It’s a shame to visit Spain and not experience at least some of its unique Southern heritage. Heading inland from Valencia, it’s possible to take a route which includes at least one of Spain’s fantastic national parks – en route to Cordoba.
This beautiful city’s historic past is summed up by the Mezquita (Mosque). A sophisticated and spacious building that reflects the harmony Muslims, Christians and Jews found here.
Truly a revolutionary building, its banded arches (modeled after palm trees) are among the most iconic and inspirational sights in all of Europe’s places of worship. See it in the day and – if you can – again at night when there’s an otherworldly one-hour light show each evening (except Sundays).
Heading north-west from Cordoba (toward the Portuguese border) will bring you into one of Spain’s most interesting regions. And, at the heart of this land, fought over for centuries is Trujillo, whose rich mix of heritage makes it a town that should be experienced as a whole.
Whereas other attractions on this list represent a moment in time, seeing the contrasts spread across the streets gives the sense of a wider span of time, and how it changes a place. The old town is one of the best-preserved medieval settlements in Spain. For instance, while many of the grandest buildings beyond were later created by the wealth brought back from the New World by the Conquistadors.
It’s also worth noting that if you’re there in Spring, you should look out for the hundreds of kestrels who nest in the antique rooftops before migrating to Africa.
Finally, every road-trip should complement its cultural riches with some old-fashioned over-indulgence. Driving north from Trujillo, Salamanca’s renowned nightlife is a suitable spot to celebrate. Indeed, many of the bars here won’t fill up until after Midnight, so prepare yourself to party long into the night.
In a city like Salamanca, even its pubs reflect its culture and history with its decoration. Besides the music, drinks and good ambiance, Salamanca’s nightlife provides the perfect excuse for tourists to see some of the bars from the inside.
Before turning for home, there’s a fun local custom to wrap your journey up: word has it that those who can find the frog intricately carved into the Universidad Civil walls are guaranteed good luck for a year.
The frog is nicknamed ‘little Parra’. If you are wondering why, some of the recent studies explain that the skull it’s sitting on symbolizes Seville’s Prince Juan, a teenager who died in 1497 before the facade was built. And the frog represents Doctor Parra, the doctor who frantically tried to save the little prince’s life. This explains the frog’s nickname.
Salamanca is home to several similar stone carvings and would be a great place to end your Spain road trip and to head out to your next destination.
I hope this post comes handy while planning your Spain road trip effectively, you of course get to choose your pace and stop wherever you like. Spain is a beautiful country with very nice welcoming people, but keep in mind, most of the people don’t speak English. Well that’s the part of the adventure, isn’t it?
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