We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.
We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Northern vs Southern Spain

Which Seville hotels are on sale?
mm/dd/yyyy mm/dd/yyyy
See hotels
Toronto, Ontario
Level Contributor
332 posts
11 reviews
Northern vs Southern Spain

Hi everyone! I already posted this in the general spain forum but someone suggested I might have more luck posting in specific forums, so I am going to try posting my question in the seville and san sebastian forums as well.

My husband and I are in the process of planning a 9 day trip to Spain from June 22-30 (this does not include our travel days, which will be June 21 and July 1). We know this isn't much time, but it is all we can get away from work, so we are trying to make the best use of our time!

Right now, we are torn between concentrating our time in Northern vs. Southern Spain and have come up with 3 loose itineraries. I have already done some research and am fairly certain we would enjoy all 3 options, but I am hoping to get some opinions from people who have been to both areas. Here are our 3 options:

Option 1: Fly into Barcelona and out of Bilbao

2 days Barcelona (my husband has been before and we don't want to see any sights, just enjoy wandering around parts of the city), drive to La Rioja region (my husband likes to drive and we would make it a fun day of stopping in pretty towns etc.) and stay 2-3 days in this area doing wine tastings, drive to San Sebastian area for our last 4 days before flying home out of Bilbao.

Option 2: Fly in and out of Bilbao

Drive right to la Rioja area and spend 4-5 days in this area wine tasting, followed by 4-5 days in San Sebastian area before flying home out of Bilbao.

Option 3: Fly in and out of Madrid

2 days in Madrid (possibly with a day trip to Toledo), followed by time in Granada, Ronda (and/or other Andalucia hill towns - we will rent a car) and Seville. I am not quite sure of this itinerary, we might tweak it to change some citys so we can add a costal town (e.g., Tarifa, Cadiz) for a day or two. But the main idea would be to concentrate on southern Spain.

We know these trips couldn't be more different but we are so torn because we're sure we would love both for different reasons. In general, we are in our late 20s/early 30s and are fairly well travelled. This trip we are looking for a relaxing vacation that focuses on good food, wine (we prefer red), and beatufiul sights/scenery (either natural beauty and/or cultural/arcitecural beauty). We are not looking for a party scene and don't want to spend a lot of time going to museums/churches/historical monuments this trip. We equally love beaches, wandering along old, windy alley-ways lined with beautiful old buildings, and just taking in the local culture. I would prefer to stay away from areas that have been built up with a lot of modern buildings. While we enjoy big cities, we prefer to stay in cities and/or areas of cities that have a older/smaller town feel to them. We also love going off the beaten track a bit to see the country/smaller towns.

So, with that in mind, does anyone have any suggestions for us on which option they think would be best?? Any and all help is very much appreciated!!

Thanks in advance :)

Brussels, Belgium
Destination Expert
for Seville
Level Contributor
3,539 posts
24 reviews
1. Re: Northern vs Southern Spain

following your description, I would go for option 2, but staying in Bilbao at least 1 or 2 nights. Recently I´ve made a trip to Pamplona, Estella, Logroño, Haro, San Millan de la Cogolla and Burgos in 4 nights and it´s been great. You´ll need a car tho.

Toronto, Ontario
Level Contributor
332 posts
11 reviews
2. Re: Northern vs Southern Spain

Thank you so much for the reply! Do you suggest option 2 just because you loved the La Rioja region? That was the region all the towns you noted were from, right? I would love any other information you have! Which town did you stay in as a base for the 4 nights you talked about. Have you been to San Sebastian? We will definitely rent a car.

Also, why would you suggest staying in Bilbao? I know about the Guggenheim (which we aren't particularly interested in seeing) and I have read they have modern architecture, which is not really what we are looking for. Is there another reason you would recommend it? If it would fit with our travel interests, it would make sense to end our trip there, since we would fly out of Bilbao if we go with option 2.

Thanks again!

Edited: 3:58 pm, December 27, 2012
Madrid, Spain
Level Contributor
6,749 posts
1 review
3. Re: Northern vs Southern Spain

I'd head to San Sebastián (Basque Country), then I'd dig that wonderful surrounding areas: Navarra and La Rioja. Short distances, great food and wine, scenic villages and an off-the-beaten-path experience compared to the Mediterranean resorts. You can enjoy a non-cliched Spain (avoid also those 'hemingway' Pamplona's cliches). From San Sebastián to Bilbao is a short highway ride.

Brussels, Belgium
Destination Expert
for Seville
Level Contributor
3,539 posts
24 reviews
4. Re: Northern vs Southern Spain

actually the whole San Sebastian/Bilbao and all the other places I named in my first message are pretty close, in a 2 hours max highway ride. Santo Domingo de la Calzada Parador is a nice hotel as a base for Logroño, San Millan de la Cogolla and Haro (all of them in La Rioja region) and Puente de la Reina and Estella (in Navarra region). Burgos is a bit out of the way but worth the effort in my opinion, great Cathedral and historic center.

Bilbao is a great place to wander around, mixing perfectly new and old.

Vitoria is also close to everything and worth a visit.

London, England
Level Contributor
6,147 posts
65 reviews
5. Re: Northern vs Southern Spain

Yes, I would agree with the comments about San Sebastian, Bilbao, La Rioja. However, IMHO some of the most majestic scenery is in the mountains in the Picos de Europa in the Asturias region. We have stayed at the Parador de Santillana del Mar, which is lovely. The coastal towns are all worth a visit as well as nearby places like Gijon, Oviedo or Santander.

Alternatively, you could go to the Galicia region and visit places like Vigo, Santiago de Compostela, Pontevedra, La Corruna etc. Also famed for its seafood and delicious white wines like Ribeiro and Albarino.

In the north of Spain there are lots of lovely rustic style hotels. Look up Hoteles Rurales , Casas Rurales or Agroturismos.

I also love the south of Spain and visit Seville most years, but I like the verdant scenery of the north more than the dryness of the south.

Toronto, Ontario
Level Contributor
332 posts
11 reviews
6. Re: Northern vs Southern Spain

Thank you for the suggestions! After a quick search, it seems like vigo, santiago de compostela, etc. would be too far away for our 9 day trip, Santander etc., seems nearby so I will definitely do some research on these cities/towns. I think visiting a smaller coastal town would actually be a lovely addition to the trip, if possible. Thanks again!

Malaga, Spain
Destination Expert
for Malaga, Andalucia, Madrid, Zaragoza, Valencia, Seville
Level Contributor
43,042 posts
2,821 reviews
7. Re: Northern vs Southern Spain

Europa:

I would choose Andalusia first, if you have never visited it before. Seville, Granada and Cordoba have monuments that are beautiful.

From Madrid you can take the AVE to Cordoba. Read Buying Renfe Tickets Online.

There are many more buses from Cordoba to Granada than trains. Read Buying Alhambra Tickets Online. Stay 2 nights in Granada.

Take the bus from Granada to Seville. A good hotel in downtown Seville is the Hotel Becquer. Stay 3 nights in Seville.

About La Rioja:

To see wineries, you have to have reservations to particular wineries. This may not be the easiest to make. It is not like Napa or Sonoma Valleys in California where you can just walk in and have a tour and try wines. They are not that organized in La Rioja.

London, England
Level Contributor
6,147 posts
65 reviews
8. Re: Northern vs Southern Spain

As BennyMalaga says in La Rioja you often need appointments to visit the bodegas, but that is not a problem at all, you can do it online or call them. We visited Vina Tondonio in Haro. They have the tours in different languages. At the end of the tour they opened bottles of their best red and white wines for tasting and served jamon and Manchego cheese. There was as much wine, jamon and cheese as you wanted and the whole visit had been free of charge

Another day we went into the bar in the 5 star hotel on the Marques de Riscal estate in El Ciego. The bar had an unbelievable selection of wines, not just their own. We actually stayed on one of the estates in the small town of La Guardia at the bbodega of Los Palacios. It has rooms and a renowned restaurant.

We had dinner one night in a fabulous old coaching inn, I'll see if I can remember the name.

London, England
Level Contributor
6,147 posts
65 reviews
9. Re: Northern vs Southern Spain

I have remembered the place we went to in Laguardia. It is called Posada Mayor de Migueloa. We went there for dinner, which was very good and accompanied by their own excellent wine. It is also a hotel, so mat be a place to consider to stay. They have their own bodega which you can visit.

The town of Laguardia itself is also worth seeing.

If you look on La Rioja Forum there is plenty of information about visiting the bodegas.

Northampton, MA
Level Contributor
2,964 posts
33 reviews
10. Re: Northern vs Southern Spain

It's a tough choice as all options are great. The architecture and flamenco culture most of us associate with Spain is to be found in Andalucia. For a first time trip I always suggest Madrid, Seville and Granada. However the North coast and La Rioja are special parts of the world. San Sebastian might be the most beautiful city in Europe. You will need a car in the North but you will not need one in the South.