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Northern vs Southern Spain

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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 :)

London, England
Level Contributor
6,242 posts
69 reviews
11. Re: Northern vs Southern Spain

The OP has also mentioned they want to eat good food. Well, according to many articles I have read, the Basque Country has more Michelin starred and acclaimed chefs than any other region of Europe.

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

Thank you so much to everyone for your replies, I appreciate it so much! In the end, we realized both areas would be so beautiful, so we just had to make a choice. This has been/will be a very busy year for us and we really want this to be a relaxing vacation with great food and wine so, in the end, we decided on the north of spain for this trip, since it sounds like it would be more leisurely and relaxing for us. I am sure we will make our way to southern spain on another trip when we have more time. We just booked our flights in and out of Bilbao, so now I can start focusing my energy on researching this area and planning our itinerary. So far we are very excited about Laguardia/La Rioja region and Saint Sebastian! We can't wait!

Thanks again to everyone, I am sure I will be back with more questions soon!

Level Contributor
51 posts
18 reviews
13. Re: Northern vs Southern Spain

I would fly into Madrid, then catch connecting flight to Granada. 2 nights Granada, train to Seville for 4 nights (day trip to Cordoba from Sevilla on fast AVE train). Train to either El Puerto de Santa Maria or Cadiz for remainder of stay and the flight from Jerez to Madrid. Happy holidays!!

Bilbao, España
Level Contributor
103 posts
14. Re: Northern vs Southern Spain

Good afternoon Europa513 :

I would say toss the coin but with three options rather difficult.

Bilbao can be use as basecamp and doing daytrips to San Sebastian, Burgos, ... but also to coastal villages Mundaka, Bakio - San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Zumaia, ... All depends on your interests.

If you are foodie or prefer normal things as a Fine Arts Gallery there is one famous one in Bibao. In Bilbao there is much more than Pollock paintings and so and what for one person it takes 3 hours other in 10 minutes has enough.

There is also buildings listed Word Heritage and is famous for trekking and food.

I would suggest going upto Santiago de Compostela and Camino de Santiago with stopover in Aviles (Niemeyer buildings), Romanesque remainings, Leon, ...

There is more Spains that Sun :) . Do you meet the Islas Canarias (Canaries Islands) with volcanoes and beaches with black sand ? many options apart from your three ones.

Best regards.

Edited: 9:44 am, January 19, 2013
South Florida...
Destination Expert
for Ronda
Level Contributor
9,782 posts
23 reviews
15. Re: Northern vs Southern Spain

First off, all three options are all a win-win.

Myself am a Andalucia type of guy, have been traveling in and out of Andalucia since 1968.

For my money, Seville is the prettiest city in Spain, of course, that is my opinion, which might buy you a beer someplace, LOL.

Granada, Cordoba, Cadiz, Ronda and Malaga, all very fun places to go in the South.

If you land in Madrid, Toledo and Segovia are great day trips.

Good luck and have fun. Hubie

Vancouver, Canada
Level Contributor
375 posts
78 reviews
16. Re: Northern vs Southern Spain

This is a great thread. We're also trying to decide between the north and the south. I'd also like to include Bordeaux which might give the lead to the North. Lots of great info guys, thank you.

London, England
Level Contributor
6,242 posts
69 reviews
17. Re: Northern vs Southern Spain


If you also wish to visit Bordeaux, then it's a no brainer, it has to be the north. I would choose somewhere like San Sebastian which is very close to the French border. From there you cold easily visit places like Pamplona and Bilbao and plenty of other interesting spots.

18. Re: Northern vs Southern Spain

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New Jersey
Level Contributor
256 posts
25 reviews
19. Re: Northern vs Southern Spain

Not sure why the thread was removed as I was learning so much from the posts. I too am planning my 1st trip this summer late June / early July and can't decide on n or south. My biggest question is weather and heat. I have memories 2 yrs ago in Athens suffering in 90 degrees! Will southern Spain be that bad early July . Would I be better off going north? I have to travel this time of year while my kids are out of school. They are not coming though. Just the hubby! Any ideas?

Brussels, Belgium
Destination Expert
for Seville
Level Contributor
3,599 posts
24 reviews
20. Re: Northern vs Southern Spain

heat in most central and southern spain is dry, while in most greece and italy is humid.

You can get over 100 in spain with same temperature feeling as 90 or less in athens. Nevertheless, yes, it will be hot (100 or so) Try to avoid the central hours (from 3pm to 6/7pm) or at least take it easy during those hours (siesta, cinema, museum with A/C, shopping...).

Things run in a later shift because of this (for example, a perfectly acceptable dinner time will be around 10pm or later)

Adapt to local customes, they have been fighting heat for centuries before A/C was invented.