Start in the north and work your way along the coast line to the middle of the country and the capital of Madrid. You’ll see a nice variety of cities and some smaller towns. You’ll have fast paced city life and laid back coastal living. Excellent food will accompany you throughout your trip.
This itinerary can be worked back to front if that better suits your travel or flight needs.
How to allocate 14 days in Spain
Start in Bilbao (1 day):
Arrive at industrial, sprawling, edgy Bilbao to start your trip. Your priorities here are art and eating.
The Guggenheim museum is most known for its modern design, done by the architect, Frank Gehry. It’s a museum of contemporary art and is known for its site-specific pieces which you may not recognize but will probably still find compelling.
You can book tickets online at no extra charge, lines on the day you visit can be highly variable. €10 adult entry. However, you might want to just stick to the exterior, the most interesting part of the museum.
You’ll want to head to Casco Viejo afterward. The old town is excellent for a wander about but more importantly is the place to fill your stomach. Pintxos, Basque tapas are everywhere here, laid out along bar tops for you to eye and choose from.
Then, to San Sebastian (2 days):
Stop number two is only an hour’s drive from Bilbao, or you can hop on a Lurralde Bus for a nearly two-hour journey from Bilbao’s outskirts.
In San Sebastian, you’ll want to keep up with the eating (a common theme throughout Spain) but beaches and outdoor activities will fill up your two days.
Check out the urban beaches, sometimes referred to as the most beautiful in Europe, San Sebastian has four of them. The most famous and central is La Concha beach. Spanning nearly 1.5 kilometers, the beach sits in a protected bay making its waters calm and good for less strong swimmers. If you’re a surfer and after something a bit more challenging Ondarreta should be more up your alley.
When you’ve finished with the sand head up to Mount Urgull where you’ll find remains of the cities brief military past. Remains of the castle and its cannon once used to defend the city still stand, along with the Casa de la Historia, a simple museum of military artifacts.
Sun and a bit of a hike will leave you with some hunger pains but luckily, you’re in yet another Spanish city renowned for its cuisine. Pintxos are the name of the game here too and along the same vein as Bilbao, the best way to enjoy them is to crawl through old town eating drinking, and laughing.
Head down to Costa Brava (3 days):
Getting from San Sebastian to the Costa Brava is a bit of a trek and the shortest driving route is actually through France with Toulouse being an excellent mid-way stop for a leg stretch and a snack. The nearly 6-hour drive will feel entirely justified once you’ve arrived at the rocky pink terrain and dipped your toes in the shattering blue water.
If access to a car is not possible we recommend skipping this part of the trip as access both to and around the area will prove quite difficult. Instead add day trips from Barcelona to Montserrat, and from Madrid to Segovia, and Toledo. Or spend an extra day in the Basque country and visit La Rioja for some of the best wines in the world.
Tamariu as base
On the coast, you’ll want to make your base and use your car to take day or half day trips around. We recommend Tamariu as an excellent place to stay, it’s not been subjected to the massive high rises and general onslaught of tourists that so many of the region's towns have seen. It keeps its local feel and as such you’ll miss out on some things like night life. But in exchange you’ll get some of the clearest waters around with extraordinary snorkeling and diving options.
Girona is an essential stop in the area, you could choose to hit it on your way into town if you’re not totally exhausted from your days driving. If you choose to head straight to the seaside on day one then take day two to check out the city and its cathedral as well as the Jewish quarter, remarkably well preserved, and the fortress walls.
Then, Barcelona (4 days):
You’re in for a much shorter drive, just two hours, to Barcelona.
In the energetic, young, seaside city you’ll find much to do and marvel at. Barcelona has some of the most fascinating architecture in perhaps, the world, and it’s remarkable that it does considering its very dark, not so distant, past.
Four days here will give you time to explore and relax but you have a few priorities of where to visit.
Number one is to make sure you see plenty of Gaudi architecture. The most famous and unavoidable being The Sagrada Familia a church designed to be as big as a cathedral. The building was started over 120 years ago and while estimates vary it isn’t expected to be finished for another 10-15 years. It’s amazing to think what it will be in its entirety because today it is far from disappointing. The grand structure should be seen both inside and out. A €29 ticket will get you access to the church, the tower and an audio guide.
Las Ramblas and Barri Gotic
A great area to get to know the past and present of Barcelona is along Las Ramblas and throughout the Gothic Quarter. Las Ramblas was once the main artery of local life in the city but today is the main artery of tourist life. You’ll find a huge number of living statues, lots of souvenirs and plenty of terraced cafes.
Instead of going into more detail, I encourage you to read these excellent itineraries for Barcelona.
Finally, Madrid (4 days):
Barcelona to Madrid is a much shorter journey by train, operated by RENFE. Though prices for larger groups will add up. Decide if your priority is money or time and choose the best transport method.
For your final four days in Spain you’ll be in Madrid, elegant and clean, and full of art and history. If you feel you’ve missed out on anything Spanish in your two weeks you’ll surely find it here where every bit of Spain’s broad culture can be found.
Priorities in Madrid revolve around art and architecture. You’ll certainly want to make your way to the Prado, Spain’s national art museum where you’ll find an array of exceptional artists from Goya to Titian. The works range from the 12th to 20th centuries and include painting, sculptures, drawings, and prints totaling in the tens of thousands. Advanced tickets are recommended, especially in high season. Adult prices are €15.
In Madrid, you’ll find the Puerta del Sol and the Plaza Mayor with ease, both very centrally located in downtown. And excellent meeting points to stop and have a drink or a bite to eat, their locations mean there is always plenty of foot traffic and lots of goings-ons to watch.
Practical suggestions for 2 weeks in Spain
1. Bar crawl Bilbao
Our best recommendation is to do a little crawl, pop in see if you like the vibe and grab a bite or two before carrying on to the next stop. This’ll give you the most diversity in your pintxo (tapa) choices.
2. San Sebastian is pricey but worth it
The San Sebastian vibe is extremely different from its nearby Basque neighbor with a beachy, surfy, chill climate. Prices are high, one of the highest in the city, but don’t let that discourage you. With beaches a plenty and more pintxos than you’ll know what to do with San Sebastian is a real treat.
3. You can also take a bus to Mount Urgull
It’s a moderately difficult climb to the top, though you can alter it slightly depending on which route you take, more direct being steeper and more difficult. Alternatively, a bus runs every 25 minutes but if your ability allows it, do walk.
4. Don't miss Basque food specialties
Keep an eye out for a few specialties: Txuleta an aged beef best when it’s grilled to a char around the edge leaving a raw middle. Kokotxas the cheek of hake or cod which may be a bit hard to stomach due to its gelatinous texture but if you can ignore that give the sweet cut of fish a go.
5. Driving tip
We recommend picking your car up on your way out of San Sebastian (you don’t want to have to park it while there) keeping it through your two days on the coast and using it to get yourself to Barcelona where you should return it on arrival or pack it and leave it.
6. In Barcelona go beyond Sagrada Familia
The second most popular Gaudi work is Parc Güell which is an outdoor space decorated with some stunning tile mosaics, ornate benches and other pieces. While parts of the park are free to enter you’ll have to get a ticket to enter the monumental area and that will cost you €8 in person or €7 online.
With 4 days you will have time to also see [other] modernist buildings of Barcelona, equally stunning though sometimes overshadowed by Gaudi's works.
7. Keep belongings safe in Gothic Quarter
Around the corner from Las Ramblas you’ll find the Gothic Quarter full of amazing architecture, streets, and squares worth getting lost in. Be very careful of personal belongings, unfortunately, pickpocketing does run rampant in the area.