Get off the beaten track and explore the north coast of Spain, joining the Madrileños as they holiday in Galicia. Hug the coast as you loop back around on this road trip, via vast open stretches of untouched beach, and potter around places so packed full of pintxos, you'll wonder if you'll ever feel hungry again. Remember to pack your bags leaving plenty of room to bring back enough Alboriñho vino to see you through the summer. Ready?
Days 1 to 3: Madrid
Stroll the Retiro park and visit the Palacio de Cristal, now home to art exhibits, though it was originally built in 1887 as an admittedly impressive greenhouse. Don’t miss Picasso’s Guernica at the Reina Sofia Museum. Stop by the Mercado de San Miguel—it’s a refurbished market packed with restaurants and tapas bars, and the Platea food court.
If you arrive on the second weekend of the month, don’t miss the Mercado do Motores—a flea market where you’ll find anything and everything from vintage bikes to vinyl records.
Have a drink at the old-school, iconic La Valencia bar and try Gran Claval, a vermouth and wine bar, or Ultramarinos Quentin. Stay at sophisticated Hotel Urso for its Scandi-inspired interiors or The Principal for its central location and rooftop views.
Speaking of which, Madrid is king of roof top bars, especially come summer as a welcome breeze lifts the heat of the day, so try The Hat’s, which is open year-round and budget friendly or the Azotea del Círcolo for its 360-degree panoramic views
Days 3 to 4: Salamanca and the west coast
It’s an early start today—drive just over two hours to arrive in Salamanca for lunch—it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stroll around the Plaza Mayor and University, which was established in 1425. From there, continue on another four-and-a-half hours to the town of Sanxenxo, on the west coast of Spain, just north of the Portuguese border, and make this your base for the next couple of days.
Take a quick dip in the city beach then head north to La Lanzada beach (a 15-minute drive). Eat in nearby El Grove, a fisherman’s town—it’s known for having the best seafood in Spain, and try Beiramar restaurant. Stop off at the charming village of Combarro to see the horreos—grain stores built in the 18th and 19th centuries raised on pillars above the sea, and the simple fishermen’s cottages behind.
Don’t miss the Dunas de Corrubedo—some of the largest sand dunes in the world, then cling to the coast and another 1 hour 40 minutes further north (or an easy day trip) you’ll find beautiful Fisterra and its towering cliffs. Stop for a lunch of seabass at Tira do Cordel.
Days 4 to 5: Santiago de Compostela
From Sanxenxo, drive an hour inland to Santiago de Compostela and spend an afternoon in the city’s old town— another UNESCO world heritage site. According to medieval legend, the remains of the Apostle James were brought to Galicia for burial—it’s said that in 813 a shepherd was guided by a bright star to the burial site where the city’s cathedral was later built. Eat at Galician-Japanese fusion restaurant Casa Marcelo. It’s worth pushing the budget for this one, with its one Michelin star—try the tuna temaki or roast duck with shimeji mushrooms, or try La Horta del Obradoiro for its beautiful terrace. Stay overnight at A Quinta do Auga just outside the city.
Days 5 to 7: A Coruña and surrounds
It’s just 50 minutes north to the town of A Coruña—your next stop—and the gastronomic delights on offer. In the city, look out for Calle La Franja, Calle le Estrella and Calla la Barrera, each of which is packed with places to spend your afternoon. Try O Lagar da Estrela for its original tapas and raciones—it’s innovative and informal—or for a more formal dinner, choose A Mundiña—it’s a top seafood restaurant at 77 Calle Real. Tira do Playa in front of la Coruña beach has excellent seabass. Look out for the El Puerto mall at the harbour too— there are several bars to choose from on the second floor, with beautiful views over the water.
There are plenty of beautiful beaches to stop off at—go to Barrañan for big waves Mera for calmer waters, and the stunning wild sand beaches of Playa de San Jorge and Valdoviño. If you can, stop off to see the wild horses that roam the landscape and cliffs around San Andrés de Teixido—this is landscape you won’t forget in a hurry.
Days 9 to 11: Bilbao
Leaving A Coruña, an hour and a half into your trip, stop off at Playa de las Catedrales and marvel at its towering rock formations. The seafood here is worth writing home about, so have a lunch of zamburiñas (scallops)—you’ll find a full plate is only 10 euros—or try the fresh lobster. Leave room to pack plenty of Albariño wine—the local grape makes a delicious white. Then continue on for another four hours until you reach Bilbao.
In Bilbao, don’t miss the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim, of course, which is incredible inside and out. Head to Mercado la Ribera, then allow plenty of time for pintxos—at just two euros a pop, you’ll need to dedicate a decent amount of time to bar hopping. Try the tasting menu at Michelin-starred Mina restaurant on the quay for a sit-down dinner or Dando la Brasa for Latin-American-Asian fusion. For a post-dinner drink, head to Antigua Cigarreria, a former cigar shop, for its pink-popping interiors, or Bihotz Café.
Days 11 to 12: San Sebastian and Zaragoza
From Bilbao it’s another one and a half hours to San Sebastien—arguably Spain’s hippest seaside resort town. Littered with pintxos bars, start at lunchtime (no judgement here) or early evening. Try Bar Bergara, La Cuchara de San Telmo or Kaskazuri if you’re after a more formal lunch. There’s no shortage of Michelin stared dining options here either—choose Mugaritz run by Andoni Luis Aduriz or Martin Berasategui.
With three main city beaches, you can sleep off your late night before at Playa de la Zurriola or Playa de la Concha, the more elegant of the two, which attracts plenty of families. Set off early to drive 2 hours 45 minutes to Zaragoza on the banks of the Ebro River, arriving in time for lunch. Spend the afternoon wandering around the cathedral and the 11th century Islamic Aljafería Palace. The tapas street to know? El Tubo. You know what to do.
Days 12 to 14: Barcelona
Naturally we need a city guide dedicated purely to Barcelona, but after you’ve climbed to the top of the city’s cathedral, toured the Picasso Museum, and of course, visited the still-unfinished Sagrada Familia and the Park Güell, you’ll need more dining inspiration… Can Culleretes is the city’s oldest restaurant, and try Picnic for brunch or lunch and Barraca for seafood by the beach. Hungry? Us too.
Grand Hotel Central pulls out all the stops with its prime location, rooftop bar and pool, and contemporary rooms to match, whilst Soho House Barcelona is, it goes without saying, the place to be seen. Or try the Kimpton Vividora in the back streets of the Gothic neighbourhood for its daily free Aperitivo (as of January 2021 it’s currently closed but will re-open once restrictions are lifted). Rooms are decorated with art by local creatives whilst the food is inspired by local traditional cuisine. With a co-worker space and rooftop infinity pool, what’s not to love?
Read the next in our series of European itineraries, with our guide to 10 days hotel-hopping in Provence.