The original package holiday destination, Spain conjures images of golden sands lined with tourist umbrellas, endless blue skies, intense heat, bullfighting, red wine and tapas. Spain is a country of contrasts - hot and cold, riches and poverty, lush green mountain ranges full of life, and baron deserts.
Every town and many villages in Spain have a fiesta sometime in the year. Check the Spanish festival calendar before you book if you would like to catch some traditional Spanish celebrations. There are plenty of budget airline flights to Spain, with the best value deals available in the quieter autumn and winter months.
Away from the main tourist areas, especially inland most people will not speak much English, so if you don't speak Spanish consider taking a phrase book.
Forming the coastal region of north-eastern Catalonia, Costa Brava extends from the French border in the North, to Blanes 60 km northeast of Barcelona. Costa Brava is a coastline of traditional Spanish seaside towns such as Cadaques (which inspired many of the paintings of Salvador Dali), Lloret De Mar and Palamos. Dali was fascinated by the light of the region and this is reflected in many of his works.
The Costa Brava towns are quiet in the winter months, but come alive during the long, warm summers as visitors from Spain, Germany, Russia and the UK flock to the region.
The picturesque city of Girona offers an escape from busy tourist resorts in the summer months.
Salvador Dali's eccentric home in Cadaques it carries within it the memories of the visits by Picasso, Lorca and Bunuel
If you want a day away from the beach - Barcelona is an hour or so by train from most resorts - don't miss Parc Guelle designed by the Spanish architect Gaudi
When to Go:
Barcelona El Prat Airport and Girona Airport are the main entry points into the Costa Brava. Barcelona airport is the second largest airport in Spain and it gets over 30 million passengers every year. There is a high-speed train connection from here to Madrid. Many people prefer to use the alternate airport of Girona, which is generally a little cheaper and has better access to the Costa Brava beaches.
One of Spain's most visited regions, Costa Blanca or the White Coast extends from Denia and Javea in the north to Torrevieja in the south. This area is among the most developed coastal regions of Spain, so if you are looking for peace and quiet and secluded beaches, this is not the place for you. But if you are looking for fun-filled beaches, for exciting nightlife and for some superb restaurants, then Costa Blanca is one of the ideal places to go to.
If you are tired of beaches, drive along the AP7 motorway coastal road and visit one of the many picturesque towns and villages which line this road. The town of Elche has the largest palm growing area in Europe, and the plantation dates back to Roman times.
Visit the theme park at Terra Mitica at Benidorm, have a swim at the bays of Altea and Calpe, walk down the promenade at Denia.
The castle of Santa Barbara at Alicante is one of the largest medieval fortresses built in Spain. It is really worth a visit, and so is the old town in Alicante.
Visit Terra Mitica, the entertainment park at Benidorm, and Spain's answer to Disneyland. It is a fun place to go to and has been built with a Mediterranean them in mind.
Costa Blanca is renowned for fantastic tapas bars and restaurants. Traditionally tapas was served free in Spanish bars, but nowadays many bars and restaurants specialise in tapas menus. Although tapas is based around meat and fish, there are plenty of vegetarian options available such as patatas bravas, olives and manchego cheese.
A local market in Spain. Spanish markets usually sell fresh fruit and vegetables, olives, fish, meat, breads, sweets and cakes. Some have local crafts such as ceramics.
When to go:
Costa Blanca has perfect Mediterranean weather - warm winters, balmy summers and sunshine through most of the year. Summer temperatures can rise to the 40s, but the beaches are still crowded with those seeking sun and sand. The World Health Organisation has nominated it as one of the healthiest places to live in the world. The peak season is in the Costa Blanca is summer, but if you are looking for lower rates, and lesser crowds, then go there during the winter months.
How to get there:
A couple of hours drive to the north Alicante is Valencia Airport which is now on the flight schedule of some of the low cost airlines including Easyjet.
There is a new passenger airport at Corvera just to the south of Murcia which has been running test flights duing 2012. Corvera is due to replace Murcia which will return to being a military airport.
Costa Calida or the 'warm coast", is 250 kms of Mediterranean coastline, and has very little rain, hence sunshine is one of its main attractions. Traditional fishing coastal towns such as Cartagena offer a glimpse of Spain where you are unlikely to encounter many tourists.
The Mar Menor (The Little Sea) a coastal saltwater lagoon, is also a part of this Spanish region, and it is Europe's largest saltwater lagoon.
The La Manga peninsula is one of Spain's more peaceful tourist centres, the crowds do not come here, and yet it is one Spain's loveliest regions with a growing reputation. Due to a scarcity of rain, the interiors are much more arid, and you can still the vestiges of the ancient water collecting and distribution systems.
Cartagena is Spain's largest naval port. They are presently digging here to uncover their classical heritage.
Lorca's Semanta Santa, the Easter procession. It is one of the most popular fiestas in Spain.
Watersports at La Manga - the salinity of the water makes floating easier, and this makes it a very popular sporting centre.
When to go:
Winters can have cold and wet days, (winter temperatures are typically 14-18`C max on the coast), but it is usually sunny, so winter is great for walking and sight-seeing. The best times are of course, spring and autumn. The beaches in Costa Calida don't tend to be as crowded as they are in the rest of coastal Spain.
How to get there:
Murcia (San Javier) airport is located near the town of San Javier on the coast around 45km to the south east of the city of Murcia. Many of the low cost airlines fly here, especially in summer. Murcia is also a military airport, so flights are restricted to afternoon flights during the week.
Costa del Sol
Since the mid-fifties, the Costa del Sol has been transformed from the coastline of small olive groves and quiet fishing villages described in Laurie Lee's "As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning" into one of the most developed tourist areas in the world.
Nowadays the resorts of Torremolinos and Fuengirola which were small villages in Lee's day, have now become tourist hotspots to rival resorts such as Benidorm on the Costa Blanca.
However, drive a few kilometres inland, and the footprint of tourism is far less noticeable. Here you can still find the small towns and villages which were described so vividly in the work of Laurie Lee.
There are eleven marinas in the Costa del Sol region, and all of them cater to water sports of all types. The average water temperature is 18`C and with the Mediterranean blue beckoning you at each beach, you need nothing more for a great holiday.
The historic city of Malaga
The Alhambra Palace is a 2 hour drive from Malaga in the city of Granada
If you are in Malaga the old town has some of the best Tapas in Spain.
When to go:
With over 300 days of sunshine in the year, the weather in the Costa del Sol is good all the year round. Summer lasts for over eight months. The peak season time is of course from mid-April to mid-June and later from August to September. But the rest of the year is also conducive towards a comfortable holiday.
How to get there:
Malaga Airport was the first airport to be built in Spain, and it is the oldest still in operation. It accounts for most of Andalusia's international traffic and is one of the busiest airports in Spain.
Internally, travel is mainly by road through the excellent network of roads in Spain. Buses are a great low cost means of getting around and seeing Spain.
The Costa De La Luz is an area of contrasts in Spain. It has beaches and castles and fortresses, it borders the impressive Sierra Nevada mountain range and it showcases some excellent beaches along with some quaint villages which mirror the peace and quiet of rural Spain.
Facing the Atlantic Sea, this area extends from Tarifa in the south to the Guadiana River in the north. It encloses within it the provinces of Cadiz and Huelva. Tarifa is renowned for its windsurfing and water sports as well as for the fact that it has some of the best natural trails in Spain.
Donana National Park has many protected natural reserves, and some of the famous birds and animals such as the Spanish Imperial Eagle and the endangered Iberian Lynx can be found here. You can also just sit back and relax at the many beaches, which are a trademark of tourist friendly Spain.
Cadiz - it really is similar to an island, since it is a small stretch of land surrounded by the sea on three sides. There are many well-preserved historical buildings here, and there are many streets where you can just walk around soaking in the atmosphere.
Cadiz and the surrounding towns are renowned for the locally produced sherry. Sherry is perfect with olives which are one of the main produce of the Andalucia/Costa del Sol region.
When to go:
Summer time in Cadiz is hot - so autumn and spring would be better for sight-seeing. Like much of coastal Spain, the winters can have wet periods, although in Cadiz it is unlikely to be cold. In winter rates are lower, but the water is much colder and water sports are not so much fun.
How to get there:
Jerez airport is the largest airport in the Costa De La Luz area. There are many flights from Madrid, Barcelona, Frankfurt, and London. It is a popular destination for the Germans, and there are many charter flights which cater to this region.
Vino Tinto (Red Wine)
Spain produces some of the best wines in the world, and the red wines (vino tinto) are especially good quality at less than half the price they sell for in northern Europe. Be prepared to pay around 2 Euros and you should get a good red wine. Spanish riojas provide excellent value for money and many of the local varieties are only available in Spain.
When in Spain one thing that you have to make sure to do is try authentic paella, which is a rice dish that contains meat or fish, although for vegetarians some places will cook a vegetable paella if you ask. It is hard to define what the 'real' local flavour of the dish is given that every cook has their own version, but you should look for a local cuisine or small eatery if you want to get a true flavour that is made from fresh, natural ingredients which is when the flavours and spice truly come alive in your mouth. Try to order it for lunch since this is its typical serving time and be aware that if its advertised heavily at a touristy location it is probably a frozen dish so best look elsewhere.
Something to read
2 excellent books about Spain of years gone by to take on holiday -
Driving in Spain
If you are renting a car in Spain for the first time, read information about driving in Spain.
More Spain Guides
We also have guides to the following Spanish destinations: