Hi, we are planning to drive from Barcelona Airport to San Sebastián for New Years Eve. Not having driven in Spain before is this a reasonable drive for non Spanish speaking Australians? Thanks
What do you mean by drive to San Sebastian from the Barcelona airport for New Years Eve? Do you mean you fly in and have to drive there that day? If so, what time does your flight arrive? Or do you mean that you have a couple of days to get there? And where are you flying in from? Why driving; will you be using the car for other purposes?
San Sebastian is nowhere near Barcelona. It's over a five hour drive by the tollways, which is how you will want to do it in winter. If arriving from Australia, it would be very unwise to try a 5 hour drive with jet lag. Zaragoza is a couple of hours away and would make for a nice stop/overnight. Pamplona is also on the route and would make a good stop if spending a few days to get there. If you are just driving there after spending time in Barcelona, you could leave very early and be able to stop briefly at one of those places. But the daylight will be very short and consider if you really want to arrive in San Sebastian in the dark.
Driving in Spain is pretty low key, especially on the highways. Tolls are expensive. You'll need an International Drivers Permit to legally drive (not sure who is the provider for Australia). Roads are well marked but having a GPS navigator is beneficial. The tollways have lots of rest areas with services.
If you are just trying to get to San Sebastian that same day, take a flight.
You won't need to speak Spanish, but it's not a short drive. Everyone will speak enough English for you to get by.
We stayed in Barcelona for a four nights, then did a day stop in Montserrat before stopping in Zaragosa. The next day we stopped to see the castle in Olite before spending the night in Pamplona. From there it's a pretty short drive to San Sebastian/Donostia. At the least, I'd plan to stop in Zaragosa for the night; otherwise your talking about a really long drive. I try to max travel time to four hours so I have time to pack, check out, eat, catch transportation, make connections, eat, get to my destination, check in, unpack, eat and maybe look around a little. Even four hours of riding or driving becomes a full day.
Going toward Zaragosa and up through Pamplona is the best route for easy driving. Anything that looks like a direct route is going to be difficult mountain driving. The other option is to go north and into France before getting to San Sebastian. That works but the roads are smaller and I'd expect the drive to be considerably longer.
Try viamichelin.com for directions, driving times and fuel cost estimates. Be sure to add time for stops and meals on the way. Via Michelin isn't perfect, but it gives you an idea to plan with.
You'll find roads to be well signed, especially the faster roads. But I reiterate the same concerns that Douglas listed. On the afternoon of 12/30, Vueling has a direct flight for $81 per person. The next day, however, www.skyscanner.com does not find any very attractive flight.
We were in San Sebastian and Barcelona last November (2013). We visited Bilbao just beforehand, and rented a car there. The highway between Bilbao and San S. was fast and smooth, and well signed with no tolls. We turned in the rental car to fly on to Barcelona, and the flight prices from Bilbao to Barcelona were much better then from San Sebastian to Barcelona, so check carefully for your best options if you fly.
Be aware, too, that parking (in underground garages) is very expensive in San Sebastian - 25 Euros or more a day, and finding an empty garage might be a challenge, too, on a popular night like New Year's Eve. Of course, Spaniards drive on the right side of the road (or are supposed to anyway), and traffic roundabouts go anti-clockwise, which will all be different from driving on Aussie roads.