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Itinerary with Teens in Spain for 4 weeks

We are planning a trip to Spain for about 4 weeks with our two teenage sons during the summer. My husband and I have traveled to the major destinations in the past but want some recommendations for places our boys would enjoy like beach towns or destinations with outdoor adventures. Our kids love all ocean activities (big waves / jumping off rocks / boating), any adrenaline rush adventures and hiking when it leads to something great.
We will most likely fly into Madrid. Barcelona, Seville, and Ronda are also on our list. We really want to travel to northern Spain, go to coastal cities all over Spain and possibly some islands. Any recommendations for must see cities or an itinerary that our boys would love? We are planning to do a mix of trains when we can, car for the smaller cities like Ronda, and fly when needed.

Posted by
2922 posts

Depends on what your boys like and whether you plan on traveling by car or public transportation. Along the north coast is Playa de Las Catedrales near Ribadeo. There are plenty of beaches along that stretch of coast. Further east just before the French border is Hondarrbia. It’s nice to walk around and has a nice beach. The Picos to Europa is popular with outdoor enthusiasts. We enjoyed the Sanctuary of Covadonga. Castles are all over the country. Some are pretty much ruins while others are in good condition. Some are privately owned and have limited hours for visits or are not open at all, but still nice to walk around. A few miles north of Ronda is Sentenil de las Bodegas. There are plenty of walking trails throughout the country and are part of the via verdes network (viasverdes.es). Spain is a large country and your question is fairly generic. Once you get a better idea where you’ll be visiting, you’ll get more precise responses based on sights in those locations. I fear that once you take away the days you’ll be spending in the large cities, you’ll find there won’t be the amount of time remaining to see all the parts of Spain you’d like to visit.

Posted by
4445 posts

Not on your main question, but Ronda has train service. The surrounding area, including the Pueblas Blancas, are best visited by car.

Posted by
4341 posts

I would opt for a week in 4 places given your timescale. Moving on every 3 days or so for a month is tiring and the whole trip will be a blur.

Southern Spain especially inland away from any coastal breeze will be very hot in the summer. How hot are you prepared to stand?

You won’t get big waves in southern Spain as it’s the Med. You need to head to the north west coast for waves.

Posted by
17869 posts

The north coast of Spain and the nearby inland areas are a great spot for a summer trip. The weather is usually cooler there--often overcast, so a lot more pleasant than summer in Madrid and (especially) most of the south. Just understand that you will not be guaranteed ideal swimming weather on any particular day. You can explore actual, day-by-day, historical weather statistics on the website timeanddate.com to get an idea of the range of temperatures you might experience. I suggest you do that for one or two of the northern cities (I've linked to Bilbao) and for Seville. I think there could be quite a difference between early June and late July, so your choice of dates may matter a lot.

The Picos de Europa area in the north has some dramatic scenery and seems to have a lot of opportunities for outdoor adventures. To take advantage of those, you'll need a car. Otherwise, I found I was limited to a once-a-week bus tour from Santander. While in the area I recommend at least a stop at the very atmospheric old stone town of Potes. It's a lively place (undeniably touristy), but I wandered a bit away from the restaurants near the little river and found peace.

Another area for outdoor stuff are the Alpujarras outside Granada. There is bus service up into the hills, and one could walk between two of the towns, returning by bus. Because of the elevation, it would be a bit cooler here than in Granada itself (which is a bit cooler than Seville).

I suspect the biggest adrenaline rush in Spain may be the Caminito del Rey. I haven't been there, but the photos are dramatic (and terrifying).

Spain is quite a large country, and it has a wide variety of destinations. Four weeks may seem like a long time, but in the context of Spain, it really isn't. I recommend not trying to see the country from stem to stern in that amount of time. If you opt to include the south in the summer, the heat will wipe you out, limiting how much you feel like accomplishing each day. Even as far north as Zaragoza, between Barcelona and Madrid, summers can be punishingly hot when you're focused on outdoor sightseeing.

Posted by
1735 posts

I am from the southern US and I don't worry too much about heat in general--but even I would not want to go to Andalucia in summer. If you have your heart set on it, then I would slow down considerably and do a pretty exhaustive tour of southern Spain, taking it a bit slower. I like the beaches to the south of Cadiz and adore the area around Ronda for hiking. Two weeks or more would not be overkill for this area, book-ended with Madrid and Barcelona.
However, I'd strongly consider the north for a summer trip. I have only been to Basque region, where we did some great hikes and saw some great beaches. You can pair that with Galicia and Asturias--I can think of nothing better than "Green Spain" in summer.
If that does not interest you, then you could add an island trip. Mallorca looks like an outdoor lover's dream, long been on my list.

Posted by
978 posts

I traveled to Spain for a month with my three teens. A month is not a lot of time, surprisingly (I mean it is, but you'd be surprised how easily it goes). N. Spain was beautiful and great. We really enjoyed San Sebastian (we weren't sure about it as we prefer off the beaten path places and def not places that are known for "nightlife", but we loved it). The beaches on the north coast are much more adventurous than what you will get on the Med bc the waves are so big (one of the biggest wave surfing areas in the world is on the north coast of Spain - Mundaka - but San Seb has great waves and a lot of surfers and surfing lessons for the kids if they are interested). The water is colder, more like Northern CA. We also went to the Picos de Europa and did various hikes (there's a great one with a shuttle that takes all day, and another to the basilica and lakes/Covadonga). Ribadeo is another fun town, although you can find fun beaches anywhere along the north coast (and driving along the north coast is also great). Barcelona was fun - sounds like you've been, but it was appealing to teens for various reasons. Madrid is beautiful, but was less interesting to the teens - more focus for us on museums/culture there than other places we went. I googled "cliff jumping" in northern Spain and found several spots for that (a must for every trip we take - I have a teen boy like that too). The Pyrenees between Huesca and Pamplona are beautiful and have a lot of spots for adventure (and castles). We liked Bilbao a lot. The Oma Forest on the peninsula between San Seb and Bilbao was much more interesting than expected. Also a hike to Gaztelugatxeko on the tip of that peninsula was fun (a GoT site, if interested). Kids like the Dali museum, and Girona. The southern portion of the country was less interesting to us because we live somewhere with similar geography and climate, but Seville and Granada were great for the cultural interest. The coasts are too Club Med for our taste (not really beach people unless there is an activity), so we avoided them this trip.
I would decide which cultural things you want to see and which museums/churches (oh yeah, the cathedral in Léon!)/castles, and then plug in adventure activities like cliff jumping and surfing, and rock-climbing, hiking, etc around those. You can find these activities anywhere in the country. Spain is an adventure-sport playground (river rafting...)

Posted by
1996 posts

Tossa de Mar on the Costa Brava, just north of Barcelona, makes for a great base for fun water-based activities. It's a beach town set on the cliffs surrounded by an old medieval castle walls, very popular with locals and foreigners alike. You can hike along the dramatic coastline, scuba/snorkel, and sea kayak among many other things.

Posted by
77 posts

If you are looking for outdoor adventures I would recommend the Pyrenees. Absolutely world class mountains. You will find a stunning array of adventure options: rafting, kayaking, paragliding, canyoneering, via ferrata, along with as good as it gets hiking and scenery.
Brad

Posted by
5808 posts

One thing I would not miss is the Mezquita in Cordoba -- could be a day trip from Seville if you are there. It was the single most impressive thing we saw in Spain -- and we visited Ronda and the Alhambra and the Alcazar in Seville -- all well worth a visit. https://janettravels.wordpress.com/2013/09/27/the-mezquita-at-least-the-catholics-had-the-good-sense-not-to-destroy-it-when-they-desecrated-it/
And as always with teens put them in charge of some of the time -- we have often seen and done things we would not have thought of as a result of our kids' efforts and when people are in charge of the happiness of others they tend to be more agreeable travel companions -- especially on such a long trip.

Posted by
4601 posts

We have traveled with teens extensively in Europe. We lived in Germany for 4 years.

We treat the teens as adults and expose them to history, culture and art. You can go to the beach in North America anytime and the beaches are much better than in Spain. I was not impressed with Costa del Sol.

While in Madrid, don't miss doing day trips to Toledo and Segovia (it has a 2000 year old Roman aqueduct that was still functional until the late 20th Century).

Seville is one of my favorite cites in Spain. Consider going to the Alhambra in Grenada in SE Spain.

Posted by
5808 posts

NOte that the Alhambra as the most visited site in Spain has to be carefully planned; you are not likely to get a ticket just walking up. You need a reservation and the time frames are specific. We didn't find that with other major sites we visited in May including the Prado and the Alcazar in Seville which is almost as magnificent as the Alhambra. The ticketing process changed after we were at the Alhambra -- when we went I was able to get a ticket timed so that we could visit the tickets sites all day -- I think you are now restricted to a morning or afternoon time slot and a very specific time slot for entry to the main building. So this is one you need to set up when your travel plans firm up.

We loved Ronda and I would leave that one in. the plans. https://janettravels.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/ronda-the-most-romantic-town-in-spain/. And there is a bit of hiking around that is fun there.

Everyone has to do the trip they want to do and a quick stop at a beach here and there may be in the cards but I really agree with the poster above that American beaches are as a rule much better than most European beaches and that it is a waste of time to put much of that into a European trip when there are such amazing places unlike anything the US has to offer. WE missed Toledo and I am not sure we will ever be back to Madrid and we are very sorry we didn't make the effort -- we had the time -- we didn't have the energy.

Posted by
1735 posts

They have a whole month--I don't think it is at all a sacrifice to enjoy some downtime! I enjoy hanging around in a quaint town (coastal or otherwise) just as much as seeing world class art/history, but we'll have to wait for laura to respond to get a better sense of what the family wants.

Posted by
2 posts

Hello,
Thank you for all of your input!! We appreciate all of the suggestions and have started planning an itinerary based off of your comments. Thank you for the time and effort!

I think we will skip the Spanish mainland Mediterranean coast but would love some time on one or two of the islands in the Med for some warm water activities and relaxation. Majorca, Menorca, Ibiza, or Sardinia?? We are looking for places that have the same vibe as Cinque Terre, Zadar, and other islands in Croatia.

Below is a really rough plan of what we are thinking but would love more feedback especially in Northern Spain and some Islands. We can add days or get rid of towns completely.

  • Madrid - 2 nights - Will definitely see the Prado!!! One of the best museums we have been to!
  • Cordoba - 1 night
  • Seville - 3 nights
  • Cádiz ?? - 2 or 3 nights with Gibraltar visit - We were going to skip this area but my older son showed some interest in Gibraltar. Is it worth the time and effort? I will have him do more research to see if he really wants to go.
  • Ronda - 1 or 2 nights - I LOVE Ronda - I don’t think the boys will be blown away but I can’t go to the area without staying at least one night here. Maybe we will visit the caves there.
  • Granada - 2 or 3 nights
  • Barcelona - 4 nights (The order of the next few destinations might change depending on flights and trains)
  • Island Visit - 4 or 5 nights - Any suggestion for which islands to go to?
  • Pamplona - 2 nights
  • San Sebastian - 4 or 5 nights - This is my youngest son’s big request and wants to explore a lot from here. Thanks for the idea of having the kids plan stuff. He is extremely excited for this area.
  • We are not sure where to go after San Sebastian - Santander - 2 nights - should we make this a stop? Picos de Europa somewhere in here not sure where to stay for a home base. I have seen the following places come up a lot but not sure which ones we should do. Bilbao, Santillana del Mar, Gijon
  • Santiago - 2 nights - Santiago de Compostela - Is this a must see? We are not religious but definitely love and appreciate history.
  • Fly back to Madrid - 1 or 2 night
  • Fly home
Posted by
1996 posts

Thank god Americans think our beaches are unattractive, we have enough with the British and Germans lol!

Here are some of my responses to your questions:

  • You may want to add another night to Madrid, if it is your first stop, then your first day will probably be useless from jetlag/settling in.

  • Gibraltar is not worth it, takes a good deal of time and energy to get to, if only for a tacky trip to Britain from yesteryear.

  • Close to Cadiz is la Costa de la Luz, as opposed to the soul-less Costa del Sol 😉, consider spending your beach time around the Costa de la Luz instead, it's much more authentic, with less foreign tourists.

  • If looking for a Spanish island escapade, I would actually try Mallorca's smaller brother Menorca, recently honored on NY Times's top 52 places to visit in 2020. Menorca is more laid-back, less developed, and off the radar compared to the likes of Mallorca or Ibiza. You could base yourself in the capital of Mahon (where mayonnaise is from!), or the ancient town of Ciutadella on the western side, or even try to rent/AirBnB some apartment in one of the smaller Calas (coves) that dot the island. Easy to fly to from Barcelona or even take a ferry.

  • I would skip Pamplona, not terribly interesting outside of Sanfermines, and fly direct from the island to San Sebastian. From San Sebastian, I would recommend a visit to Bilbao, my favourite of the two may Basque cities. The drive from San Sebastián to Bilbao is very picturesque, with its hidden coves, seaside villages, and stunning cliffs. A highlight for me was San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, which is a 10th century Hermitage set atop a craggy islet, they filmed some scenes from Game of Thrones here.

  • I would recommend exploring the Picos de Europa National Park, on the way to Santiago de Compostela, which I would describe as a mix between Ireland and the Alps. Potes an atmospheric medieval town makes for a great place to explore the Picos de Europa National Park in depth, you could also consider the nearby Parador de Fuente Dé. I would strongly recommend renting a car for this section of the trip.

  • No need to fly from Santiago de Compostela to Madrid, there is a highspeed train that connects the two!

Hope this all helps 👍

Posted by
17869 posts

From my perspective, your rough itinerary has you moving a bit too fast, especially given the length of your trip and that there are 4 of you. Will you be sharing one hotel room, with just one bathroom? How quickly can you get four people out of your lodgings every day? The places I'm most worried about are Barcelona (where so very many sites require timed tickets, which make for less-efficient sightseeing) and Seville. I note the omission of Toledo, which is magnificent. Cadiz is a worthwhile stop (I've never bothered with Gibraltar), but it doesn't hold a candle to Toledo.

I would certainly skip Santander. It has a lovely beach (but so does San Sebastian), but most of the city burned down in the 1940s, so it lacks the historic atmosphere you'll find at most other stops. It's not a bad place, but that time could be used elsewhere.

Santillana del Mar is a very popular medieval village but tiny. It really doesn't require an overnight stay unless there are other things you want to do in the immediate area--for example, the caves with prehistoric art, if they are still open to the public.

Gijon has a small historic area and some attractive late-19th-century architecture downtown, but there's more bang for the buck, time-wise, in Bilbao, so Gijon wouldn't make the cut for me on a one-month trip. I like Bilbao a lot, much more than San Sebastian, though SS does have that wonderful beach (but not necessarily beach weather on any given day). Bilbao has a large, comparatively non-touristy medieval district. There's frequent bus service between SS and Bilbao, so it's possible to stay in one of those cities and visit the other by public transportation if you want to. There's also regional train service through some really pretty countryside (though definitely not as dramatic as the Picos de Europa), but it is much, much slower than the bus. Other places in the Basque Country your son may want to research include Hondarribia (cute fishermen's district down at water level and medieval area on the hill) and the three coastal towns of Zarautz, Getaria and Zumaia. I walked along the coastal road between two of them but no longer remember which two. I haven't been to Guernica or Lekeitio, which are other places of tourist interest.

Pamplona is another place that didn't excite me. I think you'll find the guidebooks mostly agree with my point of view. Unless you're there for the running of the bulls (when hotel prices skyrocket), it's a fairly ordinary town. You can probably see the entire (small) historic section in half a day. If you go, make sure to see the life-size statue of the running of the bulls; that I was glad I saw. Personally, I'd use that time elsewhere, but I realize that's a tough call if there are big Hemingway fans in your group.

Santiago de Compostela is certainly worth it, but there are a bunch of places of interest between Barcelona/San Sebastian and SdeC. Some of the major ones are Burgos, Oviedo (this being rather near Gijon) and Leon. Just within Galicia itself there are charming towns and cities to see. I wouldn't cross the bulk of northern Spain to squeeze in just one or two nights in SdeC, especially if I were going to Madrid and didn't have time for Toledo.

I haven't yet been to the Balearic Islands or to Sardinia (which is Italian), so I'm definitely not going to disagree with Carlos. However, my research for a forthcoming trip indicates that Palma de Mallorca is the most aesthetically interesting city in the Balearics, with some modernista architecture (which I love). Mallorca is also the island with the most interesting terrain. So it's definitely the main one for me. Your interests may differ.

Posted by
1735 posts

I think the rough sketch looks pretty good--but you may end up adding more time per stop and cutting some as you refine--you could double time in many places and never run out of things to do. The longer stays will be vital for recharging your batteries! I'm a big fan of Croatia as well, and I have long had Mallorca on my list because it seems like the kinds of places we like in the Mediterranean--natural, wild beauty.
Just a few random suggestions:
The coastal camino that runs from Zarautz to Deba (rough approximation) is scenic and fascinating geologically. I think someone mentioned the surfing at Zumaia. You can also do a great hike right out of San Sebastian toward Hondaribbia.

ETA I managed to miss Antequera on my two visits to Ronda (love it there, and my favorite tapas bar in the world, Maestro), but the park with rock formations might be interesting to your group. While I don't support bull fighting per se, I found the tour of the ring interesting. We also did a great hike that originates near the caves I believe--it runs along the railway so you can take the train back. But on return I'd go to Antequera and the Grazalema vicintity for hiking. There are also some large coastal parks south of Cadiz--birding and boat trips and the like.
sounds like an amazing trip!

Posted by
2922 posts

I agree that one can get a good feel for Pamplona in an afternoon and there are other cities more interesting such as Burgos, Leon, or even Lugo. Visiting its bulllring was interesting because one gets to see parts that one doesn’t get to see on tours of other bullrings. I’d skip Pamplona for any of the others cities I mentioned. Two nights in Santiago de Compostela is sufficient. The highlight is the cathedral and work on the exterior has been completed and it is a stunning piece of architecture to look at. Before making your final plans, check with the cathedral to ensure work on the interior is nearing completion. When I was there in September 2019 the entire interior was filled with scaffolding and the only part of it worth seeing was St. James’ crypt beneath the alter. Fortunately I had been there on previous occasions. I’m not a Cadiz fan and feel it’s worth a day at most, but it does have beaches and is easy to walk around. From it you could also take a ferry over to Rota or Puerto de Santa Maria if you ran out of things to see in Cadiz.

If you are driving there are a number of small towns on the way to Santiago worth stoping at, such as Ponferrada, Astorga, and Alto de Cebreiro. Just outside of Santiago is Monte de Gozo and its statues of the pilgrims looking in the direction of the cathedral. About 40km west on Santiago on the coast, Muxia is worth visiting. If you wanted, you could also walk a portion of the Camino de Santiago. There are a number of tour operators that offer full or half day walks.

Valadelphia mentioned Zumaia. Its beach has some unique Flysch rock formations and some great views from the Ermita de San Telmo that is within walking distance from the beach. The coastal road between Zumaia and Getaria is about 6km, so would be easily walkable.

Posted by
4445 posts

Four weeks is a long trip, but your itinerary has you relocating between cities during 11 out of 28 days. So one day out of three, on average, you'll be packing, checking out, getting to the station or airport, riding the train or plane, getting to the hotel, checking in, and unpacking. That has to be close to half a day even for the short-distance days. If you drive, then it's time driving and parking. All that moving around costs money too.

Like another poster above, I'd suggest picking a few bases for longer stays, maybe with a day trip here and there that doesn't involve moving everything. Like Madrid, Barcelona, one of the islands, and one of the Basque locations. Save the southern places for a spring or fall trip when the weather's better. (BTW, I agree with Janet about the Mezquita in Cordoba, one of my "top tier" places in Europe). As our host wisely advises us: "Pace yourself. Assume you will return."

Posted by
111 posts

Not really sure why you´d like to include Iruña-Pamplona in your itinerary, and skipping Bilbao, which is much more attractive in my opinion. Pamplona is a nice, small town, but that´s it, a few hours there and it´s more than enough. You can even make a day trip from Donostia-San Sebastian by bus, or with a car, easy drive. Just take into account that northern Spain is rainy (in fact, Donostia-San Sebastian is the rainiest city in Spain, so beach weather is not always an option) and you´ll find a completely different "Spain" from the typical idea. Green, mountainous, a different architecture, no moorish influence, and food is fantastic. I´d split my time between Donostia-San Sebastian and Bilbao, 5 days in SS are maybe too much, as it´s a small city.

Posted by
1079 posts

I suspect your proposed itinerary will create too many memories about "traveling" (e.g. trains, planes, cars and their stations).
Consider the amount of time your family will spend in transit to accomplish the "been there, saw that" itinerary.
You will expend ONE WEEK out of your FOUR WEEKS in travel time.
Please forgive the tone of this message, but have you considered Spain and Texas are essentially the same geographic size?
Please step back and consider selecting four destinations to base your family for a week each. Consider the journey as a hub and spoke system with the following examples:
Barcelona offers a HUGE menu of opportunities and excellent public transport. The beaches are great, the mountains imminently accessible, easy day trips abound and this is (in my mind) a youthful arena.
Madrid is one of Europes largest cities with a relatively small old town, but has a completely different vibe than Barcelona. Day trip opportunities are easy.
Now give thought to taking the travel stress out of your journey for each time you transit the opportunity for a travel "glitch" rises. Consider renting an apartment which accomplishes the following:
- more space to spread out and have your own rooms
- a kitchen to prep some meals (we love fixing our own breakfast) and the flexibility of creating our own snacks
- a clothes washer!
- Our preference is apartments any time we stay in a locale for a minimum of three days.
Creating four home base does NOT limit your ability to experiences the different regions of Spain. A home base does ease the travel burden and allow more time to create wonderful experiences and memories of being in Spain!
I suggest asking the forum for their recommendations of where to base and to define a menu of opportunities which can be accomplished from each base.
Be well!