Road Trip through Spain & Portugal
Updated: Oct 16, 2019
This is a blog of my road trip which will show you how I drove to each city, what they have to see, how long you will need at each place and how long it takes to get from one city to the next. You may want to skip a city on your road trip or stay longer. These cities will include Barcelona, Cadaques, Zaragoza, Donostia San Sebastian, Pamplona (Running with the Bulls), Lisbon, Lagos, Taruga, Faro Algarve, Seville, Ronda, Murcia, Valencia and Tarragona. This trip was planned to run with the bulls in Pamplona and my adventures through out each area.
Renting a car in Barcelona is the best way to see a country hands down as long as you have a credit card and an International Drivers license which you can get for around $25 at any AAA place of business in the United States, just take your drivers license in with you. I never buy the extra insurance from a rental company. If you were to be in a wreck, they would charge your credit card then you get with your insurance company just like you would in a wreck in the US and your insurance company reimburses you back. I suggest buying a car Phone Magnet so your hands can be on the wheel while using google maps. If you can drive in the US you can drive in Europe, just breathe you got this. There are tolls you will have to pay and its as easy as getting a printed ticket at one spot then paying at the end spot they accept cash or card. I always recommend a car versus the Euro train if you are wanting to see multiple areas and for a time span of 2 weeks or longer. Do Not speed!! They have camera stations and you will get billed by your rental company. I learned this the hard way and got 5 tickets at $50 apiece, I have a lead foot and lessoned learned.
Flying into Barcelona is one of the least expensive ways to get to Spain and you can find cheap trips on Skyscanner.com all the time. Just play with your leaving and arriving dates to be on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday those are your cheapest flying days normally. Avoid Fridays at all costs.
You need a 2-3 days in Barcelona, I am a mover and a shaker, so I like to see things and keep moving. I will take a beach day here and there to read and relax. My main goal is to see as much as possible in a short time. You can speed up or slow down your vacation as you wish would remember you are in control of you and you can take what you want from this blog to plan your trip to your liking. I stay in hostels because it gives me the freedom to not plan anything in advance. I also like talking to people in hostels to get their ideas and input on what they have seen and done. It’s always good to be around like-minded individuals and I have never met a bad person at a Hostel. To book any Hostel download the Hostel World App and me personally will pick anything that has a star rating of 8 plus but have stayed in lower star rated hostels they are just not usually as clean. It also has a map on it to let you know what’s close to you.
The best app for all your tickets and tours will be on Ticket Lens App this is my favorite app hands down. The Dark History Night walking tour is around $19, 2-hour tour if you can take a walking tour of any area this is my favorite thing and wish I would have learned about them before the end of my trip. Most Hostels offer them free just check with the front desk and always tip at the end. The most visited monument in Spain is the Sagrada Familia Catholic Church and it is the most beautiful architecture I have seen in my life still to this day. A ticket to get in is around $20, take a lunch with you and sit in the park area surrounding it. You could stare at this place for years and never be able to take in all the carving details. The Casa Batllo Museum holds Gaud’s masterpieces and tickets to enter run around $28 with an audio and video tour. I am not a museum person but there are some I will go to so if you are check your ticket lens app for each area. Enjoy a dinner and glass of wine wherever you can sit outside and see a bunch of locals sitting, that will always be the best food. This is where I read and take in the atmosphere, the waiters will not bring you a check unless you ask for it. Dinner is usually a two-hour experience so enjoy it do not rush it! The next place is Cadaque’s, Girona, Spain.
Cadaques, Girona, Spain
Barcelona to Cadaques is a 2-hour drive and is at the easternmost point in Spain. Set around a remote bay of the Costa Brava town. Dozens of movies were made in this remote town with white buildings and homes, with tan roofs. You will not get away with a cheap hostel they don’t even have any, you will need to use your Airbnb app for here and the normal price is $65 and up for just one night. I opted for spending the day here walking the gorgeous beach area and driving around admiring the town. Zaragoza, Spain is up next.
Cadaques to Zaragoza is 4 hours west, the only reason I stopped at the city was because I liked the name. Just stop for a few hours then keep moving. I mean is it really a trip without stopping for places that have cool names. The reason I took the direction was because it was on my way to Pamplona. I had 5 days before I planned on running with the bulls and this whole trip is based on me just winging it. Zaragoza is a college town; it also has a castle named Alyaferia Palace which was a medieval Islamic Palace. Upon seeing from a distance which looked really cool with a moat and all. Mind you this is my first castle I have ever seen, once I got close, I was sad I didn’t see the moat filled with water and crocodiles, yes, I read a lot of fantasy books. Its moat area was filled with shrubs and grass but hey I saw a castle. It also has a giant Cathedral named The Basilica of our Lady of the Pillar which was beautiful as well. Oh, and I even got pulled over and had to do a breathalyzer at a police officer roadblock, I even got to keep my cute plastic piece I had to blow in. Hostels are cheap if you need to stay the night before continuing to Donostia San Sebastian which, I was told in a restaurant in Barcelona that is the most beautiful place in Spain.
Donostia San Sebastian
From Zaragoza to San Sebastian is 2 hours and 35 mins. I booked an Airbnb here for one day for $50 then decided I needed 3 nights here it is truly beautiful and has hiking with a fantastic beach. This is to me is the best place in all of Spain, so they do have Hostels but please try to book in advance because it books up fast. They did have Hostels, but all were booked completely up when I looked. It is hard to find cheap parking, but I found a daily parking garage called “Parking Easo”, just google the directions and it’s only $10 a day. You want to book accommodations within 3-4 blocks of the beach and the center of the horseshoe beach gives you the best ways to see the city from both directions of walking. I knew Europe was known for having some topless beaches, this is one of them and I have to say it’s completely normal and not something that is weird in Spain. So, if this bothers you, I hope you can get past your issues and just enjoy it. Nobody is going to be starring at you, there is every age from little girls to way older woman that will be topless. I on the other hand have no problem with the saying “When in Rome”, so yes, I was topless to. Let’s just saying freeing the girls was very liberating and who wants tan lines anyway. Judge away if you feel compelled to do so, I am ok with me. So, enjoy the beach for a whole day even without alcohol because it’s not allowed.
Second day you must hike Mount Ulia which is located east of the city. It is one of the best hikes overlooking ocean views with blue hydrangeas also scenic views of the city. This hike is fantastic for all ages just bring a bottle of water. Then on the way back you can stop at Zarriola Hondartza for surfing, I cannot surf but it is cool to set on the beach and watch. For you third day check out Urgull which you can walk to from the city. If you are facing the water at the beach just walk to the right and follow the beach. Or google it to get there faster. The Urgull hill is 123 meters at its highest point so climbing the stairs will totally be worth it for the views. You can’t miss it from the city area because there is a giant statue of Jesus on top of it. The Mota Castle was a hot spot at one point for military operations. After to the east of the beaches is tons of the best shopping for the best prices with blocks and blocks of shops. You will absolutely fall in love with this city. Next up is Pamplona,
Running of the Bulls is always going to be July 7-14 no matter what days they fall on. You must book your stay at least 5 months in advance this was the only place that I booked far ahead of the time I was going. There is over 10,000 people that will be there for the largest party in the world. I booked two nights and was there a full 3 days. I arrived the day before the running of the bulls. If you want less crowded time to run, go after day 4 but the bulls run 7 days in a row. Day one is a big carnival with rides lots of kids which is not my thing on vacation. The only thing you need to bring is white pants because you must buy the $20 shirt and red scarf. I bought 2 shirts because I planned on running two days in a row. Tennis shoes are a must with of course a fanny pack which tons of Europeans where them and it’s still a cool style there. I love my fanny packs just saying. Walk the city streets they are packed with a bunch of people who are drunk, and everybody drunk always is your best friends. Drunk people love everybody it’s a rule. Go where the music is playing you will here it and not just any music this is a huge stage with the best DJ’s around. I made it all the way to the front, well more like the second or third row area if there were rows. I danced with all the people around me and felt completely sage. The only thing you really should worry about is pick pockets and always pay attention to your drinks because well I just don’t trust people I don’t know. I partied until around 12pm before calling it a night.
Day 2 the run. Be there at 7am to get in the running area. It starts at 8am. You cannot run with any video recording device. NO Phones, go pro’s etc. You cannot run if they think you are intoxicated, even though you can tell people were a little drunk from the night before. The fear of running with the bulls to me is over amplified and let me explain. The people getting gored by bulls are the men running right next to them touching them. If you just jog to the side and not try to touch the bulls, you will be fine. They say if you are in line of a bull coming at you drop in the fetal position and cover your head. There are around 7 bulls just trying to get at the end with their buddies. You mainly need to focus on the people running with you, some act a little crazy. I had zero problems and I was a woman by herself. The bulls can get from the start to finish in about 6 minutes, so I started about middle area. It’s about a half mile run that ends at the arena. The bulls are then put up for the bull fights at 6:30pm which I did not want to see. Once you get to the arena a younger bull is released in the arena and your goal is to run from him. Once again, I had no trouble avoiding that and staying clear of him. I met some guys while standing and waiting on the bulls to be released and had some drinks after. The main partying will start again around 11pm and it will go all night. I ran with the bulls that next morning with no problems either. I officially marked that off the ole bucket list. Next up Lisbon, Portugal
It’s an 8-hour drive to get from Pamplona to Lisbon and unless you really love shopping, I would just avoid it. The free parking is hard to find. The only cool things I really saw was the Belem tower with it’s cool black and white wavy painted ground surrounding it. Saw I white horse that I visited with that I found in a random coral on the side of the road and that was pretty much it. Onward to Lagos which was recommended to me by a local as the most beautiful beaches in the world.
From Lisbon to Portugal is 2 hours and 45-minute drive. Here’s a little crazy secret about me. I can sleep anywhere, car, plane, beach, hostel it really doesn’t matter so when I get sleepy and need a break from driving, I just pull over and take a nap. I had set mu google maps up to drive me to Vau Beach and well I arrived about 1:30 am. Come to find out the street is still filled with party people and well I was not going to start that up. I parked at the beach area and you must take stairs down these huge cliffs that overlook the beach area below. The moon was bright and besides a few stragglers I was the only person on the beach. The sand was almost glowing, and you could still see because of the moon being so bright. I walked a good mile on the waters edge before turning around to walk back. It’s now 3am I don’t have a hostel but there are the reclining sun chairs all along the beach for the hotels located at the tops of the cliffs. So why sleep a couple of hours in a car when I have a beach! I use my beach blanket I keep in my backpack and laid right there listening to the ocean. Woke up around 6 am and noticed they have outside showers! Can I tell you taking a shower on the beach for $2 Euro was a little cool just saying? I had a great breakfast and decided after seeing how gorgeous it was during the day that this was a reading, napping and sun day. I got my backpack and went as far as I could before hitting a dead end, set my blanket area up and relaxed all day. Just to warn you the water is 70 degrees and I hate cold and to me that’s to cold to swim. You go right ahead and enjoy yourself though but if you do decide to nap all day like I do just know that the tide will rise and you could get stuck wading neck deep in water with your water proof bag over your head to get back to wear you started. Yes, I screamed and laughed because of my situation because well that was funny. Get a room for at least one night this place I could have easily stayed 2-3 nights because it was that beautiful.
Day 2, I signed up for a shipwreck scuba diving adventure. I get to the scuba place and the person tells me there is a bad red alga outbreak. Is this dangerous? I ask the guy; he replies not at all it just won’t be as visible as the video you are looking at, but you will see lots of octopus at the wreck. Well I was sold with the octopus and I am a certified advance diver so bring on the shipwrecks. I am told it gets cold and we have a full-face mask and the thickest wet suit you can get to stay warm. I thought I was prepared mentally I was not, after jumping in the 70-degree water the temperature plummets to about 45-50 degrees below. We follow a line that drops down to the bottom and I’m the last one down. I look around and everyone is gone I cannot see 4 feet in front of me. Thanks to my training I know do not attempt to find the dive master he will come back for me as I hold on to a rope for the longest 5 mins of my life. He did though and off we went with me trailing his ass like we were connected. The ocean was literally red! We get to the shipwreck which I am fixing to enter with pretty much zero visibility and a flashlight that isn’t doing shit to help me see and not only that my body is shaking from being so cold. The dive master breaks open a couple muscles with his knifes and feeds the octopus and fish around us which was cool. After, my hour long freezing, low visibility dive we surface for a couple of hours for the next dive which I was not planning on doing but the dive master says I think it’s clearing up. Let’s just say that was a lie and they didn’t want to give me the second dives money back. No, it was not any clearer asshole. Lol. Not a good experience at all!! I did laugh at the situation because well if that was the worse thing that happens it was still a really cool not cool experience. Next up Taruga and this is the story where I almost died.
Lagos to Taruga is only 35 minutes. This is a cool stop with a cave that has a complete whole in the top and the ocean in the photo. You will walk down a very steep stair way to the shore area. There are technically 3 ways to get to said beautiful cave. 1. Kayak (best choice) 2. Tour boat that doesn’t let you out though to see the cave (second best choice) 3. Swim (You must be a dumbass choice) I picked the third choice. I talked to a guy that swam to shore and asked him if swimming to the cave was doable? I should have known by his 6 pack abs that it was easy for him. He replies yes it just around the bend there on the left. No problem he says. Listen, I am normally a person that feels like I have a good head on my shoulders. Today I did not, after procrastinating getting in said 70-degree water which to me was the hardest thing. I sucked it up and ran in with my snorkel and mask and go pro on my shoulder. First thoughts holy hell surely my body will get use to this temperature you can do it Jennifer!!! Just swimming 50 yards and hold on to the bend area if you get tired. That worked great until I rounded the bend then out of nowhere waves got big. I couldn’t hold on to the sides of the mountain, so I pushed myself to the shore. The waves are pushing me back and not letting me get to shore and no one is coming to save me. This is were I literally said in my head I’m going die in Portugal trying to see a cave and thought not a bad way to go out. My brain I guess wasn’t having that so I swam as hard as I could and finally reached the shore sucking in all the air. I’m alive!!! The cave was super badass and then the realization hit me, I now have to swim back I set there for a good hour thinking of a way I could get out of that but no boats coming to shore or a kayak to take me back. Here goes nothing as I jump back into the water. I was lucky the waves pushed me out and once around the bend those waves sucked me into shore. If you are a good swimmer or have fins it would have been much more doable. On to Algarve, Faro, Portugal
Algarve, Faro, Portugal
From Taruga to Algarve is 30 minutes. You will want to get a Hostel and stay the night. They run about $30 for an 8 star plus Hostel. You must go to Praia De Dona Ana hiking area first before you hit the beach. The scenery is to die for, described as the “best beach in the world” by magazine Conde’ Nast Traveler. I hiked for about 4 hours and finished up with lunch on top of the mountain area. There was Gecko lizards in the bushes and I even held one. Then hit up the beach for some relaxation before going to the Hostel for a hot shower and good nights sleep. Next up Seville, Spain
Algarve, Faro to Seville is a 2-hour drive. You can see the main highlights of this city in about three hours. This is where the Tomb of Christopher Columbus is located and the Plaza de Espana is located. Gorgeous historic town worth the short stop. Hostels will run about $25 a night if you want to stay and enjoy it longer. Great coffee shops and dancing street performers is just one of the great things to see in this old-world city. Next up Ronda, Spain
From Seville to Ronda is an hour and 45-minute drive. You won’t want to miss The Puente Nuevo Bridge that spans 100 yards deep in the el Tajo Gorge which took 40 years to complete. The city is a mile long and can be walked with great shops and food. I saw so many very expensive cars here. The views are well worth the stop in this fantastic town and Hostels run about $20 a night. Next up Murcia, Spain
From Ronda to Mucia is a 4-hour 45-minute drive. The Plaza Del Cardenal Belluga Cathedral is spectacular, but I didn’t really see anything else that made me want to stay longer. This is a great pit stop though to stretch your legs and have an Expresso which is my favorite thing in Europe to drink. Up next Valencia, Spain
Murcia to Valencia is a 2-hour 18-minute drive. This is the town I learned by staying in my Hostel that most Hostels have free walking tours! There was about 15 in our walking tour lead by Georgia from England. Tour takes about 2 hours and you tip at the end. You learn the history and really get to know a place by taking walking tours. I do this everywhere I go if possible. Also, they give travelers on a budget all the best places for cheap eating and drink specials. A good Hostel runs about $20 a night and I stayed 2 nights because the city is very large. Don’t miss a great beach day at Platja La Malvarrosa Beach it is great for seeing lots of people and swimming. Next up Tarragona, Spain
From Valencia to Tarragona is a 2-hour 38-minute drive. There are ancient ruins that remain from its time as the Roman colony of Tarraco. The Necropolis contains Roman tombs, and traces of the Forum stand among the alleys of the walled, medieval old town. There’s a walkway along the side with sweeping views of the city. The Punta Grossa beach has beautiful views and is great for relaxing for a few hours. Back to Barcelona to head home. The drive from Tarragona to Barcelona will take just an hour and 12 minutes.
This was one of the best trips of my life. I loved the freedom of having my own vehicle and I hope this inspires you to take the plunge to try a rental car to have the freedom to come and go. Life is all about experiences and without travel life would be just downright boring. Maybe by reading my adventures you can get a
good idea of the places you want to visit the most and take the plunge to live out your dreams.