Madrid and Barcelona are the two main Spanish airports, though the summer holiday trade to the costas and the Balearics, and the rapid growth of European budget airlines, has opened up regional airports right across Spain. Taking the train to Spain is a greener option and has much to recommend it – there’s a lot to be said for waking up refreshed in Madrid or Barcelona after the quick Eurostar service to Paris and the comfortable overnight journey on the “train-hotel”. Driving is more of an adventure, but there are several routes that can save you time, like the direct ferry services from Portsmouth and Plymouth to Santander and Bilbao.
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Flights from the UK and Ireland
Flight time to Spain is two to three hours, depending on the route, and usually the cheapest flights are with the no-frills budget airlines such as bmibaby (wbmibaby.com), easyJet (weasyjet.com), flybe (wflybe.com), Jet2 (wjet2.com) and Ryanair (wryanair.com), who between them fly from over twenty regional UK airports direct to destinations all over Spain – not just Madrid and Barcelona, but also to smaller regional Spanish airports like Málaga, Alicante, Bilbao, Valencia and in the Balearics. Note that London flights tend to depart from Stansted or Luton, while it’s always worth double-checking the exact Spanish airport used – Ryanair (and others’) “Barcelona” flights, for example, are actually to Girona (1hr to the north) or Reus (1hr 15min to the south). Fares for flights on all routes start at around £9.99 each way. However, book last minute in the summer and you can expect to pay considerably more, up to £100 each way depending on the route.
For flights to the costas and Balearics, you can also check with holiday and charter companies such as Monarch (wmonarch.co.uk), First Choice (wfirstchoice.co.uk), Thomas Cook (wflythomascook.com) and Thomson (wthomsonfly.com). You might not get the rock-bottom deals of the budget airlines, as schedules and prices are geared towards the summer holiday season, but flights depart from convenient regional airports right around the UK.
The widest range of scheduled flights is with the now-merged Iberia (wiberia.com) and British Airways (wba.com), with direct services from London Gatwick or Heathrow to half a dozen Spanish cities (most frequently to Madrid and Barcelona, but also Valencia, Málaga and Alicante) and connections on to most other airports in Spain. You’ll also be able to arrange add-on sections to London from regional English airports such as Manchester or Newcastle or from Scotland. Special offers start at around £100 return, though a typical late-booking summer rate will be more like £200 return.
From Ireland, you can fly with Iberia from Dublin to Madrid, or with Aer Lingus (waerlingus.com) from Dublin or Cork to up to eight Spanish airports (including Barcelona, Bilbao, Málaga and Alicante). Ryanair also connects Dublin and Shannon with most of the same destinations, plus places like Seville, Valencia and Murcia. Prices start at around €39.99 each way, though these rise sharply for last-minute bookings or to popular summer destinations.
Flights from the US and Canada
The widest choice of scheduled flights from the United States to Spain is with Iberia (wiberia.com), which flies direct, nonstop from New York to Madrid or Barcelona, and from Miami and Chicago to Madrid. Journey time (typically overnight) is between seven hours ten minutes and eight hours thirty minutes, depending on the route. Fares start at around $1000 return. The advantage of flying with Iberia is that it offers connecting flights to almost anywhere in Spain, which can be very good value if booked with your transatlantic flight.
Other airlines offering Spain routes (some on a code-share basis with Iberia or other airlines) include American Airlines (waa.com), Delta (wdelta.com), Continental (wcontinental.com), Spanair (wspanair.com) and United (wunited.com). Or you can fly to Spain with airlines such as Air France, KLM, Lufthansa, TAP or British Airways, for example, which tend to fly via their respective European hubs – in which case, you can add three to four hours to your total travel time, depending on the connection.
From Canada, there are routes from Toronto and Montréal to Madrid and Barcelona with Air Canada (waircanada.com), with onward connections across Spain with their partner Spanair. Or fly with one of the major European airlines via their respective hubs – fares in all cases start from around Can$1100 return.
Flights from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa
There are no direct flights to Spain from Australia or New Zealand, but many airlines offer through-tickets with their partners via their European or Asian hubs. Flights via Asia are generally the cheaper option, but fares don’t vary as much between airlines as you might think, and in the end you’ll be basing your choice on things like flight timings, routes and possible stop-offs on the way. If you’re seeing Spain as part of a wider European trip, you might want to aim first for the UK, since there’s a wide choice of cheap flights to Spain once there. Or consider a Round-the-World fare, with most basic options able to offer Madrid or Barcelona as standard stopovers.
From South Africa, there are direct flights with Iberia (wiberia.com) from Johannesburg to Madrid, which take around ten hours; or it’s around fifteen hours if you fly via London.
Package holidays, tours and city breaks
The basic, mass-market package holidays to the traditional resorts on the Costa del Sol, Costa Brava, Costa Blanca and others are not to everyone’s taste, but bargains can be found online or at any UK high-street travel agent, from as little as £99 for a seven-night flight-and-hotel package. There are often really good deals for families, either in hotels or in self-catering apartments, though the time of year you visit can increase prices significantly (school holidays are always most expensive).
A huge number of specialist tour operators offer a wider range of activity holidays or tours, from hiking in the Pyrenees to touring the artistic highlights of Andalucía. We’ve given a flavour of what’s available in the listed reviews at the end of this section, but the options are almost endless. Prices vary wildly depending on the quality of accommodation offered and whether the tours are fully inclusive or not. Many hiking or bicycle tours, for example, can either be guided or done on a more independent (and cheaper) self-guided basis. Spanish-based tour operators offer some of the more interesting, off-the-beaten-track options, but for these you’ll usually have to arrange your own flights to Spain, while many foreign-based operators also tend to quote for their holidays exclusive of airfares.
Some operators and websites specialize in city breaks, with destinations including Barcelona, Madrid, Seville and Granada. UK prices start at around £200 for three-day (two-night) breaks, including return flights, airport transfer and B&B in a centrally located one-, two- or three-star hotel. Adding extra nights or upgrading your hotel is possible, too, usually at a fairly reasonable cost. The bigger US operators, such as American Express and Delta Vacations, can also easily organize short city breaks to Spain on a flight-and-hotel basis, while from Australia Iberian specialist Ibertours (wibertours.com.au) can arrange two- or three-night packages in most Spanish cities.
Other deals worth considering are fly-drive offers, where you’ll get a flight, accommodation and car rental arranged through your tour operator. Some companies specialize in villas and apartments, or off-the-beaten-track farmhouses and the like, while on other holiday packages you can tour the country’s historic paradores, with car rental included.
Specialist tour operators
Adventure Center US t1 800 228 8747, wadventurecenter.com. Active vacations in the Picos de Europa, Pyrenees, Catalunya, Andalucía and the Sierra Nevada – self-guided trekking to rustic family adventures, starting at $1000 (excluding airfares).
Alto-Aragon UK t0208 398 1321, waltoaragon.co.uk. An established English-run company offering summer hiking and activity holidays (from around £500, land-only), and winter cross-country skiing programmes (from £300, land-only) in the high Pyrenees.
Exodus Travels UK t0845 805 9418, wexodus.co.uk. Walking and cycling in Andalucía, Mallorca, the Picos de Europa and the Pyrenees (and most minor mountain ranges), as well as cycling or multi-adventure (climbing, caving, rafting, etc), cultural and sightseeing trips. There’s a big range of trips at all prices, but typical is a week’s walking in the Sierra Nevada, from £769 including flights.
Spirit of Adventure UK t01822 880 277, wspirit-of-adventure.com. Multi-activity holidays in Catalunya, Andalucía, Galicia and the Picos de Europa. There’s trekking, climbing and sea-kayaking, with some activity holidays specifically aimed at families (from £600 per person).
Busabout UK t0845 0267 514, wbusabout.com. The European backpacker bus service also offers a seven-day Spain/Portugal bus tour (basically Andalucía and the Algarve; from £449) plus special annual Fallas, Running of the Bulls and La Tomatina trips, all aimed at a young, party crowd.
Bravobike Spain t917 582 945, wbravobike.com. Offers a variety of cycle tours from one day in Madrid, Segovia or Toledo, for example, to themed week-long tours in conquistador country, La Rioja wine country or along the Camino de Santiago. Prices are variable, but from €25 for a short half-day trip, €800 self-guided per week and from €1000 guided.
Easy Rider Tours US t1 800 488 8332, weasyridertours.com. Guided cycling and sightseeing tours in Andalucía, Castilla y León, and along the pilgrims’ way to Santiago de Compostela. Tours are all-inclusive and fully supported, from around $3500 for a week, though airfares are extra.
Iberocycle Spain t942 581 085, wiberocycle.com. An English-run, Spain-based company specializing in supported or self-guided cycling tours of northern Spain in particular (Cantabria, Asturias, Basque Country, Catalunya). Short five-night trips start at around €510.
Food and drink
Arblaster & Clarke UK t01730 263111, warblasterandclarke.com. The most notable wine-tour specialist, with quality trips to all Spain’s wine-producing regions, including agreeable accommodation and tastings at both famous and little-known wineries. From £1500, excluding flights.
A Taste of Spain Spain t856 079 626, watasteofspain.com. Organizes gourmet culinary tours of Catalunya, the Basque region/La Rioja, Andalucía and central Spain, with tastings, meals and cookery lessons. From around €300 for a day’s excursion to taste Iberico ham to €3000 for a week following La Mancha’s saffron route.
History, art and culture
Abercrombie and Kent UK t0845 618 2200, wabercrombiekent.co.uk; US t1 800 554 7016, wabercrombiekent.com. Upmarket independent or fully escorted tailor-made tours, with the ten-day “Signature Spain” trip (Córdoba, Granada, Seville, from $8500) typically providing high-speed train travel, luxury hotels and a private guide for monument visits.
Madrid and Beyond Spain t917 580 063, wmadridandbeyond.com. Classy customized holidays and special experiences, from private gallery tours to expert-led walks through Gaudí’s Barcelona. Variable prices.
Martin Randall Travel UK t020 8742 3355, wmartinrandall.com. The leading cultural-tour specialists, offering small-group, expert-led trips to Catalunya, Madrid, Toledo, Aragón and Seville, among others. Departures several times a year on various trips and themes, from around £1300 for a five-day Madrid art trip to £3000 for eight nights’ gourmet wining and dining in Catalunya.
Fantasia Adventure Holidays Spain wfantasiaadventureholidays.com. British-run company offering riding breaks on the Costa de la Luz, from full-board weekends to week-long holidays (from £525, excluding flights). Contact is best by email.
Surf Spain UK wsurfspain.co.uk. Surf camps and tailor-made surfing holidays in the north and south of Spain, with six-night breaks from £409 per person (excluding flights). Contact is best by email.
ATG-Oxford UK t01865 315678, watg-oxford.co.uk. Sustainable-tourism outfit with off-the-beaten-track walking holidays in La Rioja or the volcanic countryside around Girona, plus the Pyrenees, Catalunya and the Camino de Santiago. Five-day holidays start from £475.
Inntravel UK t01653 617722, winntravel.co.uk Self-guided walking tours in Galicia, Andalucia; the Pyrenees, Balearics and Catalunya. Each night’s destination is a small family-run hotel where your baggage is waiting. A typical seven-day walking holiday starts at around £600.
Olé Spain US t1 888 869 7156, wolespain.com. Small-group cultural walking tours in Catalunya, Andalucía and Extremadura, with prices starting at $3300 for an eight-day tour (excluding airfares).
Ramblers Worldwide Holidays UK t01707 331 133, wramblersholidays.co.uk. Long-established walking-tour operator, with hiking holidays in most Spanish mountain regions, as well as vineyard rambles and tours of classical Andalucía. From around £725 for an all-inclusive week in the Sierra Nevada.
Walk Alpujarras Spain t958 858 580, wwalkalpujarra.com. Group and individual self-guided walking tours organized by experienced guide and author Jeremy Rabjohns. From around £400 for a seven-night holiday.