Spain’s Absolute Musts

Most Beautiful Nature Spot

Spain is so beautiful that choosing only one “most beautiful” spot was a hard task. We are mountain lovers, so for us it would have to be Picos de Europa, a jaw-dropping mountain range located 20km from the northern coast across the communities of Cantabria, Asturias and Castile y León. Their highest point, Torre de Cerredo, reaches only 2,650 m so they are not too high and can be climbed by people who are out of shape as well.

Picos de Europa, Spain - Puertos de Áliva walk - PR-PNPE 24 (82)

Spectacular walks and stunning scenery guaranteed! The paths are well marked and the park is very well organised with a helpful tourist information booth whose staff speak fluent English, German and French!

Picos de Europa National Park has had a UNESCO Natural Biosphere Reserve status since 2003.

There are many access points to the park. During our stay we camped at the La Viorna campsite near Potes.

Potes, Picos de Europa, Spain (15)

You can find all the walking tours on this useful website.

Best city /  Town

Spain has an abundance of beautiful cities, towns and villages. You would be surprised how many unknown and forgotten medieval villages with cobbled streets we passed on our way. Places such as Sos del Rey Católico, Ainsa, Torla and Santillana del Mar remain relatively unknown and unbesieged by tourists, while if they were to be in any other country they would be the main attractions.

However, the most amazing city in Spain (and some would say even in Europe) is Barcelona, our home for nearly three years now. Stunning architecture (both Gothic and Modernist), direct access to the Mediterranean Sea and the beautiful mountain range of Collserola, a vibrant party scene and some of the best clubs in Europe, numerous parks, museums and art galleries are just a few reasons to fall in love with the Catalan capital. Besides, Barcelona is home to eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites!

Park Guell, Barcelona, Spain

It’s a lively, well-organised European metropolis with an efficient transport system and many cycling paths. Living here is really comfortable and hassle-free, and there is always something going on.

The city will simply blow your mind! We’d never known that we’d stay here for such a long time but we simply cannot leave. Barcelona is magnetic!

Pink sunset - Barcelona beach - Spain

Best area for hitch-hiking

The easiest areas for hitch-hiking in terms of the roads and the time it took us to get a lift were Aragón and Navarre. People in these two regions proved to be really friendly and many times went out of their way to help us. There aren’t that many motorways either and you will mostly find yourself on country and mountain roads, which is probably both good and bad, as in low season you might need to wait longer.

The scenery is truly stunning with the lovely Pyrenees on the horizon.

Panorama of the Onsella Valley and Pyrenees peaks in the distance - Sos del Rey Catolico, Spain

Tourist trap

We’ve been living in Spain for nearly three years and during this time we’ve heard many good things about the supposedly gorgeous San Sebastián. Its landscape and architecture amazed everybody we spoke to and many people told us that we would certainly fall in love with its food and the friendliness of its people. We entered San Sebastián with our hopes raised to the top and expected to see one of the most beautiful places human eye has ever seen. Indeed, at the first glance the town looked charming. Its fin-de-sicele architecture and the soaring Gothic cathedral drew our attention from the very first minutes after our arrival. However, the longer we spent in San Sebastián, the quicker the first positive impression faded away. To our utter surprise, we realised that under this façade of lovely buildings there was nothing else that could make us wish to stay there for more than two days. We visited the churches and the castle dominating one of the hills, we walked along the beach and finally admitted to ourselves that that was it. There was nothing more to the place than a couple of  pretty streets. Everything else was just very expensive boutiques and restaurants. The prices were so high that we couldn’t even try the famed pinchos. We weren’t the only ones, though. The long and never-ending queue outside McDonalds suggested that it wasn’t only us who couldn’t afford to eat out in San Sebastián.  Apart from that there were hardly any bars or cafés, so after you’ve done all the sightseeing possible, there was nothing else to do.

San Sebastian, Spain (23)

written by: Ania

***

Our Experience

We hitch-hiked in Spain as part of our ‘A dedo por La Península Ibérica‘ (The Iberian Peninsula by Thumb) trip in 2012.  Furthermore, we’ve been living in Barcelona for nearly three years now.

When hitch-hiking in Spain we covered 4026 km and got picked up by around 90 drivers from 14 different countries!

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About Hitch-Hikers Handbook

hitch-hiking, backpacking, budget travelling, travel writing, travel photography
Gallery | This entry was posted in *Guides*, *Photos*, A dedo por la Península Ibérica 2012, Country guides, Spain, _trips_ and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Spain’s Absolute Musts

  1. Barcelona is definitely one of the most beautiful cities I) have ever visited!! I just lovfe all the Gaudi art and the lively atmostphere of the city!!

  2. pankchophoto says:

    Glad that I live in Spain’s best city too!!! And I agree with you about San Sebastian… but I believe it’s kinda the same in all the Basque Country cities, like Bilbao… they’re beautiful but it’s very hard to find something cheap to eat and they’re boring after one day. One thing it’s true, though… Basques are the most kind and amazing people of Spain (imho).

    Great article!

    • Very true, Basque people are lovely which you can easily notice while hitch-hiking. In general we didn’t have many problems and didn’t have to wait long.
      And as for Barcelona, I can’t imagine us leaving yet, but when finally the day comes we will definitely be heartbroken!

  3. williamsa1125 says:

    Great post! I will keep these tips in mind for my Spain trip this summer. Glad you included the part about San Sebastian. I’m glad I found out its expensive before I go there. On my budget it will probably just be a day trip now.

    • Glad you found it helpful, Will! In our opinion Bilbao is much nicer and far more relaxed than San Sebastian, so it’s probably worth staying there. You should also check out Mundaka for its beautiful beach and pretty architecture.

  4. Paul Moore says:

    Very nice article! Everything you say about Barcelona is true. I lived in Sabadell for several months in the late 80s, but spent every weekend (and many week-day nights) in Barcelona. It’s an addictive city in so many ways.

    I’m sure you’ve been to Valencia, too. I lived there for some years and loved it. It’s a true Mediterranean city and I may well make it my permanent home in the not-too-distant future. I also lived in Pamplona on and off for several years. It’s a great place but naturally lacks that laid-back Mediterranean feeling (and the Mediterranean weather!).

    You are generally right about San Sebastian (‘Donostia’ in Basque). I knew it well in the 70s, 80s and 90s when it was somewhat cheaper. For a very long time, it was the holiday destination of Spanish royalty, so it developed a somewhat snobby attitude. Like Biarritz in the south of France, it was a temporary hang-out of the rich and famous, budding writers and artists (Hemingway and Co, for example), and, of course, surfers. Sadly, the serious urban and social decay and political violence of the 70s and 80s (some of which I witnessed first hand, as I also did in Pamplona) made San Sebastian – for me, at least – a place to spend only a few days rather than a place to live.

    Having said all that, I have to say that I’ve spent some very nice times in San Sebastian over the years. If I was working in other parts of Europe, I always stayed for a night or two in the hotel next to the train station when I was on my way to the fiesta in Pamplona. It was a very basic, cheap and, most importantly, clean hotel that served my purpose well: to get a good night’s sleep after travelling by train from northern Europe (often from Sweden or Norway). Then one year I turned up and discovered that the place had been completed renovated and given a few extra stars (it had always been a one-star until then). The prices of the rooms had also increased substantially. That’s when I decided that sleeping on the beach was cheaper and just as comfortable :)

    • Thanks for you long and as per usual lovely comment, Paul! Sleeping on the beach must have been great (although it rains a lot!). If we hadn’t Couchsurfed in San Sebastian we would have probably done the same ;)
      You’re right, we should have mentioned Valencia as well, but there are just so many cities in Spain which you can write about, as the whole country is amazing! We “forgot” about León and Segovia which we are deeply in love with and some beautiful places in Andalusia as well.
      Never mind, there are plenty of more posts to come to include those! :)

  5. I loved my trip to Spain. Barcelona was cool, La Rambla and the beach. But it felt a little claustrophobic to me (it was where we first landed so I wasn’t used to European cities). I was so happy to get out of there and head north into the Pyrennes. The trip across that mountain range to San Sebastian was incredible, magical even. Guess I already knew S.S. was going to be somewhat touristy so didn’t have high expectations. But we had fun walking the beach and doing tapas. It was cheaper when I went there. It has some stunning fossil deposits nearby. I preferred the small mountain towns, and had a great time at Fiesta de San Fermin! Now I want to visit the south of the country.

    • Sanfermines is a crazy party but we enjoyed it a lot as well :) The south of Spain is really beautiful and a lot different from the north, in terms of both culture and weather. Definitely worth seeing but probably the best to go to in spring, as in summer is insanely hot!

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