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Planning a Southern Spain Road Trip- Planning, routes, helpful resources, and everything you need to know

Planning a Southern Spain Road Trip- Planning, routes, helpful resources, and everything you need to know

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If you’re planning a Southern Spain itinerary, renting a car is probably a good idea. The region has a lot of exciting things to see and do and nothing beats the flexibility of driving your own vehicle and visiting the places you want to see. Sure, you can use buses or trains to get to places but honestly, but overall renting a car in Spain is relatively cheap. With that being said, planning a Southern Spain road trip isn’t always easy but worry not; we wrote this guide to make sure you’re prepared for everything you need to know when exploring Andalusia and Murcia. 

When to visit Southern Spain? 

seville baroque

Southern Spain is nice to visit throughout the year but I recommend not to visit during summers. The weather is too hot, most tourists visit around this time of the year, and hence, the prices also increase. In my opinion, it’s best to visit Southern Spain during autumn. In fact, Andalusia and Murcia are some of the best autumn destinations in Europe. The weather is still relatively warm but there are far fewer tourists around. Some people even consider this to be a great winter destination because winters in the south of Spain are not cold and the temperature is quite pleasant.  

Getting to the south of Spain

andalusia architecture

If you’re flying in from abroad, the largest international airport in the region is the one in Malaga (the fourth-busiest in Spain). Some other frequented airports in the region also include Seville (10th-busiest in Spain), Granada, Jerez de la Frontera, and Murcia. If you’re traveling by car or public transport, there are a few good starting points, depending on the route you want to take.

If you’re coming from Madrid, a good first stop would be Cordoba (roughly 4 hours away). If you’re coming from Barcelona or Valencia, a clear choice is to start your Southern Spain road trip somewhere along the coast of Murcia. And last but not least if you’re coming from Portugal, you may want to start your journey at Seville or Huelva.

Renting a car in Spain

andalusia road

Renting a car in the south of Spain is one of the best and most budget-friendly ways to explore the region. But don’t make the mistake of renting a car at the airport. As the case with most places in Europe, renting a car at the airport is always more expensive than renting a car at some of the other stops in the city.

Moreover, you can also pre-book your rental car. In fact, not only that, but you can also compare the deals from different car rental agencies in the region using AutoEurope. This way you’ll always make sure that you’re choosing the best deal. This is my personal favorite rent-a-car website for traveling around Europe

If you’re looking to rent a car in Spain you can use my AutoEurope voucher that can help you save up to 20% when renting a car in Spain.

Enjoying this post? Then you may also like our guide to Northern Spain.

Driving in Southern Spain

spain drive road

If you’re planning a Southern Spain road trip, you’ll be happy to hear that driving in Spain is relatively easy. The roads and traffic infrastructure are very nice and people generally follow the rules. One reason for this are the frequent routine radar speed traps that can be found in all parts of the country and Southern Spain is no exception. So, keep an eye on the changing speed limits because fines for speeding are very expensive.

And if you’re planning to use radar detectors, just don’t. They’re illegal in Spain and if you’re caught with one, you’ll end up paying a hefty fine.

Another thing that you’ll love to hear is that most roads in Southern Spain fall under the category Autoroute Gratiute (free motorways). The only roads that are toll motorways are Madrid-Cordoba (which in terms of paytolls is one of the most expensive ones in Spain), the roads from Cordoba to Jaen and Granada, and the road to Algeciras. That means you’ll be spending a lot less on tolls compared to planning a road trip to Northern Spain, for example.

Here are a few more things you should know about driving in Spain.

Speed limits

50 km/h (31 mph) for urban areas

 90 km/h (56 mph) for rural areas

 100 km/h (62 mph) for country roads

 120km/h (75 mph) for highways

Overtaking

If you’re overtaking on a road with more than two lanes, always do so from the left side, never from the right.

Drinking and driving

At Passport Symphony, we never encourage drinking and driving but according to local regulations, you are allowed to have up to 0.5 per mil of alcohol in your blood. If you’re a beginner (driver with fewer than 2 years of driving experience), the threshold is 0.3 promiles.

What about your driving license?

If you’re coming from another country in the EU or EEA, you don’t have to worry about anything. If that’s not the case, you’ll need to get an international driving license but don’t worry; the procedure is relatively simple and straightforward.

Planning a Southern Spain road trip

seville tower

­If you’re having a difficult time deciding where to go, this section will help you choose. We designed a few different itineraries for people with different interests. We have an itinerary for beach lovers, an itinerary for nature enthusiasts/campers, an itinerary for history lovers, and an itinerary for people looking to get off the beaten track. But before we get into those, let’s give you a few more helpful tips about planning your Southern Spain road trip. 

If you want to save on accommodation when traveling in Southern Spain, feel free to use our Booking.com discount code to get up to 20% off on all properties in the region. 

If you’re planning to stay in hostels, you can check out Hostel World

And last but not least, if you like staying at Airbnbs, you can claim a $50 bonus on your first Airbnb booking with this link.

Alternatively, if you’re thinking of taking the “nature lovers itinerary” and plan to camp, you’ll be happy to hear that there are a lot of amazing camping destinations in the south of Spain.

In this case, you might need a few camping essentials, such as…

For some more information on Spain, also make sure to read our interesting facts about Spain and our list of unique things you can only do in Spain.

With that being said, let’s get to our favorite Southern Spain road trip itineraries.

Southern Spain road trip for beach lovers

beaches southern spain

Andalusia and Murcia combine for approximately 1,000 kilometers of coastline and it’s no surprise that the region of Southern Spain is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe. This Southern Spain road trip will allow you to cover some of the most amazing beaches in the region.

Length: 980 kilometers 

Average distance per day: 70 kilometers

Day 1: Huelva

huelva southern spain road trip

The itinerary starts in the western part of Andalusia at the Huelva Coast. Huelva is an often underrated, charming sea town with a rich history and tradition. It’s one of the rare pre-Phoenician settlements on today’s territory of Spain and home to the oldest football club in the country (Recreativo Huelva) but what makes Huelva famous are its beautiful, pristine beaches.

Days 2-3: Cadiz

cadiz beach

Cadiz is the capital of the homonymous province and home to the largest and most important port in southwestern Spain. In addition to its marvelous coastline and beautiful beaches, Cadiz is also one of the oldest cities in Europe and a member of the Most Ancient European Towns Network. There are a lot of exciting things to see and do in Cadiz and that’s why this itinerary predicts two days for this city.

Day 4: Zahara de los Atunes

zahara

Located a short ride away from Cadiz, Zahara de los Antunes is one of our favorite hidden gems in Spain known for its secluded beaches. The town has the typical Mediterranean summer vibe and has a rich tradition of live music being played throughout the summer in its ‘chiringuitos. So, if you’re looking for a peaceful summer destination, this place should be on the top of your list.

Day 5: Tarifa

tarifa spain

Tarifa is the southernmost point of continental Spain and Europe. The town lies on the Costa de la Luz (“coast of light”) next to the Gibraltar Strait facing Morocco. Tarifa is actually located south of some North African capitals like Algiers and Tunis and its unique geolocation results in some amazing beaches and unreal landscapes. In my opinion, Tarifa is one of the most underrated destinations in Spain.

Day 6: Marbella

marbella

Marbella is a beautiful town located halfway between the Strait of Gibraltar and Malaga. The city is a perfect combination of beautiful beaches and lush mountains that create some of the most unique landscapes in Spain. In addition to the amazing natural beauties, the city is also the second-most populous municipality in the province of Málaga and home to some important archaeological sites, interesting museums, and cultural events.

Days 7 and 8: Malaga

malaga

Malaga is the second-largest city in Southern Spain and even two days might not be enough to explore everything the city has to offer and you’ll likely have a hard time choosing between relaxing at some of Malaga’s beautiful beaches, exploring some of the many breath-taking historical sites, or indulging in some of the many cultural events and activities or take a day trip to some dreamy beach towns like Nerja or Sotogrande.

Day 9: Almeria

almeria

The competition is fearsome, but in my opinion, Almeria has arguably the most peaceful and beautiful beaches in Southern Spain and as such, is a great fit for this Southern Spain road trip itinerary. But similarly to Malaga, Almeria also offers a lot of interesting things to do and can in no way be considered as only a beach town.

Day 10: La Manga

la manga

I know Murcia is far less popular than Andalusia when it comes to tourism but the beaches of La Manga (Eng. The Sandbar) can easily rival those of Malaga, Cadiz, and Almeria. This seaside split stretches over 21 kilometers and it separates the Mediterranean Sea from the Mar Menor (Minor Sea) lagoon, one of the largest sea lagoons in Europe.

Day 11: Cartagena

cartagena

And speaking of the underrated coast of Murcia, another city that comes to mind is Cartagena. The city was built as “the new Carthage” after the Punic Wars. Cartagena is also home to one of the most important in the western Mediterranean and has been the capital of the Spanish Navy’s Maritime Department of the Mediterranean since the 18th century.

Day 12: San Pedro de Pinatar

san pedro del Pinatar

And last but not least, we have San Pedro del Pinatar, perhaps the most famous beach destination in Murcia. The town is famous for the picturesque coastline, rich marine life, and for being one of the most exciting scuba diving destinations in Spain.

Road trip itinerary for cultural travelers

southern spain road trip idea

If you’re looking to experience the best of Andalusian and Murcian culture, this Southern Spain road trip itinerary is for you. The pace of travel is slower than the other itineraries and the itinerary covers the most touristy places in the region but it’s a great choice for first-time visitors.

Length: 909 kilometers 

Average distance per day: 82 kilometers

Days 1-2: Seville

seville view

The capital of Andalusia is a great starting point for exploring the region and a great place to learn about Andalusian culture. Sevilla has three UNESCO World Heritage Sites; the Seville Cathedral, the Seville Alcazar, and the General Archive of the Indies but this is just scratching the surface. Seville is a thriving vibrant city and arguably the highlight of this itinerary.

Days 3-4: Cadiz

cadiz andalusia

This itinerary also predicts two days for Cadiz, the capital of the homonymous Andalusian province. Unlike Seville, Cadiz doesn’t have any UNESCO World Heritage sites but it has a lot of interesting monuments, amazing beaches, and Donana National Park and Sierra de Grazalema are only a short ride away.

Day 5: Ronda

ronda

The next stop of this Southern Spain road trip itinerary is Ronda. The town lies on the foothills of the Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park, approximately 40 kilometers away from Sierra de Grazalema. Ronda is a charming picturesque hill station famous for its jaw-dropping views of the surrounding mountains, beautiful nature, amusing historical sites, and incredible examples of Andalusian architecture.

Days 6-7: Cordoba

cordoba mosque

Even though significantly smaller than Seville, Cordoba is the city with the most UNESCO World Heritage sites. Cordoba is home to four of them; the Mosque-Cathedral, the historical old town quarter surrounding the mosque, the Medina Azahara, and the Festival of the Patios. So, if visiting the city with most UNESCO sites is on your bucket list, visiting Cordoba during your Andalusian adventure is a must.

Day 8: Jaen

jaen

The capital of the Jaen province is one of the hottest destinations in Spain when it comes to cultural tourism. Jaen is home to one UNESCO World Heritage site (the Jaen Cathedral) and is also known as the World’s olive oil Capital but there are a lot of other good reasons to visit. The city has an incredible old town surrounded by picturesque, steep, narrow roads and a landscape dominated by the Santa Catalina Mountains that tower over the city.

Days 9-10: Granada

granada southern spain road trip

If you ever visit Andalusia, Granada is one of the mandatory stops. The city is located at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and has an incredible Islamic historical heritage. Granada is home to 3 UNESCO World Heritage sites; the Alhambra, Generalife, and el Albayzin but there are numerous other notable tourist attractions that are worth visiting. I honestly doubt you’d be able to get the most out of Granada in just two days and if you have more time to spend here, I warmly recommend you do.

Day 11: Murcia

murcia

Murcia might not have any UNESCO sites or the vibrant Andalusian vibe but it’s the seventh-largest city in Spain and a city with a rich history that has been inhabited for over 2,000 years (making it one of the oldest cities in Spain). The city is also famous for its Huerta, folklore, rich culture, and numerous interesting events throughout the year, and for being a premier wine tourism destination.

Road trip itinerary for nature lovers

southern spain road trip idea

Length: 1,147 kilometers 

Average distance per day: 100 kilometers

If you’re a nature lover and are looking for a Southern Spain road trip itinerary that will include a lot of hiking, trekking, and/or camping, you’ll love this itinerary.

Days 1-2: Donana national park

donana national park

Donana National Park is the largest national park in Spain. It spreads across three provinces (Huelva, Cadiz, and Seville) and covers an area of 543 square kilometers. The park consists of shallow streams, marshes, and sand dunes. Close to 20% of the park is a protected area and the entirety of the park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it’s home to many extinct species, including the Spanish red deer, the Iberian lynx, wild boars, African migratory birds, European badgers, fallow deer, the Spanish imperial eagle, and Egyptian mongooses among others.

If you’re planning to camp, there are a lot of great spots in the park. Just do it in a designated area and don’t forget most of the park is a protected area. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a place to stay, the city of Huelva is only 40 kilometers away from the park’s entrance.

Days 3-4:Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park

Sierra de Grazalema

Sierra de Grazalema offers some of the most exciting hiking opportunities in Andalusia. It’s located in the Cadiz province around 100 kilometers away from Donana National Park and covers an area of close to 52,000 hectares. The tallest peak of these mountains is Pinar sitting at 1654 meters above sea level. Sierra de Grazalema has been declared as a biosphere reserve in the 1970s mainly because it’s home to colonies of vultures, including the near-extinct Egyptian vulture.

If you’re planning to explore this region, you’ll be happy to hear that there are a handful of towns located within the park borders, so accommodation won’t be a problem even if you don’t like camping. Some of the most picturesque towns in the area feature Algodonales, Grazalema, and Zahara de la Sierra.  

Day 5: Los Alcornocales Natural Park

southern spain road trip
by jesus pinilla cc by SA 4.0

Located roughly 100 kilometers away from Sierra de Grazalema, near the border of the provinces Malaga and Cadiz you’ll discover Los Alcornocales; the most extensive forest of cork in Spain and one of the largest in the world. The park is covered by Mediterranean native forests and is one of the greenest places in the south of Spain.

Day 6: Montes De Malaga Natural Park

montes de Malaga
by Daniel Capilla CC by SA 4.0

Named after the homonymous mountains in the heart of the Malaga Province, this park is also known as the “lungs of Malaga”. If you thought lush forests isn’t something you can find in Malaga, you were wrong. The most characteristic tree species that can be found in the forest are the stone pine and Monterrey pine but you can also find Algerian oak, scarlet oak, olive trees, and carob trees. In addition to this, the park is also home to numerous animals, such as badgers, foxes, genets, and some endangered species such as Andalusian wall lizards, Mediterranean chameleons, and Iberian ribbed newts.

Day 7: Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama Natural Park

sierra tejeda

This park is located between the provinces of Granada and Malaga and consists of the Sierra de Tejeda and Sierra de Almijara mountains. The park is mostly mountainous and provides a lot of great trekking opportunities but is also home to a lot of endemic species, including including the golden eagle, Bonelli’s eagle, the griffon vulture, horned owl, the Iberian worm lizard, horseshoe whip snake, and the Iberian ibex.

Days 8-9 Sierra Nevada

sierra nevada

The Sierra Nevada is probably the most famous mountain range in the region and your Southern Spain road trip wouldn’t be complete without it. These mountains are home to the highest point of continental Spain, Mulhacén, at 3,479 meters above sea level. And with so many high mountaintops, it’s no surprise that the Sierra Nevada also has some of the best skiing resorts in Europe, making it a perfect winter destination.

Day 10: Sierra Espuna

sierra espuna

Murcia doesn’t have nearly as many mountains as Andalusia but we have to put Sierra Espuna on this list. This is the largest extension of forest in Murcia and arguably the most emblematic area of outstanding natural beauty in the province. The beautiful surrounding scenery and scenic viewpoints make Sierra Espuna a perfect last stop for this version of our road trip itinerary.

Off the beaten track Southern Spain road trip

southern spain road trip idea

And last but not least, we have an itinerary for people looking to get off the beaten track. This is a great itinerary for someone who already visited the south of Spain once or twice before and is looking for relatively unfrequented places that most tourists don’t know about. If you fall in any of these categories, keep reading, this Southern Spain road trip itinerary is for you!

Length: 937 kilometers 

Average distance per day: 93 kilometers

Day 1: Almonaster la Real

almonaster el real
by Marc Ryckaert CC by SA 4.0

Almonaster la Real is a beautiful hilly town surrounded by amazing hiking trails. My personal favorite is the trek to Cerro de Cristobal and I think that saying this trek offers some of the most amazing views in Andalusia isn’t an overstatement. 

Day 2: El Acebuchal

el acebuchal southern spain road trip

El Acebuchal was once known as the Ghost Village because it was completely abandoned by its inhabitants in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. However, after 50 years of total isolation and abandonment, the sons and grandsons of the refugees started inhabiting El Acebuchal again and today, this is one of the most vibrant mountain villages in Andalusia.

Day 3: Zuheros

zuheros

I like to think of Zuheros as a less-popular, less-crowded version of Ronda. It’s like a beautiful white-washed village located in the middle of nowhere in the mountains of Cordoba. The village is home to a medieval castle carved out of rock, steep limestone cliffs and is surrounded by numerous amazing hiking trails.

Day 4: Iznajar

iznajar

Iznajar is a charming, whitewashed village that brings the best from both worlds (beaches and mountains). The town is completely surrounded by mountains but it’s also home to a crystal clear freshwater lake with a beautiful beach and several interesting historical sites, including a marvelous, well-preserved 8th-century castle.

Day 5: Juzcar

juzcar
by rafael tello CC by SA 4.0

Juzcar looks like the village from “The Smurfs”. All of the houses are smurf-blue because the village was painted by Sony España to celebrate the premiere of the Smurfs movie. This makes Juzcar one of the most imposing and most unique towns in Andalusia and one you should definitely consider visiting.

Day 6: Gaucín

gaucin

Gaucin is yet another white-washed village located in the province of Malaga. The village is also known as the balcony of Europe because of its gorgeous views of Gibraltar and the North African coast and is one of Andalusia’s premier bird-watching destinations.

Day 7: Mijas

mijas

Mijas is perhaps the most famous town on this list of unfrequented places in Southern Spain but we still decided to add it here because it’s still not as well known as some of the most touristy places in the region. Mijas is a hill town located in the heart of Costa del Sol, sitting at 430 meters (1,476 feet) above sea level famous for its imposing museums, golf courses, and last but not least, traditional ceramics.

Day 8: Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park

cabo de gata

Cabo de Gata is the largest coastal protected area in Spain. It’s located in the south-eastern corner of Spain and is one of the most isolated parts of the country. Moreover, Cabo De Gata is also perhaps the only place in Europe with a true hot desert climate (at least in the mainland part of Europe). The area is home to some beautiful beaches, unique flora and fauna, and the largest volcanic rock formation with sharp peaks in Spain.

If you’re looking to explore more of Spain’s eastern coast, check out our ultimate guide to the east coast of Spain.

Day 9: Mojácar

mojacar

The Almeria province is famed for its beautiful beaches and the town of Mojacar is perhaps the best example of this. The coastline of this town is dotted with crystal-clear waters, pristine beaches, and a laid-back Mediterranean atmosphere. But that’s not all this town has to offer. The name Mojacar derives from the word “monxcar” which translates to “holy mountain”, a reference to the hilltop the town is located on that offers some of the most amazing views of the Almeria coast.

Day 10: Mazarron

mazarron

The Bay of Mazarron is one of the most picturesque parts of Murcia. The town is known for being one of Spain’s major mining hubs throughout history and for its beautiful beaches. Mazarron might be a small town but its coastline is 35 kilometers long and is filled with pristine, relatively-unfrequented beaches, unspoiled coves, and picturesque rocky sea beds.

Day 11: Lorca

lorca

During Medieval times, Lorca was always a part of the fighting ground between Muslims and Christians. A lot of that changed throughout the years, and today, the town is a beautiful tourist destination with prestigious hotels and resorts but if you look hard enough, you can still find glimpses of the city’s troublesome history. One such place is the Lorca Castle that overlooks the city. It’s one of the most important historical monuments of Murcia and one of the best (and most strategic) viewpoints in the region.

Our comprehensive Southern Spain road trip itinerary in 14 days

southern spain road trip idea

And last but not least, if you haven’t decided what exactly you want from your trip or you would like a little bit of everything, we have an itinerary for you too. If I would have to organize a Southern Spain road trip that gets the best of the region (culture, history, beaches, nature), it would look something like this:

Days 1 and 2: Cordoba

Days 3 and 4: Seville

Day 5: Cadiz

Day 6: Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park

Day 7: Ronda

Day 8: Malaga

Days 9 and 10: Granada

Day 11: Sierra Nevada

Day 12: Almeria

Day 13: Cartagena

Day 14: Murcia

Did you like our Southern Spain road trip ideas? Which one was your favorite? Let us know in the comments!

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southern spain road trip planning
southern spain road trip planning

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