Spain is one of the best countries in Europe for a road trip. With an impressive highway infrastructure and diverse topography, it is safe and easy to hop from one hilltop village to the next in a rental car. And a road trip from Barcelona to Granada along the Costa Blanca makes for one beautiful coastal drive along the Balearic Sea. Just picture it, the warm sun on your face and a salty breeze hanging in the air.
While European train travel can’t be beat, you see so much more of the country when you drive, and it’s worth it to explore as many of Spain’s nooks and crannies as possible. Chances are pretty good that you’ll be visiting the beautiful capital of Catalonia, Barcelona. And that’s the perfect place to start this leg of the trip because most people naturally travel farther south for their next destination.
This is definitely one of the best road trips in Spain.
How to get from barcelona to granada
Distance: Approximately 500-600 miles
Duration: Around 11 hours if you drive the coastline, around nine if you take the autopista.
There are plenty of places to pick up a rental car in Barcelona, but you can knock out a couple of birds with one stone if you choose the Enterprise or Hertz near Mar Bella Beach. Here’s a fun coincidence, imagine stumbling upon a nude beach (or as Google describes it: clothes-free) while trying to find your car rental agency. Many Americans would be scandalized by a stripped-down jaunt along the sand, but if your curiosity gets the best of you, the views on this beach are worth the visit. All the puns intended.
Hop on the C-32 or AP-7 toward Valencia (Comunidad Valenciana) and relax. You’ll pass by lovely little towns along the coast like Sitges, Vilanova i la Geltrú and Tarragona. Depending on the exact route you decide, you will likely encounter some tolls. The tolls in Spain are easy to navigate; you either get your card first and pay when you exit, or you pay before you get on the freeway. The cost for the tolls can be anywhere from a few euros to upwards of 20. You can pay with cash or card, just make sure you keep track of your ticket.
Where to stop along the road trip from barcelona to granada
Most people will stop in Valencia for the world-famous paella, nightlife and museums. But if a bit of a slower seaside escape sounds a little more up your alley, drive an hour and a half past the bustling city to Calpe. Calpe is a little seaside town on the Costa Blanca and is a perfect place to spend a day or two browning in the afternoon sun before heading down to Andalucía.
It’s known for a massive rock that is perched on its own peninsula, Peñon d'Ifach. And deservingly so, the boulder is bigger than the average skyscraper at nearly 1100 feet high. That’s the equivalent of an almost 80-story building, so it’s just shy of the Empire State Building at 102 stories or Las Vegas’s Stratosphere at 107 stories.
It’s difficult to imagine the scale of something this mammoth unless you see it with your own eyes. It’s as if God Himself plopped it on the tip of the adjacent beaches and then man said, “let there be condos.” During the hot summer months, it’s got a lively promenade and is a great place for water sports. If your favorite pastime is lounging with the sun gods, you can rent a beach chair for the day or frolic about the many pools dotting the towering hotels and condo buildings.
Where to stay in calpe on the costa blanca
Hotel AR Diamante Beach
Hotel RH Ifach
Gran Hotel Sol y Mar
Hotel Porto Calpe
There are lots of great hotels in Calpe including the Hotel AR Diamante Beach and Hotel RH Ifach. But it’s worth it to stay right on the beach since you’re only stopping through. The Gran Hotel Sol y Mar has unbeatable views and amenities like a spa, indoor and outdoor pools and verandas overlooking the beautiful blue water with direct beach access. Book a room with a balcony that overlooks like sea and the Peñon d’Ifach and you’ll enjoy palatial floor-to-ceiling windows as well. It’s also important to note that this is an adults-only resort.
If you want something a little more quiet and a little less “Miami Beach,” stay right along the marina at the family-friendly Hotel Porto Calpe. The 67-room hotel is much smaller, but the rooms are spacious and also have balconies overlooking the Peñon d’Ifach and an adjacent yacht club. There’s an outdoor pool to use during the warm seasons and kids are welcome.
Where to eat in calpe on the costa blanca
Av. Gabriel Miró, 40, 03710 Calp, Alicante, Spain
Capri is the kind of restaurant you walk by and pray that it’s not a tourist trap, because it surely looks like one with its prime location. The open-air restaurant sits right along the sand with unobstructed views of the sunset and the sea. It’s a place that encourages you to slow down and take it all in at a pace most of us aren’t used to. A place to order a chilled bottle of Laurent Perrier and a dozen oysters on the half shell while watching the sun sink below the horizon. The seafood and wine selection are excellent.
You are, after all, on the edge of the sunbaked Balearic Sea and home of the world-famous paella. So naturally, that’s what you should order next. The piping hot cast-iron skillet is brought to your table while it’s still sizzling. This smokey Valencian rice dish is embellished with fresh shellfish, meat and vegetables that are sourced from the local market daily. It’s easy to get caught up in touristy traps serving subpar paella and cheap sangria in Spain, but this is as good as it gets. Ask for a table outside, this will be one meal you’ll remember even though you’re just passing through.
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What to see on the road trip
Platja de Moraira sea cave
Cova Tallada sea cave
Cova dels Arcs sea cave
Platja Raco del Conill nude beach
Many visitors hike Peñon d’Ifach, but it is not for the faint of heart. The first half of the hike is pleasant enough and the views are outstanding. However, once you make it to the tunnel through the rock, you’ll face slippery and uneven terrain with nothing more than a rope or chain to hold onto. If you’re an experienced hiker and physically fit, this is worth the trek. But keep in mind, you will need to scramble across some of the craggily rocks to get to the top.
Before leaving Calpe for Granada, you should know the area is home to a several networks of caves. Sea caves at Platja de Moraira, Cova Tallada, Cova dels Arcs and many others are extremely unique experiences and make for really great photo opportunities. If you decide to spend another night in Calpe, consider booking a kayaking tour to visit the sea caves from the water, not just from above.
If you’re feeling extra saucy and want to really step out of your comfort zone, Spain is full of beautiful nude beaches. The one we recommend is Platja Raco Del Conill between Benidorm and Villajoyosa. The parking is ample and high on the cliff but it’s easy to maneuver the steps down to the two coves. The water is crystal clear with lots of flora and fauna to enjoy and it is truly off the beaten path if you go in the less busy months.
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Ashley Oñoz-Wright has been a travel writer and editor based in Las Vegas, NV for the last ten years. Her work has been featured in Manifesting Travel, Modern Luxury, Sophisticated Living, Greenspun Media Group, Vegas.com and LasVegas.com. She holds a degree in Sociology & Anthropology from DePauw University.