These locals will make you want to hit the road in Northern Spain right now

These locals will make you want to hit the road in Northern Spain right now

We asked some of the best Spanish bloggers and travellers from Northern Spain to give us their insider tips, secret spots and must-see attractions in this land of cheese, wine, verdant landscapes and jawdropping mountains. Vamos!

  1. Northern Spain: Catalonia
  2. Northern Spain: Galicia
  3. Northern Spain: Asturias
  4. Northern Spain: Castilla and Leon

We’ll help you hit the road with our car rental here.

Northern Spain: Catalonia

By Carla

My name is Carla Llamas and I’m a journalist who writes at my blog La Maleta de Carla. I’m from Barcelona and currently exploring South East Asia on a (very low) budget. So far I’ve travelled through five countries in seven months: Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines. However, the more I travel, the more I realise there’s no place like home.

And since I’m honestly in love with my region, Catalonia, I’m here to tell you all about what makes it so special, all the things you can’t miss, the food you have to try and a few off the beaten track plans. Follow me…

Northern Spain - Sagrada Familia, Barcelona @CarlaSagrada Familia, Barcelona @Carla

Catalonian people are open-minded and modern, with quirky traditions and a strong culture based on our history. The region is divided into four provinces: Barcelona, Tarragona, Lleida and Girona. These are some of my favourite places and recommendations for things to eat, see and do.

Best time to travel to Catalonia

Although you’ll enjoy it regardless of the season, I would definitely avoid summer and try to travel during spring or autumn, between April-May or September-October. Temperatures are milder  and there’s less humidity, especially in Barcelona. If you want to enjoy the skiing season, head to the Pyrenees in January or February.

I would recommend autumn if you’re planning to visit places such as La Fageda d’en Jordà, a beautiful beech tree forest, or the Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici. In autumn these places become even more charming.

Palau Musica, Barcelona @CarlaPalau Musica, Barcelona @Carla

Festivals

If there’s something I’m deeply in love with in Catalonia, it’s our deep rooted traditions. If you have the opportunity, try to have one of these experiences for a really authentic trip and to understand our way of life.

Festa major: the Festa Major is the local festivity of each town. Everybody will be involved in organising it. Every town is different, but usually there are traditional costumes, dances, music and characters.

Castells: Sometimes there are also castells at these local festivities. They are human towers and, usually, every town has their own casteller team. In Catalan, they’re called colles castelleres. For a tower to be completed, a young child must climb to the top, raise one arm and hold up four fingers. The child performing the climb is called anxaneta. Castellers aim to represent the balance, strength and common sense of the Catalan people.

Sardana: This is the Catalan dance. Sardanes are danced in a circle, holding hands and dancing to the rhythm of the music. It’s a symbol of Catalonia’s unity and pride. The best place to experience this is at the Barcelona Cathedral Square. On special occasions, people gather to dance and the square is filled with circles of Sardana dancers.

Catalonian food

Even though you will be able to find food from all around Spain in Catalonia, these are my recommended typical Catalan dishes or ingredients. You will also always be able to find tapas, tortilla or paella. Those are not strictly Catalan, but who cares! They’re delicious ! ☺

Esclalivada, @Carla

@Carla

Calçotada: A calçotada is similar to a barbecue. The calçot is a type of green onion approximately 15 to 25 cm long. They are grilled over a hot fire and wrapped up in newspaper. You need to peel them one by one and dip them in romesco sauce. Meat and other veggies are usually grilled and eaten after the calçots. And here’s what you can expect: everybody wearing a bib or a napkin around their neck to avoid romesco stains. Calçotades are celebrated between November and April, so mark your calendar.

Escalivada: Roasted vegetables (normally eggplant, red pepper and onion) typically served on flat bread (similar to pizza) with olive oil and a little bit of salt. Sometimes also served with melted goat cheese. Escalivada is also traditional in other Spanish regions such as Valencia or Aragón.

Crema catalana @Carla

@Carla

Crema catalana: Traditional Catalan dessert, similar to Crème Brulée. They taste similar but the ingredients and the cooking process is different. It’s usually served with caramelised sugar on top. So good!

Fuet: If you’re a meat lover, welcome to heaven. Fuet is a dry cured sausage of pork meat flavoured with black pepper and garlic. The most famous one is the Fuet de Vic, made in Vic, a city in the province of Barcelona.

Pà amb tomàquet: This is simply bread with tomato. Usually it’s toasted bread with rubbed tomato, olive oil and a little bit of salt. You can also add rubbed garlic. Pà amb tomàquet is served at any time and it pairs very well with a good cheese or fuet.

Escudella I carn d’olla: This is a winter dish. It’s basically a soup and a stew and it contains a pilota, a meatball that has been spiced with garlic and parsley, vegetables, sausages and other types of meat, depending on the season. It’s very typical on Christmas day.

Panellets: This is a traditional sweet eaten on October 31st and November 1st. While half of the world is celebrating Halloween and the other half is focused on All Saint’s day, Catalans are thinking about La Castanyada. This traditional festivity is all about eating roasted chestnuts, sweet potatoes and panellets. This sweet is made from almonds and sugar and topped with pine nuts. Delicious!

Beyond Barcelona

Even though I love Barcelona, there is so much else to see in Catalonia. These are my three top recommendations.

Monteserrat

Even though it’s one of the most magical places in Catalonia, it’s not always included in the usual tourist itininerary. I don’t think you can ever be prepared for how beautiful Montserrat is. This is a sacred saw-shaped mountain. A Benedictine monastery and sanctuary lies in the heart of the mountain. It’s just 30km away from Barcelona, and easy to reach by car or train, so you can make a day-trip out of it.

Montserrat @pauul.cBreathtaking Montserrat @pauul.c

Montserrat @amalkovWould you dare? @amalkov

Sitges

If I had to choose my favourite place in Catalonia, it would be Sitges.

Northern Spain - Sitges @themisstinguetteWe can picture ourselves looking at the sea for hours right? @themisstinguette

Sitges truly has it all. There are little white and blue houses, a beautiful coastal walk, wonderful restaurants with a sea view, the first chiringuito (tiki bar) of Spain and a buzzing nightlife.

Northern Spain - Colourful street in Sitges! @CarlaLoving this colourful vibe in Sitges! @Carla

Sitges is also a LGBTQ friendly city and is one of the best places to enjoy the Mardi Gras carnival in Catalonia. If you’re a movie buff, the Sitges Film Festival takes place every October.

Sitges also has incredible architecture. Make sure to visit the Palau Maricel, an exquisite modernist palace in the heart of the old town. You’ll be amazed by the colours and its deck overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Another not-so-secret spot is the Pati Blau (blue patio). It’s a patio which featured in a famous painting from local artist Santiago Rossinyol.

Palau Musica, Barcelona @CarlaPalau Maricel @Carla

If you’re looking for the best tapas in town, write this name down: El Cable. Amazing croquetas, patatas bravas and award winning pinchos (an individual portion, usually served on bread with a skewer). For drinks you should head to Pique-Nique, on the beachfront, which serves great mojitos and strawberry daiquiris. If you’re a seafood lover, there’s a good selection of restaurants along the boardwalk to choose from. None of them will disappoint you.

Vineyards and wine

Catalonia is famous for seafood but we also have excellent, top rated wine. Wine making in Catalonia goes back to the Phoenicians, who introduced it to the region. Cava (sparkling wine) was invented in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia and Catalonia was the first Spanish region to use stainless steel fermentation tanks.

I grew up surrounded by vineyards in the area of el Garraf and el Penedès. This is a vineyard with a long winemaking tradition. I personally recommend Garraf Wine Tours for a great vineyard tour.

Northern Spain: Galicia

By Alberto

Hi backpackers! My name is Alberto Menéndez, a shower rock star, a sunset spotter and totally passionate about travel. After quitting my job back in 2015, I became a full-time travel blogger, a reporter and a digital nomad travelling all around the globe with Mochileros TV.

Galicia @alberto@Alberto Menéndez Sánchez

I’m originally from Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, a region in the northwest of Spain and the more I travel, the more I realise how nice the land I come from is. Galicia is everything a traveller can dream about but allow me to introduce you to my beautiful region and tell you what makes it so special.

Galicia has stunning landscapes with mountains, islands, beaches, and river inlets. It’s a very green region that has a mystical, charming energy. It will win you over with its history, nature, warm residents and incredible food.

Beach in Galicial @aworldtotravelSimply peaceful @aworldtotravel

In Galicia we speak Spanish and Galician. Galician is a mix between Portuguese and Spanish and you will easily recognise it when you listen to it. It can sound like we’re singing when we’re actually speaking.

Galicia has four different provinces: A Coruña, Lugo, Ourense and Pontevedra. These are some of my favourite places to go and things to see, eat and do.

Best time to visit Galicia

Galicia is comfortable to visit at any time of the year but between October and April it can rain a lot. We have some amazing carnivals in Verín, Xinzo de Limia or Laza. If you can time your trip to experience one of these, it’ll be a highlight for you.

Santiago

We have a saying: “all paths lead to Santiago”. This is a cultural and dynamic city, where it’s easy to get lost in cheerful conversation with the locals. Santiago has a beautiful, historical old town. Walking through it feels like stepping into an fairy tale. Of course you can’t miss our stunning and iconic cathedral from the XIII century. It’s a symbol that was declared a World Heritage Site by  UNESCO in 1985.

Plaza de Abastos @alberto@Alberto Menéndez Sánchez

Plaza de Abastos: You have to visit he local market in the old town, Plaza de Abastos. In this “cathedral of flavours” old traditions still stand and it’s a meeting point for locals and a great place for tourists to try real Galician flavours. You will see old ladies with their baskets and manual scales dealing with the customers. If you want to buy the best produce, try to go early.

And of course there is the seafood. You can try octopus or buy some fresh mussels, scallops, prawns or fish There is also a shop where you can get your fresh purchases cooked on the spot.

Costa Vella Cafe: One of my favourite places in town is a little cafe out of  sight of the tourists. It’s part of a little cosy hotel but open to all customers, located in the old town. It has a gorgeous garden that you can escape reality in.

Parque de Bonaval: The city is full of nice green areas like la Alameda but one of my favourite hidden places is Parque de Bonaval. This park is in San Pedro’s neighbourhood and it’s the perfect place to relax on a sunny day and it’s a nice place to see the sunset on the summer nights.

Traditional food in Galicia

Pulpo @alberto@Alberto Menéndez Sánchez

Octopus: Octopus is a classic Galician dish. We cook it with oil, salt and paprika.

Churrasco: Similar to an Argentinian barbeque, churrasco is high quality beef cooked over coals and served with fries and salad.

Pimientos de padron @alberto@Alberto Menéndez Sánchez

Pimientos de padron: This little green pepper known as the Galician chilli pepper is cultivated in Padrón (a little village close to Santiago) but eaten all over Galicia and Spain in general. We have a saying about these: “Pimientos de Padrón, uns pican e outros non” (some of them are spicy and the rest not).

sea food @alberto@Alberto Menéndez Sánchez

Seafood: You can get the best seafood in the world in Galicia. Lobsters, mussels, crabs, clams, prawns, razor clams… the list continues. The best seafood is typically a bit more expensive.

Queimada: This is an alcoholic drink which used to be drunk as a pagan magical ritual. It’s made by burning moonshine, sugar, lemon peel and coffee grains. It’s a good digestive to try after a  huge Galician dinner.

Off the beaten track delights in Galicia

Playas de las catedrales @alberto@Alberto Menéndez Sánchez

Playa de las Catedrales: Located in the northern coast of Galicia, the Playa de las Catedrales (Cathedral’s beach) is a stunning beach, famous for its impressive rock structures. When the tide is low, you can see the stone arches that resemble a cathedral.

Cies islands Cies Islands is a hidden gem and a must see in Galicia @natalisius

Islas Cies: Just 40 mins far from Vigo by boat the Cie Islands have pristine white beaches. Rodas beach is considered one of the best in the world.

Torre de Hercules: Torre de Hercules in A Coruña is a Roman lighthouse, built during the 1st century AC and is 55 meters high.

Pilgrimage to Santiago: Many Christians participate in a pilgrimage from Camino to Santiago to visit the cathedral. The walk takes about a month, with travellers spending time together, visiting the towns, churches and enjoying the scenery along the way.

Beach way @alberto@Alberto Menéndez Sánchez

Finisterre: Finisterre (in latin “Finis Terrae” translated as where “the land ends”) used to be considered the end of the world. Today many pilgrims and travellers go to the lighthouse to admire the landscape from the so called ‘end of the world’.

Northern Spain: Asturias

By Victor

Hello! My name is Víctor Gómez and I am a professional photographer and travel blogger. Before I caught the travel bug, I worked as a web developer. Now, I travel about four months of every year.

@Victor in Asturias

@Victor

When I’m not travelling, you can find me in Asturias, a small province located in so-called Green Spain. We fondly call it Winterfell, because we have landscapes as spectacular as those seen in Game of Thrones and a climate that, is milder than the south of the country.

You can travel to Asturias any time throughout the year, however the seasons are more distinct in Asturias than in other parts of Spain. June to September has the best weather to be active and see as much possible. Photographers will love spring and autumn.

Playa del Silencio @ashleigh_rachelSilennnceee… Playa del Silencio @ashleigh_rachel

Beaches in Asturias

We have diverse landscapes including dreamy beaches, steep cliffs, and mountain ranges. If I had to choose only three of the 192 beaches in Asturias (yes, hard choice), I would say the most impressive ones are:

Playa del Silencio: A dream for sunset lovers. There is no sand, but the sound of the sea on the pebbles transports you to another world.

Gulpiyuri beach: A beach without a sea (what?!). ‘Gulpiyuri mean water circle’This fascinating beach is the result of the karst terrain of eastern Asturias. It’s a small beach surrounded by green cliffs.

Cuevas de Mar Beach: This is a beach for photographers.Asturias is bathed by the Cantabrian Sea, so it has strong tides and at both high and low tides, you can see large rock arches and caves.

In the photographic field, I love to portray landscapes that transmit strength, such as cliffs and peculiarly rock formations. We are very well served in Asturias to find all of these beautiful landscapes thanks to the steep terrain.

Bufones de Prias Mesmerising right? @hectorgaly5

Bufones de Prias @spineoverflowBufones de Prias @spineoverflow

Best natural attractions in Asturias

My favourite place in the province is the region surrounding Pría’s blowholes (bufones de Pría), where the sea waves hit great cliffs, eroding the rock and creating natural chimneys that become authentic geysers. They emit unique sounds at high tide. When the weather is stormy, they are particularly spectacular. However be cautious if you visit during weather like this and remain 20 metres from the cliff edge.

Asturias is one of the best destinations for adventure travel. Picos de Europa on the eastern side has incredible mountain trails and vias ferratas (mountain and cliff climbing routes that you can access with a cable that you clip to at intervals). You can also spot wolves and capercaillie, a native bird. I highly recommend kayaking along the river Sella, where you can kayak from the mountains to the beach of Ribadesella in a day.

On the western side, you can explore spectacular wooded regions like the forest of Muniellos, an oak wood forest. Only 20 people per day are allowed to access this area, so book your place in advance. Somiedo Natural Park is the most remote area in the region and you can experience ancient glacial lakes and observe brown bears in the wild. Many visitors come to Asturias for the isolated beaches but often come away enchanted by the forests of Somiedo and Muniellos.

Regional food in Asturias

Asturia is known for seafood, cider and cheese. These are some of the main dishes you need to try when you are in the region.

Food in asturias@Victor

Fabada: The most famous traditional dish in Asturias is the fabada, a stew made with local beans, chorizo, blood sausage and bacon.

Fabada@Victor

Beef: Dishes such as escalopines al Cabrales (breaded, fried fillet of beef with a typical blue cheese), cachopo, stone grilled meat, or an Asturian beef burger are all must-trys simply because the quality of Asturian beef is extraordinary.

Typical food in Asturias@Victor

Seafood: Line-caught hake, the scorpion fish,  salmon or trout are all local species that are popular.

Cheese: Asturia is probably most famous for its cheese with 42 varieties made from cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s milk. Calabrales cheese is probably the most well known. Gamonedo, Bedon and Afuega’ l pitu are also local to the region.

Apple cider: Apple cider is our traditional drink and is sharper and tangier than the sweeter ciders you may have already experienced. When we party in the summer (called “ir de folixa” in Asturias) we love to drink cider.

To serve cider you can’t pour it directly from the bottle. You have to “escanciar” it, which means to pour it by stretching your arm as high as possible in an oversized glass.

Northern Spain: Castilla and Leon

By Miguel

My name is Miguel Santamarina. My girlfriend Mónica and I blog at El Viaje de Sofi.

Castilla y Leon @miguel

@Miguel

I live in Burgos, a small charming village, full of art, wine and natural wonders in the region of Castilla y León. It’s one of the biggest Spanish regions covering 20% of then country. It has nine provinces, of which Burgos is one.

Segovia @macqssSegovia @macqss

Castilla y León has some incredible attractiond that make it distinct from other regions in Spain.

World Heritage highlights: Three cities of Castilla y León are World Heritage listed including Ávila, Salamanca, and Segovia. The Atapuerca archaeological site, located near Burgos, contains a rich fossil record of the earliest human beings in Europe. Siega Verde is the site of 90 panels featuring over 650 carvings from the Palaeolithic Age and is the first archaeological site in Spain to be recognised as Prehistoric Rock Art. Burgos Cathedral, will be 800 years old in 2021. Las Médulas (León) —an outstanding example of innovative Roman technology.

Hiking trails: Castilla y León has more than 30 natural parks with walking trails and diverse wildlife.

Cultural delights: We have many traditional and contemporary museums, striking monuments to visit in the towns and small villages and festivals including the Seminci cinema festival, the Sonorama  music festival and theatre hosted in Clunia, a historic Roman setting.

Cañón del Río Lobos (Soria): There are 15 walking routes to discover and explore this natural park. This region stands out for its landscapes which are the result of erosion, and for its wildlife including griffon vultures.

Peñaranda de Duero (Burgos): There is a beautiful village with a Gothic castle, church the main square and ancient streets.

Candelario (Salamanca): I love this village. It is one of my favourite places in the country, full of stone streets and a beautiful view of the mountains.

My secret spots in Castilla y Leon

Las Tuerces @danni_herreroImpressive view, Las Tuerces @danni_herrero

Babia (León): This is an exceptional area in the north of Leon. There are 87 mountains which are over 2000 metres tall.

Las Tuerces (Palencia): These amazing stone figures have been sculpted by natural erosion. You can see shapes like giant turtles, pirate ships and mushrooms – let your imagination wander.

Arribes del Duero (Salamanca): This is a magnificent gorge which the Duero river runs through. It divides Spain and Portugal. There are lots of great lookouts to admire the landscape but you can also sail the river.

Waterfalls of Burgos (Burgos): In spring and autumn there are a lot of waterfalls. One of most spectacular is El salto del Nervión, in the north, next to Basque Country which is 222 metres tall.

La Fuentona (Soria): La Fuentona is a pristine lagoon and is the source of the Abión river. It is extraordinarily beautiful and features spectacular limestone rock formations and is easily accessed with a relaxed hike.

Local food in Castilla y Leon

This region is a paradise for foodies. Our local specialities include chorizo, jamón ibérico, trout, crab, perch, Ibeas beans, Caderechas cherries and Sotillo pears. Spanish wines have a classification system based on destination of origin for wines. We have nine official D.O. wines, globally recognised as Ribera del Duero, Rueda, Bierzo or Cigales.

Traditional food in Castilla y Leon@Miguel

Tapas route in Valladolid: The best place to celebrate the national pinchos and tapas contest is at Valladolid.I recommend trying a tapas of dehydrated potato dyed with squid ink and covered with a puff pastry and mushroom sauce. Don’t forget to try a tasty egg cooked at low temperature.

Barrio húmedo of León: In Leon, you should go a bar and tapas crawl. In every bar you’ll get free tapas with your drinks. Yes free!

Lechazo in Aranda de Duero: Lechazo, roasted lamb, is a local delicacy. You could eat it in almost any restaurant but I recommend Aranda de Duero in Burgos. This is also an excellent wine region (Ribera del Duero). Ribera wine + lechazo = the perfect combination.

Cochinillo in Pedraza: Segovia is well known for cochinillo (roasted pork). I recommend trying this in the charming village of Pedraza.

International Cheese Fair in Hinojosa de Duero: If you love cheese, then this is your event. CCelebrated in March, every year you can taste all kinds of traditional cheese from Castilla y León and Spain.

Travel tips when visiting Castilla y Leon

Best time to visit: Summer is always a great time to visit but can be very hot. Spring and autumn are fantastic times to enjoy the scenery and wildlife. Despite being such a warm country our winters are actually quite cold so make sure you to bring warm clothes.

Budget: Burgos and Valladolid are the most expensive cities. There is an important difference between towns and villages, but Castilla y León is cheaper than Madrid, Catalonia or Basque Country.

Transport: You will need a car. There is a fast train between Segovia, Valladolid and Leon too.

Are you ready to hit the road in Spain? If you have any other tips, feel free to leave us a comment 👇

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About The Author

Dorothée Gomez

I'm Dorothée, French, German, Spanish & Polish (yess crazy family round 1). Senior Social Media & Content Executive and #HostelworldInsider at Hostelworld. I grew up in Germany before moving to France. My parents are both multicultural, so we are speaking different languages at home. I guess that's also why I'm obsessed with travel, foreign languages and other cultures. ✈ Favourite place on earth: New York City. 🏠 Favourite hostel: LemonRock Hostel, Granada, Spain. Follow my adventures on Instagram @dorotheegmz

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