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Spain or Italy – which should you visit first?

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From the warm Mediterranean climate to culture, cuisine, history and landscapes, there are multiple reasons why Italy and Spain are two of Europe's most popular countries. And each is well worth visiting at some point. But which should you plan a trip to first? Let's dive in and find out which of these great nations is right for your European vacation.

 

Which is better, Spain or Italy, to visit first?

Both Italy and Spain offer travelers a taste of art, culture and cuisine. But not everyone is looking for the same thing from their European vacation, which is why one of these two countries may be better suited to you than the other.

Italy vs Spain: best time of year to visit

When it comes to the best time to visit Italy and Spain, the two countries have something in common. With fewer crowds, mild temperatures and more affordable rates for flights and hotels, the shoulder seasons of April to June, and September to October, are the best times for visiting Italy and Spain.

Italy vs Spain: culture

Italy is a Western cultural powerhouse. The Italian Renaissance revolutionized art, science, and technology in the 15th and 16th centuries. As such, Italy is a fantastic destination in which to discover artworks, architecture, and performing arts like music and opera, as well as archaeological sites. Its landscapes, encompassing terrain from the Italian Alps mountains to dramatic shorelines like the Amalfi Coast, offer wonderful outdoor destinations with cycling routes and hiking and walking trails.
Spain is an incredibly diverse country, offering a range of cultural experiences throughout the nation. Cities like Barcelona are home to fantastical buildings and artwork from innovative artists like Gaudi, Goya and Picasso. You can soak up the sun, surf on the Costa Brava, cycle through idyllic countryside, and hike through remote valleys in the Canary Islands. And of course, visit Andalusia to discover the vibrant flamenco dancing and flamenco dancers.

Italy vs Spain: food scene

For food lovers, Italy and Spain both offer delicious food. Both country's cuisines share Mediterranean aspects such as prodigious use of olive oil and legumes, as well as a love for cured meats. But each national cuisine is unique and different in its own way. For example, Italian food is more pasta-based, while Spanish food is more rice-based.

 

Italian cuisine

Italy is home to famous dishes like pasta and pizza, as well as cheese, gelato, coffee, liqueurs and wine. In Southern Italy, seafood factors heavily in the cuisine and dishes use fresh, tomato-based sauces, while rich, meat-based recipes, hard cheeses like parmesan, and creamy sauces all originate in Northern Italy.
 

Spanish cuisine

With classics like paella, gazpacho, tortillas and famously shareable tapas plates, Spanish cuisine relies heavily on seafood, rice, beans and meats to create its flavorful dishes. Meaty stews and hearty dishes are the domain of Northern Spain, while lighter, seafood-rich dishes come from Southern Spain with its extensive Mediterranean coastline.

Italy vs Spain: top destinations

City, coast or countryside: which are the best places to visit in Italy or Spain?
 

Italian Coast vs Costa del Sol

With its towering cliffs, the Italian Coast is best suited for hiking, walking and exploring its colorful towns. Swimming beaches exist, but they are small. In contrast, Spanish beaches, like those on the sunny Costa del Sol or near San Sebastian, are usually wider, sandier and better for swimming and sunbathing. Spain also has more blue flag beaches, meaning the beaches are in excellent environmental condition and offer good facilities for visitors.
 

Italian cities vs Spanish cities

If you're seeking art, culture, architecture and mouthwatering cuisine, you'll want to spend time in Italian and Spanish cities. Rome is home to iconic landmarks like the Colosseum and Trevi Fountain, while the floating city of Venice has ornate Gothic and Renaissance cathedrals and palaces. Madrid is home to world-renowned art museums, Barcelona has the dreamy buildings and cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudi, while the past and future clash in Valencia, a hub for modern architecture.

You’ll also want to get out into the countryside. In Spain, you can walk and hike along the Camino de Santiago, one of the most famous walking routes in the world. In Italy, explore vineyards, meadows and hills throughout Tuscany or Piedmont. For more mountainous terrain, Italy's Lakes District, home to Lake Como, has beautiful alpine landscapes. Spain has the rugged, off-the-beaten-path Alicante mountains. For a taste of island life, Spain's Canary Islands and Italy's Sicily and Sardinia are volcanic islands ripe for exploration on foot or by bike.

Italy vs Spain: cost

To stretch your travel budget, Spain is typically slightly more affordable than Italy, even in expensive cities like Madrid. But Italy can also be a very affordable vacation destination. Traveling with a small group guided tour is a great way to save money in both countries, as accommodations and activities are already planned and booked for you at the best rates.

Should I plan a trip to both Spain and Italy?

If you can't decide between Italy or Spain, their proximity makes it possible to visit both in one trip, like this grand tour trip that starts off in Barcelona, heads through France, and then travels along Cinque Terre and the Italian Riviera.

Both Italy and Spain are great choices for your European trip

Each with its own distinctive culture, art, landscapes and cuisine, both Italy and Spain make for fantastic European travel destinations that are affordable and accessible. And our signature small group guided tours take you to the best parts of each (or both!) countries, from major attractions to hidden gems.

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