Spain is the second largest country in the European Union, with mountains going as high as Mulhacén in the Sierra Nevada, or the Spanish Pyrenees, which boast six of the country’s ten highest peaks. They all eventually sweep down to the coast, of course, and the weather varies greatly depending on whether you are heading to the northern or southern coast. In addition, Spain’s Canary Islands are much further south, and bask in sunshine all year round. So, when working out the best time to go to Spain, there are geographical influences to take into account, but also many practical and cultural ones.
If you want to tuck into traditional turrón, or seek out a spiritual side to Spain, Easter is the time to go. If you want a dusting of snow on the Sierra de Nevada, or combine Carnaval with your camino, then February is fiesta time. You can also mix fiestas with fireworks on 23 June, as San Juan’s Day marks the beginning of summer with, ironically, bonfires and fireworks. Here are our top tips on the best time to go to Spain.
Best time to go to Catalonia
Catalonia starts to really shine from about March onwards, and the wildflowers wangle their way out of hibernation along its coastal and mountain trails too. Temperatures can get as high as 15C in March, increasing by a couple of degrees every month, with top temperatures hitting around an average of 30C in July and August, when many of our tours, such as these Coastal trails or Costa Brava walking holidays aren’t available. So you don’t sizzle while you saunter.
For winter sun, our Walking the coast and mountains of Costa Brava tour runs as early as January and February, so you can catch some rays on the likes of Cap de Creus Natural Park or the coastal town of Cadaqués. This coast and mountains holiday is also gorgeous in autumn, as you can see migratory flamingos and storks in Aiguamolls de l’Empordà Natural Park. Similar seasonal joys are to be had on this cycling holiday in La Garrotxa Natural Park, when the beech forests change colour, while the Via Verde cycling path is still gorgeously green.
If your visit to Catalonia falls on 23 April, don’t be surprised if you are handed a book or a rose. This is the festival of Sant Jordi, which is not only Catalonia’s own saint’s day, but also a bit like Valentine’s Day, as he is also the patron saint of lovers. In that classy Catalan way, they combine romance with culture as this is also World Book Day, and so the tradition is that women give a book to men while men give roses to women, so the streets are full of books and flower stalls.
Best time to go to Murcia
A recent addition to our natural adventures in Spain is a cycling holiday in Murcia, tucked between Alicante and Malaga, where hills are without the hordes and villages still feel preserved in sacred reverence since ancient times. This trip is available every month of the year although, determined to keep things as local as possible perhaps during festival times, you can’t book it during Easter or their Caravaca festivities, which take place at the end of April or beginning of May. For the rest of the year, Murcia claims to have 325 sunny days a year and, if you want to cool down after a swim, water temperatures are an average of 14C in March, 16C in April and 20C in May. Summers are hot, with an average of 24C-26C, but can go up to 33C in July and August. In autumn, temperatures start to drop to 24C in September, 19C in October and 15C in November, with winter rarely dropping to single figures, so perfect for cycling.
Best time to go to Andalucía
Andalucía may not be a cultural desert, but it is home to Europe’s only desert, the Tabernas Desert in Almería. So, not surprisingly, this is Spain’s hottest region, with the Celsius sometimes soaring over 40C from June until September, especially as the planet continues to heat up. Which is why many of our Andalucían adventures such as Walking in the Sierra Nevada or cycling in the Sierra de Grazalema aren’t open for travel during peak summer months. Our walking holiday in Andalucía’s Cabot de Gata-Níjar Natural Park is just 30km away from the Tabernas Desert, where the semi-arid climate makes for excellent spring and winter walking among exotic plants and palm trees.
Best time to go to the Spanish Pyrenees
We have some superb, high-level walking holidays in the Spanish Pyrenees, where the walking window is usually between the beginning of June and mid-October. The Pyrenean is typically alpine cold climate and so many of the trails are inaccessible before or after these dates. Average temperatures in La Vall de Boi and Aigüestortes National Park vary greatly. The best time to visit is between June and mid-October, with the hottest months July (26C) and August (27C), with temperatures lowering to around 20-21C by October. The lowest chances for rain are in September and October.
In our Ordesa National Park holiday, the walking window opens earlier, at the beginning of May, although it is prone to thunderstorms in July and August. The best time to go to Ordesa is between early June and mid-July, when conditions are at their most stable, temperatures are pleasant and snow has usually melted from the highest parts of our trails. July and August get hot in Ordesa, reaching as high as 33.5C, although they can cool dramatically at night.
Carnival in Spain
Carnival in Spain, or Carnaval in Spanish, is one big party dating back to the 1850s, (although banned under Franco’s regime), when Christians let it all go before reining it in for Lent. This means the seventh Tuesday before Easter Sunday, so it usually falls in February but sometimes in March. It’s celebrated all over the country, often for a few days, but some of the most famous ones are in Madrid, Barcelona and Sitges in Catalonia, as well as Tenerife in the Canary Islands. If you’re walking or cycling in Tenerife during that time, you can expect to come down off the hills to scenes of sequins and sangria, parades and pazazz. Same goes for La Palma, where everyone dresses in white, wears straw hats and everything turns Cuban for a few days, as the event remembers ancestors who emigrated to Cuba in search of work, and then came home wearing typically white Cuban clothes and hats.
Christmas in Spain
You may not have Christmas as your first choice as the best time to go to Spain, but with a wealth of festive food and festivals, be prepared for a very sparkly season. All of our Canary Islands holidays are bookable for Christmas, and other Santa saunters that you can do include cycling in the Sierra Nevada and Granada or Murcia, and walking in the Sierra de Guara or along The Camino Mozárabe.
Each region has its own traditions of course. Granada, for example, celebrates Christmas with a pagan fire ritual known as Hogueras de Navidad that takes place on the winter solstice. It is said that people who jump over fires on the shortest day of the year will stay healthy in the year to come. If you don’t want to jump over fires, but you do want to warm up, check out the hammam in Granada, as it’s a wonderful traditional hotspot. You also get to celebrate all over again on 06 January for Epiphany in Spain, or Los Reyes Magos, which is the big one for little ones as this is when the Three Wise Men bring gifts. Many towns have festivals (Cabalgata de los Reyes) and, the next day, the traditional treat is roscón de reyes, a sweet bread decorated with colourful dried fruit and almonds.
You can also take on most of our Camino de Santiago holidays over Christmas, although this is a chilly time of year to do it. You will be cheered up by the sight of the Belén de San Fiz crib at the church of San Fiz de Solovio, made up of over 500 hand-carved figures, ice-skating in Alameda Park and a Christmas market in Praza da Quintana with plenty of churros, hot chocolate and Christmas cheer. Christmas is also one of the times when the iconic Botafumeiro, a giant thurible or censer swung by a system of pulleys from the main dome of the Cathedral with the help of a team of eight men, is set into motion, taking place on Christmas Day, 30 December and on Epiphany on 6 January.
It’s also worth noting that, if you are choosing a holiday that goes through Pamplona, including a section of the Camino Frances, the town’s San Fermin Festival is held annually from between 6-14 July. The festival is known, notoriously for many, for its running of the bulls, or encierro, which takes place each morning of the festival. Not exactly in keeping with our responsible tourism ethos, we suspect that most of our customers would also like to stay clear of this.
Semana Santa or Easter in Spain
Spain’s Semana Santa or Holy Week, is a time for processions, libations and plenty of passion. In the buildup to Easter Sunday, parades pack out the main cities and each region rises to the occasion in its own joyous way. If, for example, you time a walking or cycling in Andalucía with Easter, you can join the candlelit festivities in Málaga or crowds of pilgrims in Seville, both cities boasting some of the most glamorous and gilted processions in the country. People spend months preparing the ornate floats, known as pasos, with life-size painted wooden sculptures depicting biblical characters. It is also a great honour to be invited to be a costaleros, one of the people who carry the pasos on their shoulders during the parade.
Best time to do the Camino de Santiago
This depends on which route you are choosing, and whether your motivation is a religious one or a rambling one. We have a much more detailed blog on the best time to do the camino but, for most people, the best time is when it isn’t too busy. Which is generally outside the main summer months and Easter holidays. However, many pilgrims choose to travel in time for religious festivals, of which there are many in Spain, including Easter mentioned above.
Another really big one is the Feast of Saint James who is not only the Camino icon but also the patron of Spain, and his feast day is celebrated on 25 July. It’s a public holiday in the Basque country, Cantabria and Galicia. A lot of pilgrims aim to end their journey in the holy city on 25 July, and so it gets very busy during this time. This is another of the special days when the Cathedral’s Botafumeiro is set into motion.
Semana Grande is the most spectacular festival in northern Spain and, in particular, in the Basque country, celebrated over nine days in mid-August. Although based on a dedication to Our Lady of Begoña (Amatxu, meaning mother in Basque), it’s the mother of all parties, particularly in Bilbao and San Sebastián. So this may be the best time to walk the Camino de Santiago for some, but one to avoid for others.
Best time to go to Canary Islands
Our Canary Islands holidays are available all year round, thanks to the archipelago’s annual average temperature of around 24C. As they all vary geographically, there are differences, of course. Such as on Tenerife where average temperatures on Mount Teide are 11C, with some fierce winds too. On the island as a whole, the temperatures are very warm, even in winter when temperatures can be 21C, although there is more risk of rainfall. The more sheltered side of Lanzarote, however, gets less rain in winter months than the more exposed northern side of Gran Canaria, but you are still unlikely to experience a whole day of rain.
La Gomera enjoys year-round mild weather with average maximum temperatures ranging from 15-25C. Its topography means that you can get some foggy weather at elevations, but you also get the joys of cloud forest hikes. For swimmers, seawater temperatures hover around 19C in Tenerife and Gran Canaria in winter and spring months, going up to 23C between August and October. Visiting whales like these warm waters too, basking around the islands between March and November, with La Gomera being a favourite land sighting point for fin, sperm and Bryde’s whales. Given that they are some of the planet’s smartest mammals, you can trust that they know the right places to go.
La Palma keeps you on your toes, not just walking-wise but temperatures-wise. The east tends to be cooler and shadier than the west, especially in winter. But on our walking holiday you cover bits of the whole island, so you can experience moments of all seasons depending on the trail. This also means that seawater is warmer in the west, reaching temperatures of as high as 22C even in winter. The other tip in La Palma is that temperatures lower by one degree for every 100m of elevation, so always layer up when crossing the natural mountain divide on the island. In general though, for rain-free and scorch-free holidays, hiking between May and June, or September and October on La Palma is perfect.
We hope that this blog has you thinking more carefully about when the best time to go to Spain is for you. For more information, don’t hesitate to contact our adventure specialists, or read more of our in-depth Spanish blogs on Our top six hikes in Spain, Top national parks in Spain or Top places to go in Spain.