Help plan a trip to Europe in May
November 23, 2022 7:47 PM   Subscribe

Help me think through this springtime trip to Europe - probably Spain and Scotland??

My wife and I are planning a two week trip to to Europe in May. We don't have a big agenda or specific things we have always wanted to see except 1) I have to go to Edinburgh to scatter my dad's ashes 2) we both speak enough Spanish and are interested enough in Spain for that to make sense as a second destination.

I recognize Scotland and Spain are not like, the most easily accessible to each other. So if you want to suggest an alternate destination besides Spain for the second part of the trip, please have at it. (Neither of us are super drawn to England, Wales or Ireland which obviously combine more easily with Scotland.) Or if you think - hey Scotland plus Spain works, here's how, please share your thoughts as well.

Basically, any and all advice welcome. If you were taking this trip, how would you do it? What city or couple cities in Spain (or elsewhere) would you stay? How would you get from one place to the next? Anything we should know about the time of year we're traveling?

About us as travelers:

- We don't want to do a ton of traveling around. More interested in picking a couple cities/locations and spending most of the time there.. like lets say we did Barcelona and then Edinburgh with a few side quests. But open to other specific locations.
- We love to eat. I am a pescatarian but not picky as long as I can find something and my wife is omnivorous.
- We like art (visual, live performance), architecture, beautiful nature.
- Wife loves beaches, hedonistic kind of stuff. I like history, politics, nerdy stuff.
- I like walking and biking am considering a side trip on my own on one end or another by foot or rented bike for a few days. but during our main time together we are looking for fairly accessible places where we don't have to like, vigorously hike all day to get anywhere.
- We enjoy trains but would fly from one country to the other if it makes way more sense.
posted by latkes to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
People travel from Edinburgh to Spain all the time. That’s why there are so many UK hit songs about going to Ibiza. The American equivalent would be like Providence and Nashville, which is easy enough.

Food, art, cycling, history, and beaches make me think Barcelona, but Catalan is a different language and so knowing a little bit of Spanish won’t help you as much as it would in like Madrid. Madrid lacks beaches, but it has great art, and my Madrid-based friend talks up the food constantly. Bilbao would be another great option but your Spanish would be worth even less there.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:21 PM on November 23 [1 favorite]

The Edinburgh -- Barcelona combo is ideal IMO. You can find everything you enjoy in both cities and their environs, and they are a perfect match. It makes me happy just to think of it.
Both cities have great museums, great food, easily accessible nature. You can make really good day trips from both cities. Fly in to Edinburgh and out from Barcelona. I think flying between the two cities is probably the best solution, but there is also an adventure in the train ride. You could make a stop in Paris and visit the Louvre and have a couple of lovely meals.
It's true that people speak Scots in Scotland and Catalan in Catalonia, but you can get along just fine with English and Spanish, Everyone in Scotland speaks English, and everyone in Catalonia speaks Spanish.
Costa Brava is a resort area north of Barcelona, where your wife might find some beach time while you bike inland. Parts of it is very touristy, but there are absolutely charming little towns, too.
posted by mumimor at 9:10 PM on November 23

Yeah; it's not worth it to train UK->Spain unless you want to spend days on the train. Flights are cheap and quick. Spanish HSR trains mostly all go through Madrid, although I think there's now a fast service Barcelona-Valencia.

Barcelona is the obvious pick given your interests, like it's so obvious I won't elaborate except to note that these guys do great nerdy architecture walks; Madrid is a great visual art city - three of the best museums in the world. Valencia has beaches and food and a whack of Calatrava architecture that is gimmicky but also pretty cool.
posted by Superilla at 9:55 PM on November 23 [1 favorite]

Oh your trip is going to be lovely. As a history buff, you could absolutely follow a theme from from the UK to Spain.

Flights are cheap and easy and very, very common from the UK. Just go to and search for flights from UK to Spain and you will see! EasyJet and Ryan Air will likely have the most flights at the best price, but I prefer Veuling for budget air travel in Europe. Iberia is the budget airline of Spain and I've not tried it but I've heard it isn't great.

As a pescatarian, you will be in heaven in Spain. The seafood is out of this world. You will become an anchovy connoisseur. Even if you think you hate anchovies. You don't in Spain, I promise.

Some options:

Edinburgh-> Barcelona. Eat all the tapas. Hang out in the Barceloneta and at the beach. Get your mind blown by the Sagra Familia and Park Guell. Take a day trip to Girona or some other nearby beachy town. Eat all the bacalao and boquerones you can tolerate.

One of the coolest things about Barcelona in my opinion is that it was the capitol of anti-fascism in the 20th century. The Spanish Civil War changed the entire world and the face of WW2. There is a link between Scotland and Barcelona for this reason. In Glasgow, there is a statue of La Pasionaria, an icon of the fight against Franco and international anti-fascism. If you wanted to read a few books about this to get into the spirit there is Orwell's Homage to Catalonia (another UK -> Barcelona link) and Hell and Good Company by Richard Rhodes. You can also take this tour, which I can't recommend enough.

Drawbacks: Barcelona is quite crowded, and while people do speak Spanish, they also speak (and prefer, I think) English with tourists. Catalan is a bit tricky to distinguish and I found that my Spanish didn't help me out as much as I'd hoped in Barcelona. I spoke English nearly everywhere. If you want to practice Spanish, you might try a different region. Barcelona is also quite different to the rest of Spain. While it is lovely, you might miss some of the SPAIN as it is in your minds eye if you only visit this part.

So... another option is San Sebastian. This is basque country, and many people do speak Basque, but they aren't quite as likely to get annoyed at you practicing your Spanish as they might in Barcelona. The food in San Sebastian is truly second to none, and it is basically pescatarian heaven. Pintxos (Basque tapas) are essentially largely seafood based. You can hang out on the beach and take day trips to small towns around the area. The people are insanely friendly and the food is out of this world. Watch Anthony Bourdain's episode on San Sebastian if you take this route. You can fly into Bilbao, stay one night there, see the Guggenheim, and drive to San Sebastian, it's a lovely time.

Drawbacks: Like Barcelona, this part of Spain is also quite unique and might not have all of the trappings of Spain you are looking for. You will have a marvelous time here, though.

Another option, and if you really wanna see SPAIN like it exists in your minds eye, is Andalusia. If you want to beach, you could do Seville and Malaga. If you want to see history, you can visit the alcazar in Seville, the Alhambra in Granada, and the Mosquita in Cordoba. This is where the middle east meets the west and there is such a rich history of many religions coexisting peacefully here in ways that I found very moving and cathartic to explore. The links between the UK and Spain are quite interesting here as well. It's not as direct, but the crusades, the impact of the plague and the 100 years war, and other elements are very present. See flamenco shows. Eat tapas. The seafood is great here but admittedly not as good as in Barcelona and San Sebastián.

Last wild suggestion: if you can't make up your mind on Spain, or want to try something else, there's also Lisbon. Another mind blowingly beautiful place with incredible history, beautiful beaches and fantastic seafood. Enjoy Fado music in Alfama. Take a day trip to Sesimbra. Explore castles. Obviously your Spanish will not help you here. :)

Feel free to memail me for recommendations on where to eat and stay, how to get around, etc. I am an American who lived in the UK for 2 years and traveled from there around Europe quite a bit. I also just finished a month-long solo tour of Spain which I planned the EVER LOVING HELL OUT OF so I'm happy to share all my research.

ps take me with you
posted by pazazygeek at 10:50 PM on November 23 [8 favorites]

Another possible route would be flying to Málaga, then taking the high speed train to Madrid (or Córdoba, if you want to visit that city too). You could also continue to Barcelona.

If OTOH you wanted to center the visit on Barcelona, you might want to take a side trip to Cadaqués/ Cap de Creus.
posted by sukeban at 12:47 AM on November 24 [1 favorite]

You could take a train from Edinburgh to Plymouth, or fly from Edinburgh to Bristol or Exeter and take a train to Plymouth, then take the 24-hour ferry from Plymouth to Santander. It will definitely take a lot more time and cost a lot more money than flying from Edinburgh to any destination in Spain, and you may be more limited in onward destinations if you don't particularly want to go to northern Spain (though northern Spain is great), but it's an option.
posted by terretu at 1:31 AM on November 24

If you want to take the train, it will take longer and cost more but to me it would be a fun part of the trip because I like trains. Should you want to spend money on train fun, I’d take the Caledonian Sleeper from Edinburgh to London, breakfast in London, Eurostar to Paris, hang out in Paris and take the TGV sleeper that goes to the change town for Barcelona trains and then switch there for Barcelona. It will take two nights and a day but that day can be split between London and Paris if that’s fun. You could also probably do am train from Edinburgh to Eurostar to sleeper but I think it would be more stressful, tho if you wanted daylight hours, you could do Edinburgh to Paris, night in Paris, then down to Barcelona, but thats two days.

Anyways these are the train options.
posted by dame at 2:41 AM on November 24 [2 favorites]

This is the Paris – Spain night train. It leaves Austerlitz, so you could have a fancy train dinner at Gare de Lyon and walk across the bridge to Austerlitz, luggage permitting.
posted by dame at 2:50 AM on November 24 [1 favorite]

I recognize Scotland and Spain are not like, the most easily accessible to each other.
As others have said: not really true as their are many connecting direct and inexpensive flights. For example, from Edinburgh you can fly to Malaga, Barcelona, Ibiza, Majorca, Madrid and other locations . Personally I would put in a recommendation for Santander - a smaller city in northern Spain with wonderful food, atmosphere and local beaches. You could also fly (say) in there and back from Barcelona or Madrid.

Scotland shares with Catalonia and the Basque country -a characteristic of being (increasingly?) distinct from the UK and Spain as a whole - so those places might work well to visit together and compare: Barcelona is one obvious location - but Bilbao or San Sebastian would also be wonderful.

In terms of Scotland - Edinburgh and the surrounding region should have all of your particular needs covered off: beaches (try some of these); walks (would recommend the 12 mile Water of Leith trail) - and Edinburgh generally is absolutely spoilt for visual arts and interesting eating experiences.
posted by rongorongo at 2:56 AM on November 24 [1 favorite]

As others have said, Edinburgh to Spain is an easy and frequently-made trip, no more difficult than it would be from any other part of the UK, the flight would just be an hour longer than if you went from London. This shows you all the direct flight destinations from Edinburgh Airport.

Going overland might be charming if you had plenty of time to spare but sounds like you're looking to explore cities rather than roam, so I'd just fly.

I don't know how tied you are already to particular dates, but the later you can leave it in spring, the better the weather will be in Edinburgh. May and June are the perfect times to be there.

Stuff to do:
- Edinburgh has a National Gallery of Modern Art, though one of its two buildings is sadly closed because they can't afford to run it any more. You can take a walk to/from there along the Water of Leith and through the beautiful Dean Village which is actually just a very picturesque riverside district of Edinburgh, rather than a separate village (though I've heard the Instagrammers have found Dean Village so it might be mobbed...)
- Edinburgh has a beach at Portobello which is... fine... but I'd recommend instead a day or half day trip to North Berwick. It's only half an hour on the train, very quaint and cute with a couple of beaches. If you hit the beach and turn left, you can walk for about five miles as far as Yellowcraig Beach if you want to (you probably don't want to because you'd then have to turn around and walk back for the train - but there's plenty of beach walking there). Check the tides if you're beach walking beyond NB - at high tide you have to hop up onto the golf course once or twice to get past the sea and the golfers can occasionally be narky.
- If you are there in May/June, the Hidden Door festival is great. Art, music, installations, every year in a different empty building around Edinburgh - they've just announced that this year will be an empty 60s office block next to Arthur's Seat, maybe less evocative than some of the older buildings they've been in before but cool in its own way.
- For history, just set aside a chunk of time to walk from the Castle down to Holyrood Palace and take lots of time to nose down all the closes on the way (the little narrow side-alleys that lead off the main street).
- You don't say what kind of biking you're into, but if you like mountain biking, the 7stanes mountain biking centres are south of Edinburgh, in the Borders - Glentress and Innerleithen the most popular from Edinburgh. You'd probably need to hire a car to get down there. You can definitely hire bikes at Glentress, though book in advance if you're travelling there specially.
posted by penguin pie at 5:59 AM on November 24 [2 favorites]

If you come to Spain, do not miss Granada, the last bastion of Nazarid Islamic rule in Spain and home to the restored, glorious Alhambra palace and gardens. Flamenco both touristy and raw at various venues just about every night of the week.

And, nearly incomprehensible granaíno, combined with grace toward bewildered foreigners. Try the halal albóndigas!

If you do plan to come this way, feel free to DM me.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 11:29 PM on November 24 [1 favorite]

A couple of follow ups to pizzazygeek’s suggestions above: I would highly recommend taking walking food tours in places like Edinburgh or anywhere in Spain. The good ones guide you to places off the beaten track and give you good insight into local culture. Have a look at the SpainRevealed channel which is run by someone who operates such tours.

Talking specifically about the Spanish Civil War links between Spain and Edinburgh: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a good watch or read.
posted by rongorongo at 1:51 AM on November 25

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