When is the best time to visit Spain? Here’s how to decide
Unlike nearly all of the rest of Europe, Spain is a country that is very popular all year round so choosing when to visit isn't always easy. The winters are colder than many non-Europeans realize and you'll definitely need to bundle up a bit, but they are still warmer than almost anywhere else in Europe and it's one of the best choices for an off-season holiday.
The summers in Spain are hot and sometimes uncomfortable, but the days are also long and many places feel like there is a nonstop party going on in those months. As we will discuss just below, the months just before and after summer are the best choices for many people, although there are good reasons to visit any time of the year.
Best weather with moderate crowds: April, May, September, and October
If you can choose any month of the year to visit Spain you are best off going in April, May, September, or October. The weather in those months features warm days and mild evenings along with little rainfall. Those aren't necessarily the best months to work on your tan at the beach, and we will cover that a bit below, but for experiencing the cities and culture and food and nightlife, these four months are ideal.
The summer months in Spain are not only more crowded, sometimes to the point of absurdity, but also incredibly hot and often humid as well. Spain is not even close to the Tropics, but it's hot every day in summer and the sunshine feels almost tropical in that it can be annoying long before the end of the day.
Summer crowds and heat: June, July and August
The Spanish beaches are packed solid in July and August, and pretty crowded in June as well. But it's worth noting that as many Spaniards as can afford it will take all of July or August off, so the interior cities such as Madrid and Seville can actually feel a bit empty in those months, even as they are crowded with other tourists.
Barcelona is a huge city that also happens to have its own beaches, so it never really empties out like the others, although the office buildings are less crowded. One advantage of coming between June and August is that the days are very long so you can even do as the locals do and spend a few hours of the afternoon in your hotel room and then go out again in the evening and do more sightseeing before a late dinner.
Beach season in Spain is May through early October
Even though Spain is in the south of Europe, it's still nowhere near the equator so the winters are colder than many people expect. In Barcelona the beach months are June through September, while in the Costa del Sol along the southern coast you actually have warm beach weather all the way from May through the middle or end of October most years.
The popular Spanish islands include Mallorca and Ibiza are somewhere in between with beach seasons usually starting in mid May through mid September, and there really isn't much point in visiting the islands before or after that because most things are closed.
If you are really looking for a beach holiday in Spain between November and March you should consider the Canary Islands, which are part of Spain and located off the northwest coast of Africa. Tenerife is the largest and most popular of the Canaries and you can actually work on your tan almost any day of the year in the popular area in the southwest corner of the island around Los Cristianos.
Off-season Spain: November through March
Even though Spain has mild winters compared to the rest of Europe, it's still pretty cold from November through March, and some areas have nighttime lows below freezing in January. That said, these can still be good months to visit because crowds are small and you can usually get by during the day with just a light jacket or sweater.
Barcelona in particular has becomes so crowded during the warmer months that visiting this time of year can be a great strategy. The city is so popular for weekends breaks among Europeans that many people prefer the off season because they can see the sights and enjoy the restaurants and nightlife without standing in line for everything.
Carnival in Spain is also busy
As a largely Catholic country, the Carnival holiday is a huge celebration in most larger Spanish cities and it's worth planning around. If you plan on coming during the celebration, which is in February or March lasting about a week, it's wise to book a hotel well in advance. But if you aren't interested in the celebration it's best to avoid those dates because hotels and most other things will be more crowded and expensive.
Malaga/Costa del Sol climate
Annual events in Spain to be aware of
Carnival/Mardi Gras (February or March)
Carnival is a big celebration in Spain, in all of the larger cities. It's 40 days before Easter so it usually falls in mid to late February or early March.
Holy Week (Semana Santa) and Easter (March or April)
The week leading up to Easter is known as Semana Santa in the Spanish-speaking world and it's filled with events and celebrations all over Spain. Easter (April 21 in 2019 and April 12 in 2020) itself is a bit quiet and most things are closed.
May Day (May 1)
This day celebrating workers is a pretty big deal all over Europe, including in Spain, although it doesn't affect hotel availability to any degree.
Madrid Day (May 2)
Most businesses in Madrid are closed but there are loads of street celebrations.
Running of the Bulls (July 6 through 14)
The infamous event goes every year on these dates in Pamplona.
La Tomatina Festival (Last Wednesday in August)
The famous tomato-throwing event is held each year in Buñol.
Catalunya National Day (September 11)
This regional celebration closes down much of Barcelona for a day.
Feast Day of St. Matthew (September 21)
A big national day with festivals in most cities and towns in Spain.
Christmas and New Year's
These holidays are big in Spain and many things that you'd expect are closed.
Where to go in Spain
Spain's capital city is a must-see on your first visit, even as Barcelona has become more popular. Madrid is in the center of Spain and it's where you'll find the royal palaces and most other important buildings and landmarks. This is the best place to enjoy tapas and the bar-crawl culture that goes with it, and the late nightlife in Madrid is also legendary.
Suddenly everyone is coming to Barcelona and you have to see it yourself to know why. In summer the city is now so crowded that officials are considering limiting tourism, which is a good reason to consider visiting in spring or fall. The most striking thing about Barcelona is the architecure and it has to be seen in person to be believed. The famous Gaudi buildings are worth the visit alone, but there is so much more than that, as well as some rather nice beaches.
The largest city in the region of Andalusia, Seville is commonly the third stop on many 3-stop visits to Spain. It's a beautiful city with plenty of history and a food culture of its own.
Also in Andalusia, Granada is another very popular stop due to its Moorish history. The Alhambra palace is one of Spain's top sights and it definitely worth a visit.
Spain's third largest city is known for interesting modern architecture, but also for a gorgeous historic city center and lovely beaches. This is the place to come try paella in its supposed birthplace.
The city of Malaga is a legit and lovely city on its own so it's worth a visit if you are in the area. Still, the majority of visitors to the small nearby towns that make up the Costa del Sol are holiday-makers from elsewhere in Europe, and particularly Britain. It's very lively from May through September and quite mellow the rest of the year.
While the larger nearby islands of Mallorca and Menorca in the Balearic Sea are fairly generic and mostly places to just relax, the island of Ibiza draws international crowds mostly for its dance music culture. Similar to the other islands, Ibiza is almost closed for business from October through April, and packed during the warmer months.
Off the coast of Africa but still fully part of Spain, the Canary Islands are very popular for sunshine holidays for people from all over Europe. The weather is warm enough all year round for at least some afternoon beach time, and July and August can be quite hot. Tenerife is the largest of the islands and the one most popular with English-speaking visitors.