If you’re planning a trip to Southern Europe but don’t have the time to devote to spending time in numerous different countries, it can be hard to figure out if Italy or Spain is the right destination for you and your travel style.
Numerous Southern European nations have would-be travellers starry-eyed at the idea of visiting the sun-drenched region. Destinations like Portugal are gaining immense popularity amongst international visitors and the allure of the postcard-perfect cities and crystal clear waters of Croatia continually attract tourists by the millions each year.
However, there are two Southern European nations that reign supreme when looking to explore the region, and those are Italy and Spain. However, if you only have a short period of time, it only makes sense to visit one of these wonderful countries, but it can be hard to choose between Spain and Italy.
Both of these vast countries have incredibly diverse cultures, regions, and landscapes throughout and one could easily spend months to years in one without seeing everything. That being said, they are also very different nations with unique things to offer, so this article will help you choose whether to visit Italy vs Spain on your next European adventure.
In general, visiting Spain over Italy is a good choice if you’re on a tighter budget, want to indulge in tapas culture or are after a beach holiday. Alternatively, visiting Italy over Spain is a great option if you want to enjoy great pizza and pasta, are interested in classic Roman ruins and Renaissance art or are looking for a huge array of climate diversity.
However, there is a lot more to both these countries so read on to understand the key considerations when choosing between Spain and Italy.
Italy continues to be one of the most popular destinations to visit in Europe, with travellers flocking to see such sites like the Colosseum of Rome, the canals of Venice, the cathedrals in Milan or Florence, the shore of Lake Como and the Amalfi Coast or even trying to “hold up” the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
However, even beyond these tourist hot spot cities, there is so much to see in Italy that is off the well-trodden trail. Boasting a long and important history, there is no doubt why Italy has charmed visitors for millennia.
Italian food is also fantastic and has countless flavourful regional cuisines, some of the best wines in the world and a vast, diverse landscape that just begs to be explored. So if you’re trying hard to choose between visiting Italy or Spain, here are the merits of the former:
Italy is a massive country, far larger than you might realise, and it is home to many big cities and metropolitan areas that can all be used as transport hubs, meaning that Italy is one of the easiest countries to access from pretty much everywhere in the world.
While Rome is the biggest transport hub in the nation and is probably the easiest to fly into if you’re visiting Italy from outside of Europe, there are international airports in most major Italian cities.
For instance, if you’re looking to plan a short trip to Italy and you live in Europe, you can fly into historic city centres like Bologna or Milan, or even smaller, lesser-visited cities like Perugia. There are even easy flights to cities on Italy’s bigger islands, like Sardinia or Sicily, making most areas of the country very easy to visit by air.
However, if you’re more fond of overland journeys, you will be happy to know that Italy is also incredibly well-serviced by an extensive bus and train network. These buses and trains can get you virtually anywhere you might need to go in the country and there are usually multiple different options on more popular routes.
Italy’s high-speed rail network is incredibly fast and efficient (though booking in advance is recommended to save money!) and easily connects far-away major cities within a couple-hour journey.
The slower, but more affordable, regional commuter trains are also efficient and connect most slower cities easily to one another. Buses are probably the most affordable option for inter-city travel in Italy and, although they can be slow, the network is extensive
When visiting Italy, it is also popular for more intrepid tourists to rent a car and explore Italy while taking to the open road. While it isn’t entirely necessary to hire a car in Italy as many cities and towns are easily accessible by bus and train, having your own vehicle will certainly allow you more flexibility in your itinerary and allow you to get to more off-beat destinations.
Road quality in Italy is generally pretty good, however, there are some nuances to driving in Italy that you might want to research if you plan to rent a car here. Car hire prices can be affordable in Italy if you know where to search for deals. We recommend using RentalCars.com to find great deals available and opting to buy affordable excess insurance from iCarHireInsurance.
All in all, Italy is an incredibly accessible country both from abroad and within its own borders and it is a definite pro when trying to choose between visiting Spain or Italy for vacation.
Now that we’ve discussed the accessibility of Italy, now it’s time to move on to how the prices in Italy will affect your travel budget. The affordability of a country is a definitive point when trying to choose between Italy and Spain to visit.
Not surprisingly, the cost of travelling to Italy can depend dramatically on both your style of travel and the destination that you happen to be visiting. Obviously, if you are the type of person who likes to stay in luxury accommodation, eat at high-end restaurants and generally live the high life while travelling in Italy, it can be a very expensive country to visit.
Alternatively, it is just as possible to visit the country and the smallest of backpacker’s budgets, staying in hostels, cooking most meals for yourself, and taking advantage of free or discounted activities and attractions.
Generally speaking, Italy has a reputation for being an expensive country to visit, however, this doesn’t always have to be the case. Certainly, you can expect incredibly high prices in major cities and tourist centres, especially in Venice or Rome, however, if you venture even a little bit away from areas that are flooded with tourists, you will find that prices are much less inflated.
Accommodation prices can also be affordable, especially when compared to similar options in North America. A room in a budget hotel will start at around €60 per night and there are many other accommodation options available out there that are more affordable, like Airbnb rooms and hostels. Expect to pay more in Rome, with prices also being higher in Milan and Florence. Prices in Sicily can be much lower, however.
The affordability of meals also generally depends on your eating habits, however, you will generally find that portion sizes in Italy are generous and the value for money at most restaurants will be good. Especially when compared to eating out in cities in Northern Europe or North America, restaurants can be affordable in Italy.
Visiting historical monuments, museums and attractions can also be affordable in Italy, with museum entry costing about €10-15 depending on where you are.
It can also be affordable to visit various gastronomic destinations, like dairies or vineyards, especially if you organise it yourself rather than going on a guided tour. For instance, it is possible to taste traditional balsamic vinegar in Modena at the producer absolutely free. You can also get full wine tastings for affordable prices as well, usually around €10-15 per person, so long as you visit smaller, local vineyards.
All in all, Italy can be an affordable country to visit. However, if price is your determining factor in choosing between Italy vs Spain, you might find the latter to be slightly more affordable.
Things to Do
If you’re struggling to choose between visiting Spain or Italy, then it might not help to swing it when comparing the things to do.
Both countries are absolutely massive and have innumerable cities, towns, and regions that are packed to the brim with history and interesting things to do. They also both have an incredible Mediterranean climate to enjoy which makes visiting both countries year-round a great option.
However, now we’re going to talk about the things to do in Italy. Italy is a massive country with numerous diverse regions that you will find significant changes in the culture and cuisine as you travel between them.
For instance, the history and hill towns of Tuscany are astronomically different to what you will find in the mountains of South Tyrol and the coastline and cuisine of the Puglia region are different to what you will find in Emilia-Romagna.
Because of these vast regional differences, Italy is a country that cannot be fully appreciated or known in only a short trip to Venice, Florence and Rome and it is why people are continually drawn back to this incredible country. Each city and region has something unique to offer its visitors and you could easily spend years on end exploring Italy and never exhaust the sheer amount of things to do.
It’s also difficult to pick out the exact best time to visit Italy just because of how much the climate differs between Northern and Southern Italy. You could head to Southern Italy or to Sicily to enjoy a bit of winter sun in February, or you could go to the mountains in Northern Italy for some of the world’s best skiing in the same month.
Italy is a huge country and if you have a lot of time to devote to exploring it, you will find that there is always something new to discover. The amount of amazing things to do in this Southern European nation is a definite pro when trying to choose between travelling to Italy and Spain.
Now that we’ve covered more boring aspects when it comes to choosing whether to visit Spain or Italy like accessibility and affordability, it’s time to discuss one of the main reasons you’re probably grappling with the choice between Italy vs Spain: the food.
Italian food is one of the most popular cuisines the world over and there is no shame in visiting Italy solely to eat. Much like the rest of the country, Italian cuisine is incredibly regional and it can pay off to do some research about the particular specialities of the region you happen to be visiting before you get there.
For instance, it can be helpful to know that you should sample the best prosciutto di parma when you visit the Emilia-Romagna region, that you should taste gelato in its home city of Florence, or gorge yourself on an infinite amount of authentic pizza in Naples.
It is worth noting that in Italy, much like in other Southern Europe countries, meals are taken very late. Restaurants for dinner will likely not open until at least 8 or 8:30 PM and most locals won’t go to eat dinner until far later. Unlike in Spain, however, dinners in Italy do also tend to be fairly heavy so that is something to keep in mind.
All in all, however, if you’re trying to choose between Italy or Spain and you tend to enjoy Italian specialities more, then Italy may be the place to visit.
Spain is fast becoming the most popular destination to visit in all of Europe, welcoming in more than 80 million tourists each year. Visitors flock to the country’s perennially sunny Costa del Sol, enjoy the Gaudi architecture and vibrant culture of Barcelona and gaze in awe as they wander through Granada’s Alhambra. However, Spain has much more to offer than paella and flamenco.
Spain has a unique and interesting history that is evident throughout every city or town you might visit and its distinct regional charm makes travelling through Spain an absolute treat. While the countries bear some similarities, there are a lot of reasons that travellers might also choose to visit Spain over Italy and it all depends on your particular preferences.
Before we talk about all the fun and interesting things Spain has to see, do, and eat, we need to discuss the general accessibility of the country. Well, if you’re struggling to choose between travelling to Spain or Italy and getting there is a determining factor, this might not help you make a decision.
Because Spain is an incredibly popular destination to visit for foreign visitors and because of the country’s size and diversity, there are numerous international airports making the country just as easily accessible as Italy from virtually anywhere in the world.
If you’re visiting Spain from outside of Europe, it is likely that you would fly into either Madrid or Barcelona, as these are Spain’s two largest cities and the main transport hubs of the country. However, if you are keen to visit Spain from elsewhere in Europe, most major Spanish cities do have international airports that serve many destinations across the continent.
For instance, if you’re keen to explore Andalucía, you can fly into cities like Seville or Granada or Málaga and explore the region from any of those hubs. There are also international airports in many other Spanish cities that service budget airlines that can help you visit Spain on the cheap as well.
Once you’re in the country, it is also worth knowing how easy it is to get around. Well, much like Italy, Spain is also incredibly well-serviced by an extensive rail and bus network that makes it incredibly easy to visit almost every major city while travelling overland.
Transport hubs in big cities like Barcelona, Seville, or Madrid have excellent connections to many other cities, making it especially easy to use these cities as bases for day trips.
It can also be worthwhile to rent a car in Spain if you want to venture further off the beaten path or get into nature, however, it isn’t entirely necessary because of how well-connected the country is when it comes to public transport.
All in all, if accessibility is a determining factor of choosing between Spain or Italy, both countries land about equal when it comes to getting around.
While there is little difference in accessibility and transport between Spain and Italy, you might find a way to make a decision between the two countries when it comes to affordability. Generally speaking, Spain can be a bit more affordable than Italy, especially in the major cities.
If you plan a typical Spain itinerary that takes you through major cities like Barcelona, Madrid, and Seville, you will undoubtedly find that your average Spain travel costs will be lower compared to an itinerary through major Italian cities like Venice, Florence, and Rome.
Why is this? Well, there are a couple of factors, but the most notable one would be that it is a bit cheaper to eat out in Spain, especially at lunchtime. Spain has a great tradition of set lunch menus during the work week where you can get a massive, three-course meal complete with a drink (wine, beer, or a soft drink) normally for less than €12 and often around €8-9. This is something that isn’t as readily available in Italy.
Another great thing about Spain is its fantastic tapas culture. While in most cities, you can get an affordable small plate of food for a couple of euros, cities like Granada take it a step further and will give you a sizeable tapa free with the order of a drink.
While this isn’t common in every Spanish city, you can also get deals like this in some restaurants in less touristy cities like Cartagena as well – you can even get free tapas in more local bars in Madrid.
Besides the food costs, you can expect prices in Spain to be about similar to those in Italy, factoring in such things as accommodation and transportation. It is worth noting, though, that there are certain areas of Italy that can get incredibly pricey (notably Venice or the Amalfi Coast), and you won’t really find that anywhere in Spain.
Therefore, if cost is a determining factor when choosing between Spain or Italy, Spain might win by a slight margin when it comes to affordability – especially depending on where you go.
Things to Do
Much like Italy, Spain is a massive and diverse country with a lot to offer tourists, so much that it is impossible to get bored while visiting. On a typical trip to Spain, you could find yourself exploring the multicultural barrios of Madrid, sipping sherry at a bodega in Jerez, visiting monasteries in Montserrat and enjoying the surf and pintxos in San Sebastian.
All of Spain has so much to offer visitors that there is really something to suit every personality. If you’re a history buff, cities like Córdoba or Granada are fantastic places to visit to see incredible Moorish architecture and sites.
If you like beaches and sunshine, then the Costa del Sol and Costa Brava on the mainland are popular options. For those after a beach holiday with tons of options for wide, sandy stretches, Spain might be the better choice for this than Italy.
If you’re after parties until dawn, head to Ibiza for world-renowned nightlife. Spain truly has it all and it is impossible to be able to see and do everything even within a lifetime.
Like Italy, Spain is another country where people return to time and time again, either to revisit their favourite haunts or to explore yet another of its many distinct regions. The country is dotted with wine country and olive groves, mountains and coastline, lively cities and sleepy pueblos and it can keep you occupied for years on end.
Spain is also a highly regional country and you can have a very different trip if you stick to Andalucía in Southern Spain vs wandering around places like the Basque Country and Asturias in the north of the country.
Therefore, if you’re trying to choose between Italy vs Spain, it is worth knowing that both countries offer a number of great things to do for visitors.
Much like Italy, many people will travel to Spain solely because of its fantastic food and wine. And also similar to Italy, each city and region has its own specialities that can vary drastically from place to place. There is far more to Spanish food than paella and jugs of sangria and it is well worth spending time getting to know the culture around eating in Spain.
Spain does have one tradition that Italy does not, however, and that is tapas. Tapas culture is especially pervasive in the capital of Madrid and in the southern Andalucía region, however, they are also found in virtually every other major city and town in Spain as well, these days.
The tapas culture makes it easier, in my opinion, for foreign visitors used to eating a bit earlier to enjoy a late meal in typical Spanish style, as the plates are small and are included as part of a night out, it doesn’t feel as difficult to eat so late at night.
Spain also boasts some of the best seafood in the world, from anchovies from the Cantabrian sea to some of the best tuna off the coast of Cádiz.
In Spain, contrary to Italy, the main meal of the day is also eaten at lunch, which is very typically large and hot. Lunch is an important aspect of every day in Spain, with school children even typically coming home for lunch in the country. This, again, makes it easier to enjoy a typical Spanish meal without having to completely adjust your eating schedule.
All in all, while the cuisine and typical food in Spain and Italy are different, they share certain similarities due to their climate and geographical location.
Italy or Spain: The Verdict
After going through all of the pros and cons of visiting Spain vs Italy for a trip to Southern Europe, it still can be difficult to make a decision between the two countries.
All in all, if you’re travelling on a tight budget and want to get the most out of the destination you are visiting, then Spain might be the better option for you. Even in the major tourist destinations, it is a bit easier to stick to a tight budget in Spain than it is in major Italian tourist hot spots.
Spain is also a great choice for those who are after a beach holiday. While Italy isn’t lacking in beautiful coastline, Spain is known for its incredible stretches of sand ranging from the Basque Country in the north all the way to the Canary islands and everywhere in between.
However, if you’re more interested in Roman history and Renaissance art, then Italy might be a better choice for you. While Spain does have some Roman remnants, nothing compares to what can be found in Italy. It is also better to visit if you have a gelato habit!
Italy can also be the better choice if you’re looking for more diversity in climate. Though Spain’s regions certainly have their differences, Italy – being such a geographically long country – has countless different climate zones that can have you skiing in one part and enjoying Mediterranean sunshine in another during the same month.
While you certainly can’t go wrong with choosing either Italy or Spain to visit, there are some merits and disadvantages to each country worth considering.
Are you trying to choose between Spain vs Italy? Do you have a favourite of the two? Let us know in the comments!