Visiting Spain in August likely brings to mind enjoying an icy glass of sangria while sitting on a warm beach overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. And while you can do that on your vacation, you probably won't be the only one. August is one of the most popular times for travel around Spain, especially since most Europeans have the month off and use it for vacation time as well. Depending on where you are, Spain can also be unbearably hot in August.
But if you know where to go, August in Spain has plenty of advantages as well. The beaches usually fill up, but inland towns and cities empty out so you can often find cheaper accommodations. You can also take part in one of the many festivals happening all over the country, from outdoor festivals to giant tomato fights.
The city of Valencia is the capital and largest city of the surrounding region called the Valencian Community. Home to paella and some of Spain's most beautiful beaches, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better place to visit in Spain at the end of summer. Just a couple of hours south of Barcelona, Valencia proper is a major city with plenty of attractions. Apart from the beach, walk around the Old Town, visit the centuries-old cathedral, or spend a day at the mega-cultural center the City of Arts and Sciences.
All of the beaches around the Valencian Community get pretty busy in August, but avoid the masses around the big city by venturing to other towns in the region with fewer people. Alicante, with its colorful houses overlooking the Mediterranean, is one of the most charming in the area, but you can also look into Castellon, Sagunto, and Gandia.
Regardless of what city you're staying in, don't pass up on trying a big plate of paella. Most foreigners think of this rice as Spain's national dish, but in reality, it's wholly Valencian. It's traditionally served as a lunchtime item—not dinner—and you can order it with seafood, chicken, rabbit, or vegetarian. Other local specialties include the sweet drink horchata or the boozy agua de Valencia.
Valencia is also a hot spot for summertime events. The Tomatina Festival is one of the biggest events in the country and takes place on the last Wednesday in August in the small town of Buñol, on the outskirts of the city of Valencia. If you've ever wanted to experience a giant tomato fight, this is the event for you. The Fiesta de Vendimia in Requena celebrates the local grape harvest with lots of wine and lots of water play in the streets. Last but not least, in the region's northernmost province of Castellón, Benicassim hosts the week-long Rototom SunSplash Reggae Festival, Europe's largest gathering of reggae music performers and fans.
Costa del Sol
The Costa del Sol in southern Spain is a world-renowned destination for its unbeatable beaches, scenic views, and wild party scene. It's a major tourist destination not just for Spaniards, but also visitors from all over Europe who want to escape to this seaside paradise. The biggest city and entry point for most visitors is Málaga, which is worth staying in at least for a night or two. But to really take advantage of the area, try to venture out to one of the pueblos blancos that the region is famous for. These "white villages" are usually located on hills overlooking the sea with all of the buildings painted white for a dramatic visual effect, such as those in Frigiliana.
Some of the best beach towns to visit in the area include Nerja, Marbella, and Torremolinos. However, August is one of the busiest times in the Costa del Sol, so make sure to plan out your accommodations long in advance. Some of the inland cities may be less expensive for spending the night, but you'll likely need a car to reach the beach.
The summer food of choice around the Costa del Sol and the entire Andalusia region is fried fish of all kinds: sardines, calamari, cuttlefish, and other sea critters. You'll see them for sale on the beach and around town, and they often come served in a big paper cone so you can easily walk around and enjoy them. Wash it down with an icy beer or a cold glass of local sherry.
One of the biggest reasons to visit the area in August is the Fería de Málaga, a weeklong festival in Málaga that takes over the entire city. It's a busy week and it will be crowded, but you'll get to see flamenco, fireworks, concerts, and all kinds of parties happening all through the night.
The scorching heat around most parts of Spain is much more tolerable in the north, and nowhere in the north offers the same culture, history, scenery, and gastronomy as the Basque Country. This small region near the border of France has its own culture and speaks its own language, and it's easy to see why it's one of the most popular places to visit in all of Europe.
The two cities that draw the most crowds are Bilbao and San Sebastián. Bilbao has scenic river views, a charming old town with lots of bars, and the world-famous Guggenheim Museum that is one of the biggest draws to the city. San Sebastián is the ultimate summer escape, with forested mountains and hiking trails that end right at the beach.
Travelers in either city—as well as the overall region— can experience some of the best food that Spain has to offer. Whereas the rest of Spain is famous for tapas, the Basque Country is famous for pintxos (pronounced peen-chos), small plates that you can order at bars with your drink. If you want a luxury experience, the Basque Country has one of the highest concentrations of Michelin-star restaurants in the entire world.
The "Big Week" festival—called Aste Nagusia in Basque or Semana Grande in Spanish—takes place in Bilbao and is essentially a nine-day party. Big Week kicks off the weekend after August 15, which is the Feast of the Assumption and a national holiday across Spain. You'll see fun festivities such as fireworks and concerts, as well as traditional Basque customs such as giant puppet dances and the Marijaia character who oversees the event.
Residents of nearby Vitoria-Gasteiz celebrate the Fiesta de la Virgen Blanca in the early part of the month with fireworks, cooking contests, sports competitions, and free concerts. With its well-preserved medieval city center and fortified wall, Vitoria presents an appealing destination not quite yet discovered by the hordes.
Barcelona & Catalonia
If you're coming to Spain from abroad, there's a good chance that Barcelona is somewhere on your itinerary. It's one of the most visited cities in all of Europe and has attracted backpackers, honeymooners, families, and travelers from all walks of life for decades. After spending the day hanging out by the water, don't forget about the countless attractions inside the city as well. The distinctive architecture of Antoni Gaudí is all over the city, but his Sagrada Familia Cathedral is one of the sites you can't miss.
Barcelona is the largest and capital city of the Catalonia region, which is filled with dreamy spots to visit. To spend time in the Mediterranean Sea, you can find better beach towns than Barcelona itself, such as Sitges, Tarragona, or Tossa de Mar on the Costa Brava. Coastal cities are also sure to be the most packed during August, so you can also try to escape the crowds by heading inland to cities like Girona or Montserrat.
Barcelona and the wider region of Catalonia put on a collection of festivals in August. Two of the city's neighborhoods, or barrios, hold their annual fiestas. First up is the Festa Major de Gracia in the picturesque Gracia neighborhood, followed by the Festa Major de Sants in off-the-beaten-path Sants.
Elsewhere in the region, the Festival Internacional de Musica de Cadaqués takes place on the Costa Brava. At the end of the month comes the Festa Major de Vilafranca del Penedés and the Festa Major de Sitges.
Galicia sits in the Atlantic Northwest region of Spain and enjoys a climate that's comparable to the Pacific Northwest of the U.S.—meaning lots of clouds and rain throughout most of the year but sunshine and mild temperatures in the summer. August is usually warm and sunny without reaching extremely high temperatures, and because Galicia doesn't share the international fame of other northern Spanish cities such as San Sebastián or Barcelona, the crowds aren't nearly as bad.
Enjoy the scenic beaches around Pontevedra and Vigo, the natural beauty around Ourense, or the history of A Coruña at the northern tip. The vineyards of the Rías Baixas region produce some of the best wines in Spain, including the trendy Albariño white wine.
The Camino de Santiago is one of the most popular pilgrimages in the world, which traditionally—but not necessarily—begins in southern France and ends at the cathedral in the Galician city of Santiago. August is a busy time to set off on this trek since many travelers take advantage of their vacation time to do it, but you're also guaranteed warm weather and the chance to meet fellow pilgrims like yourself.
The Vuelta a España, or La Vuelta for short, is Spain's answer to the Tour de France and is one of the biggest events on the international cycling calendar. Make a detour to join thousands of other people at the Catoira Viking Festival. Every year since 1960, residents of this small village have dressed up as Vikings and reenacted the invasion that occurred 1,000 years ago.
Not everyone relishes the idea of eating octopus, but you can join the ranks of Spaniards who lust after the stuff. To celebrate Galicia's excellent octopus, check out the Octopus Festival O Carballiño.
Even most madrileños would tell you to avoid the Spanish capital in August, since the city is sweltering and the majority of residents escape the heat and head to the beach, meaning many local places are closed down. But if you can tolerate the heat, there's also something enjoyable about being in Madrid when it's relatively empty. Plus, a line-up of nighttime festivals around the city take place throughout August, so you can do like the locals by partying at night and sleeping a siesta during the hottest part of the day.
The festivals celebrate the patron saint of their respective neighborhood, and three back-to-back events mean you can take part in nightly events through most of August. It begins with the San Cayetano festival around the Rastro neighborhood, followed by San Lorenzo in Lavapies. The final and largest of the three is the Festival of La Paloma which takes over the entire barrio of La Latina. Residents and tourists spill into the streets, where music, dancing, and drinks contribute to the lively atmosphere until the early hours of the morning.
For daytime activities, focus on sites that will keep you cool. Madrid is home to three celebrated art museums that are all within walking distance from each other in an area known as the Golden Triangle: the Prado, the Reina Sofia, and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Whether you're looking for ancient classics, contemporary masterpieces, or just some air conditioning, any one of them is sure to please you.