The question for many when trying to decide between France or Spain, is what separates these European holiday destinations from each other? Yet while both nations have similar climates and are great coastal destinations, each has its own distinct histories, cultures, sights to visit, and cuisines that set them apart.
After visiting each, we pit France vs Spain below. We compare both before looking at what each country has to offer, the food you can try, what natural attractions you can see in each, as well some amazing towns and cities you should visit.
France or Spain: Which is the better vacation destination?
Both France and Spain are known for their superb coastlines and iconic cities, so you’re guaranteed a great holiday whichever you choose. However, in our experience the beaches are a little better in Spain than France. In fact, Spain has more Blue Flag beaches than any other country in Europe!
France has some stunning beaches too – especially in the French Riviera – but Spain definitely has some of the best stretches of sand throughout Europe. Plus, you can still find hidden coves and barely visited beaches in parts of the beautiful Balearic islands.
Away from the coastline and Spain appears to have it all as well. Every city and region of the country is packed with things to see and do. A trip to Seville or Barcelona, for example, can easily last a few days and you still won’t be bored.
However France is one of those countries that does give Spain a run for its money when it comes to holiday destinations. This nation has a rich history, and has iconic cities like Paris and La Rochelle, and ancient fairytale-like towns and villages such as Annecy and Yvoire. On top of that France’s different regions have exceptionally unique qualities and charm – as we show you later.
The dramatic scenery in France, such as in the French Alps and the Pyrenees mountain range, also make it a wonderful climbing and hiking destination.
The food scene and drink scene is also phenomenal in France, so if cuisine is top of your holiday list then France may be the better choice. Although Spain – the home of tapas – is a culinary giant in its own right.
However in terms of expenses, we’ve found Spain to be slightly cheaper than France when it comes to accommodation and eating out. Although saying that, they’re both quite similar destinations cost wise.
France or Spain: Alluring natural wonders
With pleasant weather for most of the year, alongside regions that are as diverse as they are pretty, France is one of those countries we’ve been going back to for years.
For beach lovers, the French Riviera – or Côte d’Azur as it’s also known – is the place to be based. This coastline on the Mediterranean Sea is perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and relaxing. One of our favourite beaches is Plage de Pampelonne which is a long stretch of coastline beside Saint-Tropez with gorgeous soft sand and lovely crystal clear water for swimming.
For a more secluded beach, then head to Calanque d’En-vau, which is just south of Marseille. This isolated beach can only be reached by boat or via a trail that takes 2-3 hours, so you won’t find crowds here. The beach sits in a cove, and the water – trapped on either side by dramatic cliffs – is different shades of blue. It’s the perfect spot for swimming.
However, France has so much more to offer than just sun, sea, and sand. The winding canal system throughout the country means you can travel through France by boat – which in itself is a great way to see just how varied this country is from region to region.
In Normandy, in France’s north-west, a trip to the breathtaking tidal island of Mont Saint-Michel is a must. The gravity-defying abbey is a pilgrimage destination and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In Alsace – which borders Germany and Switzerland – you can find centuries-old towns that look like they’ve been plucked from the Swiss Alps. Surrounding them is a landscape full of wild flowers and forests that appear like something from a Van Gogh painting.
For avid walkers and hikers who want a real challenge, the French Alps and Pyrenees mountains both have countless trails that span a variety of difficulties and lengths. The Trekkers Haute Route, which starts in France’s Chamonix, and ends in Switzerland’s Zermatt, is a highly demanding multi-day trek, but possibly one of the best in Europe. (Recommended: Common & Dangerous Spiders in France).
If you’re a wine aficionado then visiting the French wine regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy will be a delight. Vineyards are spread throughout these areas and scattered amongst them are spectacular medieval towns.
Spain is a great holiday destination because you can easily enjoy a day at the beach and then spend that evening in one of the country’s iconic cities.
Some parts of Spain have gorgeous coastlines too. The protected coastline at Cabo de Gata (Andalusia) is wild, isolated and rarely frequented by tourists. Expect hidden coves, white sandy beaches, and dramatic cliffs in this national natural park.
Spain’s Costa de la Luz in the south has vast expanses of sand perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and a cocktail under blue skies. If you want something livelier, then head to the party island of Ibiza, where drinks, dancing and celebrity spotting is the aim of the game on the island’s most popular beaches.
If you’re feeling adventurous then get the ferry from Ibizia to Formentera – the smallest of Spain’s Balearic islands. The beaches here are beautiful and the water is crystal clear and Caribbean-esque. As it’s quite remote, there are very few tourists in comparison to other parts of Spain too.
If you pry yourself away from the coast you’ll find Spain has a huge amount to offer inland. Take a visit to El Tajo de Ronda – a spectacular gorge not far from the Costa del Sol, which has a town perched on the clifftop above. It almost looks like a movie set.
At the opposite end of the country and on the border of France is the majestic Pyrenees mountain range. Made up of over 200 mountains that are over 3000 meters tall, this region is comprised of quaint villages in the foothills connected by some of Europe’s best hiking trails. It’s a great place to go camping too – as we’ve written about before.
Another set of Spanish mountains – the Cantabrians – make up part of the Somiedo Natural Park. This lush park, which was voted one of Spain’s seven natural wonders, is home to spectacular lakes, thick forest, and is a stronghold of the endangered Cantabrian brown bear.
France vs Spain: Fascinating cities and towns
Cities like Paris are worth a multi-day visit in their own right. The capital’s chic cafes and coffee shops are great places to watch the world go by. This city also has one of the world’s most famous shopping streets – the Champs-Élysées. The iconic Moulin Rouge remains a popular evening spot for tourists who wish to visit the place where the modern form of can-can was invented.
However French cities like Strasbourg, Toulouse, and Bordeaux all offer their own unique charm and insight into French life as well.
Strasbourg, the capital of the Grand Est region, is a fascinating city which mixes French and German influences due to its proximity to Germany.
La Petite France in the city is well worth visiting. This postcard pretty district sits on the Rhine river and is made up of centuries-old homes – some made from timber – and is full of quirky cafes and shops. It’s historically a chocolate-making district, and some small chocolate shops with delicious goods still exist here.
Away from French cities are the medieval towns that dot the countryside. Some are built around the wine trade, like stunning Saint-Émilion. With its many outside cafes and bars, this town is one of the best places in the wine region to taste France’s most famous export,
Further north, take a trip to the colourful town of Colmar in the north-east which looks as though it’s come out of a Hans Christian Anderson storybook. Colourful buildings, cobbled streets, and flower boxes hug the canals that make up the old town. It’s arguably the most beautiful town in Europe.
Spain is packed with beautiful towns that appear little-changed in centuries. However it’s the cities that really pull in the crowds.
City breaks to the likes of Barcelona are popular throughout Europe due to the cosmopolitan feel and historic backdrop.
The stunning Basilica of the Sagrada Familia should be one of your first visits in the city, followed by a walk around Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter. Barcelona is also famous for its shopping, with Passeig de Gracia and the streets around it providing some of the best places to spend your money.
The capital of Andalusia, Seville, is popular and no wonder. Myth has it that this city was built by Hercules, and while that may not be true, the culture here is certainly Herculean. Seville is the home of Flamenco dancing and experiencing a show at the Tablao Flamenco Los Gallos will take your breath away. As the capital of Muslim Spain during the Al-Andalus period, Seville’s spectacular buildings from that time will transport you back in time too.
Nearby Córdoba was an important city during that period as well, and is famous for the immense La Mezquita mosque. However this city is also one of our favourites to visit due to its historic Old Town which is full of flowers, fountains, immaculate winding cobbled streets and lovely little eateries.
France or Spain: Tempting cuisines
The traditional food of France and Spain is a cocktail of the various civilizations that have inhabited these nations.
French cuisine is famous around the world, mainly due to two exports – cheese and wine!
There are wonderful region-specific cheeses throughout the country, from Camembert in the north, to the potent Roquefort in the south. The latter is one of the world’s most famous blue-cheeses, and you can visit the caves where Roquefort is matured by visiting the village where it’s made – Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.
If you’re looking for something more meaty, then try Boeuf bourguignon. This dish hails from Burgundy and is a beef stew that is braised with red wine and cooked with a selection of vegetables like carrots and mushrooms.
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to what to drink, and most red wines from the Bordeaux region are going to trump any other wine-growing region in the world. However if you want something other than wine, then try Crème de cassis – this sweet blackcurrant liqueur is a popular after-dinner drink.
Expect fresh vegetables, a lot of herbs, and a good amount of olive oil when eating out in Spain.
However, Spain’s most famous cuisine is surely tapas. This is a selection of appetizers that are served in both restaurants and bars, and will almost always include jamon iberico – an air-dried Spanish ham.
For hot days you should try gazpacho – a thick soup made from vegetables that is typically served cold.
There’s some good wine made in Spain, but a favourite holiday drink of many is Sangria. This punch is made up of red wine and chopped fruits, and sometimes other spirits depending on the house style of the bar or restaurant you’re in. It’s delicious, colorful and pairs well with tapas.
France or Spain: Which one should you choose?
Both France and Spain will provide an unforgettable holiday, but they’re also very different destinations.
While France has a great coastline, if your priority is sun, sea, and sand, then Spain may be a better choice than France. Spain’s beaches are stunning and the water is warm for swimming.
Spain has some great city breaks too. However France is arguably the better choice inland, as the diversity of culture, tradition, and landscape from region to region in France is astonishing. As the land of cheese and wine, France also has a rich culinary history.
Recommended for your trip to France or Spain
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