Spain or France is an age-old debate, each country with a unique history, cuisine, and climate. They might often be put side by side, but choosing which one to visit is as hard as picking them apart. The home of elegance, romance, and the Eiffel Tower, or the land of tapas, Flamenco, and sun-soaked Medierannean getaways? We’re here to help you decide.
Spain is southern Europe’s largest country. Comprising 17 autonomous regions each with its own culture and geography, the Iberian Peninsula is much more than sangria and siestas. On the other hand, Spain’s French neighbor is a land for lovers. Fantastic art, delicate culinary techniques, and sweeping lavender fields, France is as refined as it gets, but the two nations do have some things in common.
From all that brings them together and everything that tears them apart, our ultimate comparison guide puts two of Europe’s most popular vacation hotspots head to head. Which do we recommend you visit next? Find out below.
Spain or France: Coastal Getaways
Both Spain and France have spectacular coastlines, and if a beach vacation is what you’re after, you can’t go wrong with western Europe. The French Riviera, or Cote d’Azur, is the highlight of France’s coastal plethora. With Mediterranean shores that are perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and sailing, towns like Saint-Tropex, Marseille, and Cannes are effortlessly prestige with alluring upmarket vibes.
For seclusion, head to Calanque d’En-Vau, just south of Marseille. Only reachable by boat or a rocky three-hour-long trail, you can escape the crowds and enjoy the clear blue waters from the protection of dramatic cliffs.
Still, Spain comes out on top when it comes to coastal gems, with more Blue Fag beaches than any other European nation. From entertainment hubs on the edge of sprawling golden shores to undiscovered white sands cradled by rocky coves, there’s something for all sea lovers and every region offers some sort of new experience.
Spain does city beaches better than any nation we know. From Valencia to Barcelona and all the way up to San Sebastien on the France-Spain border, Spain has perfected urban seaside living. But there’s no shortage of bubbly resort towns and quaint fishing villages too, along with lusted Spanish isles where life centers around the sea. Ibiza, Mallorca, and Tenerife are among our favorites, and it’s hard to find another European country that succeeds Spain on the coastal front. Check out the protected coastline of Cabo de Gato in Andalusia. Wild and isolated, this national park represents the best in Spanish coastal scenery.
Spain or France: Natural Wonders
A morning in the mountains, a day at the beach, and an evening in the city, Spain has it all. Pry yourself from the coast and you’ll find that the country has a lot more to offer when it comes to natural wonders than its sparkling seas.
Check out El Tajo de Ronda, a mesmerizing gorge overlooked by a hilltop village, in reaching distance of the Costa del Sol. Or take a trip to the Algar Waterfalls and Guadelest Valley for crystal clear lagoons surrounded by peaks.
At the opposite end, you’ll find the Pyrenees mountain range comprising 200 mountains, tiny foothill villages, and spectacular hiking trails. And the Cantabrians, another Spanish mountain set, dominate the Somiedo Natural Park. Voted one of Spain’s seven natural wonders, you’ll find dense forests, crystalline lakes, and even brown bears here.
Still, France puts up a good fight on the scenery front. Meandering canals, centuries-old towns, and its own Pyrenees trails, France is varied and majestic. Check out the Alsace, bordering Germany and Switzerland, for alpine villages and wild landscapes of flowers and forests. Or the Trekker Haute Route, which starts in Chamonix and winds through the French and Swiss Alps for 200 kilometers to Zermatt in Switzerland. The demanding hike is among the best in Europe and the scenery is unrivaled.
Bordeaux and Burgandy are also great places for nature lovers and wine aficionados. Vineyards roll through the countryside, dotted with medieval settlements basking in the Mediterranean sun. The pink Camargue Salt Flats, the Etretat Cliffs, the Verdon Gorges, the Sea of Ice glacier, and the Dune de Plait, the tallest sand dune in all of Europe, the list goes on. France’s diversity is often underestimated and for hidden natural gems, it is unbeaten.
Spain or France: City Breaks
Both countries are dotted with amazing towns and bustling cities. Places like Barcelona and Paris are among the most lusted destinations in all of Europe, but Spain and France are also home to some less obvious choices that make for great metropolitan getaways.
If you are headed to Spain’s second city, the Basilica de Sagrada Familia should be your first visit. The gaudy spires dominate Barcelona’s skyline, and getting lost in the Gothic Quarter is another must. Andalusia’s capital of Seville, the birthplace of Flamenco, is also wondrously popular. Legend has it that the city was built by Hercules and the surviving buildings from the Al-Andalus period will transport you back to centuries gone.
Nearby is Córdoba, famed for the La Mesquita mosque, and Alicante on the Costa Blanca deserves a visit for its medieval Old Town and hilltop fortifications. Urban life in Valencia to glitzy Marbella clubs, there’s something for everyone on a Spanish city break.
France is much more than its iconic capital, but it is a good place to start. Chic cafes, Champs-Élysées shopping, and the Moulin Rouge, Paris deserves a few days, but don’t neglect places like Strasbourg, Toulouse, and Bordeaux if you’re after a different side to French city living.
Strasbourg is the capital of the Grand Est region and German influence lingers due to its close proximity to the border. The colorful, beam-fronted middle houses, complete with shutters and thatched roofs are postcard perfect. There’s also La Petite France located on the Rhine, known for its chocolate shops and quaint cafes. Saint-Émilion is a fantastic wine-region city for sampling cuisine and local reds and whites, while a trip up north will take you to Colmar. Cobbled streets and Alpine houses hugged by flower boxes line the canals, creating a picture of the European city ideal.
Spain or France: Cuisine
Both Spanish and French cuisines are an eclectic mix of the civilizations that have inhabited these nations and those nations which surround them. This means, in the Basque Country, on the French-Spain border, you’ll find many similarities between the national gastronomies. The countries also have some shared exports, but France’s world-renowned culinary reputation is closely tied to its two main products – wine and cheese. From Camembert in the north to Roquefort-Sur-Soulzon in the south, wherever you go, a treasured cheese isn’t too hard to sample.
Among its national favorites, France also has Creme Brulée, Boeuf Bourguignon, and, of course, Escargo, which is snail to you and me. French food is widely globalized and always attuned to refinement, with French-grown grapes, cheeses, and culinary techniques, often coming with steeper prices no matter where you go in the world. While Spain is characteristically Mediterannean, how the Spanish treat its native herbs, vegetables and oils is unique.
Tapas is arguably the most famous element of Spanish gastronomy, but these small appetizers differ greatly by region. From the air-dried Jamon Iberico to salty padrón peppers and cold gazpacho soup, perfect for scorching summer days. The Spanish have a way of manipulating humble ingredients to complement the climate. Spain is also the birthplace of some fantastic wines. No Sangria would be complete without an aged Rioja, which pairs perfectly with tapas.
Crispy, salty, and spicy versus rich, creamy depth, there’s no comparison between French and Spanish food; both cuisines are good enough reasons as any to visit these countries.
Spain or France: Average Costs
France’s stronger economy is translated in the costs between these two nations. Spain is a much more affordable place to visit and live. This is especially true for the capital cities, budget accommodation is far and few in Paris. While southern coastal towns in France are associated with celebrity clientele rather than attractive budget deals.
Spain has a number of cheap holiday destinations, like Benidorm and Tenerife. Even some major cities like Alicante and Murcia are very affordable, while city living in France comes at a cost. You’ll find affordable housing all over rural France, and some quiet towns are still a steal, but on average, France is almost 40 percent more expensive than Spain across the board, which can have a huge impact on your holiday budget.
So, what does this look like in numbers? The average price of an inexpensive meal in Spain is €11 (€12), compared to €15 ($17) in France. Comparing the capitals, a mid-range restaurant will set you back around €20 ($22) per person in Madrid but closer to €30 ($33) in Paris. Rent and groceries average around 30 percent more in Paris, and even if you head to the countryside, you’ll find as much as a 50 percent discrepancy between a relatively big city like Alicante and a wine region like Bordeaux.
Expect to spend around €1,100 ($1,223) for seven days in France, but nearer to €900 ($1,001) if you’re visiting Spain. A family of four should budget over €2,000 ($2,225) for a week in a French city, but you could get by on €1,600 ($ 1,780) in a coastal Spanish town.
Spain or France: Climate
With both mountainous Alpine towns and Mediterannean coasts between them, Spain and France benefit from diverse climates and you’ll find hot summers and cooler winters wherever you go. France is generally much milder, but the south coast shares similarities with Spain’s scorching coastline. Still, northern France is closer to England, both in proximity and weather, and the beaches of Normandy are notoriously wet and windy.
Spain is the most climatically varied country in Europe, and you can guarantee summer highs of 90 in some regions, but blistering snow in others. Some of Spain’s islands, like the Canary’s, located off the northwest coast of Africa, are subtropical and temperatures rarely dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. But soaring heat can be hard to deal with in the summer months and France’s climate is much more forgiving for exploring.
The varying weather is reflected in the scenery, and France’s rolling green pastures have its temperature climate to thank, compared to Spain’s dry and dusty south. Yet, whether you want to ski or sunbathe, there is a region in Spain or France for it.
Spain or France: Our Verdict
When it comes to comparison, Spain and France are pretty well matched. That isn’t to say these diverse nations are similar, but neither one is overtly better than the other and they both deserve a spot on your travel bucket list. If sun, sea, and warm swimming waters is your priority, it’s Spain every time, with its Blue Flag beaches and great urban seafronts. However, France is the better choice if you’re heading inland. Culinary traditions and breathtaking landscape, the vineyards and cheese gorges aren’t to be missed. So, where will you be heading next?
If you’re still stuck between the two, consider Spain’s eclectic Basque Country and the Bay of Biscay for the best of both worlds. As French as it is Spanish, you can expect a forgiving temperature climate, upmarket atmosphere, cheap culinary delights and refined urban beaches. What more could you want?