As you may already know, Luna and I spent this spring exploring Spain. We started in Seville, made our way to the southern coast, and then headed to the center and based ourselves in Toledo (our favorite of the many towns we stopped in).
Unfortunately, Spain is the least dog friendly of the mainland European countries we’ve been to. We’re used to places like Switzerland or France, where dogs are welcome everywhere—from shops to restaurants to the metro. This is not the case in Spain. So while it is more dog-friendly than the US, you’ll also need to do a little more planning than usual for Europe if you want to bring your dog along.
Here’s the full skinny:
This is the one thing that didn’t give us trouble in Spain. There are lots of dog-friendly accommodation options. As usual, most of our travels were spent staying in Airbnb apartments. With Airbnb, you can search for dog-friendly rentals or (like us) you can contact owners directly and ask them if it’s okay to bring your dog. Even places that aren’t listed as dog friendly will often make exceptions, especially if your dog is small, well-behaved, and has references.
We also spent a couple nights in one of my all-time favorite boutique hotels, Corral del Ray.
Dogs on Trains, Buses, & Planes
Here’s where things get trickier. While trains and planes are doable with a dog, buses are generally not. On ALSA and other distance bus services, dogs are considered luggage and even small dogs are forced to ride in the luggage compartment under the bus. This is not only terrifying for the poor dog, but can also be dangerous, particularly in hot weather. If you are traveling with a dog, do not plan on using the bus. I didn’t try myself, but I’ve been told that dogs are also not welcome on city buses in general. And don’t think you can sneak one by. They check.
Trains, happily, are an easier matter. Renfe trains allow small dogs inside carriers to travel free. You should always double check the policy on any train you’re booking, but this is their overall stance as of this writing.
Planes fall somewhere in the middle in terms of dog-friendliness. Many of Europe’s budget airlines don’t accept dogs and the non-budget airlines will charge you a lot more for both your seat and the dog itself. Happily, the exception to the rule is my new favorite airline, Vueling. Vueling accepts small dogs in cabin (in a carrier, of course). The dog + carrier must weigh less than 8 kilos (about 17 pounds) and costs about 25 euros per flight. Keep in mind that the dog replaces your carry-on, so you’ll need to check a bag (at another 20 or so euros). Still, even with a 25-euro dog and a 20-euro bag, you’re likely to spend very little. A quick search turns up fares at 70 euros one-way from Paris to Madrid, 63 from Rome to Seville, and 40 from Basel to Barcelona.
If the crappy bus policies leave you stranded (as they did for Luna and I, who had, unwisely, chosen a base without a train station), you do have a few options. The first is the rideshare service BlaBlaCar. That didn’t work for us because no one was listing rides from Nerja, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind if you need to get around.
The second is a car service. This is what Luna and I ended up doing from Nerja to Malaga, where we caught a train to Toledo. The car service we used was Blacklane, which allows you to book online (always a plus), didn’t mind Luna at all (just make sure to note you’re traveling with a dog when you make your reservation), and covers cities all over the world, including the Spanish city of Malaga (about an hour away from Nerja where Luna and I were stranded). Other Spanish cities they’re in include Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and Palma-de-Mallorca.
Your final option if you’re stuck is, of course, to rent a car. In Spain, you can rent a car with an American driver’s license, though rentals can get pricey (especially in smaller spots like Nerja) and it’s much easier to hire a car service or catch a rideshare.
Vets & Pet Supply Shops
In Toledo, our vet was located at Calle Panama 12, which is a bit outside the main walled city (all the animal clinics are). They don’t speak English, so you’ll need to dust off your Spanish or do a little pantomiming, but they are incredibly nice and helpful. On our first visit, he looked at her eye irritation, wrote a prescription, explained the instructions to me twice to make sure I understood, and didn’t charge me a dime! Their phone number is 925 25 52 96 and walking to the office is a pretty simple matter if you’re staying in the city (just grab a free map at the tourist center and map your route).
We never needed the vet in Nerja, but there is one near where Calle Antonio Millon meets Calle el Chaparil. There’s also a pet supply shop and groomer on Antonio Million itself and I’m sure they have a vet recommendation.
Restaurants, Shops, & Bars
This is another place that Spain strikes out. You’ll see plenty of No Perros (No Dogs Allowed) signs on restaurants (in fact, I haven’t seen a restaurant that does allow dogs in quite some time), bars, and shops. Shops tend to be a tiny bit more dog-friendly than eateries, but there are plenty of no-dog signs on those as well.
Parks, Beaches, & Hiking Trails
Sadly, Spain also has a whole lot of No Perros signs on its parks and beaches. But here’s the catch: in the off-season, everyone seems to ignore them. I saw dog owners walking their pets along the No Perros! beaches all the time and the cops didn’t seem to care. I’m guessing it’s a bit like Croatia that way. There were tons of No Dogs signs at parks and beaches there, but the locals told me to ignore them. “They’re just for tourist season when there are so many more people.” (Keep in mind that I’m not advising you to break the rules; if you do so, you do so at your own risk.)
The Paradox: Poop, Poop Everywhere
So, here’s the strange thing: you’d think in such a dog-unfriendly country there would be less dogs than in dog-loving places like Paris and Switzerland…but not so! Everywhere we went, there were dogs. Lounging in front gardens. Running along the beaches (past the No Perros! signs). Strolling the streets with their window-shopping owners.
And unfortunately, while it’s always lovely to be around other dogs, the Spanish don’t seem to have a habit of picking up after all these animals. I’ve never seen so much dog poop in my life…and in the most inconvenient places. Not only does no one seem to clean up after their dogs, but they don’t seem to care if the dog takes an enormous dump in the middle of a high-traffic walking path or around a blind corner where someone is most definitely going to step in it. Luna and I spent a lot of time dodging bombs and by the end of my time in Southern Spain (which was much much worse than Seville or Toledo), I was actually angry. “Am I the only person who cleans up after my dog here?” I asked the landlord and she voiced her agreement…the problem is bad.
Killer Caterpillars—Yes, Really
So, here’s another scary downside to Spain: in the spring, they have something called the Processionary Caterpillar, which could actually kill (yes, I said kill) your dog. The caterpillars are dangerous to everyone (adults included), but can be especially bad for children or dogs. So if you are planning to take your dog for nature walks/hikes in spring in areas with trees, read up about the caterpillars and keep an eye peeled. The locals will put up signs when they notice the caterpillars in an area (which is how Luna and I found out about them) warning you to turn back.
The other thing that makes Spain so dog-unfriendly is its litter problem. There is a major garbage issue here and it seems to be everywhere. We dodged broken glass in Toledo and mounds of plastic bottles and cigarette butts in the south. Seville was the cleanest of the bunch, but still a bit of a shock when you’re coming from always-clean Switzerland. With this in mind, it’s best to keep your dog leashed here in Spain, be vigilant about watching for garbage, and (as is always a good idea) know where the nearest vet is just in case your dog does step on broken glass or eat a piece of litter.
Personally, I really liked Toledo. I loved our little apartment just outside the town center. I loved the walking paths around the walled city. I loved the beautiful old architecture and the cute little shops. But for Luna Spain overall is a tougher place to travel. I worried about garbage and glass along the trails. I worried about killer caterpillars. I find it appalling that buses force dogs to travel in the luggage compartment. And Luna just had less options than usual.
If your heart is set on coming, you can absolutely bring your dog. You just have to be a little more vigilant than you would in other parts of Europe. But if you’re looking for the Europe I normally describe, with small dogs in cafes and off-leash Alpine hikes, this isn’t it. You’ll find that European experience in Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium, and so on.
Looking for more dog travel posts? Here they all are.
Going to Spain? Grab a copy of my Barcelona guide: Barcelona: 10 Locals Tell You Where to Go, What to Eat, & How to Fit In.
Thanks to Blacklane for the free ride. As always, all opinions are my own.