Top 15 Places to Explore in Spain
Spain offers the most beautiful scenery and diverse experiences you won't get anywhere else.
From lounging under the palm trees and gazing at the stunning blue ocean to the monuments and architecture. There are countless reasons as to why Spain should be your next vacation. To make it easier for you, here are 15 Spanish beauties that will undoubtedly take your breath away.
1. Sierra Nevada If you’re looking for outdoor adventure, Sierra Nevada is a beautiful mountain range that holds Spain’s highest peak, the Mulhacen. It’s a great place to enjoy skiing and snowboarding and in the off-season, hiking and cycling are popular. It is also close to the many worthy sites of Spain's historic south!
Above: Sierra Nevada Mountains, Andalusia
The mountain views will rival the culinary scene in the Andalucia region. If you’re looking for something less active, put your feet up with some delicious tapas and local wine while leaving space to bring a few bottles of local olive oil home.
2. Santiago de Compostela
Below: Camino de Santiago in northern Spain with the iconic shell marker
Go back in time to this historic city in the region of Galicia.
This spot holds the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Old Town, This famous pilgrimage site in northwest Spain became a symbol in the Spanish Christians' struggle against Islam. All roads may have led to Rome, but in the dark ages ang medieval period, with roads to Jerusalem closed, most penitents took the many roads that ended here on pilgrimage
Catholics believe this to be the place where St. James, one of the twelve Apostles of Christ and patron of Spain, is buried. His symbol, a shell, can be seen throughout Spain and in the former colonial lands of the Americas.
Above: Santiago de Compostela
Almería panorama with the Alcazaba overlooking the port city and the English Cable port installation, used to load ships with mined materials from the region.
Looking for a local spot that tourists don’t usually go to? Then perhaps this off the radar part of Andalusia is perfect for you. Located in Andalusia, Almería is one of the warmest spots in Spain and holds gorgeous beaches, caves, and mines for endless exploring. The famous areas of the Costa del Sol and Costa Blanca are not far, but this stretch, the Costa Almería is a bit off the grid by comparison. Wanting Spain without the package tourists or expats? Then this stretch of the coast may be a great start! Be sure to visit Playa San Pedro if you’re looking for an even more relaxed ambiance. 4. The Costa Brava
Above: The Cost Brava is characterized by rocky headlands, inlets, fishing communities and small hidden beaches
Costa Brava is one of the most popular beach destinations in Spain for the sunny weather weather, charming towns and pristine beaches. This part of Catalonia is often rugged with rocky headlands or mountains serving as a backdrop. It is also dotted with small coastal towns and sandy coves, stretching from the northern suburbs of Barcelona to the French border and the Pyrenees Mountains.
The vivid landscapes and settings have drawn visitors dating back to the Carthaginians and Romans, but the 20th century also drew Salvador Dalí here as a resident of Port Lligat, from 1930-1982.
You'll encounter plenty of wildlife and plant life in the Medes Islands and Montseny Natural Park in Costa Brava, giving you a glimpse of the natural gems of the coast.
Right: Costa Brava scenery
If you’re looking to see a melting pot of cultures, the city of Toledo will exceed your expectations. Also known as the “City of the Three Cultures”, this city is filled with intermixed styles from Jewish, Muslim, and Christian cultures in their food, architecture, and even music. Situated on a promontory overlooking the Tagus River and the Castille-La Mancha plains, this historic city is a popular daytrip from Madrid. During the middle ages, most of the ancient Greek literature, philosophy, medicine and classical works we know today had been collected in Alexandria, and the Middle East and eventually brought to Toledo and then added to by the Arabs. These works had been extinguished in Greece, Anatolia and former Roman lands due to invasions and early Christian iconoclasm but had been translated from Alexandria to Toledo and then "restored" in Western Civilization after Toledo fell during the Reconquista in 1085.
Photos Above: Much of Toledo retains its medieval layout both inside the city and on the approaches by ancient gateways over the River Tagus It also became a target in the extremely brutal Spanish Civil War. The Alcazar that dominates in the photo below is a complete restoration as Franco's forces obliterated much of the fortress in a bloody siege.
Toledo's Alcazar in the distance and Cathedral in the foreground
Alhambra Palace in Granada
Filled with medieval history, the number one spot to visit in Granada is a lookout on the opposite hill, in the Albaicín neighborhood, to gaze at the majestic Alhambra Palace. The influence of Arabic and Catholic cultures surrounds the city with traditional Moorish architecture and classical Catholic monasteries. The sprawling Alhambra was built, starting in the early 1200's and served as the home of the emirs of Islamic Spain until the completion of the Reconquista by Isabella and Ferdinand in 1492.
Right: Palacio Portal, the Alhambra Palace
In the city below, the narrow streets and medieval quarter along with the Alhambra all form a dramatic UNESCO center while the Albaicín carries some of the quintessential characteristics of the hill towns of Spain, white washed houses, narrow lanes, stairways, and flower pots clinging to balconies. Visit the Sacromonte neighborhood at the foot of the Albaicín, which is still a center of cave dwellings and Flamenco, but also a quarter long known to be the home of the local gypsy community.
Below: Madrid's Royal Palace
Madrid is a must-see if you're ever in Spain. The city is filled with famous artworks, diversity, entertainment, and amazing cuisine. The Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza are heavyweights in the realm of renowned art museums while the many smaller museums and iconic sites abound. Temple de Debod, the Royal Palace, Plaza Mayor and even the Romanticism Museum are all worthwhile. The home of the Cerralbo family or the Liria Palace, home of the Alba family, both offer privately held collections in their palatial, gilded age homes, for visitors. Be sure to stop at Madrid's Royal Palace to see a glimpse of the 17th-century architecture and make your way to Plaza Mayor, where you can roam around the cobblestone streets filled with live music and visit the local boutiques and eateries. Stop for a late dinner in any number of locations throughout central Madrid or discover one of the many markets or rooftop eateries. Spend the night exploring the famous Madrid nightlife at any number of bars, street patios or expansive clubs featuring cutting edge music. For the LGBT traveler, the highlight of the year is Madrid Pride, which typically falls on the first few days of July and is estimated to be the 3rd largest Pride celebration and the largest in Europe. Indeed, the rainbow welcome is rolled out in this welcoming city and Spain is usually rated as the most open and equal of all countries, not just in Europe, but in the world.
Above: The Old Post Office overlooks the Pride Parade route at Cibeles Plaza Below: Madrid has several markets that are perfect for sampling the culinary pairings of great national wines and tapas. This is Mercado San Anton, in the center of Madrid's Chueca neighborhood. Check out the 3rd floor terrace for the best sampling opportunities!
Need more reasons to visit Madrid? Then add these daytrips to the list! Segovia (left) with its iconic castle that his heavily associated with Queen Isabella plus the spectacularly well preserved, Roman era aqueduct. Then add Phillip II's San Lorenzo de El Escorial, a massive 16th century royal palace, monastery and also the largest rennaissance period building in the world, which is of course and loaded with art.
The city of Pamplona is known for the annual Running of the Bulls festival where bulls run and chase revelers down the narrow streets.
It's usually held in July so jot this down in your itinerary if you're planning to visit in the summer. If that’s not quite your cup of tea, you may prefer to take in Pamplona's historic center filled with architectural gems like its Gothic cathedral, 16th-century citadel, and Baroque town hall.
Above: Pamplona during the San Fermín Festival
Below: La Sagrada Familia dominates much of Barcelona
9. Barcelona Barcelona is dream-filled with beautiful beaches, enriching history, and tasty wine.
Below: Parc Guell, a Gaudi Masterpiece
Explore the Gaudi buildings and sample the best food in Spain. La Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell are just the tip of the architectural gems designed by the famed architect. Check out La Boqueria, a local market dating back to the 13th century that features fresh produce from the region.
Tapas are endless in this city, so make sure you arrive hungry! Strolling around the city is also an essential part of life in Spain, and Las Ramblas is one of the more well known places to do so. But there are so many places worth a meander!
Above: Barri Gotic, Barcelona's "Old City"
Looking for the beach? With urban revitalization efforts came perfectly located urban beaches, but escaping to the town of Sitges nearby offers gay travelers a small resort town that is friendly to LGBT visitors.
Visit Cordoba, once known as the "Ornamant of the World", for the towering Moorish architecture and the grandeur of 10th century Spain. The Old Town of Cordoba is a UNESCO World Heritage Site featuring the Great Mosque, Roman Cathedrals, La Mezquita, amphitheaters, and much more for the history buffs and art lovers or ponder the simple use and ancient technology at the Albolafia Noria, or waterwheel. If short on time, Cordoba can even be done as a stop on the way to Sevilla or a daytrip on Spain's efficient AVE High Speed Trains from both Sevilla and Madrid.
Above: Interior of the La Mezquita
In spring and summer, wander the narrow lanes and their famous flower pot installations under windows and small balconies that the city is also famous for!
Photo: Ávila and the turreted, crennelated and imposing city walls
80 towers. Crennelated walls. 9 gates. A cathedral. If you want to walk through a history book, this is the perfect chance to do so. Known as "The Town of Stones and Saints," Avila is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and holds the largest collections of Romanesque and Gothic churches in all of Spain. It includes countless monasteries, towers, museums, and palaces that will take you back in time to the 11th century. At night the wall of the city is illuminated and forms an imposing ribbon in the arid plane of Castille., and spending the night, you may feel as though you have this timeless place to yourself as the daytrip visitors have returned to Madrid. 12. Salamanca
Featuring yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Salamanca is a university town holding Baroque and Renaissance architecture. It has a diverse student population and gives a feel of the intellectual flora with cozy hangout areas and bars. Granted a royal charter in 1218, it is the 3rd oldest university in Europe.
Stop for a visit to this spectacular sandstone city on the way to Galicia in the northwest or to/from northern Portugal!
Photos: Salamanca's iconic sandstone architecture along with one of Europe's oldest, and most gorgeous, universities.
13. Burgos Spend the day getting lost in the quaint historic center wandering around the beautiful streets and ruins of Burgos, and is another UNESCO listed city.
Be sure to visit the Gothic Cathedral of Burgos and admire the scenic view as you walk along the banks of Fuentes Blancas, the largest park in the province. Literary fans may also know that Burgos is also an essential part of the story of El Cid! Burgos also is a culinary and gastromony hub, earning a UNESCO designation for the gastronomy, too. Located in north central Spain it lies at a crossroads between the east-west Camino de Santiago and the routes from the central plateau of Castille and the Atlantic Ocean, Burgos has benefited and provides a glimpse into the varying regions of Spain, and beyond.
Cadiz feels like, and all but is, an island city. On the Costa de la Luz, it is surrounded by deep blue Atlantic waters and endless sunshine.
Throughout most of the colonial era, it was the first and last part of the Spanish homeland many sailors would see on their way to and from the port of Seville, just up the river. Photo: La Caleta Beach, Cadiz Cadiz is also thought to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in all of Europe, with remnants dating to the Phonenicians in around 1104bce. This walled coastal city at the end of sandy peninsula has been "home" to many, for millenia!
Photo: Cadiz and the vast Atlantic beyond
Start the day by visiting the Castillo de San Sebastian and head to La Caleta Beach for tasty seafood cuisine. The fish market here is a sight as the daily catch is on offer too! Catch a glimpse of the local vibe as many small boats rest on the harbor floor when the tide is out. 15. Seville
Photos: Ceramic tiles at Plaza España, Sevilla
Finally, and by no means is this the last worthwhile stop in Spain or the least on this list, is romantic Seville (Sevilla in Spanish).
Above: Sevilla's Alcazar and Gardens
Come and explore the ancient Roman and Islamic ruins in Seville while marveling at the architectural flourishes from an era of sustained prosperity that occurred after the Reconquista. Climb the massive La Giralda tower, which was a minaret of gigantic proportions at the height of Islamic Spain and is now the cathedral's massive belltower. It is now an icon of not just Seville, but all of Spain.
Learn the enriching history of the architectural beauty among the lively music and delicious tapas that showcase fresh, delectable seafood. Take a guided tour of the breathtaking Real Alcazar and gorgeous gardens, or catch Flamenco show (you can even take a class), or simply sit back and people watch with a glass of Spanish wine. The port city was granted the royal monopoly on trade with the new world. For nearly 3 centuries, all trade was (supposed) to come up the Guadalquivir River to the port here. It became a hub of trade and exchange between the New World, and the Old World. While both a tragedy and a boon, much of that history, both the mundane and colorful, much of what remains is kept in the Archivo de Indias here, some of which can be viewed.
So many of the common notions we have of Spain, originated or are an integral part of the history here or nearby. Massive festivals and religious processions? Yep. Flamenco? For sure. Iconic architecture? Absolutely. Ceramics, fans and sherry from nearby Jerez, check, check and check. Outdoor living? In abundance, with over 300 sunny days a year and mild or hot climate 9 months of the year. While sometimes overlooked for Madrid or Barcelona, for those really seeking to get to know Spain, maybe Sevilla should be your first stop! Below: La Giralda belltower and adjacent cathedral
Spain holds stunning scenery, delectable cuisine, vibrant villages, and gorgeous architecture and art that will make you feel like you’re in another world. There are so many worthwhile destinations in Spain, I could't list them all. I didn't even have time to mention Bilbao, Mallorca, Valencia, Ronda, Ibiza or Marbella. They could be perfect for you to discover too. Whether it is one of these amazing destinations that has captured your interest or somewhere else, Avid Nomad Travel can help you to fully experience it!
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