What Should You Visit in Spain During Your First Journey?
España is one of the most visited countries in Europe, but the most popular destinations in Spain are not necessarily the only places you can check out. As well as discovering the best cities to visit in Spain and the tried-and-tested coastal resorts, you can explore a little further to uncover some hidden gems.
Tenerife might bring to mind package holidays and beaches, but this Canary Island, located off the coast of West Africa, is so much more. Its lunar landscapes and volcanic peaks are otherworldly. Mount Teide is Spain’s highest peak and is set within the Teide National Park, where you can explore the peculiar landscape of craters and ancient lava flows, Spain’s most unique geological gems.
Sun, sea and a soaring rocky peak make Alicante a prime coastal destination in Spain. But while many foreign tourists fly into the city’s airport then leave for resorts further along the coast, Alicante is worth exploring in itself. The port city has a buzzing city beach that has the dramatic Mount Benacantil as a backdrop, a huge rocky peak whose summit is home to Santa Bárbara Castle. Stroll by the city’s marina on an evening then do some tapas bar hopping in the old town.
Spain’s second city is an eternal favourite with visitors for its stunning Mediterranean location, iconic architecture and cosmopolitan atmosphere. Go gaga for Gaudí at the Sagrada Familia and Park Güell and check out some of the architect’s lesser-known works such as Casa Batlló. Make the trip up to Mount Tibidabo for sparkling views across the city to the sea beyond; rollercoaster lovers should visit the Tibidabo Amusement Park, opened in 1905, while the mountain is also a great place to cycle or hike.
Granada is like a Disney fairytale come to life: it has the stunning ancient fortress, the snowcapped peaks and winding cobbled streets. The Alhambra is one of Spain’s most famous attractions, and for good reason. The Moorish palace sits high over the city and contains some of the best-preserved Islamic art and architecture in the world. Don’t miss Sacromonte, an area of white caves clinging to the hillside where the city’s gypsy community originally lived and flamenco dance and music flourished.
This elegant city on the Basque Country coast is a must for foodies; the pintxo – a Basque version of tapas that usually includes delicious morsels balanced on crusty bread – is the city’s gastronomic calling card and the bars of the Old Town lay out their pintxos on the bar tops so you can see everything on offer. The city’s Concha Beach is a beautiful, shell-shaped cove popular with families, while the nearby Zurriola beach is great for surfing.
Seville, the capital of Andalusia in southern Spain, is famous for its thriving flamenco culture. Take in a show in one of the city’s intimate little flamenco bars to fully appreciate this passionate, dramatic and melancholy art form. Explore Seville’s history with a trip to the Real Alcázar, a well-preserved example of Mudéjar architecture that has been added to by Spanish rulers over the years, and take in the city’s modern architecture at the Metropol Parasol, a huge wooden structure that brings much-needed shade in the summer.
Cordoba was the most important city during the Moorish rule of Spain in the Middle Ages, and it was home to the stunning Grand Mosque of Cordoba. Today, the mosque is the city’s cathedral, but retains much of its Islamic design. Cordoba’s old town is a Unesco World Heritage Site and is home to the city’s Roman Bridge, charming cobbled streets and some fascinating pieces of architecture.
The home of paella is a great place to sample what is perhaps Spain’s most famous dish. Head to a beachside restaurant and enjoy the rice dish for lunch (Spaniards never tend to eat the heavy dish for dinner) washed down with some Agua de Valencia, a potent local cava cocktail. Explore Valencia’s beautiful old town and don’t miss the incredible, spaceship-like Valencia City of Arts and Sciences, a futuristic complex in the city’s former river bed that holds an aquarium, IMAX cinema, opera house and science museum.
Spain’s capital is a great destination for a weekend break. Madrid’s golden triangle of art galleries holds some of Europe’s most famous works, from Picasso’s Guernica to Velázquez’s Las Meninas. The city is home to the Royal Palace, Europe’s biggest palace in terms of area, and round every corner you can discover new churches, shops and bars. The La Latina neighbourhood is home to some of the city’s most famous tapas bars and is a great place for a tapas crawl.
When you think of Spain, you may well think of dry landscapes and sun-soaked beaches, but the northwestern region of Galicia looks more like Ireland than the typical Spanish stereotype. Its landscapes are lush and green, and the Celtic influence is strong: Galicia is full of myths and legends. Its western Cape Finisterre cliffs were considered the end of the world by the Romans. Explore the region’s wilder reaches by visiting the Cies Islands, an archipelago nature reserve that is part of the Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park.
Whether you like hiking, skiing or quaint mountain villages, the Spanish Pyrenees are the ideal destination for you. Timbered houses and hearty local food are on offer, while Spanish ski resorts are a great alternative to the busier and pricer resorts in the Alps.
Europe’s only desert region is an otherworldly landscape of dusty, dry expanses and rocky outcrops. The landscape so resembled the American Wild West that director Sergio Leone filmed his classic Westerns here, including The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park is a beautiful coastal area that includes salt flats, pristine beaches and whitewashed fishing villages.