[dropcap]S[/dropcap]pain is one of the most beautiful and unique countries in Europe, and one simply cannot do it all in one trip. From the unique culture of the Basque region to the bullfights of Madrid, there is simply too much to see and do! This is why many fans of Spain return again and again. Here at Voyage Afield we have complied a list of the top 10 things to see in Spain. Although they are spread out, if one has a rental car it is conceivable that you could see them all in one trip.
Remember, travel is about you, and things that pique your own interests. Feel free to add your own favorite destinations in Spain to the comments section if you feel we have missed one that is important!
The city of Cordoba is the capital of the Andalusian region in southern Spain. This city is a multicultural melting pot, made up of Jews, Muslims, and Christians. The city is a maze of small medieval style streets and courtyards, with several different must-see areas in the city itself.
9. Bullfights in Madrid
Bullfights are perhaps one of the most recognizable aspects of Spanish culture. When one thinks of Spain, one thinks of the Matadors dressed up in full regalia. Whether or not you support this sport, it is a large element of Spanish tradition that continues to this day. The bullfighting season runs from May through October (exact dates vary by year) with a bullfight happening every Sunday in the main bullring in Madrid. Madrid and Andalusia are the dual centers of bullfighting in Spain. The main bullring in Madrid is called La Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas del Espíritu Santo or commonly just Las Ventas.
8: Granada’s Alhambra Palaces
Breathtakingly beautiful, the Alhambra Palaces of Granada are made up of several buildings, gardens, towers, and walls that all combine to make one of the most striking scenes in the world. Built during Spain’s Islamic period when Al-Andalus (modern Andalusia) represented the height of culture and taste in Europe, it is the royal palace of the Nasrid dynasty, and represents the most visual remainder of their rule from 1230 to 1492.
7: San Lorenzo de El Escorial
An architectural marvel, the San Lorenzo de El Escorial is an enormous complex made up of numerous buildings and walls surrounding 16 courtyards and connected by almost 10 miles of corridors. Included in the structure is a monastery, museum, mausoleum, library, church, and royal palace. Built in 1563 as a monument to Philip II and his reign, this will take you almost an entire day to fully explore. One of the highlights is the church at the center, featuring a 30 meter high jasper and red marble retablo.
6: Plaza Mayor, Madrid
Sometimes considered the heartbeat of Madrid, the Plaza Mayor was built in the 16th century by Juan de Herrera, Philip II’s favorite architect. It consists of a large pedestrian only square, lined with cafes spilling out into shaded umbrellas and restaurants lining the arcades. The plaza itself has hosted many events over the centuries, including proclamations of kings and saints, the burning of heretics, and even cultural events such as plays and bullfights.
5: Beaches of Costa Del Sol
As a surfer myself, the beaches of Costa Del Sol are a must for those hailing from landlocked or colder climates. Miles and miles of sun-soaked white sand line this region, and is the destination of tourists all over Europe. It is also known as the sunniest part of Europe, with the most days of sun per year. When this region started to become popular it became a victim of over-development. However, the government of Andalusia has recognized that this is a precious natural resource, and has put a stop to the onslaught of buildings, and has even torn down some of the worst ones to restore areas to their natural beauty.
4: El Teide
This ancient but still active volcano on the island of Tenerife (part of the Canary Islands) is the highest peak in Spain, as well as one of Europe’s biggest natural wonders. El Teide can be seen in a variety of ways; by car across the 12 mile caldera (basin), climb to the cone, or take an 8 minute cable car ride. And that brings us to:
Part of the Canary Islands, Tenerife has a spring/summer-like climate all year round and is dotted by dozens and dozens of breathtaking beaches. A 2 hour flight from Madrid, Tenerife is almost a trip unto itself, but as a part of Spain, it deserves mention. Air temperatures range from 66F – 77F, and water temperatures range from 66F – 72F. As you can see, this makes it a great year-round destination. It’s much like the Hawaii of Europe.
Bilbao was once an industrial port city but has been reinvented for modern times as a center for modern art and architecture. Home to the titanium facade Guggenheim Bilbao museum, the city is set amid the rolling green hills of Basque country, which is a destination unto itself.
TripAdvisor.com’s #1 pick, and ours as well, is Barcelona. Home to a staggering amount of art and architecture, Barcelona itself feels a bit surreal. Famous artists such as Salvador Dali spent time here, and it shows. From Gaudí’s Church of the Sacred Family to the touristy La Rambla, there is much to see and do in this city, which requires its own article itself!
Do you have a favorite destination in Spain? Leave a comment below!