It is no secret that Spain is not only one of Europe’s, but the world’s most visited countries and if you have ever been to Spain or even seen pictures, it is not hard to understand why. The country’s rich natural, historical and cultural elements cater to every type of visitor. Spain’s diverse landscape ranges from beaches and mountains to world-class cities and picturesque villages. In fact, the country is the second most mountainous on the continent. Coming to historic sites, it has the world’s third-largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites (only preceded by China and Italy), which include ruins, cathedrals and Islamic architecture. This bicycle-loving country is also known for its top-quality food, wine and high standard of living. Together with lively nightlife and various folklore and festivities, Spain makes a stereotypical yet incredible European holiday destination.
Located in the heart of Spain, Madrid is a powerhouse of art, cuisine and nightlife. Roaming the city’s beautiful boulevards and manicured parks are the best ways to discover the elegance of Madrid. Its diverse architectural heritage ranges from medieval mansions to modern designs. The majestic Palacio Real was once the residence of the country’s royal family and nowadays used for occasional royal ceremonies. This 18th-century palace is the largest functioning royal palace in Europe and contains more than 3,000 rooms. Madrid’s grand central square Plaza Mayor dates back to the 17th-century and a great place in the city to buy souvenirs, taste delicious food and enjoy pleasant walks. The nearby Puerta del Sol is another popular public square in the city and known for its iconic The Clock – where people gather at the new year’s eve and eat one grape for each of the last twelve seconds before the clock hits 12.
To experience the vibrancy of Madrid’s happening nightlife, head over to the areas of Malasaña or Chueca. While the colorful Chueca is famed as the city’s gay district, Malasaña is a studentlife-fueled area with a historic square, bars and shopping stores. As we already mentioned, Madrid is home to various beautiful parks, El Retiro Park is one of its biggest. Packed with marble monuments and elegant gardens, it is a great place to take a pleasant walk amidst abundant greenery. Along with parks, Madrid also shines with numerous museums and art galleries. Some of its most popular museums are Museo del Prado – the national art museum that houses more than 7000 paintings, Centro de Arte Reina Sofia – houses Spain’s most famous artwork Guernica by Picasso and Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza – known for its collections of European art. From the capital, you can easily arrange a trip to Castile La Mancha region which is famous for its historical and cultural cities and vineyards.
Spain’s second-largest city Barcelona is located in the autonomous region of Catalonia, about 510km away from the country’s capital. This Balearic Sea coast city is known for its globally celebrated football club, architectural treasures and art. Although some of the city’s iconic architecture date back to more than 2000 years, La Sagrada Família is the most prestigious site in Barcelona. Construction of this gigantic basilica was started in 1882 and is still going on till this day. With over 4 million visitors every year, it is the most visited monument in the country. Other than that, Barcelona’s other major highlights include Park Güell – a UNESCO listed park with numerous walking trails, Camp Nou – the home stadium of FC Barcelona, La Rambla – the city’s most popular street packed with tourists, La Catedral – a medieval cathedral and the city’s central place of worship and various museums like Museu Picasso, Poble Espanyol, Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and Museu d’Història de Barcelona.
From Barcelona, you can visit other locations in the Catalonia region like Tarragona and Girona. While Tarragona is a port city with beaches and Roman ruins and located about 90km southwest of Barcelona, Girona is the largest city in the northern region of Catalonia. From Roman ruins to medieval architecture and an old walled city, Girona’s historical wealth is quite unmatched in the region. A lively nightlife and delicious food can be the other reasons to visit this charming city.
From Barcelona, you can also explore the Balearic Islands – a group of four islands, Menorca, Mallorca, Ibiza and Formentera. While Formentera is the smallest, Mallorca is the biggest of all and known for dazzling beaches, remote mountains, hiking and cycling. Ibiza is the most visited one and renowned for vibrant nightlife and a hardcore party destination. However, the island has more to it than just parties beaches.Visit Ibiza Town’s UNESCO world heritage listed Dalt Vila – the town’s old quarter to discover the fascinating history of the island. The easternmost of the four islands, Menorca is a UNESCO certified Biosphere Reserve and offers a quite low-key environment compared to its happening neighbors. Here, you will find some secluded beaches and rolling hills surrounding rural villages.
The third-largest city of Spain, Valencia is also located on the Balearic Sea coast, around 350 km away from Barcelona. Known as an excellent destination to experience Spain’s culture, food and nightlife. With its futuristic structures like Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias and L’Oceanogràfic, Valencia is also one of the most innovative cities in Europe. Lovely beaches within the city limits are its other drawcard. Famed for the annual tomato fight festival of La Tomatina, Bunol can be reached within an hour from the city center of Valencia. Other than that, there’s not much to do in the town. The neighboring Murcia region’s main cities Murcia and Cartagena are located less than 300km away from Valencia. While Murcia is a laid-back location with a handful of sites to explore, Cartagena is known for its historic natural harbour and Roman and Carthaginian heritage.
Located in Andalucia of South Spain, Seville is the biggest city in the region. Known for its culture, monuments and historical heritage, here you can experience the iconic traditional dance of Spain – Flamenco by visiting one of the Flamenco clubs in the Triana neighborhood. Other than Seville, there are several great locations to visit in Andalucia. Some of them are Granada, Cordoba and Malaga. While Granada and Cordoba are known for their signature Islam architecture, Malaga is famed as the birthplace of Pablo Picasso and loaded with history dating from the Roman period. Located at the foothills of Sierra Nevada, Granada’s fascinating Islamic architecture is crowned by Alhambra – a palace complex with a rich history that dates back to the late-9th-century. Known as a testament to the Moorish culture, Alhambra is one of the most visited sites in Spain. On the other hand, the huge La Mezquita mosque is the center point of Cordoba. Once the capital of Muslim Spain, Cordoba stil posseses plenty of its historical heritage.
In the southwest part of Spain lies Extremadura – where you will discover some of Spain’s best Roman ruins and medieval cities like Mérida and Trujillo. While Merida is known for Spain’s most extensive Roman Ruins, Trujillo lures visitors with its well-preserved medieval-era monuments architecture.
The Castile and Leon region is located northwest of Madrid and home to extensive plains, striking mountain peaks and lovely medieval towns and villages. Salamanca, Segovia and Burgos are the major cities in the region and boasts fascinating historical heritage. The student population-fueled city of Salamanca is the most vibrant city in the region and dotted with plateresque and Renaissance style architecture. Segovia, on the other hand, is a UNESCO world heritage listed city with a fairy-tale fortress called Alcázar. Along with medieval walls, Romanesque churches and a Gothic cathedral, Segovia is the region’s best place to learn and discover history.
The northern region of the country is home to the regions of La Rioja and Basque Country. While La Rioja is the most renowned wine region in Spain with vast vineyards, Basque Country is a melting pot of idyllic beaches, strong cultural heritage, picturesque villages, excellent wine and food and modern architectural landmarks. Cities like San Sebastian and Bilbao are the major cities of Basque Country. Rolling green hills surrounded Bilbao is known for its skyscraper-filled downtown, stunning landscapes and Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. While you’re here, the old town is also worth checking out. San Sebastian, on the other hand, can be characterized by golden beaches and lush hillsides. Add striking architecture, numerous events and festivals including an international film festival and Pintxos (Basque tapas) bars, San Sebastian is a vibrant city to wander. While you can experience Michelin-starred restaurants in both cities – San Sebastian and Bilbao, the former is known as the culinary capital of the country.
Located nearby, Asturias region is famed for its rugged coast, mountains and medieval architecture. The region’s capital Oviedo can be characterized by its medieval old town and lively student population. Picos de Europa is one of Spain’s greatest hiking and walking territories and offers breathtaking mountain scenery. Covered by Parque Nacional de los Picos de Europa, the mountain region, however, gets virtually deserted in winter.
To the northwestern corner of the country lies the Galicia region. Known for distinctive culture, verdant valleys, stone villages, medieval monasteries, ancient vineyards and the Camino de Santiago – a large network of ancient pilgrim routes. The region’s capital Santiago de Compostela is the last stop for over 300,000 Camino pilgrims. The historical city’s main highlight is its iconic Cathedral, which is a UNESCO world heritage site and dates back to the 11th-century. A Coruña is another major city in the region, which is located on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Apart from its beaches, the port city is a cultural hub and a busy commercial center and offers great food and excellent nightlife. The main highlight of the city is the UNESCO listed Torre de Hércules lighthouse.
Aragon region in the northeastern part of the country is one of the country’s most underrated regions with Moorish-influenced Mudejar architecture, Romanesque churches and crusader-like castles. To experience the region’s most striking architecture, head over to its main city Zaragoza. It is the fifth-largest city in the country and known for the Nuestra Señora del Pilar basilica. Here, you will also find lots of Islamic and Gothic architecture as well.
By now you must have realized that it is not possible to illustrate Spain’s charm in a few words. After all, this is one of the world’s most favourite destinations. Plan a trip today, and discover the land of wine and tapas.
Spain has the world’s third-largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.