Get ready for a little Flamenco dancing, tasty tapas and plenty of sangria, baby. Because Spain is non-stop action, dancing, eating and exploring! So what are the 10 best places to see in Spain?
I travelled to Spain with my sister when I was presenting at a Cosmopolitan magazine international conference a few years ago, and snuck her along! And oh, we were totally mesmerised. Spain is, unsurprisingly, steeped in history, oozing with culture, brimming with incredible art, architecture and natural beauty, and bursting with energy.
We were pounding the historical pavements – and majestic beaches – from dusk ‘til dawn, and didn’t even scrape the surface. There’s just too much to see and do in Spain to take an afternoon siesta! We did several mini tours, but there’s loads of longer tours available to check out – and take the pain out of organising your itinerary. So pack your walking shoes, selfie stick and prepare to flamenco dance, my señorita, because here is your ultimate guide to Spain’s highlights…
1. Camino de Santiago
Not religious? Me neither. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the history of religion or learning about the great pilgrimages of past. The Camino de Santiago is the name of the ancient pilgrimage routes reaching the resting place of Apostle St James the Great, located in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in north-western Spain. Tens of thousands of people from all walks of life have been walking or cycling the Camino de Santiago every year in an epic 800 km journey, which has now been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
For a bluffer’s guide, Adventure World offer an 11-day Walking the Camino de Santiago experience. Travellers start their journey in Leon and walk each day along picturesque farm tracks and country lanes while staying in a diverse range of stunning properties including restored parish houses, converted water mills and stylish farm houses. This bucket list experience provides an authentic insight into Spanish culture, with explorations of small towns and villages with tastes of amazing local cuisine in specialist Galacian pulperias along the way.
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Get your culture fix at the historic city of Toledo, which features one of the greatest wealth of monuments in Spain. Often referred to as the ‘city of three cultures’ due to the amalgamation of Christians, Arabs and Jews that lived in the city together for centuries, you’ll be truly immersed in the real Spain. For an easy tour, Trafalgar have a 9-day Spanish Wonder guided holiday, which takes you on a walking tour of the city’s narrow streets with a Local Specialist, including a Cultural Insight visit to a traditional steel factory to watch local craftsmen at work. The Church of Santo Tomé is also on the must-visit list being the home of one of El Greco’s most famous paintings, The Burial of Count Orgaz.
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Seville is remarkable in its historical layers. According to myth, the Andalusian city was founded 3000 years ago by the Greek god Hercules, and remains blessed to this day with year-round sunlight and enriching sights. The ancient Roman ruins combined with the glimpses of Moorish influence in the Santa Cruz quarter with bits of lost colonialism thrown in, make the stylish capital of Seville a cultural melting pot of a destination.
For a fail-safe expedition, you can experience the laid back lifestyle of Seville with a guided tour. Contiki offer a 14-day Spanish Spree, where you can explore the flamboyant Plaza d’Espana – the world’s largest cathedral – and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Alcazar, which is still used by the royal family. In your unguided free time, a visit to Christopher Columbus’ tomb or exploring one of the oldest bullrings in Spain in well worth a visit.
Rural Andalusia has a lot to offer, with the old-world city of Cordoba at its heart. It is home to the mesmerising, multi-arched Mezquita (Mosque of the Caliphs), one of the world’s greatest Islamic buildings, which acts as a relic of a millennium ago when Cordoba was the capital of Islamic Spain.
Step back in time to discover the lanes and beautiful streets of Cordoba, such as the Calle de Flores (Street of Flowers), enter old wine bars and get merry with the locals, and explore the historic streets of the old Jewish and Muslim quarters. Modernity can also be found around the Plaza de las Tendillas, with excellent bars and restaurants to bring you back to the present.
5. Balearic Islands
There are lots of party islands in the world, but none of them compare to the rockin’ beats and chilled-out vibe of Ibiza. With its infamous and extravagant superclubs, paradise shores and world-famous DJ’s, Ibiza and the surrounding islands of Menorca and Mallorca, are once-in-a-lifetime destinations. Keeping in theme with the other amazing Spanish destinations, Ibiza is a party with a history. It was the hedonistic hippy Mecca of devoted followers in the ‘70s that inspired the club culture of the island, returning year after year for continuous partying, likely captured by the spell of the ancient Celtic energy lines on which the island supposedly lies.
The brilliant Balearics can be explored via Busabout’s 8-day Ibiza Island Hopper. Start by chilling in Menorca and enjoying delicious local cuisine followed by a warm-up to the Balearic clubbing scene. In Mallorca, explore the incredible Tramuntana Mountain Range, and the world’s largest underground lakes at the Caves of Drach. Upon arriving in Ibiza, drop off your bags and hit the town to explore the sights, restaurants, bars and shops and of course, party in some of the biggest nightclubs in the world.
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Don’t forget Spain’s third-largest city, Valencia, which thrives with bustling eating, cultural and night life scenes. Futuristic in its appearance, the city is home to brilliant contemporary buildings such as the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, designed by local architect Santiago Calatrava. Unlike other Spanish cities, modern architecture paves the way in Valencia, featuring great museums and a character-filled old quarter. For the best sites on four wheels, Trafalgar offer a 9-day Spanish Wonder Guided Holiday, which takes travellers to Valencia to view the Bull Ring, and the Serrano and Cuarte Towers, as well as a visit to the City of Arts and Sciences, whose complex was featured in the George Clooney movie Tomorrowland.
You can’t go to Spain and bypass Barcelona! The incredible city is the seaside hub of culture, architecture, and a world-class drinking and dining scene in Spain. The Mediterranean beaches provide stunning views for joggers, Instagrammers, bike riders and leisurely strollers followed by a dip in the crystal clear waters. The city’s architecture goes back 2,000 years with towering temples, columns and ancient walls telling a story of ancient Roman Barcino through to the Middle Ages in the gothic quarter with its magnificent 14th century cathedrals. Trafalgar offer a 15-day Best of Spain Guided Holiday, where you can see Gaudi’s one-of-a-kind architecture at the Sagrada Familia, walk the Ramblas and visit Plaça de Catalunya, as well as view the monument to Christopher Columbus on a guided sightseeing tour with a Local Specialist.
Gaudi apartments in Barcelona are a must-see
The Gaudi apartments rooftop is amazing
Architectural marvels line Barcelona's streets
Guell Park, Barcelona, is like a Gingerbread village.
Guell Park was designed by Spanish architect, Gaudi
Guell Park, Barcelona, Spain
Franki at Barcelona markets in Spain
We stayed at the luxe Barcelona Mandarin Oriental complete with rooftop fine dining
Franki & Anita at Sagrada Familia Barcelona
Check out a Flamenco dancing show in Spain
Franki & Anita at Guell Park overlooking Barcelona, Spain
At the Barcelona markets, you'll find terrapins & other interesting animals.
Anita and I stayed at the glam W Hotel in Barcelona
The Basílica Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona, designed by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926).
Anita and Franki at Barcelona Markets
Anita and Franki Banker's Bar, Mandarin Oriental Hotel
Renowned for the lavish Alhambra Palace, the medieval city of Granada represents Moorish culture with an extraordinarily mythical atmosphere. From the mausoleums of the Catholic monarchs, narrow streets of the Albayzin village and the house gardens of the Realejo quarter, the gritty yet classical city is filled with poetry and mystery as well as a bustling cosmopolitanism that is enhanced by great night life. For two countries in one trip, Busabout offer a 7-day Spain & Portugal Iberian Adventure for a leisurely exploration of Granada, with an optional tour of the Alhambra Palace with a local guide and the chance to plunge into the Moroccan-style Hammam baths.
9. San Sebastian
San Sebastian is a fun-loving city with a pintxo (tapas) culture that is unmatched anywhere else in Spain. The old town of Parte Vieja is where the highly coveted and most popular pintxo bars are found. There is also the commercial shopping district of the Área Romántica, with its grid of late-19th century buildings extending from the Playa de la Concha to the Rio Urumea banks. Travellers looking to relax and unwind can kick back on the Playa de Gros beach, or indulge in the upmarket district of Playa de Ondarreta. Insight Vacations offer an 11-day Northern Spain escorted journey, taking travellers on a guided walking tour of the old quarter to see the balconies of the Plaza de la Constitución. Guests ascend Monte Igueldo for stunning views of the town and La Concha Bay and can enjoy a fantastic dinner with drinks in the heart of Lo Viejo (old town).
Put your soccer boots on and get ready to kick start some action! Madrid is the city that knows how to live. Being the cultural and financial hub of Spain, there are an endless amount of restaurants, bars and entertainment to suit all types of travellers. As a city that has been inhabited since ancient Roman times, there are also an abundance of historical sites to explore, and of course there is the Bernabéu stadium, home of Spanish football team Real Madrid. Boutique river cruising company, Uniworld, offers travellers an alternative way to explore Madrid on the 13-day Jewels of Spain, Portugal & the Douro river cruise/tour itinerary. Included in the journey is a panoramic tour of the cosmopolitan metropolis followed by an excursion to the Prado Museum to view its acclaimed collection of European art.
Franki & Anita exploring the Spanish laneways
Let's eat tapas!
Franki in Madrid, Royal Palace
The parks and gardens are beautiful in Madrid
Anita and Franki al fresco dining in Madrid
Exploring the local gardens and parks in Madrid.
Anita resting her tired soles in Madrid!
Franki in Madrid at the Palace gardens
You don't see monuments like this in Australia. Madrid, Spain
The view overlooking houses in Madrid
Have you been to Spain? What are your favourite places and sites?