With its breathtaking landscapes, buzzing cities, quaint mountain villages, and cultural offerings, Spain is not only one of the most visited countries in Europe but an undisputed stop on many travelers’ European vacation itineraries. It offers many attractive destinations, whether you’re drawn to the beach, architecturally interesting sites, art, or nature. Its cathedrals, jewels of Islamic architecture, and Roman ruins speak of the great civilizations that have risen, fallen, and left behind their indelible mark in the Spanish territory. It’s the land of some of the most creative and rebellious spirits such as Dali, Picasso, or Gaudí and some of the most delicious dishes and wines: paella, tortilla, pinchos, gazpacho, jerez… you name it! There is so much to see and do. We list seven alluring destinations to visit in Spain that you must see.
Despite Spain having a great public transport system, renting a car is probably the best way to explore as much as you can of this beautiful country. Provided you are over 21 years old and have a driving license, hiring a car will be a hassle-free process, and it can be more affordable than booking train and bus tickets to travel around. You can even make arrangements to have the car brought to you to the airport! American tourists can save money by purchasing insurance for their rental vehicle before leaving the States.
As said before, Spain is a gem waiting to be discovered. And to make it easy for you to organize your next trip, we’ve compiled the seven most alluring destinations in this part of the Iberic peninsula.
Spain’s capital city, Madrid, is widely known for its sizzling nightlife scene and cosmopolitan vibe. This beautiful city offers an exquisite mixture of old and new architecture, and its several neighborhoods offer their own unique character and attractions.
Puerta del Sol, a large plaza that’s often the scene of important gatherings and festivals, is the city’s heart and a transportation hub. Plaza Mayor is another important square in Madrid famous for the lively San Miguel Market and its many cafés and souvenir shops.
If you love strolling, you’ll be seduced by Madrid’s many green spaces, manicured parks such as the Buen Retiro Park, as well as its wide and pedestrian-only boulevards like the iconic Gran Via. Whichever way you look or corner you turn, the Spanish capital will surprise you. But if you’d like more structure in your wanderings, make sure you don’t miss the Temple of Debod (one of the few fully built ancient Egyptian sites outside of Egypt). Plus the magnificent Palacio de Cibeles, and check out the vintage stores and flea markets in Malasaña or the El Rastro Market.
Madrid is also well known internationally for its art scene. The Prado Museum is one of the world’s top museums, but together with the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and the Reina Sofia National Art Museum, all along a tree-shadowed boulevard, they have such an impressive collection of precious art treasures that the whole area is known as the Paseo del Arte.
El Prado Museum boasts the largest collection in the world of Spanish art from XII century medieval works through the avant-garde movement of the early XX century. Its works from El Greco, Goya, and Velazquez and murals and retablos by Dutch, Italian, and Flemish artists are known for their works. Highlights of the Reina Sofía Museum include Picasso’s Guernica and works by Magritte, Calder, Dali, or Miro, just to mention a few of them. Finally, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum is regarded as one of the finest private art collections in the world as it houses western art from the primitive Italian and Flemish painters to the XX modern works such as pop art including Picasso, Van Eyck or Rubens.
Madrid is also home to one of Europe’s most impressive royal palaces and an absolute must-see while you’re in the city. It has more than 2000 rooms with luxuriously decorated rooms of which only 50 are open to the public. Take your time to enjoy its wonderful gardens and take in the majestic interiors.
San Lorenzo de El Escorial, located about 45km NW of Madrid, is another stunning building you just have to visit. It’s an incredible monastery ordered by King Phillip II to commemorate the victory of the battle of San Quentin in 1557 over France. It took more than 20 years to build the structure. It became the burial site of all the Spanish monarchs. The complex includes a monastery, a church, a royal palace, a mausoleum, a library, and a museum. They are all built around 16 courtyards, and they are connected by 16 kilometers of corridors. The highlights include the Panteon de Los Reyes (the Baroque burial vault of the Spanish kings), the state apartments of Charles IV, the Bourbon Suite, which are decorated with rare furnishings and more than 300 tapestries, and the collection of fine paintings housed in the Picture Gallery.
Spain’s second city and capital of the Catalonia region, Barcelona, is also amongst the most visited due to its stunning architecture, Mediterranean location, and cosmopolitan atmosphere. Its vibrant nightlife, great shopping opportunities, a lively cultural scene, and stunning architecture offer everything that a tourist would expect from a great holiday destination.
If you like the seaside, head straight to Barceloneta Beach. There you can enjoy the fresh air coming from the sea and unspoiled views of the Mediterranean. Foodies can’t miss sampling some of the best food in Spain; visit La Boquería, a local market dating back to the XIII century that features local produce and where you can find cafés and restaurants that are perfect for some tasty tapas.
Be sure to take the funicular up to Tibidabo’s summit, a local mountain with a charming church and a fun amusement park at the top. The views from up there are amazing as you’ll get panoramic views of Barcelona and the surrounding countryside. And if you’re a football fan, don’t miss the chance to visit Camp Nou, the football stadium of the famous Barcelona FC. Who knows? Perhaps you are lucky enough and get to see Lio Messi or book tickets for a Barca match!
Barcelona is a fantastic destination for those who love architecture. Antoni Gaudi took Art Nouveau style to the next level with his outrageous and fanciful buildings that have become landmarks and signature attractions in the city.
The outstanding Sagrada Familia is one of the most visited attractions in Spain. It has been under construction for more than a century, and it isn’t finished yet! It’s a temple to honor the Holy Family. Josep Maria Bocabella I Verdaguer started the construction in the early 1880s, and the project was later on taken over by Antoni Gaudi, who added towers and facades to the temple. The Tower of the Virgin Mary, a 450-feet tower, is the newest addition to the temple, and there are additional towers still in construction. The Gothic design of the church is an amazing and intricate structure that follows Gaudi’s vision. Inside the church, impressive stained glass windows line the main room, and an elevator takes visitors up one of the towers to enjoy the mesmerizing views. Smaller rooms show the structure’s detail and future as the Church is projected to be completed in 2026, for the 100th anniversary of Gaudi. Two of its three major facades are currently ready (the Nativity and the Passion), and in 2002 architects started working on the Glory facade.
Overlooking the city from a hillside, Parc Güell is another highlight of the city. It stands out because of its gardens framed by fantastical creatures such as octopus, fish, or salamanders, designs in bright ceramic-chard mosaics, and the amazing views from above. Located in the northern part of the city, it’s a charming place that will definitely catch your attention.
Casa Mila, popularly known as La Pedrera, and Casa Battló are other clear examples of Gaudi’s ingenious creativity. The former is the last building he created before he devoted himself to building La Sagrada Familia. Its facade resembles an open quarry, and it was built between 1906 and 1912. The latter is the redesign of the facade and interiors of the building for the wealthy Batlló family. Also known as the House of Bones, the lower floors resemble a giant rib cage, the exterior decoration looks like blood vessels, and the undulating roofline has been compared to the back of a dragon.
Strolling along la Rambla is one of the locals’ favorite things to do, especially on a summer or spring evening. It’s a tree-lined boulevard that cuts a green line through the city center and stretches NW from the Columbus Memorial near the port. The section to the Placa de Catalunya is lined with plane trees, and it’s a nice pedestrian zone. There are many books and newspaper stands, pavement artists, street musicians, restaurants, and cafés.
Finally, to round up your visit to Barcelona, take your time to enjoy the Ciutat Vella or the Old City. Here you’ll find the Gothic Quarter with its charming old churches, Roman ruins and cobblestone streets, and many beautiful outdoor restaurants.
Situated at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the south of Spain, Granada is the capital of the homonymous province. It’s not surprising that it makes it to the list of most beautiful places to visit in Spain as it seduces visitors with its perfect blend of spectacular attractions, animated nightlife, and rich culture. Granada is also the home of the Alhambra, a pinnacle of Moorish art that is one of the most stunning architectural sights in Europe. As silent witnesses of the city’s interesting history, we find the XVI century cathedral of the city with its magnificent domed ceiling and the great Alhambra, a grand Moorish palace with luxurious gardens and Arab baths.
The neighborhoods of Sacromonte and Albaicin are the essence of the city’s culture. Sacraomonte stands out because of its Christan abbey and for being the place where tourists flock to see how gypsies have lived in various cave dwellings and watch live flamenco shows. Albaicin is the Arabic Quarter, and its century-old Spice Market is the best place to buy spices, colorful tapestries, exotic teas, and wall hangings.
If you are visiting Granada in winter, head to the Nevada Ski station. You can ski or ride a sled; in summer, you can go horse riding or mountain climbing and enjoy cable car rides.
Granada is a true gem in the Andalusian region. Autumn and spring are the best seasons to visit it as it can get scorching hot in summer and freezing cold in winter.
If there’s a palace you can’t miss visiting during your holidays in Spain, that is the Alhambra and Generalife Gardens. It’s a Moorish pleasure palace that will surely take your breath away. The Nasrid dynasty’s royal palace is considered the artistic highlight of Spain’s Islamic period when Al-Andalus (as they called Andalucia) represented the epitome of civilization and culture in medieval Europe.
The Alhambra is a complex of several buildings, walls, towers, gardens, and a mosque, but it’s the exquisitely intricate stone carvings, the delicate filigrees, the magnificent tile-lined ceilings, and the graceful arches what will take your breath away and keep you in permanent awe. The adjoining Generalife’s built for Emperor Charles V and its wonderful terraced gardens, though unfinished, offers the finest example of High Renaissance architecture.
The top attractions to see in the Alhambra include the Lions Patio, the exquisite Alcazaba, and the Royal Manor. Don’t miss the lavish interiors where you can admire paintings, mosaics, and marble statues! Colossal chambers, lofty halls, intimate royal baths, and pomegranate gardens are only the introduction to this amazing Moorish-Hispanic treasure.
Located in southern Spain, Seville is the capital of Andalusia, and it’s world-famous for its thriving and musical flamenco culture. Seville is a top destination to visit with its exceptional tourist attractions, lively festivals, and buzzing nightlife. It’s not only the financial and cultural capital of Andalusia but also home to many historical and beautiful landmarks.
Seville is marked by Islamic, Jewish, and Christian influences, and this influence can be appreciated in its church facades, minarets, and former ghettos. For a more rounded experience, make sure you allow yourself plenty of time to indulge in delicious tapas or listen to a flamenco guitarist in an open-air plaza.
Wander the old town and explore its cobbled streets of the Santa Cruz quarter and the breathtaking Alcazar Palace. Take your time to leisurely walk along the banks of the Guadalquivir River and visit Torre del Oro, a watchtower built to protect the city against intruders.
The spectacular Plaza de España is one of the most beautiful attractions with its ornate, colorful towers and colonnades decorated with tiles and motifs. Other interesting highlights are the Torre Giralda and the Iglesia Colegial del Salvador.
La Giralda Tower, Seville Cathedral, and the Alcazar form a unique UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tower is a minaret. The cathedral is more spacious than St. Peter’s in Rome, and it has a 37-meter altar of carved statues completely covered in gold. The monumental tomb of Christopher Columbus is held aloft by a quarter of larger-than-life figures. The central nave is stunning as it rises well over 40 meters and is flanked by 80 side chapels.
The Alcazar opposite was begun by the Moors and continued by King Pedro in the ornate neo-Moorish style called Mudejar. The salons and rooms will take your breath away, and the gardens are a joy to stroll.
Capital of the province of the same name in Andalusia, south of Spain, Cordoba offers all the cultural and historical attractions of a bustling metropolis.
Its historic quarter is a maze of medieval streets, whitewashed courtyards, and plazas all situated around the Mezquita, which was initially a mosque, but it’s now a glorious cathedral surrounded by a charming and beautiful orange grove. Other interesting places are the Fortress of the Christian Monarchs, the Old Jewish Quarter with its charming patios, and the Street of Flowers. There are also many Roman structures, including a bridge, an amphitheater, walls, and gates that add to the city’s charm.
Besides, the city is buzzing with restaurants, theaters, and museums! The main square is Plaza de las Tendillas, which is famous for its vibrant shopping scene. Plaza del Port is associated with Don Quixote by Cervantes.
Located only 4 hours away from Madrid, Cordoba is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its diverse cultures. Throughout its rich history, it has been the capital of a Roman province, an Arab State’s capital, and a Caliphate! The Romans founded it at the highest point of the Guadalquivir River, and it was the most important city during the Moorish rule of Spain in Medieval times. Cordoba is one of Spain’s most beautiful cities, and it’s a must-see destination if you’re visiting this European country.
The Great Mosque of Cordoba, the Mezquita, was once the principal mosque of western Islam. It’s the largest in the world and the finest achievement of Moorish architecture in Spain. It ranks together with the Alhambra in Granada and has two of the most splendid examples of Islamic art and architecture in western Europe. The building is fantastic indeed, and we bet that your attention will be immediately caught by the more than 850 pillars topped with horseshoe arches in alternating stripes of red and white that divide the prayer hall. Together they are delightfully stunning to see, and if you head to the top of the bell tower, you’ll be able to appreciate panoramic views of the city as a whole!
Bilbao is the largest city in the Basque Country. It’s situated on an estuary about 16km south of the Bay of Biscay. It is an important seaport and industrial city in northern Spain, and it’s also world-famous as one of the Guggenheim Museum headquarters. It’s a popular tourist destination and an interesting city to visit.
The Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao is a stunning structure, and it has become a symbol of the city. Devoted to modern and contemporary art, this giant complex of interconnecting buildings presents a massive work of abstract sculpture that suggests a maritime theme with its simulation of ship outlines and shimmering fish scales. It’s one of Bilbao’s most important attractions!
Other interesting places to see in Bilbao are the Basilica de Begoña, the Gothic Cathedral of Santiago, and the busy and bustling Plaza Mayor, lined with restaurants, bars, and cafés. It’s an elegant square that is magical at any time of the day! Visit Casco Viejo, Bilbao old town, for delicious pintxos (Basque tapas) and explore Parque Etxebarria, where you’ll find some of the best views of the city. If you love panoramic perspectives, ride the funicular and let the city amaze you!
Basque food is tasty and delicious, and one of the best places to enjoy the diversity of seafood dishes of the Basque cuisine is the Mercado de la Ribera. It’s a huge riverside food market where you can find plump mushrooms, all kinds of jamón, blazingly pink prawns, and tons of fish.
Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela is the capital city of the Galicia region in NW Spain. It’s famous as the final destination of the traditional pilgrimage known as the Camino de Santiago or Walk of St James, dating back to medieval times. It is believed that the Apostle Santiago is buried here, and this is why this pilgrimage is so important.
Most pilgrims consider the main square, Praza do Obradoiro, as their main arriving point. Situated in the heart of the city, it’s the place where to admire many important landmarks such as the Catedral de Santiago, where the tomb of the apostle is located, Rajiv Palace, Catholic Kings Hostal, Gelmirez Palace, or San Jeronimo College. The Pilgrimage Museum is a good place to learn about the significance and meaning of the Camino de Santiago, and the Museum of Galician People offers insightful information on the culture and history of the region.
Take your time to stroll along the winding lanes of the Old Town, which is tastefully restored and preserved, and look for local craft souvenirs and places where you can try the delicious tapas.
Santiago de Compostela is a medieval city and the holiest of Spanish shrines. It’s a compact city with tons of small-town charm and a cool university vibe.
Santiago de Compostela Cathedral is magnificent and probably the main reason why tourists flock to Santiago. It was built to house and honor the saint’s relics, and it has been the goal of pilgrims since the Middle Ages. You’ll enter through one of the country’s most impressive church facades. If you step inside, you’ll be able to admire the Pórtico de la Gloria, a triple doorway and one of the largest and most impressive collections of Romanesque sculpture in the world. The Capilla Mayor, built over the Apostle’s tomb, is the main focus of attraction. It’s exquisitely decorated, and it has a high altar of jasper, alabaster, and silver and an XIII-century figurine of the Apostle James richly adorned in precious gems and metals. The Apostle’s remains are in a silver casket in a crypt under the altar.
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