Spain offers travellers a heady mix of sunny weather, sandy beaches, rich history and culture, and a smorgasbord of delicious cuisine. No wonder, then, that Spain is the third most visited country, clocking up more than 52 million visitors a year, according to the World Tourism Organization. The top ten vacation spots in Spain encompass cultural capitals, gourmet destinations, Moorish citadels, hedonistic party spots and golden sand beaches, with a little something for everyone.
The Spanish capital is the beating heart of the country, and is famous for its nightlife and art. La movida, a movement celebrating life and all its glory, had its roots in Madrid. Places of interest include the historical Plaza Mayo, Plaza de Espana, the Palacio Real and Madrid’s most famous museum, the Prado, which displays works by Goya, Velazquez and Picasso, amongst other great artists. There is culture aplenty in Madrid, from the bullfights at Plaza de Toros de las Ventas, to the classical symphonies played by Madrid’s Symphony Orchestra.
Madrid Royal Palace
Located on the coast of Spain, Barcelona is the Catalan capital of Spain, and the second largest city here. The city’s charms of sunkissed beach, laidback lifestyle, delicious Catalan food and unique architecture draws nearly 5 million visitors each year. Barcelona is a vibrant cultural, financial and international hub. Culture vultures flock here for a dose of Catalan dance and food; architecture buffs come to marvel at Antonio Gaudi’s whimsical, wonderful masterpieces like the Sagrada Familia, and beach lovers soak up sun and sand in equal measure at Barceloneta, considered some of the best urban beaches in the world.
National museum in Montjuic
The locals say that Spain is more Spanish in the south, and Seville, the capital of Andalusia, is testament to that saying. The Cathedral of Seville, one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in the world, is located here, its spire soaring up above the city’s skyline. Seville is also the birthplace of flamenco, a fiery, passionate dance that has its origins in Andalusia.
Plaza de Espana, Sevilla
Moored to the hill like a ship to its berth, the Alhambra is undoubtedly the jewel in Granada’s crown. This 13th century Moorish palace draws crowds of tourists each year. The Palace of the Nazaries, an ornate warren of high ceilinged rooms and internal courtyards accessorized with tranquil, soothing fountains, is a UNESCO World Heritage listed site. The jagged edges of the nearby Sierra Nevada also entice bird and nature lovers who marvel at the spectacular scenery and rich wildlife.
Alcazaba fortress at the Alhambra in Granada
Cordoba is a sleepy town with Iberian and Roman origins. Its present day size belies its history as capital of an Islamic caliphate, when Cordoba was one of the largest cities in the world. Today, tourists flock to Cordoba to see the Mezquita, the Great Mosque. Built by the ruling Umayyad family on the site of an earlier Christian church, it is a graceful building with towering red and white arches. After the Spanish Reconquista, the Mezquita was converted back into a church. It remains perhaps the only Moorish Christian church in the Western world.
Great Mosque in Cordoba
Pamplona is most famous for the San Fermin festival, held in early July every year. The festival gained notoriety when Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” was first published, and thousands come to run with the bulls every year, despite the great risks involved. There are also fireworks and a parade of foam or papier mache heads of fearsome aspect, all of which create a festive atmosphere.
The Running of the Bulls in Pamplona
Ibiza made its mark on the party scene with famous clubs such as Pacha and Privilege. Visitors come for the heady cocktail of great live music, stunning beaches and hedonistic party crowd. The third largest Balearic Island, Ibiza is more than just a party town, with its medieval heart of D’Alt Vila and the many Gothic houses in its old quarter.
Cala Comte – Ibiza Town
Palma de Mallorca
Quieter and more laidback than Ibiza, Mallorca is the capital of the Balearic Islands. Popular with visitors looking for a little bit of Spanish sun and sand, the city boasts of a spectacular 6km long stretch of beach called Playa de Palma. Most visitors are holidaymakers, both local and international who come with their families during the summer months.
Palma de Mallorca Cathedral
The largest of the Canary Islands, a Spanish outpost off the northwest coast of Africa, Tenerife offers sun seekers comfortable, sprawling resorts away from the crowds that throng the mainland. Most visitors go to the southern part of the island, where resorts such as Playa de las Americas and Los Cristianos are located.
Tenerife, Playa de Las Teresitas and San Andres
Often overlooked by visitors to Spain, Alicante is a charming city which offers everyone a little bit of everything. There are unique shops, a beautiful marina, clean beaches and the towering medieval castle of Santa Barbara. Alicante’s Old Town is filled with cobblestone streets and winding alleys, good restaurants and historical monuments.
Alicante beach line