Things to Do in Spain
Originally the site of the Christian Visigoth Church San Vicente dating back to AD 600, the Mezquita (Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba) stands as the city's most proud monument and one of the most exquisite Islamic structures in the Western world. Learn about its rich history while taking in the 850 columns of jasper, onyx, marble, and granite.
Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum, designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry and opened in 1997, is hailed as one of the most important architectural works of its time. Within its undulating and reflecting walls on the banks of the Nervión River, you’ll find a rotating artistic wonderland of both modern and contemporary art.
The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (Catedral de Santiago de Compostela) is one of the most important shrines in Christendom, believed to be the final resting place of St. James the Greater, one of the Twelve Apostles. The Romanesque, Gothic, and baroque structure is the terminus of the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) pilgrimage routes through Northern Spain.
Sights across the entire Spanish south have been shaped by centuries of Moorish and Catholic influence, and in few places is this more evident and captivating than at the Royal Alcázar of Seville (Real Alcázar de Sevilla). This UNESCO World Heritage Site’s sprawling complex is made up of several features; the most picturesque is arguably the Patio de las Doncellas, with its tranquil ponds that reflect the intricate mudéjar plasterwork for which the palace is especially noted.
Built on a hill overlooking Granada and set against a backdrop of the Sierra Nevada, the Alhambra (Alhambra de Granada) is a sprawling complex of intricately decorated palaces, pristine gardens, and a once-mighty fortress. This UNESCO World Heritage site was constructed during the Nasrid Dynasty and later partially destroyed and rebuilt by King Charles V. With its mix of Renaissance and Moorish architecture, the Alhambra Palace is the most sought-after attraction for visitors to Granada, sitting high on most must-see lists for Andalucia and Spain as a whole.
Sagrada Familia, a UNESCO World Heritage site and Antoni Gaudi’s magnum opus, is undoubtedly the most iconic structure in Barcelona (and the most popular, with nearly 3 million visitors per year). Construction has been ongoing for more than 135 years, and the surreal structure, with its rainbow-hued stained glass windows, is slated for completion in 2026. Even in its unfinished state, it remains an absolute must-see for every visitor to the Catalan capital.
Given that Cadiz is almost entirely surrounded by water, the desire to hit thebeach is bound to strike you at some point. When this happens, your go-to destination will be La Caleta, the only proper beach in old town. It’s an isolated shoreline that cozies up along the western side of the city, nestled inside a natural harbor once used by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans.
Though it’s Cadiz’s shortest sandy shore, it ticks all the beach boxes, offering soft golden sands and calm waters, as well as amenities including lifeguards and showers. Perhaps best of all is that the beach is western facing, which means it’s the perfect spot in town to catch a dreamy Spanish sunset. While there, spy some of La Caleta’s notable sights, including the impossible-to-miss crescent-shaped Balneario de Nuestra Señora de la Palma y del Real, a 1920s spa whose gazebo-tipped arms reach out across the shore. It’s not the only impressive structure here, either, as the beach is bookended to the north and south by two fortresses, San Sebastian and Santa Catalina.
The Prado Museum (Museo del Prado) houses one of the finest art collections in the world, specializing in European art from the 12th to 19th centuries. Thousands of European paintings, sculptures, and other works of art are on display throughout its halls, and they represent merely a fraction of the total collection. Highlights include works by Francisco Goya, Diego Velázquez, and El Greco. Perhaps the most famous paintings are “Las Meninas” (The Maids of Honor), an inventive self-portrait by Velázquez, and The Garden of Earthly Delights, a triptych from Hieronymus Bosch.
Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor is the Spanish Main Square that your dreams are made of. Home to the city’s commanding City Hall building — and once the site of bullfights until as late as 1992 — the plaza is widely considered the most beautiful square in Spain. Beautiful because of its dramatic Baroque style, its 247 balconies, and its 88 arches behind which hide all sorts of restaurants and shops.
Indeed, this is where you’ll want to go to bask in your Salamanca surroundings by sitting al fresco (when weather permits) to enjoy tapas while savoring views of the 18th-century square and its emblematic sandstone buildings. From here, you’ll also have easy access to other city sights, as it’s just a short jaunt from stops such as the Salamanca Cathedral, Casa de las Conchas, and the University of Salamanca. Meanwhile, those looking for a good selection of shops need only head down Calle del Toro, a street just off the northeastern corner of the plaza.
Albufera, south of Valencia, is home to Spain’s largest lake and some of the country’s most scenic wetlands and lagoons. The park’s natural biodiversity features hundreds of native plants and 340 bird species, including rare and endangered ones. Locally grown rice is featured in many regional dishes, such as paella.
More Things to Do in Spain
Spanning 20 square miles (51 square km) of southern Lanzarote, Timanfaya National Park (Parque Nacional de Timanfaya) is a unique and eerie landscape of dormant volcanoes and lava fields. Visitors flock to the park from nearby beach towns to explore the otherworldly terrain that looks more like the moon than the Canary Islands.
Situated along Valencia’s old Turia riverbed, the visually striking City of Arts and Sciences (Ciudad de las Artes y Ciencias) was the work of Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. The spectacular architecture is just part of the appeal of the futuristic complex, home to a science museum, planetarium, and more—all popular with families.
San Sebastian’s medieval Old Town is a maze of bar-packed alleys serving the city’s world-famous pintxos and wine. The neighborhood is also home to the wonderfully chaotic Pescadería (fish market), the San Telmo Municipal Museum, Church of San Vicente, and the Basilica of Saint Mary of Coro.
Madrid's Royal Palace (also known as the Palacio Real or Palacio de Oriente) is a beautiful baroque structure with some 3,000 rooms, making it one of Europe's largest castles. Although the royal family no longer lives here, the Palacio Real still serves as the king and queen's official residence, a venue for state ceremonies, and a place for tourists to get a peek into the royal history of Spain.
The largest and oldest national park in the Canary Islands and home to Spain’s highest peak, Mount Teide, Teide National Park (Parque Nacional del Teide) is one of the top attractions on Tenerife. The rugged landscape of the park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is magnificent—a geological wonder featuring an expanse of rugged lava fields, ancient calderas, and volcanic peaks.
On the banks of the Ebro, Zaragoza’s colossal cathedral marks the spot that, according to tradition, Mary appeared to St. James in AD 40. Since then, the site has hosted many religious structures, with major restorations in the 12th, 15th, and 17th centuries. Today, the church is one of Spain’s most significant cultural attractions.
Characterized by rugged cliffs, forested trails, and waterfalls, the wild landscapes of the Masca Valley are among Tenerife’s most beautiful. The remote gorge offers a thrilling backdrop for a hike—the trail winds down through the gorge and finishes at a black-sand beach.
Constitution Square (Plaza de la Constitución) sits in the heart of San Sebastián’s old quarter. Since its construction in the early 1800s, it has served as the city’s main square, but perhaps most interestingly as a bullring. You can still see remnants of this today: look above each of the balcony windows, where you’ll spy numbers denoting the former bullring boxes once rented by spectators.
Though the bullfights long ago moved to the city’s proper Plaza de Toros, Constitution Square still hosts some of San Sebastián’s biggest events. The most famous of these is no doubt the start and finish – marked by the flag raising and lowering -- of the parade- and drum-filled Tamborrada, which takes place yearly on January 20th.
Events aside, the main square, which is dominated by the municipal library, resides in a part of town blanketed by a web of narrow medieval streets, each dotted by Basque Country’s answer to the tapas bar: the pintxos bar. These drinking-and-eating establishments typically pile high their counters with gourmet-style tapas-topped slices of bread, and are usually enjoyed by visiting one bar after the next.
Visitors to the south of Spain shouldn’t miss the Rock of Gibraltar, a limestone promontory and nature reserve known for its sheer cliff sides, Barbary macaques, and the sights in Saint Michael’s Cave. Though this British overseas territory is a worthy destination for its Moorish Castle alone, the 360-degree views are truly spectacular.
Today this central square is a popular meeting place for tourists and locals, but Plaza Mayor’s history goes back to the early 17th century during King Felipe III's reign. The central statue is a nod to the king’s role in overseeing the project's completion. Forming the outer walls are a series of 3-story buildings with balconies overlooking the center.
On your journey from Segovia’s Roman aqueduct to its Plaza Mayor, you’ll no doubt pass by one of the city’s most intriguing buildings, the Casa de los Picos. One look at the façade and you’ll easily see how it earned its name, the (loosely translated) House of Sharp Points, as its front is covered top to bottom with over 600 granite, diamond-shaped reliefs.
It is believed that the 15th century noble home’s curious façade was created as a possible form of defense given the building’s rather exposed location. Legend has it, though, that the house was well known (famously or infamously) for its previous owners, so when new ones moved in, they chose to cover the façade. These days, the thick-walled structure is home to the Segovia Art School and serves as an exhibition hall, which is open to the public free of charge.
Toledo’s relatively humble Church of Santo Tomé (Iglesia de Santo Tomé) happens to be home to one of the world’s most famous paintings: The Burial of Count Orgaz, by El Greco. The star piece was commissioned for the church’s chapel, where the count is buried, and features the burial along with St. Augustine and St. Stephen. El Greco in fact appears in his creation as well, even though the event took place over a century prior to the painting.
The church dates back to the 12th century (when it was built atop a previous mosque) but was later reconstructed in the 14th century with the funds of the aforementioned Count Orgaz, who was a generous benefactor. The building’s tower is distinguished as being one of the finest examples of Mudejar architecture in Toledo — take note of its typically Moorish horseshoe-shaped bell tower windows. Though Santo Tomé itself may not be among Toledo’s most impressive sights, it’s the famous painting and history behind it that continue to lure the masses to the church’s doors.
Lobos Island (Wolf Island) is named after the “sea wolves” (monk seals) that used to live here. Now a protected nature reserve, the small, rocky island is home to wildlife—from birds to sharks—beaches, hiking paths, a visitor center, and, at the northern tip, the lonely Punta Martiño Lighthouse.
Travelers seeking a touchstone to history will find ancient artifacts dating back to the Bronze Age, as well as items from the Iberian and Roman empires at the Santa Barbara Castle (Castillo de Santa Bárbara). This towering structure is tucked atop a rocky overlook and dates back to the 9th century. Like much of the region, it was once ruled by Muslims before being captured by Castillians in the mid-1200s.
The castle grounds, which stand high above Alicante, are worth exploring, and visitors say the epic views contribute to a greater understanding of the city’s layout. A tiny souvenir shop and quaint coffee shop serving up strong brews offer the perfect place to relax after wandering through the historic site, which does not disappoint.
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