First of all, Spain is a country known for its historic cities, iconic monuments, and stunning landscapes. In addition, the social, cultural, and artistic life is very effusive, making this European destination quite inviting to all types of travelers and tourists.
Choosing a “Top 10” of the best places to visit in Spain wasn’t easy, as I have already had the experience with my first posts in this series (10 Best Places To Visit In France and 10 Best Places To Visit In Italy). Thus, I’m sure that this bucket list will be extended very soon, as I want to find (even more) reasons to return to this beautiful country.
So, do you want to know more about the 10 Best Places To Visit In Spain (Besides Madrid)? Keep reading!
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Best Places to Visit in Spain
1. Madrid (Community of Madrid)
The capital of Spain is, curiously, located in the “heart” of the country. Madrid is, above all, a dynamic and sophisticated city, with a “fresh and renewed” air. The gardens and parks are perfectly maintained and the passion for fine arts marks the character of the city.
In Madrid there are museums that are mandatory to visit. If you only have time to see one, choose the Museo Nacional del Prado, which houses masterpieces by Francisco Goya, El Greco, Diego Velázquez, Hieronymus Bosch and Peter Paul Rubens. But you also have the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, in case you want to extend your cultural visit in Spain’s capital!
From the way I see it, Madrid is a perfect destination for a long weekend in Spain. This is because the Spanish capital is still of considerable size, but the monuments are all relatively close to each other. You can easily walk around the city, stopping to admire places like the Gran Vía, the Plaza Mayor, or the Parque de El Retiro (inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2021)!
Finally, do not end your stay without a visit to the Palacio Real de Madrid, the former residence of the kings of Spain, and the Cathedral Santa María la Real de La Almudena, which is in front of it. If you have the opportunity, you can take a day trip to the Real Monasterio and Sitio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984.
Read my Madrid itinerary, one of the best places to visit in Spain!
2. Barcelona (Catalonia)
Spain’s second-largest city is, undoubtedly, a favorite among travelers and tourists – myself included! In Barcelona, you’ll find the perfect cosmopolitan atmosphere for a late afternoon on a terrace, with friends… and tapas. Besides, the favorable location by the Mediterranean Sea invites its inhabitants and visitors to go to the beach at any time of the year.
The capital of Catalonia is, above all, one of the liveliest cities in Spain and in Europe, with a vibrant nightlife, hence the fact that it’s such a popular destination for spring breaks or bachelor parties. Likewise, there are several film, music, and entertainment festivals and events throughout the year, and football is one of the protagonists in city life, with the largest stadium in Europe and one of the most renowned teams in the world.
But for me, Barcelona‘s iconic architecture is what makes it so special. Antoni Gaudí‘s unique works (which have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984, extended in 2005) are scattered throughout the city, but it’s almost impossible not to come across them. Firstly, the imposing Basilica of the Sagrada Familia is unfinished and as or more famous than its creator. Or Park Güell, which has definitely the best views over the city.
Don’t forget to visit Casa Milà (also known as La Pedrera) and Casa Batlló, two magnificent civil buildings designed by Gaudí, in one of the busiest avenues in Barcelona: the Passeig de Gràcia. Finally, for an outdoor walk (or last-minute shopping): Avinguda Diagonal, Las Ramblas, and Mercado La Boquería are the must-visit spots.
Read my Barcelona itinerary, one of the best places to visit in Spain!
3. Seville (Andalusia)
Seville is the capital of Andalusia – the southernmost region of Spain – as well as the capital of flamenco. In fact, the flamenco culture is an intrinsic part of the city, with several bars, restaurants, and other spaces dedicated to shows of this captivating and melancholy art from Spain.
In the historic center, get to see the gothic Cathedral and its Giralda (an old minaret reused as a bell tower) and the Torre del Oro, a 13th-century military watchtower. There are also numerous museums, palaces, and parks, including the Museo de Bellas Artes, the Casa de Pilatos, and the Parque de María Luisa (where the Plaza de España is located).
On the other hand, Seville‘s history is directly related to the Muslim heritage in Spain, like other Andalusian cities like Granada and Malaga. Just to illustrate, the Real Alcázar – a set of royal palaces – is a unique model of Mudéjar architecture and the real “jewel in the crown” of the city.
In summary, the Cathedral, the Alcázar, and the Archivo de Indias have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987, due to their high architectural value. But there are also contemporary works that are worth visiting: the Metropol Parasol (popularly known as Las Setas de Sevilla) is the largest wooden structure in the world and was completed in 2011!
4. Granada (Andalusia)
Granada is an unprecedented postcard in Spain: a monumental Arab fortress, snow-capped mountains, and winding street with whitewashed houses. For starters, the monumental complex of the Alhambra and Generalife is the most visited tourist attraction in Spain, which practically says everything.
In the historic neighborhoods of Albayzín and Sacromonte, you’ll find restaurants serving delicacies from the Andalusian region and houses specializing in flamenco music and dance. Meanwhile, in the historic center, you can visit the Cathedral and the Royal Chapel, where the tomb of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain is located.
In Granada, you can also take a walk in the typical markets from southern Spain, with strong Muslim inspiration. The best-known example is the Alcaicería, an old silk market converted into an extensive street of shops and tents, selling handicrafts, clothing, jewelry, books, and spices.
Well, as for the Alhambra, I wrote an entire post about this architectural marvel, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984. The Nasrid palaces, gardens, and fortress rise atop the city and hide some of the best-preserved Islamic constructions in the world!
Read my Granada itinerary, one of the best places to visit in Spain!
5. Bilbao (Basque Country)
The capital of the Biscay province – in the Basque Country, northern Spain – is surrounded by green hills and valleys. Bilbao is a port and industrial city, but it saw its name catapult into the world’s art scene when it opened the Guggenheim Museum in 1997, one of the most important museums in Spain. This wavy titanium masterpiece by Frank Gehry was built on the banks of the Nervión River and is the home of several modern and contemporary pieces of art.
The urban center of the city follows the same avant-garde line as the museum and is full of skyscrapers, especially for offices. But there’s still a strong Renaissance heritage in Bilbao‘s architecture and you can even find a medieval neighborhood right in the historic center: the Casco Viejo. So, from the Plaza Barria, you can discover the best restaurants and bars serving pintxos, the delicious tapas in the Basque style.
Still, in the historic center of Bilbao, there are more monuments worth visiting. For example, the Cathedral of Santiago, a large Catholic temple in the Gothic style, as well as the Yohn Palace (also known as the “La Bolsa” Building). At the end of the neighborhood, next to the river, you have the Teatro Arriaga and the Arenal Bridge.
In Bilbao, you can also visit the Museum of Fine Arts, which is one of the best museums in the Basque Country. Here, you have the opportunity to admire works of art from medieval times to the modern era, with great emphasis on Spanish painters such as El Greco, Francisco de Zurbarán, José de Ribera, Luis de Morales, and Francisco de Goya.
6. Valencia (Valencian Community)
Valencia is the third city in Spain and, for that reason, it loses many travelers to Madrid and Barcelona, or even to other more tourist cities like Seville or Granada. However, there are countless reasons to visit the capital of this autonomous community.
First of all, Valencia is the birthplace of paella, the most famous dish in Spain. Therefore, take the opportunity to taste this Spanish delicacy in a typical restaurant by the sea, accompanied by good wine from the region.
In addition, the port city is located on the eastern coast of the Iberian Peninsula, which means immediate proximity to the Mediterranean Sea and mild temperatures throughout the year. And Valencia‘s own history in terms of architecture mixes modern and old buildings (such as the Lonja de la Seda, the city’s old headquarters market, in Gothic style and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996).
In this sense, the futuristic buildings are iconic landmarks of the city: the City of Arts and Sciences (or Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències, in Valencian), designed by Santiago Calatrava is simply breathtaking! Here you can visit, for example, the Oceanogràfic (an aquarium with sharks and dolphins) or the Museum de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe.
7. Malaga (Andalusia)
For beach and sun lovers, Malaga is certainly one of the best places to visit in Spain. Located on the Costa del Sol, Pablo Picasso‘s hometown developed from his ancient Port – which today serves as a stop for many cruises – and its beautiful sandy beaches, the most important being Playa de la Malagueta.
Malaga lives a lot from tourism, as the dozens (and dozens) of hotels in skyscrapers and luxury resorts prove it. The nightlife is increasingly lively, especially since the recent renovation of the port area, so be sure to try the delicious Andalusian tapas on a terrace by the sea!
At the same time, Malaga has a strong Muslim heritage just like its “neighbor” Granada. Two Moorish citadels still survive, and the medieval palace nicknamed Alcázaba hides one of the best views in the city. The Cathedral (with a museum inside) and the Roman Theater are other must-visit spots, as well as the Castle and Mount of Gibralfaro, with wonderful panoramic views.
Logically, the city gives great importance to art by paying homage to its master painter Pablo Picasso. From the Picasso Museum (built in a restored palace) to the Malaga Museum (the largest in Andalusia), passing through the Carmen Thyssen Museum (which displays Spanish paintings from the 19th century), you have plenty of options to deepen your knowledge about the Andalusian and Spanish culture!
8. Toledo (Castilla-La Mancha)
Toledo is a great option for a day trip from Madrid, but it deserves a visit of at least two days – if you have the opportunity. This city has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986 and its 2000 years of history just seem to overcome the passage of time, when compared to other historic towns in Spain.
At the top of a hill in the center of Spain, Toledo started out as a Roman settlement, became the capital of the Visigothic Kingdom at the end of the 6th century, and a fortress of the Emirate of Cordoba in the following centuries. Later, it would serve as a strategic point in the battle against the Moors by the Catholic Monarchs of Spain and even as the temporary seat of King Charles V, in the 16th century.
Nowadays, Toledo is known for its monuments from Arab, Jewish, and Christian communities, who lived within the fortified ancient city. For this reason, you should visit the Alcázar (a military museum inside a 16th-century palace), the 13th-century Cathedral (in the Gothic style), and the Synagogue of Santa María la Blanca (which was transformed into a church).
Several gates still remain from the ancient city walls, with emphasis on the Puerta de Bisagra (in Moorish style) and the Puerta del Sol (from the 14th century). Toledo was also home to the mannerist painter El Greco, so his House Museum is the ideal place to admire his art.
9. Salamanca (Castile and León)
The ancient city of Salamanca was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. Located in the northwest of Spain – in the region of Castile and Leon – Salamanca is known, above all, for its sandstone architecture and its University, one of the most prestigious in Spain and the Iberian Peninsula.
Interestingly, there are two impressive cathedrals in the city, both of which took two centuries to build. While the Old Cathedral of Salamanca has Romanesque architecture (12th-14th centuries), on the other hand, the New Cathedral of Salamanca stands out for its late Gothic and Baroque style (16th-18th centuries).
Another of the most visited sites in the city is the Casa de las Conchas, a magnificent Spanish Gothic palace covered with shells. If you’re looking for a place to relax and have a drink, head towards the Plaza Mayor, in a classic 18th-century Baroque style.
Finally, your visit won’t be complete until you discover “La Rana de Salamanca”, a small frog hidden on the facade of one of the University buildings. Legend has it that the student who finds the frog will succeed in his studies. This ornamental detail was so popularized over the years that the little animal has become the city’s true icon!
10. Santiago de Compostela (Galicia)
Although Santiago de Compostela is mostly a Catholic pilgrimage destination, as the capital of the Galicia region (in northwest Spain) it has numerous monuments and attractions to visit. In the first place, you’ll see the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, where the supposed tomb of Santiago (or Saint James), one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, is found.
Then, the Praza do Obradoiro is surrounded by other important buildings such as the Pazo de Raxoi (a neoclassical palace from the 18th century where the City Hall works), the Hostal dos Reis Católicos (built to welcome and treat pilgrims, but that it’s now a luxury hotel) and the Colexio de San Xerome (current rectory of the local University).
The ancient city of Santiago de Compostela was not only inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1985 but also its pilgrimage routes, called the Routes of Northern Spain and Camino Francés (and with a network of almost 1500 km), became a World Heritage Site in 1993.
For all these reasons, this unique city is one of the best places to visit in Spain and a mandatory stop on a road trip through Galicia. You can finish your stay in Santiago de Compostela with a visit to one of the several museums in the historic center.
Map of the Best Places to Visit in Spain
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What Photography Gear Do I Use?
- Camera Body: Fujifilm X-T4 Mirrorless
- Camera Lens: Fujinon XF 18-55 mm F2.8-4 R LM OIS
- Tripod: Manfrotto Compact Action
- Small Tripod: Manfrotto PIXI Mini
- Smartphone Adaptor: Manfrotto PIXI Clamp
- Memory Card: SanDisk 128GB Extreme PRO SDXC
This blog post uses stock photographs (Getty Images)