With its sunny climate and thousands of years of history and culture, Spain is a dream travel destination for many. Although with vast landscapes, world-famous coastline and wide stretches of mountain ranges it’s hard to know where to start. Here are twenty of the most beautiful places to visit in Spain chosen by published travel writer and author of the Frommer’s guide to Seville, Granada and the Best of Andalusia, Jeremy Head…
Pueblos Blancos – picturesque white towns of Andalucia
The white villages that dot the rugged hillsides in central Andalucia seem to almost defy gravity in places. Formerly farming villages, many fell into disrepair as the younger generation headed to the cities in search of work. Now locals and overseas visitors alike have rediscovered their charm, and the narrow streets, whitewashed houses, pretty old churches and flower-strewn squares have been restored. Particularly lovely villages include Grazalema, Vejer de la Frontera and Arcos de la Frontera.
Seville – one of Spain’s most romantic cities
The majestic capital of the Andalusia region, Seville is stuffed with beautiful sights, fantastic flamenco dancing, excellent bars, shops and restaurants and is wonderfully atmospheric. One of the city’s stand-out attractions is the spectacular Plaza de Espana. Designed by local architect Anibal Gonzalez for the great 1929 Ibero-American Exhibition that was held in the city and virtually bankrupted it. It’s a feast of ornate colourful towers and colonnades decorated with tiles and motifs. At its centre, there’s a huge fountain and canals on which visitors can float along on hired pedalos. It’s such a striking place that it often features in movies – most notably Star Wars Episode 2 – Attack of the Clones.
Granada – historic Moorish architecture galore
Granada is a city in southern Spain’s Andalusia region, nestled at the bottom of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It’s easily one of the most beautiful cities in Spain and has truly stunning examples of Moorish medieval architecture. The finest example is the stunningly ornate Moorish palace, the Alhambra, is one of Spain’s most visited and most beautiful monuments and it’s not hard to see why. A sprawling complex of palaces surrounded by ornate gardens perched atop a hill with the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains behind, it’s in a spectacular location. The interior is similarly beautiful with romantic intricate Moorish-style decoration around peaceful courtyards contrasting with the powerfully simplistic lines of later vast Baroque additions.
Barcelona – the fun modernist Catalonia capital
The proud capital of the Catalonia region, Barcelona has heaps to offer its many besotted visitors – great nightlife, shopping and beaches. But it’s the phantasmagoric buildings created by legendary architect Gaudi that are arguably the biggest stars of the show. The still unfinished La Sagrada Familia with its amorphous spindly towers and oddly shaped buttresses and roof is the most visited of his creations. Although his residential buildings like the Casa Mila are also wonderful as are his more playful statues and benches in the popular Park Guell.
The Balearic Islands – the beautiful but popular resort islands
In the East of Spain, the four largest Balearic Islands: Ibiza, Mallorca, and Menorca, draw tourists from across the world. Of these four islands, Ibiza is perhaps the most popular tourist location, particularly for young adults looking for a new kind of nightlife to discover. Although these islands are typically overrun with summer tourists, there are still many unspoilt places to visit and they actually hold a fair bit of history, dating as far back as the story of shipwrecked Greek Boeotians.
San Sebastian – the upscale coastal resort city
San Sebastian is a small but sophisticated city with golden sands and pure blue oceans. This city has an allure, from its stunning dining scene to its amazing architecture to the luscious beaches that frame the city. This location is undeniably one of the world’s premier food destinations. If you’re looking for one of the most beautiful places in Spain to try pintxos, which are the Basque version of tapas, you’re in the right place when you visit San Sebastian.
Ronda – the spectacular mountaintop city
At the very heart of the Serrania de Ronda, sits Ronda; a beautiful location surrounded by lively river valleys with a population of around 35,000 people. Ronda is, by far, one of the most visited places in Spain. Likely because of its closeness to Malaga, which is a popular holiday destination for young adults. The city itself is the third most visited city in Andalucia and offers many exciting sights. The Puente Neuvo bridge took 42 years to build and joins the old Moorish town and the newer El Mercadillo parts of the city. Along with the deep gorge it spans, it’s Ronda’s most famous landmark and is the perfect adventure for exploring holiday-makers.
Costa Brava – Catalonia’s cosmopolitan coastline
In Costa Brava, you can spend your holiday exploring 200km of absolutely stunning coastline. Along the rugged coastline of Costa Brava, you can easily explore the pretty cosmopolitan resorts, the emerald green coves and brilliant beaches, as well as the numerous protected reserves and parks; such as Cap de Creus Natural Park and Albera Range Natural Park. There are also protected wetland areas and marine reserves. The Ruins de Empuries are also a well-visited tourist location, as well as the three medieval villages: Pals, Peratallada, and Ullastret.
Picos de Europa – some of Europe’s most spectacular mountain scenery
Spain’s natural scenery – from the sandy coastline to the vast plains – is constantly surprising, but the lofty peaks of the Picos de Europa mountain ranges are without doubt the most spectacular and easily one of the most beautiful places to visit in Spain. Craggy mountain peaks, verdant valleys and raging rivers combine to make this chunk of northern Spain perfect hiking and adventure territory – whitewater rafting and snowshoeing are particular favourites. There’s heaps of wildlife too including the endangered Cantabrian Brown Bear and wolves.
Zaragoza – hometown of the artist Goya
Zaragoza, the capital of northeastern Spain’s Aragon region, is the perfect city for any history lover or architecture buff. The city is full of museums and a fair amount of religious sites, as well as stunning street art that covers flat pathways everywhere. The most iconic building in this city is definitely the Basilica del Pilar, which holds paintings created by Goya, a famous painter from the Aragon region. Not only can you see this beautiful building from the outside and inside, you can also travel up to the top of the bell towers to see everything from 60 metres up. The view from that height is nothing short of breath-taking.
Playa del Silencio – one of the most beautiful beaches in Spain
The utter picturesque beauty that is Playa del Silencio in Asturias (a region in northwest Spain) is well worth a visit. The clear waters seem to reflect the sky at all times of day, and the smooth curve of the cliffside makes for some perfect photos. In English, “Playa del Silencio” translates as “Beach of Silence”, which is an apt name for this peaceful place. You can get to the Playa del Silencio from the village of Castañares. It’s a long walk, if you choose to walk rather than going by car, but it’s worth it. The coastline of Cudillero is a unique one, with high cliffs and stunning islets that are spectacular.
Tarragona – a pretty port city famous for its Roman ruins
Tarragona is around an hour outside of Barcelona by either car or train, and only a few minutes away from Reus Airport. This architectural city was once the capital of the Roman Empire in Spain. Today, it’s a place that is breaming with history and culture, crowned by Mediterranean blue skies and surrounded by beautiful beaches. The amphitheatre of Tarragona is right by the sea, and there’s something very unique and amazing about the location. As you walk around the amphitheatre, directly behind you would be parts of Tarraco, which are one of Catalonia’s 9 wonders of UNESCO sites and heritage.
The Pyrénées – the mountain range which forms a border between France and Spain
The Pyrénées mountain range sits in the southwest of Europe and forms one of the most natural borders between Spain and France in existence. The mountains reach a height of over 11,000ft. The range itself separates the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of continental Europe and extends from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean Sea. Most of the main crest of the mountains forms the divide between Spain and France. There are several national parks and nature reserves that are protected across the mountains, including the Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park in Spain, where the Ordesa Valley in the light of dusk or dawn is nothing short of true beauty.
Santiago de Compostela – home to a spectacular medieval old town
Spain’s many vast Gothic cathedrals are a testament to the country’s long-held Christian traditions. Perhaps the most spellbinding is the vast one at Santiago de Compostela, the magnificent capital of northwest Spain’s Galicia region which is famous for the culmination of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. As well as just wandering around its historic alleys and architecture it’s cathedral is a must-see attraction. It’s a huge building smothered in Baroque swirls, statues and stalagmites. Possibly the most remarkable vista is the Western facade which forms the main entrance, accessed by a magnificent quadruple flight of stairs. The cathedral is also the final destination of the thousands of pilgrims who walk the Way of St James trail each year.
Cíes Islands – a paradise like archipelago
For a gorgeous shoreline, look no further than the Cíes Islands, a beautiful archipelago off the coast of Pontevedra in Galicia. These islands are made up of three isles in total: San Martiño (Saint Martin), Do Faro (Lighthouse), and Monteagudo (Sharp Mount). The landscapes of each of the islands are utterly incredible and well worth the few days of exploration that it would take you to see everything on each one. From caves, to vast forests, to rugged cliffs, the incredible islands and coastlines of the Cíes Islands. Consider renting a private apartment during your time on the islands to get a full feel for all of them and spend as much time as possible relaxing on their shores.
Mount Teide – Tenerife’s famous volcano
A couple of hours south by plane from the Spanish mainland, the Canary Islands are far closer to African shores than European ones and their natural landscape is radically different. Much of the land is volcanic, with steep slopes and dark grey sands on the beaches. At the centre of Tenerife – the most popular of the Canary Islands – stands the mighty Mount Teide a vast snow-capped volcano. It’s great hiking territory and at this altitude, the scenery is almost moon-like. There’s a cable car to the summit and the views from up here out towards the other Canary Islands shouldn’t be missed.
Valencia – a mix of traditional and modern architecture
A wonderful port city on Spain’s southeastern coast, this is a very livable city blessed with balmy temperatures and thriving cultural, eating and nightlife scenes. It’s also known for its awe-inspiring City of Arts and Sciences. Spain has its share of outstanding historical architecture, but it’s also looking firmly towards the future for many of its building projects of more recent years. The wonderful curves of the Guggenheim museum have really put Bilbao on the map, but it’s the City of Arts and Sciences designed by the wonderfully exuberant Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava that is the pinnacle of modern architecture in Spain. His amorphous, buildings in stark white are a feast of odd angles and unusual shapes at any time of the day, but they look particularly spectacular when floodlit at night.
Toledo – ancient and magnificent city set on a hill
Located in central Spain, Toldedo is a city that was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO back in 1986. This city holds an extensive amount of cultural heritage and is known as the “Imperial City” for having been the main location if the court of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. There are several historical sites that draw in visitors, including the Castillo de San Servando, the medieval castle near the banks of the Tagus river and the Infantry Academy. This particular castle still stands proud, and was named a national monument in 1874. It began its life as a monastery before it was later occupied by Knights Templar.
Formentera – sandy beaches and turquoise waters
Spain has over 5000 miles of coastline and bright sunny days for much of the year, so it’s unsurprising that it’s a beach Mecca. From jam-packed tourist beaches to deserted stretches of virgin sand there’s a beach for just about everyone. Some of the most unspoilt and ultra-white are found on the shores of the Balearic Island of Formentera. The island is located in the Mediterranean Sea and only a couple of hours by boat from the mainland. Ses Illetes is a long curve of white sand, backed by soft dunes with shallow ultramarine seawater lapping its fringes.
Segovia – UNESCO listed historic city
Segovia is a historic city located northwest of Madrid which has an incredible architectural legacy, including medieval walls, Romanesque churches, an ancient royal palace and a Gothic cathedral. The Romans ruled Spain for over 700 years and there are reminders of their presence all over the country. Perhaps the most remarkable is the wonderfully preserved aqueduct in this beautiful city. ArugIt was used by the ancient Romans to bring water to the city. A double-height set of graceful arches, it’s 2950 feet long and it’s held together just by the weight of gravity on the carefully carved blocks that comprise it. There is no mortar whatsoever. With its 167 arches, at its highest point, it reaches almost 900 feet high – an incredible feat of engineering.
There are many wonderful reasons to visit Spain but I would just urge visitors to be compassionate and not fund or become involved in the very cruel practices of bullfights, running of the bulls, donkey rides or any festivals involving animals. Please, please embrace the new progressive Spain instead!
This post was written by professional travel writer Jeremy Head who has written for a number of UK newspapers and is the author of the Frcosta brava Frommer’s guide to Seville, Granada and the Best of Andalusia.
Beautiful coastal places to stay in Spain
If you’re looking for a beach holiday, Costa Brava is arguably one the most beautiful coastlines to holiday in mainland Spain. Located on the coastal region of Catalonia in Northeastern Spain near Barcelona, it’s developed without being overly touristy and there’s still plenty of unspoilt scenery to explore include sandy unspoiled coves, coastal hiking paths and charming seaside towns with some excellent restaurants. There are many gorgeous places to stay in this including beautiful villas, boutique hotels and some excellent self-catering holiday rentals. Attractive and comfortable holiday villas in Costa Brava to rent be found on Interhome.co.uk.
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