With its sunny climate and thousands of years of history and colorful 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 20 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…
1. Pueblos Blancos – the unique and beautiful white-washed villages of Andalucia which are some of the best places to visit in Spain
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.
My must-do highlights of Pueblos Blancos
- Try and visit as many of the small villages as you and spend at least a few hours exploring their pretty narrow cobbled streets fully soaking up the charm of these wonderful villages.
- Visit the Gothic Chruch (known in Spanish as the Iglesia de la Santa María de la Coronada), which has an impressive Plateresque retablo.
- Visit the wonderful historic monuments of Medina Sidonia.
- Make sure you include the Arcos de la Frontera which is known as the stunning gateway to the Pueblos Blancos.
- For gorgeous Moorish ambiance in stunning surroundings head for the village of Grazalema.
- The hilltop village of Vejer de la Frontera is considered to be one of the prettiest of the Pueblos Blancos.
A video that shows the traditional beauty of the white villages…
Where to find Pueblos Blancos…
Our cool and unusual hotel pick for staying near the white villages – Parador de Cádiz
- Avenida Duque de Nájera, 9, 11002 Cádiz, Spain
- To book, check prices or availability for Parador de Cádiz
2. Granada – an incredible and culturally rich Spanish city which is home to the magnificent Alhambra Palace
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.
My must-do highlights of Granada
- Visit the Alhambra the beautiful Moorish palace which is actually the second most visited site in Europe.
- Spend a good 2-3 hours wandering the historic streets of Albayzin the old Moorish quarter of Granada which has been named a World Heritage Site.
- Explore the Nasrid Palaces opulent Moorish-style courtyards, reception halls, and royal quarters at the heart of the Alhambra.
- Pay a visit to wonderful Sacromonte a large hill known for its caves that have been turned into public places for flamenco performances.
- Go for rooftop drinks and watch the sunset over the city at BHeaven’s rooftop bar or alternatively the Alhambra Palace Hotel terrace.
Our cool and unique hotel pick for Granada – Alhambra Palace
- Plaza Arquitecto García de Paredes, 1, Granada City Centre, 18009 Granada, Spain
- To book, check prices or availability for Alhambra Palace
3. Seville – one of Spain’s most beautiful and romantic places to visit
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.
My must-do highlights of Seville
- Visit the incredible Real Alcazar de Sevilla the beautiful medieval Islamic palace which is a unique mix of Spanish Christian and Moorish architecture.
- Explore the stunning Plaza de Espana a semi-circular brick building in Renaissance/neo-Moorish style which has been the location for many famous films and TV series.
- Visit the beautiful Cathedral of Seville which dates back to the 15th century.
- Take time to explore the other famous historic architecture here such as the Torre Giralda and Iglesia Colegial del Salvador.
- Wander the narrow historic streets of the charming The Barrio Santa Cruz which used to be the Jewish quarter.
- Pick an outside table at a restaurant in the Centro Historico de Sevilla and people-watch in this wonderful area where tradition, modern, and creativity are combined to create a very unique atmosphere.
- Don’t leave without watching one of their famous flamenco shows.
Our cool and unique hotel pick for Seville – Hotel Alfonso XIII
- San Fernando, 2, Old Town, 41004 Seville, Spain
- To book, check prices or availability for Hotel Alfonso XIII
4. Ronda – the spectacular mountaintop Spanish 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.
My must-do highlights of Ronda
- Visit the New Bridge (The Puente Nuevo) which offers truly extraordinary views over the El Tajo gorge.
- Explore the wonderful Mondragon palace which is home a museum and some truly beautiful gardens.
- People watch in Plaza Duquesa de Parcent, Ronda’s most picturesque square.
- Visit the Cuenca Gardens which are known for their series of terraces. The views are fantastic and give you a unique and differing perspective of the city.
- Rhonda is known for its fantastic wines, include a visit to the Descalzos Viejos winery for a great way to spend an afternoon.
- Pay a visit to the historic Arabic walls and city gates which kept the city safe for centuries.
- Partido de los Frontones, s/n, 29400 Ronda, Spain
- To book, check prices or availability for Hotel Boutique Molino del Arco
5. The Balearic Islands – the popular beautiful resort islands which are great places to go in Spain
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.
My must-do highlights of the Balearic Islands
- Visit the cosmopolitan capital Majorca, Palma which is filled with boutique shops and hotels, great restaurants, cafes, and swish marinas.
- Explore the pretty village Deia in Majorca which has long been a haven for the early 20th century literary and art set.
- Visit Cala Salada in Ibiza, a small cove that is home to a lovely beach, with crystal clear waters and a refreshing lack of tourists.
- Pay a visit to the often underrated island of Menorca, more low-key than its neighbors, it’s home to endless beaches, from beautiful miles-long sandy crescents to small turquoise-watered bays.
We also have a post on 20 quiet resorts in Majorca for travel snobs
Our cool and unusual hotel pick for Majorca – Inturotel Cala Esmeralda Beach Hotel & Spa
- Calle Cala Esmeralda 8, 07660 Cala d´Or, Spain
- To book, check prices or availability for Inturotel Cala Esmeralda Beach Hotel & Spa
6. San Sebastian – the gorgeous upscale coastal resort city which is one of the best places to visit in Spain
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.
My must-do highlights of San Sebastian
- Spend a lazy afternoon on La Concha beach a crescent-shaped beach in this city that spans over 1.3 kms and features golden sand and clear blue water.
- Explore Parte Vieja also known as the Old Town and lose yourself amongst the elegant narrow streets here there are many fantastic bars and restaurants to explore.
- Experience trying Pintxos which is a traditional small snack served up in bars in northern Spain.
- Try Zurriola Beach for a less crowded and smaller alternative to La Concha beach.
Our cool and unique hotel pick for San Sebastián – Hotel Villa Favorita
- Zubieta Kalea 26, 20007 San Sebastián, Spain
- To book, check prices or availability for Hotel Villa Favorita
7. Costa Brava – Catalonia’s cosmopolitan coastline is one of the top places to explore in Spain
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.
My must-do highlights of Costa Brava
- Spend an afternoon on Fenals Beach a beautiful beach with crystal clear waters and water sports on offer.
- Spot animals in their natural surroundings in the Parc Natural dels Aiguamolls de l’Emporda a natural park that is home to a wide variety of birds and wildlife.
- Visit Vila Vella the Old Town of Tossa de Mar which was declared a national artistic monument in 1931.
- Visit the summer house of the famous artist Salvador Dali which was built in the 1930s.
- Lounge around on Plage Canyelles Petites which is a pristine and fairly quiet beach.
Our cool and unique hotel pick for Costa Brava – Hotel & Spa Cala del Pi
- Avenida Cavall Bernat 160, 17250 Platja d’Aro, Spain
- To book, check prices or availability for Hotel & Spa Cala del Pi
8. Formentera – stunning sandy beaches and beautiful 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.
My must-do highlights of Formentera…
- Visit Playa de Ses Illetes which is often said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
- Charter a private yacht for a very swish way to explore this extraordinary place, if the budget doesn’t allow go on a boat tour instead.
- Sunbath on Cala Saona which is another lovely but smaller beach in Formentera.
- Try jet skiing or paddle boarding.
Our cool and unique pick for Formentera – Bungalows Paraíso de los Pinos
- Urbanizacion Paraiso de los Pinos, 07860 Sant Francesc Xavier, Spain
- To book, check prices or availability for Bungalows Paraíso de los Pinos
9. Barcelona – the fun modernist Catalonia capital which is one of the best places to visit in Spain
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 the 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.
My must-do highlights of Barcelona…
- Visit Park Güell a beautifully surreal and artistic public park that offers wonderful views of the city.
- Get lost in the Gothic Quarter which has narrow medieval streets filled with trendy bars, clubs, and charming Catalan restaurants.
- Don’t leave without trying tapas, paella and/or esqueixada probably the most authentic Catalan salad you can get.
- Visit the incredible The Basilica of the Sagrada Familia which is a famous and monumental church.
- Go for cocktails with amazing sunset views at the Azimuth Rooftop Bar.
- Hang out at their main city beach which is a hub of local activity.
Our cool and unique hotel pick for Barcelona – Gates Diagonal
- Avenida Diagonal, 205, Sant Martí, 08018 Barcelona, Spain
- To book, check prices or availability for The Gates Diagonal
10. Valencia – a stunning Spanish city with 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.
My must-do highlights of Valencia
- People watch in Plaza de la Reina the city’s best square
- Bargain hunt and try local food at Valencia’s Central Market.
- Soak up rays on the best beach La Malvarrosa.
- Eat out at the award-winning Karak restaurant which is known for its creative and progressive flair.
Our cool and unique hotel pick for Valencia – Caro Hotel
- Almirante, 14, Ciutat Vella, 46003 Valencia, Spain
- To book, check prices or availability for Caro Hotel Valencia
11. Picos de Europa – some of Europe’s most beautiful and scenic mountain landscapes
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 a 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.
12. Zaragoza – the beautiful 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, but 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.
My must-do highlights of Zaragoza
- Visit Palacio de la Aljaferia an extraordinary fortified medieval palace built in the 11th century.
- Wander El Tubo in the Old Town which is a maze of small alleys and streets packed with bars and restaurants and has a great atmosphere.
- Take the stair or elevator up the Torre Del Pilar for amazing 360-degree views of the city and the Ebro River.
13. Playa del Silencio – one of the most beautiful beaches in Spain
There are many very beautiful beaches in Spain but the utterly 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.
14. Tarragona – a pretty port Spanish 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 amphitheater of Tarragona is right by the sea, and there’s something very unique and amazing about the location. As you walk around the amphitheater, directly behind you would be parts of Tarraco, which are one of Catalonia’s 9 wonders of UNESCO sites and heritage.
15. The Pyrénées – the beautiful 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.
16. Santiago de Compostela – an elegant and pretty Spanish city which is 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 (known in Spanish as The Camino de Santiago).
17. Cíes Islands – a paradise-like archipelago which is an underrated but one of the best places to explore in Spain
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.
18. Mount Teide – Tenerife’s famous and striking 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.
19. Toledo – an ancient and magnificent city in Spain 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.
20. Segovia – the stunning UNESCO listed historic city and a top place to visit in Spain
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.
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