Spain is also known for its beautiful, romantic and architecturally stunning cities – perfect for independent travel. From all our collective trips over the years here our Top 20 of the best and most stunning cities in Spain (in no particular order)...
1. Valencia – a beautiful and elegant port city
Spain’s third-largest city is also home to a mix of modern and ancient architecture. The port city is located on Spain’s southeastern coast, where the Turia River meets the Mediterranean Sea.
It’s a very easy-on-the-eye city – which dates back to as early as 150BC – has a compact orientation with gorgeous Gothic, Baroque and Roman architecture.
It’s also famous for its futuristic architecture, for example, the jaw-dropping The City of Arts and Sciences is a very popular attraction. Designed by the wonderfully exuberant Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, it’s the pinnacle of modern architecture in Spain.
2. Granada – a unique Spanish city known for its extraordinary Moorish architecture
Easily one of the most beautiful cities in Spain, Granada is famous for its ancient Moorish Alhambra Palace and beautiful Eastern-style architecture.
Located in southern Spain’s Andalusia region, at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, it’s set in gorgeous natural surroundings – when you’ve finished exploring the museums and art galleries head out of town to enjoy a walk in the nearby mountains.
One of the main highlights of Granada is Alhambre the sprawling hilltop fortress complex home to royal palaces, serene patios, and pretty pools hailing from the Nasrid dynasty. Also don’t miss dining on an exquisite meal at the famous bar and restaurant Totes y Amigos Bar.
3. Madrid – Spain’s elegant capital known for its charming boulevards and lovely parks
The Spanish centrally located capital often gets overlooked in favour of the more popular Costas, but spring and autumn are the perfect times to explore this historic gem.
Soak up the beautiful architecture, shop ‘til you drop in the designer boutiques, dance to traditional flamenco music and wander through the spectacular botanic gardens.
As well as being known for being home to a fine collection of European art (including Goya and Velázquez) as well as being a gourmet hub, so make sure you sample the local tapas while you’re there!
- Check our post on Top 12 cool and unusual hotels in Madrid
4. Palma – Majorca’s gorgeous capital and resort city
The alluring Mallorcan capital has recently come into its own, thanks to a multi-million-pound facelift. With a new collection of art galleries, museums and a handful of swish boutique hotels, Palma is a newly trendy travel destination.
Take a stroll (or a Segway ride!) down the landscaped promenade to the Portixol marina.
The newly gentrified port area is home to a number of great eateries, swanky bars, hip beach clubs and of course more choice of tapas bars than you’ll know what to do with.
- We also have a post on 20 unspoilt resorts in Majorca for travel snobs
5. Cuenca – a spectacular mountain city perched on a limestone spur
Founded by the Moors in 1557 this is one of the most striking towns in Spain. Located in the mountains of east-central Spain in a truly spectacular position above the Júcar and Huécar rivers, Cuenca is a beautiful fortified town which has been amazingly well preserved – so much so it has been given world heritage status.
The town is a superb example of a medieval city but its location makes it really stand out from the crowd – it rests on the steep sides of a mountain and the Casas colgadas, (meaning “hanging houses”) are built right up to the cliff edge.
6. Barcelona – the cosmopolitan capital of Spain’s Catalonia region known for its unique art and architecture
There’s a reason why Barcelona (the capital of Spain’s Catalonia region) is so popular with mini breaks and stag groups.
It’s one of the liveliest cities in Spain, with a string of year-round festivals as well as a vibrant nightlife scene – and it also has one of the most famous stadiums in the world. But this atmospheric city is also great for couples, thanks to the fantastic shopping, restaurants and luxury hotels.
It also boasts stunning architecture in the form of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia – a masterpiece of design that is yet to be completed. Visit in summer, so that you can follow up a morning in the city with an afternoon spent on the very popular local beach.
- We also have a post on the Top 20 cool and unusual hotels in Barcelona
7. San Sebastian – a beautiful coastal resort town on the Bay of Biscay
Few places on earth hold the allure that San Sebastian, Spain does. This coastal city attracts visitors from all over the world. Not only are visitors attracted to San Sebastian’s location, just 20 km from the Southern French border, but they are also drawn to the pristine beauty of the ocean.
San Sebastian’s coastal location allows for the freshest seafood, an array of high-end water activities, and has made the city a haven for private yachts coming into port. Attractions in San Sebastian include beaches, ancient architecture and the unique Basque language, the oldest language spoke in Europe.
8. Salamanca – a historic and pretty Spanish city known for its ornate sandstone architecture and important university
This is a lively university city that many tourists seem to pass by. It is undoubtedly beautiful with a medieval charm, a mix of Plateresque and Renaissance styles and one of the grandest squares in Spain.
The city was for four centuries the seat of one of the world’s most prestigious universities and now the still-thriving student population gives Salamanca a youthful, happy vibe.
Choose from one of the many great bars, cafés and restaurants on offer to sample some of the city’s ‘joie de vivre’ for yourself.
9. Seville – a romantic city famous for its exquisite architecture and flamenco dancing
The birthplace of Flamenco is unlikely to be anything less than beautiful and romantic.
This popular stunning Spanish city (the capital of southern Spain’s Andalusia region) is also home to a Gothic superb cathedral and tower, La Giralda, and also the famous Royal Palaces with their gorgeous Mudejar architecture (pictured above).
As well as its fine cuisine, the Southern Spanish city has a large community of artists, writers and composers giving Seville a free-spirited, bohemian feel.
10. Ronda – a unique city set dramatically above a deep gorge
Located in Malaga, Ronda is consistently known as being one of the prettiest cities in Spain home to a laid-back cafe culture and a truly spectacular gorge.
Puente Nuevo is an expansive 300 feet gorge. In 1973, a bridge was built over the gorge so tourists could get a better view of how deep it actually goes.
Ronda is one of the few cities in Spain that has resisted modernization, so when you visit the city, you are visiting an area that maintains its historical significance.
11. Bilbao – incredible architecture, fine food and stunning landscapes
Bilbao is another overlooked beautiful Spanish city. Although it’s officially in Spain (it’s a port city in northern Spain), the Basque country residents are pushing for their own independence.
In many schools, lessons are even taught in Basque, not Spanish.
The architecture is a wonderful mix of the old and the new and Doña Casilda Iturrizar park is particularly special with an impressive dancing water fountain. The gothic St James’ Cathedral is a must-see, and for art lovers, the impressive Guggenheim is seen as an image of modern Bilbao.
12. Santiago de Compostela – famous for its religious connections and the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela is the gorgeous capital city of Galicia Spain’s northwest, is a fertile region with an Atlantic coastline. The beautiful Spanish city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its beautiful cathedral and ancient city centre. The main square is dominated by the cathedral which is easily one of the most impressive in Europe. It is a huge building smothered in Baroque swirls, statues and stalagmites.
There are also many other fine examples of architecture dotted throughout the city. Make sure you also visit the San Martín Pinario Monastery, the baroque Benedictine monastery of the XI century and the Gelmírez Palace which is a great example of Romanesque civil architecture.
13. Girona – a charming relaxed city in Catalonia region known for its medieval architecture and walled Old Quarter
An under-the-radar city in Spain Girona is located in Spain’s northeastern Catalonia region. History is everywhere in Girona.
From a distinct Roman foundation, being conquered by the Moores, and the Franks, before finally falling under the rule of Barcelona, the history of battles and past peoples can be seen at every turn.
Some of the most visited places in Girona include the Girona Cathedral, The Museum of Jewish History, and the Arab Baths.
It’s a charming but laid back place but there is far too much beauty to see in Girona in simply one day, so plan your trip wisely so you see every spectacular aspect of this ancient, yet modern city.
14. Tarragona – a picturesque port city known for its ancient Roman ruins
Spain is an ancient country full of historic significance and Tarragona (a stunning port city in northeastern Spain’s Catalonia region) follows the historic model beautifully.
Opportunities for embracing history in Tarragona, Spain are seemingly everywhere. Tarragona is one of the classically Mediterranean locations where you can truly embrace the culture and laid back spirit.
Coastal restaurants such as Cocula and De Vins draw in tourists and locals alike with exceptionally crafted and authentic Spanish cuisine. Ancient ruins and attractions such as Pont del Diable and Murrallas del Tarragona give visitors a glimpse into Tarragon’s historic past.
15. Alicante – a fine port city on Spain’s southeastern Costa Blanca
Relaxation is a part of any holiday, but so is excitement and luckily both can be found in Alicante! A port city on Spain’s southeastern Costa Blanca, here you’ll have a chance to soak up the sun and relax during the day and enjoy the electric nightlife of the city.
Alicante is a unique area in Spain as the city is lovingly watched over by Castillo de Santa Barbara, a 16th-century fortress castle that remains every vigilant and watchful over this thriving city. Visiting Castillo de Santa Barbara is a welcomed activity for tourists as it offers the absolute best view of Alicante.
16. Zaragoza – a stunning historic city with a mix of Mudéjar-style, Islamic, Gothic and Moorish architecture
The wonderful capital of northeastern Spain’s Aragon region with an enviable location on the Ebro River is easily one of the most beautiful cities in Spain. There are historic significance and modern amenities throughout Zaragoza, making it among the country’s most attractive cities for tourists to enjoy.
Small souvenir shops offer trinkets to bring back to loved ones while the numerous tapas restaurants dotted throughout Zaragoza will give you fuel for your days spent shopping and exploring.
Although Zaragoza is not all just about shopping and gastronomic experiences, it’s also home to many fine examples of unique and Moorish architecture.
Don’t miss the spectacular baroque Nuestra Señora del Pilar basilica which overlooks the river and has beautifully patterned domes, the Mudéjar-style landmarks which combine Islamic and Gothic influences and the include the Aljafería, a stunning 11th-century Moorish palace, and the 12th century very impressive Cathedral of the Savior.
17. Cadiz – an ancient port city in the Andalucia region which stands on a peninsula
Cadiz, the ancient port city in the Andalucia region of southwestern Spain is one of Europe’s oldest cities on record. Not only does Cadiz hold this significant attribute, but is also known as a modern, urban island as the city is almost entirely surrounded by water.
This densely populated area maintains its classic ancient architecture and small fishing ports while offering a significantly modern aspect to tourists and locals.
Due to its water-rich location, bridge construction has been a big part of the culture and Puenta de la Constitcion de 1812 is an example of a beautifully constructed bridge linking the city to the mainland of Spain.
It’s also home to 100 watchtowers, including the famous Torre Tavira, which was originally used for spotting ships. Positioned elegantly on the waterfront is the 18th-century Cádiz Cathedral which features domes and baroque and neoclassical style architecture.
18. Ourense – a pretty Spanish city known for its hot springs
A city that’s often overlooked by its more well-known rivals, Ourense can be easy to pass by. This pretty city is not one of Spain’s largest cities, but it is certainly among the most beautiful and elegant.
Visitors that find themselves spending time in Ourense have the opportunity to enjoy one of nature’s most amazing wonders – the Ourense Thermal Springs. Check out the Burga de Abajo, a neoclassical fountain with thermal waters and the city’s medicinal baths.
Other highlights include the 12th-century Ourense Cathedral, the iconic Ponte Romana bridge and Nova, a Michelin-star restaurant with a cool, modern atmosphere.
19. Cordoba – an under-the-radar but fascinating Spanish city
Located in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, this stunning Spanish city remains mostly under the tourist’s radar. Although it’s one of the oldest cities in all of Spain and maintains that old-world feel while offering the nightlife and modern amenities that travelers want.
The Centre of Cordoba tends to be where most visitors head to as it’s one of the most traditional parts of the city. It has a very significant history as it was once an important Roman city and a major Islamic center in the Middle Ages.
One of its highlights includes La Mezquita, a very impressive mosque dating from 784 A.D.
20. Melilla – a beautiful and elegant Spanish city located on the northwest coast of Africa
This city is a bit of a wildcard due to its location, it’s an autonomous city located on the northwest coast of Africa, sharing a border with Morocco.
Melilla’s location offers an amazing adaptable cross-border commerce market and the population is almost completely divided between Berber Muslims and Spanish Christians.
Perched along the Mediterranean coastline, Melilla has a population of over 72,000 and was originally occupied in 1497.
By far the most visited attraction is the largest, the wall surrounding Melilla has been recently restored and features elevators in the structure to bring tourists to the top for an epic view of the city and the surrounding areas.
We also have posts on…
- Top 20 Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Spain
- Top 20 Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Portugal
- Top 20 Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Italy
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Scott started his travelling life back in 1999, when he headed off on a solo jaunt to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia with just a backpack, a camera and a spirit for adventure. After that, the travel bug bit hard and now he is always seeking to head off somewhere new. Over the years he has lived in Italy, Qatar, Ireland, UK and the US but his spiritual home will always be Rome as this is the city which most satisfies his unrelenting craving for culture, good food and great football. Scott loves nothing better than to be behind the camera and also runs his own blog and Instagram page. He also counts Melbourne, Cape Town and Tel Aviv among his favourite places. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @scottbalaam