A jewel in the crown of European tourism, Spain is visited by millions of tourists each year and is the third most popular tourist destination on the continent. In each Spanish city you visit, from Barcelona to Valencia, you can explore the Iberian culture, way of life and cuisine. This travel guide will help you discover off the beaten path places in Spain.
The capital of the Andalusian region, Seville is where you will find Catholic cathedrals together with Islamic mosques. Here are some of the top attractions that you might want your Seville tour guide to point out to you:
Royal Alcazar Palace: Part of this impressive building serves as the home of the Spanish royal family when they visit the city. This UNESCO World Heritage site is an impressive example of Moorish architecture and the buildings themselves are surrounded by massive gardens, brimming with fruit trees. While exploring, keep a lookout for one of the few remaining water organs in the world, the Fuente de la Fama, which translates to “Fountain of Fame” in English.
Catholic Cathedral: Built in Gothic style, the cathedral of Seville is the largest of its kind on the planet. Finished in 1507, it took over 100 years to complete. Another of the UNESCO World Heritage sites found in the city, the cathedral is towered over by its highest point, the Giralda tower, which is 104.5 metres tall. It is worth the climb as it provides you with the most amazing views of the city. Legendary explorer Christopher Columbus is buried at the cathedral.
“Torre de Oro” - Tower of Gold: Built in 1221, this ancient watchtower is visible from most points within the city. A brilliant example of medieval architecture, it is also home to the maritime museum of Seville.
Nerja Caves: Nerja Caves are 5 kilometres long and filled with Neanderthal cave paintings which are centuries old.
Situated in the province of Malaga, the ancient town of Ronda is home to an exquisitely beautiful gorge, known as El Tajo, that can be crossed over by way of the nearby bridge. Other attractions include:
Three ancient bridges: A favourite haunt of Ernest Hemingway, Ronda also includes three bridges built many centuries ago, the Puente Romano, Puente Viejo and the Puente Árabe. All of these were constructed at various points during Ronda's existence. You can walk across their ancient pathways.
Palacio of the Marqués de Salvatierra: Ask your Ronda tour guide to show you this building from the 16th century now home to renaissance artefacts. This palace is a brilliant example of Baroque architecture found all over the country.
Below are some must-visit attractions in Cordoba, which show you all the influences that have shaped Spain:
La Mezquita: Perhaps the first thing your Cordoba tour guide will point out to you is La Mezquita. This is a fascinating religious building, a mosque first constructed in the 8th century and a fine example of the Moorish architecture of the time. Your entry to the mosque is through colourful red and white columns, over 800 of them which lie after the Door of Palms. The craftsmanship here is exquisite and it is easy to see why this is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Torre de la Calahorra: It is a large guard tower constructed during medieval times. On top of the tower, you will be treated to majestic views of the city, while it also is the current location of the town museum.
The third biggest city in Spain, Valencia is found on the east coast of the country. This is an ancient town, first founded by the Romans in 138 BC. Some of the historic attractions Valencia holds for lovers of architecture and history include:
Miguelete Tower: For a breathtaking 360-degree view of the city, take the 207 steps up the Miguelete tower which is found in the Cathedral and Plaza de la Virgen, a religious attraction featuring a number of different architectural styles.
Turia Gardens: A beautiful green space in the middle of the city, Turia Gardens is a great place for an afternoon walk or cycle. Covering a 9-kilometre section through the city, Turia has many other attractions within it including Gulliver park, Oceanogràfic underwater world, and an opera auditorium to name a few.
Beaches: If sun-worshipping is on your agenda; Valencia has some of the best beaches in Spain including El Cabanyal right near the city centre and La Malvarrosa, one of the biggest beaches in the city. Here you can frolic in the waves, relax in the sun, or enjoy tapas and sangria at a local beachside restaurant.
Museums: There are over 30 museums in the city of Valencia. Ask your Valencia tour guide to point out the best of them and spend some time exploring the history and art this vibrant city has to offer. Some museums I would recommend are the Municipal Museum of Natural Sciences which has an excellent collection of dinosaur skeletons and the L’Institut Valencià d’Art Modern, home to the works of Spanish sculptor Julio Gonzalez.
While the sunshine, beaches, food, and fun are the main reasons to visit this city, there are some wonderful experiences that should not be missed:
Hiking the coastlines: Costa Brava, which means the “rough coast” has plenty of hiking opportunities along its rugged coastlines, the longest being Camino de Ronda, covering 220 kilometres. Much of it is breathtakingly beautiful and if you want something a little less “touristy” find a Costa Brava tour guide that can take you on a day hike along with it.
Touring the villages: Ancient villages are found throughout Costa Brava. Here, locals go about their daily lives, welcoming tourists into their towns. Not much has changed here for many years. Eat at a cafe, try the local wine and of course, the cuisine, it's some of the best food you will ever taste. Each village has their own unique eateries but some of the best include La Manon Girona which serves a variety of Mediterranean cuisine and street food as well as El Petit Cafe Del Mercat in the village of Begur.
Historical ruins: Perhaps the best is the Ruïnes d'Empúries, an example of both Greek and Roman ruins. This was an ancient harbour used by both civilizations and thought to have been built in the 6th century BC.
The Cantabria region of Northern Spain is off the beaten path when it comes to tourism. It is full of surprises like:
El Capricho, a building designed by Antoni Gaudí, the famous Spanish architect. Found in the little town of Comillas, this building has its trademark style.
Altamira Cave, a UNESCO World Heritage site filled with prehistoric cave art.
Santiago de Compostela
Situated in the north-west of the country, Santiago de Compostela is the capital of Galicia. Ask your tour guide to point out some of the quirky attractions in the city like the Bench of whispers, the censer of Botafumeiro and the shadow pilgrim.
A part of the Canary Islands, a visit to the island of Tenerife is certainly worth your time to see Los Gigantes, so named thanks to its impressive cliffs and rock formations. Make sure your Tenerife tour guide takes you to the three best viewing areas in order to observe these fascinating rocks from every possible angle.
“Craig Taylor is a freelance writer and blogger. A lover of wildlife, he loves to travel and have as many new experiences as possible, particularly with food! His other passion is photography.”
Image details and licenses:
Royal Alcazar Palace: https://flic.kr/p/4t9m3T (Cat, CC BY-NC-SA, 2.0), Puente Viejo: https://flic.kr/p/EAgGAZ (Brian Scott, CC BY-ND, 2.0), Torre de la Calahorra: https://flic.kr/p/T9ZL5J (Jeroen van Luin, CC BY 2.0), La Malvarossa: https://flic.kr/p/2etKjp (Jose Luis Uceda Hernández, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), Ruïnes d'Empúries: https://flic.kr/p/xJv7bu (Trevor Huxham, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), El Capricho: https://flic.kr/p/5ys6q1 (G Travels, CC BY-NC 2.0), censer of Botafumeiro: https://flic.kr/p/TbQNq6 (Subherwal, CC BY 2.0)