As a uniquely European destination rich in culture and heritage and blessed with a great variety of sights modern and historical, Spain is a whole smorgasbord of experiences. From art and architecture districts and a thriving food culture to adventure opportunities available all over mainland Spain and its island territories and dramatic natural landscapes, a lot awaits you here. We curated a must-do list of experiences that you definitely must tick off your checklist on your next visit to the country.
Embrace the spirit of Gaudi in Barcelona
The coastal city of Barcelona embodies the spirit of modernism, art and architecture quite like another. As you head for the bustling district of Eixample and then into the Quadrat d’Or, the architectural brilliance of Gaudi will wash over you—much like an open-air museum, this square is a storehouse of some of the movement’s most striking specimens, including the imposing art nouveau basilica of Sagrada Familia, the dreamy stone mansion of Casa Milà, and the staggering Casa Batlló that is also known as the House of Bones.
Explore the heritage of Al-andalus in the Great Mosque of Cordoba and the Alhambra in Granada
Surviving from Spain’s grand years of Muslim rule are some spectacular architectural gems in Andalusia. Cordoba, a major Islamic centre during the Middle Ages, is home to the Great Mosque, La Mezquita. The mosque’s array of columns and the grand Christian Cathedral towering in the centre of it all is a sight worth witnessing. Likewise, the Moorish palace and fortress Alhambra in Granada—which used to be a politically and aristocratically significant centre in the Western Muslim world—is a thrilling deep-dive into eight centuries of Arab rule in Spain.
Stroll through a whole world of art in Madrid
Spain’s capital is not only the country’s most prominent cultural hub; it is one of Europe’s best-known art and culture capitals. The Walk of Art, or the fancier Paseo del Arte hosts a trifecta of the world’s finest museums. The Reina Sofía Museum, the Museo del Prado and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum lie along a kilometre-long stretch, in addition to other important buildings worth your time. The art galleries of Madrid are just as exciting, as are the districts of Salamanca with the Lazaro Galdiano Museum; trendy Salesas; and the literary quarter of Barrio de Las Lestras.
Go back 18,000 years in time at the Museum of Altamira
So what if the cave of Altamira in northern Spain is subject to tight restrictions? Located close by is the Altamira Museum, a more-than-worthy stand-in. The museum’s most striking attraction is the Neocave—a brilliant life-size model of the entrance and interiors of the stunning Hall of Polychromes, which many call a Palaeolithic Sistine Chapel of sorts, thanks to the dazzling display of bison, deer, horses and wild boars.
Carnival in Tenerife
Each February, the capital of Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands, witnesses a celebration that can undisputedly put most international carnivals in the shade. The Carnival in Santa Cruz de Tenerife is a fortnight-long celebration often described as the most “Brazilian of all Spanish carnivals. Revellers arrive from all corners of the world to experience two weeks of high spirits in the form of joyous parades, dancing and partying, colourful costumes and masquerade balls.
Sleep like a king in a Parador Hotel
The Spanish equivalent of a castle-, convent- or palace-turned-heritage hotel is a parador, with the word having its root in parar, which means to halt or stay. These historical dwellings don’t just afford the sumptuous luxury that royals and personages of the past have partaken of—a parador is usually also known for offering expansive views of cities blessed with monumental delights aplenty. Paradores are found all over the country—specifically in the northwest shoulder of Galicia, Catalonia in the northeast and Andalusia in the south, not to forget the Canary Islands.
Tour Minorca by bike
What’s the best way to explore the picturesque Balearic Islands, you ask? Well, as for Minorca, one can take a bike and set off for a ride of a lifetime. The island of Minorca—home to endless beaches with pine trees and turquoise calas—has cycling routes with explanatory panels along ancient rural tracks. The island has a gentle, undulating terrain with gorgeous views all around, and if you are looking for some serious fun, consider following the 187-km-long El Cami de Cavals route that takes you around the island.
Celebrate Gay Pride in Madrid
June, known all over the world as Pride Month, has a uniquely electric and engaging character in Madrid. The last week brings along the much-awaited Gay Pride, as the city centre drowns in a sea of rainbow flags and uninhibited displays of love and camaraderie. To get a closer look, hit up the LGBTQ quarter of Chueca, where several stages are set up for live performances and other activities.
Take a tour of the gastro spots in Spain's cities
With a culinary tradition par excellence, Spain offers a colourful assemblage of environments and spaces—former markets, refurbished cinemas and factories and other spots—to sample the best of its gourmet products and gastronomic creations. Madrid’s San Miguel market, over a hundred years old, stocks the finest of Spain’s gourmet produce as well as exotic food from all over the world. The same city also has the San Anton market which triples up as a food-produce shopping centre, a takeaway-grub and food-sampling hub and a terrace dining spot.
Barcelona has the La Boqueria, where one can taste exquisite fare, sample fresh produce and take cooking courses, and the Santa Caterina markets. For some great Iberian cured ham, fine cheeses and wines, and cakes, head for the five-level San Augustin market in Toledo. Minorca’s Mahón fish market is frequented by seafood lovers all around the globe. Cordoba, Valencia, Seville and Malaga, too, have their own gourmet food markets, and then some more.
Take a stroll along the clifftops, or a boat trip around the Basque Coast Geopark or Go stargazing in La Palma (Canary Islands)
Wedged between the Bay of Biscay and the Basque mountains, the Basque Coast Geopark is a fantastic way to merge exploration of nature and a rendezvous with history dating back 60 million years. You can either walk the countless trails present here or explore the area through a boat trip. Another place that allows you to go beyond natural exploration is the wondrous island of La Palma in the Canary Islands—probably the best place on Earth to gaze at the stars, thanks to its geographical position and variations in altitude. There are 13 natural vantage points around the island; the Caldera de Taburiente National Park has a dramatic, cauldron-like cirque with an 8-km diameter.
Take a tour of the Ribeira Sacra Region
Astounding landscapes, eye-pleasing medieval monasteries and Spain's oldest wineries—Ribeira Sacra in Galicia has got it all. The cliff sides are swathed in lush vineyards and there are plenty of viewpoints to take in the forested hills and the sparkling Miño river. If it is the Sil valley you prefer, book a stay at the Santo Estevo monastery—now a parador. While at it, also explore the rich concentration of the region's Romanesque churches, the College of the Piarist Fathers and the Santa María de Montederramo Monastery.
Enjoy tapas and “pintxos” all over Spain
Tapas is where Spain’s sizzling culinary delights and its street-food traditions collide. The best way to experience these bite-size samplings of Spanish flavours, no matter where you are in the country, is to go bar-hopping in a designated quarter. These little sides, to be had alongside a glass of wine, beer or vermouth, usually include garlic prawns, paella, gazpachos, patatas bravas, ham croquettes and the like. Pintxos are little bites commonly comprising chorizo, cheese, or jamon served with a toothpick, and on a bread base.
Come and marvel at the Way of Saint James
A one-of-its-kind walking pilgrimage that affords companionship, cultural exploration and a way to test your physical capabilities, all while journeying along different trails in northern Spain, the Way of Saint James will be an unforgettable experience for all kinds of travellers. All trails, stretching across Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia, culminate in the same destination—the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. On the way you'll come across fishing villages, quaint religious sites, towns with grand houses and cobbled streets, World Heritage sites and plenty of opportunities to savour local food and drink.
For more information, see here.
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