Spain is a large country, though it isn't the largest on the European continent, it is roughly the same size as the state of Texas. Due to its position, the weather is temperate, so tourists can plan to visit Spain at almost any time of year and enjoy themselves. Here are some of the best cities to visit in Spain on your next European vacation.
Facts About Spain
If you’ve never been to Spain before, here are some things you should know before visiting it. It has 17 autonomous regions, 15 of which are on the mainland and two are sets of islands, the Canary and Balearic Islands. Spain also has two independent territories in North Africa.
The official language is Spanish, more accurately Castilian Spanish, but the regions of Galicia, Catalonia, and Basque country all have recognized regional languages. Due to ancient conflicts, Spain has evidence of diverse cultures like pre-Roman Celtics, Iberians, Romans, Greeks, Phoenicians, and Moors.
The country also has the most UNESCO World Heritage sites, 46, third only to China and Italy. So, while you’re in the country, there won’t be a lack of anything to do. Almost anywhere you travel, you can find sites of historical significance.
Spain also has some great beaches to visit on the Atlantic Ocean side of the country, as well as the Bay of Biscay, and the Mediterranean Sea. Due to their far south locations, the Balearic and Canary Island beaches are almost always warm enough for sunbathing, swimming, or surfing.
How We Chose Our Ratings
After doing some research and reading recommendations by expert travelers and tourists, we chose some of the best cities in Spain for visiting and gave them a rating between one and five stars, with five being the highest. These ratings help readers find the best places to tour on a Spanish vacation.
Best Cities to Visit in Spain
Here are our choices for the places you need to visit when you go to Spain.
Toledo is about 70 kilometers from Madrid, which is the capital city of Spain, so it is easy to reach by car, bus, or train. If you decide to take the train, it is only a 25-minute trip, so it may be the best way to get to the town. It was the capital of the country, and it is still considered the religious seat of Spain.
The layout of the city is the same as it was in the Middle Ages and Toledo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its three cultures. Its cultures are an influence of Islamic, Hebrew, and Christian occupants that once fought along the Spanish shorelines and on the seas.
Some of the sites you might want to see in Toledo include:
With its cultural heritage, you can try many of the cuisines of Spain, like Middle Eastern food, Italian, Spanish seafood or paella, and even Japanese.
The question probably isn’t what to do in Madrid, but what do you have time to do? Like most metropolitan cities, it is full of history, culture, art, and attractions for people of all ages. The city is home to almost 3.2 million people within the city, but about 6.5 million in the metro area, putting it just behind Paris and London as the most populous city in the European Union`.
It has a history of Spanish art masters, one of the most popular football teams in the world (Real Madrid), and it is becoming better known for its fashion industry, taking some of the spotlights from Milan. If you’re planning a trip to Madrid, here are some can’t miss sites:
Of course, when you're in Spain, you must try tapas, which can is abundant in the La Latina district. A vacation to Madrid can be a trip unto itself, so you may need to plan a separate visit to other areas of Spain to avoid missing anything in the capital city.
San Sebastian, which is also known as Donostia, lays in the Basque region of Spain. It is bordered by the Bay of Biscay, which means it has some great beaches to visit along with its historic sites. The best way to get to the city is to fly in as they have three airports, including two that are international. Taking a train from Paris, Barcelona, or Madrid is another good way to get there.
Once you’re in San Sebastian, there is much to see and do. You can familiarize yourself with not only Spanish culture but with Basque culture as well. Many people speak the language of the region, which is Basque or Euskara, but it is more common in smaller towns and villages. Among the sites you may want to visit are:
Of course, no visit to San Sebastian would be complete without going to one of its three beaches. La Concha Beach is in the middle of the city, so it is the easiest one to get too. It has all the amenities you would expect to see at a city beach, with restaurants and shops just steps away from it.
Also, since the Bay of Biscay has mountains surrounding it, it is a wonderful place for swimming because it doesn't get the high winds familiar on some beaches.
Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain with a population of about 4.9 million people in its metro area. It is also the capital of the Catalonia region, and it has a rich cultural history as it was first founded as a Roman city, then became important to the Crown of Aragon as an administrative and economic center. It was also conquered by the Moors in the early 8th Century.
As a large city, seeing Barcelona is a trip unto itself, and you may want to make a separate visit to it. It has activities and sites for people of all ages, including sunning on a beach, attending a football match to cheer on FC Barcelona or visit its many historical sites. Some of the places most tourists won't want to miss include:
As with every other coastal city in Spain, you would be remiss to skip the beaches in Barcelona. While the summer is going to be a busy time of year to go, the weather is almost always good enough to visit the sandy shores as they sit along the Mediterranean Sea. You can choose from several beaches within the city, many of which are close to hotels, restaurants, and public transportation.
If you want to visit one of the more diverse regions in Spain, then the Granada province, of which Granada is the capital, may be a great place for you. Within a few hundred kilometers, you can choose to go skiing in the Sierra Nevada mountains, the best time is between November and May, or you can visit the coastline to take in some sun on the beaches.
The region borders the Alboran Sea that separates Spain and Morocco. Due to its close location to Northern Africa, the sites of Granada reflects its history of Arabic influence. Some of the sites you will want to see while visiting the area include:
The food in Granada reflects its history with Arabic dishes, Spanish tapas, and flamenco shows at several locations. You’ll also find plenty of Mediterranean dishes, as well as vegan and vegetarian offerings too.
Valencia is the capital city of the Valencia region and the third largest city in Spain, behind Madrid and Barcelona. While the population is approximately 800,000 in the city, the entire metro area contains about 1.6 million inhabitants. As such a large city, you and your family can find dozens of places to visit and things to do while there on a trip.
The city began as a Roman colony in about 138 BC, but it was occupied by Moors and was conquered by a Christian king, James of Aragon. With such a rich history, the influences of these other cultures can be seen throughout the area. Of course, it has many modern sites that visitors may not want to miss either. Here are some of the places you might want to visit in Valencia.
Valencia sits on the Balearic Sea, so there is plenty of sand and sun to take in when you want to relax. Las Arenas Beach is close to the center of the city, about a two-kilometer walk. It is a clean, safe beach that is somewhat undeveloped, but its facilities include toilets, a snack bar, sun loungers for rent, and there is a promenade with bars and restaurants.
Some people do go on vacation to meet, and party with the locals and Ibiza is known as a party area, so if you’re looking for excitement on your vacation, a trip to the islands may be worth wading through the crowds. However, there is more to do in Ibiza than soak up the sun and swim in its clear blue waters. Some of the places to see include:
Even though it is a party area for singles, there are many family activities to enjoy in Ibiza, including horseback riding. Of course, water sports are popular as well, which includes surfing, kite surfing, swimming, and snorkeling. With its southerly location, the beach is almost always warm enough for sunbathing and the water warm enough to enjoy.
If you're a wine lover, then you may be familiar with the La Rioja region of Spain as it is where many Spanish wines originate. Logroño is an important city within the region as it became a stop on the Pilgrim’s Route to Santiago de Compostela in the 11th Century.
As an important city during the Middle Ages, it has many historical sites that tourists visit, such as:
Of courses, the food and wine are going to be outstanding in this region, with cuisines influenced by the French and the Flemish, as well as traditional Spanish dishes. However, Italian and Japanese food is popular as well.
Guide to Spain
With so many things to do and see, you could easily take a week to see some of the sights in Madrid, Barcelona or Valencia. However, if you need help selecting the best cities to visit in Spain, read this review for an overview of where to go and what to do when you arrive in the city of your choice.
These eight cities are just the tip of the iceberg within Spain because of its history, friendly people, and the cities, towns, and villages to explore. Along with the mainland, they also have the Balearic and Canary Islands which you shouldn't miss if you want to take in some of the most beautiful, natural views in the world.