As Anthony Bourdain famously opined on his visit to Spain in 2013, the European country is a marvel for its ability to carry two extremes at once–Catholicism and surrealism, anarchy and Old Word traditions, Christianity and Islam, and crusader’s castles and modern works of art. To say that Spain is a diverse country is an understatement, which makes a visit to the country all the more appealing. If you’ve never been interested in visiting Spain before, we hope to convince you in this Places to Visit in Spain review otherwise; if you are planning a visit, we’ve included a sampling of our favorite places.

How We Chose Our Ratings

aerial photography of Barcelona city

We include nine different places to visit in Spain below, but as anybody who has ever traveled knows–everything is subjective. We’ve rated what we feel will be most universally loved, thanks to thousands of reviews and notes from fellow travelers and our own opinions. Plus, we’ve included notes about who we think will enjoy each attraction the most (and who won’t).

Top 9 Best Places to Visit in Spain

1

Aqueduct of Segovia

If you’ve ever seen or studied Roman contributions to the world, you’ve likely heard about or seen a photo of an aqueduct. And most likely the aqueduct you were looking at was the in Segovia, one of the best places to visit in Spain and one of the best-preserved aqueduct structures in the world.


It’s a marvel of Roman engineering and was completed about two thousand years ago when it brought water down from the mountains to the old city. It only stopped transporting water in the mid-1800s! The massive arches are made entirely of granite, fastened into place without mortar.


The arches are part of Segovia’s history now; the city is located in central Spain, to the northwest of Madrid. It spans Spain’s legendary Castile region, as well as its León region, and is rich in medieval castles, Gothic cathedrals, and delicious food, including the regional specialty cochinillo, or roast suckling pig.


If you’re looking for history plus the kind of tradition Spain is famous for, this will easily be one of your favorite places in Spain!

2

The Spanish Canary Islands

Let’s switch gears a little. Where the aqueducts are steeped in history and old-world architecture, the Spanish Canary Islands bring us beautiful beaches, once-in-a-lifetime stargazing, incredible vistas, and one very exciting festival!


The Canary Islands are a cluster of islands off the coast of Morocco (excitingly close to Marrakech, if you must know). Owned by Spain and created by volcanoes–one of which is still active–the islands preserve a bountiful array of natural wildlife and ecosystems, while the island itself boasts stunning white and black sand beaches and a tropical, sunny climate.


The islands have something for everyone: if you like the bustle and excitement of crowds, check out the massive Carnival hosted by Tenerife, the largest island, every year at its capital (it takes place just before Lent).


If the unadulterated wild is what you’re after, visit Teide National Park, also on Tenerife, which includes Mt. Teide, an active volcano that’s so high, its slopes are sometimes snowy. Some of the best stargazing on the entire globe is available here–and the stunning, moon-like landscape is worth the trip, as well.

3

The Alhambra

The Alhambra is a palace in Granada, at the south of Spain. It’s deservedly one of the most famous places in Spain and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built by Moors in the 800s AD on top of Roman foundations, the palace was originally designed as a fortress.


Later Muslim and Christian kings added to the palace until it became neglected and then vandalized by Napoleon after his defeat. Washington Irving, famous American writer, and diplomat who also wrote Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was partially responsible for bringing attention back to the castle, as he lived in it during the 1800s.


The palace is stunning. You’ll see breathtakingly beautiful architecture and art from many different periods, hear the gurgle and tinkle of countless fountains throughout the many courtyards, and enjoy the wild roses and the orange trees planted around the castle long ago.


The palace has rightfully been called a pearl set in emeralds, thanks to the rich green of its forest surroundings; we don’t think you’ll want to leave Spain without paying the Alhambra a visit.

4

El Camino de Santiago

Most people can manage to visit Alhambra, but this next famous place in Spain is a bit more of a reach for most. El Camino de Santiago (the Way of Saint James) has been a Christian pilgrimage since the 800s, surviving the Spanish Inquisition, Protestantism, and World War I and II.


More recently, it’s been featured in the 2010 film The Way, starring Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen, highlighting how it is no longer just a Christian pilgrimage, but also serves as an opportunity for personal or spiritual growth. To receive official credit for walking it, you have to traverse at least 100 km (62 miles), but you can find hostel-like accommodations along the way.


You can utilize one of many different pilgrim’s ways through the Camino’s network, but all end at the shrine of Saint James the Great in Galicia, located in northwestern Spain. The multi-week walk isn’t for those who don’t have the time or the physical stamina, but at the very least you should try to visit the Santiago de Compostela cathedral which houses St. James’ shrine!

5

The Golden Triangle of Museums in Madrid

If your idea of a great vacation is neither hiking nor finding a spot to nap on a sunny beach, you’ll likely revel in this next of our top places to visit in Spain–the Gold Triangle of Museums, located in Madrid. Here’s what you’ll find:

  • The Prado Museum, where you can see world-renowned works from Spanish artists like Francisco Goya Diego Velázquez–and others.
  • The Reina Sofía houses Spanish son Pablo Picasso’s Guernica as well as other contemporary works of art.
  • The Thyssen-Bornemisza houses eclectic European art from a variety of periods You might not think “art” when you think “Spain,” but that will change after visiting any one of these museums. You could easily spend a day at each, but if you’ve only got a few hours, look for your favorite works at each museum.

6

The Alcázar of Seville

If you’re tempted to write off the Alcázar of Seville as just another Moorish palace–don’t. This palace, while built on the ruins of a Muslim fortress, is the oldest palace still in use in Europe, with Spain’s royal family using it as their official residence while in Seville.


The palace is an unforgettable example of mudéjar architecture, a style of Christian work influenced by Moorish practices, including intricate geometric styles and shapes.


Some believe, however, that this palace’s secret gem is its garden. Technically, it has more than one garden, and they’re all massive–towering mudéjar arches, waving palm trees, chattering fountains, and maybe even a peacock or too await your visit.


If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, you’ll be excited to know this bit of trivia: part of season five was filmed here!

7

Sagrada Familia and Park Guell

Antoni Gaudí was a Spanish architect who lived and worked from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. He is still very much admired today thanks to work and design that extended the mainstream modern architecture movement he was a part of. Gaudí was hit by a streetcar at the age of 74, leaving only a quarter completed of his greatest project–the Sagrada Familia.


The Sagrada Familia is still unfinished nearly a hundred years later, though there are plans to have it finished within the next decade. Unfinished or not, it is still impressive and a site to keep on your itinerary because it combines Gothic grandeur with Art Nouveau influence in an organic conception that only Gaudí could create. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


If you want to see an example of Gaudí’s work that is smaller in scope (and finished), you can head to Park Guell in Barcelona. The public park is designed by the famous architect and filled with gardens and statues he designed.

8

Cádiz

Cádiz holds the notable distinction of being the oldest continually inhabited settlement in Western Europe. It was founded by Phoenicians almost three thousand years ago! The beautiful old port city is found in southwest Spain in the region known as Andalucia, also home to Granada and Seville.


Andalucia is one of the most best places to visit in Spain in part thanks to its great beauty– landmark cathedrals, rolling foothills, rich farmlands networked with sparkling rivers, and palaces like the Alhambra palace we mentioned earlier.


In a region of beauty, Cádiz still manages to stand out. You’ll marvel at La Pepa Bridge, known internationally, and gawk at the more than one hundred watchtowers that ring the city. You can also enjoy the city’s waterfront Cathedral, built in the 1700s and incorporating both neoclassical elements and the baroque.

9

Ibiza

The Canary Islands aren’t the only islands you can enjoy when you visit Spain; Ibiza is one of the most beautiful places in Spain though, technically, it’s in the Mediterranean Sea! It’s as gorgeous as you imagine it is and has something for everyone, whether you want modern-style yoga retreats in the sea breeze or European nightclubs that go all night during the summer.


Some of the beaches are heavily trafficked and lined with shops and bars, but you can also find hidden sandy coves guarded by hills covered in pine trees–truly, a stunning site.


The island is steeped in history; like Cádiz, it was established by Phoenician sailors who
produced salt, dye, wool, and other products–though this settlement got its start about four hundred years after Cádiz. Ancient pottery and other artifacts are still found on the island today.


Ibiza is closer to Valencia than Barcelona, but it’s not far from either major city.

Traveler’s Guide to Spain

When you’re considering the best places to visit in Spain, you’ll notice very quickly that it’s hard to narrow things down. You might think of flamenco, bullfighting, and tapas when you visit Spain–and certainly, you’ll find all three of those things–but Spain is much more than you’ve probably envisioned. Here are some of our best tips for enjoying Spain:

  • More isn’t always more; each region is rich in history, so you won’t be able to cram it all in. Go slow and savor each place you visit!
  • Don’t be afraid to leave the beaten track, but the Canary Islands, Barcelona, or Madrid are your best bets if you want to find other English speakers.
  • Connect with local tour guides wherever you can, who know the region and can tell you rich details about its history you can’t get from a guidebook.

Spain’s major cities are incredibly diverse, reflecting its proximity to the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and North Africa, as well as its rich history and semi-autonomous regions, like Andalucia. Moorish, Muslim, Christian, Roman, Phoenician, and other influences have heavily shaped the country, giving rise to something that is exceptionally unique when it comes to Western Europe.

If you’re looking for thousands of year’s worth of history, you’ll be covered. If you’re looking for a vacation that enables you to get close to nature, climbing, swimming, diving, or hiking, you’ll be richly rewarded. And if you’re expecting great food and modern entertainment–well, Spain’s attractions can’t be beaten for that, either.

Spain’s major cities are incredibly diverse, reflecting its proximity to the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and North Africa, as well as its rich history and semi-autonomous regions, like Andalucia. Moorish, Muslim, Christian, Roman, Phoenician, and other influences have heavily shaped the country, giving rise to something that is exceptionally unique when it comes to Western Europe.

If you’re looking for thousands of year’s worth of history, you’ll be covered. If you’re looking for a vacation that enables you to get close to nature, climbing, swimming, diving, or hiking, you’ll be richly rewarded. And if you’re expecting great food and modern entertainment–well, Spain’s attractions can’t be beaten for that, either.

Featured Image by katerina zhang from Pixabay 

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