There’s more to Spain than Barcelona and Madrid. Learn about some of the most vibrant historical areas in Andalusia you can visit, and how to have an enjoyable Spanish vacation.

If you’re looking for an exotic tourist destination, you can’t go wrong with going to Spain provided your budget can allow it. Despite what Hollywood portrays, Spain is not like Mexico, and there’s more to Spain than sunny beaches, flamenco bands, and bullfights. Spain has plenty to offer in geography, culture, and nightlife.

While some of the popular images are indeed true, there’s more than meets the eye. The mountains of Catalonia and Aragon are just as much a part of Spain as are the beaches of Andalusia and Morcia. Spain is one of the largest countries in southern Europe and has a history dating to before the days of the Roman Empire.

In the 2,000 years intervening, plenty of culture has emerged in Spain. We’ve made a list of locations that should give you an idea of where to go in Spain should you find yourself planning a trip there.


map of spain with flag

Some of the regions of Spain are:

  • Andalusia
  • Valencia
  • Catalonia
  • Aragon

Alhambra

In Granada, Andalusia, the southernmost region of Spain, the last Moorish stronghold still stands. Alhambra was built in 889 CE and renovated sometime in the 13th century by the Nasrim caliphate. The biggest draw of the fortress complex is the spread of gardens and the arches, both of which showcase art styles of the period. It’s best to view the gardens in late spring.

building architecture in alhambra spain

If you have an interest in Spanish history or the history in Europe in general, Alhambra is one of the most important areas you can visit because of how thoroughly it encapsulates the combination of Muslim and Spanish influences on the area. The fortress overlooks the city of Granada, and you can get a stunning view.

Alhambra is one of the most popular tourist destinations in southern Spain, so you’ll need to buy your tickets months in advance of your tip. Because of the popularity of the area, each ticket is intended for a specific time slot: Day, Evening, or Night. The ticket also dictates what areas of the fortress complex you can visit.


Cadiz

This is another spot to go if you find yourself in southern Spain. Located at the southernmost tip of the country closest to the Mediterranean Sea, this city boasts some of the best climates you could ask for. This coastal city has plenty of landmarks and tourist attractions. One of the most notable landmarks to visit is the Torre Tavira, the highest point of the city.

building architecture in Cadiz spain

If you prefer to keep your feet closer to ground level, don’t worry. You can visit the Sherry Triangle, which is the home to some of Spain’s most famous wine. Alternatively, you can spend the day touring the various museums that dot the city. Museo de Cadiz is the most well-known one.

For history buffs, it may be interesting to know that Cadiz is the city that has had humans in it the longest: since 1100 BCE. If you go into the Museo de Cadiz, you can see some Phoenician artifacts.

Cadiz is also known for its beaches. If you go here, make sure to visit La Caleta, an isolated beach in the historical district of Cadiz. It’s adjacent to the Castillo de San Sebastian, which is another popular tourist spot.

You should probably time your visit for spring. Summers can be unbearably hot unless you plan to spend most of your time in the water, and autumn is often rainy. Even during winter, you can still expect to have decent weather.


Seville

seville spain

Since we’re still in the south and you probably want to get some of the typical experience of Spain, let’s make our next stop Seville. This is the capital of Andalusia. 

barber plays in seville

If you’ve seen any opera, you might know this city from The Barber of Seville. Here’s where you can watch some of the best flamenco performers at La Carboneria.

cruise down the Guadalquivir River

You can also catch a cruise down the Guadalquivir River, which is one of the largest and most important rivers in the country. The waterway splits the city, and you can catch a view of it from practically anywhere in Seville.

Also take the time to wander around the Barrio Santa Cruz, which is a quaint and old neighborhood filled with cafes and ships. It’s also a great place to be in mid-afternoon, especially during the hot summer months. The shade of the orange trees provides a welcome respite from the heat.

Museums such as the Museo de Bellas Artes can help sate your artistic side. The art you’ll see dates from the Middle Ages. Finally, you can visit the Real Alcazar, which is another fortress dating from the 1st century CE. It was once the seat of royalty in this region.


Barcelona

Located in Catalonia in the northeastern part of Spain, Barcelona is one of the most quintessential Spanish cities. It’s a tourist destination to its core but has plenty to offer in nightlife, historical attractions, restaurants, and sightseeing. However, because Barcelona has become a haven for tourists, the native character of the city has become obscured.

barcelona spain

You should buy tickets for whatever events or venues you want to visit potentially months in advance. Ideally, you should try to visit during the fall. Summer is when the most tourists are present, and although the weather is somewhat warm year-round it’s better to avoid full winter When it’s fall, you can still enjoy the warm water of the beaches,

Some places in Barcelona to visit are the Teatro Nationale de Catalunya, which is a popular venue for live music. Barcelona is home to many live performers, including both musicians and theatrical productions.

If you can manage it, make your way up to Montjuic, which is the fortress complex overlooking Barcelona. This fortress also has some of the most popular parks and walking paths for residents.

If you’re hungry for a bite, try out Bar Casi in the Gracia neighborhood of Barcelona.


Madrid

night life city of Madrid Spain

For people looking for where to go in Spain, Madrid is also a popular destination. As the capital city of Spain, you can expect to find some of the most cosmopolitan, yet uniquely Spanish surroundings in the country. It is a province of its own. Madrid is the third-largest city in the EU and has plenty to offer for just about everyone.

Madrid has some of the most prestigious art museums in Europe, if not the world, such as the Prado Museum, the National Archaeological Museum of Madrid, the Reina Sofia Museum, and the Thyssen Bornemisza. Each of these specializes in a different style of art.

Because Spain has a deep history with the Catholic Church, many churches from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance still stand and are dotted throughout the city. San Nicolas de los Servitas, for example, is the oldest church standing. Its bell tower dates back to the 12th century,

If you’re more into the nightlife of Madrid, you should check out the Kapital nightclub. It’s one of the largest you’ll find in the area. It has seven floors, each showcasing a different genre of music, so you don’t have to worry about not liking the DJ’s selections.

Any trip to a foreign country should involve, at least once, tasting the local cuisine in the manner that the locals prepare it. Therefore, your best bet for getting snacks is going to be the Calle Ponzao in the Chamberi district of Madrid. This area contains many small local cafes and restaurants.


What to Know About Visiting in Spain

The first thing is that many people in Spain take a midday or mid-afternoon nap called a siesta. This custom probably stems back to the days before central air conditioning requiring people to postpone activity until cooler hours. However, the custom stuck. To compensate, many people are out later. You could expect a typical Spanish day to end well after midnight.

Therefore, it’s best to take a mid-afternoon siesta yourself. In larger, more cosmopolitan cities like Barcelona this custom may not hold sway, but it does in more traditional areas.

Also, if you venture outside the cities of Madrid or Barcelona, attempt to know passable Spanish. You may be lucky enough to encounter Anglophones, but don’t count on it. Learning a few basic phrases - and keeping a Spanish-English dictionary or translator app - can come in quite handy.

Finally, remember that each province of Spain is like a country of its own. Andalusia and Catalonia, while similar, can share marked differences in culture and local customs.


Final Thoughts

You have plenty of options to choose from if you want to know where to go in Spain. The country has varied climates, but most people choose to stick to the coasts around the Mediterranean. If you want something even more exotic, you can try for the Canary Islands, which are an offshoot of Spanish territory off the coast of Africa.

When you go to Spain, attempt to immerse yourself in the local culture. Sticking to the well-traveled tourist paths or destinations can rob you of the enriching experience that foreign travel can provide.

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