According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, in 2019, before Covid arrived, Spain was the second most visited country in the world, right after France. This small (compared to the United States) European country located in extreme southwestern Europe must really have something special if so many people from every corner decided to visit it. In fact, the country offers a combination of excellent gastronomy, top-notch wines, sunny weather, rich historical and cultural heritage, a wide variety of landscapes, and friendly citizens. Who could ask for more?
Whether you visit the Iberian Peninsula for the first time or want to get to know it better, here you have the 10 best cities you must discover as soon as possible!
Barcelona is usually the only Spanish city that appears in the world’s top twenty most visited cities. This is so because the Catalan capital combines the best characteristics of lively Mediterranean towns with the rich cultural heritage and the economic boost typical of northern capitals.
Thanks to its four or five months of warm weather, in Barcelona you can enjoy a wonderful time on the beach and great nightlife, but that’s not all the city can offer you. If you are passionate about culture and architecture, the places to see in Barcelona are the world-famous Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, La Ramblas street, Casa Mila, and a varied offering of exciting museums. Add to this combo excellent food, and your satisfaction will be complete!
Magic, charm, orange blossom scent, colorful dresses, and flamenco music… There are many reasons to explain why the Southern capital of Spain is so fascinating and has won everybody’s hearts for decades. In fact, if there is a city that can be associated with romantic love and passion, it is certainly Seville. Located on the banks of the Guadalquivir River, the beauties of the Andalusian capital are many, not only for the most famous architectural gems such as the Giralda or the Alcazar but also for the unique, charming neighborhoods such as the bohemian Triana, which breathes art and culture through all its narrow streets.
For many visitors, the essence of Spain is represented in this city blessed with long-lasting traditions, unforgettable gastronomy, and open-hearted, cheerful people that will make you want to come back.
The province of Malaga is situated in the southern area of Spain, and in its northwestern part, the magic town of Ronda is really worth visiting. Perched on a plateau cut by a river, the town’s historical buildings offer a picturesque view that attracts many visitors every year.
Among them, the most characteristic monument of Ronda is the New Bridge, dating from the eighteenth century. It unites the old and new areas of the town over the Tajo de Ronda (Ronda’s Cut), a deep gorge excavated by the River Guadalevín. Next to it, the Old Bridge has no clear origin, but it’s also beautiful. Another symbolic monument of the town is the bullring, one of the most ancient in the country. Because of its situation on top of a rocky hill, Ronda has had a defensive role throughout history. Thus, the walls of the town date from the Muslim time, and its doors are an architectural beauty.
Located at the heart of Andalucía, in southern Spain, Granada is a magical city where the blending of Moor and Catholic cultures reaches its peak. Twisting cobbled streets, fine buildings, and the magnificence of the Alhambra makes the visit to Granada a must. The Alhambra was the last Moorish fortress in Europe and showed the grandeur of the Moorish era in the Iberian Peninsula. Its spectacular, intricate carvings and splendid architecture have impressed thousands of visitors, but the city has much more to offer. For instance, a classic Flamenco show in one of the Sacramonte caves is a unique experience you can’t miss!
Madrid has always been attractive to visitors because of its liveliness and charm, the friendliness of its inhabitants, and its exciting cultural life. The capital of Spain has so much to offer that you must be prepared to have a full agenda! Walking around its most famous park, El Retiro, visiting the amazing art collection of Museo del Prado, savoring the best and most varied offer of restaurants in the country, and admiring the Habsburg architecture are just some of the activities that will make your visit to Madrid unforgettable.
Don’t forget to follow the track of its most beautiful sunsets, as there are several points from which the view is worth contemplating. One of them is, without a doubt, the Retiro Park, but there is also the temple of Debot, a real Egyptian monument in the middle of the Spanish capital.
6. The Balearic Islands
The four Balearic Islands are four gems where you can find some of the most beautiful landscapes in Spain, but all of them, Majorca, Minorca, Ibiza, and Formentera, also have cities, or should we say towns, worth discovering.
Ibiza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its natural diversity and its impressive fortress, the best-preserved coastal fortress in the Mediterranean. Palma de Mallorca has a splendid cathedral, with one of the most beautiful rose windows you can see and the largest one in Gothic architecture. Maó and Ciutadella, in Minorca, are eternal rivals, probably because it’s impossible to say which town is the most charming. Finally, Formentera has such a small capital (11.000 inhabitants) that few people remember its name – Sant Francesc – but no visitor to this little paradise will ever forget the experience!
Home to The Guggenheim Museum, the northern capital of the Basque Country will make you fall in love at first sight with its skillfully prepared pintxos – the local version of tapas. Basque people really love the cuisine, and the product they offer is a result of that interest: a variety of small pieces of bread topped with many different ingredients, which you can find all lined up along the bar to choose your favorites, accompanied by local wine. Tradition says this should be a bar crawl, in this case, a “pintxos crawl,” so prepare yourself for a long evening!
However, it’s not all about eating. If you are architecture lovers, apart from The Guggenheim, you will find the fifteenth-century Bilbao, Santiago Cathedral, and many other beautiful buildings in baroque style.
8. San Sebastián
San Sebastian (Donostia in the Basque language) is a city situated in the North of Spain, in the Bizkaia Gulf, 20 kilometers away from the French border. The town was a famous touristic destination in the nineteenth century, and it keeps the bourgeois charm and magnificence of this illustrious past.
A visit to San Sebastian must start at the beach, the center of the city’s splendor and the main attraction for visitors over the last century. In fact, Spaniards voted La Concha (The Shell) the second most beautiful beach in the country in 2012. The Promenade of La Concha is charming because of its architectural treasures that add to the beach’s natural beauty. The buildings of the spas called La Perla (The Pearl) and the Royal House of Baths symbolize the splendid bourgeois past of the city.
Avila is undoubtedly a day trip worth doing if you are in Madrid. The capital of the region of Castile-León has a rich historical and cultural heritage that has made it one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. Its impressive walls, built by the Christians following the reconquest from the Moors in the late 11th century, are the best-preserved medieval walls in the country. Inside them, Avila’s Cathedral is also the oldest Gothic cathedral in Spain. After discovering Avila’s impressive architecture, there is nothing better than tasting its famous T-bone steak, with some of the region’s exquisite wines, and then taking a siesta, as locals do!
Burgos was the historic capital of the Kingdom of Castile back in the 13th century, and its famous Cathedral stands out as a symbol of that glorious past. Listed as UNESCO’s World Heritage, the building is not the only one worth visiting. In fact, the historic center is a beautiful walk, but that’s not all. East of Burgos, you can visit the largest archeological site in the world, Atapuerca. The oldest hominid fossils in Europe have been discovered in Atapuerca, and an expert-guided tour will help you understand all the important discoveries that have taken place there.
Spanish cities offer much more than sunbathing and partying, although many can boast beautiful beaches and vibrant nightlife. Rich cultural heritage, impressive architecture, whether you love the middle-ages or modernist masterpieces, excellent food, and a variety of landscapes going from imposing mountain ranges to charming small bays: Spain is ready to surprise you!