20 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Spain
The heart and soul of the European Union, Spain is a land of dazzling white-sand beaches, mesmerizing cities, and ancient history. This is a country of majestic mountains, vibrant cities, and sun-kissed, small-town plazas, where aging Gypsies sing melancholy love songs to serene flamenco music, and chilled-out Spaniards sun themselves on the shores of the Mediterranean. This land of blazing sunshine also offers art, architecture, vineyards, and bullfighting.
But it's not all joy. The country was also battered by the devastation of the 16th century's Black Death. And there are still the scars of this disaster in some parts of the country. So before you even arrive in Spain, take time to ask yourself if you will be able to experience the country's rich tapestry of history, art, and culture in a more positive light. If you decide you can, then this is a fantastic place to visit.
If your journey through Spain is going to be time well-spent, it's a good idea to consider how you're going to get there. Madrid, Spain is an excellent gateway city with good train service and internal flights to other parts of the country.
We've compiled a list of the top things to see and do in this travel-friendly city so that you can make the most of your holiday. Discover the best places to visit in Spain with our list of the top tourist attractions in Madrid.
Granada, in the south of Spain, has become a famous destination for Roman Catholics due to its gorgeous cathedral, constructed in 1491. The overwhelming scale of the cathedral's Moorish style architecture makes it seem an endless procession of pointed arches, turrets and balconies soaring into the skies, as well as six halls. In Granada, visit the magnificent The Alhambra, a Moorish royal palace surrounded by an exquisite tiled garden. Inside, wander the exquisite Patio de los Leones, with its marble-rimmed pools and colored fountains. In the Spanish town of Ronda, you can visit the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Roman temples and a Roman theater, considered the oldest surviving theater in Europe. Other highlights include the former Arab palace, Alhambra, and the Alcazaba fortress.
Barcelona is one of the most enchanting cities in the world. Located in northeast Spain, the city on the seashore in the Catalan region is loved for its unique character and fascinating old-world atmosphere. The majestic Gothic church of Santa Maria del Pi, or the Puerta del Sol, the city's most famous sight, is the main attraction for visitors. There's the fun Barceloneta, a wonderful beach along the Mediterranean coastline, which is known for its seafood restaurants. The Sagrada Familia, an expression of Catalan Gothic art and design and one of the world's greatest Catholic churches, the Eiffel Tower and Gaudí's La Sagrada Familia are all part of the city's growing image as a modern European capital. It is well worth visiting the Gaudi-designed buildings of Park Guell, Casa Batlló, La Pedrera and Casa Milà, as well as the Gaudi-designed Església de Sant Pau del Camp, an architecture masterpiece with interesting art-deco interior. The Magic Bus is one of the most popular and informative trips in the city. It takes you along the romantic coast and through the Old City, stopping at sights like the church of Sant Maria del Pi and the Barceloneta district.
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One of the world's most extraordinary Islamic artistic and architectural achievements, the ruins of the great city of Cordoba are a sight to behold. The present-day metropolis sprawls around a sacred valley but is built on the site of the older, provincial capital (Alcázar) where the rule of Muslim culture flourished for over 700 years. The architecture of the fortified city provides a fascinating contrast to the now modern life of this Mediterranean city. Distinctive domes and minarets line the downtown streets, interspersed with squares and architectural fountains, overlooked by turrets and alcoves. For centuries the Muslim kingdom of the Al-Andalusi extended its dominion as far north as the Ebro River. Today, Cordoba has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Alcazar de Elvira, one of the largest royal buildings in Europe, stands at the heart of the city. Once the winter home of King Ferdinand II of Aragon, the Alcazar now contains the Museo de Bellas Artes, housing a collection of fine Spanish paintings.
Santiago de Compostela
Possibly the most romantic destination in Spain, Santiago de Compostela is located on the northwestern coast and has long been a sacred pilgrimage site. Several other medieval pilgrimage sites are also nearby. Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain is best known for its magnificent cathedral, locally called La Mejorada, and the ancient body found beneath its floor dating back to AD 831.
The largest city in Castile and Leon, Salamanca is the capital of the province and cultural and economic center of the region. It is best known for its university, one of the oldest in Spain, and its wealth of architectural attractions. Its city center is extremely pedestrian-friendly. The historic core, with its winding streets and high church spires, is a maze of enticing shops, galleries and small museums in every possible shade of grey and blue, and its multi-faceted cultural life is a magnet for artists. The quarter of Pere de Serra is worth a visit with its small, picturesque streets of Roman, Gothic and Mudéjar buildings. The city also boasts several outdoor cafés and dining places, which are among the most charming in Spain.
At the heart of Spain's capital is a tiny square, Plaza Mayor, which has played an important part in the history of the city since 1333 when it was the first of Madrid's squares to be paved in brick. Known as the "chief square" of Madrid, Plaza Mayor is also known as the "principal square" because of its importance and position at the center of the city. It was created at the time of the initial construction of the city as a residential quarter and, therefore, was planned on a regular geometric plan and the smallest one in the city. The first chapel on the square was built in 1416. To the east of Plaza Mayor stands Madrid's best-known monument, El Retiro, the square around which the old city grew. The Plaza de Oriente, with its long avenues of wide trees and vast modern avenues, is also part of the Madrid city center. At the south is the famous Zocodover Square, an ideal place for a drink on a warm summer evening. A trip to Madrid will take you to the outskirts of the city, where you can enjoy the spectacular view of the Guadarrama mountains and the protected natural park of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, a Benedictine monastery founded by Philip II. Nearby is the magnificent Churriguerra palace. Other attractions include the Plaza Mayor Museum, a museum dedicated to the history of the city, and the beautiful baroque church, La Paz, which was built in 1632 and was heavily damaged in the Great Earthquake of 1977.
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The largest and best-preserved palace of the Granada, Spain, Alhambra still retains a magnificent beauty. The citadel was constructed in the 11th century during the reign of Alfonso VI to safeguard the cities of Granada and Toledo. Built on a steep and sometimes-difficult slope, it comprises a multitude of small towers, palaces, courts, and museums, all spectacularly integrated. A rueful motto over the gates reads, "There is no place like Alhambra," and perhaps this is why this magnificent city, famed for its famous gardens, is a must-see. Noteworthy places of interest are the magnificent fountains in the gardens; the spectacular Alhambra Museum, which houses thousands of beautifully and vividly displayed objects; the various parks, courtyards, and gardens, which are all unique; and the famous Kasba, the Muslim governor's residence that's filled with Moorish art.
At the heart of the Iberian Peninsula is a mountain range called the Spanish Pyrenees. The highest peak is Montserrat (2559 m). A region of beautiful mountain villages, great rivers and magical lakes. Guided walks, the feeling of being in the countryside with all the luxury of a hotel and only a few thousand feet above sea level. You can relax in stunning views of rivers, lakes, forests or mountain valleys from your luxury room, while enjoying the rich culture and history of this beautiful area. The Pyrenees are known for their walking and cycling trails and water activities such as swimming and fishing. The best place to start is probably in the picturesque, white town of Gavà, an ideal place to stay when travelling between Barcelona and the French border. You can take a day trip to the medieval town of Perpignan, one of the oldest cities in Europe. The mountains are popular with hikers and many people travel here by bike and car. If you don't have a car you can use the train service from Barcelona or Valencia. The train is a great way to enjoy the view, feel the fresh air and walk around the large station. It takes about 30 minutes to reach Gavà.
Once the capital of Spain's Muslim kingdom of Sevilla, Seville is now known for its Moorish Revival architecture and beautiful plazas. The cathedral of Seville is beautiful, but the real highlight is the Giralda, the graceful 12th-century minaret with a slender yet muscular form topped by a large bulbous finial. As a city of elegance and creativity, Seville can still offer travelers some of the world's most mouthwatering food and most beautiful handicrafts, all in a charming atmosphere. What to do in Seville? Take a ride on the sierras, an old horse-drawn tram service; visit the Museo del Baile; enjoy the sound and sight of rumbas at the capital's famous Fiesta de los Patios or stroll through the narrow streets of the Barrio de Santa Cruz or the colorful Ribera, Seville's oldest district.
Girona, located on the western side of the Costa Brava, in the heart of Catalonia, is well known as one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in Europe. It has several distinct types of Romanesque architecture, the most well-known being the Gothic style. The city has been an important city since Roman times, and is located on the Via Romana, a main Roman road that connected Barcelona and Tarragona and is now used to travel between the two cities. Today, the ancient Roman ruins, monuments, and ancient walls from the city's history can be seen all around the city.
Its very name has a whiff of sea about it, and Valencian's mediterranean coast of sugar-white beaches, clear blue waters and extraordinary seafaring history resonates with adventure, glamour and excess. The city's architecture reflects its rich culture and history as its cosmopolitan sea-view heart, El Centro, is the setting for a breathtaking show of modern and historic architecture in the Parc de la Ciutadella. Valencia's coastal belt is lively, and great fun as the Ramblas holds up to 500 street artists competing for attention. The old town has a beautiful setting, with its old maze of streets, alleyways and squares, and a fine-looking cathedral. The two best attractions for culture-lovers are the Museo de Bellas Artes and the ever-popular Capitolium, which evokes the Roman emperors who once ruled Spain. But, for all the Spanish activities on offer, the most outstanding attraction in Valencia is the food. The best time to visit is in the cooler months between April and October, when you can escape the summer crowds, but you can enjoy a nice time here throughout the year. However, prices get high in July and August, and it can get hot.
Located in the Basque Country in northern Spain, Bilbao is a modern, well-kept and vibrant city with a slightly industrial feel to it. It is part of the Biscay province and is considered by many to be the cultural capital of Spain and Europe. One of the highlights of visiting Bilbao is enjoying the Guggenheim Museum, which, despite its name, has a world-class collection of Spanish-accented modern art. The Museum's collection of works by Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Henri Matisse and others are housed in a rambling concrete structure designed by Frank Gehry. Bilbao is also home to what many consider to be Europe's finest cathedrals, the Basque Gothic Seipleri, which stand above the busy Moyua River, with their gleaming copper-covered spires making them a rare sight for city-dwellers.
Picasso Museum, Barcelona
The private collection of Picasso's legacy, the Picasso Museum is an eclectic group of art, furniture, and silverware that represents the painter's entire career. Its contents range from his work as a young artist, through several major themes such as animals and sketches from his early life in Barcelona, to a modern 'Miró meets Cubism' exhibit that contrasts the work of his contemporary Jean-Paul Riopelle. The permanent collection also has works by Picasso's contemporaries Matisse and Chagall and many artists who influenced the artist, including Leonardo da Vinci, and provides an overview of the history of art in Spain and Europe. Opening hours: Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Closed during public holidays and Monday; (€12 adults, €6 children).
The Royal Palace (Palacio Real), known locally as Palacio, is a massive, handsome, neoclassical building located in Madrid's central Parque del Buen Retiro. The palace was built in 1764 and is home to the royal family, including King Felipe VI, although they make only one public appearance a year, in January or February. It's not just your typical palace, however, as the central spaces of the palace are also home to a number of beautiful and intriguing museums. An audio guide and guided tours are available, although be sure to time your visit with the tour times. A balcony around the central patio offers visitors stunning views of the Royal Garden. Highlights of a visit include the Real Tarragona Museum, which contains an extensive collection of art in a beautiful Baroque building; the Museo del Prado, with its collection of works from the Spanish School, with a focus on Spanish art of the Renaissance; and the Salón de Reinos, a collection of the Crown Jewels. Be sure to check the schedule of live concerts and events taking place in the Palacio.
For centuries, the Sierra Nevada has been the bastion of the Spanish mountain range. Inhabited from prehistoric times, it is one of Europe's most important natural reserves, forming part of the Natura 2000 network of protected areas. About 15 million years ago, the Sierra was split by a rift valley which left a lake in the area now known as Lake Arenal, one of the largest lakes in the world and a popular site for diving. During the 1,100-year-long eruption, up to 400 cubic kilometers of lava poured out and formed the volcano that we see today. The silent volcano and its flora and fauna can be visited from the roadside. Sierra Nevada is best known for its impressive peaks and its open and alpine character. The main mountain, Volcán Arenal, rises to 1433 m (4642 ft). The mountain is a popular and challenging hike that starts with a kilometer-long cable car ride from the village of Tenosique. The two-hour hike leads up to a lookout point and the top, through a steep fissure in the lava. The mountain's other main peaks are Volcán Turrialba (1342 m, 4435 ft) and Volcán Chato (1155 m, 3638 ft). At the foot of the volcano is the beautiful Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal, a relatively accessible stretch of rainforest and forest that is a good place for hiking, mountain biking and horse riding.
You'll find it's well worth a visit to Spain's sizzling Mediterranean city, Malaga, if you're looking for cheap flights to Europe. With its attractive old town, laid-back air, pleasant climate and a remarkable quantity of outdoor activities, Malaga has a youthful, fun vibe that also happens to be reasonably priced. And the weather in Malaga is mostly pretty good all year round. Thing to do in Malaga? Malaga is known for its party life and it's famous as the cradle of the "boom." The youth of the city throng the night life in the bars of Las Malagueñas, All eyes are always on this labyrinth of neon-lit streets. And when you want a little rest from the loud music and excitement, enjoy the picturesque old town. Daytrips to fascinating Córdoba and fascinating Granada are also worth considering.
Museo del Prado, Madrid
Opened in 1940, Spain's national museum is home to the Prado's famous paintings, including the major works of Diego Velazquez and Diego Rivera. In addition to exhibiting European paintings from the mid-1500s until the early 1900s, the museum also has a well-equipped anthropology museum and an extensive collection of pre-Hispanic art. The main exhibition halls feature the museum's most important paintings from the Spanish Golden Age, including paintings by Murillo, Goya, and El Greco. The Goya collection is particularly valuable, as it's one of the few places outside Madrid to exhibit many of the artist's final works. In addition, the museum is well-stocked with the works of 18th-century Dutch, Flemish, and Spanish artists, as well as of Italian and German painters. Apart from the paintings, the Prado houses a gallery devoted to Spanish sculpture, particularly European pieces from the 15th through the 19th century, and an extensive collection of works by modern Spanish artists, including Joan Miró and Salvador Dali. The museum's galleries are well-designed and have a simple layout with larger paintings grouped together on one wall, so that visitors may walk through the museum without the need to make separate trips to view the artwork.
La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
The Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi constructed this magnificent temple between 1882 and 1906. Although built of masonry, the structure is covered in a golden mosaic and is constructed in the form of a basilica with two high wings to either side of a central nave. There are a number of special features to be seen in the structure. Gaudi's engineering features include curved forms, pointed arches, tessellated and curved walls and roofing tiles of various sizes and colors. A museum, which features work by Gaudi himself, is also housed in the center.
The attractions of Toledo include the stunning El Greco House, the Roman-era Alcazar, and a number of interesting museums that tell the story of the city's history. The El Greco House and the Domus Dei (home of the art treasures of the 14th century) are both located within the Parador de Toledo. Both are open to the public for free. The center of the city lies on the banks of the broad and lively Tagus river. However, one of the largest metropolises in Spain, the city of Toledo is characterized by narrow streets, a maze of hidden monuments, historic monuments and points of interest and little of the architectural majesty one might expect of such a city. Toledo is located 250 km (155 mi) north of Madrid, making it a very popular destination. The city is located on the northern edge of the Iberian Peninsula at the convergence of several major European trade routes. The city was first capital of the Kingdom of Castile and later, of the Kingdom of Spain.
Situated in the northeast of Spain, the city of Girona has a vast number of well-preserved Roman buildings and remains, most of which are clustered together in an area known as the City Walls. Also home to a number of Roman monuments and museums, Girona was a thriving city during the Middle Ages. Although many of the city's churches have been renovated or remodeled over the years, Girona's most imposing cathedral is worth a visit. Built in the 12th century, the cathedral has four aisles and a cupola topped by three fretted arcades, which are at the corners of the great square known as the Plegre. The cathedral's tower is 18 meters high and is open to visitors during certain times each week. At the site of Girona's Roman arena, close by the cathedral, visitors can see a museum dedicated to Roman life in Spain.