The Kingdom of Spain enjoys approximately 65 million tourists every year, second only to France. If you’re not one for crowds, relax — from the majestic Pyrenees to golden beaches of Costa Brava, there’s plenty of room to accommodate this popularity as Spain is the second largest country in the EU. And because there’s so much ground to cover, it’s nearly impossible to create a “best of” list… but we did. Here’s our expert overview of Spain’s “absolute must” destinations.
Modern and historic, ambitious and laid back, Spain has become a favourite of travellers the world over… and with good reason. Its tourism infrastructure is both efficient, easy and affordable whether you travel by planes, trains or automobiles. And once you arrive, this country of nearly 49 million feels both welcoming and intimate while offering among the best beaches, architecture, art and food on the continent.
Literally and figuratively, Madrid is the centre of all things in Spain. This city of 3 million is the largest EU city after London and Berlin and equally as cosmopolitan. Start with the two central hubs of the city Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol and their plethora of shops and restaurants peeling off in every direction. From there, art lovers are required to visit the Golden Triangle of Art — beginning with the world-famous Prado museum filled with the masterpieces of Goya, Velasquez and El Greco to name but a few, the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia features Picasso and Dali, and completing the triptych is the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza.
After viewing this formidable collection of masterworks, it’s time to indulge your other senses. Snack on some addictive churros con chocolate as you walk off the calories exploring the gorgeous gardens and fountains of Buen Retiro Park. At sunset, head to the Templo Debod, an actual Egyptian temple transported and rebuilt in a beautiful park that offers some of the best views of Madrid. Not far away you’ll find the Latina neighbourhood where pitchers of sangria and piles of tapas await those parched and famished. But save room for dinner at the world’s oldest restaurant, Sobrino de Botin, founded in 1725.
While Barcelona is the second largest Spanish city, the architecture is second to none, being home to many of the master designs of Antoni Gaudi. This includes the incredible Sagrada Familia church as well as Casa Batllo. No less unique and accomplished was Picasso, whose largest collection of work can be viewed at the Picasso Museum.
Natural beauty abounds in Barcelona as well. Try strolling and shopping along the tree-lined boulevard of La Rambla or completely unplug at one of the city’s seven gorgeous beaches, all of which are technically nude beaches since Spain has no public nudity laws. Our suggestion, if au naturel sun worshipping inspires you, is to first check out how the locals roll before disrobing. If you prefer the “beautiful game” to beautiful bodies, catch an FC Barcelona game, one of the most famous and richest soccer teams in the world.
The Andalusia region in the south is home to several of our favourite cities, Seville, Cordoba and Granada. We’ll focus first on Seville, the region’s capital city. Any visitor will want to stay in the Old Town with its charming cobbled streets and head directly to the magnificent Alcázar Palace, considered one of the most beautiful examples of post-Moorish architecture and a frequently used location on Game of Thrones. Equally impressive is the St Mary of the See Cathedral, one of the world’s largest and, according to DNA testing in 2006, the final resting place of Christopher Columbus. Visitors in need of extra Fitbit steps are welcome to ascend to the top of the cathedral’s famous Giralda minaret. And if you truly fancy footwork, a must-see is a flamenco show as Seville is considered the birthplace of this traditional dance.
Córdoba is a genuinely beautiful city that lays claim to being the warmest metropolis in Europe with average summer temperature readings in the mid ’90s. As such, you’ll work up a thirst exploring Cordoba’s charms with its labyrinthine narrow streets and flower-adorned courtyards (particularly spectacular in May when locals compete against one another for the prettiest patio) so be sure to check out its bevvy of local bars. Refuel while you’re there with a host of tapas offerings, including the city’s signature dish — salmorejo, a cold, tomato-based soup akin to gazpacho but heartier, owing to its infusion of breadcrumbs, gammon and egg. An absolute bucket-list menu item!
Every city has it “de rigueur” attraction – Paris has the Eiffel Tower; San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge; and Granada has the Alhambra. In Cordoba, it is the Mezquita, a mosque completed in 987 and then hybridized with the Christian addition of a nave in the 16th century. You’ll find yourself excommunicated from the brotherhood of travellers if you skip this incredible spiritual site. For another trip back in time, cross the Puente Romano, a 1st-century Roman-constructed bridge spanning the Guadalquivir river.
San Sebastian, located in the Basque country of Northern Spain just 12 miles from the French border, is famous for its incredible food scene and luxurious beaches like Playa Concha. Stroll its impressive promenade or have lunch at one of the many fine restaurants before continuing to Monte Igeldo, accessible via a 1912 funicular railway, to soak in the panoramic views of the city and Donostia Bay. While the San Sebastian Film Festival is world famous, the true star here is the cuisine with numerous Michelin Guide dining destinations, including the three-star Arzak and Akelarre. Point of fact, only Kyoto has more Michelin-starred eateries per square meter than San Sebastian! Co-starring in this culinary heaven are pintxos, the Basque version of tapas, and should not be missed under any circumstances. In fact, your best bet is to go “all in” and avail yourself one of the many pintxos tours offered. Be sure to visit a Basque cider house and try this lively drink along with a traditional salted cod omelette.
Now that we have piqued your interest (and appetite) for Spain, be sure to make your reservations today and visit The Entertainer to book your trip to feast on the marvel of culture and food that is Spain. Book today with the ENTERTAINER getaways on your ENTERTAINER app! You’ll get to enjoy your vacation with up to 60% off your hotel stay!