Charged with a permanent feeling of intense passion, emotion, and sophistication, Spain has a funny way of forcing you to slow down, live in the moment, and enjoy life’s simple pleasures. From Gaudí’s whimsical masterpieces to historical Mudéjar treasures, or the snow-capped Pyrenees mountains to the palm-fringed beaches of the Costa del Sol, Spain is more diverse than you’ve probably ever imagined. Though distinct regional identities are an important source of pride, the country’s true charm lies in its people and their unique lifestyle. Between the pulsating nightlife, mouthwatering gastronomy, and colorful fiestas, Spain stimulates your imagination in more ways than one. Here are 40 of the best things to do in Spain.
Taking place in the small village of Buñol, La Tomatina is the world-famous event where thousands of people partake in an epic tomato fight. Held on the last Wednesday of every August since 1945, this annual festival is dubbed “the world’s biggest food fight” because it draws between 40,000 and 50,000 participants each year. Leading up to La Tomatina, the town is transformed into a battleground and shopkeepers prepare by covering their storefronts with huge plastic covers. Following a traditional ceremony in the morning, the beginning of the fight is marked by the firing of water cannons, and the ensuing chaos is generally regarded as a free-for-all. If you’re looking to get dirty and have fun at La Tomatina, August is the best time to travel to Spain.
Madrid is an absolute paradise for art lovers–something that comes to culmination along the Paseo del Prado. The world-famous Golden Triangle of Art consists of three of Europe’s most historic museums, the Prado Museum, the Reina Sofía Museum, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, all within walking distance from one another. No matter your preference for art, the prestigious area has something to suit your taste. Rivalling the likes of the Louvre in Paris and the National Gallery in London, the Prado is Spain’s national museum that boasts one of the most impressive collections of European art from before the 20th century. On the other hand, both the Reina Sofía and the Thyssen-Bornemisza offer visitors an unforgettable collection of modern and contemporary artwork.
Traditional Spanish cooking is deceptively simple with high-quality recipes that have been passed down through generations. Taking advantage of the numerous cultural influences and nearby landscapes, the best way to experience the gastronomic breadth of foods is over tapas–small portions of local cuisine. These sophisticated plates are meant to be combined and shared among several people. Rich in flavor and variety, these delicious bites are all about enjoying the small pleasures with friends and family. In certain regions in southern Spain, restaurants and bars even provide a free plate of tapas when you order a beer. It doesn’t matter where you find yourself in the country, tapas and sangria bars are the best places in Barcelona for people watching.
Time spent on the beach is an essential part of the Spanish lifestyle, especially in August when the country collectively takes a month-long siesta to enjoy the hottest month of the year. From the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, you’re spoiled for choices when it comes to the best beaches in Spain. Not only does the Iberian Peninsula boast an insane amount of scenic coastline, but the region is also blessed with year-round great weather and plenty of sunshine. Whether it’s a tranquil paradise to unwind with a great book, rich underwater activity for snorkelling, or pulsating city atmosphere, Spain has the perfect beach for every type of traveler.
Considering the vast natural and architectural diversity, it makes sense that the masterminds behind the Game of Thrones series chose to film several scenes in Spain. In Girona’s Old Town, the cobbled streets and uphill steps leading up to the imposing cathedral were transformed into the Free City of Essos. Beyond the collection of medieval buildings, Game of Thrones took advantage of remote landscapes, such as the dramatic isle of Gaztelugatxe in Basque Country, which was used as the ancestral home for Daenerys targaryen’s Dragonstone. Elsewhere, the desert-like badlands of Bardenas Reales Natural Park in the Navarre region were used for scenes in the Dothraki Sea, the home of the Khalasars, the horse-riding warriors who roamed the land in huge packs. Follow the show through your own Game of Thrones tour in Spain.
Situated at the end of a former riverbed, La Ciudad de Artes y Ciencias is the massive scientific and cultural complex that no trip to Valencia is complete without. Designed by local architect Santiago Calatrava, it’s easy to spend hours marveling over the ultra-modern architecture that consists of an opera house, aquarium, science museum, and 3D cinema. The awe-inspiring city within a city and its futuristic buildings were voted by the Spanish public as one of the 12 Treasures of Spain, making it the perfect place to appreciate great design and partake in some family-friendly learning.
Making for a weekend tradition like no other, happy hour in Barcelona involves sipping on vermouth, a traditional local drink, and feasting on a few delectable bites. Besides being a quintessential ingredient in any well-stocked bar, vermouth in Barcelona is also served as a standalone beverage. The bittersweet charms of vermouth are combined with herbs and spices, chilled with ice cubes, seltzer, and garnished with fruit. From the hippest neighborhoods in Barcelona to the most remote corners of Catalonia, you’ll find locals of all ages sipping on this elegant aperitif before indulging in a weekend lunch.
If you could only visit one attraction in all of Spain, the Alhambra would have a pretty compelling case. Dating back to the 14th century, this breathtaking palace and fortress complex showcases the extravagant Moorish architecture of the Nasrid Dynasty–an essential chapter of Spain’s complicated history. Between the royal residences, military barracks, and brimming nature, it’s easy to get lost in everything that the Alhambra offers. Perched upon a hill that towers over the city, this site has heart-stopping views of Granada and the Andalusian countryside set against the brooding Sierra Nevada mountain range. Be sure to also check out the Generalife Gardens for an amazing display of manicured gardens with long flowing water channels that make for a scenic walk.
Although Ibiza may be tiny in size, the most illustrious of Spain’s Balearic Islands packs a serious punch. Regularly drawing in the world’s top DJs, this sun-kissed paradise has earned the reputation of a hedonistic playground that draws in party-goers from all corners of the world. Between the legendary boat parties and pulsating superclubs (Privilege can hold up to 10,000 people at once), Ibiza offers a party experience like no other. Similar world-famous venues such as Amnesia, Ushuaïa, and Es Paradis also have all the makings for what’s sure to be an unforgettable night. In the morning, follow the night up by relaxing on some of the Mediterranean’s most gorgeous beaches and indulging in some delicious food. Don’t forget to hydrate!
Considering its lack of major tourist attractions and museums, it’s no surprise that the community of Sant Antoni in Barcelona is often overlooked by the mobs of tourists. A neighborhood within a neighborhood, the idyllic Sant Antoni finds itself seemingly worlds away from the hoards of map-holding tourists roaming the Gothic Quarter, the chaotic party-goers of Raval, and those aimlessly wandering the main streets of Eixample admiring the modernista architecture. Despite it being just a stone’s throw away from these hotspots, Sant Antoni is an area in which you’re much more likely to encounter bohemian youth, urban creatives, passionate artisans, and, if you’re lucky enough, the occasional Catalan TV star. The best part of it all? The pedestrian-friendly rondas of Sant Antoni are home to Barcelona’s most delicious brunch restaurants, cozy cafes, and traditional bodegas.
Situated within the scenic Cantabrian Mountains between the provinces of Asturians, Cantabria, and León, the Picos de Europa National Park offers visitors a number of peaceful landscapes away from it all. Showcasing the exceptional geological diversity of the region, it’s here that you’ll be able to witness everything from deep river gorges and wide valleys to spectacular limestone peaks. At the park’s higher elevations, grazing cattle fill the open meadows, while there are several scattered viewpoints where you can really appreciate the vast beauty of Spain’s first designated National Park. When you’re done with your hike, check out these 7 cozy villages in Cantabria, Spain.
Perhaps the most well-known Spanish pastime on an international level, the art of Flamenco is a traditional dance that’s deep-rooted into the cultural fabric of Andalusia, Spain’s southernmost region. There’s perhaps no better place to experience this beautiful musical form than in Seville, where it manifests itself within the daily lives of its residents. It’s here in Andalusia’s vibrant capital city where you can soak in the dramatic melodies at an intimate tablao or simply watch local performers take to the streets. Consisting of guitar, vocals, dancing, and palmas (hand clapping), flamenco is a marvelous display of emotion, passion, intensity, and romance that you soon won’t forget. If you’re ready to get your groove on, Flamenco dancing is one of the best things to do in Seville, Spain.
Pablo Picasso is widely regarded as one of the defining artists of the 20th century and certainly one of the most famous painters of all-time. While he was born in Malaga and spent the bulk of his career in Paris, it’s Barcelona where the Spanish painter grew up, studied, and really came into his own. He lived and worked in the same narrow alleyways and winding streets of Barcelona’s Old Town, which remain largely unchanged to this day. In fact, his most iconic painting, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, depicts five prostitutes in front of a well-known brothel on Carrer d’Avinyó in the Gothic Quarter. Elsewhere, it’s at Els Quatre Gats where a young Picasso would hang out, socialize and exchange ideas with the writers, artists, and thinkers of Barcelona at the time. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to soak up the same streets, experiences, and sights that inspired one of the most legendary painters of all-time by taking a self-guided tour of Picasso’s Barcelona.
From the smell of gunpowder to the breathtaking display of fireworks that rivals anywhere in the world, Las Fallas de Valencia is the over-the-top celebration that comes with the arrival of spring. Held in March of each year, different groups, districts, and neighborhoods showcase their own papier-maché characters and elaborate floats in a parade that combines tradition, satire, and art. To celebrate Saint Joseph, the patron saint of Valencia, this high-spirited event comes to a loud conclusion on the final day, known as La Crema, when the floats are stuffed with fireworks and burned away throughout the city for an incredible visual display.
There are football matches. Then there’s El Clasico. Easily one of the most anticipated sporting events worldwide, it’s a special occasion whenever FC Barcelona and Real Madrid square off against each other. Not only do these two teams represent the biggest cities in Spain, but the storied rivalry also reflects centuries of political and cultural tensions that continue to this day. When these two sides take the pitch, the country collectively stops for ninety consecutive minutes of heart-throbbing intensity. Whether you’re chanting in the stands or cheering on from a bar in Madrid or Barcelona, the passionate atmosphere is all the same. Sit back with company, have a few cañas, and enjoy.
From the flamboyant street parades to the electrifying all-night parties, the Carnival de Santa Cruz de Tenerife is considered to be the second biggest of its kind in the world, behind only the famous festivities in Rio de Janeiro. This brilliant spectacle has been celebrated for over four centuries in Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands, drawing thousands of international visitors in search of fun. For fifteen days every February (the best time to visit Spain), the streets come alive with joie de vivre, freedom, and extravagance. Located just off the coast of Africa, Tenerife’s year-round sun and beautiful beaches make for the ideal getaway.
Arranged in the 17th century specifically for Felipe IV and the royal family, the glorious gardens of the Parque del Buen Retiro are filled with marble monuments, picturesque waters, and elegant architecture. Since opening to the public in 1868, the park has served as a focal point of life among Madrileños. At any given time, you’ll see friends gathering for coffee at one of many open-air terraces, professionals coming to read on their lunch break, and couples paddling along in a row boat. You can also take a tour of the nearby Palacio Real and soak up the extravagance through 50 rooms with lavish old-world décor, a priceless amount of traditional paintings, and a shiny collection of weapons and armour.
The mesmerizing Mezquita de Córdoba is the perfect ode to the complicated history of Spain and the diversity of cultures that have shaped it. Dating back to the 10th century when Córdoba was the capital of Islamic Spain, the grand mosque and its spacious interior are perhaps the best display of Mudéjar architecture and artwork. The Mezquita is an icon of Spanish culture and religious evolution, going from the Romans to the Moors up to present-day Christians.
Not only is Galicia a distinct region that boasts its own unique language and culture, but the wild coastline of Spain’s northwestern corner makes for some of the most spectacular scenery in the entire Iberian Peninsula. Considering the majestic coastal inlets, fragrant eucalyptus forests, jagged cliffs, and pristine beaches, Galicia’s roaring yet tranquil natural beauty makes for the perfect place to contemplate and reflect. Moreover, the scattered fishing towns are a great way to experience the proud Celtic heritage, as well as some of Europe’s best seafood.
As the evening falls over, Barcelona is filled with a special kind of magic. The Catalan capital is already one of the most photogenic cities on the planet, a statement that holds especially true when the sun begins to set and the sky is lit up with hues of purple, orange, and yellow. Barcelona’s one-of-a-kind geography spans the calm waters of the Mediterranean Sea, boundless coastline, and jagged peaks, creating a number of stunning vantage points. And just wait to see how the sun bounces off the eclectic mix of architecture, ranging from gritty gothic cathedrals to the colorful creations of Gaudí himself. A sunset in Barcelona is worth experiencing for yourself.
Austere Gothic cathedrals, imposing citadels, and winding cobblestone streets–getting lost in old Spain provides the unique opportunity to live out all your medieval dreams. Having drawn weary pilgrims to the cult of Santa Teresa de Ávila for centuries, the UNESCO-protected old town of Ávila is surrounded by one of the world’s most well-preserved fortifications that comprises of eight massive gates, 88 watchtowers, and 2,500 turrets. Elsewhere, the winding cityscape of Toledo features its own foreboding castle perched atop a hill with twisting alleyways that wind down to the river below. In Segovia, the imaginative Alcázar is the real life castle that was said to have inspired Walt Disney’s Snow White.
Andalusia puts forth its own version of Spanish charm. Immortalized by romantic literature and alluring artwork over the centuries, this sun-kissed, fiesta-loving region boasts everything from lavish palaces where wealthy Moorish kings and their families once resided to passionate flamenco dancers. Once you stretch your limits beyond the usual tourist circuit of Seville, Granada, and Córdoba, you’ll find yourself lost in charming hillside towns, whitewashed fishing villages, and mesmerizing coastline. Whether you want to travel by train or rent a car and drive yourself, it’s impossible not to be charmed by the laid-back pace of life, spirited atmosphere, and colorful celebrations.
Not only does Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum house a vast array of contemporary art exhibitions, but the gleaming titanium structure is also one of the world’s most admired displays of modern architecture. Designed by legendary architect Frank Gehry, the Guggenheim pays homage to Bilbao’s history of fishing and shipbuilding by incorporating several naval themes into its design, such as flowing canopies, flying fins, and boat shapes. After the museum opened its doors in 1997, it turned a struggling industrial town into a cultural metropolis and remains the iconic landmark of the city.
Perhaps Spain’s most emblematic dish on an international level, paella traces its humble origins back to the Valencia region. While paella has since spread all over Spain with each region now boasting its own version, foodies looking to uncover the true essence of the rice-based dish should have their appetite fixed on Valencia. Between the family-run establishments that have fed Valencians for generations, contemporary hotspots that are redefining the dish, and charming beachside chiringuitos, no trip to Valencia is complete without a taste of authentic paella. Here’s a guide to some of our favorite paella restaurants in Valencia.
One of the most traditional festivals on the Spanish calendar, the Semana Santa (or the Holy Week) takes place on the streets of almost every city across the country on the week before Easter. Led by the ceremonial processions of brotherhoods and fraternities, the participants dawn traditional robes that conceal their identity, along with floats that depict different religious scenes and usually the church’s patron saint. Whether you’re religious or not, this festival still strikes a chord for its ability to bring families, friends, and communities together to celebrate. For the most extravagant Semana Santa celebrations in Spain, head south to Andalusia, where cities such as Sevilla, Málaga, and Granada are known for their golden sights.
Lined with golden beaches, pine-edged coves, and crystal clear waters, the Costa Brava stretches north from Barcelona along Catalonia’s eastern coastline to the French border. Featuring some of Spain’s most magnificent natural beauty, any trip to the Costa Brava allows for the opportunity for some R&R away from the regular hustle-and-bustle. Beyond time spent lounging on the beach and exploring the craggy shoreline, however, you’ll find several charming Medieval towns, whitewashed fishing villages, a unique artistic heritage, and delicious seafood restaurants.
While Madrid is certainly known for its cultural sophistication, fine dining scene, historical art collections, and traditional flair, there’s no denying that the city loves to party. When the sun goes down, the golden metropolis comes to life and high-spirited energy fills the streets, meaning that Madrid lives up to its reputation as a place that truly lives for the moment. From storied cocktail bars to six-storey nightclubs, the Spanish capital has exciting action in store for all preferences and musical tastes–just don’t expect to get back to bed until you’ve killed the night.
Whether it’s more of a sporting journey or a spiritual endeavour, the Camino de Santiago can be appreciated by just about anybody. Pilgrims have trekked for centuries along this extraordinary trail through medieval villages, old monasteries, and heart-stopping scenery, whereas local shops, inns, and restaurants have also been set up along the route. Whether you partake in the full month-long journey or simply a section, all roads eventually end at the beautiful city of Santiago de Compostela. The exertion of walking for an extended period of time, clearing your mind, and taking in the sights free from modern devices is certainly a liberating experience.
Between the seaside sunsets, charming towns, and excellent wine, Spain knows how to set the mood like no other. Outside of Madrid and Barcelona, the country is filled with several lovely towns that each boast their own take on wining and dining, scenic strolls, and breakfast in bed. Whether you’re planning for the upcoming Valentine’s Day, a honeymoon trip, wedding anniversary, or simply a romantic stay with your loved one, the irresistible romantic charm makes Spain a premiere destination to fall in love all over again. Planning a trip? Follow our guide to the best cities in Spain for a romantic getaway.
While opulent palaces and imposing fortresses are certainly a great way to dive into Spain’s Moorish past, ancient Arabic baths provide a more relaxing alternative. Most Arab baths are housed within lavish old-world architecture with marble columns, vaulted ceilings, and graceful arches, where steam rooms, mint tea lounges, and tranquil pools of varying temperatures provide the experience of a lifetime. These establishments also offer tantalizing body scrubs and aromatic massages with techniques that have been refined over centuries, the perfect way to unwind in a space of absolute serenity.
With a dream left hand barrel and arguably the best river mouth wave in the world, Playa de Mundaka has been celebrated as one of the world’s top destinations for surfing since the 1960s. Located on the rocky coast of the Bay of Biscay, Mundaka is one of the former sites of the World Championship Tour of Surfing, boasting some of the best waves in all of Europe. The town of Mundaka itself is a sleepy Medieval village and the architecture does make for some interesting views, such as the take-off point that overlooks an 11th-century Gothic church. The hollow, fast barrelling waves of Mundaka rise to a height of 12 feet and make this scenic stretch of Basque coastline a must to check off for surfing enthusiasts of all levels.
Located within his hometown of Figueres, the Dalí Theatre-Museum pays homage to the life and work of legendary Spanish painter Salvador Dalí. Topped with giant eggs and studded with plaster-covered croissants, the castle-like structure is an appropriate tribute to the master of surrealism, whereas inside offers a fascinating mix of weird and wonderful creations, tricks, and illusions. Designed by Dalí himself in the final years of his life, the museum showcases the artist’s unique persona in the charming town where he grew up.
The smallest of the Balearic Islands, Formentera is happy to be overshadowed by the thumping nightclubs of Ibiza and sunburnt tourists of Mallorca. Measuring just 20 km in length, the island and its exquisite natural scenery offers visitors pure tranquility away from it all. The secluded beaches feature serene bays, shallow waters, white sand, hidden coves, and colorful reefs, making for the perfect off-the-grid getaway.
In the northern region of La Rioja, wine is much more than a simple beverage–it’s a shared culture and way of life. Known for its Tempranillo grape that’s aged to perfection before being sold around the world, those in search of excellent wine and memorable culinary experiences don’t have to look much further than La Rioja. In addition to the bodega wine tours and elegant tastings, the magical region offers a number of charming medieval towns, traditional festivals, and breathtaking scenery that make for the perfect complement to your continually-filled glass.
Separating the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of Europe, the Pyrenees mountain range offers thrilling all-season adventure throughout the year. Snowboarders and skiers flock to the highest peaks in the winter, whereas the verdant hiking trails draw in adventurous trekkers when the sun is out. Through the crystal-clear lakes, green valleys, and centuries-old alpine villages, the vast natural scenery unfolds gracefully, while scattered Romanesque churches seemingly make for an open-air museum of old architecture. As you trot from village to village, you can find everything from adrenaline-pumping birds-eye views of the heart of Catalonia to secluded spots to enjoy with children. If you’re up for another adventure, tackle the Caminito del Rey near Ardales.
The embodiment of the Catalan Modernist architectural movement, Antoni Gaudí has played an undeniable role in creating the vibrant Barcelona that stands today. From street lights to fountains, museums, homes, public parks, and, of course, La Sagrada Familia, his most famous beloved pride and joy, Gaudi’s Barcelona collection is not only impressive, but also quite extensive. The quirky, colorful, and flamboyant style defined a generation of Catalan art and architecture in history, and inspired countless others in the process.
Two weeks after the Semana Santa celebrations have completely wound down, Seville embarks on a giant seven-day party known as the Feria de Abril. With the spring excitement already filling the air, this is a vibrant event that consists of endless parades and daily bullfights, as well as lots of dancing, eating, drinking and socializing. The real magic happens at the ‘Real de la Feria’, the gigantic fairground where thousands of temporary casetas, colorful tent-like structures, are set up with all your typical amusement park rides and attractions.
After hours spent admiring the lavish palaces and picturesque gardens of the Alhambra, there’s no better way to unwind than in Granada’s illustrious teahouses. While five centuries have passed since the last Nasrid ruler was driven out of the Iberian Peninsula, some of the refined daily customs continue to live on in Granada. These teahouses are intimate and atmospheric, embellished with adorned cushions, shadowy lanterns, and opulent Mudéjar decor. If you’re looking for off-the-beaten-path things to do in Granada, it’s here where you can sip on aromatic beverages, puff on hookah pipes, and nibble on traditional Moorish pastries.
While Spain is certainly no stranger to small, shareable plates of food, the art of pintxos takes the concept to another level. It’s in the Basque Country where they’ve perfected the art of creative, bite-sized snacks that are served on small slices of bread and stabbed with a toothpick. Enter any pintxo bar in the Basque Country and you’ll notice that the countertops are weighed down by mountains of small bites, each with its own unique combination of ingredients and elements. These delectable plates are best experienced in the region’s vibrant capital and culinary hotspot of San Sebastian where you can enjoy the elegant Belle Époque architecture and golden scenery at the same time.
Despite the absence of snow and cold weather, you’re sure to find plenty of Christmas spirit in Catalonia leading up to the holidays. From vibrant Barcelona to the most remote coastal villages, the streets and town squares across the region are decked out with dazzling lights, aromatic markets, festive colors, and truly unique folklore. Across traditional nativity scenes, you’ll spot the caganer (literally the “defecator”) casually taking care of his business among Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and the Three Wise Men. The unusual traditions continue into the home where you’ll find children feeding and chanting around the caga tió (literally “defecating log”), a hollowed-out Christmas log that’s decorated with two little stick legs, a smiling face, and a little red hat.