Places to visit in Spain
Make the most of your time
At twice the size of the UK, Spain is considerably vaster than most visitors expect – and most of it is utterly unexplored. There are mountains, deserts, wild coastlines, lush forests, Moorish pueblos, fishing villages and roads that simply stop in the middle of nowhere. You could spend months whizzing through all the places to visit in Spain, or you could choose a village to base yourself in – and really discover a tiny slice. Fortunately, getting around is easy. There are excellent high speed trains, a very affordable regular train option, metropolitan buses and hire cars for those choosing remoter regions. You can also cycle from inn to inn, or even walk from place to place – some hiking regions are well set up for this.
The Costa Blanca may be the home of hedonism but Alicante is now making a name for itself as a place to be good to yourself, with a variety of yoga and wellbeing vacations. There are also some excellent walking and cycling trails, taking in coastal plains, steep escarpments, Moorish pueblos, caves and Bronze Age settlements. Get into the local flora – cherry and orange blossoms, orchids and carpets of spring blooms.
Andalucia’s easternmost province is said to have the best climate in Europe – with 300 days of sunshine a year. This makes it ideal for winter walking breaks – there are empty beaches, the desert setting of many “Spaghetti Westerns” and the Nijar National Park, in Cabo de Gata, a stunning land and marine park with desert walks.
So much more than Ibiza, Magaluf and stag dos. It’s actually incredibly easy to get away from the baying bar hoppers this Mediterranean archipelago; just head to the hills – or just the opposite coastlines for tranquillity and fresh air. There are vineyards, traditional whitewashed guesthouses, hill trails, medieval villages and olive groves; Mallorca and Menorca are our favourite islands to explore.
The Pais Vasco is an enticing blend of tradition and modernity. Culturally closer to the French Basque Country than the rest of Spain, its language is unrelated to any other. Bilbao is a delightful little city with the distinctive Guggenheim; San Sebastian sits on a beautiful bay; and Guernica is immortalised in Picasso’s shocking painting. The region is famed for its tasty pinxos and meaty stews. Try the local cider, too!
Camino de Santiago
This humble trail across northern Spain draws pilgrims from across the globe to share in the classic landscapes, the hearty northern dishes and the very Spanish sense of “solidarity”. Roughing it in hostels is still possible – but plusher accommodation is now springing up along the Camino, meaning you can enjoy the trail’s highlights but with a quiet, comfy bed to collapse into at the end of each day.
Frequently described as “not Spain!” Catalonia is a country within a country, where Catalan is the dominant language and landscapes sweep from snowy Pyrenean peaks to sun-soaked Mediterranean coves. There is a Volcanic Park, car-free hiking and walking trails, cuisine influences by the oceans and forests – and the magnificent cities of Barcelona, Tarragona and Girona.
Both a province and a city, Granada boasts the Sierra Nevada – including the highest peak in mainland Spain, and the ancient Islamic city of Granada – with the opulent Alhambra Palace. La Alpujarra is tucked between the snowy mountains and subtropical coastline, and a haven for photographers and artists, walkers and anyone seeking peace. Granada also retains its free tapas culture – so come with an appetite.
White towns, ravines, tumbling bougainvillea, Moorish tiles and quaint farmstays, Malaga has plenty to offer beyond Marbella and the Costa del Sol. Even a 20 minute drive from the beach can take you to traditional villages – where tourists are welcomed with open arms, yet no English is spoken and fresh food is still purchased from traveling markets. The Picasso Museum is in Malaga city – the artist’s birthplace.
Picos de Europa (Asturias)
Extraordinarily, this 2,650m high mountain range has not popped up on most hikers’ compasses. The limestone massif is frequently snow-draped, and shelters chamois goats, bearded vultures, Iberian wolves and even brown bears. The villages here are isolated yet welcoming, the food is possibly Spain’s finest – and you’re still just 10km from the craggy Costa Verde.
Stretching across the French border, the Spanish Pyrenees are a final frontier of world-class mountain biking, hiking and climbing, kayaking and rafting, and even strange volcanic scenery. The Pyrenees are as diverse as anywhere else in Spain – from the lush Basque foothills of the west, to hidden ski slopes, 3,400m peaks, steep railways, medieval villages, glacial lakes and monasteries clinging to cliffs.
Seville proudly flaunts just about every Spanish cliché – but it’s for real. The whitewashed, Moorish buildings, streets fragranced with orange blossom, the exquisite Alcazar palace, the sounds of flamenco tapping down from wrought iron balconies, tapas bars on every narrow street corner, and year-round sunshine. Siesta through the heat of the day and fiesta in the plazas by night. It’s sultry, seductive and super Spanish.
The Moorish heartland of Seville, Cordoba, Cadiz and Huelva is peppered with 11th century fortresses, cathedrals converted into mosques and back into cathedrals, ancient Jewish Quarters, miles of orderly olive groves and windswept Atlantic coastline, heated by Saharan breezes. A frying pan in summer, springlike in winter, and the birthplace of sherry and flamenco. Catch a festival here if you can.
Travel times in Spain
The following times give you a rough idea of the travel times between the main attractions in Spain. The AVE, AVI and AVANT are high speed trains.
- Madrid – Seville: 6hrs 30 mins by car
- Madrid – Seville: 2hrs 20 mins by AVE
- Barcelona – Valencia: 3 hours by train
- Madrid – Barcelona: 2hrs 30 mins by AVI
- Seville – Cordoba: 45 mins by AVE
- Barcelona – Girona: 35 minutes by AVANT
- Barcelona – Tarragona: 1hr 20 mins by train