Things to Do in Spain
Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum, designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry and opened in 1997, is hailed as one of the most important architectural works of its time. Within its undulating and reflecting walls on the banks of the Nervión River, you’ll find a rotating artistic wonderland of both modern and contemporary art.
The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (Catedral de Santiago de Compostela) is one of the most important shrines in Christendom, believed to be the final resting place of St. James the Greater, one of the Twelve Apostles. The Romanesque, Gothic, and baroque structure is the terminus of the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) pilgrimage routes through Northern Spain.
Built on a hill overlooking Granada and set against a backdrop of the Sierra Nevada, the Alhambra (Alhambra de Granada) is a sprawling complex of intricately decorated palaces, pristine gardens, and a once-mighty fortress. This UNESCO World Heritage site was constructed during the Nasrid Dynasty and later partially destroyed and rebuilt by King Charles V. With its mix of Renaissance and Moorish architecture, the Alhambra Palace is the most sought-after attraction for visitors to Granada, sitting high on most must-see lists for Andalucia and Spain as a whole.
Sights across the entire Spanish south have been shaped by centuries of Moorish and Catholic influence, and in few places is this more evident and captivating than at the Royal Alcázar of Seville (Real Alcázar de Sevilla). This UNESCO World Heritage Site’s sprawling complex is made up of several features; the most picturesque is arguably the Patio de las Doncellas, with its tranquil ponds that reflect the intricate mudéjar plasterwork for which the palace is especially noted.
Originally the site of the Christian Visigoth Church San Vicente dating back to AD 600, the Mezquita (Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba) stands as the city's most proud monument and one of the most exquisite Islamic structures in the Western world. Learn about its rich history while taking in the 850 columns of jasper, onyx, marble, and granite.
Sagrada Familia, a UNESCO World Heritage site and Antoni Gaudi’s magnum opus, is undoubtedly the most iconic structure in Barcelona (and the most popular, with nearly 3 million visitors per year). Construction has been ongoing for more than 135 years, and the surreal structure, with its rainbow-hued stained glass windows, is slated for completion in 2026. Even in its unfinished state, it remains an absolute must-see for every visitor to the Catalan capital.
The twin stone Serranos Towers (Torres de Serranos), built in the 14th century as Valencia’s main exit toward Barcelona and Northern Spain, are one of only two remaining portions of the original city walls. What once served as prison cells and a triumphal arch are now thought to be the largest Gothic city gateway in Europe.
Given that Cadiz is almost entirely surrounded by water, the desire to hit thebeach is bound to strike you at some point. When this happens, your go-to destination will be La Caleta, the only proper beach in old town. It’s an isolated shoreline that cozies up along the western side of the city, nestled inside a natural harbor once used by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans.
Though it’s Cadiz’s shortest sandy shore, it ticks all the beach boxes, offering soft golden sands and calm waters, as well as amenities including lifeguards and showers. Perhaps best of all is that the beach is western facing, which means it’s the perfect spot in town to catch a dreamy Spanish sunset. While there, spy some of La Caleta’s notable sights, including the impossible-to-miss crescent-shaped Balneario de Nuestra Señora de la Palma y del Real, a 1920s spa whose gazebo-tipped arms reach out across the shore. It’s not the only impressive structure here, either, as the beach is bookended to the north and south by two fortresses, San Sebastian and Santa Catalina.
Spanning 20 square miles (51 square km) of southern Lanzarote, Timanfaya National Park (Parque Nacional de Timanfaya) is a unique and eerie landscape of dormant volcanoes and lava fields. Visitors flock to the park from nearby beach towns to explore the otherworldly terrain that looks more like the moon than the Canary Islands.
Built between 1614 and 1662, this towering cathedral was designed by Agustin Bernardino and erected on the same site as a historic mosque. An impressive nave and six side chapels surround the sky-high blue dome at the center of the altar. Travelers say the chapel of the Holy Communion is one of the cathedral’s most beautiful and a striking example of Spanish Baroque architecture and design.
Despite its unassuming (and rather bare) exterior, the interior of San Nicolas is something to behold. In addition to the quiet chapels, visitors will find a raised pipe organ and quiet cloisters with well-tended gardens.
More Things to Do in Spain
Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor is the Spanish Main Square that your dreams are made of. Home to the city’s commanding City Hall building — and once the site of bullfights until as late as 1992 — the plaza is widely considered the most beautiful square in Spain. Beautiful because of its dramatic Baroque style, its 247 balconies, and its 88 arches behind which hide all sorts of restaurants and shops.
Indeed, this is where you’ll want to go to bask in your Salamanca surroundings by sitting al fresco (when weather permits) to enjoy tapas while savoring views of the 18th-century square and its emblematic sandstone buildings. From here, you’ll also have easy access to other city sights, as it’s just a short jaunt from stops such as the Salamanca Cathedral, Casa de las Conchas, and the University of Salamanca. Meanwhile, those looking for a good selection of shops need only head down Calle del Toro, a street just off the northeastern corner of the plaza.
Built between the 5th and 1st centuries BC, Cartagena’s Roman Theater wasn’t discovered during modern times until 1988, following which a massive restoration took place. Come 2008, the newly discovered theater was opened to the public along with a museum, once again inviting visitors into a grand space that, during Roman times, welcomed some 6,000 spectators.
The theater is situated on a vista-rich city hillside, from which the stadium seating was carved out of the actual rock below. During a visit, you can explore the different corners of this conserved space, as well as check out the museum, which offers an in-depth overview of the archeological remains along with informative panels explaining the restoration (all in both English and Spanish).
Situated along Valencia’s old Turia riverbed, the visually striking City of Arts and Sciences (Ciudad de las Artes y Ciencias) was the work of Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. The spectacular architecture is just part of the appeal of the futuristic complex, home to a science museum, planetarium, and more—all popular with families.
The Prado Museum (Museo del Prado) houses one of the finest art collections in the world, specializing in European art from the 12th to 19th centuries. Thousands of European paintings, sculptures, and other works of art are on display throughout its halls, and they represent merely a fraction of the total collection. Highlights include works by Francisco Goya, Diego Velázquez, and El Greco. Perhaps the most famous paintings are “Las Meninas” (The Maids of Honor), an inventive self-portrait by Velázquez, and The Garden of Earthly Delights, a triptych from Hieronymus Bosch.
San Sebastian’s medieval Old Town is a maze of bar-packed alleys serving the city’s world-famous pintxos and wine. The neighborhood is also home to the wonderfully chaotic Pescadería (fish market), the San Telmo Municipal Museum, Church of San Vicente, and the Basilica of Saint Mary of Coro.
The largest and oldest national park in the Canary Islands and home to Spain’s highest peak, Mount Teide, Teide National Park (Parque Nacional del Teide) is one of the top attractions on Tenerife. The rugged landscape of the park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is magnificent—a geological wonder featuring an expanse of rugged lava fields, ancient calderas, and volcanic peaks.
Characterized by rugged cliffs, forested trails, and waterfalls, the wild landscapes of the Masca Valley are among Tenerife’s most beautiful. The remote gorge offers a thrilling backdrop for a hike—the trail winds down through the gorge and finishes at a black-sand beach.
Madrid's Royal Palace (also known as the Palacio Real or Palacio de Oriente) is a beautiful baroque structure with some 3,000 rooms, making it one of Europe's largest castles. Although the royal family no longer lives here, the Palacio Real still serves as the king and queen's official residence, a venue for state ceremonies, and a place for tourists to get a peek into the royal history of Spain.
The baroque facade of the Girona Cathedral (Catedral de Girona) stands at the top of a grand staircase, high above the old city. The structure was built between the 11th and 18th centuries in a variety of styles: The cathedral boasts a Romanesque cloister and tower, Gothic nave (the widest of its kind in the world), and a baroque exterior.
Located within the mountains of Almeria in Spain sits Europe’s only semi-desert, a surreal landscape of arid slopes, dry river beds and ravines known as the Tabernas Desert (Desierto de Tabernas). While the name of the desert might not strike many as familiar, the landscapes probably will; this area is a Hollywood favorite — it’s been featured in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", "Lawrence of Arabia" and the Clint Eastwood "Dollars" trilogy.
Movie buffs can walk in the footsteps of famous actors in the film villages of Fort Bravo, Mini Hollywood and Western Leone, some of the more than a dozen villages built in the desert for filming purposes. Visitors will also find hiking trails, ruined hilltop castles and plenty of stunning desert views.
Visitors to the south of Spain shouldn’t miss the Rock of Gibraltar, a limestone promontory and nature reserve known for its sheer cliff sides, Barbary macaques, and the sights in Saint Michael’s Cave. Though this British overseas territory is a worthy destination for its Moorish Castle alone, the 360-degree views are truly spectacular.
Lobos Island (Wolf Island) is named after the “sea wolves” (monk seals) that used to live here. Now a protected nature reserve, the small, rocky island is home to wildlife—from birds to sharks—beaches, hiking paths, a visitor center, and, at the northern tip, the lonely Punta Martiño Lighthouse.
After King James I (Jaume 1) conquered the Balearic Islands in 1229, he began the conversion of a Moorish-era mosque in present-day Palma de Mallorca (Majorca) into a grand Catalan Gothic-style cathedral overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The golden sandstone façade, the city’s most notable landmark, took more than 400 years to complete.
Travelers seeking a touchstone to history will find ancient artifacts dating back to the Bronze Age, as well as items from the Iberian and Roman empires at the Santa Barbara Castle (Castillo de Santa Bárbara). This towering structure is tucked atop a rocky overlook and dates back to the 9th century. Like much of the region, it was once ruled by Muslims before being captured by Castillians in the mid-1200s.
The castle grounds, which stand high above Alicante, are worth exploring, and visitors say the epic views contribute to a greater understanding of the city’s layout. A tiny souvenir shop and quaint coffee shop serving up strong brews offer the perfect place to relax after wandering through the historic site, which does not disappoint.
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