Spain is undoubtedly one of the most popular destinations in Europe. Having a diverse and rich history, it’s a place that has been impacted by several cultures, including Romans, Muslims, and several others. It therefore holds a unique identity visible in its different regions. Aside from its flourishing cultural and historical scene, Spain has become largely known as the perfect summer destination due to its amazing weather during summer months. Additionally, Spain is a peninsula with very diverse terrain as well as several of the highest peaks in Europe, which adds to its charm.
One of the most popular cities in Spain is Valencia, and it is especially known for its iconic City of Arts complex. The complex was erected shortly after the Spanish were able to redirect the Turia River, and it is home to several museums, as well as a very popular planetarium and aquarium. From outside, the buildings themselves are a work of architectural art, adding charm to an already breathtaking experience. Valencia is also famous for its vibrant nightlife and extravagant festivities. Every March, the highly popular Fallas Festival takes place, where each neighbourhood of the city presents several paper figures, which are burned in ceremony at the end of the week.
The capital city of Spain never fails to provide a modern city touristic experience. Known for its very lively nightlife scene, Madrid is also well known for its breathtaking architecture. Some of the top must-see buildings in Madrid include the Royal Palace, which is the residence of the Spanish Monarch. Another popular destination in the city is the Puerta del Sol, which is a large and busy square in the heart of the city, and a home to several festivals throughout the year, as well as important events and unique street performances. Madrid is also known for its lively markets, especially the San Miguel market, located in a square called the Plaza Mayor.
Spain’s equivalent to France’s Louvre is just as impressive as its Parisian equivalent. Boasting the most important selection of Spanish art in the world, the Prado boasts thousands of pieces and is considered to be one of the world’s best museums. The building itself is as stunning as the artwork, the best of which includes the famous works of Velázquez and numerous others. The building has been recently enlarged and, in addition to several other important art museums of note, make for a splendid trip for art lovers from all over the globe.
Plaza Major Madrid
For authentic Spanish atmosphere it is essential to spend some time in the Plaza Major in Madrid. The square has been an important part of Spanish life since the late 1500s and its cobbled pavement with cafes spilling across it makes for a fabulous laid back atmosphere in which you can enjoy a drink or meal. The huge square, formerly a place for executions during the Spanish Inquisition, attracts both tourists and locals alike and is a popular meeting spot.
Santiago de Compostela
Worldwide, the Santiago de Compostela is regarded as having one of the most beautiful architectural scenes in Europe. However, for holders of the Christian faith worldwide, the city holds a higher place in their hearts. It’s believed that the Santiago de Compostela is the final resting place of St. James, an apostle of Jesus Christ. The city is often a religious destination for visitors doing the Camino de Santiago, which is a religious pilgrimage with the end destination being Santiago de Compostela. The Santiago Cathedral is no doubt an architectural wonder, and it’s also where St. James is believed to be buried. It’s a popular destination among religious pilgrims and tourists alike.
If you truly want to soak in the beautiful blend of architecture and history, then Cordoba is the place for you. The city is largely made of medieval architecture, and its characterized by its simple atmosphere, with small streets and several plazas interconnected in an intricate manner. Not only does it have a homey and peaceful atmosphere, Cordoba is also home to the famous Mezquita. Originally built as a mosque, today the Mezquita is a cathedral with a unique identity, boasting a blend of Muslim and Christian architecture.
Great Mosque of Cordoba
This spectacular mosque is another relic of Muslim Spain, and harks back to a forgotten era when Muslims ruled Andalucía province. The mosque boasts stunning Islamic architecture including domes and intricate columns and an orange tree courtyard. A mish-mash of different architectural styles including Byzantine influences, the Great Mosque of Cordoba is Europe’s most significant relic of the Muslim rule and a must-see for anyone wishing to understand the history of Spain.
Similar to Madrid, Seville is known for its lively nightlife scene, as well as its bustling markets and busy streets which are often occupied by one of the city’s several festivals. However, it’s a wonder of classic architecture, and it houses several popular historic and religious spots. The most popular architectural wonders in the city include the Cathedral of Seville, where Christopher Columbus is believed to be buried. It’s a picturesque scene serving to accentuate the city’s rich nature. Additionally, the city is home to the Real Alcazar, which is an incredible extravagant palace, also boasting one of the most unique architectural characteristics of its era.
Another stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Seville Cathedral is built on the former Aljama mosque and contains the nearby original minaret which is now La Giralda Tower. Its huge size and intricate gothic era architecture make for a stunning site and excellent photograph opportunities. The Cathedral also contains the tomb of Christopher Columbus and attracts thousands of visitors daily.
Not only is Spain home to unforgettable cultural and historical experiences, it’s also where oceanic island atmosphere merges with European quality. The four most popular Spanish islands are Ibiza, Formentera, Mallorca, and Menorca. Amazingly enough, each one of the islands has a completely unique identity. While Ibiza is well known for its parties scene, the rest of the islands as well as several others are well known for their beautiful beaches and perfect climates. Additionally, each of the islands boasts a collection of amazing wildlife and natural areas.
Another destination for beach lovers is San Sebastian. Similar to the Spanish Islands, the city has a lot to offer in terms of lovely beaches, perfect weather, while still holding on to the European atmosphere of brilliant architecture and diverse culture. San Sebastian is also famous for its unique cuisine, making for an all-around perfect experience, for both tourists and Spanish residents.
For the lovers of mountains and natural scenery, Granada is a perfect blend of nature and modern life. It is located at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains, and almost everywhere in the city offers spectacular views of the mountains. Additionally, Granada is home to several historic and architectural sites, as well as a vibrant nightlife.
A beacon for Spain’s signature mix of cultures, Toledo is one of the top destinations in Europe for enthusiasts of historic art and architecture. At several points of its history, Toledo has been inhabited by Muslims, Jews, and Christians. It has also been Spain’s capital until the 16th century. Today, it is known as “The City of Three Cultures,” and it’s a tourist favorite for its picturesque and diverse collection of art and architecture.
No doubt one of the most visited cities in the world, Barcelona is a collection of all the traits which make Spain truly unique. Most well known for its architectural wonders, built by world-famous architect Antoni Gaudi, the intricate structures are some of the architectural marvels of Europe. Barcelona is also an incredibly diverse city, with a vibrant shopping scene, an undying nightlife, as well as the popular beach of Barceloneta, and a very welcoming and tourist-friendly population.
Another Gaudi attraction in Barcelona, Park Guell is a great attraction to visit in Barcelona. The park, built on former wasteland in the early 20th Century, is known for its striking mosaic work, its beautiful terrace walls and its art nouveau buildings. Originally the park was to be a modern housing development, envisaged by Count Guell, but the housing element never came to fruition. Instead, Gaudi’s walkways that had been intended to lead to front doors of homes for the rich and famous of Barcelona became a park. Entry to the grounds is free however you will need to pay to visit the monuments and mosaics.
Barcelona’s fabulous and colourful La Rambla is a place that must be experienced once in a lifetime. Whether it is taking an evening stroll up and down to take in the evening entertainment including street performers and musicians, or sitting on the sidewalk enjoying a glass of wine, La Rambla is a place for tourists and locals to unwind. Explore the side streets off La Rambla, including its fabulous market, for extra atmosphere or enjoy people watching under the shade of the trees. Further up the strip, stop for paella as the evening draws to a close. The strip is also a favourite spot for locals to spend the weekend, buying their newspapers from the little stands and sitting in cafes to catch up on the news with friends.
The first stop for many during a visit to Barcelona, the stunning Sagrada Familia church is the adopted brainchild of Catalan artist Gaudi and began construction in 1882, remaining to this day unfinished. The UNESCO World Heritage Site and basilica is of note for its gothic style and its grand spires, and even though work continues to this day on the building the Sagrada Familia attracts thousands of visitors who want to see its stunning design including intricate facades. The centenary of Gaudi’s death in 2026 is the aim for structural completion of the project, which continues on slowly funded by the tickets purchased by tourists.
The enchanting “red castle” of the Alhambra Palace is a legacy of Muslim Spain, and an absolute must-see if you are visiting Granada. Aside from the stunning Moorish architecture, Islamic calligraphy built into the walls and the almost dreamlike atmosphere, the Alhambra is also a site of historical importance and demonstrates perfectly the fact that Spain was in Muslim hands for centuries. On peak days over 5000 visitors flock to see the stunning complex, it’s cool fountains, interesting arabesques and beautiful terraced gardens.
The Old City of Toledo
A blend of different architectural styles makes the Old City of Toledo one of the most interesting attractions in Spain. Muslims, Christians and Jews all lived together in this stunning walled city. Old mosques, synagogues and churches as well as beautiful medieval buildings sit side by side. The city of Toledo is easy to get to from Madrid and as such is an easy day trip for those wishing to soak up its delightful history. Make sure to visit the beautiful Gothic Cathedral when you are in Toledo as well.
Whilst many only visit Spain for its fabulous beaches and nightlife on the Costa del Sol or Costa Blanca, Spain has so so much more to offer. Its interesting Moorish history and architecture, stunning cathedrals and atmospheric plazas and old towns make Spain one of the best countries in the world to visit.
Spain boasts dozens more attractions, from the old white mountain villages of Andalucía to the modern museums of Valencia and Bilbao. Why not step away from the Costas and into the Spanish countryside to unfold its treasures, or take a city break to Barcelona, Granada, Seville, Cordoba or Madrid to check out the attractions listed above. You are sure to not be disappointed with your efforts to discover the history of some of Spain’s most fabulous attractions.