Spain Best Cities
Did you know that Spain has the third largest number of UNESCO sites in the world, and comes second only to Italy, in Europe? Many of these can be found in this list of Spain's top cities.
Although lots of tourists have traditionally come to Spain for the sun, sea, and sangria, the country has heaps of beautiful cities as well as an abundance of gorgeous towns and villages. In the early days of being in Spain, I couldn’t get over the beauty of the cities I saw …and believe me well over a decade later I still feel the same.
The first two Spanish cities that I knew were Barcelona and Seville. Some people might think that I had already seen the best of Spain’s cities, however I continue to find more gorgeous cities in Spain. This list covers the most beautiful cities in Spain, at least the ones that I’m aware of to date.
The other huge attraction of spending a few days in a Spanish city is the vibe that you can get, especially of an evening, in many of these cities. Of course here in Spain once we hit a certain time of the year when the weather allows us to hang outside, in the height of the summer until the wee hours even. Wherever you choose to go, if it has an old quarter, and most do, then make sure you spend an evening or two in there, just people watching, sipping a vino (wine) or cerveza (beer) and maybe having some tapas, or a meal filled with some of the local produce.
This list is in alphabetical order, so there’s no ranking as such. I hope it inspires you to visit a city or two that you may not have considered previously. Please note that my few words beside the name of the city are only a small indication, and are, due to their brevity, rather simplified.
Below on the slider are some of the top cities with full travel guides, and under the slider you can read the list of our choice of Spain's 38 best cities.
1. Alicante – Lovely Old Quarter Alongside Throbbing Tourism & Nightlife
Although it’s inundated with tourism, the city of Alicante is still charming with a lovely old quarter, a castle and a long, leisurely waterfront. Unlike some of the lesser-known cities, Alicante does have a large amount of high rise buildings around the city and by the beach. However if you’re after the best of both worlds, Alicante has a throbbing nightlife, oodles of modern facilities, but also some culture and history.Don’t forget that many different civilisations have made their way through this city and its surrounds!
Head up to the Santa Barbara Castle (Castillo de Santa Barbara), which dates to the 16th century, and enjoy great views over the city. There’s also a museum there, where you can discover the history of Alicante. The city has a wonderful Museum of Contemporary Art (Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Alicante) where you can see works from the masters such as Picasso, Dali, Miró, Tapies and more. Additionally there is a Museum of Fine Art, the Fogueres Museum, the Provincial Archaeological Museum and the City Museum. Try not to miss the flamboyant Santa Maria basilica, from the 18th century.
Plenty of tourists flock to the city purely for the beaches, and some might take the 45 minute trip to Tabarca Island, 22 km away from the city. If you do decide to visit Alicante, consider coming during the third week of June, when you can see Las Hogueras de San Juan. Although the night of San Juan is picked throughout all of Spain, Alicante takes this to a whole other level, and huge monuments are made, only to be burnt during the big bonfire night.
2. Avila – UNESCO, Renaissance Palaces & Rich Local Cuisine
The old town of the birthplace of Saint Teresa, Avila, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. Originally founded in the 11th century, the purpose of the fortification of what was known as the City of Saints and Stones, was to protect Spanish territory from the Moors.
Around the city you can see Renaissance palaces and important churches, which are reminders of how the city was an important textile centre. Of course there are numerous religious buildings both within the town walls and outside, some of which can be linked with the life of St Teresa. Apart from a great wealth of interesting sites, Avila it is also famous for its rich local cuisine. Try roasts, veal cutlets and of course, yemas, which is the special desert of the saint.
3. Barcelona – Beauty, Beaches, Buzz & Gaudí Masterpieces
Barcelona is featured in an almost infinite number of top travel destination articles for lots of good reasons. Whether you’re drawn to it because of Gaudí and other fine works of architecture, the lovely beaches, the fabulous shopping, great food or party opportunities – you won’t be disappointed.
It’s a sexy city, where the party never seems to end. The Catalan capital is easy to navigate, but while checking out its legendary architecture, be aware of its somewhat legendary pickpockets. I love the buzz that Barcelona is…the beach life, the nightlife and how it delights all of the senses.
Discover more about Barcelona in this incredibly useful Barcelona Guide and also unearth some secrets in the magical Barcelona Guide.
4. Bilbao – Revitalised Port City, Pintxo Tapas & El Goog
The truth is that until the Guggenheim opened its doors in 1997, Bilbao wasn’t considered to be much more than an old port city. However El Goog, as the locals call it, breathed an amazing amount of new life into the once important industrial port city, making it one of Spain’s top cities to visit these days.
Bilbao is symbolic of urban renewal. Imaginative pintxo tapas bars have sprung up in its rather colourful old quarter, and around the city a selection of hidden gems have become revitalised.
5. Burgos – Medieval Splendour, UNESCO, Great Eateries
You may know of Burgos as the home, as well as burial place of El Cid, or maybe because of its famous blood sausages. However this city was the capital of the Castille-Leon kingdom for five centuries, so it was of great importance in its day.
Today Burgos preserves its fair share of evidence of its medieval splendour. The Cathedral of Burgos was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, and its old quarter is wonderful, and is delicately embraced by green zones. As you may expect from another important stopping place for pilgrims, Burgos also has plenty of delicious cuisine on offer. Wander by the rivers Arlanza and Duero, to enjoy the atmosphere and discovering great eateries.
6. Cadiz – Pretty Port City, Flamenco & Wonderful Seafood
Another underrated city, Cadiz is embraced by water and considered to be Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited settlement. Think Havana-Cuba, think flamenco, picture beaches that seem to go on for miles and think sea port taverns with noise exploding from their innards…Cadiz has oodles of character, intriguing sights and streets, plus wonderful seafood.
Whether you let your eyes, ears and nose direct you through Cadiz, you’ll find plenty of interest. You could try some tapas here and there, or visit some of the city’s best known monuments such as the cathedral, Torre de Poniente, the Roman theatre or the Cadiz museum. If your visit includes a Friday, check out the Peña Flamenca La Perla, where most Fridays a flamenco night is happening.
7. Castellon de la Plana-Fine Architecture, Lovely Port, Orange Blossom Coast
Located on Spain’s Orange Blossom Coast (Costa Azahar), is the city of Castellon de la Plana, which is capital of the county of the same name. At the time of writing, in late 2014, this fine city is, as yet, not that well known to English-speaking tourists. However, this is set to change, as the airport of Castellon is due to start operating commercially in 2015.
The city has heaps of attractions, including beautiful churches, aristocratic houses, and its port area, known as El Grao de Castellon. As you might expect from a city on the Orange Blossom Coast, the landscape is a vibrant combination of orange groves, as well is fertile plains and sandy beaches. The city and coastal area is protected by the Serralada de les Palmes, which is the mountain range that overlooks the area.
Highlights in the city include the central market, the Town Hall, the Santa Maria Cathedral and a range of lovely, historical mansions. In the port area, you can get a boat to visit the beautiful Columbretes islands, which are protected area. The Marina area also has its own casino, and plenty of bars and restaurants to enjoy some relaxing time.
8. Consuegra – Don Quixote’s Windmills, Castle & Saffron Festival
Think Don Quixote when you see the windmills of Consuegra. It was windmills such as these that inspired the writer, Miguel de Cervantes, to create the renowned battle against giants in Don Quixote. The city is nestled under the hill where these famous windmills are, along with a 12th century castle. The history that can be felt from the hill is reflected in some monuments in the city of Consuegra also.
If you decide to visit in autumn, you’ll be treated to a landscape of purple, as the saffron crocuses bloom. At night during the last weekend of October, the windmills are lit up during the saffron festival. They stand, as they have done for centuries, on top of the hill like candles resting on the plateau.
9. Cordoba – Famous Stunning Patios & UNESCO Old Quarter
Even if you haven’t heard of Cordoba, you may have seen photos of it without realising. Cordoba, in Andalusia, pops up frequently in photos where you see picturesque patios and courtyards, filled with lush vegetation and flowers.
Patio decoration originally started for practical reasons – to keep the patio and home cooler in a dry, hot climate. However creativity kicked in and ever since 1921 the city has run its Patio Contest. Each year, in May, the doors are opened and visitors are invited in to see the wonders of the residents’ patios. The event is a UNESCO Heritage of Humanity, and runs from around 5th May for 12 days. The dates for 2015 are scheduled to be confirmed in January.
If for some reason you can’t make it in May, don’t worry as the historic centre of Cordoba is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Marvel at the Mezquita, wander around the Jewish quarter, or admire the Alcazar. These are just a few of the top sights in Cordoba.
10. Cuenca – The Eagle’s Nest & UNESCO Old Quarter
Known as the Eagle’s Nest, this city is home to Spain’s first Gothic Cathedral. As the name Eagle’s Nest may hint, Cuenca is a very memorable city, which was made a Royal town in the 12th century. In 1996 its historic walled town became a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Cuenca city towers over the surrounding magnificent countryside. Its “casas colgadas” (hanging houses) are a sight to behold, as they perch precariously on the cliffs, which overlook the River Huécar. As if the view isn’t impressive enough in daylight, you should see it all lit up at night.
If you happen to be travelling during the third week of September, from the 21st is a 4 day fiesta in the city. People drink and eat on the streets for all 4 days, and on the opening day the different groups (peñas) make their way on foot to the main square, as older people on their balconies threw water down over them!
11. Gijon – Maritime Meets Historical & Modern
A city that produces chemicals, iron and steel may not at first glance seem like a lovely Spanish city destination….but think again! Gijon was once a Roman settlement, which developed further from the 16th century onwards, partially thanks to the Catholic monarchs, who decided to install a port in the city. These days Gijon is an interesting blend of its maritime, historical and modern elements.
It’s a buzzing city, with a lively beach and nightlife scene. There’s no shortage of cultural attractions, good food and drink, and seafront walks. As part of its facelift, the city now has plenty of pedestrianised streets and green areas. You’ll naturally gravitate towards the headland, Cimadevilla, which is the ancient heart of the city. On the land bound side of this, lies a web of small squares and lanes, known as Plaza de Jovellanos. Also try to get to the Villa Romana de Veranes, which is the Roman town that lies around 12km south west of Gijon.
12. Girona – Gorgeous Architecture, Jewish Quarter & World’s 2nd Best Restaurant
According to Ryanair Girona is actually Barcelona*…and although it’s not, this city is sexy, historical and charming and very much worth a visit in its own right. What I love about Girona, is that it’s easy to walk around and view its stunning architecture. It blends a superb mix of the old and the new.
A city of contrasts – with its Byzantine old quarter, one of Europe’s best preserved Jewish quarters and lots of contemporary 21st century culture. Soak up the atmosphere as you ramble down the Rambla de la Llibertat, which is Girona’s scenic riverside main promenade. Girona is a wonderful alternative to Barcelona, with great food and is, of course, home to the world’s 2nd best restaurant – El Celler de Can Roca.
13. Granada – Alhambra, Free Tapas, Students & UNESCO
Best known for its magnificent Alhambra, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1994, Granada is a pretty, student city where you can still get free tapas with your drinks. The first time I was there, I was on a very tight budget, so the drill was to drink a few beers and get our tapas that way. The standard of tapa improved, the more beer we drank (at least that’s how it seemed!) ..and so there was no need to pay for a meal out.
Before you book your trip to Granada, you need to be aware that the Alhambra needs to be booked in advance. Although I guess that this isn’t a big surprise as it’s the most strikingly beautiful Moorish civilisation remains in Europe today.
15. Huesca – Old Town, New Town & Festival of Touristic Importance
Only one hour away from the Pyrenees, is the charming city of Huesca. Capital of the province of the same name, Huesca blends the feeling of a modern, vibrant city with a generous history and legends of days gone by. A friendly city that is enjoyable to discover on foot, Huesca gets especially lively during its main festival in August (9th to 15th) in honour of Saint Lorenzo. During this festival of National Tourist Interest, the city turns into a sea of white and green, and the aroma of fresh basil infuses the air.
Regardless of when you decide to visit Huesca, you should go to the Gothic Cathedral, and wander up to the top to enjoy superb views. Other monuments in the city’s historic centre include the old Palace, the Romanesque church, the Town Hall and the Provincial Museum.
15. Ibiza (Eivissa) – Buzz, Elegance, Cosmopolitan & Medieval Town
If someone told you that you were in the Dalt Vila of Eivissa, and you had just flown into Ibiza and headed into town, would you feel confused? Dalt Vila means upper town and Eivissa is the official Catalan name of Ibiza. These days the name Ibiza is more synonymous with clubbing than culture, but the town itself is fascinating during both daylight and nocturnal hours. Sadly its party animal reputation means that a percentage of visitors to Ibiza entirely miss out on the wonderful offerings of the Dalt Vila, as mentioned by DJ Pete Tong in an article in the Telegraph newspaper.
Visit the pretty medieval old town. Enjoy the buzz, yet the romantic, cosmopolitan atmosphere of the island’s capital. By day you can take in some sightseeing and shopping, or just relax on the beaches, which are around 10 minutes walk or so from the city centre. As dusk sets in, it’s time to give in to some wining and dining, and for those who are younger and have the energy, some serious clubbing.
16. Jerez de la Frontera – Sherry, Flamenco, Lovely Old Quarter & Horses
Best known for its sherry, Jerez de la Frontera is often overlooked in these type of travel destination list articles. However it shouldn’t be. It’s a friendly, charming, historical city with plenty to offer to visitors. In fact Jerez de la Frontera has a history of more than 3000 years and its old quarter has been declared a site of historic, artistic importance.
Think noble palaces, Andalusian houses, the magnificent Alcazar, beautiful horses, flamenco, enriching culture, delicious food and aromas …and of course those necessary trips to the local wine cellars. You must visit at least one wine cellar, in order to understand the city’s wine-making tradition, and in a way, to sense the people of Jerez.
17. Leon – Spain’s Answer To The Sistine Chapel, UNESCO & Party Time
I’m sorry if you’re getting bored of hearing about gorgeous old quarters and UNESCO World Heritage sites, but in Leon you’re going to find more of the same. Leon is home to Spain’s answer to the Sistine Chapel – the Pulshcra Leonina, which is the city’s Cathedral, also known as the House of Light. This stunning cathedral is one of the most beautiful in Spain. However Leon’s architecture doesn’t stop there. Head into the narrow streets and squares of the pretty old quarter, and explore.
The city is another important stopping point for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, but it’s also a city buzzing with a vibrant student population. Night time is party time in Leon, whereas days are to enjoy being a culture vulture.
18. Logroño – Wine, Lovely Old Quarter & Tapas Tasting Street
Did you know that in 1997 Logroño was declared to be the Best Shopping City of Spain? Historically this city has been an important stop for pilgrims on their way to visit the tomb of St. James, in Santiago de Compostela. (They quite possibly came for the Rioja wine as well!) This once fortified medieval town has a lovely old quarter, and is also famous for its world class food and Spanish wines.
Don’t miss the Church of St. Bartholomew and the Santa Maria de Palacio. Of an evening head to Calle del Laurel (Laurel street) in the old town, which is basically the tapas tasting street. Each bar has its own speciality, so the idea is to sample as many as possible, each time with a glass of Rioja wine!
19. Madrid – “No-one Ever Goes To Bed In Madrid Until They Have Killed The Night.”
Madrid won’t be a stranger to you, as the capital of Spain and the 1992 European Capital of Culture. The first time I was in Madrid was on a stopover en route to Mexico. It was my first time in Spain and I was amazed at how the Madrileños didn’t fill up the restaurant we were in until around 10 pm at night. I guess there’s a reason that Ernest Hemingway’s line “no one goes to bed in Madrid until they have killed the night” still appears to be true.
Before night sets in and it’s time to experience the special vibrant night owl atmosphere of Madrid, visit some of the world class museums. Make time to take in the Almudena Cathedral and the Royal Palace. Go shopping in the Rastro Market or in the lavish shops of the Gran Via. Or do one of my favourite things, retire into the Parque del Retiro, to relax and row a boat on the lake.
Discover more about Madrid
20. Malaga – Beaches, Great Architecture & Bohemian Buzz
Perhaps best known as being the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, Malaga is overlooked by many visitors to the Costa del Sol, in favour of less cultured beach resorts. This is a shame, as it has great beaches, heaps to see and do, and an excellent marina. In 2003, however, the Picasso Museum opened and that triggered a cultural rebirth of this fine seaside city. So within the last decade or so, a city that was almost forgotten by foreign tourista, is now flocked to by them.
Malaga has a number of other fascinating museums, in addition to the famous Picasso Museum. The city has its fair share of superb architecture, plus a buzzing bohemian arty district, known as SOHO. The centre is pedestrianised these days, with plenty of trendy eateries and rooftop terraces to choose from.
Try to make time to visit the Alcazaba, the Moorish fortress which can be traced back to 1065, as well as the Baroque Cathedral and Roman Theatre. For a slightly different experience and wonderful views, you could stay at the Malaga Parador*, in the Gibralfar Castle, on the hill above Malaga city.
*Paradors are state run luxury hotels, that are normally historic buildings, which have been adapted for that purpose
21. Merida- Roman Romains, UNESCO & Fun On Foot
Merida, the capital of Extremadura, has an absolute abundance of Roman remains. In fact back in 1993 the Archaeological Ensemble of Merida became a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city was originally founded in 25BC, by Augustus, and was then named Emerita Augusta. These days you can feel the influence of its neighbour Portugal, who once ruled the city, as did the Moors and the Christians. All of the influences can be spotted in the architecture.
Apart from enjoying the feel, sights and tastes of this city, you can also visit the rather unique National Museum of Roman Art, which actually has a Roman street running through it. Another bonus about Merida is that you can wander around it in 3 days or so on foot, and take in its main highlights. If you decide to travel during the summer months of July and August, there are shows put on in the Roman amphitheatre and theatre.
22. Ourense – Pretty Old Quarter & Spa Capital of Galicia
Ourense is considered to be the spa capital of Galicia, with both semi-enclosed and outdoor hot bath areas, which the locals have used for centuries. The city of Ourense has three distinctive parts to it; which are its modern perimeter, the area which was expanded during the 19th century, and its medieval historic quarter. If you don’t know about the medieval part, it’s easy to pass by on the road that connects Madrid to Vigo, and not bother to visit Ourense’s pretty old quarter. This area had become quite dilapidated at one point, however renovation work has been carried out over the years.
As is often the case in some of these fine Spanish cities, the Cathedral is considered to be the highlight. Although it was originally founded in 572, the Cathedral of San Martino that you can see today was re-built between the 12th and 13th centuries. It’s the second oldest cathedral in Galicia, and the clock tower that is attached to it seems to stand over the old quarter.
Part of the charm of the city, is how its appearance has been determined by the River Miño which crosses the city. The old bridge, which can be dated back to Roman times, connects the banks of the river. The old quarter has a lovely main square, which has been the heart of life in the city for centuries. Other buildings of interest are the Episcopal Palace, the City Hall, the church of Santa Maria Madre, and the Archaeological Museum.
23. Oviedo – UNESCO, Pedestrianised Old Quarter & Great Foodie City
Since 1998, the monuments of Oviedo and the Kingdom of the Asturias, have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These can be linked to the 9th century, at which time it was in the tiny Kingdom of the Asturias, where the flame of Christianity was being kept alive, in what was then the Iberian Peninsula.
The city’s history has left a strong medieval flavour, which you can thoroughly enjoy today in its pedestrianised historic quarter. As you walk through, it has a special atmosphere and the area is littered with statues to mark sites of historical importance. Walk from the Cathedral to the University, and to the Palace. Don’t worry about getting tired, because there are lots of lovely squares which are also generously endowed with cider bars – known as chigres. On top of this, the city and the region of Asturias, has an excellent gastronomic culture.
24. Palma de Mallorca – Beautiful, Cultural & Inspirational
Capital of the Balearic Islands, the impact of the city of Palma de Mallorca, as you approach it from the sea is impressive. That’s the way I first saw it many, many years ago, when I knew little or nothing about the city. I don’t regret this, because I had no preconceptions and I can still remember that wonderful first impression.
Palma is in an idyllic setting, with a beautiful marina and plenty of historic buildings. If you decide to go, why not stay in one of the boutique hotels, which are dotted around lovely stately patios. Tourism has been thriving there since the 1950s, so this means that as well as the old architecture, there are plenty of modern shops, facilities and hotel chains. The old town has charming narrow streets, and the fine, restored cathedral stands proudly in the town’s centre. There’s no shortage of art galleries, museums and fine dining experiences.
Discover more about Mallorca
25. Pamplona – Running With The Bulls, Roman Artifacts & Lovely Old Quarter
If like me, you have no wish to go running with the bulls, then you’ll find that Pamplona has plenty to offer the rest of the year. The city has a lovely old quarter complete with historical churches and a pretty park. It also has a superb museum, the Museum of Navarra, which houses a great collection of Roman artifacts, murals from the 13th century, Renaissance paintings and the famous Goya portrait of the Marques de San Adrian.
By the way it’s during the fiesta of San Fermin, which is from the 6th to 14th July, that the city has its famous running of the bulls. So for some this will be the best time to come, but for others it will be when to avoid Pamplona like the plague.
26. Reus – Gaudí Hometown, Gorgeous Architecture, Great Shopping & Close To Sea
You may only know of Reus as another Ryanair airport, however this city is also famous as being the hometown of Anton Gaudí. By the way, just like Girona, Reus is considered to be “Barcelona” by Ryanair – they name the airport Reus Barcelona, but Reus is actually in the province of Tarragona. Anyhow, rant over…The main reason I mention this is to give you the idea to consider flying into Reus and then out of Barcelona itself, if you wish to see both.
The city centre is drenched in beautiful architecture, which includes an interesting Modernista Route and a couple of magnificent plazas (squares). It’s also got some lovely shops and restaurants. Although you can get menu del dias (menu of the day) cheaper, you can enjoy people watching on one of the beautiful squares, opposite the Gaudí Museum for €14 per person. Last time I was there, the price was €14 for a 3 course set menu, which was good quality and included a decent, drinkable wine …for that price range. The restaurant is called Antiga Casa Coder, located on the Mercadal Square.
Reus is also very close to a choice of seaside towns, ranging from the very lively Salou (home of Port Aventura) to the lively, but charming Cambrils, to the seaside city of Tarragona, which ranks in this feature also.
27. Salamanca – Golden University City, Gorgeous Architecture & Buzzing At Night
European Capital of Culture in 2002, Salamanca is known as the Golden City, because of the beautiful, golden light that emanates from its buildings at sunset. Sexy Salamanca is overflowing with gorgeous architecture. These buildings were constructed using stone from the local sandstone quarries.
Hang out in the lovely Baroque Plaza Mayor (main square), with the jolly students who can be found there at all hours, drinking, eating and singing. Visit the 15th century Casa de las Conchas (House of Shells) and the 12th century cathedral – Catedral Vieja.
28. San Sebastian – Europe’s Top 10 Beaches, Belle Epoque & Lovely Old Quarter
According to TripAdvisor Travellers Awards, La Concha Beach in San Sebastian is the 10th best beach in Europe. The Old Quarter is absolutely gorgeous, with its striking Plaza de la Constitucion at its heart. Both locals and tourists alike love to wander around the old town, taking the time to drop in to one or more of the local establishments for a txikito and a pintxo (a glass of local wine and a tapa).
The old town walls were demolished in the latter part of the 19th century, and a new, elegant town was designed and built. It has a strong sense of romance and unity, which is only pleasantly interrupted by some interesting examples of Modernist architecture. This part of San Sebastian is where you can feel the atmosphere of the Belle Epoque period. In those days even the Shah of Iran, Mata Hari and the King of Belgium came to try their luck at the casino – where today’s City Hall can be found.
29. Santander – Beautiful Old Quarter, Buzzing Bars & Very Pretty Promenade
An elegant city, with a beautiful old quarter, Santander was a well known tourist haunt during the 19th century for Spanish politicians. Set on the northern side of the lovely Bay of Santander, this is another city that blends the old with the new. Unfortunately there was a huge fire that destroyed quite a bit back in 1941, which means that the modern part of the city is not as appealing as it might have been. However it is buzzing, with plenty of great shopping streets, and a thriving bar and foodie scene.
The main beach, El Sardinero, is quite famous and opposite it you can stroll along one of Spain’s prettiest promenades and enjoy spectacular Belle Epoque architecture, such as the Gran Casino. Between El Sardinero beach and the old quarter, is the peninsula. This is where you can find the beautiful Royal Palace and the La Magdalena Park. Out of the city, you’ll find the UNESCO World Heritage Altamira Caves.
30. Santiago de Compostela- Remarkable Gothic Cathedral & Friendly People
The day we arrived into Santiago de Compostela it was raining not only cats and dogs, but also horses, monkeys and donkeys. It was impossible to see far in front of us, yet in the midst of the dramatic weather, we could both feel the positive pulse of this pilgrims’ city. The weather was so bad that we had to ask someone how to get to the magnificent Cathedral, which was only a few narrow streets away from us. The man not only explained to us how to get there, but in the lashings of rain, escorted us to ensure we didn’t get lost.
The European Capital of Culture for the year 2000, is home to possibly the most remarkable Gothic Cathedral in all of Spain, which has its fair share of spellbinding Gothic cathedrals. You can just imagine the pilgrims who finish up their Way of St. James trail there each year, with their jaws dropped down in amazement at the stalagmites, Baroque swirls and statues. I loved the people we met in the city, the granite architecture and the amazing Plaza do Obradoira (a fabulous square). Next time though, I could live without the torrential rain!
31. Segovia – Alcazar Admired By Walt Disney, UNESCO & Best Preserved Roman Aqueduct
A little north of Madrid, is the very pretty, historic city of Segovia, which is often overlooked by the average tourist. You’d wonder why, when you hear some of the myths ….some say that Segovia was founded by either the son of Noah or Hercules himself! Walt Disney apparently modelled the Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty’s Castle on the Alcazar of Segovia.
The city is home to one of Spain’s best preserved Roman aqueducts, which has absolutely no mortar, and is held together purely by the weight of gravity. It’s 2950 feet in length and has 167 arches. Both the aqueduct and the old town of Segovia have been UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1985. These are perched on high ground that lies between the Clamores and Eresma Rivers. In the same magical landscape there are also some Romanesque churches, a fortress and a Cathedral. The city also has its own Jewish Quarter. By the way, if you are a fan of roast suckling pig, then you’ve come to the right city. This is Segovia’s traditional dish, and if you fancy tasting it, the Parador Hotel is a good choice.
32. Seville – Flamenco, Vivid Colours & Aromas & Gorgeous Old Quarter
I fell in love with Seville many moons ago, when I went for the first time in November. A time of year that is dull and tough back in Dublin, I loved this city, where the streets were alive with the vivid colours and aromas of orange trees. The city has a special atmosphere, and is filled with beautiful sights. The Old Quarter is especially charming, in the city that is Andalusia’s heart and soul. In the heart of the old quarter, are the Giralda tower and Cathedral, and close by you’ll find the Alcazar.
People from Seville are flamboyant and dramatic. If you visualise a person in typical Flamenco dress, on top of an almost magical looking horse, you have the image of the idyllic Sevillano. If you want to really immerse yourself in this type of atmosphere, go to Seville for the Feria de Abril, which takes place 2 weeks after Easter Week. No matter what time of year you visit Seville, its romance, beauty and bohemian free-spiritedness are hard to resist!
33. Tarragona – An Abundance of Beauty & Culture, Fine Food & Friendly People
Picture a Roman Amphitheatre overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, beautiful beaches, blue skies, fine Ramblas, and an abundance of culture, great food and wine…and you have the sexy city of Tarragona. Located an hour south of Barcelona, the city’s Roman civilisation, Tarraco, is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although this may be one of the top attractions of Tarragona, there are heaps more ….such as its magnificent Cathedral, modernist architecture and the tangible feeling of history that surrounds you in various parts of this fabulous city.
For many, Tarragona continues to be a wonderful secret waiting to be discovered. It’s a vibrant seaside city, full of contrasts and colours. It buzzes throughout the year, and has an immense choice of festivals (fiestas) going on. If you to see the famous Catalan Castellers, the human towers, then Tarragona is a great place to come throughout the summer months.
Discover more in the Tarragona Travel Guide
34. Toledo – UNESCO, El Greco & City of Three Cultures
Home of El Greco, Toledo lies 70 km south of Madrid. There’s no doubt that this city is very impressive, with an even greater wealth of monuments than some of the cities that have already been covered. Toledo is called the City of the Three Cultures, and that’s because for centuries, Jews, Christians and Arabs lived there together behind the city walls.
Its immensity of cultural and artistic heritage includes palaces, churches, mosques, synagogues and fortresses. Of course it’s their diversity that gives the city’s heritage a special richness. It won’t surprise you to know that the old quarter of Toledo has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986.
As you can imagine there’s a long list of fascinating buildings to see, which of course must include the El Greco House Museum, as well as the Cathedral, which is one of the most outstanding examples of Gothic art. Toledo is not a city just to pop in and out of in a couple of hours, I would recommend staying here for a night or two at least. If you are someone who loves spending time absorbing the culture and artistic heritage of cities, then a longer stay is in order.
35. Valencia – Spectacular Old Quarter, City of Arts & Sciences & Well Integrated
Valencia is another fabulous Spanish example of the new and old blended beautifully together. The city has a spectacular old quarter, with an impressive cathedral and plenty of other architectural gems. Considered the birthplace of paella, you can find paellerias (pans for paella) being sold right outside the cathedral. These days however, it is the modernistic City of Arts and Sciences that is the most symbolic sight of Valencia. Don’t miss out on the Museum of Fine Arts, or the Botanical Gardens of the University. Venture a little out from the city and you’ll find yourself in the lovely Albufera Natural Park.
One of the charms of Valencia, is the way that nature and sports have been so well integrated into the city centre itself. There are areas dedicated to sports, that used to be old train tracks, plus I love the fact that there are so many beautiful trees and plants right in the heart of the city centre.
36. Vigo – Tangible Maritime Flavour, Art Loving & Lovely Old Quarter
Located in the green region of Galicia, the city of Vigo originates from its port, which is one of the world’s finest natural ports. The historic quarter of the city has a tangible maritime flavour, being based around O Berbés, the old Maritime Quarter close to the port. The Collegiate Church of Santa Maria can be found in the midst of these tiny fishing streets, with their emblazoned houses. Don’t miss the Do Pedra market, which is the place to go to sample and buy Galician oysters.
Vigo is known as the Gateway to the Atlantic, however there’s a good bit more to this friendly city than just that. The city has also been given the nickname – the Green Spain, which makes it a popular place to go for Spaniards during the height of the really hot summer months. The old city seems to rise up in tiers towards the El Castro 17th-century citadel on the hilltop. Vigo is an art loving, historical maritime gem. Like the rest of Galicia the food is delicious. If you do decide to spend some time there, don’t miss out on going to the Rias Baixas, which are the beautiful fjords not far from the city, as you can see in the photo above – the Ria Arousa.
37. Vitoria-Gasteiz – Forgotten Gem (Telegraph Newspaper), Palaces & Buzzing Squares
Although Vitoria is the capital of the Basque Country, it has been somewhat overshadowed by San Sebastian and Bilbao. However if you like a city that has thought about the life of its citizens then it could be a great city destination for you! Public spaces are lovely and think about the public pedestrian, so this means a set up that is super relaxing, pretty and sociable. The city has a medieval centre, a number of lovely palaces as well as some Belle Epoque architecture.
It’s a city filled with charming corners, squares, gardens and some interesting architecture and monuments. Its got a throbbing cultural and social life, that is evident from a certain time of the evening! Of course as one might expect from the capital of the Basque Country, it has its fair share of delicious foodie offerings! If it suits you to travel in July then check out the famous Vitoria Jazz Festival! Or if you go there in August try to get there for the Andre Maria Zuriaren Jaiak festival, which has been running ever since 1884.
38. Zaragoza – UNESCO, Banks of River Ebro, Friendly Foodie City
It would be kind of rude not to end this feature with a city that didn’t have some UNESCO Architecture, wouldn’t it? Zaragoza lies midway between Barcelona and Madrid, and is well known for its stunning UNESCO buildings, folklore, cuisine and friendliness. On the banks of the River Ebro, this city has a stunning historic legacy of over 2000 years, that is evident in some of the architecture. It’s a perfect city to stroll around, romantically hand in hand, or just in exploration mode., through the pedestrianised streets and avenues.
It’s a city with a great nightlife also, regardless of what time of year you visit. If you happen to be able to in October, then around the 12th for a week, you’ll be in for a treat during the Fiesta del Pilar, which is in honour of the city’s patron saint, and is packed full of all sorts of fun! That said it is a city that has quite a number of festivities.
Discover more about Zaragoza (also spelt Saragossa)
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“Cuenca-panoramica4” by Zarateman – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
“Catedral cuenca” by Der pepe – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
“Casacolgantecuenca” by Mario modesto – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
“Casino Municipal Huesca“. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
“Tambores Semana Santa Huesca” by Fernando – Huesca. Semana Santa. Plaza de la Catedral. (redimensionada). Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
“Huesca desde la Catedral I” by Murcianboy – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Jerez de la Frontera
“Catedral de Jerez de la Frontera by night” by Sheeva81 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
“AlcazarJerez” by Jonsson from es. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
“Jerez monks c1835” by McLeod – Archiv “Deutschland und die Welt”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
“02 San Marcos” by Emgorio – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
“PanteónSanIsidoroLeón“. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
“View of Paseo del Príncipe de Vergara (El Espolón) in Logroño” by jynus – Photograph taken by me with a Pentax Optio S45 while sightseeing in Logroño.. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.
“View of Paseo del Príncipe de Vergara (El Espolón) in Logroño” by jynus – Photograph taken by me with a Pentax Optio S45 while sightseeing in Logroño.. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.
“Palacete logroño” by david tobia – camara. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Thanks to despedidasrioja.es for the image of Laurel Street.
“20120111- DSC0407” by Ricardo GRRicardo García – Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons.
“Roman bridge, Ourense (Spain)” by Victor Hermida Prada – originally posted to Flickr as Roman bridge, Ourense (Spain). Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
“Cabeceira da catedral de Ourense” by Eladio Anxo Fernández Manso: Rozavales – http://www.flickr.com/photos/32421400@N04/5065637488/in/photolist-8HCHxo-7JwWai-8XUSAJ-7X6agj-7X6a29/lightbox/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
“Una visión del Fontán” by Jose Luis Martinez Alvarez from Asturias, España – Una visión del Fontán. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
“San-juan-priorio-asturias” by Urko – Foto propia. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
“Oviedo02” by User:Dantadd – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
“Sanfermines Vaquillas Pamplona 08” by Original uploader was Bernard bill5 at nl.wikipediaLater version(s) were uploaded by Kameraad Pjotr at nl.wikipedia.(Original text : iboff) – Transferred from nl.wikipedia(Original text : www.sxc.hu). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
“Chupinazo8” by www.viajar24h.com – www.viajar24h.com-200. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
“Vista Plaza del Castillo Pamplona“. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.
“Salamanca 2008” by Alejandro Flores from Sevilla, Spain – flickr: Salamanca. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
“Plaza Constitución” by Pablo Theissen – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
“Playa Sardinero – Santander – Spain” by Pedro Lopez – originally posted to Flickr as Playa Sardinero, Santander, Spain. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
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“Jardin Alcazar Segovia” by Gryffindor – . Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
“Toledo Plaza Zocodover 1” by MartinPutz – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
“Strato de la korbofaristoj (Rua dos Cesteiros), Vigo” by Susomoinhos – Own work. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons.
“Pastorcaixanova” by User:Dantadd – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.
“Plaza Virgen Blanca VITORIA-GASTEIZ tras reforma” by Mikelcg – Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons.
“Celedon” by los desiguales.com – celedon2.jpg. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons.
“Teatro Romano Cesaraugusta-vista desde arriba-3” by Escarlati. Reworked Image:Teatro_Romano_Cesaraugusta-vista_desde_arriba.jpg by Marcela and ChabacanoOriginal-Description: (Uploaded by User:Escarlati) – D:\jmmj\fotos julio 2006\Teatro Romano Cesaraugusta-vista desde arriba.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
“Basilica del Pilar-sunset” by Paulo Brandao – originally posted to Flickr as Basilica del Pilar, sunset. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.