Boasting stunning Mediterranean beaches, unforgettable scenery and a myriad of activities and attractions, Spain sees over 50 million tourists visit every year. Whether you are attracted to the artistic capital of Madrid, the forest covered mountains in the north, the cultural hub of Barcelona or the Moorish-influenced south; you will not be left stuck for ways to occupy your time.
Madrid: the Spanish capital is one of Europe’s largest cities as well as one of the liveliest. It is an artistic haven with galleries and museums galore.
Barcelona: Spain’s second-largest city and a major commercial hub. The city boasts a lively atmosphere, great nightlife scene and Antoni Gaudi’s famous masterpieces.
Seville: is the romantic heart of Spain, offering a stunning Gothic cathedral and the burial site of Christopher Columbus. It is also the birthplace of flamenco dancing, perfect for those who are light-footed enough.
Avila: is a UNESCO World Heritage site, famous for its preserved 11th century walls and for being the birthplace of the 16th century spiritualist, St Teresa.
Toledo: lies to the south of Madrid and is the ancient Spanish capital. The city is famed for its impressive cathedral and the Alcazar.
The Pyrenees: cover an area of 450sq kms and boast breathtaking scenery of rocky walls, lakes and gorges.
Salamanca: is an ancient university town and won the prestigious prize of European City of Culture in 2002. You will find stunning Renaissance buildings and the impressive Museum of Art Nouveau and Art Deco.
Guggenheim Museum: Frank Gehry’s legendary museum has turned the otherwise quiet town of Bilbao into a thriving tourist destination.
Many people opt to go to Spain for just one week, although if you want to experience the true culture as well as a range of cities, a minimum of two weeks is recommended.
Two or three days in Barcelona, visiting the museums and enjoying yourself.
Two or three days in Madrid, visiting art galleries and soaking up the culture.
One week on the Mediterranean coast, soaking up the sun.
Two or three days visiting the romantic city of Seville and learning to dance, Spanish style.
Two days in Bilbao to visit the Guggenheim Museum as well as the other sights this town has to offer.
A week in the Pyrenees, especially in winter when you can take advantage of the perfect skiing conditions.
Most visits to Spain are trouble-free, but visitors should always be aware of the global threat of terrorism. Health risks are few, although take care to drink plenty of water (of the bottled variety) and try to stay out of the sun in the heat of the day. Healthcare is good, especially in the major cities, although insurance is essential, especially if you want to avoid the possibility of a big dent in your wallet.
There are dozens of airports dotted right across Spain, many offering international as well as domestic services. Connections to the rest of Europe are excellent, with ferries, buses, trains and hire cars available. Traveling to and throughout Spain is especially good value if you are lucky enough to be under 26 years old and in possession of a railcard. If you’re not on a budget, then you may want to consider taxis instead of buses and flying instead of rail travel.
What’s cool: The art scene in Madrid, snacking on tapas, the stunning Mediterranean coast, Gaudi’s unique architecture in Barcelona, lively fiestas, the infamous Spanish nightlife and flamenco dancing.
What’s not: Crowded beaches and rowdy tourists, fraudsters in many resort areas, poor customer service, Spanish tea and bull fighting.
Spain has four distinct seasons with many parts experiencing good weather year-round. Southern parts can get extremely hot in summer, while northern parts see snow in winter.
Spring (March to June) and autumn (September and October) are the best times to visit. At these times, you can rely on good weather without the extreme heat and crush of tourists.
Summer (July and August) sees blue skies and sunshine, but the heat can often be excessive in the south. These are also the peak months.
Winter (November to February) along the southern Mediterranean coast is mild, whereas the north provides perfect opportunities for skiing and other winter sports.
In true Spanish style, cultural events are almost inevitably celebrated with a wild party and a holiday. Among the festivals to look out for are:
February: Carnival takes place throughout the country in late February and sees the country grind to a halt in order to enjoy colorful parades, parties, dancing and music.
March: Valencia enjoys a week-long party in March known as Las Fallas, which sees all-night dancing and drinking as well as a fantastic firework display.
April: Semana Santa (Holy Week) is the week leading up to Easter Sunday and is marked by holy images and statues being paraded through many of the cities streets. Seville celebrates this festival better than anywhere else in Spain, although accommodation can be hard to find.
July: Running of the Bulls (Fiesta de San Fermín) is held in Pamplona and is one of Spain’s most famous festivals.
August: the north coast of the country celebrates Semana Grande, which is week of partying and heavy drinking and of course the unavoidable hangover.
Trekking and mountain climbing: are extremely popular in the mountainous north.
Mountain biking: is great fun throughout the country, with plentiful tracks making their way through varied terrain.
Horseback riding: is easily arranged, largely due to Spain’s equestrian tradition.
Water sports: swimming, water-skiing, windsurfing and other less strenuous sports can be enjoyed at all of Spain’s coastal resorts.
Skiing: the mountains in the north offer extreme sporting fans the chance to show off their skills at the many ski and snow boarding resorts.
Shopping: shopaholics will not be disappointed with offerings in Spain. Markets are a great place to pick up a bargain, while high-maintenance visitors will not be disappointed with the abundance of designer labels.
Eating: Spanish food is popular worldwide, but nothing is the same as eating paella in a Spanish beachside restaurant or having a nibble in a traditional tapas bar. Sangria is of course a must.
Partying: is a favorite pastime of both locals and visitors with cheap drinks, a number of lively bars and the opportunity to get funky with the flamenco.
Eating out in Spain is an experience by itself, and one which often goes on well into the night. The Spanish are renowned for enjoying themselves, and dining out is no exception. Start the evening with a selection of tapas and move on to your preferred venue where you can feast on Spanish delights such as paella, roasted meats or fresh seafood. Restaurants ranging in quality can be found throughout the country, with some of the best food being served in some or the more questionable looking establishments. Accommodation is also plentiful, ranging from lavish five-star resorts to quaint guesthouses, multi-room hostels and campsites.