Spain ranks as the third most popular country in the world for tourists, with more than 50 million visitors a year, so it certainly does not lack for attractions, from historical to cultural to recreational. Which Spanish destinations will be best for you depends on how much time you have, your tastes, your budget, and so on, but here are ten possibilities to consider if you visit Spain:
1. Parc Guell, Barcelona
Many of Barcelona’s most appealing attractions were designed by architect Antoni Gaudi. Parc Guell is a large park featuring many of his distinctive creations, often done in his signature broken tile style. The sometimes surreal buildings and sculptures include giant lizards, twisty ceramic benches, and a giant hall of pillars.
If you want more Gaudi in Barcelona, don’t miss Sagrada Familia, a spectacular Catholic church. Gaudi started work on the church in 1883, worked on it off and on along with other projects for several years, and then devoted the final fifteen years of his life until 1926 exclusively to it. Yet it is not expected to be fully finished until 2026! But enough of it is done that it already ranks among Spain’s most visited tourist spots.
Among the many other attractions in Barcelona, consider the Miró Foundation Museum of Modern Art honoring surrealist artist Joan Miró, Frank Gehry’s huge futuristic copper fish sculpture on the beach, and the busy pedestrian street of Las Ramblas with its outdoor markets, restaurants and cafes, newspaper stalls, aquarium, and indoor shopping center.
2. Doñana National Park
One of the last areas of true wilderness in Europe, the Doñana National Park in Andalusia is home to thousands of European and African birds, wild boar, red deer, Egyptian mongoose, Iberian lynx, and Spanish imperial eagle, among many others. There may even be some remaining feral camels.
3. Dali Theatre and Museum, Figueres
The Catalonian town of Figueres was the birthplace of renowned surrealist artist Salvador Dali. His museum is a rebuilt theater from his youth in the center of town. It houses the largest collection of Dali’s art in the world-paintings, sculptures, collages, and even furniture he designed-a small collection of works of other artists, and Dali himself, buried in a crypt in the basement.
4. Alhambra, Granada
The Alhambra is a huge complex of buildings occupying much of the city center of Granada, built as a fortified palace by the Moors in the 14th century. Plan to spend a whole day or more touring the complex if you want to come close to seeing it all. Among the Alhambra’s attractions are the Gate of Judgment, the Gate of Pomegranates, and the Pillar of Charles V.
Ibiza is the third largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. Best known for the wild party scene of its cities, the island draws adventure-seeking young adults from around the world who love the “anything goes” atmosphere. But Ibiza also contains plenty of history, natural beauty, and warm sandy beaches to appeal to families and all visitors.
6. Prado, Madrid
Simply one of the most famous museums in the world, the Museo del Prado contains thousands of paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, coins and medals, historical documents, and more. Its best known painting may be “Las Meninas” (“The Maids of Honor”) by the 17th century master Diego Velázquez.
Of course there’s a lot more to see and do in Madrid, including much more art. Don’t miss Picasso’s famous “Guernica” at the Reina Sofia.
El Escorial is the royal palace of the king, now including a school, museum, and monastery. Its main attractions include the king patios, the pantheon of kings and queens, and the Basilica de San Lorenzo el Real.
Another famous destination in Madrid is the giant open air flea market of El Rastro, a great place for bargain hunting, dining, and just enjoying the sights.
In Madrid you’ll also encounter countless historic buildings, a thriving nightlife, a famous bohemian subculture, bullfighting, sports, festivals, and plenty to keep you entertained.
Of course, Pamplona is famous for the “running of the bulls,” an insane, exhilarating event where every day for a weeklong festival in July, six bulls are released to run through the cobblestone city streets, accompanied by hundreds of scampering daredevils testing their nerve. (Strong recommendation: Be a spectator, not a participant.)
Even if you miss the festival, the Pamplona Cathedral, the Church of Saint Sernin, and the Church of Saint Nicholas (all dating from the 13th and 14th century), and Taconera Park and many other picturesque parks and green spaces built around archaic citadels and military structures from centuries ago are well worth seeing.
Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles among many others have fallen in love with the beautiful city of Ronda, atop a huge cliff in the mountains of Andalusia. Enjoy the awe inspiring views, perhaps from one of the three magnificent bridges spanning El Tajo canyon.
In Ronda you can also see Arab baths built in the 13th and 14th century, as well as the Plaza de Toros de Ronda, the oldest bullfighting ring in Spain.
Known as the “Island of Eternal Spring,” Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands off the coast of continental Spain, and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. It’s nearly always beach weather in Tenerife, whose coastline varies from rugged, steep cliffs, to black pebbly beaches, to classic sandy beaches. But the island also is home to Mount Teide, the highest peak in Spain and an active volcano.
10. Las Falles, Valencia
If your travels take you to Spain in March, you won’t want to miss the celebration of St. Joseph in Valencia. Each year, giant Papier Mache effigies (“falles” in Valencian) are paraded through the streets and eventually burned. Fundraising dinners-featuring the local specialty paella-are held all year by the various rival neighborhoods who build the immense “falle” monuments that are judged for prizes. Expect plenty of gaiety, food, and fireworks.
Other times of the year, Valencia is still a worthy destination, based on its beaches, active night life, the Valencia Cathedral, San Miguel de Los Reyes monastery, and many parks and gardens.
Visit a Mediterranean beach, see some of the world’s great art, travel back to the time of the Romans, the Moors, and the Spanish Kings and Queens, and enjoy your time in Spain!
“Things to Do in Spain.” Destination 360.
“Things to Do in Spain.” In-Spain.
“Tourist Spots in Spain.” Tourist Spots Around the World.