Spain is the quintessential European holiday destination, but there is far more to see and do than the beaches, nightclubs and resorts! Here are just 40 of the best things to see and do in Spain to help you plan your next trip!
Spain’s beaches and resorts are famously popular for good reason, but there is far more to this amazingly diverse country that so many tourists miss out on! From cosmopolitan cities and the countryside and mountains to the north, flamboyant festivals, the passionate culture behind the flamenco and the constant siestas, fiestas and tapas, to the history and heritage fuelled by Roman, Christian and Arab influences. There is so much more to see and do in Spain than just laze by the pool!
All of this can’t be seen in just one trip of course, that is why multiple slow trips where you can really take your time getting to know the country is always recommended. Now that you are convinced, to help you plan your trip, here is my list of the best things to do in Spain beyond the beaches and resorts!
The Best Things To See And Do In Spain.
Visit The Alhambra In Granada.
The Alhambra is a magnificent reminder of Spain’s Arab influences and is considered to be one of the finest examples of Islamic architecture and one of the best preserved Islamic palaces anywhere in the world. This palace and fortress complex, located in Granada, also contains significant pieces of Spanish Renaissance architecture after later reconstructions added to the building started by Muhammed Ibn Al-Ahmar, the founder of the Emirate of Granada, in 1238.
One of Spain’s most significant historical attractions, the Alhambra is well worth taking a full day to explore it’s vaulted corridors mosaics, marble fountains and tiled squares. Regular tours are available to give you a more thorough history, but exploring on your own and just admiring your surroundings is a worthy trip too.
Explore The City of the Arts and Sciences In Valencia.
Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, or the City of the Arts and Sciences in Valencia is a true architectural and cultural wonder. A futuristic construction that sprawls over 2 km, it is a celebration of the arts and a true example of a modern renaissance in Spain, which is probably why it has earned its place as one of Spains 12 wonders.
The vast complex is an epic attraction in and of itself with its futuristic design, outdoor art gallery and vast gardens including the Oceanographic biodome with reproductions of every ecosystem on the planet and the worlds largest aquarium with over 500 species! The Hemisferic holds an Imax movie theatre, Planetarium and laser show and the science museum alone is worth a family day out. For thiose who need even more culture there is even a huge stage at the Palau de las Arts that host regular operas and concerts.
See Santiago Cathedral At The End Of The Ancient Pilgrim Trail In Galicia.
The ancient pilgrimage centre of Santiago de Compostela has a number of historic churches among its medieval core, but it is the famous Santiago Cathedral that really stands out amongst the gilded beauty of the majestic squares and heritage sites. Dating back to 1075 on the top of an even older church dedicated to Saint Santiago, or St James, the cathedral is one of the most important religious sites in Spain as well as one of its most beautiful.
Enjoy The Mountain Air At The Picos De Europa.
The ‘Peaks of Europe’ are an extensive mountain range in northern Spain. As part of the Cantabrian Mountains the whole range has been designated a national park in its entirety, and offer travellers who are willing to explore beyond the beaches some of the most spectacular vistas and scenery in the whole of Spain, sat in between three great river gorges in the middle of Asturias, León and Cantabria. Apart from the charm of the small, local villages spread along the base of the mountains, there are endless hiking and climbing opportunities for the more adventurous.
There are trails to suit all levels, from a casual morning’s stroll to two- or three-day treks, with cable cars dotted around the end of some of the trails.
Explore The Museo Guggenheim In Bilbao.
One of the most famous museums in the world, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao has been described as one of the most important architectural buildings of the modern age, with the iconic curved structure looming over the river Nervión.
The Guggenheim holds a collection of some of the most significant works of art from the mid-twentieth century to the present day, with many truly iconic pieces. There are also a number of sculptures, installations and temporary galleries on display.
Explore Granada’s Cathedral.
Granada Cathedral stands out as one of the most stunning and unmissable buildings in the whole city. As a symbol of the reconquest that pushed the last remaining Moors from the Iberian Peninsula, it was the first Renaissance church to be built in Spain and is still one of the country’s most important.
This 13th Century Spanish Renaissance architecture hides just a few hints of earlier Gothic styles, showing how relatively young this cathedral is but more importantly gives it a unique and beautiful look that is worth seeing. There is far more to this Cathedral than the aesthetics however, this is also the final resting place of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand V of Aragon among others, so history buffs will get a kick out of seeing one of the most stunning royal chapels in all of Spain.
Walk Along The Roman Aqueduct In Segovia.
A short distance from Madrid, Segovia is a proud Castilian town with a lot of heritage and history under its cobbled lanes, not least of which is the magnificent UNESCO heritage protected Roman Aqueduct, which is thought to have been built in the 1st Century ACE, although no one knows for sure. Regardless of its heritage the monument itself is a true wonder to behold.
Visit The Great Cathedral and Mosque In Córdoba.
This unique UNESCO world heritage site is a blend of the medieval mosque it once was and the Catholic cathedral it became in the 10th Century, with a fascinating and stunning mixture of architectural styles and lavish mosaics and artwork. The vast arches, marble flooring and gilded prayer niches sit comfortably alongside the Byzantine mosaics and is definitely worth seeing just to marvel at its beauty.
Explore Triana In Seville.
Just across the Puente Isabel II bridge and a short walk from most of the main attractions of the city centre, Triana gives you a glimpse into the real soul of Seville and almost whispers to you exactly why this ancient Spanish city is so special. Triana is a neighbourhood full of old world charm, fantastic eateries to sit back and people watch and local markets to explore, a whole world away from Seville itself.
Be Awed By The Church of the Sacred Family In Barcelona.
Perhaps Spain’s most enigmatic and recognisable landmark, everyone knows the iconic Church of the Sacred Family in Barcelona, although many may know it under one of its unofficial names, Gaudi’s Cathedral. Nothing can prepare you for the awe inspiring size of this unfinished marvel when you first lay eyes on it. Gaudi’s most famous creation in honour of the Sagrada Familia is left unfinished as a sprawling architectural wonder, with every inch of the eight spires filled with intricately carved masterpieces in the form of people, animals and even plants. Construction is still ongoing and eventually it is said that there will be eighteen spires, but on that day according to legend, the world will end! So it is probably a good thing they are taking their time! There is also an attached museum that is well worth a visit if you have the time.
Explore Guell Park in Barcelona.
While you are in Barcelona it is also worth paying a visit to Antoni Gaudí’s extraordinary and surreal Guell Park in the Gràcia district. This strange artists wonderland is an eclectic collection of installations, adorned walls and mosaic seating that celebrates one of Spain’s most gifted architects. Originally planned as a private housing estate, but only two of the proposed sixty houses were actually built, and the park was opened to the public instead in 1922 and is now one of Barcelona’s most popular tourist attractions.
Go Birdwatching At Doñana National Park In Huelva.
The Parque Nacional Coto de Doñana, or Doñana National Park, is an absolute birdwatchers paradise and Spain’s premier protected wetland area. Located in Huelva, the park actually stretches into Seville and Cádiz too, and the wetlands themselves host a number of birds in the spring after the delta waters have receded, including flamingos, ducks, egrets and vultures. The marshes and forests throughout the park are also great for spotting other wildlife such as the Iberian Lynx.
Immerse Yourself In Flamenco in Seville.
Flamenco is the beating heart of southern Spain, and you can feel its life blood pumping with every stamp of feet and cante jondo, and seeing it performed live is one of the most heart pounding ways to immerse yourself in Spanish culture. It can be seen in many places in Spain, but the best place to take in a show is its home, Seville. There are dozens of places you can find Flamenco being performed, but try to avoid the touristy fixed shows which run a few times a night. You are much better finding a smaller, local venue that plays live music.
Explore the Burgos cathedral in Burgos
One of Spain’s finest examples of a Gothic cathedral, this iconic structure is a dominating landmark in the city and was built over three centuries, from 1221 and 1567, and its showcasing of the evolution of Gothic design has earned it a place on the UNESCO list of protected heritage sites. Its unique collection of works of art, including paintings, choir stalls, reredos, tombs and stained-glass windows are worth exploring too, if you can tear yourself away from the architecture.
Fill Your Boots, And Your Stomach, With Tapas In Andalucia!
Tapas culture can be found all over Spain, but Andalucia is where it is really at! Head to Granada or Cordoba and sit yourself down at any one of the multitude of tapas bars to experience this very Spanish tradition! The mini snacks are amazingly delicious and you could easily fill up on them!
Indulge In Some Basque Cuisine.
Basque cuisine has become something of an underground sleeper hit among foodies, and is widely considered to be among Spain’s most iconic culinary delights. World renowned chefs have sharpened their knives in the region for the last decade, giving it the designation of nueva cocina vasca, Restaurants in the region often come at a premium price for obvious reasons, given that the region has one of the highest concentrations of Michelin-starred restaurants per capita in the world, but there are still a lot of amazing local bars and restaurants where it doesn’t cost the earth. Either way, exploring this distinctive cultural cuisine is an absolute must! At least once!
Go Back In Time To Spain’s Medieval Past In Toledo.
The medieval capital of Spain has changed very little in the last thousand years or so, and celebrates past glories at every turn with ancient castles, cathedrals, churches around every corner and a whole host of other heritage sites and historical monuments. It’s hardly surprising the whole city has been declared a National Monument and UNESCO world heritage site.
Explore Seville Cathedral.
Also known as the Cathedral of St. Mary of the See, this is an unmissable site for any visitor to Seville. It is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and the third Christian temple after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London. Its construction was carried out in several phases over more than 500 years, resulting in a mixture of several architectural styles that give it a unique look.
Wander Toledo’s Jewish Quarter.
Toledo is a town that oozes history and heritage, and is well known among collectors and swordsmen like myself for its long and proud history of forging swords from its famous steel, but to get a more authentic taste of the city beyond the Alcazar and museums, take a wander around the Jewish quarter and get lost among the winding cobbled streets and surprise yourself as you come across ancient buildings and the Synagogue, which all roads seem to lead to.
Eat Your Way Through The Gastro Markets Of Madrid.
Madrid’s markets have always been important to the city’s identity and culture, and many smaller markets are finding new leases of life as they are being repurposed into foodie hotspots with pop up food stalls focusing on hyper local cuisine and up and coming chefs, many of them becoming destinations in and of themselves. The largest is perhaps the Mercado de San Miguel, but there are tons of smaller ones dotted about the city that are worth exploring.
Take A Wine Tour In Rioja Alavesa.
Everyone has heard of Rioja, the famous wine producing region has produced Spain’s most iconic wines that are enjoyed all over the world, and whilst you are in the region taking a wine tour of the vineyards is an absolute must. There are plenty of tour options available and tasting sessions can also be arranged, either at a vineyard or any one of the restaurants in the area can do the same thing far less formally!
Shop At El Rastro Flea Market In Madrid.
El Rastro flea market is so much more than just another local market, this is a traditional shopping experience in Madrid that goes back over 400 years! Open from 0900 until mid afternoon every Sunday, the market stretches right along three whole streets in the La Latina neighbourhood, and is a labyrinth of open air stalls containing all manner of clothes, bric a brac, handicrafts and anything else you can wish for.
Buy Some Local Art In Seville.
Every Sunday the museum district in Seville explodes to life as a lively market pops up full of local crafts and art by local artists. Even if you don’t buy anything at all just wandering round the wonderfully bohemian market is a great way to spend the afternoon.
Explore The Roman Ruins Of Mérida.
These extensive ruins are the archaeological highlight of Mérida, and are to date the most extensive and well preserved Roman Ruins in Spain. Built in 25 BCE as a retirement town for Roman Legionnaires at the end of the Spanish Campaign and was the capital of Lusitania at the time. Now, this UNESCO world heritage site still includes a large bridge over the Guadiana, an amphitheatre, a theatre, a vast circus and an exceptional water-supply system.
Enjoy Some Culture At The Matadero In Madrid.
The Matadero in Madrid is a former slaughterhouse that has now been refurbished into one of the most bohemian and alternative contemporary cultural spaces in the city. With a focus on art and entertainment there is a constant programme of plays, movie nights, exhibitions, street markets and festivals among the 48 internal buildings that have mostly been repurposed. There is even a pizza restaurant and a number of cafes to enjoy.
Visit The Monastery At Montserrat.
The Santa Maria de Montserrat Monastery is an impressive example of a medieval abbey and one of the most important religious sites in Catalonia. Set into the mountains of the of the Catalan countryside, travellers can spend days exploring the history and architecture, as well as enjoying the impressive views.
Explore Retiro Park In Madrid.
Escape the bustling streets of Madrid and admire the manicured gardens, flower displays and ornate fountains in the huge Parque del Buen Retiro, the 292 acre garden park that was once reserved for Spanish royalty and aristocracy. The Palacio de Cristal is the crowning masterpiece of the gardens, a Victorian era glass and iron marvel that is surrounded by a lake, but there are several other landmarks in the park, including the large rose gardens and the fallen angel statue, infamous for being one of the only public statues of Lucifer in the world.
Admire The Beauty Of The Palacio de San Telmo in Seville.
Despite currently being the seat of the Government in Andalusia, the iconic Palace of San Telmo is still as stunning a building as it always was, and provide an awe inspiring view while exploring Seville. The Baroque architecture and intricate stonework is even more impressive up close, and it is worth a few minutes to stop and admire some of the detail, including the magnificent Churrigueresque entrance completed in 1754.
Eat Paella In Valencia.
As varied and wonderful as Spain’s foodie scene is, there is one dish that is intricately linked with the culture and identity of Spain itself, Paella. Spain’s signature national dish is a rich, spicy blend of rice, vegetables, seafood and meat, and visiting the country and not trying it is just unheard of. You can find this popular dish in almost every restaurant throughout the country, and there are some great regional variations, but perhaps the best place top try Paella is the place where it was incented, Valencia.
Try The Famous Seafood In Vigo.
Vigo is a large port town that is largely off the tourist radar but is famous for its seafood! Vigan influences have defined Galician cuisine, balancing out its more seasonal earthy flavours further inland with the bounty of the Atlantic. After a day exploring the picturesque fishing docks head to one of the countless bars and restaurants, try some of the free tapas and then tuck in to some of the freshest and most delicious seafood you’ll find anywhere in Spain.
Visit The Castillo de Santa Bárbara In Alicante.
Alicante may be better known for its cheap package tourist resorts and amazing beaches, but take the time to look beyond that and you’ll discover a lot of history. Sitting on top of Mount Benacantil sits the Castillo de Santa Bárbara, originally built as one of the largest medieval fortresses in Spain in the 13th Century and has been a site of culturakl interest since 1961. It is well worth taking one of the guided tours there as the guides really bring the history to life, and taking the time to climb to the battlements you will get an amazing all round view of Alicante and the ocean.
Go Skiing In The Sierra Nevada Mountains.
No, that isn’t a mistake! Spain isn’t exactly associated with skiing but to many travellers surprise, including mine when I first went, it is home to one of the highest ski resorts in Europe in the Sierra Nevada mountains! The ski resort at the top of the mountain has all the facilities you will ever want and can rent any equipment you may need too, making this a unique and refreshing break in your Spanish adventure.
Explore The Museum Of Fine Arts In Seville.
Not one of the largest, most famous or even one of the most prestigious art museum in Seville, this small gallery is still well worth a a visit, not least of which because you can usually enjoy the art without the crowds. Founded in 1839, it contains a small but impressive collection from medieval times through to the early 20th Century.
Zip Line Into Another Country At Sanlúcar De Guadiana.
Have you ever zip lined across an international border? Well now you can at Sanlúcar de Guadiana with Limite Zero, the worlds first cross border zip line! Starting in Spain, you can fly over the Guadiana River into Alcoutim in Portugal and back!
Spend Some Time In The Sea Of Olives In Andalucia.
Not literally a sea, the Mar de Olivos in central Andalucía is a stunning rural landscape of rolling olive groves, undulating over the hills as far as the eye can see. This region produces Spain’s – and some of the world’s – premier olive oil, and you can spend a week or two staying in local rural guesthouses and taking tours of the almazaras, or olive mills, for taste tours among the olive groves.
Visit The Golden Triangle Of Art In Madrid.
Madrid’s famous ‘Golden Triangle of Art’ is the nickname given to its three most prestigious art galleries, the Museo del Prado, Reina Sofía and the Thyssen-Bornemisza, which are home to some of the world’s most valuable art collections, including Velázquez’s Las Meninas, an oil on canvas considered one of the most important pieces in the art world. Even if you aren’t a huge art fan, these museums are well worth at least a few hours of your time and are absolute must sees for any visitor to Madrid.
Take A Tour Of The Alcazar Of Seville.
Game of Thrones fans will be very familiar with the Alcazar of Seville as it was used in many location shots, but in reality it is one of the most interesting historical buildings in the city. his UNESCO world heritage site is actually a fortification containing a hotpot of different buildings and architectural styles from many different eras. The original fortification was Roman, later used by the Visogoths before it became a Paleochristian basilica and then an Arab fortification in the year 713. The Alcazar terraced gardens are the highlight of any visit to Seville, and no visitor here can leave without spending a little time in them.
Hike The Sierra Nevada.
As well as being home to one of Europe’s highest ski resorts, Granada’s epic Sierra Nevada mountain range offers some of the best hiking trails in Spain. Encompassing the Parque Nacional Sierra Nevada, Spain’s largest national park with Andalucía’s largest ibex population and thousands of other plant and animal species, there are over 75km of snow capped peaks and small local villages. The best time to hike the peaks is from July to Early September, although you can hike the lower Alpujarras as early as April or May after the snow has melted.
Visit An Egyptian Temple In Madrid.
Located in Cuartel de la Montaña Park, near Plaza España, the Templo de Debod is an Egyptian temple dedicated to Isis and Amun and was a gift from Egypt to the Spanish government for their help in restoring Abu Simbel. Dating back to the 2nd Century BCE, the entire temple was moved and reconstructed stone by stone, and is a fascinating curiosity well worth a visit.
Explore The Jucar Gorge in Albacete.
Far off the beaten track in rural Albacete is perhaps one of Spain’s most spectacular landscapes, a 40km limestone gorge that brings to mind a scaled down Grand Canyon, lined with alien like landscapes, historic rural villages built into the rock faces with colourful doors and rooftops, a Moorish castle and even troglodyte caves. If you want to discover a part of Spain very few tourists know about, this is the place.
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Oh okay, looks like I’ll have to book another flight to Spain then! 😂
I twisted your arm! I can tell!
I can’t wait to visit Spain and experience its culture, architecture and food!
I’m sure you will soon Kelly, are you planning a trip?
I completely agree, Spain is a wonderful country with endless opportunities for exploration and adventure.
We were just in Granada last month and it was such a spectacular city, we saw la lhambra, the generalise, the Cathedral, it was wonderful! It was also our first trip to Spain that wasn’t one of the islands, so we are really inspired to see more of Spains interior and other cities now.
That’s amazing to hear Helen, Spain’s interior is highly underrated, and Granada is definitely one of my favourite cities too!
I’ve been to Spain many times and even I didn’t know some of these! Great list!
Great timing, we are planning a big trip to Spain after the summer, so you have given us a lot of ideas!
That’s awesome, happy to help!
Hoping to go back to Spain this autumn, will look at checking a few of these places out.
Glad to have inspired your itinerary a little bit Chris!