If you’ve left Spain out of your best-laid European travel plans, you’re doing your life a massive disservice. I’m willing to say that no country in Southern Europe offers more joy than the king of Iberian Peninsula.
Spain delivers everything you need to settle your soul, whether its found in the country’s unique world-class cuisine or its cultural prowess, which has had a huge influence on European culture and the Western world as a whole.
Not sure how to get started? Get your bearings with this quick & easy Spain travel guide…
When to go to Spain: The best time to visit
If you’ve spent time roaming other parts of Europe, the weather in Spain is, perhaps, as glorious as you’ve always imagine. Well, at least almost.
Although it’s known for its blue skies & warm temperatures, there’s probably more variation in Spanish weather than you’d expect. On top of that, not every month of the year is perfecto for visiting.
Overall, the best time to go to Spain is in the spring and the fall. Unless, you’re from the planet Mercury, the summer months in Spain can get extremely hot to the point of discomfort, especially in central destinations like Madrid or Toledo. (And that’s without even taking into account the crowds. Oh, yes. Beware of those pesky crowds!)
In the shoulder months, particularly April/May and September/October, you’ll still get warm temperatures and lovely, sunny days with a fraction of the summer tourist crowds. (To be sure, you still will be far from wandering Spain alone.)
Where to go in Spain: The 5 best places to visit
If there’s one thing that’s not going to cause much difficulty, it’s figuring out where to go in Spain. Truthfully, this isn’t a place where you’ll be disappointed, however you choose to plan out your itinerary.
Whether your idea of the perfect vacation is to frolic on white-sand beaches with bass pumping the background or stroll through medieval old towns shadowed by towering fortresses & mountains, settling into one of these best places to visit in Spain is bound to change how you see Europe forever.
Looking for quick ideas on where to go in Spain? Check out these travel resources:
As much as Madrid represents the cultural heart of the nation, no destination in Spain attracts more interest than the Catalonian city of Barcelona. Yes, it can get a little hectic when, seemingly, the entire world conspires to visit at the same time as you. But it’s all worth it for the cultural high you’ll get in roaming the streets of this truly unique city.
Wandering through Barcelona dazzles the senses as much as in any place on earth. Unlike Madrid, Barcelona does flex its muscle with grand monuments, none more superlative than La Sagrada Familia, a church that’s so epic & monumental that it’s yet to be finished almost 140 years after its ground-breaking.
Besides its biggest attractions, Barcelona’s been known to surprise with simpler charms whether its strolling aimlessly through the Gothic Quarter, soaking up the sun on the beach or elbowing through the crowds for queso de cabra (goat’s cheese) and jamón (ham) at La Boqueria.
Ready to plan your trip to Barcelona? Get started with these resources:
- One Day in Barcelona: Itinerary
- Best Things to Do in Barcelona: Top Attractions & Places to Visit
- Where to Stay in Barcelona: The Best Areas & Hotels
Although often shadowed by its more popular hermano, Barcelona, the Spanish capital of Madrid is the quintessential place to first come to grips with the soul of the nation. Madrid, unlike so many of its European contemporaries (and even other Spanish cities), doesn’t have that single attraction or monument that begs travellers to swoop in.
No. Madrid is less European tourism on overdrive than a real experience that’s as compelling as any on the continent. Numerous artists like Velázquez, Picasso, and Dalí once called Madrid home, all while their works spread and began to change the world as we knew it.
Madrid is home to museums and a smattering of architecture that, when taken in slowly & purposefully, speaks to the city’s broad elegance and historical importance.
For many though, the real reason they fall in love with the Spanish capital is its food & drink. This is a city that knows that the true path to happiness lies through the stomach. Nibble on some tapas at a small local bar with a glass of fine red wine in hand, and you’ll quickly be further down the road to full elation that you thought possible with just one trip.
Ready to plan your trip to Madrid? Get started with these resources:
- One Day in Madrid: Itinerary
- Best Day Trips from Madrid
- Things to Do in Madrid: Top Attractions & Best Places to Visit
- Where to Stay in Madrid
The heart of Andalusia beats in the eclectic city of Seville (Sevilla). Even if you loved Spain’s two other biggest cities, there’s a good chance that Seville’s the one that will completely transform your ideas about the country forever.
In many ways, Seville feels like a departure from your typical European destination. Aside from those usual continental charms—whether Baroque & Gothic churches or old cobblestoned medieval laneways—Seville really twists in a different direction with its Moorish influences, echoing the architecture of North Africa and the Middle East more than the typical Mediterranean flashes of Southern Europe.
Even without its history and good looks to back it up, Seville’s a place whose vibe never ceases to dilute the happiness. After a day of exploring its historical delights, be sure to pop into a tapas bar for a bite, a drink and, perhaps, a taste of flamenco, the famous Spanish dance art that founded its roots in the area.
Ready to plan your trip to Seville? Get started with these resources:
- One Day in Seville: Itinerary
- Best Things to Do in Seville: Top Attractions & Places to Visit
- Where to Stay in Seville: The Best Hotels & Areas
With one of Spain’s most coveted tourist attractions at its heart, Granada cracks more Iberian Peninsula travel plans than you’d imagine. Although the majestic Alhambra is undoubtedly Granada’s main draw, visitors are rarely disappointed by the city’s bustling and “lived-in” feel, making it an unexpected favourite among travellers.
Granada fuses the liveliness of urban life in Spain with Moorish influence, giving the city an exotic flavour that’s perhaps unmatched anywhere else on the European continent. Simply walk through the Albayzin, Granada’s historic Arab quarter, and you’ll quickly start to feel as if you’ve hopped over the Mediterranean to North Africa or the Middle East.
Granada’s unique flavour doesn’t stop at its Islamic-influenced architecture, palaces or towering churches. For foodies, this Andalusian gem delivers more than its fair share of traditional tapas bars, flamenco lounges, cafés and restaurants that prove, definitively, that Spain’s one of the world’s top places to eat & drink.
Ready to plan your trip to Granada? Get started with these resources:
- One Day in Granada: Itinerary
- Things to Do in Granada: Top Attractions & Best Places to Visit
- Where to Stay in Granada: The Best Hotels & Areas
As Spain’s third-largest city, Valencia delivers a wallop that might strike you as a little unexpected, especially with the smaller, yet vastly more popular, cities of Seville & Granada taking up space on most Spanish travel itineraries.
Whereas most Spanish destinations are most well-known for their historical attractions, Valencia challenges the stereotype by letting its modern side step up to the plate in a big way wit the futuristic Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias leading the way as the city’s poster boy for its progressive attitude. (And, of course, visitors keen on those old traditional Spanish charms will also find them in Valencia in spades.)
Throwing together its historical & modernist architecture scene along with a delightful beachfront and one of Spain’s liveliest food & drink scenes (this is, after all, the birthplace of paella!), Valencia is undoubtedly one of the best places to stop by on your next trip to Spain.
Ready to plan your trip to Valencia? Get started with these resources:
- One Day in Valencia: Itinerary
- Best Things to Do in Valencia: Top Attractions & Places to Visit
- Where to Stay in Valencia: The Best Hotels & Areas
Other places to go in Spain
One of the biggest surprises for travellers heading to Spain is undoubtedly the seaside city of San Sebastian. Fringed by white-sand beaches and verdant hills, the Basque city’s smashingly handsome looks easily draw in new fans much in the same way it did over past centuries to Spanish royalty and other dignitaries.
As spectacular as San Sebastian’s coastal setting is, the city’s most recent claim to fame has become its status as Spain’s defacto culinary capital. Even those who visit San Sebastian intent on experiencing its seaside pleasures, blissful architecture or the packed schedules of festivals, will undoubtedly leave, instead, with its brilliant Basque flavours emboldened deeply upon their tastebuds.
Ready to plan your trip to San Sebastian? Get started with these resources:
- One Day in San Sebastian: Itinerary
- Best Things to Do in San Sebastian: Top Attractions & Places to Visit
- Where to Stay in San Sebastian: The Best Hotels
Although often shadowed in Basque Country by nearby San Sebastian, the city of Bilbao rightfully deserves the attention of travellers. The city’s most famous landmark, the Museo Guggenheim, draws art & architecture lovers in from all around the globe. But there’s more to this lovely Basque city than its eccentric buildings and dashing classic European good-looks.
Like so many of the top destinations in Spain, Bilbao takes its food & drink quite seriously. The city is one of the true centres of the Basque culinary world, combining Iberian Peninsula flavours with influences from the venerable French gastronomy. As you roam through the city’s Old Town, you’ll find no shortage of intimate restaurants and pintxo bars to tackle your newfound cravings.
Aside from its architecture and food, Bilbao, in many ways, represents the heart of the Basque nation. The region’s curious ancient culture is showcased throughout the city in museums and performing arts halls.
When the buzz of the city becomes a little too much to handle, you’ll be pleased to discover the natural attractions that lie just beyond. Some of Basque Country’s finest scenery—from meandering green hills to pristine coastline punctuated by cliffs—can be seen within a quick jaunt of the city centre.
Ready to plan your trip to Bilbao? Get started with these resources:
- One Day in Bilbao: Itinerary
- Best Things to Do in Bilbao: Top Attractions & Places to Visit
- Where to Stay in Bilbao: The Best Hotels
Anyone seeking out a dash of luxury while visiting Spain will love the seaside pleasures of Marbella. Hemmed along the Costa del Sol by the magnificent Sierra Blanca mountains, Marbella is—perhaps quite fittingly—the defacto Spanish coastal playground for dignitaries, celebs, and other well-to-dos.
Away from its luxury resorts, golf courses, yacht-peppered marina, and flashy Golden Mile, however, Marbella is a surprisingly charming place. Like any Spanish tourist destination worth its salt, Marbella’s Old Town (Casco Antiguo) is stunningly beautiful and reflects the design aesthetic of Andalusia to a tee. Wander around, sussin’ out its ancient history, and—who knows?—this glitzy resort town might just become your guilty little pleasure.
Ready to plan your trip to Marbella? Get started with these resources:
- Best Things to Do in Marbella: Top Attractions & Places to Visit
- Where to Stay in Marbella: The Best Hotels
Although best known as the gateway & main transport hub for Spain’s Costa del Sol, Malaga is a surprisingly interesting city that’s often unduly overlooked for other Andalusian towns & cities.
From its cultural attractions to its upbeat bar & restaurant scene, there’s plenty to love in Malaga. Like in any Spanish destination worthy of your attention, the historical centre of Malaga offers a smattering of traditional Andalusian architectural stylings and all the trappings of a hip & modern European city.
On top of being home to some great museums & unmissable ancient sites, Malaga is often labelled as the sunniest & warmest winter destination in continental Europe.
It’s the perfect place to escape gloomy and cool winter weather for a quick dash of sun, history along with indulging in some truly fantastic (and budget-friendly) food & drink.
The undisputed king of Spain’s Balearic Islands, the Mediterranean island of Mallorca (Majorca) is one of the most popular destinations in Spain thanks to its sunny skies, picture-perfect beaches, and blissful sea breezes.
In many ways, Mallorca is Spain in miniature. Besides the seascapes for which its justifiably famous, Mallorca is chock-loaded with historical mountain towns, vineyards, olive groves, and just about everything that travellers to Spain would expect.
Although the Balearic capital of Palma gets much of the attention, heading further inland will reveal Mallorca’s lesser-known charms. Whether its hiking between hillside villages or enjoying local wines to sea or mountain views, Mallorca is the Mediterranean escape you’ve always dreamed of.
Palma de Mallorca
The capital of the Balearic Islands on the Mediterranean Sea, Palma de Mallorca (often shortened to just Palma) is a surprisingly spectacular urban destination in a country that’s hardly short of incredible cities.
Although the main attraction of Mallorca is its beaches, Palma makes a great case for seeking out the island’s cultural treasures. Palma’s top point of interest, the Gothic Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma (La Seu), dominates the cityscape from every direction.
In its shadows, you’ll discover the historical heart of Palma, teeming with an innumerable variety of bars, restaurants, churches, and art galleries.
All this adds up to Palma being a fantastic introduction to Mallorca, and the perfect place to spend a couple days before exploring the island’s lesser-known charms.
The bad-boy of the Balearic Islands, Ibiza has become famous around the world for its hard-partying ways and as a destination for getting a little crazy. (We’re talking Britney Spears, shaved head crazy here.)
Ibiza hits its peak in summer as tourists descend upon the small island to go clubbing with its world-class line-up of DJs including the likes of David Guetta and Armin van Buuren.
Even if you aren’t into the all-nighters of Ibiza Town or Sant Antoni, the island is home to a handful of World Heritage Sites that prove that there’s plenty more to be had on Ibiza than excessive cocktail consumption and hangovers.
Ready to plan your trip to Ibiza? Get started with these resources:
Aside from being the largest of the Canary Islands, located off the coast of West Coast, Tenerife is also the most popular and handsome of the bunch.
Tenerife is justifiably famous for its beaches, ringing around the island and ranging anywhere from perfect golden sands to black thanks to Pico de Teide, a dormant volcano and the tallest mountain in Spain.
Although most tourists stick to Tenerife’s coastal resorts, there’s plenty more to explore on the island.
The mountainous interior of Tenerife, centred around Teide National Park, provides some of the best hiking in Spain. Getting off the tourist trail elsewhere on the island, you’ll discover a handful of mountain villages and age-old towns hidden among tropical forests.
If you’re planning a trip to Andalusia, don’t leave Cordoba off your itinerary. One of the top places to visit in Andalusia, the city of Cordoba has a rich history dating back over a thousand years that’s reflected in the ageless beauty of the streets of its Old Town.
Cordoba was once the capital of Moorish Spain, and, at the time, the most important cultural centre & largest city in Western Europe. At the heart of Cordoba’s historical centre is the indescribable Mezquita, a mosque-turned-cathedral that’s one of Spain’s most spectacular architectural treasures.
Besides marvelling at the Mezquita and the Alcazar, you’ll love wandering the atmospheric streets of Cordoba, stopping along the way to enjoy a relaxing glass of tinto de verano and tapas.
What to eat in Spain
Although it doesn’t get the press of Italian food, without a doubt Spanish cuisine is one of Europe’s best. Wherever you find yourself in the country, dishes take a unique spin, tossing together unique cooking methods and local ingredients for taste profiles that are unlike any other on the continent.
While trotting around Spain, be sure to try out some of these must-taste Spanish foods:
- Paella: Even if your idea of adventurous eating is seeing what the different ingredients used at the local McDonald’s, I beg of you to set aside your biases and try a plate of paella. This quintessential Spanish food is nothing short of brilliant, consisting of rice and various ingredients like prawns and peppers. This is a game-changer.
- Jamón Ibérico: I’m bound to offend a few vegans by offering up the opinion that jamón ibérico is one of life’s truest pleasures. This dry-cured ham is available at nearly every tapas joint in the country and tasting its salty goodness is bound to uplift your day.
- Gazpacho: A famous Spanish soup served in a variety of ways, usually consisting of a blend of tomatoes, onions, garlic, olive oil, cucumber, and vinegar.
Transportation in Spain
By air: There are several international airports in Spain with flights arriving from all over Europe and beyond. The most common gateways include Madrid Barajas Airport (MAD), Barcelona International Airport (BCN), Malaga Airport (AGP), and Palma de Mallorca Airport (PMI).
By train: Spain is well-connected to the rest of Europe by rail. The Spanish high-speed AVE trains connect to other European destinations mostly via Madrid. Some popular routes include Paris-Madrid, Lisbon-Madrid, and Marseille-Barcelona.
By train: The best way to get around Spain is, undoubtedly, by rail. The high-speed rail network, AVE, has really sped things up in recent years by reducing travel times between the top destinations in Spain quick significantly. Some of the most popular train routes in Spain include Madrid to Barcelona (3h), Madrid to Malaga (2h30m), Madrid to Seville (2h30m), and Madrid to Granada (4h30m).