Plaza de España, Seville, one of Spain best cities.
Spain’s best bits
The southern Spanish coasts have mutated into a hideous mish-mash of skyscrapers, sterile white colonies and deserted building sites, so the heart of España has retreated to inland Andalusia, Spain’s most southerly region.
The largest, liveliest, prettiest, most interesting city in Andalusia is unquestionably the capital, Seville (Sevilla in Spanish).
Want to see the glory of Spain? Check la vida de Sevilla. Moorish? Definitely!
Seville, Semana Santa, Spain’s best festival?
Semana Santa (pre-Easter festival), Seville, Andalusia
Over 30 brotherhoods have been holding pre-Easter Semana Santa processions in Seville since the 16th century but more recently other cities in Spain have been promoting/developing the Semana Santa occasion, and not necessarily for religious reasons. The out-of-season tourist potential is huge, though the majority of spectators in Seville are usually Spanish tourists from other regions. 5 – 11 April 2020: Seville and Granada. Also Malaga. Holy Week in Seville Info.
Playa Arnia, Cantabria Beaches.
The northern Atlantic Ocean coast of Spain is a terrific tourist destination in the summertime, even if the Atlantic waters remain cool. The selection of beaches is stunning, running from San Sebastian-Donostia in the east over to the Rias Baixas in the west, and supported by some comfortable cities such as Santander and some spectacular cities such as Santiago de Compostela and Bilbao.
With almost 5, 000 km of coastline, Spain has at least 3,000 beaches including over 400 Blue Flag beaches, more than anywhere else in Europe. Prices are low, jet-lag is zero from north Europe, sunshine just about guaranteed in season and most locals speak some English.
Beach resorts tend to be over-developed and under-cultured, but the sand is soft and golden, the waters warm during summer months, sunshine and watersports plentiful and costs low, particularly for all-inclusive packages.
For lengths of pristine, less-crowded sand from June to August sun-seekers will have to look long and hard, possibly finding it on Spain’s spectacular Atlantic coast up north – especially on the Costa de Cantabria – (less spoilt but not unknown! ), the Costa de la Luz in the far south west, or on the islands, the Balearics or the Canary Islands.
Bridal photos under the arches of Cathedral Beach, Galicia, North Spain beaches
Massive stretches of golden Spanish sand are lined with grotesque high rises and low culture sand-sea-sangria addicts. Still, they are cheap and cheerful.
Spain’s Atlantic Coast up north-northwest is the best option for grand landscapes, soft sand and less wallies though the weather can go wobbly all of a sudden and the water is chilly most of the time, though the sea in shallow protected bays like La Concha warms up quickly.
The Costa Brava in the north-east has some pretty little towns, smallish but characterful beaches and cooler weather (as well as big, bad Barcelona and its handful of excellent beaches), while the Costa del Sol in the south-centre gets the most sunshine and most foreigners – primarily interested in cheap booze, cheap rent and plentiful sunshine rather than local culture, though there is actually a lot of wonderful, traditional Spain nearby in that province of Andalusia if you care to take a drive or tour.
The Costa de la Luz in the far south west (also Andalucia) offers spacious, scenic, soft sand beaches, perfect for wind and kitesurfing and even regular board surfing but often it’s a little windy for loafing unless it’s a protected beach, such as Playa de la Caleta in Cadiz, one of our favourites.
FRS run hi-speed ferries across to Morocco’s Tangier from lovely little Tarifa several times a day.
Best places in Northeast Spain
Sagrada Familia nave ceiling, Barcelona. Photo by sba73.
Home to sensational architecture, particularly the structures designed by great and gaudy Gaudi, a lively, walkable centre, truly sensational restaurants and bars at reasonable prices, cultural activities by the ton and good beaches nearby.
Traffic and a LOT of petty crime – pickpockets and bag snatchers – temper the pleasure of Spain’s funkiest city, but only slightly. Read about Barcelona thievery here
About 2 hours north of Barcelona (via train from Barcelona Sants, bus or drive) is Dali’s birthplace and home to the mad Dali Museum. It’s not so much the exhibits, which are quite limited considering the artist’s staggering output, but the building itself is wacky, red walls decorated with golden turds for a start! And there’s another Dali Museum in his old home of Port Lligat, see below.
In 1920 Dali said, “I have spent a delightful summer, as always, in the perfect and dreamy town of Cadaqués. There, alongside the Latin sea, I have been quenched by light and colour. ” Not far from Cadaques – in fact 15 minutes walk – is Dali and Gala’s (his wife) home in Port Lligat, now the fascinating though small Port Lligat Dali House-Museum, which must be booked in advance.
On the central east coast of Spain, this large and lively city surrounded by farmland offers a warm coastal climate, a magnificent old city centre with baroque palace, some excellent museums and the amazing new City of Arts and Sciences. A few kms east are some OK beaches and the dunes of La Albufera lagoon, while 30km away is the tomato madness of Buñol.
Ferries go to the Balearic islands from here. A good source of information in English is the Valencia website.
Best places in Central Spain
Not a good place to drive to, too hot in the summer and too cold in winter, but otherwise a magnificent, baroque and late-partying capital with terrific museums such as the world famous El Prado, impressive buildings and parks. If you’re on wheels, park them asap and drag the legs into action or hop onto the efficient metro network!
This stunning medieval city – home to El Greco and an easy ride from Madrid – is packed with castles, churches and tourists. Stay the night, mid-week if possible, and enjoy it early/late.
Halfway from Madrid to the Mediterranean, Cuenca is a medieval World Heritage Site in a stunning location on a precipitous ridge teetering between two gorges. The rustic region is heaving with castles, while the town offers gothic churches and hanging houses – hanging over the Huecar Gorge.
Best places in Northwest Spain (Atlantic Coast)
Strange sculpture on Colexio de San Xerome balcony, Santiago de Compostela main square, Galicia.
Galicia in the wild west
A pilgrim’s paradise with beautiful, cheerful Santiago de Compostela at the end of the Camino trail, as well as sensational beaches such as Cathedral beach, one of the world’s most famous sights and the pretty coasts of Rias Baixas.
Heroic sculpture in San Sebastian-Donostia, North Spain
San Sebastian-Donostia and the Basque country
San Sebastian in the far north, adjacent to France, is Spain’s best Basque city and best northern city, a spacious and pedestrian-friendly city offering magnificent promenade and beaches (surfing too, albeit cold Atlantic waters), famous tapas – known as Pinxos in Basque – throughout the Old Town and an active but relaxing atmosphere.
San Sebastian, a pretty, relaxed resort town with several superb beaches and excellent cuisine, offers less ‘Spain’ and more rain than the south which means less beach overload and a better midsummer climate.
San Sebastian is not far away recently transformed **Bilbao is now a Guggenheim-led arts and culture centre, sporting one of the wildest buildings in Europe, while Pamplona is definitely bullish. Want to run for your life? Try the bull running from 6-14 July; when you get to Pamplona go to Plaza del Castillo Tourist Office for a timetable, map, red scarf and spare underpants.
Comillas town festival, Cantabria, north Spain
Best places in Southern Spain
Ronda, the best of southern Spain’s Pueblos Blancos
Spain’s tiny, old and often dazzling pueblos blancos, mostly situated inland, are in stark contrast to the modern, high-rise, white trash apartment blocks clogging up the Spanish costas, though it’s only fair to say that getting to many of the pueblos blancos involves driving though some quite eye-stinging suburbs.
Ronda is not only the most appealing and interesting pueblo blanco in Spain but also one of the most dramatic towns in Andalusia due to its cliff-hanging tendency and startling Puente Nuevo.
Cadiz, Spain best south coast city
Plaza San Juan de Dios, Cadiz, on the far south coast towards Portugal.
Cadiz is a little off Spain’s beaten tourist track (well south of it in fact) and all the better for it, with less brain-dead, sand ‘n’ sangria tourism, less greedy overdevelopment, more cultural attractions, more fine old buildings, an excellent, easy-going lifestyle and amiable natives. Cádiz is the oldest continuously-inhabited city in Spain.
Granada, Spain best Moorish architecture
Granada is a calm little Andalusian city at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Like Cordoba it’s home to one awesome attraction and a number of lesser sights and also like Cordoba it is possible to see the sights in one busy day, perhaps a day trip from Malaga or Seville.
The primary sight in Granada is the Alhambra, a Moorish Palace/Fort complex on a hill over the town.
Cordoba is a charming little old city has seen a remarkable number of religious changes over the last 2, 000 years, from Roman to Visigoth to Islamic and finally Christian, with remnants of these cultures still to be found around the town. The main attraction is the spectacular Mezquita.
Spain’s most colourful festivals:
February – March: Sitges Carnival near – the wildest, gayest party of the year in Spain.
March 15 – 19 (Same date every year): Fallas de Valencia – a madly explosive carnival/fiesta combination that will blow your socks off. Locals spend 5 days partying – parades, pageants and moderate fireworks then on the last night, they turn off all the city lights and set fire to hundreds of massive high quality papier-maché caricatures stuffed with fireworks around the city. Kaboom.
4 – 11 May: La Feria de Abril (April Fair) in Seville – Seville’s best spring party with traditional dress, parades, dancing and boisterous parties in a gorgeous environment.
June – July: Festival de Granada – a superb musical event in varied, amazing locations such as the spectacular Alhambra. Granada Pictures.
6 – 14 July (same date every year): Pamplona, Los Sanfermines (Bull Running) – don’t be bored, be gored! Six bulls are released into the streets every morning of this seven day Basque rite-of-manhood party. You too can battle the big horns. See the excellent Sanfermin website.
August: Bilbao, Aste Nagusia (Great Week in Basque language) – a big basque celebration including free concerts, fireworks nightly and strong man contests.
Last Wednesday of August: La Tomatina at Buñol town 40 kms from lovely Valencia – a huge and incredibly messy public fight with 25 tons of tomatoes, one day. Big kids should get down to Bunol and let rip.
20 – 24 September: Festes de la Mercé, Barcelona – Barcelona’s biggest annual festival to celebrate the city’s patron saint, the Virgin de la Mercé with over 500 activities including a parade of the giants (wooden figures operated by humans), Castellers (the human towers) and fireworks for a week around 24th September (a public holiday).