With its sunny climate and thousands of years of history and culture, Spain is a dream travel destination for many. Although with vast landscapes, world-famous coastline and wide stretches of mountain ranges it’s hard to know where to start. Here are ten of the most beautiful places to visit in Spain chosen by published travel writer and author of the Frommer’s guide to Seville, Granada and the Best of Andalusia, Jeremy Head.
1. Pueblos Blancos – Andalucia
The white villages that dot the rugged hillsides in central Andalucia seem to almost defy gravity in places. Formerly farming villages, many fell into disrepair as the younger generation headed to the cities in search of work. Now locals and overseas visitors alike have rediscovered their charm, and the narrow streets, whitewashed houses, pretty old churches and flower-strewn squares have been restored. Particularly lovely villages include Grazalema, Vejer de la Frontera and Arcos de la Frontera.
2. The Alhambra – Granada
The stunningly ornate Moorish palace, the Alhambra, is one of Spain’s most visited monuments and it’s not hard to see why. A sprawling complex of palaces surrounded by ornate gardens perched atop of a hill with the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains behind, it’s in a spectacular location. The interior is similarly beautiful with romantic intricate Moorish-style decoration around peaceful courtyards contrasting with the powerfully simplistic lines of later vast Baroque additions.
3. Gaudi’s Masterpieces – Barcelona
The proud capital of the Catalunia region, Barcelona has heaps to offer the visitor – great nightlife, shopping and beaches. But it’s the phantasmagoric buildings created by legendary architect Gaudi that are by far the biggest stars of the show. The still unfinished La Sagrada Familia with its amorphous spindly towers and oddly shaped buttresses and roof is the most visited of his creations. Although his residential buildings like the Casa Mila are also wonderful as are his more playful statues and benches in the popular Park Guell.
4. Stunning natural scenery – Picos de Europa
Spain’s natural scenery – from the sandy coastline to the vast plains – is constantly surprising, but the lofty peaks of the Picos de Europa mountain ranges are without doubt the most spectacular. Craggy mountain peaks, verdant valleys and raging rivers combine to make this chunk of northern Spain perfect hiking and adventure territory – whitewater rafting and snowshoeing are particular favourites. There’s heaps of wildlife too including the endangered Cantabrian Brown Bear and wolves.
5. The Cathedral – Santiago de Compostela
Spain’s many vast Gothic cathedrals are testament to the country’s long-held Christian traditions. Perhaps the most spellbinding is the vast one at Santiago de Compostela. It’s a huge building smothered in Baroque swirls, statues and stalagmites. Possibly the most remarkable vista is the Western facade which forms the main entrance, accessed by a magnificent quadruple flight of stairs. The cathedral is also the final destination of the thousands of pilgrims who walk the Way of St James trail each year.
6. Volcanic Views – Mount Teide Tenerife
A couple of hours south by plane from the Spanish mainland, the Canary Islands are far closer to African shores than European ones and their natural landscape is radically different. Much of the land is volcanic, with steep slopes and dark grey sands on the beaches. At the centre of Tenerife – the most popular of the Canary Islands – stands the mighty Mount Teide a vast snow-capped volcano. It’s great hiking territory and at this altitude the scenery is almost moon-like. There’s a cable car to the summit and the views from up here out towards the other Canary Islands shouldn’t be missed.
7. Beautiful Beaches – Formentera
Spain has over 5000 miles of coastline and bright sunny days for much of the year, so it’s unsurprising that it’s a beach Mecca. From jam-packed tourist beaches to deserted stretches of virgin sand there’s a beach for just about everyone. Some of the most unspoilt and ultra-white are found on the shores of the Balearic Island of Formentera. The island is located in the Mediterranean Sea and only a couple of hours by boat from the mainland. Ses Illetes is a long curve of white sand, backed by soft dunes with shallow ultramarine seawater lapping its fringes.
8. City of Arts and Sciences – Valencia
Spain has its share of outstanding historical architecture, but it’s also looking firmly towards the future for many of its building projects of more recent years. The wonderful curves of the Guggenheim museum have really put Bilbao on the map, but it’s the City of Arts and Sciences designed by the wonderfully exuberant Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava that is the pinnacle of modern architecture in Spain. His amorphous, buildings in stark white are a feast of odd angles and unusual shapes at any time of the day, but they look particularly spectacular when floodlit at night.
9. Plaza de Espana – Seville
The majestic capital of the Andalusia region, Seville is stuffed with beautiful sights and is wonderfully atmospheric. The Plaza de Espana was designed by local architect Anibal Gonzalez for the great 1929 Ibero-American Exhibition that was held in the city and virtually bankrupted it. It’s a feast of ornate colourful towers and colonnades decorated with tiles and motifs. At its centre there’s a huge fountain and canals which visitors can float along on on hired pedalos. It’s such a striking place that it often features in movies – most notably Star Wars Episode 2 – Attack of the Clones.
10. Roman Remains – Segovia
The Romans ruled Spain for over 700 years and there are reminders of their presence all over the country. Perhaps the most remarkable, is the wonderfully preserved aqueduct at Segovia in central Spain. It was used by the ancient Romans to bring water to the city. A double-height set of graceful arches, it’s 2950 feet long and it’s held together just by the weight of gravity on the carefully carved blocks that comprise it. There is no mortar whatsoever. With its 167 arches, at its highest point, it reaches almost 900 feet high – an incredible feat of engineering.
Of course choosing just ten places in Spain is very nearly impossible so if you’re planning to explore more of this beautiful country also don’t miss the dramatic deep gorge in the city of Ronda, the underrated city of Girona and the Costa Brava coastline, The Pyrénées mountain range, the historic mountaintop city of Toldedo, sun-soaked San Sebastian, elegant Salamanca, Spain’s vibrant capital of Madrid and the picturesque Balearic islands (just make sure you avoid the over-developed tourist resorts)!