A vacation in Spain means warm nights on lively plazas and sangria-fueled sunsets surrounded by the bright blossoms of geraniums and bougainvillea. Spain’s historic role as a crossroads of the Mediterranean guarantees an ever-captivating cultural feast. Moorish and Basque influences weave their magic, transforming the architecture and the flavors. A trip to Spain promises rich history, fascinating art and architecture, natural beauty, and delicious food. Here some of the most amazing places and iconic sights to see while on your Spain vacation.
Top 3 Cities to Visit in Spain
Stroll the extravagant palaces, parks, and museums (where you’ll see masterpieces like Pablo Picasso’s La Guernica) by day, and after dark watch, Spain’s capital and largest city transform into a magical, culinary Mecca. Tapas bars line streets, markets burst with fresh food, music floats down the street, and nights will simply slip away.
TOP SITES AND THINGS TO DO IN MADRID
Rooftop bars, flea markets, tapas cafes, theaters, sculptures, incredible parks, and a beautiful literary quarter are just some of the top sights of Madrid. In this city, the plazas are the place to be. One of the top sights of Madrid is the Plaza de Cibeles. As well, don't miss a chance to visit Buen Retiro Park, which houses gardens, sculptures, and the Crystal Palace.
Visit The Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain
Don’t miss the world-leading Museo Nacional del Prado, a Spanish institution featuring works by Goya and Titian; Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum that features Van Gogh and Gauguin, and the Reina Sofía Museum which has one of the finest collections of contemporary art in the world with more than 20,000 pieces in every medium from paintings to video installations. You can take a walk along the Paseo del Arte, or the art walk to get to the museum. The Paseo is little more than a half-mile stretch and you can casually stroll and soak up the incredible art scene of Spain’s past and present.
Explore Buen Retiro Park & the Crystal Palace in Madrid, Spain
The Buen Retiro Park is a lush and beautifully manicured oasis in the heart of Madrid. The historic park is over 340 acres and features the enchanting La Rosaleda (Rose Garden), the formal French Jardín de Don Cecilio, and the Andalusian-style Jardines de Cecilio Rodríguez. The Crystal Palace, built in 1887, looks out onto a graceful fountain and reflecting pool. The structure is a gorgeous cast-iron and glass pavilion and often houses art exhibitions.
Calle Gran Vía in Madrid, Spain
La Calle Gran Vía is Madrid's most famous street and home to some of the city's most iconic buildings. Expansive plazas, top restaurants, bars, window shopping, the Gran Vía is the commercial heart of downtown Madrid. Here, shoppers can find almost anything they could ever want from high fashion to local souvenirs. The boulevard is lined with cinemas and theaters and has a reputation as the Spanish Broadway. It's also the best spot for nightlife in the city, and is said to be "the street that never sleeps."
Take a Trip to Spain
Spain is one of the most fun and fascinating countries to explore. From its food to its music, there's something for everyone to enjoy.
If you’re after a quintessential romantic European city, then this is it, and there are plenty of reasons for it: the smell of the orange blossoms in springtime from the thousands of orange trees you’ll find across the city, the fairy-tale architecture, the soothing sound of guitar music as you walk along the streets, and the secluded tapas bars that dot the city, where you can sip Spanish wine by candlelight.
TOP SITES AND THINGS TO DO IN SEVILLE
Spend some time in Seville and you're bound to learn the passion behind Flamenco. You'll also want to visit the Seville Cathedral, the burial place of Columbus. While there, make sure to take in its symbolic Giralda Bell Tower. It was built as the minaret for the Great Mosque of Seville but the Renaissance-style belfry was later added by Catholics. You're also going to want to visit as many outdoor markets as you can where you can find tapas made from fresh, local produce.
Maria Luisa Park & the Plaza de España in Seville, Spain
Give yourself some time, maybe even an afternoon, to see the tiled fountains, pavilions, and lush palms in the Maria Luisa Park, and wander through the famous Plaza de España with its little river and surrounding buildings.
Seville Cathedral, Catedral de Sevilla, and the Tomb of Christopher Columbus
The Seville Cathedral, Catedral de Sevilla, is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and the world's largest Gothic cathedral. The Giralda Tower of the cathedral is one of the most emblematic landmarks in Seville. From atop the tower, you can view the Murallas de Sevilla, defensive city walls dating to Roman times. However, the Seville Cathedral is perhaps more renowned for housing the tomb of Christopher Columbus - the famous Spanish explorer. Directly inside the doors, there is a monumental statue of four figures representing the four kingdoms of Spain during Columbus’ life. They each shoulder the tomb of Columbus and tower above the heads of the cathedral's visitors.
Try Tapas in Seville, Spain
Unsurprisingly, there is no shortage of places to indulge in tapas in Seville. Head to the old town to Alameda, Macarena, Nervión, Los Remedios or Triana, where you’ll find everything from snails and marinated fish to sweet Spanish wines. Another perfect spot to heighten the senses is the Lonja del Barranco market. At the foot of Isabel II Bridge, overlooking the Guadalquivir River, you’ll find everything from pizza and pies to cocktails.
A visit to Barcelona wouldn’t be complete without spending time wandering along Las Rambla, the close to a mile tree-lined pedestrian boulevard in the heart of the city. However, it’s also a place of beautiful beaches and incredible architecture, including works by the genius modernist Antoni Gaudi. But, it’s here you’ll also learn why Spain leads the world in olive oil production.
TOP SITES AND THINGS TO DO IN BARCELONA
If one artist loved just one city and left it with their heart and soul behind, it's Antoni Gaudí's Barcelona. From his ornate architectural masterpieces to colorful mosaics, Gaudi offered whimsy and wonder to Barcelona's citizens and visitors. To enjoy his art, all you have to do is visit the fantasy of Park Güell for a stroll above the city. To truly understand, though, gaze up at any angle of his stunning, and famously unfinished, Sagrada Família. Outside, its spires like spilling candles pierce the sky, and inside beautiful rainbows flood in the intricately stained-glass windows of the central nave.
Stroll La Rambla in Barcelona, Spain
This bustling street is a top Barcelona spot. Here you’ll find street vendors, artists, and performers around the clock, giving New York a run for its money as the “City that Never Sleeps.” Daytime on the boulevard has a certain festival feel to it, but things really heat up when the sun goes down and nightlife heats up with restaurants and bars serving a selection of drinks and tapas. Don't miss a chance to stop at the Boqueria Market for some fresh fare (read more below). La Rambla is the perfect place to experience a unique taste of Spain’s social culture.
The Work of Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona
Walking around Barcelona you could be forgiven for thinking you were on the set of a fantasy film, such are the wondrous creations of architect and designer Antoni Gaudi. Using multi-colored stone, ceramics, glass, and bricks, architect and designer Gaudi was inspired by nature in his designs, proclaiming: "There are no straight lines or sharp corners in nature." His style is so distinctive it’s now intrinsically tied to the city’s identity. To truly understand, though, visit Park Güell or gaze up at any angle of his stunning, and famously unfinished, Sagrada Família.
The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain
Gaudí’s eclectic, modernist buildings have become synonymous with Barcelona. Perhaps the most recognized of all architectural structures in the city, the unfinished Gothic Sagrada Familia towers above the sea of buildings below. La Sagrada Familia was Gaudí’s magnum opus: He worked on the project from 1883 until his death in 1926 and construction continues today. He's even famed for saying “My client (God) is in no hurry.” Visitors can take in the soaring spires and central nave with its giant, tree-like pillars and spectacular vaulting. It's truly a masterpiece worthy of awe, and one you have to see to believe.
Park Güell in Barcelona, Spain
Park Güell (not to be confused with Palau Güell) is also a must-see. It’s a public park and one of the largest green spaces in Barcelona. It’s filled with multi-colored mosaic-tiled seating and structures and includes a small house where Gaudi once lived that has now been converted to a museum. Look up photos of Barcelona and you’re sure to see the iconic color tiled bench of Park Güell. The outdoor space is spread across several acres of lush green space and is considered by many experts to be the world’s most impressive man-made landscape.
Güell Palace in Barcelona, Spain
Don’t miss the Palau Guell mansion, a UNESCO World Heritage-listed site in the Raval neighborhood that is one of his earliest works. The space has to be seen to be believed. It includes a dome in the central hall that was the venue for music auditions and readings by illustrious guests. The roof has 20 chimneys, some famously mushroom in shape, and a central spire that is nearly 50-foot.
Casa Batlló in Barcelona, Spain
One of the many apartments crafted by famed artist Antoni Gaudí that speckle the city, Casa Batllo is perhaps the most easily identifiable. Marked by skeletal windows, terraces, and a facade that is said to depict the legend of St. George slaying a dragon, there’s no shortage of design details to explore here! The home, which once served as a residence for the Batllo family, is now open to the public and is among the city’s most popular attractions.
More Cities, Things to Do, and Sites to See in Spain
"There is no pain in life so cruel as to be blind in Granada," can be read on the walls of the Alhambra. Bathed in the morning light, the Alhambra Palace awaits - a fantasy of arabesque gardens, fountains, and stone cut like lace. Overlooking the city of Granada, this staggering hilltop fortress was built by the Moors in the 13th century. The Christian Reconquista and the Napoleonic Wars brought changes to the complex—the Moorish citadel still stands, but the original mosque was replaced by a church, and new palaces were built in the 16th century. The spectacular blend of architectural styles, the Generalife palace and gardens, and the panoramic views are truly a sight to behold.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Toledo changed hands many times—from Romans to Visigoths to Moors to Catholic monarchs. The mingling of ethnic and religious groups throughout the Middle Ages yielded a fascinating culture, and Toledo remains an important cross-section of Spanish history. A walk along its narrow, cobbled streets, past medieval castles, Gothic cathedrals, and ancient mosques and synagogues, will transport you back to the time of Don Quixote.
Visit the Boqueria Market in Barcelona, Spain
Make sure to stop at this lively market dating back to the 17th century. Browse the stalls to find an incredible selection of local and international goods including high-quality produce, wines, meats, seafood, cheeses and snacks, and more. The market is attractive for its colors, aromas, and selection but also because it offers a first-hand look at how the shoppers of Barcelona bustle! With endless food options to choose from, a visit to the Boqueria is a must if you’re in the mood for a quick snack or lunch at a reasonable price.
There’s no better place to learn flamenco than the Cristina Heeren Foundation of Flamenco Art, a not-for-profit organization created to preserve this cultural art form. Here you can learn basic flamenco steps and experience the passion of the performance. Founder, Cristina Heeren, has been producing flamenco shows since 1992 and established the school incorporating all three aspects of flamenco – dance, singing, and guitar – in 1996. Her school is located in the Triana district of Seville, a neighborhood where flamenco has existed for two centuries.
If culinary travel is your thing then Barcelona is one of the best cities in the world for olive oils. Here, extra virgin olive oil is treated much like a fine wine. The Catalonia region (of which Barcelona is the capital) has five protected designated origins of extra virgin olive oils. Each one has a flavor and aroma reflective of the growing climate and soil. Join Olive Oil Sommelier Carolina Lima at her property Hola Olive where you can have a guided tasting of three Spanish extra virgin olive oils. Guests learn about how the oil is made and visit the ancient olive trees.
Eat at the Mercado De San Miguel in Seville, Spain
Bring your appetite and a sense of culinary curiosity to experience the broad variety of authentic fare at the century-old Mercado de San Miguel, often referred to as one of the world’s best gastronomic markets. Sip Cava (Spanish sparkling wine) and graze as you go among the lively atmosphere. If you plan ahead, you can also visit Casa Botin, said to be the oldest restaurant in the world. Founded in 1725, over the centuries, the restaurant has made its way into several works of literature including Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.