Spain is located on the Iberian Peninsula in the southwest corner of Europe. It is the only European country that shares a border with an African country – Morocco. Spain also shares land borders with France, Andorra, Gibraltar, and Portugal. This Spain travel guide will give you many vacation ideas for this unique country. Discover the attractions in each region, Barcelona, Madrid, Cordoba, Valencia, Seville, Ibiza, Tenerife, and other places. Find out about the best beaches, monuments, palaces, and most important festivals.
Spain is the fourth largest country in Europe with an area of 505,990 square kilometers. The capital city Madrid has a population of 3.3 million. 81.8 million tourists visited Spain in 2017 according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) reports, making it the world’s 2nd most popular travel destination, just after France. Tourism contributes 11% to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The popular places to visit in Spain include Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Ibiza, Mallorca Toledo, Granada, and Seville. You can visit Spain almost throughout the year because of the excellent weather. The country also attracts many tourists because of its culture, food, scenic locations, beaches, islands, architecture, and landmarks. There is very good infrastructure for tourists.
Read our Spain travel guide to find out how to save money in the country. Get insights on the best time to visit Spain.
“Spain produces almost half of the world’s olive oil. It is called liquid gold because of its high prices.”
The capital of Spain, Madrid, is on the River Manzanares. Madrid is the second biggest European capital after Berlin. The unique position of Madrid in the absolute center of the Spanish mainland makes it ideal as the seat of Spanish governance. It is also the residence of the Spanish Royal Family. Madrid is also the headquarters of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
Spain – Quick Facts
- Official Language: Spanish (also known as Castilian). Regional languages – Catalan, Galician, and Basque.
- Capital City: Madrid
- Currency: Euro
- Major Religions: Catholicism, Islam, Minority Religious Groups (Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Protestant Christianity)
- Regions: Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, Basque Country, Navarre, Aragon, Catalonia, Castille and Leon, La Rioja, Madrid, Castilla La Mancha, Valencia, Extremadura, Andalusia, Murcia, Balearic Islands, Ceuta, Melilla, Canary Islands.
- Government: Constitutional Monarchy, the reigning sovereign is King Felipe VI. Prime Minister: Pedro Sanchez
- Madrid is the largest city by size followed by Barcelona and Valencia
- The Canary and Balearic Islands are also part of Spain.
- Highest Mountain – Teide peak in the Canary Islands
- Spain’s high-speed railway system is the most extensive in Europe and second-largest in the world after China.
- Madrid’s Barajas airport was the 6th busiest airport in Europe as of 2017.
- The country has three distinct types of climate – Mediterranean, Continental, and Maritime.
- The National Dish of Spain is Paella de Marisco. It is rice with different meats and seafood.
Spain has three distinct weather patterns.
The south and south-western parts of the country enjoy a Mediterranean climate. You will find the summer to be hot and dry, while the winter is mild and rainy.
The central plateau region has a Continental climate with dry and hot summers and cold winters. Most of the rainfall is in the spring and autumn. However, the hilly areas receive more rainfall and snow in the winter.
The northern region enjoys a maritime climate. The winters are mild, while the summers are cool. There is frequent rainfall.
|Annual Max Temp (in Celsius)||Annual Min Temp (in Celsius)||Annual Average Rainfall (in mm.)|
Spain Travel Guide – Attractions by Region
Spain has many flavors. The climate and geography changes from region to region. So does the culture, food, and the type of tourist experience.
The country can be divided into the following regions:
- Northern Spain
- Central Spain
- Coastal Spain
- Spanish Islands
Top 5 Places To Visit In Northern Spain
1. San Sebastian is a resort town in the Bay of Biscay with beaches: Playa de la Concha, Playa de Ondaretta. Old Town, Urgull Peak, Miramar Palace, San Sebastian Cathedral
2. La Rioja province offers a thriving wine industry. The locality of Santo Domingo de Calzada, Haro are both known for their wine heritage. See the cathedral at Longroño.
3. Bilbao is an industrial port city. It houses the Guggenheim Museum. The Old Town has Basque culture. Visit the Plaza Nueva.
4. Santiago de Compostela is a religious place in Northern Spain. The Cathedral, hill with sculptures: Monte de Gozo and Pazo de Raxoi are places to see here.
5. Picos de Europa is for hiking and scenic beauty. The Cares River has stunning waterfalls and the town of Potes has both culture and charm.
Top 5 Places To Visit In Central Spain
1. Madrid the capital city has the splendid Royal Palace. The Prado Museum, Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, Puerta del Sol, and the Plaza Mayor.
2. Valladolid is famous for its religious medieval sites. San Pablo Church, San Pablo Plaza, and the National Sculpture Museum are all worth seeing.
3. Toledo is the capital of the Castilla La Mancha region. The Toledo Cathedral, Alcazar of Toledo, Monastery of San Juan De Los Reyes, and the Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca are must-visits.
4. In Cordoba, see the Mosque of Cordoba, Alcazar de Los Reyes Cristianos, and the Roman bridge.
5. Segovia is a historic city where the main attractions are: the aqueduct, Alcazar of Segovia, Royal Palace of Le Granja de Ildefonso, and the Segovia Cathedral.
Spain Travel Guide for the Coastal Region
1. Barcelona is a popular destination with highlights like the Sagrada Familia church, Park Güell, La Rambla shopping district, and Casa Milà.
2. Valencia is a gorgeous port city where you can see the City of Arts and Sciences, L’Oceanografic aquarium, merchant district of Llotja de la Seda, and the Valencia Bioparc.
3. Cartagena in Murcia boasts of the La Manga beach, the ancient ruins of Roman theatre, Cala Cortina Beach, and the archaeological marvel Punic walls.
4. Marbella has both beaches and the Sierra Blanca Mountains. Puerto Banús beach, the city center Plaza de los Naranjos, Guadalmina River are some main attractions here.
5. Seville is popular with the tourists who come to see the Alcazar of Seville, the Seville Cathedral, Plaza de España and the Giralda bell tower.
Spain Travel Guide for the Islands
1. Palma de Mallorca is a resort town and capital of Mallorca. See the Palma Cathedral, the Bellver Castle, and the Palace of Almudaina.
2. Ibiza is in the Balearic Islands of Spain. Party destination and nightlife capital, it has stunning beaches like the Platja D’en Bossa, Cala Comte, Cala d’Hort, and Cala Salada.
3. Tenerife is the largest island of the Canary Islands. Tenerife has the dormant volcano Mt. Teide. The Thai themed water park Siam Park and the beaches like Playa de las Americas are very popular.
Highlights of Spain
Spain is a melting pot of the best tourist experiences. From art, culture, heritage, and religion to the most happening party destinations and thriving food and drink scene… there is something in Spain for everyone. Here are some reasons why Spain should be on your must-visit list.
Monument Magic: There are many monuments scattered throughout the country, thanks to Spain’s rich and varied history. The Alhambra Palace in Granada has brought tears to the eyes of many. Such is the architectural beauty. The Alcazar Palace in Seville, the Mezquita of Cordoba, and The Royal Palace in Madrid are all exhibits of man-made wonders.
Spanish Art: The history of a people can be divined through their art over the ages. There are the cave paintings of Altamira and the art from the years Spain was conquered by Rome. The rule of the Visigoths and Moors is also visible in the art and architecture of Spain. Masterpieces by renowned Spanish artists like Velazquez, Ribera, El Greco, and Goya adorn the museums of Spain.
Churches: The churches, convents, and cathedrals of Spain are some of the best examples of Christian architecture. The most famous is possibly the Sagrada Familia cathedral, an unfinished work of art by Antoni Gaudi. The Church of Almudaina in Madrid is a modern-day wonder. The cathedrals of Malaga, Seville, Santiago de Compostela, Leon, Toledo, Salamanca, and Granada are all artists in their own right.
Andalusian White Towns: In the Andalusian region of Southern Spain, there are entire villages and towns where all the houses are whitewashed. These houses provide a stark contrast to the dramatic natural setting where they stand. This is part of the Moorish heritage of Spain. They are very similar to the white abodes and settlements of North Africa. Ronda, Mijas, Nerja, and Frigiliana are some of these white towns of Malaga. Despite being very tourist-friendly they have all retained their inherent Spanish charm.
Grand Palaces: The Spanish palaces have a unique character and flavor. The Palacio del Oriente in Madrid is in Baroque style, the Palace in Le Granja, Segovia has extensive French-style gardens around it, while the Alcazar in Seville is of the Moorish style.
Food and Wine: The food in Spain is delicious. The national dish is Paella, cooked rice made with meat and seafood. Iberian ham (pata negra) is considered food for the Gods. Manchego cheese is very tasty. The gazpacho soup is a must-try as are the tapas. Spanish wine from Rioja, Catalunya, and Malaga are world famous too.
The country has many beautiful beaches that attract tourists from around the world. Golden sands, aquamarine waters, and a laidback vibe characterize the many beaches of the Balearic and the Canary Islands. South of Spain has an uninterrupted coastline where you will see beaches like Costa de la Luz, Ayamonte, Cadiz, La Barossa to Malaga and Roquetas de Mar stretching to Valencia, Tarragona, and Barcelona. The northern coast faces the Atlantic and has some gorgeous beaches like El Sardinero and La Concha.
The Spanish Festivals
The Spanish calendar is packed with festivals all year round. During the holy period of Lent and Easter, there are colorful processions in the towns of Seville and Málaga. The month of February is Carnival month in the islands of Tenerife and Cadiz. Colorful parades, contests, and dancing girls fill the streets. There is also the Fallas of Valencia. Colorful statues fill the streets. The statutes are burned down on the last night in a brilliant fire display. La Tomatina, the tomato festival, and the Festival of Patios in Cordoba are also very famous.
Spain Travel Guide – How to Save Money in Spain
Spain has been through a financial crisis from 2008 to 2014. The economy has only recently started recovering. Thanks to the turn down, there are now many low-budget hostels, hotels, affordable restaurants, and cheap transportation options.
|Time of Travel||Summer is the peak season for tourists in Spain. Visit between April and June or between September and October to save money. If you are visiting mostly the coastal areas, then the winter is also a good time. You will have pleasant weather and off-season discounts.|
|Getting There||Book your airline ticket months in advance. Simply choose the cheapest flight into Europe (Schengen visa allows free travel between many European countries) and then get the cheapest flight into Spain.|
|Where to Go||If you want to see real Spain on a budget, give the glamorous destinations a miss. Instead of heading for the tourist-hub towns of Ibiza and Mallorca opt for the offbeat destinations. Towns like Ronda, Cadiz, and Jerez offer a Spanish experience at lower costs. There are offbeat coastal towns to be discovered too.|
|Accommodation||There are many affordable hostels in most cities and holiday destinations. They can really help you plan a budget trip. Airbnb is also a great option to stay with locals at lower costs than hotels.|
|Food||Eat like the local Spaniards. They eat a light breakfast with lunch being the major meal of the day and end with a light dinner. In Spain, there are great offers and set meals available for lunch so make sure this is when you fill-up. Dinner can be tapas.|
TIP: In Granada, tapas are often served free with beer/alcoholic beverages. In Basque Country tapas are called pintxos and are very pricey.
|Sightseeing||Many museums have free days, and even certain times of the day have free entry. The bigger cities all have free walking tours you can join.|
|Use a Rail Pass||Spain has an extensive network of railways connecting all parts of the country. High-speed trains have brought down journey time. But purchasing individual tickets can really add up costs. The Eurail Spain Pass will save you money if you are planning to travel to many destinations. The pass also gives you access to station lounges and free ferry transportation.|
|InterCity Travel||If you are taking a train, opt for an overnight journey. This will save you nighttime accommodation costs.|
|Clubbing||Many of the happening clubs and nightlife places offer free entry before a certain time in the evening. Use such offers to enter without a cover charge and stay on till the party is underway.|
Best Time To Visit Spain
Spring: This is one of the best seasons to travel to Spain. The cities of Central Spain like Madrid can get quite hot in the summer, but spring has good weather. Another reason for traveling before the summer is the cheaper rates. There are fewer tourists, so no crowds. The Las Fallas festival in Valencia is in March. It is uniquely Spanish and involves parades, fireworks, and festivities for days. Giving Rio a run for its money is the Carnival in Cadiz that takes place 40 days before Easter in the spring.
Summer: June to the end of August is the peak tourist season. Most places are packed this time of the year. You will find the days to be hot, especially in Central Spain. Most tourists thus go to the coastal regions and islands. However, you will be able to see the famous festivals La Tomatina and the Running of the Bulls. They are both held are in this time. If you visit in the summer, you can enjoy clubbing in Ibiza, trying the cold gazpacho soup, and island hopping in the Spanish archipelago.
Autumn: The fall colors look stunning. This is a good season for off-season discounts. There will be no crowds as there are fewer tourists. Visit La Rioja for the wine grapes. This is the harvesting season. However, if you visit the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands, you will still get the summer season. You can see Catalonian pride and culture for 4 days at the La Mercè festival in Barcelona in September.
Winter: Winter can offer a unique experience too. The temperatures do not fall below 5 degrees Celsius, so it’s not that harsh. Christmas is huge as the country is mostly Catholic. There is the Three Kings Parade in Madrid. Plaza Mayor in Salamanca has the gorgeous Nochevieja Universitaria festival. The gourmet festival of Tamborrada is at San Sebastian in January.