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Breathe life into your dreams of romance and adventure in Spain! Located on the Iberian Peninsula, the country’s sea-swept location and historical Moorish influence give it an exotic beauty unmatched by just about anything else Western Europe can offer. Spaniards are often characterized as passionate, sophisticated, and committed to the pursuit of la dulce vida, and visitors fly into Spain seeking the same. In truth, they almost always find it. The food is exquisite, the culture is fascinating, the nightlife is glamorous, and the country boasts the second-highest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites (only Italy has more) and leads the world in World Heritage Cities—you won’t lack for any type of entertainment here.
The Pyrenees Mountains physically separate Spain from mainland Europe, but rich culture and tradition are what make it a world unto itself. Perhaps it is actually more accurate to say worlds unto themselves—a forty-year-old decision to split the country into seventeen self-governing regions has led to a wide diversity of language, politics, and lifestyle between what locals call Las Españas, or “the Spains.” For visitors, all this means is that there is virtually no end of new opportunities to explore. Narrowing down the top attractions for visitors to Spain is an arduous task. The country is replete with a vast range of activities to keep visitors exploring.
Top Spain Sights
Constructed by Muslim sultans over a thousand years ago, the Alhambra of Granada is part citadel and part palace. This World Heritage Site has stood the test of time as a testament to the splendor of Moorish architecture and a monument to the theme around which the complex was built: paradise on earth. The ceilings of the Alhambra vault towards the heavens, and the complex scrollwork of the arabesques lining the walls contains sacred geometrical patterns of Arabic inscriptions. Touring the gardens is an equally impressive experience—visitors can revel in the loveliness of the roses and orange trees planted by Christian monarchs in the fifteenth century. The night tour is an especially moving experience for the effect of moonlight on the ancient courtyards.
Ibiza is a global byword for vibrant, luxuriant nightlife. If clubbing is what you want, of course, Ibiza will be happy to give it to you—the raves are considered some of the best in the world, and superstar-caliber DJs routinely headline weeklong “residencies” in the town’s enormous, lavish nightclubs. You can sleep off your unforgettable nights in some of the poshest accommodations in Spain, and catch a tan on the white-sand shoreline before the day slips once more into evening. Do spare at least a little time to bask in the natural wonders of Ibiza, too—this destination in the Balearic Islands is also a World Heritage Site marked by clear seas and warm sun.
Segovia / The Aquaduct of Segovia
The town of Segovia is currently competing to be designated a European capital of culture for 2016, and much of its clout as a site of cultural heritage comes from the presence of its famous aqueduct. Constructed in the first century AD by the Romans for the purpose of supplying fresh water from the Frío River to the Segovia fort ten miles away, the aqueduct is still in use today! It is a spectacular icon of Roman architecture and history, and a jaw-dropping achievement of engineering; it was built with tens of thousands of granite blocks precisely measured to bear the weight of the structure, and no mortar whatsoever. Segovia itself is known for being a hotbed of gastronomic delights and a major destination for foodies, conveniently located a short train ride from Madrid.
The Royal Palace of Spain, located in Madrid, is officially the residence of the King, although nowadays it is used solely for state ceremonies. It was first occupied by King Carlos in the eighteenth century. Today, with almost 1.5 million square feet of floor space and thirty-five hundred rooms, it holds the title of the biggest palace in Europe. Art buffs will thrill at the works of such luminaries as Caravaggio, Velázquez and Francisco de Goya, and the devout can worship at the city’s cathedral, located right next door. For those visiting Madrid for the day there are many tickets that combine a citywide bus tour with a guided walking tour of the Palace.
Pamplona – Running of the Bulls
The city of Pamplona is dedicated to San Fermín, and every July a massive festival is held in his honor. The central event of this celebration is the encierro, or running of the bulls, during which a dozen stampeding beasts are let loose on the cobblestone streets to run from just outside the city to the bullring. The run itself generally lasts less than ten minutes, but the surrounding festivities are extensive and attract visitors from all over the world. Tour packages are available for participants and spectators alike, ensuring that whether you’d prefer the safety of a balcony or a prime spot in the midst of the pack, you won’t be left behind on the big day.
The second-largest city in Spain is notable for being both ultra-modern and incredibly old, steeped in a rich cultural tradition. Barcelona was the site of the 1992 Summer Olympics, a distinction that caused a significant uptick in the number of international visitors and an increase in the transportation options available to those swelling in to soak up the city’s significant dining, entertainment, and educational opportunities. Throughout the year, a number of festivals and fiestas offer abundant chances to not only party like a local, but to absorb some of Catalonia’s unique and engrossing culture as well. Barcelona is, notably, one of the best places in the world to experience an authentic flamenco performance, and to delight in the fascinating architecture of Antoni Gaudí.
|Primary Airports: Madrid Barajas (MAD), Barcelona El Prat (BCN), Malaga (AGP)|
|Government: Constitutional monarchy|
|Currency: Euro (EUR)|
|Population: 40,525,000 (2009 est.)|
|Electricity: 230V/50Hz (European plug|
|Time Zone: UTC +1|
Spain Travel Reviews
Beautiful Spain in the Warm Sunshine
Spain was just one of those countries you can't just visit once. It was so beautiful in fact that I traveled to Spain twice. The Royal Palace is a beautiful attraction site. You cannot get in without and invitation, but it is beautiful on the outside. It has many beautiful gardens surrounding the palace. As a child, it was always fun to see if you can make the guards laugh, smile, or move. It makes a child wonder how on earth they can stand perfectly still with no movement whatsoever for so long. I never understood it. The beaches in Spain are beautiful and definitely a place to go on a hot day for a swim. It is something you have to be very careful with if you are not familiar with European customs. There are regular beaches you can go to. If you are not the shy type of person and want to experience some of their culture, there are nude beaches as well. Yes, people go to the beach completely nude and go swimming. Being nude is not a shameful thing for them. They do not care who is around. You might think it is just one or two people that get nude, but at these particular beaches, everyone gets nude, men and women. While shocking at first, you get used to it and some tourist decide to join them in being nude. From the palace to the beaches Spain is a must country to visit. It will give you memories that will last you a life time.
Romantic Trip to Spain
Last summer, my boyfriend made one of my dreams come true and got us tickets to visit Spain. My mother is half-Chilean and my father half-Spanish. I grew up with a fascination with Spain and a deep appreciation for Spanish literature and wine. Our first stop was Grenada, a city still imbued with Moorish architecture and aesthetics. This is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. At night, we went to Alhambra, a majestic fortress with Islamic and Spanish architectural influences that offers breathtaking views of the landscape. We also saw our first flamenco show that night. In a small restaurant, we were busy eating gazpacho and drinking Rioja when a young girl came out and performed. She was an incredible dancer. Our guide told us that flamenco is also infused with gypsy dances and heavily influenced by Arab dancing. We spent one week in Madrid, soaking in the art. The Museo Nacional del Prado offers a wide collection of contemporary art. Although I am more into traditional painting and drawing, my boyfriend loves conceptual and sound art. We saw Picasso's Guernica, which was an experience I will never forget, and we also went to the opening of an exhibition of Goya's early drawings. This year, we are returning to Spain again to visit seaside towns and Barcelona. While my boyfriend runs with the bulls, I will be eating paella. I cannot recommend Spain highly enough.
Our amazing Barcelona and vicinity tour
We took a trip to Spain and visited Barcelona and some neighboring towns. Our Barcelona stop was amazing and we loved walking the streets of this metropolitan gem. Some of the sites we visited included the Sagrada Familia, a spectacular church designed by renowned architect Antoni Gaudí. Another great destination in Barcelona is Las Ramblas, a long walking path that crosses the eastern part of the city all the way to the port. Barcelona is boasting with all types of restaurants, but one of our favorites was the Tapadu Tapas Bar, we loved the beautiful Mediterranean decor and cozy atmosphere.
One of the smaller towns we toured was Sta. Maria de Palautordera, also known as Palau, a very old town that has only several thousand inhabitants. Palau sits at the bottom of the Montseny mountain, home to some excellent Catalan fare restaurants. One such restaurant is La Vall del Montseny, in which we ate a delicious Spanish paella and devoured some delectable Crema Catalana for dessert.
Another site we visited is Montserrat, an old and beautiful monastery perched atop a gorgeous rocky mountain. Aside from being an amazing structure in itself, the monastery offers a breathtaking view of the Catalan countryside. Montserrat houses one of the Black Virgins of Europe, named La Moreneta, who is also Catalonia's patron saint. While there, we ate at a restaurant in the monastery property and were surprised by the good quality of the food. We had the typical tomato bread sandwiches with dried sausage and Serrano ham, a must have on your visit to the Catalan region of Spain.
Barcelona, an Architectural Wonderland
Behind every narrow Barcelona street and around every corner is an architectural masterpiece from some of the world's greatest names. Antoni Gaudi posthumously rules this city with his eccentric architectural wonders that will continue to dazzle the eye for many generations to come. Add in exceptional food offerings, museums and incredible nightlife and you have a vibrant and cosmopolitan city.
The highlight of any trip to Barcelona is the architecture at every corner of the city. The Sagrada Familia is one of the most amazing structures I have every witness. You exit the Sagrada Familia Metro stop, turn around and BAM, the most incredible man-made structure you will ever see slaps you in the face. Then, you wander over to the Park Guell and enter an Alice and Wonderland-esque fairy tale land of intricate designs and gingerbread houses. The Casa Batllo and Casa Mila certainly will not disappoint with their intricate shapes and design.
I comfortably stayed in the Gothic Quarter which is considered the old town. If you wander a short distance from our hotel down a narrow and winding ally you emerge in a bustling square. I decided to sit down and enjoy a local beer outside while enjoying relaxing music from a local flute player.
Further up from out hotel was a relaxing bar called Shillings which house local and international patrons alike. Not far from Shillings, close to La Rambla, is a hopping nightclub called Jamboree which played classic 80's and 90's music upstairs and modern hip hop and electronic dance music in the basement.
Barcelona is a burgeoning modern city with an epic history and a bright future. If you are ever in Spain, do not miss the opportunity to visit!
Get lost in Spain
One of the best experiences of my life is when I got lost in Spain. I had a month before I was supposed to start a new job in London, so I bought a ticket to Barcelona and caught the local coastal train from the airport. My intention was to get off when the train stopped at a town that looked interesting. That town turned out to be Sitges, and I had the greatest month ever. I wandered around the old town until I spotted a flyer on a shop wall advertising an apartment to rent. It turned out to be over the shop, with a huge balcony looking over the town and down towards the sea.
I was there during the off season, and Sitges was a very quiet town and I felt like I had the place to myself. During the tourist season, however, it is party central. I think the same is true of any Spanish resort town, however. Like Sitges, I am certain that any of these - from Marbella to Ibiza - would be even more charming and welcoming to visitors in the off season when everything is more relaxed.
There is not a lot in the way of culture or activities in Sitges. There are no museums that I am aware of, and the architecture and surroundings are nothing special. Barcelona is a short train ride away if you feel the need for that sort of thing.
Instead, it's a typical small Spanish town and worth a visit for that alone.
Spain - Barcelona and Costa Brava
Barcelona is a city rich in history, art and culture. Founded by the Romans in the Middle Ages and influenced by Aragon royalty, it is regarded as the most important cultural center in Spain. Many historic and architectural monuments are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Maps of UNESCO sites can be found in most hotels and local restaurants.
One of our favorite sights was the basilica La Seu, founded in the 4th century by Ferdinand of Aragon. The cathedral is rich is Roman and Gothic architecture. We also visited several other cathedrals including the Barcelona Cathedral and The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and St. Eulalia, both of which feature unique Gothic designs.
The Palau Reial Major was the residence of the sovereign counts of Barcelona and several generations of Aragon royalty during medieval times. Portions of the palace have been retained in its original condition including incredible artwork and artifacts.
A walking tour through the Plaça del Rei underground, located in the Gothic Quarter allowed us see the early paths used during the Roman invasion of Europe beginning in the 4th century.
After spending six glorious days in Barcelona, we drove to the spectacular Costa Brava. Crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean and pristine sandy beaches allowed us time for relaxation and basking in the sun.
It is possible to find moderately-priced hotels in some of the small villages along the seaside. Due to the influx of tourists in July and August, it is best to book your hotel several months in advance. Many of the large resorts offer chairs and umbrellas for rent on a daily basis. The cost is steep, close to $100 per day. The fee does not include any amenities, but local bars and restaurants offer service along the beaches.
We enjoyed outstanding fresh seafood in La Selva and Girones. Aside from the excellent dining, we took several long walks through the local villages, experiencing local culture and history.
Only Salvador Dali’s paintings can adequately depict the breathtaking beauty and serenity found on Spain’s Costa Brava.
Living and Learning in Salamanca, Spain
I spent my semester abroad in Salamanca, and though I got to travel to many parts of Spain while I was there, this medium-sized city was my favorite. The Plaza Mayor, or town square, is one of the most beautiful in the country, with medallions is famous Spaniards carved into its golden sandstone walls. In fact, most of the old part of the city is built of sandstone, and the whole place glows a lovely golden color during sunsets, which are definitely the best time to take all your photos. The Plaza Mayor is also home to a few lovely outdoor cafes (remember to order a "café americano" if you don't like you coffee with milk), and also a great tapas bar. It's quiet in the afternoons during siesta time, but the place really comes alive as soon as the sun goes down.
Other must-see parts of Salamanca include the old university buildings, especially the famous facade. It's a gigantic, intricate carving with just one tiny frog in the scene. If you find it, you'll have good luck. University students who complete their exams and earn their degrees traditionally wrote their names on the university walls in ox blood, and you can still faded remnants of these triumphant autographs today.
Finally, the Casa de las Conchas (House of Shells) is the prettiest building in town. It's covered with carved sandstone seashells symbolizing successful religious pilgrimages. Across the street is an excellent bakery: don't leave without a chocolate croissant!
My friends and I are were lucky enough to arrive in Barcelona during one of the biggest soccer games of the year where FC Barcelona beat Manchester United in the Euro Cup. Although exhausted from our long trip, the city was so alive; there was no time to rest, shower or even eat. We quickly scrambled to our budget hotel room, which was just a short walk from the beach. It was almost the beginning of summer and the sun wasn't shy that weekend and unfortunately, our hotel room did not have A/C or windows. Needless to say, we didn't enjoy the best nights' sleep. It became clear that if you wanted some ventilation or are an American who cannot live without A/C, you would have to spend nearly double in that city.
After we settled in, we set off to find fast, authentic Spanish food nearby. This proved to be an adventure as we didn't understand the menus and the pictures looked nothing like the "Spanish" food we were expecting. We joined in on the wild party happening in the streets and on every street due to the big win. It was the happiest place in the world, full of party poppers, alcohol and smiling faces!
We spent the duration of the trip along the beach, wining and dining with tourist-friendly tapas, burying our feet in the feather-soft sand and falling in love with the city's architecture. Spain offers so much as a vacation spot with an abundance of delicious food, social events and unique architecture as well as friendly locals who undoubtedly love life.
Unforgettable Family Vacation in Spain
The first time I ever left the United States was when I went to Spain with my parents. We spent about 2 weeks in Spain visiting different cities. We started in Madrid and then traveled to Barcelona and Valencia. While all of the cities had exciting things to see and do, I think Valencia was my favorite. It is a little bit smaller of a city then Madrid or Barcelona but it was beautiful. The landscape was spectacular and we stayed in a bed and breakfast in the area. Madrid was a lot of fun as well and I remember going to visit a lot of cathedrals. The artwork combined with them was breathtaking. You do not find things like that in the United States. Since it was so rich in history and art, it was a breath of fresh air. You typically walk everywhere when you are in the larger cities and Madrid was no different. We spent days walking around to find hidden gems and simply enjoying the city and architecture. The most exciting part of Barcelona was seeing the place where the bullfighting occurs. The stadium was massive! We did not see a fight, but just being in the arena was pretty cool. As far as the food goes, I was a very picky eater at the time and mostly ate the bread and various cheeses but it was delicious. My parents had to convince me to try other things but they could not talk me into all of it. If I could change one thing, I would go back and experience more of the food. That has become one of the best parts of traveling for me now that I am older.
Bright Colors and Bright Lights in Barcelona
After a hot and gritty visit to Madrid, our arrival in Barcelona felt like we had reached an oasis. Where Madrid was gray and dirty, Barcelona was vibrant, clean and exciting. We stayed at a little hotel on Las Ramblas, which is the busiest and loudest street in Barcelona. We loved the noise. It felt like we were living inside the heartbeat of Barcelona. Travelers looking for a quieter stay may prefer a different location, but everyone should spend a day and an evening soaking up the atmosphere on Las Ramblas. The architecture in Barcelona echoes the vibrancy of the city. We were wowed by the museums and buildings built by Antoni Gaudí. Our favorite Gaudí building was La Sagrada Família, a church with multiple spires and glorious facades. Our visit to La Boqueria Market, considered one of the world's best open markets, exposed us to the sights and sounds of everyday Barcelona living. The colors, sounds and smells of La Boqueria were a feast for our senses. We grabbed some fruit, cheese and bread and went to one of the free Music in the Park concerts that is offered during the summer in Barcelona. We really enjoyed the food in Barcelona; fresh seafood, paella and tapas were on almost every restaurant menu. Spanish wines and beers were plentiful and delicious. Of all the cities we visited on our four month tour, Barcelona was, by far, our absolute favorite.