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Things to Do in Spain

Sandwiched between Portugal to the west and France to the northeast, Spain entices visitors with its rich culture, history, and fabulous cuisine. The sun shines almost all year round; locals pass down traditional tapas recipes through the generations; and people greet each other with warmth and affection. Whether you visit for the food, the weather, the coast, or the history, Spain brims with adventures, all of which can be easily accessed by a host of private and small-group tours. In vibrant Barcelona and Madrid, walking and cycling tours lead you to top attractions such as the Prado National Museum and Gaudí’s iconic La Sagrada Familia, and offer skip-the-line access as well as a guide to bring Spain’s history to life. Food and wine-tasting tours and cooking classes teach you how tapas delicacies such as Iberian ham, salted cod, and rich chickpea stew complement Spanish reds and whites like Rioja, Montenovo Godello, and Serrana Macabeo. History buffs can explore medieval streets around Besalú, Tavertet, and Rupit on a group tour to see where castle ruins hide among rugged cliffs and dense forests; while culture vultures will want to take in the passion of flamenco, a traditional Spanish dance. Multi-day tours take travelers to far-flung destinations like Cordoba, Granada, Ronda, Seville, Toledo, and the beautiful coast east of Malaga, where ancient olive groves thrive in the Spanish sunshine.
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Roman Theatre of Cartagena (Teatro Romano de Cartagena)
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Built between the 5th and 1st centuries BC, Cartagena’s Roman Theater wasn’t discovered during modern times until 1988, following which a massive restoration took place. Come 2008, the newly discovered theater was opened to the public along with a museum, once again inviting visitors into a grand space that, during Roman times, welcomed some 6,000 spectators.

The theater is situated on a vista-rich city hillside, from which the stadium seating was carved out of the actual rock below. During a visit, you can explore the different corners of this conserved space, as well as check out the museum, which offers an in-depth overview of the archeological remains along with informative panels explaining the restoration (all in both English and Spanish).

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Mezquita (Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba)
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Originally the site of the Christian Visigoth Church San Vicente dating back to AD 600, the Mezquita (Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba) stands as the city's most proud monument and one of the most exquisite Islamic structures in the Western world. Learn about its rich history while taking in the 850 columns of jasper, onyx, marble, and granite.

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Guggenheim Museum
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Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum, designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry and opened in 1997, is hailed as one of the most important architectural works of its time. Within its undulating and reflecting walls on the banks of the Nervión River, you’ll find a rotating artistic wonderland of both modern and contemporary art.

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Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (Catedral de Santiago de Compostela)
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The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (Catedral de Santiago de Compostela) is one of the most important shrines in Christendom, believed to be the final resting place of St. James the Greater, one of the Twelve Apostles. The Romanesque, Gothic, and baroque structure is the terminus of the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) pilgrimage routes through Northern Spain.

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Alhambra (Alhambra de Granada)
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Built on a hill overlooking Granada and set against a backdrop of the Sierra Nevada, the Alhambra (Alhambra de Granada) is a sprawling complex of intricately decorated palaces, pristine gardens, and a once-mighty fortress. This UNESCO World Heritage site was constructed during the Nasrid Dynasty and later partially destroyed and rebuilt by King Charles V. With its mix of Renaissance and Moorish architecture, the Alhambra Palace is the most sought-after attraction for visitors to Granada, sitting high on most must-see lists for Andalucia and Spain as a whole.

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Sagrada Familia
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Sagrada Familia, a UNESCO World Heritage site and Antoni Gaudi’s magnum opus, is undoubtedly the most iconic structure in Barcelona (and the most popular, with nearly 3 million visitors per year). Construction has been ongoing for more than 135 years, and the surreal structure, with its rainbow-hued stained glass windows, is slated for completion in 2026. Even in its unfinished state, it remains an absolute must-see for every visitor to the Catalan capital.

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Royal Alcázar of Seville (Real Alcázar de Sevilla)
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Sights across the entire Spanish south have been shaped by centuries of Moorish and Catholic influence, and in few places is this more evident and captivating than at the Royal Alcázar of Seville (Real Alcázar de Sevilla). This UNESCO World Heritage Site’s sprawling complex is made up of several features; the most picturesque is arguably the Patio de las Doncellas, with its tranquil ponds that reflect the intricate mudéjar plasterwork for which the palace is especially noted.

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Timanfaya National Park (Parque Nacional de Timanfaya)
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Spanning 20 square miles (51 square km) of southern Lanzarote, Timanfaya National Park (Parque Nacional de Timanfaya) is a unique and eerie landscape of dormant volcanoes and lava fields. Visitors flock to the park from nearby beach towns to explore the otherworldly terrain that looks more like the moon than the Canary Islands.

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Plaza Mayor
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Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor is the Spanish Main Square that your dreams are made of. Home to the city’s commanding City Hall building — and once the site of bullfights until as late as 1992 — the plaza is widely considered the most beautiful square in Spain. Beautiful because of its dramatic Baroque style, its 247 balconies, and its 88 arches behind which hide all sorts of restaurants and shops.

Indeed, this is where you’ll want to go to bask in your Salamanca surroundings by sitting al fresco (when weather permits) to enjoy tapas while savoring views of the 18th-century square and its emblematic sandstone buildings. From here, you’ll also have easy access to other city sights, as it’s just a short jaunt from stops such as the Salamanca Cathedral, Casa de las Conchas, and the University of Salamanca. Meanwhile, those looking for a good selection of shops need only head down Calle del Toro, a street just off the northeastern corner of the plaza.

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Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar (Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Pilar)
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On the banks of the Ebro, Zaragoza’s colossal cathedral marks the spot that, according to tradition, Mary appeared to St. James in AD 40. Since then, the site has hosted many religious structures, with major restorations in the 12th, 15th, and 17th centuries. Today, the church is one of Spain’s most significant cultural attractions.

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More Things to Do in Spain

La Caleta Beach

La Caleta Beach

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Given that Cadiz is almost entirely surrounded by water, the desire to hit thebeach is bound to strike you at some point. When this happens, your go-to destination will be La Caleta, the only proper beach in old town. It’s an isolated shoreline that cozies up along the western side of the city, nestled inside a natural harbor once used by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans.

Though it’s Cadiz’s shortest sandy shore, it ticks all the beach boxes, offering soft golden sands and calm waters, as well as amenities including lifeguards and showers. Perhaps best of all is that the beach is western facing, which means it’s the perfect spot in town to catch a dreamy Spanish sunset. While there, spy some of La Caleta’s notable sights, including the impossible-to-miss crescent-shaped Balneario de Nuestra Señora de la Palma y del Real, a 1920s spa whose gazebo-tipped arms reach out across the shore. It’s not the only impressive structure here, either, as the beach is bookended to the north and south by two fortresses, San Sebastian and Santa Catalina.

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Serranos Towers (Torres de Serranos)

Serranos Towers (Torres de Serranos)

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The twin stone Serranos Towers (Torres de Serranos), built in the 14th century as Valencia’s main exit toward Barcelona and Northern Spain, are one of only two remaining portions of the original city walls. What once served as prison cells and a triumphal arch are now thought to be the largest Gothic city gateway in Europe.

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San Sebastian Old Town (Parte Vieja Donostiarra)

San Sebastian Old Town (Parte Vieja Donostiarra)

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San Sebastian’s medieval Old Town is a maze of bar-packed alleys serving the city’s world-famous pintxos and wine. The neighborhood is also home to the wonderfully chaotic Pescadería (fish market), the San Telmo Municipal Museum, Church of San Vicente, and the Basilica of Saint Mary of Coro.

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Royal Palace of Madrid (Palacio Real de Madrid)

Royal Palace of Madrid (Palacio Real de Madrid)

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Madrid's Royal Palace (also known as the Palacio Real or Palacio de Oriente) is a beautiful baroque structure with some 3,000 rooms, making it one of Europe's largest castles. Although the royal family no longer lives here, the Palacio Real still serves as the king and queen's official residence, a venue for state ceremonies, and a place for tourists to get a peek into the royal history of Spain.

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Co-Cathedral of St. Nicholas of Bari (Concatedral de San Nicolás de Bari)

Co-Cathedral of St. Nicholas of Bari (Concatedral de San Nicolás de Bari)

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Built between 1614 and 1662, this towering cathedral was designed by Agustin Bernardino and erected on the same site as a historic mosque. An impressive nave and six side chapels surround the sky-high blue dome at the center of the altar. Travelers say the chapel of the Holy Communion is one of the cathedral’s most beautiful and a striking example of Spanish Baroque architecture and design.

Despite its unassuming (and rather bare) exterior, the interior of San Nicolas is something to behold. In addition to the quiet chapels, visitors will find a raised pipe organ and quiet cloisters with well-tended gardens.

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Constitution Square (Plaza de la Constitución)

Constitution Square (Plaza de la Constitución)

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Constitution Square (Plaza de la Constitución) sits in the heart of San Sebastián’s old quarter. Since its construction in the early 1800s, it has served as the city’s main square, but perhaps most interestingly as a bullring. You can still see remnants of this today: look above each of the balcony windows, where you’ll spy numbers denoting the former bullring boxes once rented by spectators.

Though the bullfights long ago moved to the city’s proper Plaza de Toros, Constitution Square still hosts some of San Sebastián’s biggest events. The most famous of these is no doubt the start and finish – marked by the flag raising and lowering -- of the parade- and drum-filled Tamborrada, which takes place yearly on January 20th.

Events aside, the main square, which is dominated by the municipal library, resides in a part of town blanketed by a web of narrow medieval streets, each dotted by Basque Country’s answer to the tapas bar: the pintxos bar. These drinking-and-eating establishments typically pile high their counters with gourmet-style tapas-topped slices of bread, and are usually enjoyed by visiting one bar after the next.

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Prado Museum (Museo del Prado)

Prado Museum (Museo del Prado)

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The Prado Museum (Museo del Prado) houses one of the finest art collections in the world, specializing in European art from the 12th to 19th centuries. Thousands of European paintings, sculptures, and other works of art are on display throughout its halls, and they represent merely a fraction of the total collection. Highlights include works by Francisco Goya, Diego Velázquez, and El Greco. Perhaps the most famous paintings are “Las Meninas” (The Maids of Honor), an inventive self-portrait by Velázquez, and The Garden of Earthly Delights, a triptych from Hieronymus Bosch.

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Valencia City of the Arts & Sciences (Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias)

Valencia City of the Arts & Sciences (Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias)

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Situated along Valencia’s old Turia riverbed, the visually striking City of Arts and Sciences (Ciudad de las Artes y Ciencias) was the work of Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. The spectacular architecture is just part of the appeal of this futuristic complex though, which is also home to a science museum, planetarium, and more—all popular with families.

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Masca Valley

Masca Valley

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Characterized by rugged cliffs, forested trails, and waterfalls, the wild landscapes of the Masca Valley are among Tenerife’s most beautiful. The remote gorge offers a thrilling backdrop for a hike—the trail winds down through the gorge and finishes at a black-sand beach.

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Teide National Park (Parque Nacional del Teide)

Teide National Park (Parque Nacional del Teide)

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The largest and oldest national park in the Canary Islands and home to Spain’s highest peak—Mount Teide—Teide National Park (Parque Nacional del Teide) is one of the top attractions on Tenerife. The rugged landscape of the park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is magnificent—a geological wonder featuring an expanse of rugged lava fields, ancient calderas, and volcanic peaks.

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Lobos Island

Lobos Island

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Lobos Island (Wolf Island) is named after the “sea wolves” (monk seals) that used to live here. Now a protected nature reserve, the small, rocky island is home to wildlife—from birds to sharks—beaches, hiking paths, a visitor center, and, at the northern tip, the lonely Punta Martiño Lighthouse.

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Castellfollit de la Roca

Castellfollit de la Roca

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With its jumble of stone-brick houses clinging to the edge of a soaring basalt cliff and a backdrop of forested mountains, the tiny town of Castellfollit de la Roca offers some striking photo opportunities. From afar, this is one of Catalonia’s most unmistakable postcard images, but looking out from the 50-meter-high clifftop provides an equally mesmerizing view, spanning the lush valleys of the Fluvia and Toronell rivers.

Despite its magnificent location, Castellfollit de la Roca has little more than 1,000 inhabitants, making it one of Catalonia’s smallest towns and the smallest in Girona. Visitors, however, are plentiful and the narrow streets, medieval squares and 13th-century church of St. Salvador offer a fascinating glimpse into a time long gone.

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Walls of Ávila (Muralla de Ávila)

Walls of Ávila (Muralla de Ávila)

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Running 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers) around the Old Town of Avila, the Walls of Avila are some of Spain’s best-conserved medieval fortifications. UNESCO-listed along with the old town they enclose, the 12th-century walls look much as they would have in the Middle Ages.

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The Rock of Gibraltar

The Rock of Gibraltar

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Visitors to the south of Spain shouldn’t miss the Rock of Gibraltar, a limestone promontory and nature reserve known for its sheer cliff sides, Barbary macaques, and the sights in Saint Michael’s Cave. Though this British overseas territory is a worthy destination for its Moorish Castle alone, the 360-degree views are truly spectacular.

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