ViaHero · July 12, 2019
You’ll never run out of things to do in Spain—from lounging on beaches to eating amazing food, the country has so much to offer. It’s more a matter of deciding what to do. That’s why we created this list of the 16 essential things you have to do in Spain.
These are the essentials, but if you want to get into the specifics, definitely connect with a Spanish local to plan your trip. They’ll design a custom itinerary based on your interests, so you won’t be stuck doing the filler stuff you often find on big tours. Why see Spain like a tourist when you could see it like a local? Learn more.
#1: Catch a Flamenco show in Seville
For a lively night you’ll never forget, catch a Flamenco show in Seville. The capital of Spain’s Andalusia region, Seville is the place in Spain to enjoy this dynamic art form. Featuring song, dance, and guitar music, Flamenco developed over the centuries from the songs of Roma (gypsy) immigrants. You’ll find tons of places in Seville with awesome, authentic flamenco, like the oh-so-cool Casa del Flamenco. If you want to fit in with the locals, don’t forget to yell “ole!” at the end of each set.
#2: Go on a tapas crawl through Madrid
Obviously, in Spain you’re going to want to eat as many tapas—bite-sized samples of Spanish cuisine—as humanly possible. And Madrid is the place to do it! It’s hard to find a more Spanish experience than going out for tapas—bar hopping from place to place, snacking on delicious bites that come with each beverage you order, and enjoying swigs of sangria until the sun comes up.
Pro tip: Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s main square, is surrounded by some of the best bars in Madrid (as is the entire Sol neighborhood). With so many amazing cafes to choose from, we’d recommend asking a local about their favorites—you want to drink with the locals, not other tourists!
#3: See the amazing Moorish arches in Córdoba's ancient Mosque
Spain’s southern region of Andalusia is home to amazing history and stunning architecture. One of the most fascinating is the 10th-century Mezquita de Córdoba—aka the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba.
Originally built as the city’s main mosque under Moorish rule, this UNESCO World Heritage Site became a cathedral after the Catholic Reconquista. Its 850 Moorish pillars make you feel as if you’re in a forest; topped with candy-cane-striped double arches and later Gothic additions, the ceiling will simply amaze you. This symbol of the Islamic grandeur of Al-Andalus is stunning and a delight to explore. Plus, if you climb to the top of the bell tower, you’ll get a fabulous view of the city of Córdoba.
#4: Party at an amazing Spanish festival
Spain has a tradition for amazing festivals, and you’ll find them all over the country year-round. Here are just a few of the fun and lively festivals held every year:
- La Ruta de la Tapas in Frigiliana. The town of Frigiliana throws a huge party at the end of each August to celebrate its diversity through food, music and art. The highlight of the festival is Ruta de la Tapas (route of tapas) where for only €2 each, you can take a tapas crawl through the town, trying all kinds of snacks from local restaurants.
- La Tomatina in Buñol. Buñol hosts an epic food fight every August where thousands flock to this tiny town for the Tomatina Tomato Fight. You’ll have a blast hanging out with locals in the streets before the festival—the masses party all night just waiting for the tomato fight to kick off the next morning.
- La Batalla de Vino in Haro. The Batalla de Vino (Battle of Wine) is a wild and crazy festival that takes place at the end of June in the village of Haro. Hordes of people flock to this wine-producing town to wage war—with wine! Spanish red wine from the famed Rioja region is squirted from sprayers and dumped by the bucketful on to the waiting crowd. It’s also customary for party-goers to gather the night before the festival to celebrate in Haro’s alleyways.
Pro tip: Talk to someone who actually lives in Spain to get the inside scoop on the coolest festivals.
#5: Wander through Medieval Cáceres
You won’t find huge crowds in the medieval town of Cáceres—and that’s a good thing. This amazing frontier town in the Extremadura region hugs the border with Portugal and has an amazing story to tell.
The Old Town’s unique architecture has Roman, Islamic, and Italian influences—all relics of the many cultures who’ve called Cáceres home over the centuries. It’s hard not to be awed by the walled city’s archways, palaces, and towers. Cáceres was also the site of many battles between Moors and Christians during the Reconquista—so it’s no wonder why many of the King’s Landing scenes in Game of Thrones were shot here.
#6: Marvel at the fantasy of Gaudí's Park Güell
You need to check out Barcelona’s Parque Güell, a designed by iconic architect Antoni Gaudi. Packed with amazing gardens, vividly-colorful buildings, and giant lizards guarding brilliant fountains, this 100-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site is a local favorite.
Pro tip: When you buy a ticket for Park Guell, you get an admission time. If you miss that time by more than 30 minutes, you will not be allowed entry. Have your local trip planner work a visit into your itinerary so you don’t waste any time waiting around!
#7: Eat perfect paella in Valencia
We firmly believe that all paella is delicious, but the paella in Valencia is out-of-this-world amazing. And it should be—Valencia is where paella comes from! Be sure to order paella Valenciana to taste the classic variety. Made with different meats like chicken, rabbit, or duck, and mixed with beans and sometimes snails, it’s a sensation for the senses you won’t soon forget. No one knows paella like someone from Valencia, so be sure to ask a Valencian local for their favorite spots.
#8: Have a meal at the world's oldest restaurant
How would you like to have a meal where Goya was rumored to have washed dishes as a youth? That’s how old Botín is. It holds the Guinness World Record for the oldest restaurant in the world, as it was established in 1725 on Madrid’s Calle Cava Baja. Plenty of other literary ghosts haunt Botin’s brick walls—Ernest Hemingway invoked the restaurant in some of his most famous works: The Sun Also Rises and Death in the Afternoon.
But enough about its history, it’s the food that’s kept Botín in business for nearly 400 years. Try their signature dish—whole suckling pig, stuffed with aromatics, doused with white wine and then crisped in a wood-burning oven (Hemingway loved the roast pig, and often included it in his fiction).
#9: Make a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela
The Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route follows in the footsteps of the Apostle St. James as he walked from France all the way across northern Spain. This soul-inspiring 500-mile-long pilgrimage trail starts in many places across Europe, but all paths end at the tomb of St. James (Santiago in Spanish) at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
Whether you hike one of the many majestic trails that crisscross Northern Spain or just visit the town of Santiago de Compostela for the day, this amazing journey may just be one of the most amazing experiences of your life—regardless of your religion or lack thereof.
#10: Take in amazing art at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
If you’ve ever seen the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles or the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, then you’ll recognize Frank Gehry’s architectural genius at the stunning Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. The beauty of the sleek, angled, silver building is second only to the amazing collection of modern and contemporary art masterpieces it contains within its wild walls. The museum is especially beautiful reflected off of Bilbao’s sweeping waterfront.
#11: Discover the magnificence of La Sagrada Familia
Another one of Gaudí’s works that takes center stage in Barcelona is La Sagrada Familia, the iconic basilica that’s been under construction since the late 1800s. This fantasy world of stunning stained glass, “melting” columns, and mind-bending designs echoes Gaudí’s notion that the divine and nature are inseparable. This stunning Roman Catholic church is scheduled to become the tallest sacred site in Europe once it’s done (though who knows when that will be).
#12: Get lost in the Moorish Halls of La Alhambra
A trip to the hills of Granada will remind you of the impact that the Moors had in Iberia for 700 years. One of the most visible remnants of the Islamic influence on the Iberian Peninsula is the Alhambra Moorish fortress. This palace and fortress complex protected the city's inhabitants from invasion by the Christians during the last of the Muslim dynasties in Spain. You’ll feel like you’ve traveled back in time as you stroll through Alhambra’s horseshoe-arched courtyards, beautiful gardens, and stunning arabesques.
#13: Stroll through Toledo's Jewish quarter
Just a short drive from Madrid is Toledo, a unique city where diverse cultures have historically lived in harmony for centuries. One of the best ways to learn about the storied multicultural history of Toledo is to wander through its historic walled neighborhoods, home to monuments from Jewish, Muslim, and Christian cultures who lived together for hundreds of years.
One of the more fascinating parts of Toledo is the old Jewish quarter, with its narrow cobblestone streets and synagogue. Toledo is also famous for making the best swords and shields on the planet—stop by a steelsmith or three and check out their wares.
#14: Drink Spain’s most coveted wines in La Rioja
There’s no arguing that Spanish wines are among the best in the world, and the region of La Rioja is internationally known for vineyards that turn out some of the most sought-after bottles on the market.
If you head to the town of Haro (home of the world’s biggest wine fight—La Batalla del Vino) you can tour Bodegas Muga—not only a top-shelf winery, it’s are also one of the few wineries that still makes their own barrels. You’ll find a lot of incredible wineries in La Rioja (and some really touristy ones—so be sure to talk to a local for advice on which ones to visit).
#15: Bask in the sun on Ibiza
There’s much more to Ibiza that A-list celebs, glitz, and glam. Spend your days at the jaw-dropping beaches and take a tour of stunning whitewashed villages in Ibiza’s quiet rural interior. Nature lovers will have a field day at Ses Salines, a huge wetland escape on the island’s southern coast. Skip the fancy overcrowded hotels and check out the agroturismos—traditional farmhouses-turned-stylish rural hotels. The pace of life is slow and meals are homemade.
Pro tip: Visit in October, when the summer crowds have left. Hotel prices are cheap and you might even get the beach to yourself.
#16: Catch a soccer match at Santiago Bernabeu or Camp Nou
You won’t find more passionate sports fans anywhere in the world than the Spanish—and their sport of choice is, of course, futból (soccer). The two biggest clubs in Spanish soccer are FC Barcelona and Real Madrid—and they play their home matches at two of the most famed venues in Europe, Camp Nou and Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, respectively.
If you want to want to learn about the history of these iconic Spanish teams, both stadiums offer tours and have museums that pay tribute to their glorious histories…though we’d recommend buying a jersey and catching a match for a true insight into Spanish culture.
Pro tip: If you love sports, see what locals say about the best (and/or cheapest!) places to catch a match. They can even help you buy the tickets.
This list is an excellent start, but you’ll find so many more things to do in Spain! For a trip that fits your travel style and budget, have a Spanish local design your itinerary. They’ll create a travel plan based on your curiosities and interests, plus they can help with logistics like booking tickets or simple translations. You could leave it up to chance—or you could have someone who actually lives in Spain let you in on the country’s secrets. Questions? Send us a message.
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