The most popular beaches are on the Mediterranean coast and on the Canary Islands. For hiking, the Sierra Nevada mountains in the south, the Central Cordillera and the northern Pyrenees are best.
Historically, Spain has been an important crossroads: between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, between North Africa and Europe, and between Europe and the Americas at a time when Europe was beginning to colonise the New World. As such, the country is fortunate to have a fantastic collection of historical monuments – indeed, it has the second largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the largest number of World Heritage Cities of any nation in the world.
Located in the south of Spain, Andalusia holds many memories of ancient Spain. Cadiz is considered one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Western Europe, with remains of the Roman colony that once stood there. Nearby is Ronda, a beautiful city perched on steep cliffs and known for its bridge over the gorge and the oldest bullring in Spain. Cordoba and Granada are home to some of the most spectacular remains of the country’s Muslim past, with the red and white striped arches of the Mezquita de Cordoba and the amazing Alhambra Palace perched on a hill overlooking Granada. Seville, the cultural centre of Andalusia, has a dazzling collection of monuments built in the days when the city was the main port for goods from the Americas; the largest is the city’s cathedral, the largest in the country.
Heading north across the plains of La Mancha towards the centre of Spain, picturesque Toledo is perhaps the historic centre of the nation, a beautiful hilltop medieval city that served as the capital of Spain before Madrid was built. North of Madrid and a day’s drive from the capital are El Escorial, which was the centre of the Spanish Empire at the time of the Inquisition, and Segovia, famous for its spectacular Roman aqueduct that spans one of the city’s squares.
Further north, in Castile and Leon, lies Salamanca, known for its famous university and the richness of its historic architecture. Galicia, in north-west Spain, is home to Santiago de Compostela, the arrival point of the ancient Way of St James and the reputed burial place of Santiago, with perhaps the most beautiful cathedral in all of Spain at the heart of its charming old town. Northeastern Spain has some remarkable historical centres: Zaragoza, with its Roman, Moorish, medieval and Renaissance buildings dating back up to two thousand years, and Barcelona, with its pseudo-medieval Barri Gòtic district.
Spain has played a key role in Western art, heavily influenced by French and Italian artists, but very much on its own, due to the nation’s history of Muslim influence, the climate of the Counter-Reformation and later the difficulties associated with the decline of the Spanish Empire, which produced such famous artists as El Greco, Diego Velázquez and Francisco Goya. In the last century, Spain’s unique position in Europe produced some of the most important artists of the modernist and surrealist movements, including the famous Picasso and Salvador Dalí.
Today, Spain’s two largest cities account for the lion’s share of its most famous works of art. In Madrid’s museum triangle is the Museo del Prado, Spain’s largest art museum, which displays many of the most famous works by El Greco, Velázquez and Goya, as well as some notable works by Italian, Flemish, Dutch and German masters. Nearby is the Reina Sofía, where Picasso’s Guernica can be seen alongside other works by Dalí and other modernist, surrealist and abstract painters.
Barcelona is famous for its amazing collection of modern and contemporary art and architecture. Here you will find the Picasso Museum, which covers the beginnings of the artist’s career very well, and Antoni Gaudi‘s architectural marvels, which are a delight with their twisted organic shapes.
Apart from Madrid and Barcelona, art museums are rapidly diminishing in size and importance, although there are some notable mentions that should not be overlooked. Many of El Greco’s most famous works can be found in Toledo, a day’s journey from Madrid. The Naked Christ, perhaps El Greco’s most famous work, is in the cathedral, but you can also find works by El Greco in one of the city’s small art museums. Bilbao, located in the Basque Country in northern Spain, is home to the spectacular Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum, which has helped make the city famous. A day’s drive from Barcelona is the city of Figueres, famous for its Salvador Dali Museum, designed by the surrealist himself.
- Ampurias, excavations of a Greek and Roman city, Roman basilica, temple of Asclepius and Serapis, (between Girona and Figueras, Catalonia).
- The dolmens of Antequetera, La Menga and Viera,
- Calatrava la Nueva, a well-preserved medieval castle,
- Calatrava la Vieja, remains of the Arab town, castle of the Order of Calatrava,
- Clunia, Roman town with forum, shops, temple, public baths and Roman villa,
- Fraga, Roman villa, Bronze Age settlements,
- Gormaz, Arab castle,
- Italica, Roman city with amphitheatre, walls, House of Exedra, Peacock House, Baths of the Moorish Queen, House of Hylas, temple complex (near Seville),
- Merida, Roman city, Roman bridge, amphitheatre, hippodrome, amphitheatre house, Mithraeum house with mosaics, aqueducts, museum
- San Juan de los Banos, Visigothic church (between Burgos and Valladolid),
- San Pedro de la Nave, Visigothic church (near Zamora),
- Santa Maria de Melque, Visigothic church,
- Segobriga (Cabeza del Griego), Roman town, Visigothic church, museum (between Madrid and Albacete).
- Tarragona, Roman city with “Cyclopean Wall”, amphitheatre, hippodrome, form and triumphal arch,
Spain’s La Liga is one of the strongest in the world, with world-class teams like Real Madrid and FC Barcelona playing to sell-out crowds every week. The Spanish national team is also one of the strongest in the world, capable of bringing in world-class players from their league.
Spain hosts one of the three grand tours of the international cycling calendar, the Vuelta aEspaña.