Whilst the current pandemic has us homebound for now, that doesn’t mean we can’t still daydream about distant lands and make plans for when we can travel again. And what better destination to give us the wanderlust than Spain? This sunny, colourful European country that we miss so much.
From dancing and eating paella, to enjoying a glass of wine (or two) and plates of tapas till late into the night, or just discovering its amazing architecture, Spain has a never-ending pool of attractions for even the most seasoned traveler. If it’s your first time visiting this gorgeous country, here are our top picks for the best things to do in Spain:
1. See a flamenco show
For a truly authentic, rich cultural experience, seeing a flamenco show is one of the best things you can do in Spain. This traditional style of Spanish folk music dates back to 500 years ago and has a seductive quality to it through its dancing, guitar playing, and hand clapping. You can catch a flamenco show daily in cities like Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Granada, and many more.
2. Admire Barcelona's beautiful architecture
No trip to Spain would be complete without a day in Barcelona! You’ll have the chance to discover Gaudi’s unique architectural style and find out what makes this city so charming.
You can admire Antoni Gaudi’s famous Catalan Modernist designs all around the city but his most famous work of art is La Sagrada Familia, now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Though he died before he could finish it, the church remains an important testament to Gaudi’s vision; it’s rich in religious symbolism and discordant geometric forms.
Other famous Gaudi works you can check out in Barca include:
- Park Güell
- Casa Milà
- Casa Batlló
3. Take a walk along the Camino de Santiago
Camino de Santiago is the pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, where the remains of the Apostle Saint James the Great are said to be buried.
Many routes take pilgrims to this sacred place. Still, the most famous one is the Camino Frances which is 800km long and takes about 5 weeks to complete by foot.
In 2019, visitors from 190 countries came to Santiago de Compostela – some for religious reasons, others for the extraordinary challenge it entails.
4. Visit the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
Located in Northern Spain, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is a museum of modern and contemporary art, designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry. While the museum houses an exhibition of 250 works of art, what’s most impressive is the building’s architectural style of Deconstructivism. It’s hailed as a 20th century masterpiece.
5. Eat paella
Regardless of whether you’re a foodie or not, this famous Valencian rice dish will bring new flavours to your Spanish vacation. It’s so popular, in fact, that many foreign tourists incorrectly consider it Spain’s national dish (it belongs to Valencia).
While there are many different types of paella, the traditional one is made of round grain rice, green beans, rabbit, chicken, and butter beans.
6. Experience La Tomatina
One of the most exciting tourist attractions in Spain, La Tomatina is a food fight festival held each year in the Valencian town of Bunol, where participants throw tomatoes at each other – all for entertainment purposes, can you believe.
Dating back as far as 1944, this event attracts people from all over the world who come together to enjoy a bit of fruity fun in a (very!) unique and memorable way.
7. Visit Seville
Seville is one of the most beautiful cities in southern Spain and the capital of Andalusia. It’s widely known for its appealing flamenco shows, delicious cuisine, and Mudejar, Gothic, and Renaissance architecture. Some of its most important points of attraction include:
- The Alcázar castle complex
- Seville Cathedral
- La Giralda (the bell-tower opposite the Cathedral)
- Plaza de España
8. Go hiking in the Sierra Nevada National Park
If you’re an outdoor lover, one of the best things to do in Spain is go hiking in the Sierra Nevada National Park. Spanning an area of more than 850 square kilometers, it includes the second highest mountain range in Europe. The breathtaking landscape includes pine forests, river valleys and spectacular views over the countryside and Granada.
9. Eat at the world's oldest restaurant
Sobrino de Botín can be found in the centre of Madrid and has been welcoming guests since 1725. That makes it officially the oldest restaurant in the world. It famously served Mozart and Clint Eastwood, and it’s been mentioned in an Ernest Hemingway novel so we reckon it’s got to be one of the best things to do in Spain as a tourist…
Other interesting facts: The name Sobrino comes from the Spanish word for nephew. It’s also said that the flame in the oven has been burning continuously since the restaurant first opened.
10. Visit Museo del Prado
The Prado Museum (or Museo Nacional del Prado) is Spain’s national art museum and can be found in central Madrid. Its collections reflect the history of Spain and they’ve played a crucial role in the evolution of art history, by rediscovering emblematic figures such as Velazquez or El Greco.
Some of the masterpieces that can be seen there are Goya’s 14 Black Paintings, Caravaggio’s David with Head of Goliath, and Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights.
11. Visit Canary Islands
This Spanish archipelago off the coast of Northwestern Africa boasts haunting volcanoes, sandy coves, and stunning beach resorts.
There are plenty of activities to fill your days, such as dolphin watching, visiting the Timanfaya National Park, sailing or hiking.
12. Discover El Caminito del Rey
This unique pathway is located near Ardales in the province of Malaga, Spain, and was once the world’s most dangerous footpath, having been closed for over a decade. Now travelers can safely and easily complete the 3 km hike and enjoy the gorgeous landscape that comes with it.
13. Go on a weekend break to Madrid
Madrid is one of those cities you have to experience at least once because of its gorgeous weather, delicious tapas, great shopping and vibrant nightlife. If you’re looking for more cultural and local activities, some of the main things you can do in Madrid are:
- Visit Museo del Prado
- Take a stroll through Plaza Mayor
- Visit the Royal Palace
- Explore El Rastro, the largest flea market in Madrid
- Catch a flamenco show
- Drink at a bar terrace
14. Visit La Rioja, Spain's most popular wine destination
Who doesn’t love a delicious glass of wine? La Rioja is known for producing Spain’s finest red wines, and for blending tradition and innovation in its design and gastronomy.
The best time to visit is during the Rioja Wine Harvest Festival, which usually takes place in the 3rd week of September in Logrono. It’s a week-long celebration of fun involving parades, dancing and fireworks.
15. Visit the Alhambra
Originally designed as a military zone, the Alhambra became the royal residence and court of Granada in the mid 13th century.
The name comes from Arabic and signifies ‘red castle’ or ‘vermilion’, due to the color of the tower walls, which in the light of sun catches a golden tone.
16. Conquer the Picos de Europa
The country’s most underrated tourist attraction, this mountain range sits in northern Spain and extends about 20km. If you’re a photography enthusiast or just the outdoorsy type, the Picos de Europa National Park will enchant you with its dramatic scenery and some of the best hiking routes in Spain.
17. Visit the World Heritage City of Salamanca
If you’re a history buff, you’ll definitely want to add the following UNESCO World Heritage site to your bucket list. The Old City of Salamanca is one of the oldest university towns in Europe, located north-west of Madrid, and first conquered by the Carthaginians in the 3rd century. Salamanca’s historic centre still has a significant number of Baroque, Gothic, Romanesque, Moorish and Renaissance monuments, which bring an important number of tourists here each year.
18. Discover the Archaeological Ensemble of Merida
Immerse yourself in history for the day. Here, you’ll find the remains of many public buildings which were trademarks in one of the most important cities in the Roman Empire. The well-preserved remains include an amphitheater, a large bridge over the Guadiana, a vast circus, and an intricate water supply system.
19. Celebrate LGBTIQA+ pride
Spain is one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world, as demonstrated by the wide range of different LGBTIQA+ festivals and activities here. These events are full of colour, are usually held outdoors, include interesting cultural options, and most important of all, everyone is there to have a good time.
Madrid Pride (MADO) is celebrated in the Chueca district during LGBTIQA+ Pride Week. The festival is held alongside the largest demonstration in Europe, which takes place on the first Saturday of July. It’s a unique opportunity to celebrate Pride in Madrid. Be sure to check out Contiki’s Spain Pride Trip, which parties at 2 Pride parades in Barcelona & Madrid.
20. Soak up the sun in Ibiza
With over 5,000 miles of coastline, Spain has some of the most beautiful and diverse beaches in the world, so there are loads of great options when it comes to catching some rays. For this list, we’ve chosen Ibiza, and the reasons are obvious:
- It’s the party capital of the world! Whether you’re in the mood for some daytime partying or nighttime clubbing, there are dozens of places you can visit here
- The weather’s great all year round – Ibiza boasts 300 days of sunshine a year, which means you can pretty much schedule your vacay whenever you want and still enjoy a good swim
- If you’re a water sports enthusiast, there’s plenty of dive spots around the island – the most famous one being the Cala d’Hort Marine Nature where if you’re lucky, you might bump into a few dolphins
That concludes our list of favorite things to do in Spain, which of course is just a small pool of options for such a rich and diverse country. In reality, there are hundreds of attractions captivating tourists here each year. What are your top picks? Drop us a comment below and let us know what your favorite landmarks or activities are when visiting Spain.