A Beginner’s Guide to Visiting Spain

Join us on a whistlestop tour around the pretty cities of Spain for top tips on your next authentic urban adventure.

Nov 6, 2020

FROM EXQUISITE CUISINE TO ENCHANTING ART, Spain’s charms are captivating. Prepare to fall in love and get in the spirit.

Unmissable Metropolises


Diverse, welcoming and multi-faceted, Madrid captures your full attention, not to mention your heart. Make a start with some art: stroll along Paseo del Prado and take your pick of world-class museums filled with masters from Renoir to Sorolla. It’s just a few steps to Parque del Retiro, a sprawling green space, dotted with gardens, sculptures, monuments, a crystal palace and boating lake. Dive into history in El Madrid de los Austrias—the old center and home to the Plaza Mayor and the Royal Palace. From the action of Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu stadium and Gran Vía with its theaters and shops, to the bustle of gourmet markets like Mercado de San Miguel, the pulse of the city is always racing. Tap into the rhythm with a night hopping around the bars and restos of trendy Chueca and exclusive Salamanca, or sample tapas in La Latina. And ascend to a roof terrace at the Círculo de Bellas Artes or Palacio Cibeles for a different perspective on this capital of capitals.


Mediterranean getaway? Barcelona is peerless, with its fabulous food, beautiful beaches and welcoming climate, along with world-famous attractions from La Sagrada Familia to Camp Nou stadium, home of FC Barcelona. Get to know Gaudí beyond the spires of his iconic cathedral with a stroll around Park Güell or visits to Casa Milà or Casa Batlló. Continue on to the Picasso Museum, the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art and the National Art Museum of Catalonia. Pedestrian-friendly delights range from the Boquería market, the hip Born district and the medieval Gothic quarter, to all the fun of Las Ramblas and the Art Nouveau architectural masterpieces of Passeig de Gràcia. There’s nearly five kilometers of beach to explore and boat trips around the bay offer peaceful vistas back to the city. Glide to the heights of Montjuïc hill in a cable car, where the magic fountain and Palau Nacional preside over the city below. As the sun goes down, the restaurants and bars spill out onto the pavements and Barcelona comes alive with food, cocktails, music and dancing.


The jewel of northern Spain, Bilbao lies at the heart of the Basque Country. It is perhaps best known for the spectacular Guggenheim Museum, a Frank Gehry–designed gleaming titanium sculptural structure full of groundbreaking exhibits that made Bilbao a global center for art. Other modern wonders include Santiago Calatrava’s Zubizuri Bridge and Isozaki Atea’s towers. Then, there’s the Fine Arts Museum, Arriaga Theatre, the Begoña Basilica and Santiago Cathedral. In the historic center, master the art of txikiteo, a Basque-style food crawl. Stroll from bar to bar sampling local tapas or pintxos, with txakolí, local wine. Head for La Ribera, Europe’s largest indoor market, to choose your ingredients, see them cooked and served hot. As night falls, the atmosphere heightens among the outdoor bars and terraces of the historic streets—take it all in from the top floor of La Alhóndiga, or set sail on the river Nervión.


Malaga sits on the southern Andalusian coast and o ers something for everyone. Art lovers pilgrimage to the birthplace of Pablo Picasso; his house, “Casa Natal,” remains in Plaza de Merced. Malaga is also home to The Carmen Thyssen Museum, strong in works by Andalusian painters, plus outposts of the Centre Pompidou and the St Petersburg Russian Museum Collection. History buffs will be enchanted by the Roman Theater, which lay hidden for centuries, the Arab palace-fortress Alcazaba, and Gibralfaro Castle. Take seaside strolls on the Costa del Sol for plenty of delicious diversions: salty sardine skewers beloved by locals, tiny fried fish known as pescaíto and the region’s sweet dessert wines. Wander the sunny streets from Calle Larios to the old town, dine late before dancing til the wee hours in the historic quarter… or spend a more leisurely evening at La Malagueta beach or Paseo de Sancha.


Metropol Parasol, Seville.

The capital of Andalusia, Seville is famous for its beautiful buildings and flamenco culture. Any visit must include the Alcázar Palace, Seville Cathedral and the Giralda bell tower. The first two are World Heritage sites, the latter an emblem of the city. Take them in on foot or, to see the sights in style, roll through the historic streets in a horse-drawn carriage, or cruise along the waterways on a tourist boat. Snap pictures of Plaza de España’s painted ceramic benches, one for each province of Spain, or wander among the fabulous fountains in María Luisa Park. The Indies Archive, a 16th-century merchants’ market now houses a treasure trove of historic documents. Stroll in the shade of Metropol Parasol, known locally as “Las Setas”—the mushrooms. Designed by the German architect Jürgen Mayer, they represent the new face of modern Seville. Try any of the many pavement cafés and restaurants, or take in views of the Cathedral and the Guadalquivir river from a roof terrace, but don’t miss the chance to experience authentic flamenco music and dancing at a tablao.


There are few cities like Valencia, able so gracefully to combine the remnants of its distant origins, which date back to 138 BC, with the most innovative influences of the new millennium. Bringing together trade and culture, cinema and theater, museums and business, it’s a center for avant-garde design, one of the most active cities in Europe for international fairs and conferences, and has been Spain’s main Mediterranean port for centuries. Laze on the sand, swim in the crystal-clear water and gaze back at the coastal mountains that embrace the city. Feel the pulse of history in its walls and under the ground. From the remains of the Roman forum founded by Junius Brutus and the Plaza de la Virgen, which gave rise to Valencia as a thriving urban hub, to the emblematic Arts and Sciences Centre, the city tells its story of transformation while preserving its fascinating past.

Modern Marvels and Historic Treasures

To explore Spain is to immerse yourself in a culture influenced by rich history and an enduring heart for art.

Plunge back in time to discover the Arab legacy at the majestic Alhambra in Granada, marvel at the medieval riches of Avila or Cáceres and picture yourself as a subject of the Roman Empire at the aqueduct in Segovia or the amphitheater in Mérida. Spain ranks third on the planet for sites of UNESCO World Heritage designation, and a day wandering any of its cities is a chance to get up close to those well preserved treasures.

Thanks to its rich tapestry of historic and modern influences, Spain has a unique legacy of art, with more than 1,500 museums and some of the most important collections in the world. You can gaze on classical masterpieces in Madrid’s Prado Museum and avant-garde innovations at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, or visit Picasso’s birthplace in Malaga and Gaudi’s gems in Barcelona.

With so much beauty, it’s perhaps no surprise that Spain knows how to celebrate. Experience the color of Seville Fair at Easter, or the vibrancy of the fallas bonfire festival in Valencia and get a true taste of Spanish culture. And with music, art, theater, food and film festivals packing out the calendars of every city all year, you’re guaranteed an authentic adventure.


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