Spain is one of our favourite countries in the world — something just keeps drawing us back! Since our first visit there in 2008, we’ve set up temporary bases in three Spanish cities, walked four Caminos de Santiago, and tasted countless tapas.
With its huge regional variation, a visit to one part of Spain could well be completely different to a stay across the country. It’s well worth a visit, or two, or ten!
1. Walk a Camino
The network of pilgrimage paths that crisscross Spain make for a unique holiday experience. The freedom of just getting up every morning and walking to the next stop is a very freeing experience, one that we fell in love with on our very first visit to the country.
We walked the Camino Frances (the most popular of the routes) in 2008, and have since made our way to Santiago by three other pathways. Read more about the Camino here.
2. Eat local
You may think of paella when you think of Spanish food, and that’s fair enough. If you’re in Valencia, by all means, eat paella (but not from a restaurant that has photos of the different paellas on the menu, it’s probably frozen and reheated). Spain’s regions each have a strong gastronomic tradition, and it’s worth discovering the local specialties wherever you happen to be. Personally, I love trying tapas (small dishes) all over the country, and I’m also a huge fan of menus del día. Yum.
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3. Visit the Alhambra
Of all the tourist attractions in Spain, the Alhambra is the most impressive. Perched on a hill in the southern city of Granada, the alhambra is more than just one building — it’s a complex of palaces, fortresses, gardens and other buildings, which will stun you with its beauty and intrigue you with its history.
4. Celebrate Semana Santa
While Easter in many countries means a day or two off work and a lot of chocolate, Spain puts a lot more effort into its celebrations. Instead of just a weekend, there’s a whole week of events — Semana Santa means “Holy Week” and many cities see multiple processions and events every day of the seven. Smaller towns and cities will have at least something going on, and taking part can really make you feel like part of the community.
5. Take part in a crazy local festival
If you can’t make it to Spain at Easter, don’t despair — there’s sure to be some other crazy celebration to take part in. La Tomatina near Valencia involves throwing tomatoes, while the Haro Wine Fight in the Rioja wine region to the north is all about consuming wine and/or hurling it at people. You could take part in a Carnaval procession in February, St John festivities at the end of June, or Christmas events throughout December and January. Or find your own small event, like the wine festival we stumbled across while staying in Alcalá de Henares.
6. Drink local
Spanish beer isn’t anything to write home about, but there are plenty more options on offer. Head to the region of Asturias in the north for delicious cider; spend some time learning about the different types of sherry in its hometown, Jerez; taste some locally produced vermouth in Madrid; enjoy the seasonal young wine called mosto in various wine regions around the country; or just kick back with a sangria or tinto de verano for a casual summer drink.
7. Hang out at the beach
Its location on a peninsula means there are plenty of beaches to choose from, though many have been taken over by foreign tourists. The south can get very hot in summer, so do your research to find the right beach for you. Personally, we enjoyed our summer in La Coruna, on the northern coast — lots of beaches to choose from, but still enough space to spread out a towel and enjoy ourselves.
8. Party like a Spaniard
The Spanish certainly know how to have a good time, and most of the larger cities have excellent nightlife. Popular hotspots do change over time, so ask a local where to go for your night out, or check local blogs. Wherever you go, finish your night the next day with a stop at a churreria for chocolate con churros. (If you’re anything like us, you’ll skip the night out and go straight for the churros. That’s fine too.)
Check out Stephanie Lee’s experience of partying as a solo female traveller in Bilbao.
9. Go Roman
If you’re at all interested in history, specifically Roman history, you’ll find plenty to satiate your thirst for knowledge in Spain. Roman roads and ruins are everywhere, and many small towns have small museums (called interpretation centres) full of local history and information. They’re a great place to spend an hour or so.
10. Head to the countryside
While we love Spanish cites (and recommend you visit, at the very least, Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, Cordoba, Granada, Jerez, Coruna, Segovia, and Bilbao) there’s something charming about Spain’s small towns. If you walk a Camino you’ll see plenty, but you could also hire a car and head out from a larger urban centre to see what you find. The white towns in Andalusia are particularly gorgeous.
Spain is an amazing country, and wherever you go you’re sure to have an unforgettable experience! Learn more about Spain on our Spain page, and let us know what you’d most like to do in Spain in the comments below.