Why We Love Spain

The grandeur of a caliph’s palace, sybaritic sun-drenched Mediterranean beaches, the staccato stamp of a flamenco dancer’s heels, the awed hush of pilgrims entering the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela after weeks of walking El Camino. You can find the soul of Spain in tourist attractions such as these, which represent the country’s tumultuous history, rich culture, and enchanting natural beauty. From the sunlight playing endlessly off the “scales” of Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum and the throbbing street life of La Rambla and Plaza Mayor to the forest of columns and Moorish arches disappearing into the silent expanse of Cordoba’s Great Mosque, Spain exudes a vibrant energy and a captivating blend of past and present.

Top Destinations in Spain

Barcelona

Immerse yourself in Barcelona, from the cramped alleyways of the Barri Gótic (Gothic quarter) to the 19th-century Eixample quarter, where many Gaudi buildings lie. Stroll along the Rambla and on to old Barceloneta and the seafront. Sights include the Sagrada Familia (Holy Family), the Seu (old cathedral), the Episcopal Palace and the Palau de la Generalitat. Take the funicular to Tibidabo or a cable car to Montjuic.

Bilbao

Visit Frank Gehry's marvellous Guggenheim Museum, which has turned the main city of the Basque region into a top tourist destination. The museum is a masterpiece of 20th-century architecture. Bilbao's Old Town is extensive with a gothic cathedral and atmospheric shopping streets studded with gourmet pintxo bars.

Córdoba

Live and breathe the essence of Moorish Spain in the winding streets of Córdoba, the former seat of the 10th-century Caliphate. The Mezquita (Great Mosque) is a mystic wonder. The building was originally a pagan temple, then a Christian Church, before the Moors converted it into a mosque. Today, it is World Heritage Site and the most accomplished monument of the Umayyad Caliphate. Just outside the city, the ruins of Medina Azahara are similarly atmospheric.

Madrid

Explore Spain's capital. The Prado is a paradise for art lovers. The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia focuses on modern art and houses Picasso's famous Guernica. Also don't miss the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid's Royal Palace, the atmosphere around Puerta del Sol and Madrid's historic square, the Plaza Mayor.

Sevilla

Andalucía is the romantic heart of Spain, the city of flamenco, of Carmen and Don Juan. Wander the narrow streets of the Jewish quarter, snacking at tapas bars, and admire the immense cathedral, the world's largest gothic temple and third largest Christian church. Opposite, the Alcázar is a superb example of Mudéjar (Christian-Moorish) architecture.

Costa del Sol

With the record as Europe's sunniest place, and mile after mile of white sands lapped by gentle seas, it's no wonder that the Costa del Sol beaches are the goal of sun-starved northern Europeans looking for sun-and-sand getaways. The beaches are not Costa del Sol's only attraction for tourists: Yachtsmen love the smart marina of Puerto Banus, and avid golfers head to Nueva Andalucia, known as Golf Valley for its more than 50 courses.

Toledo

Moorish, Gothic, and Renaissance architecture mingle and blend into a city that El Greco captured in one of his most famous paintings. High on a granite hill and surrounded on three sides by the deep gorge of the Tagus River, it presents a stunning profile; approaching it from below is an unforgettable sight. The layout of the town, with its irregular pattern of narrow streets and numerous blind alleys, reflects its Moorish past and the architecture of the Christian period is represented by the numerous churches, convents, and hospices.

The White Towns of Andalucía

Poised atop the steep crags of southern Andalucía, the White Towns are not just beautiful, they speak of this region's long and fascinating history. Most spectacular is Arcos de la Frontera, whose plaza beside the Gothic church ends vertiginously in a 137-meter cliff, affording views across a valley of olive, orange, and almond orchards. A total of 19 of these villages of small white houses are in the area around the Grazalema Nature Reserve.

Overview

Like the traditional tapas served in Spanish restaurants, a trip to Spain is like taking little bites of things. Each bit is delicious by itself … together, the effect is like an entire meal. Spain is a collection of wonderful cities, sprawling plains, snow-capped mountains, beautiful beaches and much more.

Most tourists make their way to Madrid and Barcelona, two entirely different yet equally fascinating urban and cultural centers. But Spain’s other cities…Sevila, Bilbao, Valencia or Grenada…are equally interesting and worthy of spending time.

Many visitors come for the sun and the fun on the Costa del Sol or the Costa Brava. Lolling on the beach by day, dancing the night away under the stars, Spain’s Mediterranean coast is a sybaritic pleasure for all. Pleasure is also the main ingredient at any of the country’s many festivals and religious celebrations. Whether you run with the bulls, smash tomatoes into each other’s hair, toss babies from buildings, or watch horses race furiously around a small town square, one can’t help being pulled into the spirit and fun that is life in Spain.

Of course, Spain is also full of history, both ancient and modern. Touring the exquisite Moorish palace of Alhambra, tracing the steps of the religious pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago on the way to Santiago de Compostela, exploring the many Roman amphitheaters and baths or descending underground to view the cave paintings at Altamira, it quickly becomes evident that some portion of mankind has lived on the Iberian peninsula for thousands of years.

Just as good things come in small packages, Spain is best digested a bit at a time.

Quick Facts

The official language is Spanish, along with Catalan, Galician and Basque. English is understood throughout Spain and in all major tourism areas.

The official currency is the Euro (€). The euro is divided by 100 cents. The U.S. dollar buys approximately € 0.88.

Voltage is 220V, 50 Hz.The electric plug has two round pins.

Internet connections and WiFi spots are found throughout the country. Most major hotels provide good accessibility.

Travellers from most Commonwealth countries (including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UK), most Western European countries, Japan and the USA may enter Spain for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. A valid passport is required for entry.

Tap water throughout Spain is treated and purified and is safe to drink. Bottled water is available everywhere.

Spain is in the Central European Time zone. Spain observes daylight savings time from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October. During standard time, when it is noon in New York, it is 5 p.m. in Madrid; during daylight savings, when it is noon in New York, it is 6 p.m. in Madrid.

Although visitors arrive year-round, Spain’s peak tourist season is in its summer months: May through October.

Average High and Low Temperatures

Things To Do in Spain

Camino de Santiago

Known as St James' Way, the pilgrimage route is a number of different walking trails that lead to the St James Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia in northwest Spain. This was originally a pilgrimage route, although it has become a recreational trail these days. The route is marked with a scallop shell, the symbol of St James.

Bullfighting

The controversial tradition of bullfighting is still very much alive in Spain, especially so in Madrid. Most towns only hold bullfights during their annual spring or summer fiestas, but Madrid's Las Ventas Bullfighting Ring hold regular corridas.

The Alhambra

The impressive palace-fortress of Alhambra is a supreme creation of Moorish Spain, featuring majestic Arabic gates, intricate carvings and patios – Spain’s most significant Islamic architecture. Perched on the hilltop of Granada city, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most visited monuments in Spain.

Gaudi’s Buildings in Barcelona

The fanciful and outrageous buildings Antoni Gaudi created in Barcelona have become landmarks, the signature attractions of this Catalan city. Foremost is The Sagrada Família church, officially the Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família or the Holy Family Church of the Atonement. Unconventional and unfinished, from its tower you can see the work in progress below. Gaudi's Casa Milà, his last and most famous secular work resembles a piece of sculpture more than a functional building. The chimneys are said to have inspired the image of Darth Vader from Star Wars. Parc Güell overlooks the city from a hillside, the views and gardens framed by fantastical creatures and designs in bright ceramic-chard mosaics.

The Prado

The Prado alone ranks with the world's top art museums for the riches of its collections. But add the Reina Sofia National Art Museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, and the CaixaForum, all along Madrid's mile-long, tree-shaded boulevard,known as El Paseo del Arte - Boulevard of the Arts. The Prado has the world's largest collection of Spanish art, an impressive continuum from 12th-century medieval works through the avante-garde movement of the early 20th century, and is especially noted for its works from Spain's golden age by El Greco, Velazquez, and Goya.

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

No photograph has ever done justice to this symphony of shapes, so alive that they seem ready to take wing. American architect Frank Gehry used blocks of limestone and undulating sheets of titanium to turn the notion of modern architecture on its ear. So thoroughly did he succeed that two new terms were born from it: "The Bilbao Effect" - the ability of a city to turn its fortunes around by constructing a single world-class building - and "architourism", a whole segment of the travel industry revolving around landmarks of contemporary architecture. Inside the museum are traveling exhibitions and rotating displays of its own collections of modern art.

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

The magnificent cathedral of Santiago (St. James) was built to house and honor the relics of the saint, and it has been the goal of pilgrims since the Middle Ages, the culmination of their completing the famed Camino de Santiago. The cathedral is one of the outstanding monuments of Early Romanesque architecture.

La Rambla

Strolling along Barcelona’s La Rambla on a summer evening, you might think that every single one of Barcelona's inhabitants was there with you. It's definitely the place to be after work on a summer evening or on a weekend. This tree-lined boulevard cuts a green line - not a very straight one - through the city center, stretching northwest from the Columbus Memorial near the port. Pavement artists, street musicians, living statues, and impromptu performers all add to its lively atmosphere.

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