Spain is one of Europe’s most popular travel destinations for its beaches, islands, UNESCO World Heritage sites, spectacular and diverse countryside, buzzing nightlife, delicious cuisine and world-famous fiestas. Divided into five autonomous regions, the most popular is Andalusia, home to Madrid, Barcelona, Granada, Seville and Cordoba, with incredible Moorish heritage. Its wide cultural and geographic diversity fascinates while the outdoor activities thrill and delight.
Spain’s great, historic cities have sat at the crossroads between Europe and North Africa for centuries, and contain splendid architectural reminders of the country’s powerful imperial presence during the Middle Ages. Many have Roman remains and even more, such as Granada and Cordoba, are treasure troves of Moorish design, with Alhambra the highlight. Seville is the cultural heart of the region with an amazing collection of cathedrals and medieval Toledo, famous for its blades.
The Spanish people are notably friendly, immensely proud of their heritage and eager to share their knowledge with visitors. Accommodations range from ultra-modern luxury hotels with spas to rural paradors, government-run historic mansions and former religious buildings converted into comfortable lodging. In between, there are resorts on the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts and inns and guest houses offering good value and comfort.
Spain’s overland transportation is modern and well-structured, with fast trains linking the major cities and comprehensive local bus services. The easiest and most economical way to travel around the country is by long-distance bus, with the major routes very frequent. Self-drive is fast due to the extensive expressway network and roads are in reasonable condition, with the wintertime exception of the passes in the high mountains.
Spain has a number of distinct climates dependent on location and topography. The southern coast, central and north-central regions are of a Mediterranean climate, characterized by hot summers and mild winters. The country’s southeastern quarter is dry and semi-arid, and the northwestern region including the unique Basque Country displays an oceanic climate. The best time to visit depends on where you’re headed and what you plan to do: May, June and September the best weather-wise without the summer crowds. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy April and October, while skiers flock to the mountain resorts in winter, while walking and hiking is best in spring or early summer.
Unless you’re taking a six-month vacation, the best way to enjoy Spain is to decide what city to base yourself in and plan ahead for visits to sites of interest. There’s simply too much to take in all on one trip, and in-depth exploration of a single region is straightforward with easily accessible day trips. In regards to outdoor activities, there’s a huge choice from water sports, golf, horseback riding, hiking, trekking, mountaineering, caving and more depending on the region.
- Marvel at Madrid’s Palacio Real, the official residence of the Spanish Royal family
- Experience the running of the bulls in Pamplona
- Explore Segovia with its massive, perfectly preserved Roman aqueduct
- Wander the medieval city of Cuenca, clinging to a sheer rock face in the mountains
- Take a tour of Gaudi’s magnificent, unfinished masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
- See Granada’s breathtaking Moorish palace and citadel, the Alhambra
- Visit the vast palace, monastery and museum of El Escorial
- Take in history at Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum, a masterpiece of 20th century design