Spain is probably one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. The country is steeped in history dating back to before the Roman period and is a hodgepodge of cultures. In fact, the Spanish nation is really a combination of several nations and cultures, including ancient Roman, Italian, and Muslim and Arab influences. Many of these nations once had a foothold on the Iberian Peninsula, which makes up modern-day Spain. So where do you begin to explore when there are so many destinations to choose from? Let’s take a look at some of the top destinations to visit when traveling to Spain.
The Alhambra and Generalife Gardens in Granada
No matter how much you’ve read about or how many images you’ve seen of Granada’s Alhambra palaces, it will still leave you speechless. The royal palace of the Nasrid dynasty, also known as Al-Andalus or Andalucia, served as the pinnacle of culture and civilization in medieval Europe and is considered the artistic high point of Spain’s Islamic era.
Although the Alhambra complex consists of a number of structures, including towers, walls, gardens, and a mosque, the Nasrid palace’s indescribably beautiful stone carvings, delicate filigrees, spectacular tile-lined ceilings, graceful arches, and tranquil courtyards will stay with you forever.
Despite this, the adjacent palace constructed for Emperor Charles V is the best example of High Renaissance architecture in Spain, even in its unfinished state. The tiered gardens of Generalife also provide a tranquil haven from the opulence and stunning vistas of the remaining Alhambra.
The Alhambra palaces should be visited at least once in a full day, and tourists should plan to spend many days exploring Granada. The UNESCO-listed Albaicn, a historic Moorish neighborhood, the 16th-century Capilla Royal de Granada (Royal Chapel), and the Sacromonte neighborhood, where flamenco performances take place in gypsy caverns, are some further features of Granada.
Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia and Gaudí Sites
The Art Nouveau architectural movement was advanced by Antoni Gaudi to the point of ridiculousness, according to some. His extravagant and absurd constructions in Barcelona have become recognizable monuments. They are some of the most popular tourist destinations in this Catalan metropolis.
The Sagrada Familia Basilica, also known as the Holy Family Church of the Atonement or the Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia, is the most prominent. It is one of Europe’s most unusual churches and is still being built, so from its tower, you can observe the work being done below.
In Gaudí’s Casa Milà, his final and most well-known secular work, you may look in vain for absolutely straight lines; it resembles a piece of sculpture more than a practical structure. Make sure you climb to its roof because it is said that Darth Vader’s likeness was inspired by the chimneys there.
The spectacular Casa Batlló, a famous Gaudi structure with mask-shaped balconies and a sloping façade, debuted in 2022 and hosts Magic Nights outdoor performances on the rooftop terrace.
On a hilltop, Park Güell offers views of the city and its gardens, which are framed by exotic animals like salamanders, fish, and an octopus, as well as patterns made of vivid ceramic-chard mosaics. By the entryway, a whimsical towered house is largely covered in vibrant ceramic tiles.
Gaudi’s monuments are appealing to everyone, including youngsters and those who have no interest in architecture, for one simple reason: they are entertaining to look at.
The Great Mosque of Córdoba (La Mezquita)
The Great Mosque of Cordoba, also known as La Mezquita and once the main mosque of western Islam, is one of the largest mosques in the world and the pinnacle of Moorish construction in Spain. The Great Mosque is one of the two most magnificent specimens of Islamic art and architecture in western Europe, together with the Alhambra in Granada, despite later changes that removed much of its center to make room for a Catholic cathedral.
Beginning in 785, the development of the structure used elements from Roman and Visigothic structures. By the year 1000, it had reached its present size, with a prayer hall that had no fewer than nineteen aisles. Whenever you stand or turn your head, you can see symmetrical patterns in the rows of columns and circular Moorish arches.
The flower-adorned patios in the Judera (old Jewish quarter) close to the Great Mosque, the Palacio de Viana, a 15th-century aristocratic palace, and the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, the former Caliphal Palace that Catholic king Fernando III took over in the 13th century, are some of Córdoba’s other top tourist attractions. The Judera is filled with winding, narrow lanes, little squares, and low whitewashed dwellings that give the area a Moorish feel that it has inherited from its past.
The Prado and Paseo del Artes in Madrid
The Prado alone ranks among the greatest art museums in the world for the wealth of its holdings, making it one of Madrid’s most popular tourist destinations. Yet when you combine the mile-long, tree-lined promenade of Madrid with the Reina Sofa National Art Museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum, and the CaixaForum, you may have the biggest concentration of precious art masterpieces anywhere in the world. It makes sense that this is referred to as El Paseo del Arte or the Boulevard of the Arts.
The Prado erected another 12 galleries in 2009 to showcase a collection of works by Goya and other late 19th-century artists following a 2007 expansion that doubled its exhibition area.
The Prado houses the largest collection of Spanish art in the entire world, spanning a remarkable range of styles from early 20th-century avant-garde to 12th-century medieval masterpieces. El Greco, Velázquez, and Goya’s works from Spain’s golden period are of particular interest.
The medieval murals and retablos, paintings by Flemish and Dutch artists (make sure to see the fantastical world of Hieronymus Bosch as well as pieces by Rubens and Brueghel), and Italian art are some of its other attractions (Botticelli, Raphael, Correggio, Titian, and Tintoretto).
The outstanding 20,000-piece collection of the Museo Reina Sofa includes masterpieces by Picasso, Miró, Dal, Dubuffet, Braque, Serra, Calder, and Magritte, as well as other notable artists.
San Lorenzo de El Escorial
The royal summer residence of Spain was San Lorenzo de El Escorial, 45 kilometers northwest of Madrid. In 1563, construction on a massive complex that would include a monastery, church, royal palace, mausoleum, library, and museum was started there with the intention of serving as a memorial to Philip II and his reign.
The end product is a mind-boggling array of attractions built around 16 courtyards and connected by 16 kilometers of corridors between its rooms and buildings. The building’s focal point is the church, which is highlighted by Herrera’s 30-meter-tall retablo, built of red marble and jasper and accessed via 17 stairs.
Highlights of the monastery include the Panteón de los Reyes (the Baroque burial vault of the Spanish kings), which is a large room with Tibaldi murals, and the apartments off the lower cloister, which have vaulted and frescoed ceilings by Tibaldi.
Be sure to visit the Bourbon Suite at the palace, which is adorned with unique furniture and 338 tapestries to resemble Charles IV’s state quarters. It also features a substantial collection of great paintings, including pieces by Hieronymus Bosch, Albrecht Dürer, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, Velázquez, and El Greco. Beyond are the art-filled private apartments of Philip II.
There are many other top destinations to visit when traveling to Spain that, if we listed them down, would take forever to read. Spain is such a beautiful country that it is almost a crime not to visit. So next time you plan to travel abroad, consider Spain and all it has to offer.