The 28 most underrated cities in Spain worth visiting
Spain is one of the most visited countries in the world, and with good reason. About 90 million people visit Spain every year, but most of them stick to the same popular destinations. But Spain is a beautiful country with many interesting things to do that can only be found in Spain and nowhere else.
And unless you’re willing to explore new places away from big cities like Barcelona, Madrid or Seville, you won’t find most of these amazing things. That’s why we created this post about the most underrated cities in Spain that most people either don’t know about at all or don’t understand what’s so special about them.
Durango, Basque Country
A short drive from Bilbao, at the foot of the Urquiola Natural Park, you’ll find beautiful Durango, a prime example of the Basque Country’s quaint charm. The city is located in the heart of the historic province of Biscay and is the capital of Durangaldea, one of the comarca of the Basque Country. The city is surrounded on all sides by mountains and crossed by three rivers, which means that in Durango you will find a lot of natural beauty. The city also has a charming old town, a quaint downtown and a surprisingly well-developed bar scene.
Speaking of Spain’s most underrated cities, we just have to mention Peniscola. Peniscola is a completely walled medieval town on the coast of Valencia, 80 miles from Valencia. The city has a beautiful old town, stunning architecture, including a 14th century castle, and several interesting historical sites. Until a few years ago, it was relatively little visited by tourists, but that’s slowly changing after the city was featured in Game of Thrones as the city of Myrin, the greatest of the three great city-states in Slaver’s Bay.
Cudillero, with its sleeping city atmosphere, is one of our favorite hidden gems in Spain. The town is located around a small bay in Asturias on the north coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Cudillero is known for its beautiful colorful houses surrounding the harbor, delicious seafood, charming narrow streets and pristine beaches.
Despite being the largest city in Asturias, Gijon may be one of the most underrated cities in Spain considering what it has to offer. Gijon has many Roman ruins, spectacular scenery, beautiful beaches, interesting museums and monuments, the most famous of which is probably the iconic statue of the “Praise of the Horizon. In addition, as the largest city in the region, Gijon also has many amazing restaurants, bars and vibrant nightclubs.
Some may argue that the entire region of Galicia is underrated, but for the moment, the largest city of the region will do. Vigo is a large port city with a charming old town, delicious seafood, especially pulpo (octopus), sandy beaches and probably the best place in Spain to experience Galician culture. And if that’s not enough, Vigo is located in close proximity to the Cies Islands, a protected natural area with some of the cleanest beaches in Europe.
Orense is another underrated city of Galicia, surrounded by beautiful nature, very reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest of the United States. The city is also the center of the local Galician-Celtic culture, but don’t worry, you haven’t teleported to Ireland, you’re still in Spain. Some of the most famous attractions in Ourense include the Ourense hot springs, the ancient Roman bridge, the Cathedral of Ourense and several interesting museums.
Leon, Castile and Leon
Castile and Leon is the largest autonomous region of Spain, but it ranks ninth in the number of visitors from other countries. Leon is the provincial capital. While it’s not exactly another hidden gem and many people know about the place, I think it’s one of the most underrated cities in Spain. The city dates back to 29 BC, when it was founded as a Roman military camp. Leon is an important historical city, and even today you can find some ancient Roman remains throughout the city.
But that’s not all. Leon is also home to the famous Cathedral of Leon (aka House of Light), the Basilica of San Isidoro, the Palace-Museum of Botines and many others. If you plan to visit Leon, I recommend visiting during Holy Week (Semana Santa). At this time of year, the city becomes even busier.
Burgos, Castile and Leon
Burgos is the perfect stop if you’re traveling in Northern Spain from Madrid because it’s halfway between Madrid and Bilbao. The city’s most famous landmark is probably the Cathedral of Burgos, home to Spanish national hero El Cid and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some other important landmarks include the medieval monastery of Huelgas, the Museum of Human Evolution (one of the most underrated museums in Spain) and the medieval gate, which resembles the falling tower of Pisa (Arco de Santa Maria).
Avila, Castile and Leon
Ávila is known for being one of the last remaining fortress cities in Spain. At 1,130 meters above sea level, Ávila is the highest provincial capital in Spain. The medieval walls of the city are very well preserved and have eight gates, 88 towers and over 2000 towers. Ávila is also proud to be one of the cities with the highest number of Romanesque and Gothic churches per capita in Spain. Its proximity to the Spanish capital makes it a great option for a day trip from Madrid. Even so, I don’t think the city still receives as many visitors as it could, given all that it offers.
Pedraza, Castilla y Leon
Pedraza is another medieval fortress town near Madrid. It is probably even less known than Avilla, and I can say that it is one of Central Spain’s best-kept secrets. The city is dotted with stone houses with colorful balconies studded with flowers and charming narrow streets that will make you feel like you’ve taken a trip back in time.
Salamanca, Castile & Leon
Even if you’re not in your 20s, there’s something special about college towns, and Salamanca is one of the oldest in Spain. The city is home to the University of Salamanca, founded in 1134, making it the fourth oldest university in the Western Hemisphere. Thus, the city has a rich history and tradition as one of the main student centers of Spain. Like most other college towns, Salamanca has a vibrant and exciting nightlife, but it is also home to some of Spain’s most interesting museums (like the Art Nouveau Museum and Art Deco Casa Lis) as well as several important historic buildings.
Consuegra, Castile-La Mancha
If you’ve read Don Quixote, you’ve probably heard about the famous windmills of La Mancha. Today, this part of Spain is one of the least visited parts of the country and is a wonderful representation of traditional Spain at its best. The city is also home to a medieval castle and several other important historic buildings, and if you’re looking for another experience in Spain, you should definitely consider adding Consuegra to your list.
Cuenca, Castile-La Mancha
Speaking of underrated cities in Spain, our list wouldn’t be complete without Cuenca. Cuenca is an amazing city, and I was genuinely surprised by the small number of tourists who visit it every year. The city is home to Cuenca’s legendary Hanging Houses, a landmark that could become one of Spain’s most popular tourist attractions. In addition, the entire city has an unspoiled medieval atmosphere, many old, well-preserved buildings, including a medieval cathedral, and is known as the “capital of Spanish abstract art.”
One could argue that the entire province of Extremadura is severely underrated, but the city of Cáceres definitely deserves a place on this list. Cáceres doesn’t have beautiful beaches or mesmerizing national parks, but it does have some of the best restaurants in southern Spain, medieval walls, castles and Moorish-era buildings, and it is one of the largest cities in Extremadura.
Mérida is another underrated city in Extremadura. The city was founded by the Romans, and today it has some of the best-preserved Roman ruins in Europe. This includes a 2,000-year-old Roman amphitheater, a colosseum, and a large museum filled with Roman artifacts. Amazingly, you can enjoy all of these sites without hearing dozens of different guides shouting in different languages or losing elbows with hundreds of other tourists (as is the case with some other Roman-era tourist sites).
Arcos de la Frontera, Andalusia
Arcos de la Frontera is a charming Andalusian town located on the edge of a large plateau, surrounded by the northern, western and southern banks of the Guadalete River, with spectacular views of San Cristobal Peak, the coast of Cadiz and the Guadalete Valley. The town is surrounded by high sheer cliffs and has an authentic medieval charm with many narrow winding streets, interesting architecture and many whitewashed buildings.
Setenil de las Bodegas, Andalucía
Setenil de las Bodegas is a picturesque town literally carved into the rock. Needless to say, the rock-cut town has a unique charm, but the main reason we decided to include Setenil de las Bodegas in this list of underrated cities in Spain is its unique architecture. Most of the houses in the town are mostly whitewashed buildings built into the cliffs. I guess you could say that technically the people of Setenil de las Bodegas live under the rock (as well as inside the rock).
Priego de Córdova, Andalucía
I wouldn’t be surprised if Priego de Córdova becomes one of the most visited places in southern Spain in the near future. The city has all the prerequisites for a future tourist center. It has one of the most beautiful Baroque cathedrals in Spain (Church of Asunción), one of the most underrated old quarters in Spain and beautiful surrounding nature that connects the city to the Subbeticas National Park.
Estepona is one of the most charming towns in the Malaga countryside. And yet, it is very easy to walk past it without knowing that it exists, even though the city is only an hour away from Marbella; one of the most popular tourist destinations in the province of Málaga. Estepona is a beautiful coastal city with some of the most pristine beaches in the region, making it a true hidden gem of the Costa del Sol. In addition to its beautiful beaches, the city is famous for its bright colorful houses that adorn its charming streets, filled with a typical casual Mediterranean atmosphere.
You might think that Europe’s southernmost point is a very popular tourist attraction, but that’s not entirely true. Tarifa does get visited by tourists more often than some of the other cities on this list, but we think it’s still one of the most underrated cities in Spain in terms of what it has to offer. The city was founded as a Roman settlement more than 2,000 years ago, and many of its oldest buildings are remarkably well-preserved.
Tarifa has a beautiful old town, beautiful beaches, and is one of the best places in Europe for windsurfing. Because of the effect of the Gibraltar funnel, Tarifa experiences a natural phenomenon known as Levante and Poniente (east winds from Africa and Atlantic winds).
Bubion is one of those rare places in Spain that has remained relatively unchanged over the years. The city is located 1,350 meters above sea level in the Rio Pequeira Gorge and below the peaks of the Sierra Nevada. The town has distinctive white-washed buildings with flat roofs, narrow winding streets, many remnants of Moorish architecture and, of course, some of the most spectacular views of the Sierra Nevada National Park.
Almuñecar was a former fishing village that is gradually turning into a charming coastal town. The town is located along El Costa del Sol about 30 kilometers from the resort town of Nerja, but is much less popular despite its beautiful, unspoiled beaches. In addition, the city also has a rich history, and you can find many interesting historical sites in the vicinity of Almunecar, including a Roman aqueduct and a medieval castle.
Cazorla is a beautiful, postcard-like town located at the foot of the Pena de los Chalcones, with the beautiful Yedra Castle towering over the town from a steep cliff. To make things better, the town is technically within Las Villas National Park (the largest protected park in Spain) and is part of the Sierras de Cazorla (mountain range).
Murcia is the biggest city on this list, but we just had to mention it here because it really is one of the most underrated cities in Spain. The city is the capital of the autonomous county of the same name and boasts a more than 500-year history of the Moors, which has had a strong influence. Highlights of the city include the Murcia Cathedral (which took 300 years to build), Moorish architecture, Baroque buildings and one of the most vibrant festivals in Spain, the Fiestas de Primavera (Spring Festival).
Zaragoza is another major city that is the capital of another autonomous region (Aragon), and is probably the city with the most tourists on this list, but I can’t help but feel that the city is still underrated. Overall, Zaragoza is an impressive city with a rich culture and tradition. The local cuisine is one of the best in Spain, it is one of the best places to learn and experience Aragonese folklore, and there are many notable sights, such as the Basilica del Pilar, the Aljafería Palace, La Seo Cathedral and the failed restoration of the Christ painting.
In addition, Zaragoza is also (arguably) the birthplace of Aragonese Mudejar architecture, an aesthetic architectural style recognized and protected by UNESCO, and can be seen in almost every corner of the city.
The entire city of Albarracín has been a national monument since 1961, and tourism is slowly growing, but the city is still greatly underrated. Albarracín is known for its light pink buildings, which take your breath away, especially during sunsets. The city also has a charming old town with beautiful cobblestone streets, a charming promenade and a beautiful surrounding landscape dominated by the Guadalaviar River and the Sierra de Albarracín-Comarca.
While it could be argued that no city on the east coast of Spain could be considered underrated because it’s the most popular part of the country, we still think Girona doesn’t get as much attention as it should. The city has an incredibly rich offer of museums, galleries and impressive architecture. In addition, Girona is one of the most important historical cities in Spain. Because of its rich tradition and history of resisting invasions, the city is also known as the “City of a Thousand Sieges,” and once you start exploring its history, you will be amazed.
Finally, we conclude our list of underrated cities in Spain with Maona. Located near the Mediterranean coast of Spain, the island of Menorca has lived for centuries in the shadow of Mallorca and Ibiza. Even its name (Menorca) translates as “secondary,” but that too has its advantages. In contrast to the vibrant nightlife and parties in Ibiza and Majorca, Menorca offers a relaxing holiday in a beautiful city with pristine beaches and picturesque nature.
Spain: Top 28 places and attractions
The Alhambra palace complex in Granada is close to architectural perfection. It is probably the most exquisite example of Islamic art in the whole world. It is also the most enduring monument to 800 years of Moorish rule in the Spanish region, which they called Al Andalus. The red fortress towers of the Alhambra dominate the panorama of Granada, standing out against the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada. Close to the Alhambra we see how the perfect proportions of the Generalife Gardens complement the exquisite details of the Nasrid Palace. All in all, it is the most beautiful monument in Spain.
One of Spain’s greatest landmarks, the brainchild of Antoni Gaudi, built in the style of Spanish modernism, will be completed for more than 80 years after the death of its creator. Intricate and complex, inspired by nature itself and only slightly limited by the Gothic style, the marvelous temple of Barcelona rises with majesty into the sky. The incredible curves and deviations from architectural canons will leave you baffled, and the fine details of the decorative curls on the Passion and Nativity facades are worthy of hours of study.
The Mesquita, a striking temple complex in Cordoba, was founded in 785 and is the most beautiful mosque in Europe, and can compete in magnificence with any other architectural masterpiece in the Muslim world. The mosque meant so much to the main city of Muslim Andalusia that every new caliph tried to leave his mark on it. The most impressive additions to the mosque are the arches and vaults of the august cells built in the 10th century. Not counting the Christian temple, which became part of the Mesquita in the 16th century, this is pure Muslim architecture in all its splendor.
Go back to ancient Spanish medieval Christianity and participate in the Seville Masses at the amazing Easter celebrations held during Holy Week. During the processions of the religious fraternities, the faithful carry the beautiful pasos (figures) of Christ and the Virgin Mary through the city to the noisy cheers of the laity. The most glorious procession takes place in the madru- gada (first hours) of Good Friday. Once seen, it is impossible to forget these celebrations, for they are an exotic and infinitely delightful combination of theatricality, seriousness and profound faith. There are religious processions in other Spanish cities, but nowhere are they on the same scale as in Seville.
Madrid is not the only European city with an active nightlife, but it excels in its rhythm and strength of street noise. As Ernest Hemingway put it, “In Madrid, no one goes to bed until they have enjoyed the night to the full. There is an endless variety of bars, small clubs, lively discos, cocktail bars, and chic clubs frequented by celebrities. To get a real feel for this atmosphere, head to neighborhoods like Huertas, Malasana, Chueca, and La Latina.
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Chefs can turn even bar snacks into works of art. Pintxos (Basque tapas), sometimes called “haute cuisine in miniature,” are small appetizers often served on a piece of French bun. Walk into any bar in downtown San Sebastian and you’ll be offered a wide variety of appetizers at the counter. All in all, it is the most unforgettable culinary experience in Spain. Although the atmosphere in these bars is always relaxed, the art of experimenting with flavour combinations is very serious (a hallmark of the Basque Country), and there is no doubt that it will only get better with time.
City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, which was created by one of the greatest Spanish architects Santiago Calatrava, helped to turn the third largest city in Spain into one of its brightest places. A daring and stunning masterpiece of modern architecture, the complex includes a state-of-the-art theater, the Palacio de Arte Reina Sofia, the enormous Aquarium Oceanografic, the Planetarium Hemisphere and the Prince Felipe Science Museum.
La Rioja is a place where you can spend entire weeks wandering the quiet roads in search of a glass of delicious wine. Wine stores (bodegas) offer wine tastings, and in picturesque villages the traveler will find great wine museums, the backbone of the region. The Hotel Marques de Riscal near Elsiego, built by Frank Gehry, could be called the “Guggenheim of Bilbao” for its architectural scale and ambition. This hotel has become an elite center for wine tourism in the entire region.
Bathed in the bright light of lanterns, Salamanca’s elegant central Plaza Mayor is arguably the most beautiful square in Spain. But it’s just one of many jewels of the city, with architectural splendor that few places in the entire country can match. The city is home to one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Europe, so you can’t miss out on the student nights out here. It’s the combination of magnificence and energy that makes Salamanca a favorite city for many Spaniards.
The Sierra Nevada, with its majestic Mulhacen Peak (3,479 meters), the highest mountain in mainland Spain, serves as a mesmerizing backdrop for the warm city of Granada. Here you can ski in winter, walk in summer, and explore the amazing pueblos blancos (white villages) of Las Alpujarras. The villages of Las Alpujarras are among the havens of the Moors on Spanish soil and somewhat reminiscent of the oases of North Africa; they are lost among the forests and deep gorges for which the region is famous.
Madrid may not have many architectural marvels, but the lack of them is more than made up for by the incredible array of art galleries. The jewel in Madrid’s crown is the Prado Museum, which holds masterpieces by Goya, Velazquez, El Greco and other masters from all over Europe. But within walking distance of the Prado is also the Queen Sofia Art Center, where Picasso’s Guernica is on display, as well as works by Dali and Miró. Nearby is the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, which has collected the works of the greatest authors of many centuries.
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According to one account, the emerald green region of Asturias in northwestern Spain has 211 bays. Although the Atlantic is cool enough to discourage those looking for a tan, the beauty of these often wild and unspoiled stretches is breathtaking. Moreover, the villages, of which there are many on the coast and in the whole region, are some of the most beautiful in the coastal regions of Spain. And the dishes served in this part of the country are also famous throughout Spain.
The sublime and melancholic, touching and tense art of flamenco originated in Andalusia and is still practiced here in the south of Spain, where you can experience the masterpieces of the genre. The home of flamenco lies somewhere between Seville, Cadiz, and Jerez de la Frontera, and in all three cities the night cuts through the colors of live flamenco. Seville is especially rich in flamenco establishments. Performances with this dance are very incendiary and memorable.
Spain offers the hiker a variety of places to walk, but the Aragonese Pyrenees are especially famous as an ideal place for hiking. The Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park is one of the most outstanding (both literally and figuratively) places in the Pyrenees. The highest point of this mountain range is the peak of Monte Perdido (3348 meters). The park offers climbing on majestic rock walls and ice platforms, where you can sometimes see a chamois. Keep in mind that the park has a limit on the number of people who can be in the park at one time.
You can get a royal night’s stay in the Spanish state network of paradores (paradores), often luxurious and always exceptionally comfortable former castles, palaces and monasteries. Across the country a total of 86 such paradores. They constitute the gold fund of European real estate services, and many more besides are in the historic sites (eg, Granada Alhambra), and prices for accommodation – more moderate than you might imagine, especially if you book seats online and in advance.
These peaks rise in a tight group right above the rugged and ever-changing coastline of Cantabria and Asturias. The Picos are three majestic limestone massifs, unique in Spain but geologically similar to the Alps. The Picos of Europe are crisscrossed by the most interesting hiking trails. These mountain ranges, being an integral part of Spain’s second largest national park, boast some of the most scenic mountain scenery in the country – a serious claim considering that Spain also has the Pyrenees and Sierra Nevada. The Picos de Europa occupy a place of honor in this high circle.
While Spain’s Mediterranean coast has become the epitome of mass tourism, Menorca has a special place within it. The island has been preserved from the ravages of overexploitation and so much of it is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The island has a coastline of 216 km with many beaches, which deserve a separate description. Some say that getting to them by sea is the top pleasure, but it is no less pleasant to spend time there. Among the best beaches are Macareleta and Turketa.
Legend has it that Saint James, one of the twelve apostles, was laid to rest here. This is why Santiago de Compostela in the far northwest of Galicia attracts pilgrims like no other place in the country. Its magnificent cathedral has an extraordinarily rich Romanesque facade and remarkable spires. The cathedral is a famous pilgrimage destination for pilgrims on the Way of St. James in northern Spain. But look beyond the cathedral and you’ll see many other exquisite monuments, as well as an introduction to the magnificent culinary culture that embodies all of Galicia.
Spain’s noisiest festival is one of the most spectacular. It takes place every March in Valencia and is an explosive celebration with fireworks, music and bonfires that light up the sky for almost a week. But it’s more than just rowdy fun. The Las Fallas festival has deep cultural roots and is exceptionally inventive. During it, each neighborhood tries to outdo the others in making beautiful sculptures out of wood and papier-mache, which are burned at the climax of the festival.
Jamon (ham, smoked ham) is one of the main dishes of Spanish cooking and one of the few that are found throughout the country. If there is a nationwide Spanish dish, it is not even paella, it is jamon. Almost any Spanish restaurant at almost any time prepares at least one jamón, laid out in a special roaster called a jamonera . The wafer-thin slices of selected jamon (called jamon iberico de bellota, although there are many other types of jamon available) are simplicity itself, and they epitomize the Spanish culinary paradise for us.
Cape Cabo de Gata is a pristine strip of protected coastline east of Almeria. These places are truly legendary for many Spaniards. For most of the year, the beaches between the towering cliffs are virtually deserted. Rarely anywhere else can you do so much snorkeling and hiking. Indeed, Cabo de Gata is a kind of oasis, a stunningly beautiful place, looking just like it did when no one but the inhabitants of the Spanish coast had ever heard of the Costa del Sol. Best of all, no tourist areas are visible from here.
Every year, tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists, driven by a variety of motives, make their way through northern Spain. They head for Santiago de Compostela, an incredibly important destination for all Christians. But the attraction of this great destination is not confined to religious sentiment. There are many hiking trails in the north of Spain, but no other allows you to get so deeply into the soul of Spain, to experience the joys and vagaries of its nature. And at the end of even the smallest crossing you will have an experience for the rest of your life.
One of the most beautiful small towns in Spain is Segovia. Here you will find beautiful Castilian churches and picturesque places, because the city stretches along a mountain range, often covered with snow. But Segovia also has two legendary architectural masterpieces. The first is the Alcázar Castle with several towers, the prototype of Disney’s famous Magic Castle. Secondly, it is a giant but elegant Roman aqueduct, built of granite blocks (cemented without a single drop of cement). It has stood the test of time and has been standing in the center of the city for nearly 2,000 years.
Cádiz creates a dashing sense of “living in the moment” and almost immediately makes you fall in love with its central, sometimes ruined 18th century streets. The locals spend their hot summer nights in the old town squares and bars by the water. The city’s fame for its carnival celebrations, merriment and passion, is renowned throughout the country. And the city itself is utterly enchanting: breathtaking historical monuments, snaking whitewashed walkways, panoramic vantage points and the cathedral square – all just as beautiful as in other Spanish cities, and sometimes even better, with the cool, salty Cadiz breeze blowing over you.
We look absolutely tiny next to the wild Atlantic cliffs of the Galician coast. Near Cape Ortegal, you’ll be blown around by strong winds, and the huge Atlantic waves will seem like just a tide as they crash against the cliffs of the promontory far below. And along the Costa da Morte, where nothing but shipwrecks are talked about, long and desolate expanses of sand are interspersed with formidable, rocky promontories. If only all Spanish beaches were so pristine.
Barcelona has been an icon of European style for decades, and designers from the world of high fashion have played a significant role in ensuring that this reputation never leaves the city. As a result, Barcelona has become one of the world’s great shopping destinations, a place where originality really matters. Shop along Barcelona’s boulevards (Gracia, Rambla de Catalunya and Avenida Diagonal) and the countless private stores and boutiques in the Gothic Quarter, along Borne and Gracia boulevards.
The symbolic home of the Spanish Catholic Church and army, the medieval center of Toledo is an outstanding masterpiece of world heritage. Toledo is known as the “city of three cultures” (where Muslims, Jews and Christians once lived side by side) and today remains a fascinating maze of former mosques, synagogues and churches. The latter are still in active use and Toledo Cathedral is one of the most majestic in Spain. Since Toledo is very close to Madrid, many travelers stay there only during the day and rush to the capital for the evening. But spend the night here and see Toledo in all its glory.
This coast is easily accessible by plane from the rest of Europe. It’s studded with the kind of villages and beaches that have spawned a passion for summer vacations in Spain in Northern Europe. The Costa Brava in Catalonia is one of the most beloved parts of the Mediterranean. In addition, the identity and exquisite eccentricity of these places gives the spirit of Salvador Dali. The great artist once lived in Cadaques. In addition, with the name of Dali are associated such places as Figueres and the castle of Pubol.
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