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 entire 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, erected 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 the 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 really get a feel for this atmosphere, head to neighborhoods like Huertas, Malasana, Chueca, and La Latina.
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Chefs can even turn bar snacks into works of art. Pintxos (Basque tapas), sometimes called “haute cuisine in miniature,” are small appetizers often served on a slice 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 Europe’s oldest and most prestigious universities, so you can’t miss out on the nightlife 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 the Mediterranean coast of Spain 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 most 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. 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 acquire the impressions 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 magical 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 biggest 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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