Spain serves up a remarkably varied menu of attractions. From postcard perfect views to cosmopolitan glamour to an impressive number of excellent museums, the rich and complex array of sights and experiences might surprise you.
For wineries, head to La Rioja. If you crave a castle, visit Grenada’s Alhambra or Castillo de Loarre in the foothills of the Pyrenees. The Balearic and Canary Islands boast beautiful beaches, the Cazorla National Park abounds with waterfalls, and cities like Seville, Toledo and Barcelona are renowned for distinctive architecture. For those more interested in out-of-the-way experiences, explore one of Spain’s White Villages in Andalusia, where time seems to stand still.
The country is peppered with medieval Arab fortresses and windmills so enormous Don Quixote could be forgiven for thinking they were giants. The mind-bending shapes of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao make it as unique as it is fascinating. The over-the-top exuberance of Gaudi’s architectural wonder, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, makes it like no other building on earth.
Spain’s main attractions are historical sites, lively cities, some of the finest art in the world, castles, cathedrals, shopping, traditional fiestas, cultural events, beaches, museums, caves, hiking, watersports and great food and wine.
For history buffs, Spain is second in the world with UNESCO-designated World Heritage Cultural sites. It also has 13 World Heritage cities—Avila, Alcala de Henares, Caceres, Cordoba, Cuenca, Eivissa, Merida, Salamanca, San Cristobal de la Laguna, Santiago de Compostela, Segovia, Tarragona and Toledo. Each of these cities is filled with monuments and buildings steeped in centuries of history and ethnic diversity.
Tourists and golfers of many nations flock to Spain’s breathtaking countryside and gorgeous beaches. The fast paced, urban-chic lifestyles of the cities contrast with villages where life goes at a pace that has changed little for centuries. The contrasts, the colors and the vibrant spirit of the place will stay with you for a long time.
Geography & Climate
Spain is Europe’s second most mountainous country and its climate varies with both latitude and altitude. In Granada, for example, you can ski in the mountains and then lounge on a beach, both in the same day!
The mainland has three basic climatic zones. The north, along the Bay of Biscay and Galicia is the Oceanic zone; the rainiest and greenest. Central Spain is hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and relatively dry. The Mediterranean Zone is sunny and semiarid.
You’ll find alpine conditions in many of Spain’s mountain ranges, from the Pyrenees to the Sierra Nevada. Then, of course, are the Mediterranean Balearic Islands, the Canary Archipelago, and the Moroccan coastal enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.
Don’t expect the language to sound the same as it does in Mexico or many other Spanish-speaking countries. For instance, the letter z and the letter c within a word are pronounced as th. (For example, Ibiza is pronounced e-BEETH-a). In Andalusia, the letter s is seldom pronounced, especially when it falls at the end of a word.
Do take a siesta. Outside the large cities (and in some cases, even within cities), museums, shops and businesses shut down for the afternoon siesta, generally 1-4 pm. It’s an opportunity to refresh and recharge yourself, as well as to avoid the hottest part of the day. If you must be out, wander quietly through residential streets during those hours.