No matter where you go in Spain you will find history, museums, arts and music - coupled with some of the most vibrant cities in Europe.
Discover spectacular monuments, beautiful gardens, awe inspiring religious buildings and more. In fact there is so much heritage, it is fair to say - Spain is Culture!
If you are thinking of visiting Spain, spring and fall are lovely times throughout the country and there is lots of sunshine and moderate temperatures. Summer weather is reliably hot and sunny and this is peak season for fellow Europeans to travel there. Winter is a wonderful time for Canadians to visit - not only is the winter weather more like sunny spring days in Canada, it is also relatively un-crowded.
Alongside its incredible depth of arts and culture, Spain is also blessed with beautiful landscapes. There are snow-capped mountains such as the Pyrenees in the north and the Sierra Nevada in the south. Plus breathtaking coastline found in Mediterranean Islands like Majorca and Ibiza as well as jet-setting beach resort such as Marbella. No wonder Spain is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations!
Spain has 44 UNESCO World Heritage sites, which makes it the country with the second largest number of UNESCO sites in the world. These treasures reflect the variety and cultural richness of Spain: monumental buildings, historic quarters and architectural sites as well as landscapes, nature reserves, routes of religious pilgrimage and ethnological traditions.
You will find everything from Pre Roman pottery to the religious architecture of the Sephardic times when synagogues, mosques and churches stood together in peaceful coexistence. And from the explosion of music, art and learning during the Renaissance to today’s hub of modern artistic expression in all forms.
Spanish cuisine is delicious and perhaps best known for tapas - tasty bite-size portions washed down with wine, beer, or sherry. Original favorites are Jamon Iberico (cured ham) or chorizo (spicy sausage). Spaniards treat their ham very seriously and types and qualities of ham vary in a similar way to wine. In addition you might sample gambas (deep-fried shrimp), boquerones (anchovies marinated in vinegar), albóndigas (meatballs), tortillas (tiny omelets), or calamares (squid). Spain is also known for excellent seafood.
To complement the food there is, of course, Spanish wine! Major Spanish wine regions include the Rioja and Ribera del Duero - known for Valdepeñas (the wine drunk by Hemingway). Jerez is the home of the fortified wine Sherry.
The folklore and festivals of Spain are virtually limitless! From the famous Sanfermines bull-running festival in Pamplona, to the Fallas bonfire festival in Valencia and the religious processions of Easter week. Spain even celebrates “World Tapas Day”!
Spain is very accessible with seasonal direct flights from Canada. The flight time is 7 to 8 hours and Air Canada has direct flights plus there are direct charter flights with Air Transat to take you to Barcelona, Malaga or Madrid. Once there - the fabulous hi-speed train network is a great way to explore, and tourists benefit from special fares with the Renfe Spain Pass.
If you are looking for accommodation then the Paradores are amazing places to stay in Spain. These are Government run hotels that allow tourists to experience authentic Spanish cuisine and accommodation. Paradores are either created within historic buildings like monasteries or castles or the Paradores are situated in stunning natural settings.
Alternatively – if you want to see as much as possible with no stress – consider an escorted journey with tour operators such as Trafalgar, Globus or Insight Vacations.
Spanish cooking is characterized, like other Mediterranean cuisines, by two basic ingredients: garlic and olive oil. The Mediterranean Diet has been awarded a Cultural Heritage Designation by UNESCO, celebrating its rituals and traditions concerning crops, harvesting, fishing, animal husbandry, conservation, processing, cooking, and particularly the sharing and consumption of food. So an exploration of Spanish cuisine is an exploration of the culture and the country itself.
Food in Spain is always an experience - and dinning with family and friends is a way of life. The midday meal or la comida, as it is called, is the largest meal of the day, usually with multiple courses. Going out for the lighter meal of tapas, consisting of many different small plates, is also a social habit everywhere in Spain.
This is a country that takes its food seriously! There are more than 25,000 restaurants in the country, including 171 Michelin-star restaurants, 8 three-star Michelin restaurants, 18 two-stars and 145 one-star.
The second defining feature of Spanish cuisine is the sheer diversity and variation in the gastronomy of the different regions in the country.
The North is the place for sauces; the Pyrenees are the home of “chilindrones” - a pepper and tomato accompaniment served with many of the region’s dishes. Catalonia is where you will find cazuelas or casseroles. Rice dishes predominate throughout the eastern region, fried dishes in Andalusia and the centre of Spain is famous for its roast meat. There are at least eleven distinctive regional cuisines, from Andalusia in the south to Galicia in the north. But they can be simplified in 3 large areas: Mediterranean regions, the north along the Atlantic Ocean and inland Spain.
Where there is delicious food, there are also outstanding wines, together with many activities and experiences surrounding wine culture. You can visit the vineries and taste their wines paired with the local gastronomy. Spain ranks third globally in wine production – only France and Italy produce more wine than Spain.
There are 23 Wine Routes around the country for the tourist to follow, and it’s also worth timing your journey to experience one of Spain’s Wine Fiestas. A very special time to sample Spanish wines is during the wine harvest fiesta, normally held between the months of July and October. If you come at this time, you can see flamenco shows, horse races, and witness the traditional treading of grapes. You can also ride in a horse and cart, in the Sierra de Montilla region.
Spain’s main wine producing regions and wine denominations are:
Sherry wine and brandy from the ancient bodegas in Jerez in Andalusia are perhaps the most international of all the wines and spirits produced in Spain. There are different ones: manzanilla, fino, amontillado, oloroso – all with different colors and tastes.
Andalucia is the home of Flamenco and bullfighting. Add intriguing Tapas Bars, wonderful restaurants and clubs that stay open until dawn - and you have the recipe for an exhilarating Spanish vacation!
Andalucia is a dazzling mixture of picturesque villages, historic cities, brilliant sunshine and the Costa del Sol’s beautiful beaches. Discover centuries of history, where Moorish and Christian elements go hand in hand!
Andalucia includes the stunning cities of Cordoba, Seville and Granada. Malaga is the gateway to the region and to the beautiful beaches and excellent golf courses of the Costa del Sol.
Modern Malaga has jealously preserved the traces of its storied past: the city was coveted and conquered some 2,000 years ago by a succession of ancient civilisations, including Phoenicia, Greece, Carthage and Rome, and went on to become an Arab bastion during the 8th and 11th centuries. The popular neighbourhoods of El Perchel and La Trinidad, the gardens of Paseo del Parque, the Alameda and port area all bear witness to the city's eventful history. Monuments, museums and verdant parks all contribute to the appeal of this alluring port city that enjoys year-round balmy weather.
Cordoba is home to important heritage architecture. To take a stroll through the historic quarter of Cordoba is to discover a beautiful network of small streets, alleys, squares and whitewashed courtyards arranged around the Mosque-Cathedral, which reflects the importance of the city during medieval times.
This stunning city that was once an Arab caliphate. First and foremost on the agenda is a visit to the Aljama Mosque, one of the most representative buildings of Islamic art. With stunning doors and nearly a thousand columns, it is also home to a cathedral, which was added in the 16th century.
Moorish and Christian elements go hand in hand in the streets of Granada. Because it was the last city reconquered by the Catholic Monarchs in 1492, Granada has an unmistakable Arab flavour. Its cuisine, crafts and urban layout are a consequence of the city's glorious history. Fountains, viewpoints and Cármenes, the villas surrounded by gardens typical of the city, add to Granada's unforgettable charm. Not without reason was one of its oldest districts, the Albaicín, declared a World Heritage Site, together with the Alhambra and the Generalife.
The Alhambra's reddish hills house the old Alcazaba and the Nazarite Royal Palaces. This artistic gem of Arab Granada, built between the 13th and the 15th centuries, is composed of many rooms linked by courtyards, gardens and fountains. The Generalife, the summer residence of the Nazarite Monarchs, is also located on this hill, along with the Palace of Carlos V. This is a Renaissance-style building, housing the Provincial Fine Arts Museum and the Alhambra Museum.
On the banks of the Guadalquivir River, Seville has a rich Arab legacy and was a prosperous trading port with the Americas. Every street and square that makes up the historic quarter of the Andalusian capital bursts with life. Museums, arts centres, theme parks, cinemas, theatres, and banquet halls are only a few of the endless activities. And numerous terraces, pubs and bars are home to the most deeply-rooted of all traditions of the city: delicious tapas cuisine.
Tour this exceptional city for its beautiful picturesque streets, interior courts and impressive monuments. You will have a chance to admire Maria Luisa Park, Plaza de España, the Cathedral with paintings by Murillo, Goya and Zurbaran, the famed Giralda tower where wives waved goodbye to sailors departing on brave voyages in days gone by - as well as stroll through the Jewish district of Santa Cruz.
Madrid is the capital city of Spain and boasts magnificent buildings, art galleries, parks, restaurants – it’s a wonderful city to visit! It is located in the physical centre of the country and the Plaza Puerta del Sol in Madrid is the exact centre of the country. A cosmopolitan European centre with a unique culture, Madrid has distinctive, succulent gastronomy - and great nightlife.
The city is packed with bars and restaurants – including Botin the world's oldest restaurant according to the Guinness Book of Records. The Spanish eat very late and it can be midnight or even later before dinner is over. And then – it’s time to party in Madrid’s bars and nightclubs that are often open until dawn.
Shopping in Madrid is a 500 year old tradition with teeming flea markets stretching down the Calle Ribera de Curtidores. This is also where you will find the finest antique stores.
Madrid blends history with modern innovation, a relaxed pace of life, warm people and several nearby UNESCO World Heritage sites including the University at Cervantes home town and the Gardens of the Summer Royal Palace at Aranjuez.
The City was founded in 1202. In 1561 Philip II changed the Imperial Court from Toledo to Madrid, creating it as the capital city of Spain. Phillip II ruled over an empire "where the sun never set" - and in honour of the glory of God and the dynasty of the Habsburgs, Phillip commenced the construction of the monastery of El Escorial.
On the 13th of September 1584, Philip II saw his greatest dream fulfilled - a building that, besides being a monastery, was a church, a royal palace, a library, a pantheon for the kings of Spain and a seminary. A world renowned architectural and cultural wonder, the Escorial is a must see on your visit to Madrid. El Escorial, of course, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s an astonishing building in its own right and seemingly packed with masterpieces by Goya, Velázquez, and other artistic giants.
When in Madrid you also have to visit The Prado for its astonishing art collection. It boasts masterpieces by Fra Angelico, Diego de Velazquez and El Greco - amongst many others.
Plus there are other great museums in Madrid – here is a sampling:
The "Paseo del Arte” or Art Walk must be one of the greatest city walks anywhere in the world. It takes in many of the fine museums and galleries and reinforces that Madrid is a very walkable city. One travel tip is that there are walking and biking tours of the city every day of the year. Madrid has many parks to enjoy and you can take a ride on Madrid's cable car - The Teleférico - for panoramic views of the city.
Another great way to get about is the open-topped bus tour, and Madrid also has an excellent Metro system – the second largest in Europe after London, England. Another travel tip is the Tourist Travel Pass that gives you discount travel on public transit and the Madrid Card that offers discounted entry to many of Madrid’s museums and attractions.
Barcelona, Catalonia's vibrant capital, is the classic European city and a perfect mix of fascinating history and contemporary ambience.
Part of its beauty is that it is located on the Mediterranean Sea and there are beaches in the city with waterside bars that are perfect for lunch or an end of the day drink.
As night draws in, the nightlife starts with the “Paseo” or promenade around the streets at 9pm - and it just goes from there! As with Madrid, Barcelona boasts fine restaurants and a lively nightlife with clubs and bars aplenty.
The emblem of Barcelona lies in the northern part of the city – the UNESCO World heritage site of the Sagrada Familia Basilica. Its construction started in 1884 and it remains unfinished. This stunning testament to the genius of its architect, Gaudí, is topped with spindle-shaped towers and bears witness to its creator's outlandish taste for symbolism and the exuberant shapes of nature. Construction was halted for a long time but restoration recommenced in the 1990’s and the Basilica is forecast to be finished in 2026! Several other Gaudi buildings in Barcelona are also recognized by UNESCO and are “must sees” - including the beautiful Parc Güell.
UNESCO recognizes other examples of Barcelona’s stunning architecture. The Palau de la Música Catalana and Hospital de Sant Pau were designed by the Catalan architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner. They represent fine examples of the art nouveau movement of the early 20th century.
The world's most famous painter, Pablo Picasso, was born in Malaga but lived in Barcelona with his family from 1895 to 1904. It was here that he spent his formative years as an artist. The Picasso Museum is in the Born area of Barcelona and it is the city’s most famous museum. Take a Picasso walking tour to discover how Barcelona had a huge influence on his early years as a struggling painter.
The Barrio Gotico gothic quarter is the medieval city of Barcelona from the middle ages. It grew around the old Roman town of Barcino and this is the oldest part of Barcelona. The gothic part of the city has many beautiful churches, plazas, markets and museums and you can also see parts of the old Roman walls. To find out more you can visit the Barcelona history museum – the Museu d'Història de la Ciutat. Under the museum are remains of the houses and streets of Barcino in Roman times.
As you ride on the Montjuïc Cable Car you’ll be able to enjoy fine panoramic views of Barcelona. Montjuic hill has many parks and attractions including the old fort of Montjuic Castle at the very top. The other big attraction on Montjuic hill is a unique Spanish village called Poble Espanyol which was built for the 1929 Barcelona World Fair and Universal Exposition.
The Poble Espanyol village was an architectural experiment to create a village, which would represent all of Spain's different styles of architecture. Due to popular demand it was left intact after the exhibition and now houses cafés, open air night clubs, restaurants and over 40 superb handicraft shops. In the summer there is a programme of concerts and events.
Another remnant from the 1929 Barcelona World Fair is the Magic Fountain - a "must see" Barcelona attraction. The “magic” is a beautiful show of water, light and music. This is one of the most famous spots in Barcelona, drawing an estimated 2.5 million visitors annually.
The Spanish poet Federico García Lorca said about La Rambla, "It is the only street in the world which I wish would never end." La Rambla starts at Plaza Catalunya and the street runs to the Monument of Columbus at the Port Vell harbour of Barcelona. Fashion goods, stylish clothing, shoes and leatherwear are the items to go for when shopping in Barcelona. Leather shoes, belts, jackets, and coats are particularly good buys; whether you want a high-end brand such as Loewe or succumb to the leather hawkers on La Rambla, the quality and value of leather goods is superb.
Unmissable for football fans when visiting Barcelona - if you can’t see FC Barcelona play a home match, then the next best thing is to take in the Camp Nou stadium and FC Barcelona museum. Camp Nou has the one of the largest Nike stores in Europe, packed with FC Barcelona merchandise.
You can obtain a hop on hop off Barcelona transit pass for the open top tourist sightseeing bus. Barcelona also has a Metro system that is efficient and cheap. An ideal way to appreciate Barcelona better - and save money at the same time - is with the Barcelona Card. The 24-hour card covers unlimited travel on all public transport, and is valid for a free walking tour. Culture vultures holding the card can get discounts of 20% to 100% in all museums as well as discounts on a host of theatres, shows, attractions, bars, restaurants, and some shops.