Best places to visit in Spain for 2021
Learn how to enjoy life like the Spanish and explore the diverse culture, food and sites across this brilliant country.
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Spain is a country unlike any other, with a distinct culture that many visitors wish to experience for themselves. From afternoon siestas to evening tapas and flamenco performances, Spain is one country that knows how to do food and entertainment well.
In each corner of the country and even off the coastline, Spain introduces new elements. You’ll find contrasts between the Mediterranean beaches on the Balearic Islands, Islamic architecture in the south, Gaudi art in Barcelona and futuristic buildings in Valencia.
Don’t make your trip to Spain too short because you’ll want to stay for a lot longer after reading about these must-visit destinations in Spain.
Best places to visit in Spain
Barcelona, the capital of the Catalonia region, has made a name for itself as one of the top destinations in Europe. This lively city is dotted with works of art by Antoni Gaudí and a walk around town is a walk through the city’s history, from its Roman architecture to its gothic quarter. Make sure you save some time to enjoy the food as Barcelona commands a world-renowned dining and drinking scene. This seaside city is full of colour, culture and delicious treats that will make you understand why residents are so proud to call this city home.
- Best for: Food and drinks, history, culture, architecture.
- Where is it? Barcelona sits on Spain’s north-eastern shores. It can be reached by plane, ferry, train and bus, with planes offering the fastest routes. For example, a flight from Madrid is 75 minutes, from Seville 1.5+ hours and Granada 1.5 hours. By train, Madrid is 3 hours away while Valencia is 3.5 hours and Seville is 6 hours. Indirect flights from Australia depart regularly on airlines such as Emirates, Qantas and Cathay Pacific. The flight time starts from 21 hours (ex. Perth).
- Top 5 things to see/do: Visit Antoni Gaudí's Parc Güell, stroll through the Gothic Quarter, eat at Boqueria Market, marvel at La Sagrada Família, shop your way through Las Ramblas.
- How long do I need? 3-4 days.
- Recommended tour: On a Best of Barcelona tour you’ll see the top sites with skip-the-line access to La Sagrada Família, see panoramic views of Barcelona and follow a guide through the Gothic Quarter.
Spain’s central capital is not to be missed. Here, past royals praised both local and foreign artists and today some of their works of art sit in world-class museums. The food scene is unbeatable, with modern and traditional culinary delights married together to create delicious plates that are enjoyed under centuries-old ceilings. The architecture here may not compare to cities such as Barcelona and Rome, but each building is a work of art and nothing is to be passed by. Lastly, the nightlife is legendary with numerous bars, clubs and fine dining options keeping people up until the early hours of the morning.
- Best for: Art, food and drinks, nightlife.
- Where is it? Madrid is located in the centre of Spain and is the main train hub of the country. A train from Barcelona is 2.5+ hours, from Seville 2.5 hours and from Valencia 1 hour and 45 minutes. A flight from Barcelona is 75 minutes, from Seville 65 minutes and 1 hour from Valencia. Indirect flights depart Australia regularly and start from 20.5 hours.
- Top 5 things to see/do: Shop through Mercado San Miguel market, see some of the art scene, stop by Gateway of the Sun, try the local food and experience the nightlife.
- How long do I need? 2-4 days.
- Recommended tour: A small-group walking tour will give you a personalised experience of the city with a stop at a traditional cafe, a guide to tell you about the city’s history and a skip-the-line ticket to the Royal Palace of Madrid.
Seville, the capital of Spain’s Andalusia region, is where magic happens on the street as the city comes alive. Beside the gothic churches and in the medieval lanes, locals enjoy tapas while taking in the Moorish history surrounding them. The centuries-old tradition of flamenco dancing is kept alive in this city, but the new is embraced just as strongly as the old.
- Best for: Food and drinks, history, architecture.
- Where is it? Seville is in southern Spain and can be reached by flights from Barcelona in 1 hour and 40 minutes and Madrid or Valencia in a little over an hour. A train from Barcelona is 6 hours, from Madrid 2.5 hours and from Valencia 4.5 hours. Flights from Australia are a minimum 2 stops, with many interchanges in Barcelona or Madrid.
- Top 5 things to see/do: Visit the Alcázar of Seville, take a river cruise, see the Seville Cathedral, watch a flamenco show and stop by the Real Maestranza bullring.
- How long do I need? 3-5 days.
- Recommended tour: This full-day tour of Seville will take you on a cruise past UNESCO World Heritage Sites, to the famous bullring, to the city’s top neighbourhood and more.
Nestled at the bottom of the Sierra Mountains, Granada draws visitors in with the majestic allure of the Alhambra. This southern city holds onto its Spanish Moor legacy which is displayed through the Islamic architecture, and also through the Arab influence that is prominent in the food. If you stop in this gritty city, you’ll experience a completely different feel compared to the north. Tapas and flamenco bars are still present among the street art, manicured gardens and street food. For foodies, tapas here adheres to a traditional format where each caña beer order comes with a complimentary tapas and the more you order, the higher the quality of tapas provided.
- Best for: Architecture, food.
- Where is it? Located in southern Spain, Granada is reached from Barcelona by plane in 1.5 hours, train in 7.5 hours and bus in 14 hours. From Madrid a flight is 1 hour, a train is 5 hours and a bus is 5 hours. From Seville, a train is 3.5 hours and a bus is 3 hours. A bus from Valencia is 9.5 hours. Flights from Australia include multiple stops in major European cities.
- Top 5 things to see/do: Visit the Alhambra, shop through the Alcaiceria market, 4WD through the Sierra Nevada National Park, explore the Albaicín neighbourhood and see a flamenco show.
- How long do I need? 2-3 days.
- Recommended tour: On a Alhambra and Generalife tour, have a guide show you the best sites, teach you the history of Granada and show you the gardens and Nasrid Palaces.
Valencia showcases the more modern side of Spain and is situated along the south-east coast. It’s filled with futuristic buildings and plentiful dining options, and lives up to its name of the City of Arts and Sciences with its many museums. Beaches can be found along the shores of the Mediterranean and in the Albufera Park. This contemporary city lives in Barcelona and Madrid’s shadows, but a visit here shows you the city’s excellent nightlife, dining and of course architecture.
- Best for: Architecture, museums, food.
- Where is it? Valencia is on Spain’s south-east coast. From Barcelona a flight is 1 hour, a train is 3 hours and a bus is 4+ hours. From Madrid a flight is 1 hour, a train is 2.5 hours and a bus is 2 hours. A flight from Seville is 75 minutes, a train is 5 hours and a bus is 10 hours. Flights from Australia are indirect with many transfers through major European cities.
- Top 5 things to see/do: Visit the city’s arts and sciences museums, shop the Central Market, stop by the Valencia Cathedral, check out the beaches and learn to cook paella.
- How long do I need? 2-3 days.
- Recommended tour: A Valencia Hop-On Hop-Off tour lets you explore the city at your own pace with an audio guide that takes you to all the city’s highlights in 1 or 2 days.
Bilbao was once an industrial port city but now the capital of Basque Country thrives with visitors coming to see the famous Guggenheim Museum and its unique architecture. The museum is home to contemporary works of art and the centre of the city is filled with skyscrapers. Step outside of the centre and you’ll be greeted by rolling green hills and a stunning coastline. Not to mention the city is packed with Michelin star restaurants displaying the delicious Basque cuisine at pintxos bars.
- Best for: Art, architecture, food.
- Where is it? Bilbao is located on Spain’s central northern coast. From Barcelona a flight is 75 minutes, a train is 6 hours and a bus is 8 hours. From Madrid a flight is 1 hour, a train is 5 hours and a bus is 4.5 hours. Flights from Australia are all indirect and many pass via these major Spanish hubs.
- Top 5 things to see/do: Visit the Guggenheim Museum, try Basque cuisine, explore Casco Viejo (Old Town), take a boat cruise down the river and see the city from Mount Artxanda.
- How long do I need? 3-4 days.
- Recommended tour: See Bilbao like a local on a customised tour of the city with a local guide who is passionate about the city and who will show you the best spots on and off the beaten track.
7. Canary Islands
The Canary Islands is home to dramatic landscapes, from black and white sand beaches to lush forests and even volcanoes and sand dunes. This Spanish archipelago includes Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote and offers visitors warm temperatures year round and enough activities to entertain any type of traveller. Relax on the beaches, explore the mountains, waterfalls and lava fields, or spend time in the water windsurfing or surfing. Perhaps art and architecture are more your thing – the Canary Islands has that too! There is plenty to explore beyond the beach resorts.
- Best for: Adventure, beaches, water activities, scenic sites.
- Where is it? The Canary Islands is located just off the western coast of Morocco. The largest isle is Tenerife and flights here from Barcelona are 3.5 hours, from Madrid 2 hours and 50 minutes, from Valencia 3 hours and 10 minutes and from Seville 2 hours and 15 minutes.
- Top 5 things to see/do: Visit Teide National Park (Tenerife), see the sand dunes (Gran Canaria), see the colonial history of Las Palmas (Gran Canaria), go catamaran sailing (Lanzarote) and go dolphin and whale watching (Tenerife).
- How long do I need? 1-3 weeks.
- Recommended tour: Explore the Canary Islands on foot with a self-guided tour to some of the island’s top hiking trails and scenic sites on a 15-day walking in the Canaries trip.
Toledo is one of Spain’s most unique cities, sitting dramatically atop a hill overlooking the Río Tajo. In the Middle ages, Toledo was known as “the city of three cultures” where Christians, Muslims and Jews lived in harmony. It’s because of this that today one of the main draws of this city is the combination of mosques, synagogues and Gothic cathedrals in the old walled city. Toledo is most popular for day trips but if you choose to stay a night, you’ll be treated to more stunning architecture and art, and you’ll be able to experience Toledo’s true liveliness.
- Best for: Architecture, history, art.
- Where is it? Right in the centre of Spain, Toledo is most commonly visited from Madrid with both trains and buses taking just under an hour. A train from Barcelona is 3.5 hours and a flight is 1.5 hours. From Valencia a flight is 70 minutes and the train and bus are a little over 3 hours.
- Top 5 things to see/do: Visit the grand Gothic style cathedral, explore the Alcázar, see the Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes (church), taste the unique cuisine and stop by Mirador del Valle lookout.
- How long do I need? 1-2 days
- Recommended tour: On a Toledo full-day trip from Madrid, explore the heart of the city and visit the most famous sites such as Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes and see works of art by El Greco.
Córdoba is a charming city that deserves more time than most visitors allow. This once flourishing city was the most cultured in Europe when it was the capital of Islamic Spain in the Middle Ages. Today the major draw is one building alone and that’s the Mezquita, one of the world’s most magnificent Islamic buildings. Córdoba is much more than the Mezquita though and all it takes is wandering through the city’s charming stone-paved streets and lanes to find beautiful and picturesque restaurants, bars and more.
- Best for: History, culture.
- Where is it? Córdoba is in south central Spain and is a 42 minute train from Seville or a 1 hour and 45 minute bus. From Madrid a train is 2 hours and 15 minutes and a bus is 2 hours. Trains and buses from Granada are 2.5 hours.
- Top 5 things to see/do: Visit the Mezquita, explore and dine in Calleja de las Flores, see the gardens of Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, explore the Jewish quarter and see the views of the Roman Bridge.
- How long do I need? 1-2 days.
- Recommended tour: On a Córdoba walking tour get to see the top monuments in the city, visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites, learn the history of the Jewish quarter and more.
10. Balearic Islands
The Balearic Islands is pure Mediterranean bliss where visitors come to take their holidays from around the world and experience the picturesque beauty. The largest island, Mallorca, has all of the Mediterranean flavour that you could hope for, has some of the top coastal views in Europe and has natural landscapes for active travellers. Ibiza, one of the most popular islands, is most known for its nightlife with top clubs and world famous DJs spinning tracks. But step away from the party and the quiet side of the island will reveal yoga retreats, quaint villages and sandy coves. Menorca and Formentera are the other two islands that make up this archipelago.
- Best for: Beaches, scenic sites, nightlife, hiking/cycling.
- Where is it? Balearic Islands is an archipelago off Spain’s east coast in the Mediterranean. Mallorca can be reached by air from Barcelona (1 hour), Madrid (1.5 hours) and Valencia (55 minutes). A ferry to Mallorca from Barcelona or Valencia takes 3 hours. Flights to Ibiza from Barcelona are 1 hour and 10 minutes, Madrid is 1 hour and 20 minutes and Valencia is 45 minutes. A ferry from Valencia is 5 hours and from Barcelona is 8 hours.
- Top 5 things to see/do: Drive or cycle Tramuntana (Mallorca), visit the Palma Cathedral (Mallorca), relax on a boat trip, experience the nightlife (Ibiza) and explore the beaches.
- How long do I need? 7-10 days.
- Recommended tour: Explore all of Mallorca on a scenic full-day tour where you’ll get to take in coastal views, see the west coast by boat and see the island’s top sites such as the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range.
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