There are a million things to visit/see/do in Spain, the second most touristic country in the world. And there are a million reasons behind this reputation - its rich patrimony, amazing nature, good people, great food … you name it! Spain is the land of sangria, fiesta, but also don Quijote, Camino de Santiago… Plus, we have five different climates, with a very eclectic landscape. Did you know that we also have a desert? Yes, many “spaghetti westerns” from the 1960s were actually filmed in Almería, and you can visit their sets. No matter what type of holiday you look for, you will find it in Spain! So, here is a quick guide for first-comers to Spain. One thing is sure - you will quickly learn that everyone falls in love with its timeless beauty.
Spain is too huge to visit at once because every region is completely different from the next, so you can come for twenty years in a row and still be surprised. However, please do not despair, I am here to help you! If you seek unique patrimony, the triple crown of Andalusia is perfect for you: Seville, Granada and Córdoba have a mix of Roman, Moorish and Medieval buildings, with the Mediterranean Sea not far away. If you like cosmopolitan cities, Madrid and Barcelona are the hotspots where something is always happening.
However, if you would rather look for a quiet place, you can travel through the north of Spain: gorgeous nature with many natural parks, less touristic beaches, and delicious food are all around. If you are desperate for good weather in winter, Valencia or the Balearic Islands will make you remember what summer looks like. Do not forget the Carnival in the Canary Islands: it is like being in Rio de Janeiro! And last but not least, if you look for castles... well, castles are our specialty! We have so many that two of our regions are called after them - Castile and León and Castile-La Mancha. In these areas, almost every town has one, and of course a beautiful church along with it. Some of them you cannot miss - Segovia, Coca, Peñafiel. If you are a Game of Thrones fan, know that many of castles and locations in the show belong to Spain.
There is no enough space in this story to mention all the food you can taste in Spain. We are famous for our Mediterranean diet, the quality of our olive oil, the taste of our fruits, etc. Here, everything tastes more intensely: the sun does a great job with our oranges, tomatoes, peaches. And for those fonds of a good steak, let me tell you that we breed our cattle in the traditional way, so tears will come to your eyes when you taste the tenderest beef in Ávila or the best pork in the world, from the black Iberian pigs in Extremadura. Do not miss pintxos in Basque Country and be hungry when you eat in the north, they will serve you tons of food everywhere. And the food is so cheap everywhere! You order a caña (small beer) and along with it will come something to nibble on, for the same price or only a bit extra.
The most popular choices are tortilla de patatas, (the Spanish omelette made with egg, potatoes and onion) and paella (the rice cooked with everything you can find on your fridge, mainly known in the region of Valencia). Or you can try pork cooked in a million ways. In Spain, we say - “from the pig, we take everything, from the mouth to the tail”. Wines are also one of our strengths. You might have heard of Rioja, but also Ribera del Duero, Ribera del Guadiana. In any case, I strongly recommend you to visit the wine cellars and have a great tasting experience!
There is no archetype of a Spaniard. You can find that a blond-German-looking girl is the sister of a super tanned black-eyed boy in the same family. The reason is quite simple: we have had so many people that took over the peninsula (Romans, Goths, Moorish ...), and we have their looks combined! Life here is, and always has been, very good, so of course, everybody wanted to come here!
We are known for our outgoing personality, always ready for a good fiesta. We love hanging out outside, on the terrace of a bar, regardless of the age. Do not get startled if you see 80-year-olds ordering a cubata (rhum-coke) at the village feast. You may have heard of some of them: San Fermín, Feria de Abril in Seville...
More and more, Spanish people are getting fluent in English, especially the young ones in the cities. However, mostly we will be shy to say something, and we will love you for trying to say some words in Spanish!
Spain has plenty of choices for hiking! Several rivers and chains of mountains cut our peninsula, and any of them will offer you an unforgettable experience. My favourite is hiking the cliffs next to the shore, mountain and beach, all-in-one. You have this in Javea, for instance. Another good choice is the natural swimming pools because it also ends with a bath. Los Pilones are a very fun place. You get your hard work rewarded at the top of the hill with a huge variety of natural pools, little waterfalls, and slides. Bring some things for pic-nic there and your day will be perfect!
Another popular hike is the Ruta del Cares, following this snaky river through a gorgeous natural park, walking an ancestral path often sculpted on the rock. And last but not least, our crown's jewel is the Camino de Santiago, 800 km from Roncesvalles to Santiago of Compostela. This is a must-do spiritual experience: there is a special ambiance all along the way. For starters, you always greet a good “camino” to the other hikers. Also, it is magical when you start hiking at dawn and see the sunrise above majestic mountains. Plus, you have your afternoons free to visit the beautiful towns and cities along the way, each one with architectural gems.
If you instead look forward to chilling out on a beach, Spain has many, many amazing ones to get awed at in Menorca, Mallorca, and of course, Ibiza! Look for a “cala” (small beach) and enjoy the colour and water temperature.
If you enjoy a more active sea and want to surf, you have two choices - the Cantabric shore and Tarifa. It does not matter if you come in the middle of the winter - our Canary Islands will offer you 20 solid degrees even in the coldest February. The Mediterranean Sea is another safe bet - Málaga, Murcia or Valencia are great spots to enjoy it, along with their Moorish-like cities.
People inhabited Spain for thousands of years ago. They left their prints in caves with their paintings, like the impressive ones in Altamira, or everywhere in the west with their dolmens, the tombs where they paid homage to their ancestors.
Then, the Romans came. They built cities, bridges, roads. They left true wonders such as Mérida (their capital), ancient Tarragona, Ronda, Cartagena… They were everywhere, so no matter where you go, there will always be something from this time.
After the Roman empire fell, the Goths came to the peninsula but did not last long. They had a stupid family quarrel and called the Moorish from the North of Africa to help one of them get the throne and then return to Africa. Of course, they came and never left for 800 years. We have kept a lot from the Moorish people - the amazing Alhambra of Granada, Valencia's landscape with the orange trees extending to the infinite, the Aljaferia of Zaragoza, the Alcazaba of Badajoz...
However, they did not conquer the whole peninsula. A bunch of Christians (Asterix-and-Obelix style) resisted in the north of Spain, in Asturias. From there, Christian kings started to fight all the way to the south. They built castles, palaces, churches. The best ones are in Navarra, Huesca, and true fortresses all over the border with Portugal. In times of peace, Moorish, Christian and Jewish worked together to turn Toledo into a gem, which is a nice day trip from Madrid. Another one is the cathedral of Córdoba, the ancient mosque of the town with its forest of arches inside. And, of course, we cannot forget Salamanca, the greatest University of Spain. To this day, you can breathe the student tradition in this city, sculpted in every building.
I could go on for ages telling you about Spain's timeless beauty, but what matters is that all people who came here left some traces. The beauty of Spain is that you can find in the same town a castle overlooking a Roman theatre, a church with the columns of a mosque, a Renaissance palace inside a Roman temple. All that is always surrounded by a beautiful landscape, friendly people and delicious food. I guarantee you, it will be hard not to fall in love with Spain whenever you come for a visit.
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