The stamp of heels and heart-rending lament of a cante jondo encapsulate the soul of the Spanish south. For more southern soul encapsulation take a look at 9 special places to stay in Andalucia .
Flamenco music and dance is on offer at dozens of places in the city, some of them extremely tacky and expensive. Unless you’ve heard otherwise, avoid the fixed “shows”, or tablaos (many of which are a travesty, even using recorded music) – the spontaneous nature of flamenco makes it almost impossible to timetable into the two-shows-a-night cabaret demanded by impresarios.
Make the most of a city break in one of Spain's most atmospheric cities with our tailor-made tour to Seville . The home of flamenco, Seville is a veritable feast for all the senses. Come here for the tantalising cuisine and fragrant orange trees, awe-inspiring Gothic cathedral, pretty plazas and many excellent museums and galleries.
The stylish EME Catedral is located next to Seville Cathedral and 60 m from La Giralda. It offers a rooftop swimming pool and bar with views over the city. The boutique hotel has free WiFi and a spa.
Drive over lemons and walk old mule paths in this picturesque region of mountain villages nestled in the southern folds of the Sierra Nevada .
Beyond the mountains, farther south from Granada, lie the great valleys of the Alpujarras, first settled in the twelfth century by Berber refugees from Seville, and later the Moors’ last stronghold in Spain.
The valleys are bounded to the north by the Sierra Nevada, and to the south by the lesser sierras of Lujar, La Contraviesa and Gador. The eternal snows of the high sierras keep the valleys and their seventy or so villages well watered all summer long. Rivers have cut deep gorges in the soft mica and shale of the upper mountains, and over the centuries have deposited silt and fertile soil on the lower hills and in the valleys.
Take a day trip across Spain's highest villages in La Alpujarra, one of the most charming and tranquil corners of Europe.
The excellent Hotel Alcadima has the best pool and restaurant terrace in town, and many of the comfortable rooms boast stunning balcony views towards the castle.
Perhaps Spain’s finest Gothic cathedral dominates the likeable small city of Burgos, destined to be European City of Culture in 2016. The casco histórico is totally dominated by the Catedral, one of the most extraordinary achievements of Gothic art. Its spires can be seen above the rooftops from all over town, and it’s an essential fi rst stop in Burgos.
The Catedral has emerged from a lengthy period of restoration (1994 to 2015), looking cleaner than it has for centuries, and proving more popular too. There is also a separate visitor centre and a well-stocked gift shop.
This stylish hotel is next to Burgos’ Museum of Human Evolution, 5 minutes’ walk from the old town. Its elegant rooms have free Wi-Fi and plasma TV with satellite channels.
The islands’ little-developed beaches range from gem-like coves to sweeps of white sand.
For years, Ibiza was the European hippy escape, but nowadays it’s the extraordinary clubbing scene that most people come here to experience. The island can lay a strong claim to being the globe’s clubbing capital, with virtually all of the world’s top house DJs and many more minor players performing here during the summer season.
However, visit between October and May, and you’ll find a much more peaceful island – just one club (Pacha) and a few bars remain open through the winter.
Experience the Spanish sea on a boat adventure around the island of Ibiza. On this exciting tour, you will visit historic sites, snorkel to discover the reefs and nature reserves, explore secret caves, and relax on beautiful beaches.
Situated in Ibiza Town, 400 m from Pacha, Sir Joan Hotel boasts air-conditioned rooms with free WiFi throughout the property. Guests can enjoy the on-site bar and outdoor pool.
Pintxos are kings of the tapas in the Basque region’s culinary capital.
Basque cuisine has established a reputation as the Spanish finest, so it's definitely one of the best things to do in Spain. Cutting-edge chefs such as Martín Berasetegui, Juan Mari Arzak, and Andoni Aduriz, the stars of the nueva cocina vasca (new Basque cuisine), delight in creating inventive new combinations and preparations, and restaurants throughout the region are crowded with eager diners happy to pay premium prices for superb food.
Set overlooking the spectacular bay of La Zurriola, this small hotel enjoys a fantastic setting right in the heart of classic San Sebastián, near the old town.
Forget sleep, and experience everything else to excess, on Ibiza – the ultimate party island.
Some of the globe’s most spectacular clubs are spread across the southern half of Ibiza. Clubs cost around €25–60 to get in and are open between midnight and 6am – try to blag a guest pass from one of the bars on the harbourfront. The Discobus (June–Sept midnight–6.30am; €3) ferries partygoers from Ibiza Town to the island’s major clubs, leaving from the main port.
The highly recommended website has a party calendar and full details of club nights, events and tickets.
At eight hundred metres long the extraordinary Roman aqueduct of Segovia is one of Spain’s most breathtaking ancient monuments.
After Toledo, Segovia is the standout trip from Madrid. A relatively small city, strategically sited on a rocky ridge, it is deeply and haughtily Castilian, with a panoply of squares and mansions from its days of Golden Age grandeur, when it was a royal resort and a base for the Cortes (parliament). It was in Segovia that Isabel la Católica was proclaimed queen of Castile in 1474.
For a city of its size, there is an extraordinary array of architectural monuments. Most celebrated are the breathtaking Roman aqueduct, the Gothic Catedral and the fairy-tale Alcázar, but the less obvious attractions – the cluster of ancient churches and the many mansions found in the lanes of the old town, all in a warm, honey-coloured stone – are what really make it worth a visit.
If you have time, take a walk out of the city alongside the river and out to the fascinating church of Vera Cruz.
See the sights of Toledo and Segovia on a guided tour from Madrid. Access the former palace of the Alcázar of Segovia and marvel at the art and architecture of Toledo Cathedral.
The Dalí museum in Figueres is as surreal as its creator – who lies in a mausoleum within.
One thing is certain: you won’t have trouble spotting the Teatre-Museu Dalí. Just look for a roof topped with giant eggs and a red facade with protruding bread loaves. Housed in a former theatre – which is particularly apt, for this most theatrical of artists – the museum is designed around a large courtyard with white ceramic sinks and gold mannequins inspired by Oscar statues.
Light streams into the building through a transparent, geodesic dome ceiling that resembles the eye of a fl y, in a nod to Dalí’s fi xation with insects. Incidentally, the artist had no problem with fl ies, but was supposedly repulsed by ants, which he depicted crawling out of eyeballs and such in his paintings.
Located in Figueres, 1.1 km from Dalí Museum and 10 km from Peralada Golf, Figueres Center offers a terrace and air conditioning. This property offers access to a patio and free private parking.
The capital of medieval Spain, Toledo has changed little since its depiction in El Greco’s paintings.
Toledo remains one of Spain’s great cities. Redolent of past glories, it is packed with memorable sights – hence the whole city’s status as a National Monument and UNESCO Patrimony of Mankind – and enjoys an incomparable setting. Be aware, however, that the extraordinary number of day-trippers can take the edge off what was once the most extravagant of Spanish experiences.
Set in a restored 15th-century building, 2 minutes’ walk from Toledo Cathedral, Hotel Santa Isabel offers a roof terrace with cathedral views and free WiFi throughout. Some rooms overlook the cathedral.
Nothing can prepare you for the breathtaking Grand Mosque of Córdoba – one of the world’s most beautiful buildings and one of the best places to visit in Spain.
The development of the Mezquita paralleled the new heights of confidence and splendour of ninth- and tenth-century Córdoba. Abd ar-Rahman III provided it with a new minaret (which has not survived but which provided the core for the later belfry), 80m high, topped by three pomegranate-shaped spheres, two of silver and one of gold and each weighing a tonne.
But it was his son, al-Hakam II (r.961–76), to whom he passed on a peaceful and stable empire, who was responsible for the most brilliant expansion. He virtually doubled its extent, demolishing the south wall to add fourteen extra rows of columns, and employed Byzantine craftsmen to construct a new mihrab, or prayer niche; this remains complete and is perhaps the most beautiful example of all Moorish religious architecture.
Learn about the rich heritage and history in Córdoba with a full-day hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus tour.
The hotel Los Omeyas is located within the delightful Jewish district of Córdoba, awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. Just a few minutes from “La Mezquita” (the mosque), “La Torre de la Calahorra” (the Calahorra tower), and “El Alcázar” (the ancient fortress), is one of the most attractive areas in the city.
Rioja region’s amazing designer temple of wine, so if you are a wine amateur visiting this region is a thing to do in Spain for you.
Framed by the hills that rise to the north, the mesmerizing Bodegas Ysios undulates through the vineyards 2km north of Laguardia, off the Vitoria-Gasteiz road. Its resemblance to an ancient temple is entirely deliberate; the name Ysios honours twin Egyptian deities Isis and Osiris, and no expense was spared when architect Santiago Calatrava, also responsible for Bilbao Airport, was commissioned to construct a new winery in 2001.
The aluminium roof surmounts a wooden structure that on a more mundane level looks like a row of wine barrels.
Visit La Rioja, Spain's most renowned wine-producing region, and discover the secrets of Spanish wine making with our tailor-made luxury tour through the Vineyards of La Rioja .
Set amongst 300-year old vineyards in the La Rioja-Alavesa region, Posada Mayor de Migueloa is housed in a 17th-century Baroque mansion, Palacio de Viana. It features a restaurant serving traditional Basque and Riojan cuisine.
The legendary Moorish palace complex is a monument to sensuality and contemplative decoration.
The Alhambra, a treasure of Moorish Spain, is one of Spain’s architectural wonders and its most-visited monument. There are three distinct groups of buildings on the Alhambra hill: the Palacios Nazaríes (Royal or Nasrid Palaces), the palace gardens of the Generalife and the Alcazaba.
Senator Granada Spa Hotel is next to Granada's Congress Center and 250 m from Granada's historic center. It offers elegant rooms, a gym, a café and free Wi-Fi.
You’ll find memorable processions of pasos (floats) and penitents at Seville, Málaga, Granada and Córdoba, and to a lesser extent in smaller towns such as Jerez, Arcos, Baeza and Úbeda. All culminate with dramatic candlelight processions at dawn on Good Friday, with Easter Day itself more of a family occasion.
The pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela left a swathe of Gothic and Renaissance churches, not least the great cathedral.
The ancient pilgrimage centre of Santiago de Compostela ranks among the most beautiful cities in all of Spain. A superb ensemble of twisting stone lanes, majestic squares and historic churches, interspersed with countless hidden nooks and crannies, its medieval core remains a remarkably integrated whole, all the better for being very largely pedestrianized.
Hewn from time-weathered granite, splashed with gold and silver lichen and sprouting vegetation from the unlikeliest crevices, the buildings and plazas, arcades and flagstones seem to blend imperceptibly one into the other.
Discover the heritage of Santiago Cathedral and its museum together with this Cathedral and Museum guided tour.
Situated in a pedestrianized street between the Plaza de Galicia and Plaza de Toral, the Hostal Anosa Casa offers classic rooms with simple decoration.
Doñana’s unique habitats host myriad birds and other wildlife, including the Iberian lynx.
The seasonal pattern of its delta waters, which flood in winter and then drop in the spring, leaving rich deposits of silt, raised sandbanks and islands, gives Coto de Doñana its uniqueness. Conditions are perfect in winter for ducks and geese, but spring is more exciting; the exposed mud draws hundreds of flocks of breeding birds.
In the marshes and amid the cork-oak forests behind, you’ve a good chance of seeing squacco herons, black-winged stilts, whiskered terns, pratincoles and sand grouse, as well as flamingos, egrets and vultures. There are, too, occasional sightings of the Spanish imperial eagle, now reduced to a score of breeding pairs.
Conditions are not so good in late summer and early autumn, when the marismas dry out and support far less birdlife.
Get back to nature in Doñana National Park with this tour from Seville.
Finca-Vallestares is located in Almonte. This apartment features a private pool, a garden, barbecue facilities, free WiFi and free private parking.
Spain’s most famous and historic university sits at the heart of the gorgeous honey-coloured city.
Salamanca actually has two universities, the minor one being the Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca, a short walk south of Pza. Mayor. It was originally linked to the university proper, but the faculties of theology and canon law were excluded from the main institution in 1852, and Pontificía was later formally established as a separate religious university in 1940 by Pope Pius XII.
Guided tours around the grand central building, a former Jesuit college first founded in 1617, start at a magnificent stone staircase, la escalera noble, that seems to hang suspended in the air. They then take in the richly decorated main hall and the grandiose Baroque cloister, around the upper level of which Jesuit priests once walked meditational circuits, believing themselves to be closer to heaven at such a height.
The tour ends in the vast Baroque church of La Clerecía, next door to the university. The climb up the church towers – Scala Coeli, or Stairway to Heaven – is worth the effort for the magnificent views of the city.
Located in the historic centre of this city, Abba Fonseca is a contemporary-style hotel with an old stone façade, providing spacious and cheerful bedrooms.
Take a hike along the stunning Cares Gorge, the most popular walk in glorious Picos de Europa National Park. For more information, see Hiking in the southern Picos: the Cares Gorge.
The Picos de Europa may not be the highest mountains in Spain, but they’re the favourite of many walkers, trekkers and climbers. Designated a national park in its entirety, the range is a miniature masterpiece: a mere 40km across in either direction, shoehorned in between three great river gorges, and straddling the provinces of Asturias, León and Cantabria.
Hikes in the Picos are amazingly diverse, with trails to suit all levels, from a casual morning’s stroll to two- or three-day treks. The most spectacular and popular routes are along the 12km Cares Gorge, and around the high peaks reached from the cable car at Fuente Dé and the subterranean funicular railway at Poncebos, but dozens of alternative paths explore the river valleys or climb into the mountains.
Take care if you go off the marked trails: the Picos can pose extreme challenges, with unstable weather and treacherous terrain.
Enjoy an unforgettable tour of the national park of Picos de Europa and the amazing village of Potes.
Offering a picturesque setting on the banks of the Deva River, Balneario La Hermida features its own thermal spa dating from the 18th-century. It has rooms with free internet access. et just 5 km from the Picos de Europa National Park, the hotel is a 40-minute drive from the Fuente Dé cable car. The beaches at San Vicente are less than 35 km away.
Spain’s greatest art museum is an obligatory visit on any trip to the capital.
The Museo del Prado is Madrid’s premier attraction – well over two million visitors enter its doors each year – and one of the oldest and greatest collections of art in the world.
The museum’s highlights are its early Flemish collection – including almost all of Bosch’s best work – and, of course, its incomparable display of Spanish art, in particular, that of Velázquez (including Las Meninas), Goya (including the Majas and the Black Paintings) and El Greco.
Find more information about best things to do in Madrid with our in-depth guide to exploring Madrid .
Spend four days discovering the wonders of Spain's capital Madrid: from fascinating museums like El Prado and Reina Sofia over exploring unknown corners with your private guide on our tailor-made Madrid getaway tour .
The Eurostars Madrid Tower can be found in the Cuatro Torres business area, on Paseo de la Castellana. Begoña Metro Station is just 100 m away, and nearby Chamartín Station offers easy access to the city centre.
Sitges is Spain’s biggest gay resort and throws simply spectacular parties, especially at Carnival time.
Sitges, 40km from Barcelona, is definitely the highlight of this stretch of coast. Established in the 1960s as a holiday town, whose liberal attitudes openly challenged the rigidity of Franco’s Spain, it has now become the great weekend escape for young Barcelonans, who have created a resort very much in their own image. It’s also a noted LGBTQ holiday destination, with the nightlife to match.
Indeed, if you don’t like vigorous action of all kinds, you’d be wise to avoid Sitges in the summer – staid it isn’t. Finding a place to stay in peak season can be a challenge, unless you arrive early in the day or book well in advance.
Located just 100 m from Sitges Beach and the town centre, Hotel Capri is set in stunning Mediterranean gardens and features an outdoor pool. Free WiFi and 24-hour reception are available.
Wander at will around the ancient Roman ruins of Mérida, the most extensive such remains in the country.
Built on the site of a Celtiberian settlement and founded by Emperor Augustus in 25 BC as a home for retired legionaries, Mérida became the tenth city of the Roman Empire and the final stop on the Vía de la Plata, the Roman road that began in Astorga in northern Castile. The old city stretched as far as the modern bullring and Roman circus, covering only marginally less than the triangular area occupied by the modern town.
This modern guest house boasts charming décor and free Wi-Fi. It has a peaceful setting in a fashionable residential area of Mérida, near the famous Roman Aqueduct and bridge.
Frank Gehry’s flagship creation of undulating titanium has become one of the iconic buildings of our age.
Museo Guggenheim looms over the left bank of the Río Nervión, ten minutes’ walk west of the Casco Viejo. Completed in 1997, it was hailed by architect Philip Johnson as “the greatest building of our time”. The construction of such a showpiece project on a derelict industrial site represented a colossal gamble by the Basque government, which hoped to stimulate the revitalization of Bilbao.
Amazingly enough, it worked. A gargantuan sculpture, whose sensual titanium curves glimmer like running water in the sun, it has inevitably overshadowed the artworks it contains.
Conveniently set in the Bilbao City Centre district of Bilbao, Sercotel Ayala is located 270 m from Campos Eliseos Theatre, 1 km from Arriaga Theatre and 1.4 km from Funicular de Artxanda. The accommodation provides a 24-hour front desk as well as free WiFi throughout the property.
The quintessential Andalucian city with sun-drenched plazas, winding alleyways, Moorish monuments and more bars than seems remotely feasible.
“Seville,” wrote Byron, “is a pleasant city, famous for oranges and women.” And for its heat, he might perhaps have added, since Seville is one of the hottest cities in mainland Europe. Its summers are intense and they start early, in May.
Seville has three important monuments and an illustrious history, but what it’s essentially famous for is its own living self – the greatest city of the Spanish south, of Carmen, Don Juan and Figaro, and the archetype of Andalucian promise.
This reputation for gaiety and brilliance, for theatricality and intensity of life does seem deserved. It’s expressed on a phenomenally grand scale at the city’s two great festivals – Semana Santa (Holy Week at Easter) and the Feria de Abril (which starts two weeks after Easter Sunday and lasts a week). Either is worth considerable effort to get to. Seville is also Spain’s second most important centre for bullfighting, after Madrid.
Seville is also great for a family trip. Read our guide on how to plan a trip to Seville with children .
Explore the cuisine and surroundings of Seville in Andalucia. From Iberian ham over sherry wines to the production and secrets of olive oil, this tailor-made tour to Seville is an ideal weekend getaway.
One of Spain’s truly essential sights – Antoni Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece, the church of the “Sacred Family”.
Encountering the Basilica de la Sagrada Família for the first time has a breathtaking visceral impact. As work on Gaudí’s masterpiece races towards completion, and its extraordinary towers climb ever closer towards the heavens, the glorious, overpowering church of the “Sacred Family” is now more than ever a symbol for Barcelona. Even the coldest hearts find the Sagrada Família inspirational in both form and spirit.
Set on Las Ramblas and next to Plaza Catalunya, the Hotel Continental offers charming rooms with free high-speed Wi-Fi and a fridge. A free continental buffet is available 24 hours a day.
Once in Barcelona, check our list of things to do in Barcelona for free .
There are few greater pleasures than a chilled glass of fino or manzanilla, and there’s no better place to sample them than in the sherry heartland of Jerez.
The tours of the sherry and brandy processes can be interesting – almost as much as the sampling that follows – and, provided you don’t arrive in August when much of the industry closes down, there are a great many firms to choose from. The visits are conducted either in English (very much the second language of the sherry world) or a combination of English and Spanish and last for about an hour.
Many of these bodegas were founded by British Catholic refugees, barred from careers at home by the sixteenth-century Supremacy Act, and even now they form a kind of Anglo-Andalucian tweed-wearing, polo-playing aristocracy (on display, most conspicuously, at the Horse Fair).
The González cellars – the soleras – are perhaps the oldest in Jerez and, though it’s no longer used, preserve an old circular chamber designed by Eiffel (of the tower fame).
Taste some of the best sherries in the world and learn how fortified wine is produced with a visit to one of the most important sherry wine cellars with this tour to Jerez.
The 19th-century Garvey Palace is located in the historic quarter of Jerez de la Frontera. It offers large, uniquely decorated rooms with hydromassage baths and flat-screen TVs with satellite channels.
In March, Valencia erupts in festivities as giant models are burnt and fireworks crackle across town to celebrate San José.
During the year, each barrio or neighbourhood builds satirical caricatures or fallas, some as tall as buildings. These begin to appear in the plazas at the beginning of March and are judged and awarded prizes before being set alight at midnight on March 19. The Nit de la Cremà – traditionally, carpenters celebrated the beginning of spring by decorating the torches they used over winter and adding them to a ritual bonfire.
The fallas are ignited all at once – with the last to go up being the prizewinner. Each falla features ninots (individual characters), the best of which is saved from the flames and displayed in the Museu Fallero.
Melia Plaza Valencia is set in a classical building overlooking Valencia’s main square. It offers free Wi-Fi and features a gym, sauna and rooftop sun terrace with a whirlpool.
Delight in the capital’s most traditional of rituals – a night of bar-hopping and clubbing rounded off by a dawn reviver of chocolate con churros.
Madrid nightlife is a pretty serious phenomenon. This is one of the few cities in Europe where you can get caught in traffic jams in the early hours of the morning when the clubbers are either going home or moving on to the dancepast-dawn discos. As with everything madrileño, there is a bewildering variety of nightlife venues.
Most common are the discobares, whose unifying feature is background pop, rock, dance or salsa music. These get going from around 11pm and stay open routinely until 2am, as will the few quieter cocktail bars and pubs.
For discotecas, entry charges are quite common, but tend to cover you for a drink or two. Free passes can often be picked up from public relations personnel who hang around in the streets outside, in tourist offices or bars.
Be aware that many discotecas are fairly ephemeral institutions and frequently only last a season before opening up somewhere else under a different name, so it’s a good idea to consult listing magazines La Guía del Ocio, Metrópoli, esMadrid or the website for the very latest information.
Set on the hillside above Gràcia, Antoni Gaudí’s extraordinary Park Güell was, apart from the Sagrada Família, his most ambitious project. It was originally planned as a private housing estate, but only two of the proposed sixty houses were actually built, and the park was opened to the public instead in 1922.
It’s now one of Barcelona’s most popular tourist attractions, and admission to the Zona Monumental that holds its most iconic sites is by timed ticket only. Access to the rest of the park, where the wooded, landscaped gardens make a nice spot for a picnic, remains free.
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