Things to do in Spain
Things to do in Spain
Starting in the north and finishing in the south, here are just a few of the regions of Spain and their highlights.
The north of Spain is overlooked by many visitors as it doesn’t have quite the same sunny Mediterranean image as the rest of the country. However, the milder temperatures are much more comfortable in the summer months and the higher rainfall makes these regions a lot greener and fresher. Galicia is particularly known for its lush vegetation and mountainous landscape.
People have travelled from far and wide to this far corner of the country since the ninth century to reach the medieval city of Santiago de Compostela, the end of the road for pilgrims following the Camino de Santiago. The cathedral here, a magnificent Romanesque structure with gothic and baroque flourishes, houses the relics of St James the Apostle and is Europe’s second most important religious shrine. The town itself has a remarkable old town which has been designated a Unesco world heritage site.
Away from the hilly interior, Galicia has an unspoilt coastline of rocky cliffs, wild beaches, capes and deep inlets, called ‘rias’, where a strong fishing industry has grown up. Important towns include Vigo, the largest town in Galicia and the most important fishing port in the country, and La Coruna. Both cities offer a mix of history, beaches and a taste of modern, cosmopolitan life, not to mention delicious Galician seafood.
Basque Country, Navarre & La Rioja
Situated at the foot of the western Pyrenees, the Basque country was once a powerful medieval kingdom. As a coastal region, deep sea fishing remains a strong industry in the area and plays a large part in the superb local cuisine. If you like your food, make sure to visit San Sebastian and take a gastronomic tour of its numerous tapas bars. Bilbao, the largest Basque city and the leading commercial port in Spain, offers a range of cultural and historical attractions. The Guggenheim Museum is the principal interest of the city: not only does this museum house a superb collection of contemporary art, but the building itself is an exceptional piece of architecture.
Neighbouring this region is Navarre, once a small kingdom. Its capital, Pamplona, is home to the bull-running fiesta that takes place each year. South of Navarre is the small region of La Rioja, known for its vineyards that produce many of Spain’s finest wines. It also has many historic sites such as the Cathedral of Santo Domingo de la Calzada and the monasteries of San Millán de la Cogolla and Yuso.
Castilla & Leon
The two rival medieval territories, Castilla and Leon, were first brought together in 1037 and now form the largest region in the country. Within this vast area are many interesting cities to visit. Salamanca is a university city and a showcase of Renaissance and Plateresque architecture. Not to be missed is the Roman bridge, which has retained 15 of its original 26 arches, and the cathedrals of Vieja and Nueva, adjoining old and new cathedrals.
Towards the east of the region is the old town of Segovia, a walled city of great importance in Roman and medieval times and now a Unesco world heritage site. The most important monuments include the Roman aqueduct, the largest and best preserved of its kind anywhere, and the Alcázar, Spain’s most photographed castle.
Madrid and surrounds
As the country’s capital, Madrid has a relatively short history compared to other European capitals, but stands as one of the most culturally rich on the continent. The city is split into two main area, offering a contrast of old and new: old Madrid, largely dominated by the royal palace, an impressive structure used by the royal family until 1931; and Bourbon Madrid, located on the eastern side of the city, known as Prado, and host to the Museo del Prado, one of the world’s greatest art galleries with staggering works by Velasquez, Goya, El Greco and Picasso.
Madrid is the perfect short break destination: internationally renowned art galleries and museums, a royal palace, fine restaurants, shopping in El Rastro flea market, and leisurely strolls in the Parque del Buen Retiro will keep all interests amused. There are also a number of day trips that can be taken from Madrid, including the medieval city of Toledo, the Roman city of Segovia with its impressive aqueduct, and the majestic palace and monastery of El Escorial. Furthermore, Madrid is also a great starting point for a longer itinerary, situated as it is in the very centre of the country and with excellent transport links out to other regions.
If any region could be said to represent Spain, Andalucia would be it. Fiery flamenco dancing, bull fighting and beautifully dressed matadors, patios filled with the smell of flowers and the heady flavours of sherry all match the popular image of the intense Spanish character.
However, Andalucia is significantly different from the rest of Spain. Its distinct cultural heritage derives from many different periods of rule under the Romans, Visigoths and Byzantines, but in particular from several centuries under Arabic rule. Their reign extended across much of the Iberian peninsula but the hub of Islamic activity was here in Andalucia. Exquisite Moorish-influenced architecture can be seen in the cities: in Cordoba visit the Mezquita, a mosque now converted into a church; in Granada the Alhambra, a huge complex of palaces and gardens, dominates the town; and in Seville admire the intricate designs of the Giralda bell tower, formerly a minaret, by the cathedral.