BEST CITIES to visit in Spain

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Which Spanish Cities You Can’t Miss

Spain is one of the most visited countries in the world. Most have heard of Madrid and Barcelona, but the country is filled with a ton of cities that are worth visiting! Which cities will be your favorites depends on what you like, of course. Is eating the best food Spain has to offer important to you? Then don’t miss the Basque cities of San Sebastian & Bilbao. Do you want to explore immaculate Islamic architecture from the Moorish civilization? Then go to Granada & Cordoba. How does a sophisticated Mediterranean island capital sound? Then you won’t want to miss Palma de Mallorca and its gorgeous beaches. Below, we have put together our curated list of the best cities in Spain.

The 10 Best Cities in Spain

1

SEVILLE

Gorgeous patio with orange trees and a fountain in the Royal Alcazar of Seville, Spain
Patio in the Royal Alcazar – Seville

While it may not be the biggest city in Spain, there is definitely a lot to do and see in Seville. In fact, we think it offers much more than Madrid or even Barcelona. Visit the jaw-dropping Alcazar castle which is leftover from the Muslim rule and one of the most important sites for Islamic architecture in Spain.

Or wander through the massive Plaza de España, Spain’s most beautiful square. In addition, there are several impressive palaces such as Casa de Pilatos & Palacio de las Dueñas. These palaces are scattered throughout the city and are a testimony to Seville’s golden age when the city was overflowing with riches brought from the new world.

Plaza de España (Spain Square) in Seville, Spain
Plaza de España – Seville

Seville’s Cathedral is also an example of its past grandeur. The colossal church is the world’s largest Gothic building. And its bell tower is the minaret from the former mosque. Today, the Giralda tower, as it’s known locally, is an icon of Seville.

When you are done seeing the main sites, take a stroll through the charming old Jewish neighborhood of Santa Cruz. Stop for a drink on a sunny terrace while taking in the scent of orange blossoms and the sounds of flamenco music. Oh, and be sure to catch a real flamenco show in Seville! The city is known as one of the birthplaces of this passionate art form.

Sevilla is without a doubt one of the best cities to visit in Spain!

2

BARCELONA

Casa Batlló from architect Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona, Spain
Gaudí's Casa Batlló in Barcelona

Barcelona is the cosmopolitan capital of the Catalonia region located on Spain’s Mediterranean coast. The city is probably best known for being the muse of the modernist architect Antoni Gaudí. The organic shapes that he used in his buildings are known for being completely out-of-the-ordinary. His innovative designs can be seen throughout Barcelona – 7 of them are even UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Gaudí’s largest project began in 1882 and is still under construction. The Sagrada Familia church was his one-of-a-kind masterpiece that he dedicated his life to until his death in 1926. The fairytale-looking church has a combination of Gothic and Art Nouveau styles and is a must-see when visiting Barcelona.

Carrer del Bisbe in Barcelona's Gothic Quarter, Spain
Carrer del Bisbe in Barcelona's Gothic Quarter

Besides seeing all of the Gaudí sites, there is much more to do in Barcelona. La Rambla is the city’s most famous pedestrian street lined with large trees, small shops, cafés and flower stalls. From La Rambla, step into La Boqueria Market (Mercat de la Boqueria) and see all of the fresh produce and colorful fruits that Barcelona has to offer.

Barcelona also has an old Gothic quarter where you can feel as though you have stepped back in time. And once your feet are tired of exploring the city, you can make your way to relax on one of the city’s sandy beaches.

3

SAN SEBASTIAN

Bay of San Sebastian in the Basque Country, Spain
Bay of San Sebastian

The romantic city of San Sebastian stretches along the Cantabrian coast of Northern Spain and is home to 3 sandy beaches. La Concha beach is the most famous and is known for being the most beautiful urban beach in all of Europe.

But the whole city of San Sebastian is beautiful. We like to describe it as a mini Paris on the water. And the Paris comparison doesn’t stop there either. The city is the mecca of Basque gastronomy. The Basque Country is known for having some of the best food in Spain, and San Sebastian is probably the best place to sample it.

Iconic railing of San Sebastian's La Concha beach, Spain
Iconic railing of San Sebastian's La Concha beach

Start by sampling pintxos, which are bite-sized appetizers similar to tapas. Most bars will have their counter completely covered with these delicious bites. Typically, you will eat one or two pintxos and have a drink and then move on to the next bar where the cycle continues.

But be careful not to fill up entirely with pintxos alone! San Sebastian is also known for its excellent restaurants, especially its high-end ones. The city boasts 16 Michelin stars that are spread among 9 restaurants. Three of them have 3 stars (Arzak, Akelarre & Martín Berasategui). Mugaritz is ranked as the 7th best restaurant in the world in the 2019 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.

With all that San Sebastian offers, we think that it’s one of the best cities in Spain.

4

MADRID

Plaza Mayor (Main Square) in Madrid, Spain
Plaza Mayor (Main Square) in Madrid

The metropolis of Madrid is located in the very center of the country. Since 1606 it has served as Spain’s capital. To this day, the country continues to have a monarchy and Madrid is home to a magnificent royal palace. The 3,000 room Palacio Real is the largest royal palace in western Europe and houses an incredible art collection. The royal palace, gardens and kitchen can all be toured.

Madrid is also famous for its fine art museums. The “Golden Triangle of Art” is formed by 3 of the best art museums in Europe. The Prado Museum holds Renaissance & Baroque paintings from all of the big names. The Reina Sofía Museum has mainly modern Spanish art on display, including Pablo Picasso’s most famous Guernica painting. And lastly the Thyssen Museum fills in the historical gaps of the other two museums. If you are into art, these three museums are a powerhouse that shouldn’t be missed.

Palacio de Cristal in Madrid's El Retiro Park, Spain
Palacio de Cristal in Madrid's El Retiro Park

Madrid is Spain’s largest city and there is a lot to explore and discover. There’s El Retiro Park, a large elegant garden that belonged to the royal family until the 19th century. There you can rent a paddleboat on the Grand Pond and admire the striking glasshouse known as the Palacio de Cristal. There’s also the Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor, two of the most beautiful squares in Madrid as well as the bustling Gran Vía, which is sometimes called the Spanish Broadway.

It can’t be argued that this authentic capital is one of the best cities in Spain.

5

GRANADA

Patio de los Leones in the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra – Granada
Patio of the Lions, Alhambra Palace - Granada

The Alhambra Palace is why most people visit Granada – and rightfully so. It can easily be argued that the Alhambra is Spain’s top attraction. As one of the best examples of Moorish architecture in the world, it perfectly symbolizes Granada’s golden age that flourished from the 9th to 15th century.

The majestic Alhambra is actually an extensive complex of palaces, fortresses and gardens. Expect to spend a minimum of 3 hours wandering around and admiring all of its beauty.

Moorish neighborhood of Albaicín in Granada, Spain
Albaicín Moorish neighborhood - Granada

Granada’s Moorish heritage can also be seen in the narrow winding streets of the Albaicin. This traditional neighborhood is located on a hillside and offers incredible views of the Alhambra, especially at sunset.

The gypsy neighborhood of Sacromonte is also worth a visit. For centuries the local community has carved their houses into the mountainside. Sacromonte is one of the birthplaces of flamenco music and the caves are the best place to see a live flamenco performance in Granada!

6

PALMA DE MALLORCA

La Seu, the cathedral of Palma de Mallorca in Spain
La Seu – Palma's cathedral

Palma de Mallorca is the capital of the island of Mallorca, located in the Mediterranean Sea, just east of mainland Spain. Due to its location, Palma has been an important trade city throughout history. First founded by the Romans, it was later conquered by the Moors of Northern Africa before being overtaken once more by the Christians in 1229.

Many great architectural gems are leftover from these time periods such as the seafront cathedral known as “la seu.” The levantine Gothic design is impressive, especially at night when it is lit up. The Almudaina Royal Palace is located next to the cathedral and is a fortress leftover from Moorish rule. Then there’s the Lonja de Palma, a former market and another Gothic masterpiece with striking spiraling columns.

Spiraling columns at the Lonja de Palma de Mallorca, Spain
Lonja de Palma de Mallorca

The old town of Palma has a classy feel to it, with many stunning modernist and art nouveau buildings. There is no shortage of boutique design hotels and trendy restaurants to be found. In addition, the city even has its own beach and a seaside promenade that is great for people watching and nightlife.

Palma is a great city on a great island. Make sure to visit some of the picturesque villages nearby and Mallorca’s breathtaking beaches with crystal clear azure water. Mallorca is the Med at its best.

7

CORDOBA

Impressive row of arches in the interior of Cordoba's Mosque, Spain
Interior of Cordoba's Great Mosque

Cordoba is a small laid back city in the interior of the Andalusia region. But this small city contains one of the most mind-blowing buildings in the whole world. The Great Mosque of Cordoba, or Mezquita as it’s known locally, dates back to 784 AD. This massive Moorish construction covers an area roughly the size of 4 football fields and is held up by 856 “recycled” Roman columns. A series of double arches – made up of its iconic alternating red and white bricks – allow for unobstructed views through most of the mosque.

If the Mezquita was just this amazing Moorish building it would already be something special. But the most intriguing part about the mosque is that once the Christians reconquered Cordoba in 1236, they did not destroy the building because they found it to to be too beautiful. Instead, they consecrated the building turning it into a church. Then a few hundred years later, they erected a Gothic cathedral in the center of the mosque!

When you first set sight on this melange of architecture, you will probably rub your eyes in disbelief. The Mezquita is both beautiful and insane.

Tourists walking down a colorful street in Cordoba's Jewish Quarter – Spain
Jewish Quarter – Cordoba

Besides the mosque-cathedral, the city also has a charming Jewish quarter and the Alcazar de Cordoba fortress with an immaculate garden. But the Mezquita alone makes Cordoba one of the best cities to visit in Spain.

8

TOLEDO

Toledo & the Tagus River (Spain) at night
Toledo & the Tagus River

Until the mid 16th century, Toledo was the capital of the Spanish empire. For centuries, Moors, Jews and Christians lived (for the most part) harmoniously together. Toledo is known as the city of the 3 cultures. You will find architecture from each group such as the synagogue, cathedral, and alcazar fortress.

Toledo is partially surrounded by the Tagus River that flows around its 3 sides. The 4th side is protected by a medieval wall. Inside the old town, you will find a maze of narrow streets to get lost in. Be sure to try Toledo’s signature treats – mazapán (marzipan) – which come from the city’s Moorish heritage.

In just 30 minutes by train or 1 hour by car from Madrid, Toledo makes a perfect day trip from the Spanish capital.

9

BILBAO

Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum at sunset, Spain
Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum at sunset

Bilbao is a city for art and architecture lovers. What was once a gray, smog-filled industrial city has been completely transformed in the past several decades. The transformation began when star architect Frank Gehry designed the iconic Guggenheim museum. This kick-started a regeneration of the city that has become known internationally as the “Bilbao effect.”

Several other renowned designers and architects, such as Philippe Starck and Sir Norman Foster, have also left their mark on the city. But besides discovering the new modern architecture that the city is enjoying, there are many other things to do in Bilbao. Its charming old town – known as the seven streets or “siete calles” – has been completely renovated and is now a hotspot for Basque gastronomy. It’s a great place to sample some pintxos and experience some of the best food Spain has to offer.

10

VALENCIA

Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences) in Valencia, Spain
City of Arts and Sciences – Valencia

Located on Spain’s Mediterranean coast is the country’s 3rd largest city, Valencia. The city is probably most known for its futuristic Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences). This vast complex is made up of a number of buildings designed by the famed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava in 1998. There is an aquarium, planetarium, opera house, concert hall and several more buildings. Rent a bike or take a segway tour to make sure you see it all.

Valencia’s old town is also a great place to wander around and see some of its many sites, such as the Lonja de la Seda (silk exchange), which was built in 1482 during Valencia’s golden era.

This combination of modernity and tradition is what makes Valencia, in our opinion, one of the best cities in Spain.

And when you get hungry, there’s no better place to eat paella than in Valencia – the birthplace of the famous rice dish. Sure, you can find paella at tourist restaurants all over Spain. But chances are, it’s not made fresh (and sadly sometimes just microwaved). Authentic paella is cooked on a special iron pan over a wood fire. It’s traditionally prepared with chicken and/or rabbit, but today you will find seafood and even vegetarian paellas.

More Spanish Cities

FAQ - Best Cities in Spain

WHAT IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL CITY IN SPAIN?

With so many beautiful cities in Spain, this is a super tricky question to answer. It really comes down to personal taste.

Barcelona is often considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in Spain. This is mainly due to the art nouveau and modernist architecture (like buildings from Gaudí) that can be found throughout the city. If that is your cup of tea, then you will no doubt find the city to be stunning.

Madrid, on the other hand, is a popular destination but we think most would agree that it is not one of the most beautiful cities in Spain (it’s not ugly either). There are however, a handful of cities close to Madrid that are quite beautiful such as Toledo, Salamanca and Segovia.

In general, we think that Seville has one of the prettiest city centers in Spain. It also has a wide variety of monumental buildings and palaces, some dating back to the Moorish times. In Seville, you will also find a lot of Mudéjar architecture, an Islamic-influenced style developed after the Christian reconquest. Many wealthy patrons admired Moorish architecture and they fused it together with their western aesthetics. It is a style that is not only deeply beautiful but also unique to Spain.

Other Spanish cities that we find particularly beautiful are San Sebastian, Palma de Mallorca, Malaga and Caceres.

WHAT CITY IN SPAIN SHOULD I VISIT FIRST?

In our opinion, either Seville or Barcelona is a good bet for a first city to visit in Spain. Both cities are beautiful and offer a lot to do and see to keep anyone busy for several days and even longer.

Seville wins for its diverse historical attractions but Barcelona has better food (although you can still eat very well in Seville).

By number of visitors, Barcelona is the most popular city to visit in Spain, followed by Madrid, Seville, Granada and lastly Valencia.

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