For both veteran travelers and first-timers, Spain is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Whatever your vacation preferences, this country has something to offer you. Spain is a beautiful and picturesque representation of Old World Europe, with awe-inspiring architecture, fascinating centuries-old traditions and idyllic pastoral scenes, far removed from the hustle and bustle of modern life. At the same time, Spain is home to some of the hottest nightlife venues on the entire continent and is consistently at the forefront in the culinary world. Who doesn’t love sangria and tapas?
And with a location that is conveniently reached from the rest of Europe by rail, air or car, it remains the perfect choice for anything from a spur of the moment weekend getaway to an extended holiday.
Due to its immense popularity as a tourist destination, the challenge inherently presents itself to the lateral-thinking traveler to go beyond the prescribed and obvious destinations and attractions. By making the extra effort to seek out some wonderful hidden gems, you can stockpile an entire mental warehouse of memories and create a vacation experience that is completely unique to you.
Within Reach of Barcelona
For most travelers, a vacation begins and ends in Barcelona, the second largest city in Spain. Barcelona has some of the world’s most beautiful architecture, a rich and deep cultural history, a pulse-pounding nightlife and world-class cuisine, both traditional and innovative. But during the summer months, most visitors are here for the beaches. The city boasts eight glorious white sandy beaches. For most visitors, they simply follow the rest of the throngs and end up at Barceloneta, which caters almost exclusively to tourists and at least has an easily reached location working in its favour.
Instead, go here, the stunningly beautiful Platja de Castell, located approximately an hour and a half northward of Barcelona in the city of Palamos. Perhaps the best part of this beach is the fact that it has not been formally developed, and thus offers you crystalline waters next to picturesque shoreline replete with gorgeous natural coves and serene pine forests. Far enough away to thin out the crowds but close enough to be well worth the effort, this beach is the perfect place to relax, sip a cocktail and leave the world and your cares behind.
Within Reach of Madrid
From a cultural heritage standpoint and an opportunity to appreciate history, art and architecture, it is hard to top Madrid, the capital city. Every year, over 7 million travelers visit Madrid to see for themselves the legions of incredible Renaissance and Medieval buildings, explore countless museums or cheer the dashing matadors while attending the obligatory bullfight. There is literally so much to do that it just might take several lifetimes of vacations to experience it all. Must-sees include the Museo de Prado, featuring some of the most important artwork over the past thousand years, including masterpieces by Rembrandt, Gloria and El Greco; the Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas, where you can watch the spectacle of the sport that is synonymous with the country, bullfighting; or the Plaza de Cibeles, highlighted by a gorgeous fountain that was created before America was a country. If you travel to Madrid, these are mandatory stops on your itinerary. See these sites, and you will make sure that you have seen what every single other tourist has also seen.
However, if you have traveled to Madrid to fulfill your deep appreciation of art and culture, one of the best series of events to attend is the Festival de Otoño a Primavera spans from late October until the middle of June. The festival was created 30 years ago to offer internationally accredited avant-gard productions to educate and spread spread culture to the region. The celebration showcases the theater, music and dance performers from all over the world. For the entire month, extravaganzas are held at every venue of note in Madrid. More information on the festival can be found on the Madrid website.
One of the best-known carnivals in all of Spain, indeed in the whole world, is held here in this port city in the South West. For two weeks every year several different traditional forms of music, costumes, decorations and processions all are combined by competing groups to regale the rest of the population with songs, parodies, witticisms and lampoonings of the news, current events and noteworthy people of the year. Every Saturday during the carnival, everyone is encouraged to dress in their brightest and cleverest costume, residents and visitors alike. Dancing, laughing, drinking and feasting are all the order of the day.
Come for the party, but while you’re here, make sure you visit the Archaeological Museum and the Old Cathedral. At the museum and behind the cathedral you’ll see artifacts, exhibits and even the remains of a Roman theater, all attesting to the status of Cadiz as the oldest settlement in Western Europe. It may surprise you to know that the city was founded over 3000 years ago by Phoenician sailors as a commercial stronghold. Climb the tower of the Old Cathedral for a review of the entire city and get a feel for how the sentries of millennia ago must have felt.
The country of Spain has many, many more attractions and events sure to interest travelers of every bent. No guided tour, no website and no dictated itinerary can possibly allow you to see and experience everything Spain has to offer. The best way to live and breathe life the Spanish way is to leave the beaten path and let your whims be your guide. Go where the locals go and talk to everyone you meet. Only then will you stand the best chance of discovering all the hidden wonders in this great country. If you’re a festival lover then why not try some of Europe’s other festival offerings.