Just like in any country, Spain no doubt has its own peculiarities-think flamenco, tapas, paella, and sangria. But of course, no trip to Spain is complete without indulging in these must-do things. For instance, visiting the cosmopolitan Barcelona and touring its majestic architectural buildings such as Sagrada Familia is something you cannot miss. Or assisting a flamenco performance at Madrid’s Gran Via is for sure a typical thing to do. But have you ever considered visiting Sacromonte in Granada, where you can actually see the true spirit of the flamenco dance or hike the rugged paths of the Pyrenees to see the emerald green side of Spain? Or experience Celtic culture and tradition in Galicia, which feels more like Ireland. And then there are the lesser-known but very unique places to visit in Spain, some definitely have the power to reel you back in time. Think quaint-villages, medieval castles, meandering rivers, off-beaten tracks, and mountains all around.
Whether you like the lush green side of Spain or prefer to veg out on the coastal regions or go for a tapas crawl, there is always something new to discover.
Below we helped narrow down the list of some of the best unique places to visit in Spain.
Visiting Zaragoza is like going back to medieval times, where the Mudéjar Architecture still reigns supreme thanks to its iconic Basílica del Pilar, which stands majestically along the scintillating Ebro River (the longest river in the Spanish peninsula). And then there are the avant-garde bridges, masterpieces of Francisco de Goya at the museum, and of course, the fortified medieval Aljafería Palace which all together exudes a special kind of energy that will leave you spellbound. One of the best ways to explore the city is by cycling along the banks of the Ebro River from the Old Town to the Agua Luis Buñuel Metropolitan Park. And food lovers can relish scrumptious tapas at El Tubo, which is some minutes away from the iconic square. And did we mention fiesta? Each year locals celebrate pompously the Fiesta del Pilar dedicated to Virgen del Pilar.
If you’re a history buff and a nature lover then Aragón is one of the off the radar travel destinations which provides a buffer from the outside world. This autonomous Spanish community has the power to reel you back in time, where once thrived the medieval Aragón kingdom that ruled in the northeastern part of Spain. Aragón is bestowed with an eclectic range of stomping grounds ranging from its rich Moorish-influenced Mudéjar architecture to its off-beaten-hiking trails in the Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park. One of its best sceneries is the sublime view of Ebro River that blends effortlessly with the resplendent landscape.
The culturally rich Cantabria is another autonomous community tucked in the Green Spain – a strip of land sandwiched between the Bay of Biscay and the Cantabrian Mountains. Home to the prehistoric cave of Altamira and the enticing Santillana del Mar, where you can marvel at the flower-clad balconies, bright cobbled stone streets, and medieval architectures, Cantabria is equally home to sublime coastlines, beaches, and vibrant fishing ports. Adventure lovers might just find a plethora of hiking trails of different levels. Those who wish to take up a challenging hike can consider climbing the Picos de Europa, which extends about 20 km (12 miles) of the hiking trail. The highest peak is Torre de Cerredo with an elevation of 2650 m (8,690 ft).
Just about two hours drive away from Cantabria, the luscious land of Asturias will take your breath away. Its forested areas abound with birch, chestnut trees, and free-roaming wildlife in the west (where you can see gorgeous bears) are features that are polar opposite compared to parched southern Spain. There are definitely the lush green mountains but the unspoiled coastline is another highlight of the region. Pristine beaches, turquoise blue ocean, and the vibrant pre-Romanesque architectures are harmoniously blended together. And if you wish to see its contemporary side, then head to its capital Oviedo, which is one of the places untouched by the Moors.
5. Sierra de Albarracin
Encompassed by Sierra de Albarracín from the south and west, the pink-clad medieval town of Albarracín is a paradisiacal place to be blissfully marooned. Back in the 11th-century, Albarracín was a Berber capital, where the Hawwara Amazigh were settled, but later on, it was concurred by the Almoravids in 1104. Eventually, in 1284 King Peter III of Aragon took over the land, and in 1300 the city was officially incorporated into the kingdom of Aragon. Today this historical land has become one of the few untapped places, where you can find solitude. The meandering Guadalaviar River, quaint-looking houses, and the staggering Sierra de Albarracín mountain range in the backdrop offers a safe haven to retreat from the bustling Spanish cities.
Touted as one of the best beach resorts in Spain, Benicàssim is 13km (8 miles) drive away from the north of Castelló de la Plana. The beach resort was inhabited by the Kutama Berbers back in the 8th century. Along its long stretches of white sand lie some of the lavish 19th-century houses. Benicàssim is undoubtedly one of the few places in Spain, where you would want to be stranded for eternity, thanks to its balmy weather and the blue-flag beaches such as the unspoiled Playa Voramar. Whether you wish to soak up the sun or indulge in watersports activities such as sailing (at the Els Terrers Beach) or kayaking, this low key beach resort is one of the best retreats to rejuvenate in Spain. And if you wish to connect with nature then head to the Desierto de las Palmas (Desert of the Palms). Another reason for visiting Benicàssim is to attend the annual four-day music festival, where many artists come to give a spectacular live concert.
Located some 40 minutes drive away from Benicàssim, the ethereal town of Peñíscola is lauded for its orange and white-washed 15th-century Castillo de Papa Luna facing the turquoise Mediterranean sea. The town is often touted as the ‘Gibraltar of Valencia’, and locally known as ‘City in the Sea’. It’s no wonder why this historical town was featured as the ‘City of Meereen’ in Game of Thrones. Perched on a 220-feet (67 meters) of a rocky headland, the castle was founded by the Knights Templar between 1294 and 1307, and it later became the residence of pope Benedict XIII from 1415 to 1423. Some of the best ways to explore this quaint seaport are by strolling along the narrow streets, hanging out at resplendent Casco Antiguo (Old Town), and visiting the Casa de Las Conchas (House of the Shells). And if you happened to be a film buff then do attend the annual comedy Film Festival which happens in many of the city’s historic venues.
8. Las Cuevas de Cañart
Tucked beautifully on the southern slope of the Sierra de la Garrocha, Las Cuevas de Cañart is one of the unique places of Spain which beckons weary souls to connect with nature. This culturally rich town is one of the highlights of Maestrazgo (a historical mountainous area) located in the eastern end of the Iberian system mountain range. The town was highly influenced by the Knights Templar and was used as a defensive nucleus of the southern border. As you stroll along the quaint-looking passages you will spot some of the historical churches like the Parish Church of San Pedro Apostal and monasteries that will take you back in time. Marvel at the magnificent architectures including arches and reliefs. Another highlight is the spellbinding waterfall of Chorro de San Juan and its surrounding green vegetation-a perfect place to unwind and relax!
9. The Spanish Pyrenees
For a total nature immersion head to the Spanish Pyrenees that sprawls over 400 km (248 miles) between Navarre, Aragon, and Catalonia, acting as a natural border between Spain and France. Whether you wish to hike, camp, bird-watch or relish local dishes, and even practice yoga, then this blissful sanctuary is hands down your kind of place to visit for an indelible experience. This peaceful and verdant region abounds with over 50 mountain lakes, and a plethora of rivers, tributaries, and not to forget the small charming villages. It’s no wonder why many wildlife photographers come here to capture some of the incredible creatures such as the bearded vultures and chamois.
Unlike the parched plains of Andalucia, the northwestern part of Spain is a huge contrast in itself. Be ready to explore the emerald green landscape of Galicia which interestingly feels like Ireland. This part of Spain is highly influenced by the Celtic culture, where you can learn more about the local legends and tales. It was during the last millennium BC when some of the Celtic tribes were living in the north of the Douro River, which obviously explains the Celtic influence. Nature aesthetic for sure will enjoy the enticing topography studded with luscious forests, rugged gorges, sublime waterfalls, and rolling mountain ranges that can reach up to 2000 meters (6,600 ft). But the real stand-out of this region is Rías Atlas, which unfurls its pristine beauty as you drive through the northern Galician coast from Ribadeo (on the Asturias’s border). Think sublime inlets with a smattering of little villages cling to the shore with luscious Eucalyptus forests and hills in the backdrop.
11. Basque Country
From its resplendent green highlands to its sublime inlets, staggering high-rock cliffs, and unique language (Euskara), the Basque country is like an emerald green wonderland that came out from nowhere. Tucked in the western side of the Pyrenees and wedged between France and Spain on the coast of the Bay of Biscay, this little piece of paradise is made up of 7 provinces (including 4 in Spain and 3 in France). The Basque people are believed to have a very distinct genetic composition which ‘predates the arrival of agriculture in the Iberian Peninsula, about 7000 years ago’. Likewise, the Basque language shares no connection to the Indo-European language, and its origin is still an enigma. Currently, the language is spoken in the Basque Country, Navarre, and across the northern part of Spain and south-western part of France thanks to the efforts made by many grassroots organizations. The indigenous Basque people are very proud of their culture and they still try to preserve their folklore dance, sports, and poems such as the ‘Bertsolaris’ (improvised songs with bertsos or rhymed verses).
12. San Sebastian
Nestled along the glorious northern coast of Spain in the Basque Country lies the charming city of San Sebastian, where hordes of local tourists and expats come to replenish in the hot summer season. Packed with some of the virgin beaches such as Playa de la Concha and off-beaten hiking trails, this place is a haven for adventurous spirits. There is an eclectic range of outdoor activities such as snorkeling, kayaking, surfing at the Playa de La Zurriola, and hiking at the Monte Urgell and Mount Igueldo. Of course, its ubiquitous pintxo bars are places where you can relish the Basque version of the more elaborated tapas and high-end wine. Don’t forget to take a tour of the Old Town to bask in the beautiful view of the 19th-century buildings.
Another interesting place to visit is the Basque Country in Bilbao city which straddles the middle of a gorgeous valley. You can reach Bilbao within an hour’s drive from San Sebastian. Though Bilbao is primarily known for its iconic Guggenheim Museum-a brainchild of architect Frank Gehry, there is more about this green city than just its sublime architecture and burgeoning art scene. One of the many highlights is its delectable pintxos, where you can splurge at the vibrant Casco Viejo or take a leisurely stroll at the Parque Etxebarria, one of the largest public parks in the city, where you can feast your eyes on incredibly beautiful views over Abando and the Old Town.
No trip to Spain is complete without visiting Barcelona, which has firmly claimed its place in one of the world’s top travel destinations. This vibrant and cosmopolitan city is an epicenter of majestic architecture. It’s home to the iconic work of Antoni Gaudí-the notable Sagrada Familia. Stroll along the cobblestone streets of Ciutat Vella, and find some of the Gothic Quarter studded with sublime old churches, Roman ruins, and some best cafes and restaurants. Take a look at the grand masterpieces of Picasso at the Picasso Museum Barcelona to find a collection of over 4000 works. And if you wish to soak up the sun then head to Barceloneta, which is one of the popular beaches in the city.
The charming seasidy town of Begur is one of the most incredible spots of Costa Brava-the Catalonian coastal region in the northeastern part of Spain. About an hour’s drive from the bustling Barcelona city, Begur is hard to beat in the Costa Brava region. Its ethereal views of the blue Mediterranean sea and the enticing 11th-century medieval castle that faces the gorgeous town, are some of the holidays treats that you don’t want to miss. But then there are the numerous pristine coves or the far-cry Platja Fonda with a lush green forest to escape from the routine life. And if you wish to connect with the rustic side of Begur then go for a hiking trip to the Begur Mountains which is bestowed with rich fauna and flora.
The elegant Madrid is Spain’s central capital usually dubbed as ‘‘la ciudad que nunca duerme’ by the locals (the city that never sleeps). It’s a thriving hub packed with culture, art, and enticing architecture. Here you can experience one of the best nightlife in Spain, especially at the buzzing Puerta del Sol square, a large plaza where you can expect live entertainment. Another place to hangout is hands down Gran Via, where you can assist a flamenco show or tuck into some of the best tapas at the Plaza Mayor. But out of these many attractions, one particular place to visit is the Temple of Debod, which you wouldn’t normally expect to find in Madrid. This 2nd-century-old Egyptian temple was built by the Meroe King Adijalamani. The temple was offered as a gift by the Egyptian government to Spain, who helped in the construction of the great Aswan Dam in Egypt. The temple is knitted out with gateways and a chapel adorned with high reliefs.
About 3.5 hours from Madrid find the thriving cultural and futuristic hub of Valencia, one of the largest cities of Spain known for its space-like Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences) designed by Santiago Calatrava, a local Spanish designer. The appeal here lies in its modern amenities at the entertainment complex of Arts and Science, where you can expect to find an IMAX cinema, an aquarium, a science museum, and an opera house. Other than that the city is composed of fantastic beaches, nightlife, market gardens, art galleries, and old churches and monasteries. One of the most-sought-after festivals is the Fallas Festival which happens every March-definitely a festival not to miss. And of course, you cannot leave Valencia without eating its famous paella.
Dubbed as the oldest city of Europe, Cádiz is one of the autonomous communities of Andalusia (southern Spain). It is equally home to some of the oldest Phoenicians ruins dating up to 3100 years. There are undoubtedly numerous historical landmarks in Cádiz, but the 17th-century Castillo de Santa Catalina will take your breath away. Perched on a rocky outcrop facing the sea, the fortress was once used as a military prison, but today you can attend some of the spectacular cultural events. Climb the stairs of the Torre Tavira to feast your eyes in the 360-degree of the magnificent white-washed town, its enticing architecture, and the turquoise blue ocean. Besides, Cadiz is also a hotspot for some of the sublime beaches where you can unwind over some chilled drinks. The best beaches are the Playa de La Caleta and Playa del Faro, also do not forget to visit the towering Cabo de Trafalgar lighthouse for a magnificent view of the surroundings.
Certainly, one of the unique places to visit in Spain, Ubrique is wedged between Grazalema and Los Alcornocales Natural Park. This quaint little town in Cádiz forms part of the pueblos blancos (white towns) in the Andalusian region. White-washed houses contrasting with the honey-colored mountains in the backdrop and patches of lush green trees of olive with the meandering Ubrique river are some of the sublime sceneries that you can expect when visiting this blissful sanctuary.
Whether you’re up for a solo break or just need to escape from the buzzing city life then consider visiting Cuenca, where you’ll find history, nature, and culture harmoniously blending all together. Cuenca is about two hours drive from Madrid located right in the Castilla La Mancha region of Spain. As you step into this city you will instantly feel a special kind of energy which percolates the air. It might just be the daunting deep river gorges and the Casas Colgadas (hanging houses) with their wooden balconies dating back to the 14th-century that will drive you back to medieval times. And among them find the Museo de Arte Abstracto Español-the 15th-century museum that displays a permanent collection of about 129 paintings and sculptures of some of the best Spanish artists (Sempere, Millares, and Suara) of the 1950s and 1960s. Another point of interest is the turquoise green Júcar River.
Unlike its sister islands Majorca and Ibiza, Menorca (smaller island) is way more serene and laid-back. For a secluded, peaceful, and probably solo island getaway, this place is heaven. From its turquoise crystal clear waters to its pine-clad coastlines and rustic-chic retreats, this place gets more enticing with its quaint side. Visit the Old Town where you’ll be transported back in the old-time-think quaint cobblestoned lanes, gorgeous Mediterranean-style complexes, and chilled-out plazas. Get an insight about this little paradise by touring the Museum of Menorca located in the capital city of Mahón to learn about all the past civilizations (Roman, Byzantine, and Moorish) that left their marks over here.
Situated off the west coast of Africa in the Atlantic Ocean, meet one of the unique Spanish offshore Islands of Tenerife, which is the largest among the Canary Islands. What makes this little gem interesting is its Mars-like volcanic landscapes thanks to its highest peak Mount Teide, but there are also the rolling lush green mountains, and unspoiled beaches to look forward to. The peculiar topography of this island makes it one of the best places to hike in Europe. Some of its off-beat trails are concentrated in the Anaga mountains, Teno mountains, and Teide National Park (Mount Teide). For a historical immersion visit its capital Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal de la Laguna. Beach lovers should consider checking out Costa Adeje and Playa de las Américas. While food lovers can try the local dish Papas Arrugadas to tantalize their taste buds.
Located in southern Spain, Granada is a magical city. Every little corner of this place exudes a historical atmosphere especially by visiting the magnificent Alhambra Palace lauded for its intricate Moorish interior designs and richly-manicured gardens. But it gets even more interesting when you visit Sacromonte, where the place’s real spirit lies at the cave-clad hillside, to meet the gypsy community performing flamenco and zambra. In the evening saunter off the cobbled streets and go to the local bars to enjoy chilled drinks and complimentary tapas. Ski enthusiasts will certainly find the Sierra Nevada Ski Station (3,478 meters above sea level) a perfect place to get their dose of adrenaline kicked off.
The birthplace of flamenco, Seville is the capital of Andalusia in southern Spain, dating back to about 2,200 years, which is believed to be founded by Hercules. This ancient city was also conquered by Romans, Almoravids, and Almohads Muslims and eventually was reconquered by Ferdinand III in 1248. This is why visitors will find a bewildering range of beautiful architectures from many of these past civilizations. And Real Alcázar is a perfect example of fine Mudéjar architecture. Another important landmark is hands down the grand Cathedral of Seville, where lies a monumental tomb of Christopher Columbus. This UNESCO World Heritage site is known to be the fourth-largest church in the world. Another hotspot, particularly in summer, where you can cool off is the sumptuous Parque de María Luisa (Maria Luisa Park) adorned with duck ponds, and lofty green trees.
If you’re visiting Córdoba you might think that you’re in a movie set, but you’re actually right to pinch yourself since this place is seriously beautiful-think white patios decked out with vibrant pots of flowers, and small streets fringed with quaint cafes and tapas bars. For an intense experience attend the May Crosses Festival also known as Cruces de Mayo to witness the sheer beauty of the religious procession, where women are dressed in traditional gypsy clothes. Another reason to visit this place is the glorious Mezquita (mosque-cathedral) composed of a harmonious blend of Moorish, Gothic, and Baroque designs.
Quick Facts about Spain
Population: 46 million (2019)
Languages: Spanish, Catalan, Valencian, Galician, Aranese and, Basque.
Number of UNESCO sites: 48
Major Religion: Catholic Christianity
Highest Mountain Peak (on the Spanish peninsula): Mulhacén (3483m)
Longest River: Ebro River 930 km(580 miles)