Bewitching natural beauty collides with a wealth of historical treasures, surrealist art and the passion of Flamenco. Spain is a country where incredible local food tradition meets top-notch restaurants, and will leave you in awe of the exquisite complexity of simple ingredients. The remains of empires layer the country from the florid mosaics and domes of Moorish architecture to the ancient walls of the Romans; here, the past and present coexist with irresistible charm. From the scorching plains of Andalusia to the peaks of the Pyrenees, the Mediterranean Costa del Sol to the Bay of Biscay, Spain has boundless possibility for adventure. Whether you are enjoying a glass of aged Tempranillo and a long siesta or the sleepless nightlife of Madrid, the warmth of the Spanish people will make you feel instantly welcome.
The capital city of Spain, Madrid bustles during the day but bursts into life at night. Slide into the local way of life by spending whole evenings at the dinner table in the Plaza Mayor, and then wander over to the Puerto del Sol to check out late-night street performers and watch as nightlife crescendos around you. With world-class museums like the Prado and the Thyssen-Bornemisza, there is no end to amazing artwork in Madrid. Relax in the Parque del Retiro, or feel the national passion for soccer and catch a Real Madrid game at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
Surrounded by sloping green mountains and perched on the Nervion River, Bilbao has a gritty industrial past that still presides over the city. Colorful buildings flank both sides of the river, but it is the curving titanium Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, designed by Frank Gehry, that dominates the waterfront. Built in 1997, this museum put Bilbao on the map for art connoisseurs and helped reinvigorate this working-class city. Worth a visit all on its own, Bilbao is also a great base to head off into the stunning mountains of half a dozen nearby national parks.
Though Barcelona has a highly-efficient subway system, the wide tree-lined avenues and fantastic variety of architecture will reward every step you take through the city. Stroll the narrow pedestrian alleys of La Gràcia, hike the hills above Gaudi’s surreal Park Güell, or step off of Las Ramblas and lose yourself in history in the maze of cobbled streets of the Gothic Quarter. Gaudi’s iconic Sagrada Familia church is just a hint of the pleasantly eccentric spirit of Barcelona. The city’s vibrance is in tiny tapas bars, a tradition of avant-garde artwork, and endless nights of music and dancing.
Costa del Sol
One hundred miles of sun-soaked Mediterranean coastline, the Costa del Sol is a landscape of sandy beaches and lush inland mountains. From the glamorous hub of Marabella to the quiet promenades of Nerja, the lucent waters and brilliant sunshine of the Mediterranean will lull you into utter contentment. With architecture influenced by the Romans and Moors, and well-preserved old town centers, this stretch of coast is renowned for much more than just its beaches.
Spilling gracefully up three hills, and in the shadow of the towering Sierra Nevada, Granada is a labyrinth of narrow streets and architectural wonders dating back to the 8th century. The hilltop fortress and palace complex of the Alhambra presides over the city, decorated with ornate Moorish art and interspersed with sunny patios and reflecting pools. Another gem in a city filled with relics from across the ages is the garden-ensconced Palacio de Generalife, the 13th-century summer estate of the Nasrid rulers. Stroll through the distinctive quarters of Granada and journey through time, and enjoy a delicious blend of traditional foods from hole-in-the-wall bars and restaurants along the way.
One of the four major islands of the Balearics, Ibiza is a jewel in the glittering waters of the Mediterranean. Beautiful sandy beaches and an electrifying nightlife attract visitors young and old to the shores of Ibiza. The main avenue, Platja d’en Bossa, is the center of the action with high-rise hotels, bars and shops, but Ibiza has a quieter side too. Spend a couple of nights in a hilltop estate, or escape to the secluded coves and jagged cliffs of the north end of the island.
Forming a natural border between Spain and France, there is truly no limit to the possibilities for adventure in the Pyrenees any season of the year. Laced with winding roads connecting ancient villages and monasteries that are perched on lofty outcroppings or tucked away down narrow valleys, the countryside is alive with people and farms. A collection of national parks throughout the region are bolstered by mountain landscape and networks of trails that proliferate even outside of park boundaries. While traveling through this paradise—from the Vall de Boí to the peaks of Parque Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Perdido—keep your eyes open for the massive wings of majestic golden eagles.
Sitting on the Bay of Biscay, the magnificent beaches Playa de la Concha and Playa de Ondarreta nestle against promenades in the heart of the city, and are the perfect setting for a day in the sun. But San Sebastian is much more than a resort town of glamorous beaches. With Michelin restaurants at every turn, and traditional pintxos known for their artistry, this is a city renowned for exquisite cuisine. Avoid the heat of the day and marvel at the serene majesty of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Chorus and the San Sebastian Cathedral. And for a real treat, head to the top of Monte Urgull for stunning views of the bay.
Home of the famous Feria de Abril—a carnival of dancing, bullfighting, eating, and drinking—and of a revered celebration of the Semana Santa before Easter, Sevilla is a city that takes its festivals seriously. Visit the ornate Alcázar castle complex, a royal palace built by Moorish kings in the 16th century, the bullring at Plaza de Toros, and the Maria Luisa Park, where horse drawn carriages trot along the Plaza de España. Sevilla cathedral is the site of Christopher Columbus’ tomb and the Giralda, a minaret transformed into a bell tower, and was the largest cathedral in the world when it was completed in the early 16th century.