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Ten Top Places to See in Spain on a First Visit

Planning your inaugural Spanish vacación? Hit the ground running with this handy guide to the country's travel hot spots.
Top places to see in Spain on a first visit
Top places to see in Spain on a first visit: Barcelona

From the bustling streets of Barcelona to the sun-soaked stretches of sand along the Costa del Sol, Spain is a destination that enthrals travellers at every turn.

Where do you begin? Good question! From coast to countryside, this is a destination packed to the vigas (rafters) with must-dos. Lose yourself in the captivating old centres of cities such as Seville, Granada, and Toledo, and admire the architecture shaped by eras like that of the Muslim Moors. Drift from one world-class museum or gallery to the next, admiring the works of Picasso, Dali, Goya, and Miro. Hike through stunning hill country or crash land on the nearest beach. And let’s not forget the food! Spain’s culinary scene is undoubtedly one of the best in the world and offers a fabulous fusion of fresh ingredients and playful spices.

There’s a lot to love here. And if it’s your first trip, who knows — you may love it so much, you’ll find yourself browsing apartment prices in Spain. We warn you now, resistance is futile!

Here are ten top places to see in Spain on a first visit.


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1. Barcelona

OK, no list of Spain’s top travel destinations would be complete without Barcelona parked at the top of it. Revered for its heritage Ciutat Vella (Old City), thriving cultural scene, amazing tapas bars, lively beaches, and a cathedral that’s taken no less than 150 years to get just right (the Sagrada Familia will finally be completed in 2026!), the country’s second largest city and Catalonian capital is one that doesn’t do things by halves. Home to the must-see architectural masterpieces of Art Nouveau architect Antoni Gaudi — including the aforementioned Sagrada Familia, and whimsical Park Güell — you’ll also want to spend time exploring the small streets and squares of 12th and 13th-century Gothic Quarter.

Top places to see in Spain on a first visit
Top places to see in Spain on a first visit: Park Güell, Barcelona

If you only visit one tapas bar in town (like that will happen!), make it Bar La Plata. It’s has been serving up the same four tapas dishes since 1945, and as they say, practice makes perfect!

2. Costa Brava

Take the opportunity while staying in Barcelona to head north along Catalonia’s Costa Brava (‘wild coast’), which stretches from the resort town of Blanes (an hour from Barcelona by car) all the way to the French border. The Costa Brava is popular with domestic tourists and encompasses dramatic terrain, idyllic beaches, quaint white-washed towns, and the ever-present allure of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s a tricky spot to get around using public transport, so hiring a car in Barcelona and cruising up the coast from there will give you the freedom to go where the wind takes you. Don’t miss seeing the Dali Theatre Museum in Figueres — the birthplace of 20th century surrealist artist Salvador Dali.

Top places to see in Spain on a first visit
Top places to see in Spain on a first visit: Explore the Costa Brava.

3. Madrid

Just over an hour by air from Barcelona, prepare for sensory overload in the landlocked Spanish capital of Madrid. Packed with period buildings (including from the Baroque and neoclassical eras) and home to famous art institutions like the Prado and Reina Sofia, the city’s historic heart is best explored on foot. Book a walking tour with a local guide and dive in! You’ll almost certainly visit the 17th-century Plaza Mayor and nearby Royal Palace of Madrid — the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family and one of the largest palace complexes in Europe. And your guide will be able to point you in the direction of great local spots to eat and drink for the rest of your stay.

Top places to see in Spain on a first visit
Top places to see in Spain on a first visit: Madrid

While it doesn’t have Barcelona’s beach scene, Madrid kills it on the nightlife front. It’s probably one of the best, if not the best, in Europe. Pace yourself!


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4. Costa del Sol

Situated in the southern province of Malaga and ultra famous for its beaches (all those rose-pink British tourists can’t be wrong), the Costa del Sol fronts the most southerly stretch of the Mediterranean and is one of Spain’s top resort destinations. Beaches of note include Malaga’s Playa de la Malagueta, Playa de Cabopino and del Cable in Marbella, and Playa Los Boliches in Fuengirola. They heave with holidaymakers in peak seasons, but there are plenty of hidden coves and secluded spots where you can largely have a piece of paradise all to yourself. Wander one from white-washed coastal village to the next or head up into the mountains for fresh air and brisk ocean breezes.

Top places to see in Spain on a first visit
Top places to see in Spain on a first visit: Malagueta Beach, Malaga

5. Seville

It’s a two-hour drive inland from Malaga to Seville — the capital and largest city of Andalusia — probably best known for its flamboyant Flamenco music and dance. Old Seville buzzes like you won’t believe; the clip clop and clatter of horse drawn carriage tours melds with the hubbub emanating from myriad tapas bars. Drop by Bar Rinconcillo, which was established in 1670 and claims to be the oldest restaurant in Spain. The Moors left their mark on the city from the 8th to the 13th centuries and climbing the Giralda — a minaret-turned-bell-tower — for superb views across the city is a must. You may also want to line up to visit the Royal Alcazar Palace (skip much of the queue by pre-booking your tickets online). For a fix of Flamenco, Los Gallos stages energetic one-hour evening performances and is one of Seville’s oldest tablaos (flamenco stages).

Top places to see in Spain on a first visit
Top places to see in Spain on a first visit: Seville

6. Cordoba

History buffs will love the Andalusian city of Cordoba, situated just under two hour’s drive north of Seville. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old Centre fans out from the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba, and its cobbled streets are a delight to explore on foot. Here you’ll find a mix of architectural styles, including that of the Moors, and even further back, the Romans. The photogenetic Roman Bridge (which will be familiar to Game of Thrones fans) crosses the Guadalquivir River and was constructed in the 1st century BC. You must visit the circa 14th century Palacio de Viana — a traditional Renaissance nobleman’s palace with shaded colonnades and courtyards, tranquil gardens, and a collection of antique furnishings that will blow your mind. The Museo Arqueologico de Cordoba — housed in the Palacio de los Paez de Castillejo in the Old Centre — ties all the historical threads together with a collection of artefacts spanning every significant era in the city’s past.

Top places to see in Spain on a first visit
Top places to see in Spain on a first visit: Roman Bridge, Cordoba

7. Granada

Sitting in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Andalusia, Granada is a veritable time capsule of remnants from Spain’s Arabic past. It was here that Muslim rule in Spain came to an end following the Battle of Granada in 1492, and the architectural evidence of that era can be seen across the city. The World Heritage-listed Alhambra fortress — parts of which date back to the 9th century — is an incredible example of Moorish design and construction techniques, and you’ll need the best part of a day to do it any sort of justice. A visit to the Banuelo also shouldn’t be missed. Arguably the oldest and best preserved Arab hammam (bathhouse) in the country, the complex is wonderfully atmospheric and more than a little mysterious.

Top places to see in Spain on a first visit
Top places to see in Spain on a first visit: Alhambra, Granada

8. Bilbao

Flip your trip on its head and hightail it up to the country’s northern coastline to check out amazing Bilbao. Located in Pais Vasco — Basque Country — this former industrial centre, now cultural hub has a charm all of its own. A visit to the Basque Museum is essential, if only to gain an understanding of why the Basque people consider their territory to be so different to the rest of the country. Next, check out the shimmering, titanium-plated Guggenheim Museum Bilbao — the city’s top attraction. On the river side of the museum stands an arachnophobe’s worst nightmare — a nine-metre-high spider sculpture titled Maman, by Louise Bourgeois.

Top places to see in Spain on a first visit
Top places to see in Spain on a first visit: Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

Basque Country is renowned for its seafood and oyster lovers should definitely dive into a mixed dozen at El Puertito. This nationally famous oyster bar also has a venue in Madrid.

9. San Sebastian

One hundred kilometres east of Bilbao sits San Sebastian — a popular coastal resort hub with superb beaches (Playa de la Concha is the most popular) and a laid-back vibe. It’s the perfect foil for Bilbao’s hustle and bustle, so try and work both destinations into your itinerary. San Sebastian is also renowned for its culinary credentials, and draws foodies from across Europe and beyond. From flash Michelin-starred eateries (of which there are many) to humble pintxos (a local style of tapas) bars, eating out is a key part of the travel experience here. Ramp up your food budget and tuck in.

Top places to see in Spain on a first visit
Chill out on the Spanish island of Ibiza.

10. Ibiza, Balearic Islands

While the island of Ibiza is best known as a clubber’s paradise, it’s a paradise is every sense of the word — and one that shouldn’t be discounted just because your dancing days are behind you. Framed by the bluest of blue waters of the Mediterranean and fringed with golden beaches, the island is a great spot to wrap up your Spanish adventure. Party on in town or bliss out by a secluded beach; the choice is yours.

This post was published thanks to Spain-Real.Estate.

Browse our range of Spain tours and experiences here.

Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of top places to see in Spain on a first visit? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Additional images: Envato

Adam Ford

About the writer

Adam Ford is editor of Top Oz Tours and Travel Ideas, and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger, and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa, and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.

 

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