The top attractions in Spain offer a little something for everyone. Beautiful, bright churches that can bring you to tears? Check. Cuisine that will have you asking your waiter por una más? Most definitely. Tiled palaces that may just make you want to add all the mosaic accent walls to your home? Yes. Read on for our expert-sourced list of things in Spain to add to your bucket list, and tours of Spain that make it easy to check them as fast as you add them.
1. Visit La Sagrada Família in Barcelona to watch light leak through the stained glass windows
Walking though the streets of Barcelona feels like walking through an open-air art museum. We have the genius of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí to thank for that! “The buildings, museums, and character of the city are so colorful and exciting,” said staffer Jackie. “You can see the influence of Gaudí in many different corners of the city from Park Güell and Güell Palace, to the House of Bones and La Pedrera.” Lucky for you, you can see most of these places by just walking around the city. It’s a free (and fun!) way to see the stunning exteriors of some of the top places to visit in Spain.
Of all the top attractions in Spain where Gaudí left his stamp, his pièce de résistance is La Sagrada Família. Construction on this UNESCO-listed basilica began in 1882, and it remains a work in progress to this day. But don’t let that deter you from visiting—this site is consistently listed as one of the top places to visit in Spain.
When you enter the church, you’ll immediately notice its unique features. There are no gargoyles, simple facades, or dark corners. Instead, bright, intricate carvings tell biblical stories and one of the best things to do in Spain is to take your time admiring all of these architectural details inside La Sagrada Família. You’ll also marvel at how light plays a key role in the design of the basilica.
“What struck me the most was the display of colors streaming in through the abstracted stained glass windows,” said staffer Claire. “It felt wonderfully alive with color and nature references… more like you were standing amid a forest than a church.” As a designer herself, Claire was awestruck by the beauty of Gaudí’s work. “In my wildest kaleidoscopic dreams, never could I have imagined a building like that—which is why Gaudi was a once-in-a-generation architectural master, and why everyone should see the Sagrada Família if they can someday!”
See La Sagrada Família on Barcelona, Southern France & the Italian Riviera >
2. Pintxo-hop in sunny San Sebastián
You’ve heard of tapas, but pintxos, the Basque-style version of these tasty treats, are just as delicious. They’re bite-sized snacks skewered with a toothpick, and San Sebastián is home to the best ones—so it’s a good idea to add the city to your list of Spain bucket list destinations.
“It’s a cultural tradition to ‘hop’ from pintxo bar to pintxo bar, ordering a drink and various small bites at each one,” said staffer Jamie. “There are so many bars and so many different pintxos to try, and strolling from establishment to establishment is such a fun way to taste the best food in the city while experiencing local life.”
Many people have places like Seville and Barcelona on their list of Spain bucket list destinations, but San Sebastián is the country’s premier foodie destination. Wondering what to add to your bucket list in this under-the-radar Spanish city? Start at Mercado San Martín where you can hop from stall to stall, trying everything in sight. Eating the local cuisine is always one of the best things to do in Spain, where you can wow your taste buds with pintxos before hitting up the local restaurants for dinner.
“Everything I tasted was almost better than the last,” said staffer Jamie. “Since San Sebastián is right on the coast, many pintxos were made with fresh seafood. But, one of my favorite pintxos was nicknamed ‘The Gilda,’ and was made with an anchovy, a green olive, and a spicy pepper speared together in one delicious bite.”
3. Step inside the Mezquita in Córdoba
Many of the things to check off your bucket list in Spain pop up in the big cities. But, nestled midway between Seville and Granada sits Córdoba, which is a little city with a lot to offer. The biggest draw for travelers is the Mezquita, a UNESCO-listed mosque and cathedral located right in the city center.
So, what makes visiting the Mezquita one of the best things to do in Spain? “It’s the amazing layering of past civilizations and the amazing tapestry of architecture it created,” said staffer Adam. “We have a city with Roman origins, layered on top of that is centuries of Muslim grandeur, followed by Christian influence.”
Construction began in the 8th century and the religious site continued to grow in size over the next two centuries. Today, the combination mosque and cathedral is about the same size as St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. So if you’re wondering what to add to your Spain bucket list, the Mezquita certainly makes the list.
Considering its size, we’re giving you a travel tip so you can make the most of your time here: Be sure to visit the Hypostyle Hall. This part of the Mezquita is home to red and white arched beams, one of the site’s most notable architectural features.
4. Sip local varietals inside a wine cave in the Ribera del Duero region
Sure, you’ve heard of sangria (which, is certainly a must-try), but what about the robust red wines hailing from the Ribera del Duero region? And what if you could sip these red wines in a cave? Well, you can, and it’s one Spain attraction you need to add to your bucket list.
“There’s something so cool and unique about slowing down and finding the hidden gems that are, in this case, literally right under people’s noses (as well as their feet, legs, and bodies!),” said staffer Louis. “I never would have found this place on my own and getting to explore what happens under the city streets is something I’ll never forget.”
Tempranillos are the name of the wine game in the Ribera del Duero region. This wine comes from a grape of the same name, which is the most popular one in Spain. Of all the things to check off your bucket list in Spain, sitting down for a tasting of these traditional red wines may just top the list. That’s because not only is the wine a crowd-favorite, but when your go on a tour of Spain, you’ll have experts winemakers leading your tasting.
“We got a tour of their caves, saw how they used to make and age their wines, and then had a tasting of six different wines along with a lesson on how they’re made, what’s unique about them, and the kinds of foods to pair them with,” said staffer Louis. “They even included a bunch of tapas and chocolate so we could see how each wine impacts the taste of food!”
Sip and savor local flavors on Food & Wine: A Taste of Spain >
5. Wander through the Alhambra’s mosaicked courtyards in Granada
Nestled on a hillside in the eastern reaches of Granada sits the Alhambra—one of the biggest Spain attractions to add to your bucket list. This UNESCO-recognized palace was the Moorish sultans’ last stronghold in Spain. If you’ve ever wished to see the dreamy mosaics and intricately designed architecture of southern Spain, look no further.
“The style of architecture features decorative elements like ceramics, plaster, wooden carvings, and more,” said staffer Courtney. “Intricate inscriptions and colorful, geometric patterns of tiles can be spotted no matter where you turn, from the walls to the columns to the ceilings.”
It’s well-worth it to go guided when you visit the Alhambra. Not only do you get to skip the lines (and the logistics!), your local guide will give you the ins-and-outs on the history of the palace and gardens. The palace is a feast for the eyes, but the gardens and greenery give the Alhambra that wow-factor. The can’t-miss ones include the Cypress Promenade, as well as the upper and lower gardens of Generalife Palace, which is part of the Nasrid dynasty’s summer home.
“You’ll feel a sense of serenity as you stroll through it,” said staffer Courtney. “Though it has been changed throughout the Muslim and Christian periods of rule, the Generalife showcases a mix of both aesthetics and innovative gardening techniques.”
6. Dig in to locally-made olive oil and Andalusian cuisine in Seville
Sitting pretty in southern Spain is Seville, the capital of the Andalusia region. The Moorish people conquered the city in 711 and many of the intricate and colorful architectural details found throughout Seville trace their roots back to this time period.
Visit sites like the Royal Alcazar and Plaza de España to get your fix of the local architecture—or dig in to the can’t-miss cuisine. “On the way to Sevilla we stopped at an olive farm and took a tour and did a tasting!!!!” said traveler Theresa. “It was a HUGE highlight of the trip that was unexpected. We learned so much and I will never use bad olive oil again!!!!”
The Spanish know how to do food. Whether it’s olive oil drizzled atop ice cream (yes, you need to try this) or rounds and rounds of tapas, our staff and travelers highly recommend settling into a local spot and digging into the local cuisine while on tour in Seville. It’s one of the top things to do in Spain because you’ll get your fill of food and local culture—and in this country, those two things are one and the same.
“My favorite restaurant was El Rinconcillo, where I once had lunch and dinner!” said staffer Adam. “It has an amazing energy. We worked our way up to the bar, stood elbow to elbow with our fellow patrons, and ordered dish after dish of whatever the waiter recommended. We ended up having some great conversations with those around us, in broken Spanish and broken English.”
Dig into Spanish cuisine on our Barcelona, Madrid & Seville tour>
Of all the things to add to your Spain bucket list, which one is calling your name? Let us know on our Facebook page!