7 cities in Spain where you can embrace la buena vida on tour this summer
Spain is lovely regardless of when you visit, but the summer is the perfect time to embrace the best of what the country and culture have to offer. Mornings spent swimming in glittering, turquoise water, afternoons lingering over tapas and wine, and evening festivals that segue into late-night dance parties are all part of what makes a summertime trip to Spain such a glorious experience. Days tend to be long and hot, especially in the southern cities, but the hours between early morning exploration and late-night revelry are the perfect time to honor the most sacred of Spanish traditions: the siesta.
The best cities in Spain to visit in the summer embrace all of these customs and more. These are some of our favorite places to experience the joy and excitement of summer in Spain.
1. San Sebastián
Spain’s unofficial culinary capital, San Sebastián, lies on the coast of the Bay of Biscay in the northern Basque Country. In the summertime, San Sebastián becomes one of the most popular cities in Spain for local vacationers. The temperatures in the Basque region are generally milder than in much of the rest of Spain, and people flock to this coastal city to escape the summer heat. Visit on one of our tours of San Sebastián and you’ll see why it’s one of the best cities to visit in Spain in the summertime.
- Visit Playa de la Concha, one of Europe’s best beaches. The bathing spot was made popular by Queen Isabel II, who was particularly fond of vacationing here. One of the best things about this picturesque beach is its proximity to the rest of the city—it’s located right in the city center with plenty of restaurants and shopping nearby. Relax on the wide, sandy beach or wade out into the calm, shallow waters (the bay is protected from strong currents by Santa Clara Island). If you prefer to keep the sand out of your shoes, the Paseo de la Concha, a gleaming white promenade, runs the length of the beach and offers fantastic views—especially at sunset. “I think everybody should make it a point to see the stunning Playa de la Concha during their visit,” said staffer Vivian. “San Sebastián is one of my favorite cities in Spain.”
- Summer is the best time for outdoor dining. Go “pintxo hopping” and sample the Basque-style tapas that helped put San Sebastián on the culinary map. Try some of our favorite Pintxos from San Sebastián, and pair the bite-sized treats with a glass of Basque cider or Txakoli, a just barely effervescent, dry white wine that pairs beautifully with seafood. Whatever you do, save some room for a slice of the region’s famous “burnt” cheesecake.
- Summer in San Sebastián means back-to-back festivals. In July, the city hosts the International Jazz Festival; in August, there’s the Classical Music Fortnight; and in September, the San Sebastián International Film Festival. The most anticipated festival of the season, however, is Semana Grande, which runs for a week in the middle of August and marks the Virgin’s Day on August 15. The week is filled with sports competitions, games, rides, markets, and even an international fireworks competition where a different company lights up the sky with a display each night.
2. Mallorca & Menorca
The Balearic Islands of Mallorca and Menorca are worth a visit for the beaches alone, but if you see them on our Spain’s Balearic Islands: Menorca & Mallorca tour and expect to find nothing more than resort destinations, you’re in for a surprise. Whether you prefer sleepy mountain villages or spirited larger cities, you’ll find plenty to do beyond lying on a beach—though we must admit that’s still one of our favorite things to do here. It’s no wonder both made it to our list of stunning islands to visit in Spain and Portugal.
- Wander through Mahón, Menorca’s capital city (and one of the world’s largest natural harbors) and spend the day like a local. Visit a local food market, shop for avarcas, the island’s iconic handmade sandals, and sit down to enjoy a gin and tonic or a pomada—a refreshing cocktail made with gin and fresh lemonade or lemon soda.
- Escape the sun in Mallorca and head underground to tour the Cuevas del Drach, a huge system of underground caves and lakes where the temperature is always between 60- and 70-degrees Fahrenheit. Marvel at the stalactites and stalagmites before stopping to listen to a live, classical music concert. The concert is performed on one of the cave’s underground lakes and has been running since 1935. Conclude your journey beneath the surface with a boat ride across Lake Martel, one of the world’s largest underground lakes.
- Spend a free evening in Palma, the capital of Mallorca. At half a million citizens, it has four times the population size of the entire island of Menorca. While it may not have Ibiza’s party reputation, it has plenty of bars and nightclubs where you can take in the local scene.
Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, sparkles in the summer months. The vibrant city is a patchwork of brightly colored mosaics, whimsical architecture, and enticing tapas bars. Temperatures soar in the summer, and many of the city’s most famous sites are outdoors. But, when you visit on one of our tours of Barcelona, you’ll find that there are plenty of ways to stay cool in the city—besides, it’s the best time to go swimming!
Travel tip: A lot of the locals leave Barcelona for vacation during the month of August, so be prepared for some of the city’s smaller businesses to be closed during this time.
- Discover Antoni Gaudí’s Barcelona by touring some of his most famous works. Park Güell should be on your Barcelona itinerary, so come in the early morning to beat the heat (and the crowds) and get lost in the park’s enchanting, nature-inspired architecture, mosaics, and sculptures. (Tickets are limited, but adding our Park Güell & La Pedrera excursion to your tour will guarantee you admission into the park.) La Sagrada Família, the dreamy-yet-unfinished church, offers a welcome respite from the peak heat of midday. Step inside the cool central nave and gaze up at the church’s twisted, tree-like columns dappled with the colorful light that filters through the stained glass windows. “Gaudi’s work was the highlight of my trip… the reason I wanted to see Spain,” said traveler Joann after returning from our Grand Tour of Spain.
- Sip some horchata, a creamy and refreshing local drink made from tiger nuts. Then, wander down La Rambla, the wide, tree-lined pedestrian boulevard that runs through the heart of the city—it’s the perfect place to people-watch in the afternoon.
- In the evening, use your free time to head to Parc de la Ciutadella for some free live music. This public oasis is just steps from the beach and hosts free jazz concerts every Wednesday and Friday in the summer.
Check out these Spain tours
The birthplace of flamenco may be one of the hottest cities in Europe, but it’s the perfect place to visit in the summertime because a tour of Seville offers so many things to do indoors during the hottest midday hours. If you must be outside in the afternoon, the city’s more than 30,000 orange trees should provide ample shade from the summer sun.
- Duck inside Seville Cathedral, the world’s largest Gothic church. The stone arches and latticework may be sunbaked on the outside, but the interior of the building is cool and inviting on even the most oppressive days. The Giralda, the church’s lofty bell tower, was once the minaret of the Great Mosque of Seville that formerly stood on the site.
- Love royal history? Visit the nearby Royal Alcázar, the royal palace of Seville. The palace is the oldest in Europe that’s still in use today and is a breathtaking example of Mudéjar architecture, a style that blends Gothic and Islamic elements. The palace and its courtyards are truly something out of a fantasy. In fact, you might recognize the site as the location of the water gardens of Dorne on the HBO series Game of Thrones.
- If you’re a movie buff, don’t miss Plaza de España. The tiered pavilion has been featured in movies such as Lawrence of Arabia and Star Wars. Strolling through the adjoining Maria Luisa Park also happens to be one of the best free things to do in Seville.
- See a flamenco show. Flamenco, the expressive art form that combines dance, music, and clapping, was born in Seville, and shows take place every night in the city. Book our Traditional Seville Flamenco Show excursion and sip a refreshing drink as you enjoy the performance.
Granada is magical in the summertime. Sure, it can be hot, but it’s the kind of exhilarating heat that’s meant to be embraced. Stretch out during the long, lazy days and soak up the warm, lively evenings while visiting this jewel of Andalusia on one of our trips to Granada.
- If you do one thing in Granada, visit the UNESCO-recognized Alhambra. (It’s first on our list of things to do in Granada that will have you saying vamos.) The massive fortress complex was the last stronghold of the Moorish sultans in Spain and features arresting architecture and soaring views of the city below. One of the highlights of the Alhambra is the Nasrid Palaces. The residences were built for Spain’s Muslim rulers and are a stunning example of the opulence of Moorish architecture. Before you leave, take a stroll through the shady and tranquil Cypress Promenade. “The amazing Alhambra [is] on my list of lifetime experiences,” said traveler Judith after taking our Grand Tour of Spain.
- If you happen to be in Granada during the summer solstice at the end of June, you might stumble upon the festivities of the night of San Juan. Celebrations begin during the day with live music and flamenco performances, but they peak at night when large bonfires are lit in the town squares.
Córdoba is one of the most enchanting cities in Spain. Ancient architecture lies nestled against whitewashed Andalusian homes traced with sunny yellow trim and hung with sweet-smelling flowers. Visit on a trip to Córdoba and explore the city’s many courtyards, fountains, and hidden gardens.
- Step into the cool serenity of the Mezquita, the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba—it’s one of our bucket list things to do on a trip to Spain. This UNESCO World Heritage Site and stunning work of Islamic architecture was built as a mosque in the 8th century, but a cathedral was added to the center of the space during the Christian Reconquista. The building’s cool marble walls and striped arches make it feel like an oasis in the summer’s heat.
- Get lost in the labyrinthine Jewish Quarter, located in the city’s historic center. This neighborhood was originally walled off from the rest of the city to both isolate and protect its inhabitants from their Christian and Muslim neighbors. However, by the mid-13th century, Córdoba’s citizens lived side by side, as is reflected in the city’s culture and architecture.
- Visit a local olive oil farm and wander through the groves of olive trees before learning how the oil is made—and of course sampling some. “The olive farm tour, which one would think would be relatively mundane, turned out to be a visit that for me and many others was a highlight,” said traveler Donald on our Grand Tour of Spain. “Who would think orange-injected olive oil drizzled on chocolate ice cream would be so good!”
7. Costa del Sol
With over 100 beaches and more than 320 sunny days per year, it’s no wonder Costa del Sol is one of the most popular beach destinations in the world. From hidden coves sheltered by soaring cliffs to wide, white sand beaches to wild, rocky coastlines, you’ll find a beach for any mood on a tour of Costa del Sol. The stretch of coastline lies at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains and is dotted with charming villages just waiting to be explored.
- The beaches are the number one reason to visit Costa del Sol, especially in the summertime. In fact, these sandy spots have earned the Costa del Sol a place in our Southern Spain Travel Guide. Spend a free afternoon relaxing in the sand and pop into one of the region’s many chiringuitos—tiny beach bars serving tapas and drinks.
- Stroll through the Old Town of Marbella and admire the whitewashed homes with iron balconies bursting with summer flowers. Make your way to the Plaza de los Naranjos and stop for a cocktail or some churros under the shade of an orange tree. The plaza’s central fountain is a lovely place to stop for a photo. “We relaxed by the pool in the luxurious and sun-soaked town of Marbella on the famed Costa del Sol, and we soaked up the local culture at a flamenco show and every time we ate,” said traveler Ralph on our Grand Tour of Spain. “From paella and tapas to decadent desserts and fine wine, each dining experience created fond memories.”