No, not Madrid. Not Barcelona either. Even though they’re both terrific places to visit, there’s more to Spain than La Rambla and the Royal Palace. Next time you’re dreaming of tapas bars and the warmth of the Mediterranean sun, try thinking outside the tourist box and head down some of Spain’s less traveled roads. You’ll still meet plenty of other adventurers along the way, but these 7 cities should give you a break from the crowds and hype of the country’s most visited tourist spots.
- Alcala de Henares
We’ll start you off easy with a town that’s less than an hour east of Madrid. This was the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes and you can tour the childhood home of the man who gave us Don Quixote. Walk the Calle Major, visit the Archbishop’s Palace, try to spot the city’s famous storks, and stop for tapas in the gorgeous central square.
This city on the Med is home to the City of Arts and Sciences which is reason enough to check it out. The facility is one of the 12 Treasures of Spain and is an incredible combination planetarium, science museum, botanical garden, aquarium and center for the performing arts. Climb the Micalet Tower to look over a city that’s packed with great food, clubbing and sandy beaches.
The entire medieval center of this ancient city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and wandering through its narrow and cobbled streets is like taking a walk through a living museum. The Mesquita was once a Muslim Mosque and anchors a network of plazas, city gates, Roman ruins and historic palaces that make Cordoba one of the best cities in Spain for architecture buffs.
The Alhambra is one of Spain’s most visited attractions but don’t let that put you off exploring this gorgeous city on the edge of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. When you’re done taking a look at the Moorish Royal Palace, head for the hills and enjoy a wide range of outdoor adventures in some of Spain’s most beautiful terrain.
- San Sebastian
The best beaches in Spain aren’t necessarily on the Mediterranean. This picturesque northern city near the French border has some of the best golden sand in Europe with a full array of watersports. Explore the Basque culture in the old town, enjoy the world-famous local cuisine, and sink your toes in the warm sands of La Concha.
Another city with a UNESCO listed Old Town and if you think you’ve been here before, you’ve probably been watching Game of Thrones. Scenes of King’s Landing were filmed here because its medieval buildings have been so beautifully preserved. Check out the ancient churches, towers and palaces before heading into the Monfrague National Park, a haven for hikers and birdwatchers.
Close the northern Portuguese border, Vigo is known for its gorgeous white sand beaches and terrific seafood restaurants. The 17th century Castro Fortress sits in a huge urban park in the middle of town and climbing up the hill is worth it for the amazing view you’ll get from the top. Sail, swim, fish or just relax on the beach before heading out to enjoy the city’s legendary nightlife.
Spain is a big country, and it gets even more enticing if you factor in the Balearic and Canary Islands. You may start your journey in Madrid or Barcelona but extend your horizons to include at least a taste of Andalusia, Extramadura, Galacia or any of Spain’s other distinctive and intriguing regions.