Spain is a storied country of stone castles, rolling hills and valleys, vast monuments, and sophisticated cities. Every corner is bursting with color and sound that breathes art and life into the air and is one of our favorite countries in the world. When visiting, one should be ready to soak in a diversity of color, culture and traditions. While every region has it’s own merits, there are a few key cities that help give the country it’s reputation as a widely diverse and cultured kingdom. One thing is assured, any traveler new to Spain will certainly be impressed if not outright falling in love.
Renowned as one the world's famous tourist destinations, Barcelona's stunning view of the Balearic Sea and jaw dropping spires define the skyline. The second largest city in Spain has a deep history and proud people who celebrate their culture steeped in art and music. One of the most distinctive and seemingly forever changing monuments of art are the towers of the El Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia or the Church of the Holy Family. The still unfinished obsession of Antoni Gaudi y Cornet is renowned for its seemingly permanent, “Pardon our Dust” status. The original design from 1882 calls for a total of eighteen spires, representing (in ascending order of height) the Twelve Apostles, the Virgin Mary, the four Evangelists and, of course, the tallest of all being Jesus Christ. As of 2010, eight spires have been built. Inside the cathedral the light is warm with color from the stained glass and the vaulted ceilings designed to allow the colors to seemingly danced through the room as the sun moves.
Barcelona's rich history of art in architecture spans 2000 plus years with every corner adorned in color and texture. The decadently decorated Park Güell has been referred to as the icon of the city and home to the Gaudi House Museum. There are many tours that offers bundle packages to the Sagrada Familia as well as the park and museum for a lower rate than getting each tour individually. Barcelona is also home to the finest educational and art institutions. Among them are the University of Barcelona, the Autonomous University of Barcelona, the Royal Archives of Aragon, the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of Ancient Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Contemporary Art Museum each offering a unique look into this diverse and expansive culture.
Photo Credit sagradafamilia.org
The capital of Spain is a vibrant metropolis known for its exquisite art collections and vibrant nightlife. As darkness falls, the city transforms as the sounds of dance-inducing rhythms fill the air outside the bars, clubs and concert halls lining the downtown area. There’s something for everyone with the atmosphere’s ranging from nostalgic taverns splashed with 19th-century murals, plush lounges in romantic lamp-lit medieval chambers or the boisterous cava bars flashing with light and thumping with sound. “The Godzilla of Madrid clubs”, Teatro Kapital is a 7-story dance club, each story featuring something different to offer it’s guests with a terrace with a retractable awning and an incredible view of the city skyline on the roof.
During the day, visitors can stroll through the elegant boulevards and find some of the finest art museums in the world. The Museo del Prado, for instance, is widely considered to have one of the world's finest collections of European art, dating from the 12th century to the early 20th century. The museum houses up to 8,000 pieces but only displays around 1,500 at time. The nearby Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía is a mere 10 minute walk and is home to Pablo Picasso's famous painting, Geurnica, a depiction of the Spanish Civil War
Along with its extensive collection, the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia offers many temporary exhibitions in its many galleries, making it one of the world's largest museums for modern and contemporary art. Of course, no place will compare to the Royal palace itself, where travelers to Spain can walk through the residential rooms of 18th and 20th century royalty. It comprises over 3000 rooms featuring the Royal Kitchen, Hall of Halberdiers, and the Throne Room, adorned with the ceiling painted by Tiepolo. The Royal Armoury is one of the most significant collections of its kind, housing weapons and armour worn by the kings of Spain and other members of the royal family dating back to the 13th century. Tours around the palace are self guided but you can pick up a guide book for a few extra coin and ours to the museums range from 15€ to 25€ including a guide.
Known as the largest island in the Balearic archipelago, Mallorca doesn’t get its due credit. Aside from it’s premiere beach resorts, the sheltered coves, limestone mountains and Roman remains are breathtaking to see and there’s endless things to do while visiting. The so-called “pearl of the Mediterranean” has a rich history and even richer landscape offering gentle wooded hillsides, towering mountains, flowering almond trees, ancient towns and villages, underground caves and sparkling sandy beaches.
The capital city of Palma is a wonderful blend of old and new traditions. The appropriately named Old Town is an appealing maze of narrow streets that are a delight to explore on foot. The cathedral of Palma de Mallorca is the second highest Gothic cathedral in Europe and boasts an age of nearly 800 years. Straddling the wooded hillside the Castell de Bellver is a unique 14th-century circular castle and the only one of its kind in all of Spain. When ancient cathedrals and castles are no longer call your name, the island of Mallorca offers some of the most stunning beaches in the world and incredible caves to explore. The inland Cuevas del Drach (or Dragon Caves) located near Porto Cristo have inspired the imagination since around 1338 and span over 2000 metres. The four giant caves, called Black Cave, White Cave, Cave of Luis Salvador, and Cave of the French, are a natural wonder formed over thousands of year by the Mediterranean Sea being forced through the entrance over thousands of years. The stalactite formations within the cave are truly astonishing and areas within have been given names such as the Fairies' Theatre and Diana's Bath and the hour long tour even ends with a floating classical concert on Lake Martel, Europe's largest underground lake.
No trip to Spain would be complete without witnessing one of Spain's most infamous and dangerous traditions. This tradition began back in early 14th century while men would try to speed the process by hurrying their cattle using tactics of fear and excitement while transporting cattle in order to sell them at the market. After years of doing this, the trip began to turn into a competition, as young adults would attempt to race in front of the bulls and make it safely to their pens without being overtaken. Today it is the highest profile event of the Sanfermines (San Fermin festival). The Festival celebrates the patron saint of Navarra, San Fermin who was said to be the first bishop of Pamplona and rumored to have baptized 40,000 pagans in just three days. Celebrations in his honor have been taking place since the 12th century and is held every year on July 7-14 with the first bull running on July 7th with a new run each day of the festival starting at 8 am. Among other rules to take part in the event, participants must be at least 18 years old and are strongly suggested to be in good physical shape.
When the festivities are over, the city of Pamplona have so more to offer with great food, friendly people, lovely green parks and great cafés and bars everywhere you go.The Castle Square (Plaza del Castillo) is Pamplona’s main square and features beautifully manicured gardens and terraced sidewalk cafes. Ernest Hemingway is known to have staying in Pamplona while he wrote his famous novel The Sun Also Rises. He was known to have spent a lot time in the Plaza del Castillo and a statue of Hemingway can be found at the Café Iruña.
No matter what kind of trip you are looking for Spain is sure to satisfy. Whether you want to stroll through history with ancient landmarks and cities or a hike through the lush and diverse hills and mountains or simply relax by the glittering waters…