Spain is more than bullfights, flamenco dancers and crowded beaches. It's a spectacular and diverse country, the north resembling the rolling, green hills of Ireland and the south giving you a taste of Moroccan landscapes and architecture. Its tremendous history is reflected in its prehistoric cave paintings, Moorish palaces, crumbling castles, Roman ruins, Gothic and Renaissance cathedrals as well as some very unique modern architecture. The uniqueness of Spain lies in the separate kingdoms which made up the original Spanish nation. These regions remain diverse in their language, culture, cuisine and art. These regions include: Andalucía, , Asturias, Basque Country, the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands, Cantabria, Castilla La Mancha, Castilla León, Catalonia, Extremadura, Galicia, La Rioja, Madrid, Murcia, Navarra and Valencia. Areas of interest are not limited to each region, here are some highlights:
The Moorish influence (the Moors from Morocco were the dominating civilization for 800 years) in Andalucía can be seen in the sumptuous Alhambra palace in , the mezquita , a former mosque in Córdoba and the Alcázar and Giralda tower in Sevilla. The White villages are hidden joys, as the small villages surrounded by natural beauty can not fail to impress.
Remarkable Christian monuments, from Romanesque to contemporary, can be found throughout Spain. A possible tour to the most fantastic cathedrals will take you through , León, , and . The pilgrim route to Santiago is lined by gorgeous Romanesque churches.
Excellent and quiet beaches can be found near Cádiz and Almería in the south as well as near the coasts of Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and Euskadi. If you enjoy extremely developed resort towns, there are plenty of crowded beaches on the Costa de la Luz and the Costa del sol.
Fantastically preserved medieval towns are places not to miss and Toledo should be at the top of the list. is the capital of medieval Spain, at its best, with synagogues, an incredible cathedral and former mosques. Other interesting medieval towns include: Baeza and Úbeda (Andalucía), Ciudad Rodrigo (Salamanca), Trujillo and Cáceres (Extremadura), Albarracín, Sos del Rey Católico and Mudejar's Unesco's World Heritage ( ), and Santillana del Mar (Cantabria).
The most spectacular Roman sites are based in Mérida, where you can also find an interesting museum on Roman era. There is also a remarkable aqueduct in and other fascinating Roman ruins in Carmona, , Empuries, Italica and Caesaraugusta ( , ).
Very unique modern art and architecture can be found in and . The visionary architecture of Antoni Gaudí and the Picasso museum are in Barcelona while Madrid is home to Spain’s top three art museums.
If you would rather get some fresh air, Spain is filled with opportunities to visit wildlife parks as well as trekking. The Pyrenees, especially around the Aragón area, are the best areas for trekking. Andalucía has smaller "cordilleras", though still spectacular. The Picos de Europa in Cantabria and Asturias are also offer arguable the best mountain activities including some of europes best kayaking. Beautiful parks include Monfrague in Extremadura and Ordesa in the Aragonese Pyrenees.
A very special part of Spain, with its own language called "Gallego" pronounced "gayego". It borders Portugal and is home to one of Spain's greatest University; the university of Santiago de Compostela. (It's like a more beautiful, warmer, more lively, less flat version of Cambridge) The clothing empire Zara was started by a galician... que lo sepas!!!
I've found the people in Galicia to be some of the friendliest, most open that I have ever met! As the main cities have big universities, there is a diverse student culture (with quite a big 'indie/hipster' scene, plenty of nightlife and fun to be had. The galicians are very proud of their native language Gallego and their heritage and will be keen to teach you about it. They liken their way of life to the irish, due to their mutual celtic origins. Galicia is full of rustic tiny villages and incredible natural countryside and forests. The spanish spoken there is the most easy to understand that I have come across, their accent being clear, precise and melodious (sounding slightly italian in intonation).
There is a very famous pilgramage to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia called the Camino de Santiago which translates as the way of Saint James. There are many ways to approach the cathedral, all of different distances.The most popular is called "el camino frances" and starts in south west France. the most popular way to do the pilgrimage is by foot or by bike. It is a unique experience. There is extremely cheap accommodation along the way in various forms only available to pilgrims. It is one of the best ways to explore Spain as it offers the chance to traverse the country seeing all the different autonomias under the guise of a pilgrim and therefore benefiting from bargain accommodation.
The main food of Galicia is sea food. Specialities include pulpo gallego which is octopus and a paprika based sause. Galicians eat alot of empanada (pie) and paella (rice based dish). Learn how to peel prawns straight out of the sea, and even try some barnacles! (percebes).
Tourism has hardley hit Galicia. It was traditionally a very backwards part of the country and has relied heavily on agriculture. This, in my opinion, is what makes the place so special. It has an untouched, authentic feel about it and offers a great range of attractions the catedral de santiago being only one.
It is an area rather different to the rest of Spain, and therefore somewhere you should definitely consider visiting if travelling around the country. You are guaranteed to have a lot of fun :)
Recommended things to do and places to go
The Segrada Familia the cathedral Gaudi started and is still in the process of being built, make sure you climb to the top, and take your ISIC card, it's the only valid student discount.
Parc Guell is cool, we spent the afternoon wanderng around and chatting to a busker, who invited us to spend the evening with him and his friends in a bar near av. Diagonal. It was originally intended to be an elaborate housing estate and some say it feels like "you're in Alice & Wonderland". The Gaudi building at Passeig de Gracia is worth a look too.
The Barrio Gothica is nice too, hang on to your belonging and watch for pickpockets. We actually toured it at night, whilst a bit drunk, and watched two guys play jazz at 3am by the cathedral
- Monserrat - a day is needed for this excursion which you can access by car, cable car or the rack railway. At the top you will find beautiful church and stunning view of the landscape.
- Tibidabo - On the western side of the city (top of the metro map). First you get the brown line to Av. Tibidabo. You then get the old "Blue Tram" to the base of the mountain and after this you get the mountain train to the summit. On some days this train doesn't run but there is an alternative bus service. Once at the top there is yet another church with a large statue of Jesus overlooking the city. Make sure to go on a clear day with your camera as you get a perfect birds eye view of Barcelona.
- Casa Batlo and other Casa - I missed this, but I can see from prospectus that they're nice.
There's a great park by Estacio Franca, lots of trees and shade to escape the heat, perfect for a siesta.
I missed Montjuic and the Miro Foundation', but apprently they are well worth seeing.
La Rambla - everyone goes on about it but other than being central, expensive and full of other tourists it's not great, a pickpocket hotspot and not alot to see or do other than shop, and buy postcards. All the decent youth hostels are here though.
Beachwise, I recommend Barceloneta (go south from Estacio Francia, and along the port to the end, the nicest bit of the beach is one the left past the youth hostel). You can see all along the coast, and the beach is lush. This is where we slept all week, its quiet at night and there are regular police patrols so it's safe too. If you have the time and the transport a visit further down the coast is well worth it. The beaches near Sitges are beautiful and there are less tourists and people trying to sell you stuff.
(credit to Carl & Michelin Man)
Danzatoria club in Tibidabo - a five floor club with different kinds of music. It's not in the city centre, so you should get a taxi in. Getting a taxi back to the city centre is a nightmare so you should try and prebook one. The place is a bit pricey, but absolutely worth it. Check it out http://www.danzatoria-barcelona.com/eng.html. Dress smart! (credit to salsitas)
'Carpe Diem by the beach - a restaurant/bar. That's a bit expensive as well, but the place is really nice. The food is nice too. And of course Salsitas which is off Las Ramblas. And also there was this place called La Terrassa or something like that which was pretty good too. (credit to socialist cook)
Food - Sagrada Familia was as good as everyone says it is and Le Pedrera was definitely a highlight for me.
The famous food is Paella, best with seafood. They also have a vegetarian food called Fallafel. Their famous alcoholic drink is Sangria. The taste is really nice. Reply With Quote
In terms of my own recommendations for anyone going soon, for some great Tapas go to a place called Qu Qu. Very nice place on one of the roads off the Placa Catalunya and also really cost effective (IM me if you want the actual road I cant remember if off head) - also for some great Catalan food I recommend Les Qunize Nits - its in the Placa del Reial (quite a famous square off La Rambla). It will stand out from the other restaurants which line the square as from about 8/9 ish there will be a queue outside it. Dont be put off by the queue - the food is well worth it and and its also very reasonably priced. (credit to zillysteph)
Recommended hostels/places to stay
- Centric Point - Cheap hostel; located on the richest street in Barcelona (Passeig de Gracia). Gave free entrance to many clubs (credit to caramel_qt3, seconded by Michelin Man)
- Gothic Point - Similar to Centric Point and as the name suggests run by the same people. Equally good (credit to Michelin Man)
- Kabul Hostel - popular hostel in Barcelona; meet lots of people; party social atmosphere (credit to Exoskeletal)
- Royal Hotel - just under £100/night, right on Las Rambles (credit to Ynox)
- Paraiso Travellers Hostel - good location, 10 min walk from La Rambla, and cheap, at 16euros a night, with a nice balcony and free internet. (Subbacultcha)
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