Spain things to see and do

Tourist offices

Spanish Tourist Office in the USA

60 East 42nd Street, Suite 5300 (53rd Floor), New York City, NY 10165-0039, United States
Tel: (212) 265 8822 (visits by appointment only).
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 0900-1700.
www.spain.info

Spanish Tourist Office in the UK

64 North Row, London, W1K 7DE, United Kingdom
Tel: (020) 7317 2011.
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 0915-1600 (by appointment only - appointments must be booked by 13.30).
www.spain.info

Things to see and do

Camino de Santiago

Known as St James' Way, the pilgrimage route is a number of different walking trails that lead to the St James Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia in northwest Spain. This was originally a pilgrimage route, although it has become a recreational trail these days. The route is marked with a scallop shell, the symbol of St James.

Skiing

Spain has many natural ski runs and winter resorts, all well equipped with facilities. There are five main skiing regions, including the Pyrenean and Cantabrian ranges, and check out the southern Sierra Nevada, east of Granada, for the chance of combining a bit of winter sun with your snow.

Ávila

Take the high road to Spain's loftiest provincial capital, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its perfectly preserved 11th-century walls and for being the birthplace of the 16th-century mystic, St Teresa.

Barcelona

Immerse yourself in Barcelona (www.barcelonaturisme.com), from the cramped alleyways of the Barri Gótic (Gothic quarter) to the 19th-century Eixample quarter, where many Gaudi buildings lie. Stroll along the Rambla and on to old Barceloneta and the seafront. Sights include the Sagrada Familia (Holy Family), the Seu (old cathedral), the Episcopal Palace and the Palau de la Generalitat. Take the funicular to Tibidabo or a cable car to Montjuic.

Bilbao

Visit Frank Gehry's marvellous Guggenheim Museum, which has turned the main city of the Basque region into a top tourist destination. The museum is a masterpiece of 20th-century architecture. Bilbao's Old Town is extensive with a gothic cathedral and atmospheric shopping streets studded with gourmet pintxo bars.

Bullfighting

The controversial tradition of bullfighting is still very much alive in Spain, especially so in Madrid. Most towns only hold bullfights during their annual spring or summer fiestas, but Madrid's Las Ventas Bullfighting Ring hold regular corridas.

Cádiz province

The province that packs it all in could take weeks of your time, from the hiking around the picturesque white villages of its interior to its breezy Atlantic beaches and world-famous Sanlúcar prawns. Cádiz itself is a spectacular peninsular city with a unique atmosphere, while Jerez is home of sherry.

Caves of Drach (Cuevas del Drach)

The Caves of Drach are the most famous tourist attraction on the island of Mallorca. There are three chambers inside the caves, Cueva Negra (Black Cave), Cueva Blanca (White Cave) and Cueva Luis Salvator (Luis Salvator Cave). The latter is named after the Archduke Ludwig Salvator of Austria who invited Édouard-Alfred Martel to explore the caves in 1896; the caves are also home to Lago Martel (Lake Martel), one of the largest subterranean lakes in the world. Visitors can take a boat ride on the lake and see the beautiful limestone formations, including stalagmites protuding from the rockface and stalactites hanging down from the roof of the cave. As part of their journey underground, they are accompanied by the sound of musicians performing classical music, including compositions by Chopin, every hour on a boat.

Córdoba

Live and breathe the essence of Moorish Spain in the winding streets of Córdoba (www.turismodecordoba.org), the former seat of the 10th-century Caliphate. The Mezquita (Great Mosque) is a mystic wonder. The building was originally a pagan temple, then a Christian Church, before the Moors converted it into a mosque. Today, it is World Heritage Site and the most accomplished monument of the Umayyad Caliphate. Just outside the city, the ruins of Medina Azahara are similarly atmospheric.

Cycling routes

Pedal along one of the many vias verdes (www.viasverdes-ffe.com): scenic railway tracks converted to cycle paths. Mountain biking is becoming increasingly popular, and paths and tracks are plentiful.

Enjoy Moorish pleasures

Soak in a real Arab bath or hammam, reconstructed to luxury standards to suit modern tastes. You can find them in many southern cities, often combined with a tetería, where you can sip mint tea on low cushions after your bath.

Flamenco

Feel the passion of flamenco, in music, dance and song, throughout Andalucía and particularly the cities of Sevilla and Jerez de la Frontera.

Garajonay National Park

Situated in the very centre of the island of La Gomera in the Canary Islands archipelago, Garajonay National Park boasts stunning scenery set amongst rocky vistas and is a popular visit for outdoor enthusiasts. Measuring 3,984 hectares (9,845 acres), the area became a designated national park in 1981 and was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1986 in recognition of the its outstanding natural beauty. Laurel forest covers 70 per cent of the park and numerous springs and streams and the regularity of the ocean mist assure the growth of lush vegetation much of which is unique to the park. Garajonay is a welcome respite from the livelier towns and resorts of the Canary Islands and is tranquil haven that attracts approximately 450,000 visitors each year. There's also a visitor information and education centre at Juego de Bolos just outside the park boundary.

Go fishing

Spain has opportunities for all types of fishing - the rivers and streams of the Pyrenees and the Picos de Europa offer good freshwater casting, while trout is abundant throughout the country. Permits must be requested from the regional authorities.

Green valleys of Asturias

The green valleys and picturesque fishing villages of this northern province (www.infoasturias.com) don't feel like traditional Spain, and when you encounter the cider culture and bagpipes you'll wonder just how strong Celtic roots can be. Super seafood and hospitality redeem the regular showers.

Madrid

Explore Spain's capital (www.esmadrid.com). The Prado is a paradise for art lovers. The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia focuses on modern art and houses Picasso's famous Guernica. Also don't miss the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid's Royal Palace, the atmosphere around Puerta del Sol and Madrid's historic square, the Plaza Mayor.

Mérida

Capture a whiff of ancient Rome among the stunning ruins of this western town, which also boasts an excellent Roman museum and underrated local wines. Extremadura, home to acorn-eating pigs that produce some of Spain's finest ham, is scorching in summer and chilly in winter but a much-bypassed region that rewards exploration.

Monasteries

Heartbreakingly beautiful Romanesque and Gothic architecture can be found across the north of the country, with lonely San Juan de la Peña in the Pyrenees competing with Soria's San Juan de Duero and Burgos province's Santo Domingo de Silos as the most atmospheric cloisters.

Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial

The Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial was built in the latter half of the 16th century by King Philip II of Spain, to commemorate his victory over the French at the battle of San Quentin. Housing a monastery, two palaces and a library, the complex was intended to serve all the functions of church and state. The magnificent interior houses numerous works of art as well as 40,000 volumes in the library that was founded by Philip II himself. The monastery is famous for its symmetrical design, with four towers marking each of the monastery's four corners, and for being the resting place of the remains of many Spanish kings and queens in the Baroque Royal Pantheon.

Mountain climbing

There are great opportunities for rock climbing in Spain's mountains. Well-known, challenging climbs include the Naranjo de Bulnes in the Picos de Europa and Monte Perdido in Ordesa National Park.

Pilgrim's Way

The Pilgrim's Way (also known as St James' Way) is in fact a number of different walking trails that all lead to the cathedral of St James in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwest Spain. It's here where the body of the fisherman and apostle Saint James the Great is said to have been laid to rest in the eighth century. The origins of the trail date back to this time when Christian pilgrims would set off on the annual journey to the saint's final resting place. It is one of the most important Christian pilgrimages alongside those to Rome and Jerusalem. The Pilgrim's Way still attracts thousands of pilgrims each year in addition to recreational walkers who come to enjoy this popular walking trail. The route is marked with a scallop shell, the symbol of St James.

Play a round of Golf

Golf (www.golfspain.com) is immensely popular, with Costa del Sol and La Manga two of Spain's premier golfing destinations. The south of Spain has over 200 golf courses including many of mainland Europe's finest championship courses.

Run with bulls

Run with the bulls or join with the crowds at the Festival of San Fermín in Pamplona (www.sanfermin.com). The famous 'running of the bulls' through the streets of the centre takes place in July and attracts huge numbers of tourists.

Salamanca

See this ancient university town with many superb Baroque and Renaissance buildings, including its majestic Plaza Mayor, the finest public square in Spain. As well as the twin cathedrals and fine university buildings, visit the absorbing Museo Art Nouveau y Art Deco, with its fascinating collections from the first half of the 20th century.

Sevilla

Andalucía's hedonistic capital (www.turismo.sevilla.org) is the romantic heart of Spain, city of flamenco, of Carmen and Don Juan. Wander the narrow streets of the Jewish quarter, snacking at tapas bars, and admire the immense cathedral, the world's largest gothic temple and third largest Christian church. Opposite, the Alcázar is a superb example of Mudéjar (Christian-Moorish) architecture. Also worth a visit is La Giralda, which was the minaret of the former mosque and the highest tower in the world when it was first built. Each April, this is the epicentre of the Semana Santa (Easter Holy Week) celebrations.

Terra Mítica

Opened in 2000, Terra Mítica is a giant amusement park located just outside the popular Spanish resort of Benidorm. As well as regular live shows, there are five different areas at the park, all of which are associated with the Mediterranean Sea: Egypt, Iberia, Greece, Rome and The Islands. At the park, visitors can travel through ancient civilisations and go on the many themed rides. En route, visitors will encounter characters and creatures from many myths and legends, including coming face-to-face with the Minotaur on El Laberinto del Minotauro (Minotaur's Labyrinth) and attempting to rescue Ulysses on the El Rescate de Ulises (Ulysses' Rescue) ride.
Air: Alicante Airport. Rail: Train: Terra Mítica Station. Road: Car: A-7 to Terra Mítica's exit which is signposted between Benidorm and Villajoyosa (from Valencia or Alicante).

The Alhambra

The impressive palace-fortress of Alhambra (www.alhambra.org) is a supreme creation of Moorish Spain, featuring majestic Arabic gates, intricate carvings and patios – Spain’s most significant Islamic architecture. Perched on the hilltop of Granada city, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most visited monuments in Spain.

Toledo

Head south of Madrid to this ancient Spanish capital (www.toledoweb.org), which is dominated by the magnificent cathedral and Alcázar. The cathedral has a magnificent series of paintings by El Greco, who made his home here; his Burial of the Count of Orgaz, is in the Santo Tomé Church.

Universal Mediterranea

This giant theme park, which opened in 1994, attracts thousands of holidaymakers every year who journey through its five worlds (Mediterránia, Far West, Mexico, Polynesia and China) on its many rides and attractions. Enjoying an enviable coastal location, between Salou and Vila-seca on Spain's Costa Dorada, this 117-hectare site (289 acre) boasts entertainment aimed at all age groups. There are nightly shows, including Fiestaventura in the Mediterranean world, as well as many other attractions, including the Sea Odyssey underwater adventure, the Stampida roller coaster ride, and the Grand Canyon Rapids and Tutuki Splash water rides. Visitors who wish to spend a few days in the park can stay in one of the many hotels on site.
Air: Barcelona International Airport, Reus Airport. Rail: Train: Port Aventura Station. Road: Car: Hwy-A7 or Hwy-N340 (from Valencia or Barcelona); Hwy-N240 or Hwy-N420 (from Tarragona).

Valencia

Check out Santiago Calatrava's City of Arts and Science Park in this forward-looking southeastern city (www.comunitatvalenciana.com). The Hemispheric, an amazing glass structure, houses a planetarium, IMAX dome and laserium. While in Valencia, visit the cathedral. It claims possession of the Holy Grail.

Watersports

Swimming, jetskiing and waterskiing facilities can be found at nearly all seaside resorts. Spain's premier resort for windsurfing and kitesurfing is Tarifa, on the Atlantic coast, and it is blessed with strong winds and a beautiful stretch of aqua-blue beach. Surfing is big in the north, particularly around the Basque village of Mundaka. Spain is also great for sailing.

Wine Tasting

Wine tourism is relatively new in Spain, but the bodegas have upped their act recently. The wineries of La Rioja now offer everything from 5-star architectural treats with grapeskin spa treatments to state-of-the-art wine museums.

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