Beyond Barcelona: 10 Stunning Places You Need To See in Spain
There’s no denying that Spain is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, with a coastline that covers thousands of miles, a world-class tapas culture, and a history that predates the Roman empire. You’ll want to stay on the beaten path at least long enough to see big Andalusian cities in southern Spain like Seville, Granada, and Cordoba, as well as laze on the Costa del Sol. But there are plenty of smaller cities that are just as worthwhile. Here are the 10 destinations outside of Barcelona where you absolutely have to go in Spain.
The Great Mosque of Cordoba, or Mezquita, is one of the most iconic sites in all of Andalusia, Spain’s southernmost region, housing hundreds of pillars connected by red-and-white-striped arches, and sky-high ceilings showcasing intricate patterns. Outside the Mezquita, Cordoba is a city of Moorish and Renaissance palaces, a bustling central square called Plaza de la Corredera, blossom-covered cobblestone streets, and tranquil courtyards full of orange trees.
The Mezquita is to Cordoba what the Alhambra is to Granada. After touring the grand Moorish palace and fortress complex, spend your days sampling traditional Andalusian cuisine, surveying silks at Alcaiceria Market, walking the cobbled lanes of the Albaicin district, and appreciating the flora of the Generalife gardens at the summer palace uphill of the Alhambra. Because Granada is located at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, there are also plenty of views and outdoor opportunities to explore, including beaches all along the coast. After all of that, to get really intimately acquainted with the city, consider trying these local-led Airbnb Experiences in Granada.
Located in the province of Málaga in Andalusia, Frigiliana is famous for having whitewashed buildings that line streets adorned with ceramic mosaics and bright flowers like bougainvillea. In the historic quarter, cobblestone alleyways lead to delightful courtyards containing breathtaking fountains and a network of impressive aqueducts. Add in archaeological ruins providing insight into the area’s Roman past, mountainous nature parks protecting species such as Spanish ibex and peregrine foxes, and a lively roster of annual events, and Frigiliana is an obvious must.
An enchanting coastal resort, Nerja lies on the Costa del Sol in Andalusia. It’s a popular destination for travelers looking to experience traditional Spanish culture while enjoying access to beautiful Mediterranean beaches, plus limestone cliffs and cave complexes. Food is a major draw, from seaside restaurants serving tapas to local markets selling fresh fish — not to mention hand-crafted leather goods and other local crafts. For the best views, head to the Balcony of Europe for the most picturesque panorama of the Mediterranean Sea.
From the Moorish Alcázar Palace, to the Gothic Sevilla Cathedral, to the ceramic-tiled Plaza de España, Seville is full of architectural marvels from all ages. Two of its most skyline-defining structures are La Giralda, a 12th-century bell tower, and Torre del Oro, a 13th-century military watchtower — take a boat out on the Guadalquivir River to see the whole city at once. With a variety of tapas bars and plenty of live flamenco shows, the capital and largest city in Andalusia also invites you to explore the vibrancy of traditional Spanish cuisine and culture.
The capital of the Extremadura in western Spain, Merida was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993 due to its beautifully preserved Roman remains, including an amphitheater, aqueduct, and bridge built by Augustus Caesar. There are plenty of opportunities for sightseeing and exploring Arabic and Jewish heritage hidden within its old streets, as well, and even enigmatic Neolithic dolmens located on nearby hilltops.
Another UNESCO World Heritage site, Toledo is an ancient city that rests atop a mountain above the Tagus River. It’s known for ornate architecture that spans centuries of Islamic, Jewish, and Christian civilizations, from the Alcázar Fortress to the 10th-century Toledo Cathedral. Its Jewish Quarter offers insight into Spain’s medieval past when it was a prosperous center of Jewish thought and culture. Toledo is also home to a plethora of art galleries, tapas spots, and interesting shops surrounding its labyrinth of narrow cobbled alleys.
Málaga is a port city on the Costa del Sol between the Mediterranean Sea and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada range. Beaches like Playa el Palo are the obvious reason to visit, but the city also has everything from ancient architecture and art galleries to taverns serving delicious tapas and zesty nightlife. You can learn about Málaga’s past at the hilltop Gibralfaro castle or head outdoors and explore the Natural Park of Montes de Málaga.
Segovia is an ancient city located northwest of Madrid in the Castille and León region of central Spain. Its famous landmarks include a Roman aqueduct, the Alcázar castle, and the Segovia Cathedral. Visitors can explore the city’s extensive history through a tour of the aqueduct, which dates back to the first century AD, while the Alcázar castle offers visitors a peek into royal life in the 16th-century. Two cathedrals also stand out as must-sees: the ninth-century Nuestra Señora de la Fuencisla Cathedral and the 16th-century Catarina De Santiago Cathedral.
Spain’s capital city and a jewel of the Iberian Peninsula, Madrid is a tapestry of winding streets, regal buildings, large plazas, vibrant parks and gardens, delicious restaurants, chic bars, and open-air cafes. Among the many highlights are the Prado Museum, the Royal Palace of Madrid, and Gran Vía street, a central promenade comparable to Barcelona’s Las Ramblas. After indulging in the requisite history and food tourism, see if you can catch a Real Madrid or Atlético Madrid football game to better understand the local soccer obsession, then follow it up at a restaurant that serves the local delicacy cocido madrileño, a chickpea stew.