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Budget airlines and affordable fares have turned Spain into a beach resort haven for northern Europeans wishing to escape their own (sometimes) damp and dreary climates. With sun-bleached beaches and a favourable exchange rate for most travellers, it's easy to see why Spain is such a popular choice for an unforgettable beach holiday in Europe. An incredible 53 million people visit Spain each year (the second most in Europe after France), and the country deserves its formidable reputation as a tourist haven.
Some may feel that the Canary and Balearic Islands have been overrun by tourists, and this is true to some extent. Tenerife, Lanzarote, and Mallorca have become synonymous with cheap package holidays and warm beer, and Ibiza's reputation has been somewhat tarnished by the revellers frequenting its famous dance clubs and beach parties. However, even in these crowded resort areas you will find many magical, unspoilt corners awaiting discovery.
Spain is comprised of numerous autonomous regions, offering great variation within one country. The hundreds of miles of Mediterranean coastline provide ample opportunity to get off the beaten track, and the country's vibrant cities and colourful festivals will amaze and delight even the most seasoned traveller. Art lovers can get lost in the Spain of Gaudi, Dali, and Picasso, of Goya and Velazquez - proudly displayed in the country's museums and galleries.
Spain's Pamplona is a unique experience of thundering streets that vibrate to the rhythm of man and beast during the annual running of the bulls, and while the whole country celebrates each February with the Carnaval, no place does it better than Sitges.
Barcelona is Spain's showcase of the unique architectural style of Gaudi's bizarre organic turrets and balconies. For a more provincial experience, the Valencian town of Buñol goes wild every year with the La Tomatina festival, a time when the region's surplus tomatoes following the annual harvest are dumped on the streets and pelted about in a friendly riot.
Spain is also a country rich in heritage, and the historic cities of Toledo, Salamanca, Seville, and Granada promise a wealth of early Christian and Moorish buildings and monuments, as well as the remains of some incredible medieval sites. Spain has six cities that have been declared UNESCO World Heritage sites, more than any other country in the world.
Spain's many attractions and the journeys between them are infused with the warm welcome of its diverse people. Holidays here should be slow, with room for spontaneity amidst the laidback lifestyle which Spaniards have perfected.
The wealth of things to see and do is such that the top attractions in Spain are whole cities, towns, and islands, and a single holiday can barely scratch the surface of what this country has to offer. It is often best to plan an itinerary around a single city or region.
Toledo is famous for its Roman architecture and ancient history, while Santiago de Compostela bursts with religious significance and art. Cordoba entrances visitors with the medieval charm of the Mezquita, while Barcelona is home to Gaudi and almost anything a tourist could want. Madrid is the capital, ideal for a cosmopolitan Spanish experience while Grenada contains mountains, tradition, and architecture.
Partygoers will look no further than Ibiza, and Bilbao is a hub of industrial creativity and boasts the Guggenheim Museum. Both Mallorca and Tenerife enjoy spectacular beaches and stunning landscapes, as does San Sebastian along with its good food. Lastly, Seville offers fun after dark and a wealth of history.
Granada is a high altitude city of romance and folklore, boasting one of the most popular tourist attractions in Spain: the Alhambra. A palace-fortress built up between the 9th and 16th centuries, the Alhambra is the most important and spectacular piece of Moorish architecture in Spain. Set against the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the huge complex includes the Summer Palace with its fountains and gardens, the Palacios Nazaries with its intricate ornamentation, and a hilltop fortress. The queue to get into this UNESCO World Heritage Site gets ridiculously long and tickets should be booked online or booked weeks in advance to avoid disappointment. At least one full day is required to really explore the vast complex. Although the Alhambra is the city's main attraction, Granada boasts a number of other gems, including the Cathedral containing the Royal Chapel where Isabel and Ferdinand of Spain lie buried, and a Moorish medina area, known as the Albaicin, which has labyrinthine, narrow streets and whitewashed houses. North of Granada is Sacromonte Hill, famed for its cave dwellings, which were once the home of a large gypsy community. The Interpretation Centre has an ethnographic museum detailing the history and culture of the cave dwellers.
One of Madrid's most famous attractions is the 19th-century Prado Museum, one of the world's greatest art galleries, with more than 7,000 paintings that include masterpieces by Fra Angelico, Botticelli, El Bosco, Titian, Rembrandt, and Velazquez. The museum began as a Royal collection, which succeeding dynasties have added to. The collection naturally focuses on the Spanish masters, particularly Goya, whose exhibited works fascinatingly follow the development of his painting from the sun-soaked early scenes of joyful festivities to the grim madness characterising his 'black period'. The Prado has few equals - and whether you are an art lover or not, you should check out this magnificent Madrid attraction. The collection is vast so cater at least a few hours to really be able to appreciate it. There is a cafe and restaurant in the museum, as well as a gift shop and bookshop. Tickets can be booked in advance online, allowing the prepared to skip entrance queues. Guided tours are available, but groups wanting a tour must make reservations at least 24 hours in advance. Audio guides are available for hire in multiple languages. No photography is permitted in the galleries.
The second gallery in Madrid's golden triangle of art museums is the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Housing the former private collection of the Thyssen family, the works were bought by the city of Madrid to enrich its impressive collection of art treasures. The collection, housed in the restored 18th-century Palacio de Villahermosa near the Prado, contains more than 800 paintings, sculptures, carvings, and tapestries, ranging from primitive Flemish works to contemporary pieces. Among the highlights are works by Renoir, Durer, and Van Eyck, but many masters are represented in the Thyssen, including Claude Monet, John Sargent Singer, Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse, and Edvard Munch. The collection includes some major American works as well. Guided group tours with experts are available both during opening hours and when the museum is closed, but these must be booked in advance. The museum also hosts lectures, workshops, courses, and concerts, check the official website for details. For many people, the Thyssen is the favourite of the three famous Madrid galleries due to its compact nature, variety, attractive building, and atmosphere. It is also usually the least crowded of the three major galleries.
One of Madrid's famed art galleries, the Reina Sofia is dedicated to 20th century Spanish art, having been designed to give Spain a museum to equal France's Pompidou Centre and London's Tate Gallery. The museum was opened by Queen Sofia in 1986 and is housed in the former Hospital de San Carlos. The artworks displayed here include those of Spanish masters Juan Gris, Julio Gonzalez, Salvador Dali, Equipo Cronica, Gerardo Rueda, Joan Miro, and Pablo Picasso, among others, and there are also international artists on display. The star attraction of the museum is Picasso's controversial Guernica, depicting the Nazi bombing of the Basque town in 1937 in support of Franco's cause in the Spanish Civil War. Until 1980, this famous painting hung in New York's Museum of Modern Art. The top floor of the museum is a library dedicated to art, and there is a bookshop and a cafeteria. There is also outdoor sculpture garden, which is pleasant to stroll through. The museum is immensely popular, especially when there are high-profile temporary exhibits, and the queues can get very long making it well worth booking your tickets online in advance.
The massive Royal Palace on the Plaza de Oriente in Madrid dates from 1734, when the 3,000-roomed royal residence was commissioned by Philip V. The imposing palace was built on the site of a Moorish fortress which dated back to the 9th century. It was last called home by the royal family in 1931, but is still an official royal residence and is used for some royal events. Most of the rooms are now open to the public, and others are used for state business. English tours are run regularly, lasting about two hours, taking visitors to the reception room and state apartments, the impressive armoury, and the royal pharmacy. The grandiose state apartments are filled with art treasures, antiques, and opulent Rococo décor that could even rival Versailles. The palace gardens, in their current reincarnation, date from 1890 and contain a number of sculptures. The palace affords visitors great views over the city and there is plenty to explore in the vast palace complex. Apart from the guided tours, visitors can self-guide with a rented audio guide, or simply purchase a brochure in their language of choice.
Madrid's famous central arcaded square dates from 1619 and was built by Philip III, whose statue still stands in the centre of the cobbled expanse. In medieval times, the Plaza de Arrabal, as it was then known, was the venue for numerous public spectacles including knights' tournaments, festivals, and executions. The buildings surrounding the square were burnt completely to the ground three times in 1631, 1672, and 1790. The most famous building on the square is the Casa de la Panaderia, which predates the plaza, but has also been rebuilt several times. The Plaza Mayor was always intended to be a public gathering space, and has been used for bull fights, royal events, and military parades. It's still the epicentre of certain celebrations in Madrid, but the majority of people who congregate in the sidewalk cafes to sip sangria on summer nights are tourists, enjoying impromptu music performances and watching the passing parade. The Plaza Mayor is invariably a stop on sightseeing tours of Madrid and well worth a visit.
The Panteon de Goya (Goya's Tomb) is situated in the Glorieta de San Antonio de la Florida, and is known as Goya's Sistine Chapel. The artist decorated the dome and cupola of the little chapel with a fresco depicting the miracles of St Anthony, with the use of sponges, a project that took six weeks to complete. Amazingly, Goya persisted with the project despite the fact that he was struggling with deafness and apparently felt dizzy most of the time he was working on the ceiling. Mirrors have been placed in strategic places to provide better glimpses of the art. The chapel also contains the artist's tomb. The art work in his final resting place is more bright and cheerful than is typical of Goya. But his inclusion of ordinary working class people, not to mention prostitutes and beggars, angered the Spanish nobility. Luckily his patron, King Carlos IV, approved of the fresco. Next door to the Ermita there is a replica of the chapel, which is used for religious services, so as to preserve the original as a museum.
Madrid's lush central park covers 350 acres (142 hectares) and was originally laid out as the private garden of Philip IV. Opened to the public in 1868, it remains a favourite spot with locals and tourists. The vast park features formal gardens, statues, fountains, lakes, exhibition halls, children's playgrounds, and outdoor cafes. Visitors can stroll among the trees, admire the rose garden, and take a boat ride on the lake. Although usually quiet during the week, at weekends the park comes alive with buskers, clowns, fortune-tellers, and sidewalk painters. Thanks to its size, even when the park is crowded it is possible to find a quiet nook. There is a lot to see and do in the park, but favourite attractions include the metal and glass Palacio de Cristal, among the trees to the south of the lake, which was once a greenhouse but is now used as a space for temporary exhibitions; and the Bosque del Recuerdo (Memorial Forest), in the southwest of the park, which is a simple memorial to the 191 victims of the 2004 train bombings. For exercise, relaxation on the lawns, and picnics, the Parque del Buen Retiro is ideal.
Arguably the most famous street in Europe, the wide tree-lined boulevard known as La Rambla (or Las Ramblas) is a long continuous pedestrian avenue that technically changes names five times as it cuts through Barcelona's Old Town, the Barri Gotic, from the Placa Catalunya to the city's port. It is lined with cafes, restaurants, and shops, usually thronged with leisurely walkers enjoying the sights and sounds. The sprawling marriage of nature and creative architecture and ornamentation that is Gaudi's Guell Park is a must. The pretty square of Placa Reial, enclosed by impressive buildings and promising some fantastic restaurants and nightclubs, is a popular social venue and sometimes hosts concerts and live performances. Also look out for the iconic mosaic by Joan Miro as you walk over it, near the Liceu Theatre. The street is wonderful for shopping and attracts all sorts of buskers and street artists. It is a great area to visit at night, but travellers should note that the southern end of La Rambla becomes somewhat seedy after dark and is an unofficial red light district.
Five palaces dating from the 13th to 15th centuries have been converted into the Picasso Museum, celebrating the country's most famous artist. Sitting on Carrer Montcada, a street known for its elegant medieval structures, it is home to one of the most complete collections of works from his youth and formative years. Pablo Picasso spent his early years in Barcelona (between 1901 and 1906), and the museum is now one of the city's top attractions. It was his wish that his early work would be displayed in Barcelona and the core of the collection was donated by the artist himself. The permanent collection now consists of 4,249 works and the art is complemented interestingly by the old buildings, which showcase the Catalan Gothic style. There are a number of childhood portraits and paintings, as well as engravings, drawings, and art from his Blue and Rose Periods. It is important for visitors to understand that this museum does not house Picasso's most famous and recognisable pieces, but is dedicated instead to an exploration of the artist's formative years and development. Audio guides are available. The queues can get really long at the museum and it is best to arrive early or book in advance online.
Antonio Gaudi left his mark on Barcelona nowhere more than in the gardens of Guell Park. Sitting on Camel Hill and offering splendid views of the city, it was originally planned to be a garden city suburb. But only two houses were completed before it was turned into a public recreational park. The gardens are festooned with examples of Gaudi's strange and mesmerising work, including flights of stairs, columns, and a plaza decorated with mosaics. Famous features include Gaudi's dragon, and the Sala Hipostila, or Doric Temple, which is a forest of 88 stone columns. Gaudi enjoyed experimenting with natural forms and the park is a fascinating mixture of art and nature. The pink fairytale house standing at the entrance to the park was once home to Gaudi and his niece. However, it's now a museum containing some Gaudi-designed furniture, décor, drawings, and portraits. Guided walking tours of the park are available and usually very informative, but it is enjoyable to stroll around without a guide too. To fully explore the park at your leisure you will need at least half a day.
Designed by modernist architect Antoni Gaudi, the bizarre Sagrada Família is one of Catalonia's most intriguing landmarks. Building started in 1882, but it remains unfished and an object of controversy. Gaudi worked on what was considered his masterpiece until his death in 1926. The structure imbues his characteristic Art Nouveau style and creates a unique interpretation of the Gothic architectural tradition. Gaudi had models and plans for the completed church were mostly destroyed during the Spanish Civil War and those leftover have been disputed since. The extraordinary building is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is fascinating even to those who don't find it beautiful. The church has been consecrated and is used for religious services. When it is complete it will have 18 towers and is expected to be the tallest church in the world. The anticipated date of completion is 2026 (the centenary of Gaudi's death) but this may prove ambitious. The two completed facades of the church, the Nativity Facade and the Passion Facade, are very different but both incredible, and the roof of the nave is one of the most stunning features. Visiting the church is an absolute must for travellers in Barcelona.
A few of Barcelona's showpieces sit on the hill of Montjuic, overlooking the city centre: the main sites of the 1992 Olympics; the Poble Espanyol; the Joan Miro museum; and the National Art Museum of Catalonia. Montjuic has been the site of several fortifications over the centuries and the most recent of these is the Castle of Montjuic, dating from the 17th century. The castle is now home to the Military Museum as well as the Museum of Comics and Illustration. There are also some leisure attractions and green parks festooned with fountains, themselves popular attractions that entertain on summer evenings with displays of light, colour, and music. Accessible by cable car from Montjuic, the La Barceloneta port district is below the hill. The eastern side is sheer, providing glorious views over the city's harbour. The former fishing village that is now the port is renowned for its seafood restaurants and beach, which is lined with boardwalks and cafes. A grand staircase begins at the foot of Montjuic, at the south end of the Avinguda de la Reina Maria Cristina, and ends at the Palau Nacional, passing a number of historic buildings.
Barcelona's second landmark hill is Tibidabo, about four miles (6km) northwest of the city in a wooded range that forms a backdrop to the urban landscape. Tibidabo can be reached by funicular - the journey up is half the fun, with spectacular views - and is particularly popular on weekends with locals because it is home to the Parc d'Atraccions, an amusement park with some thrill rides and a renowned house of horrors. Tibidabo also features the soaring Torre de Collserola telecommunications tower, which offers visitors the chance to ride in a glass lift to an observation platform 377 feet (115m) high to enjoy a truly phenomenal view. A large church named the Temple del Sagrat Cor is surmounted by a giant Christ statue, offerinig a lift to a rooftop viewing platform, while the Carretera des Aigues trail is perfect for keen hikers who want to climb the hill at their own pace. It is an easy walk, which only takes about an hour, starting from the base of the funicular and ending at the church. There are a number of restaurants to enjoy on the hill.
The Costa Dorada's main city, Tarragona, has almost doubled in size during the last few decades, with its residential districts continually expanding around the beautiful medieval core. Tarragona, originally built on a rocky bluff, can trace its roots back to 218 BC, when it was founded by the ancient Romans as a military base. Impressive vestiges of its ancient past still remain in the form of ruins of the Roman amphitheatre, aqueduct, forum, and other buildings situated on the Paseo Arqueologico which lead to some panoramic viewpoints. A wide boulevard called the Rambla Nova represents the modern main street outside the old city walls. A popular outing for visitors is to explore the old harbour, known as El Serrallo, to watch the fishing boats arrive and auction their catch. As if all this wasn't enough, the city also sports some excellent beaches on its doorstep, including Playa Llarga, regarded as one of the biggest and best on the Catalonian coast. Among the many museums is an archaeological museum devoted to Roman antiquities; the Diocesan Museum displaying Gothic paintings, sculptures and tapestries; and a house museum detailing the life and career of renowned cellist, Pablo Casals.
The city of Girona, on the route from the Pyrenees to Barcelona, is one of the most important historical sites in Spain, founded by the Romans and later turned into a Moorish stronghold. Sitting astride the confluence of the Onyar and Ter rivers, this quaint medieval city attracts hordes of tourists from the Costa Brava resorts and Barcelona. All are lured by the experience of walking through the old quarter, the Call, with its narrow alleyways and ancient stone houses. Inside the ancient walls are such gems as the 12th-century Benedictine monastery of Sant Pere de Galligants and the 14th-century cathedral built in the Catalonian Baroque style. The cathedral can be accessed by climbing up 90 steps. It includes a museum containing art works and rare manuscripts. Also of particular interest are the restored 12th-century Arab baths with their central octagonal pool, and the fascinating Jewish quarter where, between the 9th and 15th centuries, the culture and religion flourished on the narrow, steep streets. The arcaded promenade, the Rambla de la Llibertat, is lined with delightful cafes and shops selling souvenirs, crafts, antiques, and curiosities. In addition, the city is well supplied with museums and galleries.
The impressive Santa Barbara Castle has its origins in the Muslim rule of the 9th century, towering over Alicante on top of the Benacantil Mountain. Most of the chambers that can be explored today date from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. The fortress is massive, encompassing moats, drawbridges, tunnels, cisterns, and dungeons, not to mention a stately tower and keep. It has endured many attacks, rebuilds, and renovations during its long history and was opened to the public in 1963. Today it houses the Museum of the City of Alicante. From the top of the castle superb views over the bay and the city can be enjoyed. The castle can be accessed via elevator from the Explanada d'Espanya for a small fee, but if you walk up to the castle you can take the lift back down to the beachfront for free. The walk up from the beach is very steep with a lot of steps, and is only suitable for the fit, but it is possible to drive up the mountain as well.
In the Plaza de Santa Maria stands Alicante's oldest building, a former granary dating from 1685. Ironically the city's oldest building contains its most notable modern art collection, donated by painter and sculptor Eusebio Sempere in 1977. The Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Alicante is commonly referred to simply as MACA. Among the noteworthy paintings on display are those by Dali, Picasso, Calder, and Miro, and one of the highlights is the section dedicated to Sempere's own geometrical, moving sculptures. As other famous modern art galleries have realised, the contrast between an old building and a colourful modern art collection is striking and interesting. The building is located in the historic city centre, opposite the Basilica of Santa Mariaan, an area which most tourists will pass through on their sightseeing jaunts in Alicante. The museum is part of the project to revitalise the historic quarter. The gallery is cool and inviting on a hot day, with good air-conditioning, and seldom feels crowded. Guided tours of the museum are available free of charge, but must be organised in advance. It is a small but classy provincial gallery which is well worth a visit for art lovers.
Just 12 miles (19km) inland west of Alicante is Europe's only palm forest, forming a lush oasis around the city of Elche (Elx). The city boasts several beautiful parks, public gardens, and palm groves. The Palmeral of Elche, an orchard of more than 200,000 palm trees, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Parque Municipal is one of the most popular places to enjoy the trees, with the palms interspersed by grassy promenades and children's playgrounds. The most beautiful palm garden is the Huerto del Cura, filled with trees, water features, and bright flowerbeds. Another attraction in the city, located right next to the municipal park, is the Altamira Castle, which was built in about the 12th century and was renovated in the 15th century. The fortress has been used as a prison, a town hall and a fabric plant but now houses the Elche Archaeology and History Museum. A wealth of archaeological remains have been found in Elche, unsurprisingly as the region was settled by the Greeks, Carthaginians, and Romans. The most famous find is the stone bust called the Lady of Elche, dating from about the 4th century BC.
The tiny islet of Tabarca is becoming an increasingly popular day trip destination from Alicante or Santa Pola, with its quiet fishing village offering an old fort, several very reasonably priced fresh seafood restaurants, a rocky beach with clear turquoise water, and several coves and tidal pools ideal for bathing. Tiny and picturesque, Tabarca is the smallest permanently inhabited islet in Spain and can very easily be explored on foot. The islet is part of a marine reserve (Reserva marina de la Isla de Tabarca) and promises varied marine life, clear unpolluted waters, and a healthy bird population. An artificial reef was planted near the island to further cultivate marine life. Formerly called Saint Paul's Island, in honour of the saint who is supposed to have made a landing here, visitors can still visit the Church of St Peter and St Paul, built in 1779. The island lies 10 miles (16km) south of Alicante and can be reached in an hour by ferry from the dock on Explanada d'Espanya in the city. The island becomes crowded in the peak summer months but is still a charming destination.
Seville Cathedral is the third-largest church in the world, behind St Peter's in Rome and St Paul's in London. This massive Gothic edifice took more than a century to build, after a group of religious fanatics decided in 1401 to build a church so wonderful that 'those who come after us will take us for madmen'. The cathedral was built on the site of the Almohad Mosque, demolished to make way for its construction. Known as La Giralda, the mosque was originally built in 1198 of which only a minaret remains. Today it's open to tourists. Along with the Alcazar and the Archivo de Indias, the cathedral has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is undoubtedly one of the highlights of a visit to Seville. The interior of the cathedral contains some marvellous sights in its 44 chapels. It is claimed that the remains of Christopher Columbus are here in a tomb dedicated to him, but there is some controversy over this. Artworks to be seen include gilded panels, glittering icons, and intricately carved altar pieces. The cathedral is imposing and quite overwhelming in its scope, but the intricate detail is also incredible.
Alcazar is Seville's top attraction and one of the most famous in Spain. The complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an undisputed architectural masterpiece. The site of Seville's Moorish palace has been occupied by the city's rulers since Roman times, and has been a favoured residence of Spanish kings since the Middle Ages. Established by the Moors as early as the 7th century, it was primarily built in the 1300s and has been added to and altered by successive occupants ever since. Of the early Christian additions, most notable is the colonnaded quadrangle of the Patio of the Maids. The palace is set in beautiful, extensive gardens where it is possible to picnic if you bring your own food. Otherwise, there is a small restaurant overlooking the gardens. Visitors should allow several hours to explore this spectacular palace complex.
A former Jewish ghetto, Santa Cruz in Seville is an enchanting maze of alleys, gateways, and courtyards. Every street corner has a romantic legend attached to it, with windowsills festooned with flowers and the fragrance of jasmine pervading the air. Santa Cruz is also bordered by the Alcazar, the Jardines de Murillo, and Santa Maria La Blanca, and can be reached via the Calle Rodrigo Caro. Some of the sights to look for are the Hospital de los Venerables, which contains Sevillian artworks; the beautiful mansions in the Calle Lope de Rueda; the Convent de San Jose, which boasts relics of Saint Teresa of Avila; and the Iglesia de Santa Maria la Blanca, which features Murillo's 'Last Supper'. Apart from many notable buildings, the neighbourhood is home to numerous quaint and quirky shops, art galleries, artisan workshops, hotels, guest houses, tapas bars, and restaurants, making it a tourists' paradise. Santa Cruz is also a favourite haunt for locals, and the area is fun to visit during the day and at night. Many walking tours of the district are available and joining one makes for a good introduction to Santa Cruz.
A restored convent dating back to 1612 houses one of Spain's most important and largest art collections. Hidden in a tiny plaza off Calle de Alfonso XII in Seville, the museum was established in 1839. It houses art spanning from medieval times to the 20th century, with the pride of the collection being the range of paintings from the 17th century, Seville's Golden Age. Highlights include the religious paintings of Seville's own Esteban Murillo, but the collection also includes other Seville School artists such as the macabre works of Juan de Vales Leal and Francisco de Zurbaran. There are also two paintings by El Greco among the exhibits. The museum has a surfeit of religious art, which will delight some and bore others; it is probably not the best attraction for children. The convent is an incredible housing for the collection with frescoes and ornate vaulted ceilings, worth exploring even if it were empty. On Sundays there is usually an art market in the square outside the museum where local artists set up stalls and sell their work. A must for art lovers, this gallery is generally considered to have the second best collection of Spanish art in the country.
Regarded as one of the loveliest parks in Europe, this half-mile area in southern Seville near the port, is planted with palms, orange trees, elms, and Mediterranean pines. Bright and beautiful flower beds vie for the eye with hidden bowers, ponds, pavilions, water features, and statues in this little paradise, which was designed in the 1920s and thus reflects a mix of Art Deco and Mudejar styling. The park was originally part of Seville's World Expo, which brought a burst of creative architecture and rejuvenation during the 1920s, and which included the redirection of the Guadalquivir River and the construction of some opulent buildings, like the stylish Guatemala building off the Paseo de la Palmera. Also fronting the park is the city's archaeological museum, focusing on the Romans and prehistory of the province of Seville. Near the park is the Royal Tobacco Factory (today part of the university), immortalised by the fictional operatic gypsy heroine Carmen, who is said to have worked there. Many of the buildings surrounding Maria Luisa Park are attractions in themselves. The park is a pleasant refuge for relaxation and a stroll, and a great place to have a picnic in Seville.
Locals in Bilbao are divided on whether it's beauty or a beast, but the bizarre multimillion dollar Guggenheim Museum, opened in 1997, has brought thousands of visitors flocking to the city to be awed or floored. The massive museum, designed by the famous Frank Gehry, has no right angles, resembles a metallic flower clad in shiny titanium, and is situated in the former dockyard alongside the Nervion River. There are also some huge, striking sculptures outside the museum and many visitors consider the exterior the highlight of a visit. Inside, apart from breathtaking and unusual spaces, the museum houses the works of some important 20th century artists, including Picasso, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Willem de Koonig, and Clyfford Still. There are also sections displaying the work of young Basque and Spanish artists, and rotating exhibits lent by the Guggenheim museums in New York and Venice. There is a great cafe in the Guggenheim and a bookshop. It is a good idea to book your tickets in advance online to get a slight discount and to jump the queues at the entrance. The Guggenheim is undoubtedly one of Bilbao's greatest and most popular attractions and shouldn't be missed.
For a more mainstream artistic experience than that offered by the astonishing Guggenheim Gallery, the Museo de Bellas Artes in the Plaza Museo fits the bill admirably, with some valuable works on display behind an unassuming façade. The museum's impressive collection spans art from the 12th to 20th centuries, highlights being some excellent Flemish works from between the 15th and 17th centuries. There are also works by masters like El Greco, Goya, Gauguin, Francis Bacon, Picasso, and Velazquez. The museum hosts regular temporary exhibitions so check the official website below to see what is showing during your visit. To the rear of the building there is a pleasant sculpture garden. Audio guides are available in multiple languages for an extra €1 and the museum is very well curated and maintained. Bilbao's Museo de Bellas Artes is becoming increasingly renowned internationally and generally receives rave reviews from visitors. In fact, it is consistently one of the top rated attractions in the city. Entry to the museum is free on Wednesdays, which is a big bonus for those travelling on a budget. Prints and other merchandise can be bought via the online shop.
The Museo Vasco, also known as the Euskal Museoa or Basque Museum, is in the heart of the old quarter of the city, housed in a lovely 17th-century Jesuit cloister. The museum, established in 1921, depicts Basque culture, history and ethnology, and its exhibits span a wide range of interests including weaving, the blacksmith trade, pastoral life, and maritime matters. The displays offer the chance to dip into Basque political and social life, using everything from model ships to reconstructions of rooms and gravestones to guide the visitor along. The maps and the exhibition on traditional music and dancing are highlights. In an outdoor courtyard visitors can see a remarkable stone sculpture called Mikeldi, which is thought to date back to sometime between the 5th and 11th centuries BC. Although not all the information has been translated there are sufficient explanations in English. It is a simple, accessible museum, which children will probably enjoy. Budget at least three hours to take it all in. Conveniently located in the historic centre of town, the Museo Vasco is near a number of cafes and restaurants.
Dating from 1892 and designed by Joaquin Rucoba, Bilbao's elegant city hall in the Plaza Erkoreka Ernesto is located on the bank of the Estuary of Bilbao. The Baroque building includes a spire and a magnificent façade featuring balconies, columns, sculptures, and a sweeping staircase. The highlight of the interior is the Arab Room, an opulently decorated chamber used for weddings. Guided tours, lasting about an hour, are available, though these need to be booked in advance by phone. A brand new city hall building was recently completed, situated right next to the historic old building, and the unique, modern design of the new contrasts very interestingly with the old. The two buildings now share the functions of the city hall, with the modern's colourful contemporary décor contrasting with the ornate old hall, which is distinctly Baroque in its decor. The city is now well served by a combination of functional modern space and historic charm.
Palma's magnificent Catalonian Gothic cathedral is a landmark of the city, standing in the old town overlooking the ocean. The cathedral is actually called the Cathedral of the Saviour (Catedral del Salvador) but is situated on the Plaza de la Seo and is commonly referred to as La Seo. The cathedral forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cathedral was built on the site of an existing ancient mosque and ancient Roman forum, and construction on the Romanesque Cathedral began in 1140. There have been numerous rebuilds, additions, and renovations since then, including an extensive restoration in the second half of the 20th century, when Roman and Muslim remnants were excavated and exposed. The cathedral has a rich and interesting history. From 1204 until the 15th century, all Aragonese kings were crowned in this church and it was the venue for royal baptisms, weddings, and burials. The head Inquisitor of Aragon, Pedro de Arbues, was assassinated in the cathedral while praying in 1485. He was later sainted and entombed in the cathedral.
Opposite the cathedral in Palma stands an austere fortress palace that was erected by the Moors and later became the residence of the kings of Mallorca. The Moors built the fortress in 1281 and it was converted into a royal residence at the end of the 13th century, but evidence suggests that the Moors themselves built on an existing Roman fort. The palace is still officially a royal residence, although very seldom occupied, and is occasionally used for royal functions and events. Inside, most rooms and corridors are bare, but there are some beautiful Flemish Gobelin tapestries on display as well as a few antiques, art works and suits of armour. The royal apartments can be seen and there is an impressive Gothic chapel which showcases some rare late Romanesque architectural features. The palace, on the Plaza Reina, is surrounded by a pleasant Moorish-style garden sporting fountains, and offering panoramic views of the harbour. There is very little information in the fortress itself, but audio guides are available in English. Although visitors expecting lavish decor will be disappointed, exploring the palace is still fascinating and photographers will find plenty of worthy material.
Built in the 14th century and surrounded by a double moat, this round hilltop castle was the summer residence of the kings of Mallorca. While once serving as a prison, it today contains Palma's Municipal Museum displaying archaeological artefacts and models of excavations. The unusual castle sits atop a lovely park area, highlights include spectacular views and photo opportunities. Visitors can explore a series of chambers upstairs above the museum below. Don't miss the prisoner's graffiti etched into the stonework, visible if you climb up to the roof. The Bellver Castle is on the route of the Palma City open-top sightseeing buses, but the walk up through the forest from Placa Gomilla is pleasant and not too strenuous, with many viewpoints to rest at along the way. Bellver Castle is one of the city's top attractions and a must-see for its vistas alone.
Palma's most renowned art gallery contains works collected by the Juan March Foundation, housed in a restored mansion on the Carrer Sant Miquel. It focuses on modern works including Picasso's Head of a Woman and paintings by acknowledged masters like Miro, Dali, Juan Gris, and Antoni Tapies, as well as art by contemporary Spanish artists. It is a small but impressive collection and the 17th-century mansion in which it's housed is beautiful and fun to explore, contrasting interestingly with the modern art. The spacious and quiet gallery is a wonderful refuge on a hot day. The museum is very active, organising lecture series, many temporary exhibitions, and free art workshops. Guided tours of the gallery are available by prior appointment on week days between 11am and 3pm. There is a good museum shop selling exhibition catalogues, art books, posters, postcards, and the like. The gallery is wheelchair accessible. The fact that a gallery of this calibre is free is quite remarkable and the museum is popular with tourists and locals alike.
The only surviving Moorish building in Palma is the bathhouse of Banys Àrabs, located in the city's medieval quarter. It contains an elegant horseshoe-arched dome chamber supported by 12 columns, fronted by a lovely little garden with picnic tables. Although this is a small attraction, basically consisting of two empty chambers (hence the low admission cost), the old architecture is graceful and photographers should enjoy capturing the romantically dilapidated walls and columns. The baths are worth visiting to get some impression of the character of the old city as they are sadly all that remains. There is a short video show, in multiple languages, providing some historical information about the building, but not much else. The site is generally deserted and is a serene spot to imagine the past and take a break from sightseeing to read or write in the peaceful gardens. Bring your own picnic and enjoy a slow lunch at the baths. Although it is located on a small side road, the building is well sign-posted and shouldn't be hard to find. Those interested in history or Moorish architecture should not miss this tiny but charming attraction in Palma.
There are several good, though usually crowded, beaches accessible by bus from Palma. El Arenal, seven miles (11km) to the southeast of the city, attracts many German visitors to its waterfront restaurants, bars, and hotels. The long beach boasts white sands and turquoise water. Palma Nova and Illetes, six miles (10km) to the southwest, are smaller but equally popular and picturesque beaches. On the road to Palma Nova is Marineland, offering dolphin, sea lion, and parrot shows, as well as Polynesian pearl-diving demonstrations. Other beaches nearby include Portixol, El Molinar, Coll d'En Rebassa, and Can Pastilla. The most popular beach on the entire island of Mallorca, Es Trenc, on the southeast coast between Cap de Salinas and Cap Blanc, can be reached by bus from the Plaza Espanya in Palma. Es Trenc is a long narrow beach which is not affiliated to any resort and is therefore less commercial than many others on the island - although its popularity ensures it is still frequently crowded. It is a beautiful stretch of sand and an unofficial nudist beach.
Soller is set in a lush valley of orange groves between the mountains and the sea halfway along the northwest coast of Mallorca. It's a popular daytrip destination because it can be reached on a vintage train ride from Palma. The train, a wood-panelled 1912 model, takes passengers winding through the beautiful craggy landscapes and into the Golden Valley where Soller is situated. The town is awash with tempting pastry shops, ice-cream parlours, and tapas bars in its quaint squares, but there is more to do than just eat and drink. There are some good examples of modernist architecture, like the church of Saint Bartomeu with its 1912 arched tower above a rose window and needle-like spires. There are also two museums: the Natural Science Museum and the Museu Municipal filled with antiques. There is a vintage tram running between the town and the port (Port de Soller). Soller is an ancient town, with evidence that the area was inhabited by humans as early as 5200 BC, but rather than big tourist attractions visitors will find buckets of charm and many good reasons to just relax and enjoy the atmosphere.
In 1838, Frederic Chopin arrived in the small town of Valldemossa with his lover, George Sand, to stay in a former monk's cell in the Cartoixa Reial monastery and carry on their affair away from the eyes of Paris. The shocked locals shunned the sickly Chopin and Sand, and the couple were so unhappy that their relationship never recovered from the wet, windy and miserable winter in the monastery. Today the cells occupied by the lovers are open to visitors. The library and old pharmacy can also be visited and there is a small art museum with works by Picasso, Miro, and Juli Ramis. Valldemossa is one of the prettiest villages in Mallorca: it is quiet and traditional, with narrow cobbled streets and a backdrop of forested hills. The 13th-century monastery is the most famous attraction of the town, but many hours can be spent happily wandering the streets and exploring the lush countryside. There are lovely cafes, restaurants, art galleries, and gift shops in Valldemossa. It is not a coastal town, but the port of the same name is very close and many beaches are within easy reach.
About 20 miles (32km) beyond Soller, after a drive through the Serra de Tramuntana in the north of the island, is the remote mountain village of Lluc, in a valley that has been an important place of pilgrimage since the 13th century. Lluc became Mallorca's most sacred site when a shepherd boy discovered a dark wooden statue of the Virgin in a cleft in the rock. The miraculous statue somehow returned to its cave three times after being placed in the local church. Now the statue, known as La Moreneta, has been encrusted with precious stones and resides in its own chapel, receiving pilgrims and tourists who come to pay homage each day. The main attraction of the town is the 13th-century Santuari de Lluc, the monastery which houses the statue, and remains a famous pilgrimage site. The sanctuary has a world-renowned boys' choir, established in 1531, which performs regularly. Although Lluc is primarily a special destination for the religious, it also has secular appeal, with some good restaurants and a scenic setting.
The old medieval district of Ciudad de Ibiza (Ibiza Town), the capital of the island, sports narrow cobblestone streets, picturesque whitewashed houses and Gothic buildings around courtyards bright with blooming geraniums and bougainvillea. Ibiza'a Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with architecture spanning 2,500 years of history. The Old Town, enclosed by historic walls, is best entered through the Puerta de las Tablas, which sees visitors passing across a drawbridge flanked by ancient statues; there is another entrance, Portal Nou, behind the Plaza del Parque, which is somewhat less dramatic. The district is best explored on foot, and contains some interesting sights, most noteworthy of which is the Archaeological Museum. The museum, situated in Cathedral Square, contains artefacts from prehistoric sites on the Balearic Islands, dating as far back as the Punic period between the 5th and 7th centuries BC. Interestingly, the museum is said to be constructed on a Carthagean burial site of about 4,000 graves. Also in the Old Town is the cathedral with its 10th-century Gothic tower and 18th-century Baroque nave. From the battlements by the cathedral spectacular views can be enjoyed. There are plenty of gift shops, art galleries, pavement cafes and good restaurants in the area to keep tourists happy. The Old Town is delightful at night, and a candlelit dinner at one of the restaurants spilling out into the narrow cobbled streets is a must.
Santa Eulalia is a pretty, atmospheric little town about nine miles (14km) north of the island's capital, much favoured by tourists because of its proximity to some of the best beaches and for its scenic setting. The town is situated on the estuary of the only river in the Balearic Islands, overlooked by the Puig de Missa, a 16th-century fortified church situated on a hilltop. There are also a number of small museums and the remains of a Roman necropolis. Another attraction in Santa Eulalia is the Sant Carles settlement a few kilometres to the north: the last true hippie commune on Ibiza remaining from the 1960s, when hippie cultists flocked here. The famous northern beaches of Ibiza, like Aigues Blanques and Cala Llonga, can be reached by bus or boat from the town. Santa Eulalia has its own beaches though: the Santa Eulalia beach has Blue Flag status and is very popular; the Es Calo de S'Alga beach, which can be reached on foot from the town, is a gorgeous little beach with calm, shallow water and good facilities; and the nearby Es Canar beach is perfect for water sports like jet-skiing.
The tourist attraction cave complex of Cova de Can Marca sits a few miles north of Sant Miquel, a village with an attractive hilltop church and good tapas bars. The caves have been commercialised and fitted with some spectacular sound and lighting effects, providing for an entertaining guided tour. The caves are situated atop a rocky inlet, with spectacular views over the bay and of the islands Murada and Feriradura. The cave is said to be more than 100,000 years old and features underground lakes, stalactites, and stalagmites. There was once a natural waterfall in the cave system but the waterfall featured on the tour today is a replica, as the waterbeds of the cave system are now fossilized. The caves were once used by smugglers to hide their cargo and it is still possible to see the marks they made on the walls to guide them through the cave system. Tours are held in various languages and take about 40 minutes. The tours are suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels and are very popular with tourists. It is not necessary to book in advance.
The salt flats of Las Salinas are some of Ibiza's most famous landmarks, close to the airport on the southernmost tip of the island. They've been used for more than 2,000 years since the Carthaginians traded with the salt left in the pans after the waters evaporated in summer. The sparkling lakes provide one of the world's most beautiful sunset photograph opportunities. The fashionable Las Salinas beach on the southern tip of Ibiza attracts a glittering crowd of sun worshippers and party animals, including many celebrities, the wealthy, and the beautiful. There are numerous beach bars to try out. The salt flats can be found in the nature reserve that surrounds this gorgeous beach, along with pine forests, sand dunes, and a general abundance of natural beauty. The saltpans are also a wonderful destination for bird watchers. It is possible to just stroll into the woods from the beach, but there are also many tours to and from various towns on Ibiza.
The tiny island of Formentera covers 35 square miles (90 sq km) and is home to just over 5,000 people. It can be reached by ferry from Ibiza Town, with a regular service running every two hours. Ferry services to Formentera from the mainland have also been established, due to the island's increasing popularity. It's relatively unspoilt by tourism development, although not as empty of crowds as it once was. Accommodation options are very limited. The main attractions are some pretty villages and marvellous beaches flanked by palms and pines, many frequented by nudists. The best way to explore is on a rented moped or bicycle, as there are well-maintained cycling tracks traversing the island. The main port is La Sabina, and other villages include beautiful Las Salinas, San Francisco Javier, and San Fernando, all featuring quaint white-washed houses. Recommended beaches are Es Pujols in the north, Mitjorn in the south, and Cala Saona in the west. Other beaches of note are En Boster, Ca'n Xico Mateu, and the natural port of Es Calo. The highest point on the island is in the southeast corner at El Mirador.
Most visitors head straight for the string of restaurants and cafes lining the harbour of Mahon, Minorca's capital town. The town itself is sedate and conservative, featuring classic Georgian townhouses (bearing testimony to the British occupation of bygone days) and tall apartment blocks. Mahon does have some worthwhile attractions for those interested in making more of their holiday than dashing off to the beach. The mansion house of Golden Farm overlooks the harbour, and was once occupied by Admiral Lord Nelson. Also on the sightseeing list is the Xoriguer Gin Distillery, where famed Minorcan gin is produced in an age-old process. The celebrated organ (with more than 3,000 pipes) in the church of Esglesia de Santa Maria la Major is also a draw for some visitors. The Swiss-made organ was brought to Mahon during the Napoleonic wars and is used during an annual music festival held in July and August. The historic centre of Mahon has been steadily renovated in recent years, and the old part of town is picturesque. The city has one of the deepest natural harbours in the world, and the waterfront is a worthy tourist hub with lots to see and do.
Minorca's former capital city, the compact port of Ciutadella de Menorca is west of the modern capital and linked to it by the main island road. Usually just called Ciutadella, it's very different in character to Mahon, sporting a distinct Moorish and Spanish influence in its Gothic and Baroque grand mansions and palaces. It is an ancient town, reputedly founded by the Carthaginians by the 4th century. During its long history, Ciutadella changed hands multiple times, once having all 3,000 or so surviving residents taken as slaves by invading Turks in 1558 after a siege of the city. Ciutadella remains the island's religious centre and is still the home of the bishop. The Cathedral of Menorca, located in the old quarter, was built in 1287 on the site of an even older mosque, while the town hall is another gorgeous building. Although the city boasts few specific sightseeing attractions, it does offer excellent restaurants, interesting shops, and arcades as well as a relaxed ambience that is just perfect for wandering around. There are also some coves nearby inviting exploration.
Minorca is blessed with a beautiful coastline and offers visitors a variety of beaches and resorts. Fornells, an attractive fishing village on the north coast, is on a spectacular bay ideal for windsurfing and watersports. Close by is the beach Cala Tirant. Cala Galdana is one of the most popular beaches, set in a horseshoe bay, and complete with all desired amenities; while Santo Tomas, with its stretch of golden sand, is a small resort favoured by families and honeymoon couples. Son Bou is one of the longest beaches on the island, with a few shops, bars, restaurants, and a club. Binebeca and Binisafua were Minorca's first resort centres, but are now mainly residential areas filled with villas fronting numerous sandy bays. There are some interesting caves and rugged little coves between Mahon and picturesque Calan Porter, making the area fun for nature walks and snorkelling along the rocky shore. Those looking for something a little less commercialised may enjoy Cala Mitjana, south of Ferreries. It's a small, idyllic cove surrounded by pine forests, offering no facilities but beautifully situated and usually not crowded.
The Museo Canario boasts mummies and the world's largest collection of Cro-Magnon skulls. The permanent exhibition is devoted solely to the aboriginal population of Gran Canaria, who inhabited the islands from the second half of the first millennium BC up until the 15th century. It covers things like religion and mythology, funerary practices, economic activity, and the organisation of society. The award-winning museum in Las Palmas houses the most complete and comprehensive archaeological collection in the Canary Islands and should be of great interest to anybody keen on archaeology, anthropology, and the ancient history of the Canary Islands. There is a room full of the skeletal remains of the ancients, which is spooky but fascinating. The information provided in the exhibitions is invariably only in Spanish, but at the entrance you should be given a booklet explaining the displays in your own language. The museum is popular with tourists and is one of the top-rated attractions in Las Palmas.
Christopher Columbus is believed to have stayed for different periods in the Casa de Colon, in the historical quarter of Vegueta in Las Palmas. The house now serves as a museum displaying relics of early transatlantic voyages and pre-Columbian cultures, as well as acting as a cultural centre for the study of the Canary Island's relationship with the Americas. The building is a famous example of the architecture of the Canary Islands, with heavy wooden balconies, patios, fountains, and some unusual ornamental features. It was once the residence of Las Palmas's early governors. There are now 13 permanent exhibition halls, a library, and a research centre, containing fascinating artefacts and even some colourful parrots among the palm trees in the courtyards. Although competition is not steep in the city, Casa de Colon is probably the most popular museum in Las Palmas and generally receives rave reviews from visitors. The museum is situated next to the cathedral and is worth an hour or two of sightseeing time in the city.
The whitewashed Pueblo Canario was the pet project of Canarian artist Nestor Martin-Fernandez de la Torre, who conceived and oversaw the creation of this idealised representation of a typical island village next to Dorames Park, Las Palmas. Buildings surround a square where performances of folk music and dance take place every Sunday morning. The dancers and musicians dress up in full traditional garb and use traditional instruments. Those who just want to enjoy the free music and show can sip on a beer or a coffee in the pleasant square, or have a meal at the restaurant. The village also contains the Museo Nestor, in which is housed a collection of the artist's modernist paintings, a playground for children, and some handicraft shops where visitors can pick up some souvenirs. The entertainment is simple and old-fashioned and the village is picturesque and worth strolling around, especially in combination with the park that borders it. Pueblo Canario gives travellers a taste of rural Canarian culture and charm in the middle of the city. The best time to visit by far is on Sunday mornings.
The delightful town of Arucas sits beneath a dormant volcano on the northern coast of Gran Canaria, and is one of the most popular places for tourists to visit. The neat town is dominated by the majestic Church of San Juan Bautista, carved in stone by local workers. It is possible to take a short walk out of the town to the Montana de Arucas viewpoint for a panoramic look at the northern coastline. The town is scenically situated, surrounded by fields of corn and potatoes and banana plantations, and the Palmitos ravine provides some beautiful vistas. The stunning, UNESCO-listed Gran Canaria Biosphere Reserve is also easily accessible from Arucas. The town is very close to the city of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. The city has numerous historical attractions as well as the pleasures of sun, sea, and watersports, and is one of the main travel hubs in the region. Arucas is therefore a great excursion from the city, providing a bit of rural charm as a break from the urban glories of Las Palmas.
A colourful and entertaining look at nature is presented at Palmitos Park, a botanical garden, zoo, and aquarium situated four miles (6km) inland from Arguineguin on the south coast. The park is a subtropical oasis containing thousands of birds, fish, animals, trees, plants, and particularly orchids. The orchid house is the largest in the Canary Islands and the range is astonishing. There is a cactus garden too, a huge butterfly house, and an aquarium featuring a recreated riverbed. Attractions include dolphin shows and a number of bird shows including displays by birds of prey, parrots, and exotic birds. The park also houses a selection of reptiles and other animals including aardvarks, wallabies, and meerkats. Another highlight is Primate Island, which is inhabited by entertaining gibbons and orangutans. There are numerous picnic spots and view points in the park, which is blessed with some ruggedly beautiful scenery. There are also cafes selling refreshments for those who don't bring their own food. All displays and shows are included in the entrance fee. Check the official website listed below to see what time all the different animals perform. There is a substantial reduction for online booking via the website.
The spectacular Parque Nacional de las Canadas del Teide was declared a protected area in 1954, including an enormous volcanic crater with a circumference of 30 miles (48km) out of which rises the highest peak in Spain, Mount Teide. It is the largest, one of the oldest, and the most visited national park in Spain and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since 2007, it has also been one of the 12 Treasures of Spain. In contrast to the coastal regions of Tenerife, the temperatures in the reserve can be extreme: winter in the park, which lies at about 6,562ft (2,000m) above sea level, brings snowfall and gale force winds, while in summer temperatures can soar to above 104ºF (40ºC). A cable car carries visitors to the summit of Mount Teide, but many prefer to hike the route to experience the flora and fauna, including rare specimens like the violet of the Teide, the Tajinastes, as well as the many varieties of lizards and birds. There is a refuge near the summit which you can book to stay in, and reserving this accommodation includes the permit you will need to climb Mount Teida.
On the east coast of Tenerife, south of Santa Cruz, stand six mysterious step pyramids of which archaeologists have yet to discern the origin. The pyramids were initially thought to be the remains of agricultural stone terraces, or random piles of stone cleared from fields by early Spanish settlers. However, Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian anthropologist who lived in Guimar on Tenerife until his death in 2002, thought differently. His research indicated that the pyramids were constructed on similar principles to those in Mexico, Peru and ancient Mesopotamia. The pyramids are now enclosed in an Ethnographic Park; the site includes a museum, life-size replica of Heyerdahl's reed ship Kontiki, a cafeteria, and souvenir shop. The structures remain the subject of some debate among archaeologists, and the first real excavation of the pyramids, in 1991, didn't reveal anything to help definitively date them. The park, however, is lovely, and is of botanical as well as archaeological interest, with paths winding through miles of Canarian vegetation. There is also a Secret Garden dedicated to poisonous plants. There are picnic areas dotted around the park and it is a good idea to bring a picnic to fully enjoy the area.
The picturesque village of Masca is found on the northwest tip of Tenerife. Sitting in the Teno Mountains, it clings to the slopes of a deep, green ravine beside a narrow road full of alarming hairpin bends. The zigzag drive from Santiago del Teide has opened up the village and its magical setting, reputed to have once been a pirate's hideaway. The village has a little market and some restaurants as well as accommodation options but its main selling point is the spectacular scenery. Hikers have popularised a two-hour walk, from the village through a gully to the sea at the base of the majestic cliffs of Los Gigantes. The hike is a glorious way to experience the landscapes, but is not suitable for those afraid of heights as things get rather steep. Once you reach the beach you will find a picturesque bay with black volcanic sand and clear water which is lovely for a picnic, a swim, and a snorkel. In summer there are water taxis transporting people between this bay and Los Gigantes every two hours or so.
The volcanic nature of the island of Tenerife means that the land has few natural beaches. Those that exist are characterised by black shingle stretches created from the island's volcanic rock foundations. The demand for tourist sun-bathing space, however, has led to the creation of resorts and man-made beaches, with golden sand having been imported in some cases. Many of the beaches of Tenerife have been awarded the European Blue Flag for their cleanliness and the quality of their sand. The good beaches on Tenerife for sunbathing and soft sand are Los Gigantes and San Juan in the west; and Fanabe, with its yellow sand, showers, and other facilities, located to the south. Also popular are Torviscas with its marina, Playa las Americas for its grey sandy stretches, the soft yellow expanse of Los Cristianos' beach, Las Vistas, and Los Cristianos. Candaleria in the east has a small black shingle beach. Up north Puerto de la Cruz has a beach with fine black shingle, but at Santa Cruz has imported golden sand. Although the imported white sand is ideal for sunbathing, the black volcanic beaches of Tenerife can be very beautiful and are often less crowded.
A collection of modern artworks sit on permanent display in the Castle of San Jose, a fortress in built in 1779 to defend against pirate attacks in Arrecife. The castle was in military use till 1890 and then stood vacant till 1974 when it was converted into a modern art gallery and restaurant by architect and artist Cesar Manrique. The Museo International de Arte Contemporaneo is small but fascinating. The main attraction is actually the building itself and the contrast between the old fortress and modern art. Some of the artists featured are Bacon, Picasso, Miro, Botero, Damaso, and Luis Feito. The restaurant, which serves superb food and has a funky decor, is a big drawcard and has fantastic views over the docks and ocean. It is worth visiting for drinks at the bar at least. Sunset is the best time to enjoy the views and a meal, as the view changes dramatically between day and night. Although there are usually tables available, it is recommended that you book in advance to get the best views.
Timanfaya National Park, in the southwestern part of the island of Lanzarote, is unique because it is the only national park in the world to have been developed by local residents. Also unique is what the park offers, including a volcanic field filled with a variety of geological and geothermic phenomena. In fact, the reserve is almost entirely made up of volcanic soil, and volcanic activity continues beneath the surface, although there is only one active volcano. Attractions include some geysers by the restaurant. Although the landscape is strange and stark, 180 different plant species do survive in the park. The whole of Lanzarote is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and Timanfaya is one of the core protected areas. Access to the park is strictly regulated to protect the delicate ecosystem and visitors must stick to designated routes. A journey through this landscape is hugely enriched by having a guide so don't shy away from organised tours. Some tours offer camel rides as part of the package. In the restaurant, which has spectacular views, visitors can end their guided tour of these wonders by enjoying a meal cooked on geothermal heat emanating from natural steam vents and geysers.
In the northern part of Lanzarote, close to the Monte de la Corona volcano, is a spectacular system of underground grottos known as La Cueva de los Verdes. This is one of the largest volcanic galleries in the world, at just over four miles (6km) long, formed approximately five thousand years ago in a prehistoric eruption when a massive stream of lava boiled down to the sea, hardening around the spaces inflated by gases. Where the tunnel enters the sea there is an underwater section called the Tunnel of Atlantis. More than a mile (2km) of these grottos is accessible to visitors, and lighting effects have been added to accentuate the contours and colours of the weird shapes resulting from the lava flows. Feeling like a journey into the mysterious bowels of the earth, exploring the tunnels is a thrilling experience. Tours take just under an hour and are conducted in Spanish and English. Those with mobility issues may struggle negotiating the uneven surfaces, but tour guides are generally accommodating and adjust their pace to suit the group as a whole. Evening concerts are sometimes held in the caverns, and it is incredible to hear the music reverberating off the ancient walls.
Situated between Guatiza and Mala is an unusual sightseeing attraction that combines art with nature. Artist Cesar Manrique created a work of art in the form of a cactus plantation in an old quarry. The Cactus Garden was Manrique's final piece of work in Lanzarote. More than 7,000 cactuses from well over 1,000 different species from all over the world are represented in the garden, with many coming from Madagascar, Mexico, Chile, Morocco, the US, and the Canary Islands. The plants come in all shapes and sizes and have been arranged beautifully in a landscaped garden with many water features. The site also features a restored windmill, which visitors can climb. It is a weird and wonderful collection which makes you feel like you're on another planet, and most people need at least two to three hours to explore. The old quarry is a sun trap and gets really hot, so it is best not to visit on a sweltering day, or at least to avoid the hottest time of day. There is a cafe at the site which sells light meals and provides welcome shade.
Situated on the outskirts of Benidorm, Terra Mitica is Spain's largest theme park and, with its rides, shows, restaurants, and shops, can be a great day for the whole family. Rides like the Tizona, an inverted roller coaster that reaches speeds of 62mph (100kmh) and heights of more than 100ft (31m) with visitors suspended beneath the track, and attractions like Warrior of the Dawn (a simulated game) provide exhilarating entertainment for all ages. The park is divided into five themed zones: Egypt, Greece, Rome, Iberia, and the Mediterranean Islands. Recently the park has been further divided into two separate zones: Iberia Park is a free to enter area which operates on a token system, while Terra Mitica is a pay to enter area where all rides are free once inside. There isn't much shade and visitors should go prepared for the sun, especially in summer. The queuing sections are almost all cooled down by sprinkler systems and there are some great water rides to cool down on. In the peak summer months the park is often open till midnight and visiting at night is a wonderful option. Those who have difficulty walking can hire scooters to get around.
Situated in the hills towards the northeast of Mallorca, Pollensa is a peaceful old town that has been largely unaffected by tourism. It was established a few miles inland to protect against sudden pirate attacks. Today the port has grown into a popular family resort. Some of Pollensa's medieval centre remains around the Plaça Major, including the church of Nostra Senyora dels Àngels. The church is fairly austere, the sheer stone façade pierced only by a large rose window. But the interior is highly decorative. Other than the church, the main square houses a cluster of bars and cafés, and on Sunday mornings, a busy market. Just north of the square is the Via Crucis, a long stone stairway bordered by ancient cypress trees. At the top, in a small chapel, is a much-revered statue of Mare de Déu del Peu de la Creu. On Good Friday, a figure of Jesus is slowly carried down the steps by torchlight in the Davallament. Perched on a hill just south of Pollensa is a rambling 18th-century monastery, a peaceful and serene spot to take in wonderful views of the surrounding area. The monastery is an hour's walk from town.
An ancient hilltop town close to the east coast of Mallorca, Arta has been occupied for about 3,000 years and today welcomes visitors to the remains of its Bronze Age settlement. The ruins of Ses Paisses are just outside the town in a grove of olive, carob, and holm oak trees, date back to about 1300 to 100 BC. Interesting archaeological artefacts can be viewed in the Regional Museum of Arta, while the Sanctuary of Sant Salvador provides picturesque views of the town with its bleached rooftops spilling down the hillside below Moorish battlements. The Baroque church was built in 1892 and is connected by a staircase of 180 steps to the parish church of Transfiguracio del Senyor at the foot of the hill, which is a Gothic structure built in 1573, on the foundations of an older mosque. The town is particularly lively on Tuesdays, market day, but the narrow streets and palpably ancient feel of the place is thrilling on any day.
This crocodile park is home to more than 300 crocodiles and alligators from all over the world. Visitors shouldn't miss the crocodiles' feeding times, which occur daily at about 12pm, 2pm, and 4.15pm, during which the animals are at their most active. The other half of the park is a zoo, which houses other reptiles, various birds, monkeys, chimpanzees, tigers, jaguars, camels, and more. There is a restaurant in the centre of the park where visitors can see a show where parrots perform various tricks, while the educational crocodile show is the main attraction. The park is near the town of Aguímes, a few miles southwest of the airport. Those with a soft spot for reptiles should also consider visiting Reptilandia, situated a little off the beaten track near Agaete, in the northwest of the island. This park houses a collection of snakes, tortoises, turtles, spiders, monkeys, and lizards. The Komodo Dragon here is believed to be the largest lizard in the world. Kids are bound to love both attractions, and they are good options for families wanting a short break from the beach.
The ancient town of Alcudia, not to be confused with the popular modern resort two miles (3km) to its south, has a fascinating and turbulent history. The Phoenicians and Greeks settled here and the Romans made it their capital in the 2nd century BC. Destroyed by the Vandals in the 6th century it was rebuilt again by the Moors before being liberated by King Jaime I of Spain in the early 1200s. Today, visitors still enter the narrow streets of the old town through one of the two gates, which are guarded by large towers. There are lots of little cafes and a great market twice a week, on Sundays and Tuesdays, which brings the old town to life and attracts big crowds. The market is the perfect place to go souvenir shopping in the area. Near the town at Polentia there is a well preserved Roman amphitheatre and the Orator de Santa Anna, one of Mallorca's oldest churches. There are a couple of boutique hotels in Alcudia for those who want to spend some time in the charming medieval town.
This massive theme park attracts holidaymakers from far afield to its 'Five Worlds' (Far West, Mediterránia, Mexico, China, and Polynesia). There is now also a children's section with a Sesame Street theme. Visitors can be at the Great Wall of China one minute and at the ruins of Mayan Mexico the next, and meet some cowboys for a taste of the Far West before cooling off by jumping into the great lake from the summit of the Tutuki Splash Volcano. Popular attractions include the Sea Odyssey underwater adventure, the Stampida rollercoaster ride, and the Grand Canyon Rapids water ride. The Shambhala ride is one of the tallest and fastest ride in Europe. The park is part of a resort complex which also includes a water park, four hotels, and a convention centre. Apart from numerous rides and restaurants, there are many shows and entertainment options at PortAventura. It takes much more than a day to experience everything, particularly if you want to visit the water park as well (combination tickets are available), and many visitors opt to spend a night or two at the resort. Some of the snack kiosks and entertainment venues do close outside of the summer months.
Only recently capitalising on the tourist trade, the streets in charming Puerto del Rosario have been resurfaced and the harbour promenade rebuilt. The main street provides some good souvenir shops and the old harbour area features some attractive examples of Canarian architecture. The home of exiled poet Miguel de Unamuno, which has been turned into a museum, is situated in the harbour area. There are two beaches in Puerto del Rosario: Playa Blancal, to the south, has Blue Flag status and is home to some surf schools, but the currents can get dangerously strong; and Playa Chica, right in town, is a small but popular beach with good facilities. A great excursion from the town is a trip inland to Tefia, where the Ecomuseo La Alcogida can be found: an open-air 'village' made of restored, abandoned buildings, which give visitors an idea of the hard life the locals used to live, scraping out an existence from the land. Some traditionally clad artisans work in the village, making handicrafts.
The old town of Betancuria was founded in 1405 and was the first capital of Fuerteventura. The town enjoys a fantastic location, offering attractive views of the hilly terrain and winding river below. In the town are several beautiful buildings and churches worth visiting, including the Church of Iglesia de Santa Maria de Betancuria and the convent of San Buenaventura. The Casa Museo Arquebiologico has some interesting artefacts including fertility idols and farming tools that reflect the earliest history of the island. The town was built primarily to defend against pirate attacks and in 1593 it was all but destroyed by pirates and then slowly rebuilt. There are various shops and stalls in Betancuria that sell some of the best handcrafts and local produce on Fuerteventura. One of the best places to get a feel for the folk culture and handicrafts of the region is the Centro Insular de Artesania, located next to the museum on the main road. The peaceful and sleepy old town seldom hosts tourists and accommodation is limited, but it makes for a very popular and worthwhile excursion, providing insight into the history and culture of the Canary Islands.
On the east coast of Fuerteventura, the little fishing village of La Lajita has been put on the tourist map because it offers one of the island's main attractions: the Oasis de Los Cammelos. Usually called the Fuerteventura Oasis Park, the zoo is home to more than 3,000 animals, including giraffes, camels, hippos, elephants, flamingos, lemurs, and more. The park is big and features nature trails winding around the enclosures. The only botanical garden in Fuerteventura, it showcases indigenous and tropical flora. There are parrot shows, birds of prey shows, sea lion shows, and reptile shows, as well as horse rides and camel safaris. The lemurs are a highlight and, for a little extra, visitors can stroll through their enclosure and interact with the friendly animals. It is possible to buy food to give the various animals at the entrance. There is a petting zoo and playground area designed for small children too. Visitors can relax under the palm trees at the zoo's bar or try out one of the restaurants. Every Sunday there is a fresh produce and craft market at the park.
Historic buildings from between the 17th and mid-19th centuries remain in the village of La Oliva, which people can still visit. The Governor's townhouse (Casa de los Coroneles) has been restored and is open to the public, boasting some intricate woodwork. Also in the centre of the village is the pretty church of Parroquiade Nuestra Seiiora de Candelaria, with a square bell tower and finely carved wooden door. The interior of the church features a painting of the Last Judgement, a Baroque altar painting by Juan de Miranda, and some wonderful trompe l'oeil work. The village also has an art centre exhibiting the work of Canarian artists (Centro de Arte Canario Casa Mane). The somewhat desolate and barren natural landscape of the interior gives way dramatically to the bright turquoise water of the sea, and the beaches around La Oliva are very pretty. The water tends to be calm, making it a good swimming destination. Many tourists find it worth their while to spend some time in La Oliva and a number of fun outdoor activities are available, including sailing and mountain biking jaunts, and excursions into the Parque Natural de Corralejo.
You won't need to go far on Fuerteventura to find a perfect beach, even if you are intent on seeking out solitude from holidaymakers. The best are found around Jandia on the southern tip of the island. Juan Gomez is one of these, with an enticing stretch of golden sand and reached by turning off the Morro Jable-Punta de Jandia Road. In the same section of the island is the pebbly black volcanic beach of La Pared, while right next door is the beach of Viejo Rey, a long stretch of golden sand flanked by dunes. Giniginamar is recommended for peace and quiet, surrounded by palm trees and other indigenous plants. If you're looking for a family-friendly beach, the southern Costa Calma is a great option because the conditions are ideal for safe swimming and the facilities are good. For remote beaches tourists can hire a 4x4 and explore the tracks leading to the sea on the west coast. Nudism is tolerated on all the island's beaches.
Listed as one of Madrid's top ten sights, the tablao flamenco (flamenco show restaurant) is renowned as the oldest and most famous flamenco show in the world. The multi-award winning establishment draws kings and queens, international presidents, film stars, and well-known artists and writers. They all come to witness the nightly performances of top flamenco stars, receiving excellent service and dining on exquisite meals prepared by some of the best chefs in Madrid. The Corral de la Moreria was opened in 1956 and is widely lauded as the best flamenco venue in the world. It has hosted some of the finest professionals of the flamenco discipline, as well as world-class singers and musicians. Shows last for about an hour and 15 minutes and feature about 10 artists. Prices vary slightly depending on the time and day. The restaurant is also superb, serving up some exciting interpretations of traditional Spanish and international fare, but visitors should note that food is not included in ticket prices. Check who is performing and buy tickets online via the official website listed below. You can find the venue right in the centre of Madrid, next to the Royal Palace.
The ancient Andalusian city of Almeria lies sheltered at the base of a bay, proudly dominated by the amazing Alcazaba, a huge Moorish citadel with three walled enclosures dating from 995. A 16th-century Christian castle was built on the foundations of the original Moorish citadel, creating a potent aesthetic mixture of architectural styles. From the citadel, visitors have a good view of the city's most impressive and important Christian monument, the Cathedral, dating from 1524, designed more like a fortress than a church because of the need to defend it from pirate attacks. The Cathedral contains numerous art treasures, including a tabernacle dating from the 18th century and designed by Ventura Rodriguez. With its interesting medieval architecture, Almeria's old town is a delight to stroll through with its tranquil squares, archways and colonnades. The city also has a fascinating archaeological museum and unique cave dwellings in the hillside above the old gypsy quarter.
About 16 miles (26km) from Almeria and set between the Sierra de Alhamilla and Sierra de Filabres, the little village of Tabernas is in a barren landscape of canyons and rocky wasteland. A few decades ago, when Western movies were the most popular Hollywood genre, legendary stars such as Clint Eastwood, Lee van Cleef, Claudia Cardinale and Charles Bronson strutted their stuff here in the dry heat on film sets which fans will recognise from movies such as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, A Fistful of Dollars, and The Magnificent Seven. The movie lots have now become theme park tourist attractions. There are three to visit: Mini Hollywood, Texas Hollywood, and Western Leone. All offer a fun day out in Europe's only desert region, with stagecoach rides, live shows, a zoo, and the opportunity to quench your thirst in the saloon. Tabernas is the name of the desert itself, with the barren, eroded landscapes typical of the badlands from cowboy movies, and those who want to experience the real thing, instead of playing at it on the movie sets, can organise horseback treks into the desert.
North of Almeria, a lighthouse stands at the tip of the Cabo de Gata Peninsula marking the extremity of Andalusia's largest coastal nature reserve. The park is a fascinating landscape of arid desert, volcanic mountains, jagged sea cliffs, sand dunes, wetlands, a lagoon, and hidden sandy coves. Mountain bikers, hikers, bird-watchers, and water sports enthusiasts enjoy this natural wonderland, which encompasses some quaint fishing hamlets, historic ruins, and magnificent stretches of beach. Two of the most popular beaches are Playa de Monsul, which has picturesque volcanic rock formations, and Playa de los Genoveses, which is within walking distance of San Jose. Tiny rock islands cluster off the rugged coastline and there are extensive coral reefs along the shore. The salt flats between the village of San Miguel and the Cabo de Gata point are home to thousands of flamingos, a delight for birdwatchers. The abandoned mining villages around Rodalquilar are interesting and slightly spooky to explore. The small Morrish town of Nijar is incredibly picturesque and the best place to seek out arts and crafts. Lastly, the Cabo de Gata-Nijar Natural Park is a paradise for photographers because of its unworldly and unique landscapes.
The busy fishing village of Cadaques draws plenty of visitors, but they do not come for the local beach, which is rather narrow and stony. Rather, the resort town's attractions are its picturesque natural harbour, some excellent restaurants, numerous galleries, fashion, and art and craft shops, and the former home-turned-museum of world-renowned surrealist painter, Salvador Dali, situated in nearby Portlligat Bay. Dali's bizarre home consists of a labyrinthine cluster of fishermen's huts, added to the original building in various stages by the artist over a period of 40 years. Visitors must reserve a time for entry in advance as only about eight people are allowed in the museum at a time. You can book via the website, by phone, or by email and must arrive at the museum to collect your tickets at least half an hour before your appointed entry time. Touching any of the art is strictly forbidden. Despite how strict this all sounds, the staff are very friendly and the limited admission makes the experience more intimate and rewarding. Tours are not guided and the house is remarkable, as one would expect from Dali. The house is very prettily located and there are lovely sea views from some of the windows.
Situated scarcely a mile from the beach of the popular resort town of L'Estartit on the Costa Brava, the protected Medes Islands are seen as heaven for divers. It may not look like much above water, but the craggy little archipelago of seven islets and a few reefs form one of the most important and rich marine reserves in the Mediterranean. Meda Gran, the largest of the islands, is the only one of considerable size, and there is a 10th-century lighthouse on it. Most of the islands are just rocky outcrops jutting out of the sea, with little vegetation. However, the magic happens underwater: millions of fish and thousands of animal and plant species inhabit the shallows, crevices, and submarine caves at the base of the island cliffs, and are a delight to behold for divers of all levels of experience, whether splashing with a snorkel or descending to the depths in scuba gear. Visitors can take glass-bottomed boat trips around the islands, departing hourly in season from L'Estartit, or arrange a fully equipped diving trip through one of the numerous tourist diving centres in the resort town.
Just north of Girona, the historic lakeside town of Banyoles is well known for hosting international rowing events. But it is also a fun, attractive, and interesting place to visit and perhaps work off some energy in a pedal-boat or on a bicycle. The bright blue lake itself is the only one in the world fed by two merging subterranean rivers. There are numerous options available to those wanting to take to the water, from a swimming dock to cruises or hire boats, and a grassy bank for sunbathers or a network of shady footpaths for those who prefer the shore. The town of Banyoles dates from 812, having developed around a Benedictine monastery. Its old section is full of fascinating ancient buildings, including the Sant Esteve de Banyoles Monastery, the Gothic Church of Santa Maria dels Turers, and the Gothic palace called the Pia Almoina. The natural history and archaeological museums are worth visiting, and all are centred around a lovely arcaded square where a traditional market has been held every Wednesday since medieval times.
The impressive, futuristic landscape of the City of Arts and Science covers a vast area, rising out of a man-made lake in what was formerly the bed of the River Turia. It encompasses various attractions accessed along a magnificent arched walkway, overhung with an array of flowering aromatic plants and shrubs. The city consists of five areas: the Hemisferic, containing the IMAX cinema and other digital projections; the Umbracle, a landscaped viewing and parking area; the Principe Felipe Science Museum, dedicated to interactive science; the Oceanografico, the largest aquarium in Europe, housing more than 500 marine species; and the Palau de lest Arts Reina Sofia, which hosts opera, theatre, and music performances. The cost of exploring the whole 'city' is considerable but well worth the expense. The exhibitions and various features are stimulating, educational, and entertaining, and the beautiful, otherworldly architecture makes you feel as though you are in a sci-fi movie. It is Valencia's most celebrated modern tourist attraction and a must-see for visitors. The city requires a whole day of your attention if you want to experience everything, and there are some great restaurants to rest and refuel.
The ancient district of El Carmen sits in the heart of Valencia's old town, with narrow cobbled alleyways, honey-coloured buildings, and bars and cafes contributing making up a chilled Bohemian atmosphere. El Carmen also has several interesting attractions, including the remains of the medieval city walls, and the Gothic tower gates of Torres de Serrano and Torres de Quart, the latter pocked with cannon-ball marks dating from an assault by Napoleon. Roman and Moorish influences are clear in the Old Town and the numerous squares and narrow streets give the area an authentic medieval feel, despite the invasion of tourists as the city increases in popularity. Along with several museums, there is also a convent complex dating back to the 13th century. The Cathedral of Our Lady is a good starting point for a walking tour of the Old Town, and climbing the cathedral's tallest tower will earn travellers fantastic views. Lastly, Mercado Central is one of the largest indoor markets in Spain is quite an experience.
It is reputedly the resting place of the Holy Grail, but whether you believe that or not the ornate Valencia Cathedral is worth a visit just because of its unique history and combination of architectural styles. Since it started out in 1262, it has shuffled back and forth from being a mosque to a Christian church, and has been added to accordingly in a variety of styles from Romanesque to Gothic, Baroque, and even Moorish. It houses an interesting museum, treasury, and the Holy Grail chapel. Also look out for paintings by Goya. Most visitors make a pilgrimage to the cathedral simply to climb its octagonal medieval tower, which provides a wonderful panorama of the city if you have the staying power to make it to the top of the winding staircase. Climbing the tower entails a small extra fee. The entrance fee to the cathedral includes an audio guide, in multiple languages, which takes tourists to 21 different points of interest in the cathedral. The square outside the church is lovely, with numerous cafes and restaurants. Part of the cathedral is always open for prayer, but tourists are only let in at certain times. Check the website for opening times.
One of Valencia's UNESCO World Heritage Sites is the old Silk Exchange, founded in 1469, copied from a similar structure built in Palma de Mallorca. The walled tower and flamboyant Gothic trading hall, once used for the trade of precious items like silk and gold, is widely regarded as the city's most beautiful building, and is now a top tourist attraction, often used for hosting art exhibitions. The immensely high vaulted ceiling tops some unusual and very attractive pillars, the floors are lovely, and there is lots of intricate stonework and Gothic detail to admire. There isn't much information of any kind inside, but informative guided tours are available in multiple languages for a small extra fee. A good time to visit is on a Sunday morning, when a popular stamp and coin collectors market makes for a lively trading buzz. The Silk Exchange is located opposite Valencia's Central Market, which some visitors may also want to investigate.
The Crypt of San Vicente is an ancient part of Valencia and exploring the space takes visitors on an intriguing archaeological journey through the history of the city. The crypt has existed in many different incarnations: it was once part of a Visigoth chapel; was converted into palace baths during Muslim rule; and was incorporated into a Christian chapel dedicated to the martyr San Vicente (although it is unclear whether the saint was ever actually imprisoned here as some historians claim). There is even evidence of Roman architecture in the crypt, which is located in a district once occupied by Roman nobles. It is possible to wander in and see the ruins, but without explanation it is not that interesting. History lovers are encouraged to book the audiovisual tour with images projected on the walls and a voice over detailing every different era in the building's past. Tours should be booked at the City Museum opposite the crypt.
The Plaza de la Virgen is one of Valencia's loveliest squares. Once the site of an ancient Roman forum, a fountain sits in the centre and is surrounded by plenty of open-air cafes. On one side of the square is the impressive Gothic façade of the Palau de la Generalitat, seat of government for the Valencia region, and opposite is the Baroque Basilica de Nuestra Senora de los Desamparados, a grand church dating from the 17th century containing fascinating frescoes. The Plaza de la Virgen is an entertainment hub during the famous Fallas Festival in Valencia, which sees the community building big, creative sculptures in the square and later burning them. Street performers come into the square during the evening and those sitting at cafes are treated to flame-throwers, jugglers, and the like. Even when there is no entertainment, the square is ideal for people-watching and photography. It is one of the best known landmarks and gathering places in Valencia.
Commonly known as La Pedrera, Casa Mila is an iconic construction by creative genius Antonio Gaudi. It was his last civil work before dedicating all his time to the assembly of La Sagrada Família. The building is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and demonstrates the signature style of Gaudi with elaborate designs, globular shapes, assorted sculptures, colourful tiles, and intricate details. Built between 1906 and 1912, the distinct architecture of La Pedrera and her counterparts was unconventional and unheard of in the popular Spanish architecture of the time. The remarkable building is now a cultural centre that organises a range of activities and hosts exhibitions of various kinds. Areas open to visitors include: the roof, providing lovely views and a close look at the weird and wonderful architectural elements on top of the building; the Espai Gaudi, an attic space dedicated to an exhibition on Gaudi's life and work; the La Pedrera Apartment, an area that recreates the home and lifestyle of a bourgeois Barcelona family in the early 20th century; and the spectacular courtyards and exhibition rooms of the first floor. Guided tours are available in multiple languages but these must be arranged in advance.
Known as the Gothic Quarter, the Barri Gòtic is Barcelona's oldest district. A former fortified Roman settlement, the maze of atmospheric narrow streets house spectacular Gothic buildings and cathedrals, marking the city's heyday during the 14th and 15th centuries. There are many significant sights, the most illustrious being the immense Gothic Cathedral La Seu, with its breathtaking façade and serene cloister. With an assortment of shops and delightful sidewalk cafés, the Barri Gòtic is a worthwhile day out. To view the remains of this ancient Roman city, once known as Barcino, visit the Museu d'Història de la Ciutat in the Palau Real, where Roman streets are still visible in the extensive cellar. There has been some controversy over the authenticity of the Gothic Quarter, as many of the district's most attractive features were actually added, in the Gothic style, in the last century, to promote tourism and restore the appeal of the area. However, it is a delightful district to explore and much of it is, or certainly feels, authentic. Most of the area is closed to regular traffic and largely pedestrianised, which adds to its charm, but taxis and some service vehicles are still allowed to traverse the quarter.
FC Barcelona, one of Europe's most beloved football teams, has an informative museum with displays of photographs, documents, memorabilia, and trophies, covering over a century of club history. Visitors also get the opportunity to explore the famous stadium on the Camp Nou Tour which takes fans to the heart of the club, the changing rooms, tunnel and Nou Camp pitch. With a panoramic view of the stadium from the grandstand, visitors can get a taste of the heady atmosphere of a FC Barcelona match on their home ground. The museum also has an official store where club jerseys, caps and accessories can be purchased. Be sure to check the tour schedule as game days do disrupt the timetable. It is actually best not to make your visit on a game day because some parts of the stadium will be restricted and you may miss out. Exploring the stadium allows fans to make informed decisions about which seats to book if they are attending a game. If you are lucky you may well see some of the FC Barcelona players in the complex. There are discounts for booking online via the official website listed below.
A celebration of the life and work of world-renowned Catalan surrealist sculptor and painter Joan Miró, the Joan Miró Foundation in Barcelona houses the majority of the artist's works, including paintings, drawings, sculptures, and textiles. Distinguished by his use of primary colours, simple lines, and two-dimensional geometric shapes, Miro refused to be categorised into an established art movement and as a result continued to create unparalleled works of art. Another product of original artistic genius from Barcelona, the works of Miró at the Joan Miró Foundation allow visitors to further delve into the unrestrained creative energy of this exceptional city. The building housing the collection was designed by Josep Lluis Sert and is unique and odd, an appropriate shell for the works of Joan Miro. The museum hosts a wide variety of temporary exhibitions by other artists, aiming to promote contemporary art in general, rather than just the work of Miro, and also hosts some workshops and lectures. As an added bonus there are some fantastic views across the city from the museum. Tickets can be booked online via the official website and audio guides can be rented, which are a big help in understanding and interpreting the art.
Barcelona's coastline offers a string of attractive beaches, the ideal diversion after excessive sightseeing and shopping. Visit the popular Barceloneta Beach, only ten minutes from the city centre, where there is a selection of beach bars. Cool down with a refreshing swim and marvel at the bizarre architecture of Homenatge a la Barceloneta by Rebecca Horn. Windsurfing and kite surfing are popular activities on this always bustling beach. The end of Barceloneta and the beginning of Icaria Beach is marked by Frank Gehry's El Peix. Marbella Beach is unofficially Barcelona's nudist beach, but although nudity is tolerated, many people choose to keep their clothes on. For a peaceful beach near the city centre look no further than Caldetes, which is invariably almost empty. Although Barceloneta is the most entertaining, the best beaches are further out of the city: St Pol de Mar is an hour-long train ride from the city centre but it is arguably Barcelona's most scenic beach, backed by picturesque hills and with a lovely little cove that has become a nudist zone.
The Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art is situated in the once-shabby Raval District, just off La Rambla. Over the years its front plaza has become synonymous with international skateboarders, being fondly known as the famous MACBA, drawing skaters and creatives from around the world to unite, compete, and collaborate against the backdrop of this chic white building. Being a work of art in itself, the Museum of Contemporary Art was designed to take advantage of as much natural light as possible and the cool, airy interiors confidently hold the works of modern art luminaries such as Basquiat, Klee, Tàpies, and Barcelò. Kids will enjoy the museum as there is a lot to touch and interact with - this is not your usual uptight gallery space. The museum has also made great use of technology, with an exhibition that allows visitors to download mobile apps which give additional information on each installation, even linking to YouTube clips about the artists. There is free wifi in MACBA and a comfy chill-out zone in which to take advantage of it. A perfect union of two art forms, MACBA and the attendant throng of talented skateboarders are a sight to be experienced.
One of the most well-known plazas in the country, Puerta del Sol is the historical and geographical heart of the city. The 15th-century entryway earned its name by being bathed in the rays of the rising sun due its eastern position. Littered with famous landmarks, Puerta del Sol is home to the famous Spanish clock tower whose bell marks the beginning of the New Year. The official symbol of Madrid (El Oso y El Madroño) is immortalised in a 20-ton statue of a bear eating fruits off a Madrono tree. There's also a large equestrian statue of King Carlos III on display. Unmistakable is the luminous Tio Pepe sign while more discreet is the kilómetro cero marker on the pavement, symbolically placing Puerta del Sol at the centre of Spain. This geographical importance is mirrored politically and socially: the plaza is a popular site for rallies and protests, and remains an important venue for social gatherings, festivals, and events. Puerta del Sol is well worth a visit and the area is popular with tourists, with many hotels nearby.
Located nearby the Prado Museum, the Royal Botanic Garden of Madrid is one of the oldest botanic gardens in Europe. With the foundation of the garden ordered by King Ferdinand VI in 1755, the Royal Botanic Garden has been cataloguing and nurturing rare species of flora for over 200 years. A welcome break after hours of art, architecture, and frenetic streets, the garden is a small haven of natural splendour. Divided into three terraces and extending only eight hectares, the garden boasts an array of 30,000 plants and flowers and 1,500 trees. Not only interested in exhibiting plants, the gardens' initial aim was to teach botany, and to promote expeditions to discover new plant species and classification. Nowadays, the Royal Botanic Garden houses a cutting edge research centre, an extensive herbarium, and a large library. Visit the Classical Romantic Garden, Villanueva Pavilion, the Graells Greenhouse, and the Exhibition Greenhouse. Guided tours can be arranged online. There's also a series of self-guided tours set out on the website, suggesting what to see on a number of trips to the garden arranged by themes like the evolution of the plant kingdom, aromatic plants, and outstanding trees.
A worthwhile visit in a country known for its rich history, the National Archaeological Museum was founded in 1867 with the purpose of being a depository for the collection of coin, archaeological, ethnographical, and decorative art collections compiled by the Spanish monarchs. Situated in a stately neoclassical mansion alongside the National Library, the museum's collection ranges from prehistoric times to the 19th century. One of the major exhibits is the famous Iberian statue, 'The Lady of Elche', a carving from the 4th century BC found on the south-eastern coast of Spain. Other intriguing exhibits are the Islamic collection, outlining the long and influential history of the Moors in Spain, and the replica of Altamira Cave, inhabited over 18,000 years ago, with rock paintings depicting bison, horses, boars, and human handprints. The replica of the cave can be found in the garden and is particularly notable because the original has been closed to the public to prevent deterioration. The museum also holds interesting collections of Visigoth, Roman, and Greek artefacts. With three floors of exhibition space, this museum is a treasure trove for those interested in the archaeological history of Spain.
A hidden gem, the Sorolla Museum was the home of renowned Spanish Impressionist painter Joaquín Sorolla and his family. Donated to the government in 1929 by Sorolla's widow, the house now operates as a memorial and museum, displaying a large collection of Sorolla's glowing works and other contemporary collections including sculpture, ceramics, furniture, and jewellery. A fine example of a bourgeois Madrid home from the early 20th century, the attractive museum has an intrinsically Spanish style with brightly painted walls, dark furniture, and a pretty garden. Much of the house remains as Sorolla left it, right down to his stained paintbrushes and pipes. Although known for his portraits of aristocrats, Sorolla's passion lay in depicting the everyday lives of Spanish people, with many paintings depicting Spaniards in their native dress going to the beach and engaging in work or leisure activities. Informative audio guides are available. Afternoon visits are recommended for those wanting to avoid crowds, as school and tour groups usually come in the morning. The museum is delightful but small, and won't require much time to explore.
Also known as Fournella, Fornells is a sleepy resort and fishing town. It's located in the north of Minorca, which is known for its unspoilt and very often deserted beaches. Originally founded to serve the 16th-century castle as a defence against the Barbary pirates, all that remains of the military is the watchtower perched upon a hill which visitors can stroll to and climb for gorgeous views over the town and harbour. Fornells' quaint waterfront area, lined with shops and restaurants, bustles during the summer months, but remains quiet the rest of the year. The town is only home to about 1,000 permanent residents and although it is popular with tourists it has retained its charm and authentic character. Travellers can enjoy water sports here, especially windsurfing, and scuba divers can enjoy an excursion to the marine park off the north shores and marvel at the magnificent aquatic life. It is also possible to charter boats from the harbour. Fornells is small enough to explore on foot, but if you want a lovely sandy beach it is best to make the short drive (10 minutes) to Son Parc.
Surrounded by rolling green hills, the 13th-century town of Ferreries lies nestled in the centre of Minorca next to the island's second highest mountain. Travellers are attracted to the area by the Castell de Santa Agueda, the ruin of a Moorish castle built atop an ancient Roman stronghold. It exists as the last site of resistance for Arab inhabitants when the island was conquered by King Alfonso III of Aragon. The ruined fortress is accessed via an ancient Roman road and there is a chapel dedicated to Saint Agatha next to the castle. Ferreries itself is a sleepy little place, with a character typical of the island. With orange tiled roofs and narrow streets, this little town may not be an obvious attraction. However, a farmer's market is held in the town every Tuesday and Friday, attracting locals from all over Minorca. It's a great place to buy local produce as the region is particularly celebrated for its cheeses. Ferreries is only a short, 30-minute drive from the airport and is a good starting point for walking tours of the island.
Also known as Cala'n Porter and Cala En Porter, Calan Porter is one of the largest coastal developments along the central south coast of Minorca. Calan Porter is a picturesque cove with a beautiful beach, with tourists flocking to its shores throughout the summer. Famed for its Cova d'en Xoroi, Calan Porter is located on the edge of sheer cliffs, boasting spectacular views over the Mediterranean and creating the perfect vantage point for watching the mind-blowing sunsets. Calan Porter was one of the earliest developed beach resorts on the island and is less than 20 minutes-drive from the airport. By Minorcan standards this resort is lively, but visitors should not expect to find pumping clubs and bars like on Baleariac Islands Mallorca or Ibiza. Having said that, the bar and nightclub called Cova de en Xoroi - usually simply called 'The Caves' - is a dreamy drinking and socialising venue, which tunnels through the steep cliffs above the cove and offers incredible views. There is a selection of other restaurants, bars, and shops clumped together in the centre of town, near the road down to the beach. There is a good range of accommodation to suit all budgets.
Located in the centre of Barcelona, the Parc de La Ciutadella is a great place to spend a sunny summer's afternoon relaxing under a tree with a book, a picnic, and the family. Originally the site was chosen for a fortress in 1714, but in 1869 it was decided that the area should be a park and the palace was demolished. Featuring a lake where visitors can hire a small rowboat, exploring the park and being out on the water is a fun way to unwind. The paths for walking, jogging, and cycling are wide and well-maintained, while there are some interesting sculptures dotted about the park and some striking buildings. The Cascada is a giant water feature designed by Fontsere with some help from his student Gaudi. The Catalan Parliament building is in the park, as is the Barcelona Zoo and the Castle of Three Dragons, which now houses the Zoological Museum. The Geology Museum, housed in an imposing neoclassical building, can also be found in La Ciutadella. The enormous, red triumphal arch, Baroque in design, marks one entrance to the park.
Featuring thousands of brightly coloured and exotic fish, the Barcelona Aquarium is a must for children of all ages. With 35 different tanks holding creatures from different oceans, the aquarium is the largest of its kind in Europe and features species such as giltheads, moray eels, sunfish, rays, sand tiger sharks, and sandbar sharks. The oceanarium is the largest Mediterranean-themed aquarium in the world and the showpiece of the Barcelona Aquarium, with a transparent tunnel winding through it that gives visitors the exhilarating feeling of walking underwater. The whole aquarium houses about 11,000 organisms from 450 different species. The best time to visit is during feeding times: scuba divers feed the sharks on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday between 12pm and 1pm; the entertaining penguins are fed twice daily on weekdays at about 1pm and 5pm, and on weekends at about 1.30pm and 5pm; and the rays are fed between 1.30pm and 2pm every weekday. The aquarium offers scuba diving and cage diving activities for an extra cost. A fun outing for the whole family, the Barcelona Aquarium provides a welcome break from traditional sightseeing in the city.
The mock village of Poble Espanyol is an outdoor open-air architectural museum featuring workshops where visitors can see different types of craftwork taking place. The village is made up of 117 buildings, streets, and squares which have been reproduced to scale giving the true feel of a Spanish village. The village was built in 1929 for the Barcelona International Exhibition and some of the replica buildings have now outlived the originals, which were found in villages across Spain. The village is a great attraction for those travelling with children, with fun activities like treasure hunts to take part in, and some fantastic shopping opportunities. More than 30 craft workshops demonstrate the traditional secrets of the different art forms, producing high-quality crafts. The workshops produce handmade dolls and puppets, embroidery, ceramics, glassware, jewellery, baskets, textiles, leather work, soap, and more. Various art exhibitions and studios can be found in the village, including a sculpture garden. The village also showcases Spanish gastronomy, with a wide variety of restaurants dedicated to different Spanish culinary traditions, and plenty of events and activities organised for foodies. A deservedly popular tourist attraction, Poble Espanyol is a wonderful cultural experience.
A great day out for the kids is a trip to the Safari Park, set in an African-style savannah landscape and home to giraffe, camels, zebras, elephants, hippos, bison, bears, baboons, monkeys, and rhino. The main wildlife attractions are the big cats, including lions, tigers, and cougars. Many of the animals are allowed to roam free, simulating an African safari experience that lets visitors view game from their vehicles. Those who have been on real safaris will find the park disappointing, however. There is a reptile collection, including a number of exotic snakes, and some interesting birds. There are daily lion-taming and bird shows shows, as well as activities like camel rides. Small kids will be delighted with the selection of meek, cuddly animals that they are allowed to interact with. There are two picnic areas in the park and a swimming pool and slide that offer a welcome respite after a day of game viewing. There is even a go-karting track and some paddle boats to play on. It is recommended that visitors bring their own food and also something to feed the animals. Animal food is on sale at the park but it is far cheaper to bring your own.
Home to nearly 3,000 animals from all over the world and an impressive aquarium, the Madrid Zoo is a great attraction for kids on holiday in the city. Highlights of the zoo include koala bears, pandas, zebras, raccoons, bears, reindeers, rhinos, otters, lions, chimpanzees, hippos, lemurs, lynx, buffalo, elephants, wolves, orangutans, baboons, gorillas, giraffes, and tigers. The zoo also boasts a good variety of reptiles and birds. Marine animals include the ever-popular dolphins, seals, penguins, and sharks. There are dolphin and sea lion shows. The queues can get long at the entrance, and there are discounts for booking online, so it is worth booking your tickets in advance via the official website. Luckily, once inside the zoo is so vast that it seldom feels too crowded. Those who have trouble walking or are in a bit of a lazy mood can rent golf carts to get them around. There are plenty of snack kiosks and eateries spread throughout the grounds, but it is also possible to bring your own picnic. It's a good idea to travel to the zoo on the metro, because parking can be a problem on a busy day. The Madrid Zoo can easily keep the family occupied and entertained for a full day.
Parque de Atracciones is a fantastic amusement park in Madrid, and a particularly good option for those travelling with kids. The park is big and modern and offers a number of rides and attractions for all ages. There is plenty for the thrill-seekers to enjoy, but also some more relaxed rides. The park is divided into five large sections: Maquinismo (machinery), where many large rides can be found; the Gran Avenida (main avenue), which boasts shops, restaurants, shows, and street performers; Naturaleza (nature); Tranquilidad (relaxation); and Infantile, an area designed for young kids. There are a number of shows, games, and spectacles to keep everybody entertained. The Virtual Cinema is a simulator with moving chairs that kids will love, and the Spectacle of Sound, Light and Water show has fireworks and lasers that are also a favourite. There are about 15 food outlets in the park, including restaurants, fast food joints, and snack kiosks. Booking tickets online (at least three days in advance) allows you to skip queues at the entrance and earns you substantial discounts. It is best to arrive early as queues can get long in the park.
This mini train departs from Platja d'Es Canar along a variety of routes around the island. The gentle pace and open sides are ideal for watching the scenery roll by. The train stops off at scenic places for the kids to stretch their legs and sunbathe or swim. The Sant Carlos and Beaches route takes three hours and stops at some of the more remote beaches on the island. The highlight of this tour is the village of Sant Carlos with its picturesque 18th-century church. The Santa Eulalia evening tour takes about two hours and gives passengers the opportunity to see the quaint village of Santa Eulalia, where visitors can stroll along the promenade or engage in some souvenir shopping. The three-hour Environment and Culture tour allows visitors to explore the spectacular Ibiza landscapes before stopping for snacks at a 17th-century farmhouse. Photo enthusiasts should take the train along its Prtinatx - Puerto San Miguel - Cala San Vicente route. Passengers on this route get the opportunity to explore many of Ibiza's beaches, wonderful shopping opportunities, and the scenic white churches of Sant Llorenc, Sant Vicente, and San Joan, as well as the oldest church-fortress on the island, the 13th-century Sant Miquel.
There are a number of world-class golf courses on Gran Canaria, including Meloneras Golf Course, and golf is a popular activity in the Canary Islands. El Cortijo was home to the Spanish Open in 2002 and is just outside Las Palmas. The Real Club de Golf is nearby in Bandama and is Spain's oldest golf club, founded in 1891; it is closed to non-members at weekends. The Maspalomas Club de Golf is located close to the sand dunes within a nature reserve, while the newest club, Salobre, is just 10 minutes drive east of Puerto Rico. Other notable golf courses on Gran Canaria include Las Palmeras Golf, Oasis Golf, Anfi Tuaro Golf, and Meloneras Golf. Las Palmeras Golf Course is located in the city centre and boasts views over the Atlantic Ocean and the picturesque Canteras beach. The Oasis Golf Course in Autopista del Sur is a quirky miniature copy of famous American courses and many consider it to be one of the best replicas in the world. It also has floodlights. The Anfi Tuaro Course in Mogan features both a pitch-and-putt course of 9 holes and a par-72 18-hole course complete with lakes, flowers, and spectacular mountain views.
Aqualand is one place that is not to be missed by families on holiday in Mallorca. Children of all ages and parents alike will have a grand time splashing in the pools, riding the slides, floating on tubes, a mini water park for the little ones, or jumping in the wave pools. Those who don't relish excitement can enjoy the lazy river or the Jacuzzis, and the whole family will enjoy the surf beach and group rides. There are lockers and sun loungers available to rent for a small extra charge and there are various options for food and refreshments in the park. Benches and beach areas provide space for relaxation in between the thrills and spills. The park generally receives rave reviews from tourists and provides a fun day out for all age groups. There are discounts for booking online and having your ticket when you arrive allows you to skip any queues there may be at the entrance. Arriving early is also a good idea to get a jump on the crowds at this popular attraction.
A trip to Marineland is a must for families travelling in Mallorca with children, where kids can enjoy watching the dolphin and sea lion shows. Marineland also has other attractions including Europe's largest collection of sharks, a parrot circus, aquariums, crocodiles, and snakes. For a fee, visitors can choose to touch and have photographs taken with dolphins and other animals after their shows. Children of all ages will love discovering all the animals and watching the spectacular shows. There is a wide range of options for refreshments in Marineland, with restaurants and pizzerias serving up simple food. It is also possible to take your own picnic. If watching all the animals cavort in the water makes you jealous, Marineland offers direct access to one of Costa de Calvia's loveliest beaches, where you can end your day with a swim, or lounge in the sun between shows. There are discounts for booking online and booking in advance allows you to skip queues at the entrance. For details on the times that the various animals perform and feeding times check the official website listed below.
Katmandu Park is a theme park and mini-golf complex that proves wildly popular amongst younger visitors to Magaluf. Featuring cutting-edge technology, The House of Katmandu provides a thrilling and interactive haunted house experience for youngsters; The Asylum, aimed at older visitors (12 years and older), takes passengers on a scary journey through an abandoned mental asylum; the interactive motion ride Desperado is a comical cowboy gun slinging experience; and there is a 4D cinema to enjoy. The 36-hole (two 18-hole courses) Expedition Golf area of the theme park is hugely impressive, featuring fun and challenging courses, elaborately ornamented and themed, that even adults will find tough to master. There are a few food options when you get hungry, as well as a luxurious pool bar. Take kids of all ages to Katmandu Park for a day of fun and excitement they won't soon forget.
Aqualand is a must for all families visiting Gran Canaria, especially those with children. The wide range of slides, pools, and rides will keep the young and the young at heart happily entertained for hours. Those looking for an injection of adrenalin should try the wide array of thrill rides, while young children have their own water playground with fun mini slides and swings. There is a surf beach and a lazy river which families can enjoy together, while there are plenty of benches and beach areas for relaxing and picnicking. Lockers and sun loungers cost a little extra, but visitors do get free bags to keep their towels and other belongings in. The park is clean and well-maintained, generally receiving rave reviews from tourists. It is open all year, but does close if the weather is very bad. Queues are usually not too long, but it is worth arriving early in the day in peak season to get a jump on the crowds.
Featuring a wide variety of activities, Holiday World is a fun park which caters specifically to families on holiday in Gran Canaria. Kids of all ages can enjoy rides such as bumper cars, a Ferris wheel, roller coasters, and a pirate ship, as well as games such as ten-pin bowling and things like pony rides and a parrot show. There is a playground area for children too young to enjoy the rides. A range of restaurants and fast-food outlets are available and after dark there are some nighttime entertainment options, with frequent live shows and music concerts, an Irish pub, and some other drinking and dancing venues. Adults who don't want to partake in the funfair attractions can luxuriate in the wellness centre, which offers gym facilities and spa treatments. On Tuesdays there is a craft fair, with stalls showcasing the local handicrafts and cuisine of Gran Canaria, as well as traditional dance, music, and folklore performances, making this the best day of the week to visit.
A perfect day out for the whole family, Baku contains a water park with gentle slides, animal features, and shallow pools for young children. The Parque Europa opens in the evening, offering a range of entertainment. Attractions like the Big Jacuzzi, the lazy river, and the wave pool will appeal to those who shy away from the more thrilling rides. As well as an infant play area, there is also a mini golf course if the family needs a break from the water for an hour or two as well as a food kiosk. On week days, between 9am and 2pm, there is a craft market set up in this area where visitors can browse for souvenirs from the Canary Islands and even the nearby shores of Africa. For simple fun in the sun, the Baku Water Park is a great attraction. Check out the website for details on the free bus to the park which services Castillo, Jandia, and Costa Calma on certain days.
Mallorca's most popular hiking trail is the climb from the town of Alaro up to a ruined castle and hilltop chapel, which offers panoramic views of the sea and plains as far as Palma. From Alaro the walk takes about two hours to complete depending on fitness levels. A castle has stood on this site since Moorish times and the fortress was once so impregnable that the Moors managed to hold out against the Christian conquest for two years. Later, in 1285, Mallorcan independence fighters tried to defend the castle against Alfonso III of Aragon, but they were defeated and burned alive for their impudence.
The castle ruins now visible on the hilltop date from the 15th century and dominate the landscape. They seem to grow out of the rock and are rather romantic and picturesque, fuelling the imagination. At the summit there is a restaurant and bar to refresh weary climbers. If you fall in love with the place it is possible to spend the night on the summit in one of the simple rooms. On Sundays the trail becomes rather busy. It is possible to drive almost all the way up if you don't mind dealing with rather scary, steep roads that aren't in the best state, but hiking is generally more satisfying.
Visiting the dormant volcanoes is not one of the typical things to do in Spain. Yet they offer stunning scenery and a one-of-a-kind experience. Sandwiched between the Pyrenees and Costa Brava, the region of Garrotxa is home to a multitude of prehistoric volcanoes as well as many castles and country houses. Visitors wanting to experience more of Spain than the quintessential beach and city breaks should head to Garrotxa Nature Reserve, just outside of Girona, to experience a land of amazing and rugged landscapes, fire, and ash. The reserve showcases the best of rural tourism in Spain and is perfect for enthusiastic hikers. The volcanoes in this area formed over 11,000 years ago and the region is unique to Europe. Visitors can walk, hike, or horse ride along any number of tracks and trails in the reserve and enjoy a land of stark contrasts. There are also hot air balloon rides available in the reserve, which is a very exciting way to experience the beauty of the region. Some chefs in Garrotxa create what they call 'volcanic cuisine', trying to express the landscape through food, and Michelin-starred restaurants like Les Cols are the perfect place to sample these interesting meals.
Credited both as the birthplace of bullfighting and the home of one of Spain's great architectural feats, Ronda is an easy and entertaining escape from the city. Dramatically situated on the edge of a deep gorge, Ronda is a very picturesque place offering plenty of fodder for photographers. Ambling about the cobbled streets, handsome mansions, and well-established artisan boutiques is enough to fill a day, but no visit would be complete without a trip to the beautiful old bull ring and Ronda's most famous attraction, the Puento Nueveo. The structure straddles a magnificent chasm and connects the old town to the new, while allowing visitors a vista of the region unfolding around them. The Old Town, La Ciudad, is a labyrinth of narrow streets and historic old buildings which is a delight to explore. Calle la Bola is the main shopping street, and La Alameda, right next to the bull ring, is a pleasant park for a rest in the shade. Ronda is small and best explored on foot, with plenty of drinking fountains in the Old Town. Those who have energy to spare can walk down to the bottom of the gorge, which affords great photo opportunities.
This truly incredible limestone formation sits at the end of the Iberian Peninsula, famous for its astounding geology and overly-friendly furry friends. Though many countries have claimed the beacon over the years, it's officially owned by the British government and thus it is advised that tourists exchange euros for pounds. The Rock of Gibraltar is easily conquered by cable car, but it's worthwhile to hire a guide to explain the countless caves and rocks, and to entice the wild but sociable monkeys. On clear days, visitors can even view North Africa. St Michael's Cave, long believed to be bottomless, is a thrilling attraction with many myths and stories attached. Part of the massively deep cave is open to visitors and is even used as a concert venue. The labyrinthine Great Siege Tunnels, an incredible defence system constructed to repel the Spanish and French invaders between 1779 and 1783, is also fascinating. The Moorish Castle complex, dating back to the 11th century, is another impressive attraction in Gibraltar. The fit and brave should consider walking up the steep Mediterranean Steps with its stunning vistas, which wind up the eastern side of the Rock.
This rustic little village has plenty of charm and character for those looking for a quiet getaway and gorgeous beaches. El Cotillo has a rich history, and was previously a smuggler's harbour used by Fuerteventurans shipping goods off to Gran Canaria where the prices were better. The 18th century tower of Fortaleza del Tostón overlooks the town from the cliffs to the south of the harbour, while the Museum of Traditional Fishing is housed in the old lighthouse. The main attraction of a visit to El Cotillo is indisputably the coastline, which boasts spectacular beaches and lagoons, providing calm, sheltered swimming spots and long sandy stretches for walking and sunbathing. As there are rock pools and the water stays shallow for a few metres, the beaches are great for kids. Some nudity is common on the beaches, but there are so many secluded coves and so much space that it should be easy to find some privacy. It is also a good destination for surfers, with some decent waves and even a surf school. There are some pleasant bars and restaurants close to the shore, but no sun loungers or umbrellas to hire.
This amazing animal park, both an aquarium and a zoo, in the north of the island is Tenerife's top attraction. The entrance fee is not cheap but considering you get a full day out, the ticket is good value. The dolphin and orca shows are particularly thrilling and the penguins even have their own glacier to cavort on. There are also sea lion and bird shows to enjoy. Animals in the park include gorillas, tigers, alligators, chimpanzees, jaguars, marmosets, otters, sloths, and meerkats, each in a lovingly maintained microclimate. The park was originally established as a sanctuary for parrots, and these colourful and characterful birds are still one of the highlights. For those planning on going to Siam Park, a combined ticket is available that provides a good discount on entry. There are several restaurants and bars in the park for rest and refreshments, but if you want to save money you can bring your own food and drink. For those watching the budget there is also a free train to catch from Puerto De La Cruz. Loro Parque has received numerous awards and generally receives rave reviews from visitors.
Siam Park provides is an exciting waterpark with Thai-themed rides. Its presentation is excellent and the rides are numerous and world-class. Lazily float down the Mai-Thai River or take the challenge of the Tower of Power which has a 28-metre vertical drop. There is a big beach area and a wave pool and a special watery playground area for small children. The Floating Market, styled like a Thai village, has shops and restaurants and even offers spa treatments for those who would rather be pampered. There are some nice touches, like the sea lion enclosure, where you can watch the animals at play, and a shark tunnel and some rapids as an optional extra on the lazy river. The park is very popular and in the summer months the queues do get long. It is recommended that you book your tickets in advance online to skip the entrance queue. There are things like lockers and sun loungers available for rent. A free bus runs from Los Cristianos, Las Americas, and Costa Adeje. Siam Park should provide a fun day out for people of all ages and is especially good for entertaining teenagers.
The town of Garachico offers a very different experience of Tenerife for those visitors wanting to see a more traditional and historical side to the island's character. Once a prosperous port town, Garachico suffered a weeks-long volcanic eruption in 1706 that destroyed the port but created rock pools that are today rich in marine life and perfect for swimming. The rock pools are a highlight of a visit to Garachico and make it a good destination for those travelling with kids. The village streets that fan out from the wonderfully picturesque main plaza, La Libertad, are narrow and cobbled, with restaurants and rustic buildings hiding around every corner. The old convent in the centre of town is open to visitors and well-worth checking out for its striking architecture. Garachico should delight photographers, particularly as it has retained its authentic character and charm, making it a refreshing break from the more homogenized resort areas. The drive to the village can be a bit stressful, because of all the curving little cliff roads, but the views more than reward the effort, and are considered some of the prettiest on the island.
The beautiful town of La Orotava is firm proof that there is much more to Tenerife than lovely beaches and a fun nightlife. Known for its aristocratic heritage and exceptional architecture, La Orotava is famous for its ornate balconies, many of which are concentrated on Casa de los Balcones. The town was settled by noble families in the aftermath of the Spanish conquest and they set about a flourish of competitive building, a legacy that modern-day visitors can enjoy at their leisure. The west of the island was home to Tenerife's nobility who built many fine houses. There are many churches and monasteries here too: don't miss the Gothic marvel of Iglesia de la Concepción. Other attractions in La Orotava include the theme park PuebloChico, which reproduces iconic buildings and landscapes of the Canary Islands in miniature. La Orotava is beautifully situated, with volcanic black beaches and mountains that encourage hiking and other outdoor activities. The perfect time to visit this picturesque town is during the festival of Corpus Christi, in early March, when the streets are decorated with carpets of flowers. This incredible and unique site draws visitors from all over the world.
This park is a sure-fire hit with kids and a must for animal lovers of all ages. Monkey Park is a privately-owned conservation and breeding centre for endangered animals, specialising in primates, and doesn't put on any animal shows, aiming rather to educate visitors and let them enjoy interacting naturally with the animals. The park is home to a quirky variety of monkeys, parrots, iguanas, giant tortoises, lemurs, crocodiles, and other curious creatures. Some animals are in enclosures, but others, most notably the comical and friendly lemurs, are allowed to roam free and interact with visitors. The best way to make sure you're popular with the animals is to bring fruit for them to eat. There is feed for sale at the ticket desk, but grapes are a favourite. It's also a good idea to bring refreshments for yourself as the only snacks and drinks available are from vending machines. Families should cater to spend at least two to three hours in the park, which is small but will delight children. The park is off the bus route so a taxi or hired car is needed to get there.
Andalusia's chalky soil is ideal for the cultivation of the palomino grape, from which the world-famous sherry (jerez) of the region is made. The main sites of sherry production in Andalusia are Jerez de la Frontera and Montilla, and these charming towns are home to plenty of self-proclaimed sherry connoisseurs, who will debate the quality of the sweet amber-coloured blends with the seriousness usually reserved for appraising the finest French wines. An increasingly popular tourist activity for visitors to southern Spain is to tour the bodegas of the region, wineries with a history dating back to Roman times, which specialise in the fermentation of palomino grapes and the production of sherry. Tasting tours of these bodegas are fun and informative, and can be combined with other great cultural attractions, such as checking out a flamenco dance performance, or admiring beautiful Andalusian horses at a dressage event. A bottle of Andalusian sherry also makes for a great Spanish souvenir for friends and family back home. Many tour operators offer day trips to the bodegas but it is also easy to explore without a guide.
El Raval is a compelling and interesting neighbourhood, with a long and chequered history. It's one of two districts bordering La Rambla, with the other being the established tourist area of Barri Gotic. Located near Barcelona's port, El Raval has always had an exciting, multicultural character, particularly popular with backpackers and revellers keen to check out the city's cutting-edge galleries and clubs. While having undergone a period of development, the area still remains slightly dangerous and tourists should be careful of pickpockets and avoid walking alone at night. El Raval is full of cool bars and funky cafes that beg to be explored, from Bar Marsella with its Art Nouveau interior, to London Bar, a run-down though stately place once frequented by artists like Hemingway, Picasso, and Mirò. Another great sight in El Raval is the Palau Guell, one of Gaudi's lesser-known masterpieces, featuring large parabolic gates decorated with beautiful ironwork.
Mijas is a fantastic choice for visitors looking to amble through a pretty Spanish village with a real sense of history and traditional Andalusian character. It's an ideal spot for those keen to take a break from the golden sands and sparkling clear waters of the Costa del Sol which are somewhat dominated by mass tourism. A popular day trip destination, Mijas is easily reached by bus, and offers visitors the chance to wander through narrow streets lined with white-washed buildings and historic sights. Archaeological finds reveal the town's foundation by the Tartessians, interactions with the Ancient Greeks and Phoenicians, Roman and Visigoth influence, and Moorish rule. Mijas also has its share of history from the Spanish Civil War. Once a tiny place, Mijas is growing in size and popularity and now boasts wonderful cafes, restaurants, and bars, and is an ideal shopping destination for those looking to pick up a few Spanish souvenirs for their loved ones back home.
Palma is a lively cosmopolitan city, its centre forming a bustling maze of shopping centres, narrow lanes, and restored buildings surrounded by ruined ancient city walls and modern boulevards. The Moorish heritage of Mallorca is still evident, as are the remnants of Palma's golden years when it rose to wealth and prominence in the 15th century as the main port of call between Europe and Africa. Nowadays, it's a Spanish beach holiday haunt and favourite weekend city break destination of the rich and famous. Despite the invasion of foreign tourists, Palma has kept its local flavour, particularly in its old quarter, which is still lined by cafés and tapas bars. The biggest concentration of restaurants is in the centre of town, at El Terreno, and around the Paseo Maritimo. Palma de Mallorca's key activities centre on its nightlife and the town is well known for its bars and nightclubs. In fact, some of Spain's biggest nightclubs are in Palma de Mallorca and the city is a great destination for those seeking a party. Shoppers will particularly enjoy exploring the streets of the old town, while sightseeing attractions include the beautiful La Seo Cathedral, the fortress of Palau de l'Almudaina, the unusual Castell de Bellver, and some good museums. Unfortunately, the city doesn't have good beaches. Popular excursion destinations include the family-friendly Aqualand theme park, several excellent golf courses, and good hiking trails in the rocky Mallorcan hills.
The ancient city of La Coruna has steadily been growing in popularity as a base for travellers in northern Spain. The bustling coastal centre has a busy port, a gorgeously long beachfront, and a reputation for liberalism. Today it is a cosmopolitan and proud city, popular with expats. The main attraction for sightseers is the Roman Tower of Hercules, an ancient lighthouse which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. La Coruna's Old Town, Ciudad Vieja, is picturesque, with some noble old buildings and a lively medieval fair in July. The newest and most talked about attraction is the MunCyT technological museum (Museo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología), a glass and concrete monument to modernism. Another feature that gets visitors very excited is the beachfront promenade, one of the longest in Europe, which winds past many of the city's best attractions. The Orzan and Riazor Beaches, in the heart of La Coruna, are both Blue Flag accredited and immensely popular in the summer months. For delicious and authentic Spanish food visitors should head to the prime tapas territory of Calle Estrella.
The capital of Gran Canaria and a bustling holiday resort, Las Palmas is situated on the northeastern tip of the island, between two long and lovely stretches of beach. The city was founded in 1478 and was the spot where Christopher Columbus began each of his voyages to the Americas. Much of the historic Vegueta district remains charmingly intact behind the modern apartment blocks which line the seafront, and there are many interesting ancient sights and museums to visit. Interesting cultural offerings, fun festivals, and highly renowned cuisine attracts thousands of holidaymakers to Las Palmas every year. Of course, the surrounding stretches of beach are also a big draw card, as is the fact that the city is the gateway to the whole island. The warm waters surrounding Las Palmas provide perfect conditions for all kinds of watersports for holidaymakers, including sailing and boating. Many of the resorts also have their own tennis courts, golf courses, and other sporting facilities. Whale watching is a popular activity and tickets can be bought from companies taking tourists out on boats for the day. Las Palmas promises some good holiday shopping and the city also lures travellers with an energetic nightlife.
Nerja is a special Costa del Sol destination for those seeking an authentic, less commercialised coastal village. Nerja is more quaint and picturesque than many of the region's popular beach resorts and is a good place to find charming tapas bars and a great restaurant scene. The narrow winding streets and many squares are lit up beautifully in the evening, and the town has a romantic atmosphere. The village is nestled among the sandy coves and rugged cliffs where the Sierra de Almijara Mountains meet the sea, and the Balcon de Europa is one of many viewpoints that allows visitors to enjoy spectacular views in and around Nerja. There are more than five miles (9km) of beaches stretching to either side of Nerja, including long, sandy stretches for walking and activities, and tiny secluded coves. The area of Nerja boasts some amazing attractions, including the famous caves of the same name, and some impressive Roman ruins. Nerja is about 31 miles (50km) east of Malaga, making it a convenient and popular excursion from the city, which is the capital of Andalusia and often the starting point for travels in Costa del Sol.
The fortified medieval centre of Montblanc is gloriously well preserved. The historic old quarter is best explored on foot and notable sights include the Church of Santa Maria la Mayor, the Sant Miguel Church, the Sant Marcal Church, the Royal Palace, and the Castla Palace, all dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries. The picturesque village celebrates its medieval heritage every year in April with a two-week festival filled with parades and fireworks, which commemorates the legend of Saint George killing the dragon. Montblanc is inland from the port city of Tarragona and very close to the UNESCO-listed Poblet Monastery, which is one of the most famous attractions in the Costa Dorada. Poblet was once one of the most powerful monasteries in Spain and was founded in 1151 by the Cistercians. The kings of Aragon and Catalonia were buried here. Many of the beautiful monastic buildings at Poblet have now been restored and a visit is a must for holidaymakers in the region. Montblanc and Poblet are only about five miles (8km) apart and can be jointly explored on an excursion from the coastal resorts.
Spanish Phrase Book
|por favor||please||por fah vohr|
|gracias||thank you||grah see us|
|mi nombre es||my name is||mee nombré es|
|cuento cuesta||how much is||kwanto kwesta|
|donde esta||where is||donday esta|
|usted habla inglés?||do you speak English?||oo ste hub la in glays|
|no entiendo||I dont understand||no in tee endo|
|necesito a un doctor||I need a doctor||nece-sito a un doctor|
|uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco||one, two, three, four, five||oono, dose, tres, kwatro, sinko|
Southern Spain is the ideal holiday region, having the warmest weather on mainland Europe, even during the winter months. The southern and eastern coast of Spain has a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and mild winters, while the western Atlantic coast is cooler in summer and wet in winter.
Inland the climate is temperate and the capital Madrid, which is situated on a plateau, can be surprisingly cold in winter. Most of Spain is extremely hot during mid-summer, in July and August. The rest of the year the climate is generally temperate in the north, but warm in the south.
The peak tourism season is summer, between June and August, with August the busiest month, but many people prefer to visit Spain during spring or autumn (May or October) when the weather is still pleasant and the crowds thinner. The exception to this recommendation is the Atlantic coast, which has heavy rains in October and November.
Budget travellers should consider visiting Spain in the winter as accommodation and flights are offered at discount rates. The Canary Islands are a good beach destination if visiting in winter, and cities like Barcelona are exciting destinations at any time of year.
One of the most well known seafood restaurants in Barcelona, Botafumeiro consistently presents the finest regional cuisine of Galicia and prides itself on the freshness of its fish, clams, mussels, lobster, crayfish and scallops, which are either kept in large tanks near delivered daily from the ocean. The impeccable treatment of customers and the private atmosphere makes this a perfect dining experience for both business and pleasure. Open for lunch and dinner daily. Reservations essential.
For almost a century this restaurant has been a family-run business and today the homey atmosphere still welcomes patrons with its old-fashioned, wooden panelling, and time-tested, traditional fare. Catalán paintings from the 1950s serve as reminders of Agut's time as a meeting place for artists and writers. The hearty food includes such dishes as sweet and sour wild duck, layers of pastry filled with Catalán sausage and mushrooms, or monkfish with prawns, while desserts are light and creative. Not to be confused with the Agut d'Avignon restaurant nearby. Closed on Mondays, no dinner on Sundays and the restaurant closes in August.
On the beachfront, Can Majó serves delicious seafood that can be enjoyed on the outdoor terrace overlooking the Mediterranean. Specialities include paella, but the fish is also superb. Choose from a daily catch including barnacles, prawns, crab, oysters and clams. Reservations required. Closed Monday. No dinner Sundays.
One of the many unassuming sidewalk café bars on Placa George Orwell in the Gothic Quarter, Oviso offers reasonably priced food and an intimate, bohemian ambiance. Good for breakfast or an afternoon snack, this bar restaurant often serves as a place to begin a night out or to end a long day. Great for people watching, Oviso attracts many artists and students and is a good choice for idling away a few hours in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.
Not called Rubi for nothing, this vibrant restaurant and nightspot is ideal for couples and friends looking for a chic but understated modern restaurant. With bright crimson booths, an elegant bar and high ceilings, Rubi has become one of Barcelona's quintessential nightspots. In true Barcelona style, Rubi is friendly and laid-back. Serving contemporary fusion cuisine made from only the freshest produce from local markets, Rubi also bakes homemade breads and desserts. After 11.30pm the restaurant shifts gears and the venue is transformed into a groovy bar with Latin American and funk tunes, heating things up a little. Open for dinner, Tuesday to Sunday.
For the best sandwiches in the city, and maybe the country, this hole in the wall take-away sandwich shop doesn't put on airs. Surrounded by fine dining restaurants and elegant tapas establishments, staff at Viena simply and quickly throw together the world's best ingredients between two delicious slices of bread and slides it across the counter. The restaurant is open from 8.30am to 11.30pm during the week and 12.30am on weekends.
Some serious eating goes on here, in a little decorated and unpretentious room at the back of a delicatessen food store. Using speciality ingredients from around the world, gourmet food never felt so exclusive. Despite a city-wide reputation, the tiny restaurant feels like a guarded secret. Can Rovell is open from 10am to 9pm on Tuesday and Wednesday and closes an hour later from Thursday to Saturday. On Sundays this delectable restaurant serves lunch from 10am to 4pm. It is closed on Mondays.
Serving creative vegetarian cuisine, with dishes from all over the world and a keen eye for presentation, Amaltea is a well-known and frequented Barcelona vegetarian eatery. The décor is stylish but down to earth, ensuring that all the limelight is afforded to the colourful dishes of food that emerge out of the kitchen. For lunch there is a choice of four starters, mains and various house desserts with a fixed menu. Open for lunch Monday to Saturday and dinners on Friday and Saturday evenings.
This very trendy tapas hot spot dishes out extraordinary treats under the creative direction of Carles Abellan. Unusual food combinations are frothed, seared and caramelised until they complement one another. The dishes are more of a tasting experience than a full meal but enough of them can easily add up to a full stomach, and an eclectic way to try local cuisine.
This old family-run room is not an ordinary tapas restaurant and is on the fly in more ways than one. With standing room only, perfect for fast eats, the chef rolls out seemingly random (but delicious) concoctions from a huge list of ingredients lining the walls. A superb but also random wine list is best enjoyed quickly with the unique snacks before carrying on one's way. Advisable to call beforehand and check opening hours.
Immortalised by Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, when Jake invites Brett to Botin for the Segovian speciality, the Restaurante Botin has been catering to guests since 1725. Botin is a family-run restaurant that has spanned three generations, offering friendly customer service. Much of the décor pertains to the original restaurant, from the charcoal hearth to hanging copper pots and an 18th-century tile oven. The mixed fish casserole and the grilled filet mignon 'Botin' are excellent, a dessert favourite is strawberries with whipped cream. Open daily for lunch and dinner, reservations recommended.
This intimate and luxurious restaurant is decorated in deep shades of red and gold, and furnished in the finest dark wood. The menu offers an array of mouth-watering temptations which include lobster salad with sherry vinegar, followed by duck stewed in port. The chocolate blini with pineapple rounds the evening off nicely. Open for lunch and dinner Monday to Friday, and dinner only on Saturday. Reservations essential.
La Bola is one of the last restaurants in the city to don a blood red façade, initially operating as a wine shop in 1802. This family-owned restaurant has been passed down over seven generations and continues charming visitors with its 'olde worlde' décor of velvet, Spanish tiles and lace curtains. La Bola guarantees affordable prices and homemade dishes, packed with flavour. House specialities include Madrileña-style stew and roast lamb. Open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner, and Sunday for lunch only. Reservations recommended.
A modern restaurant that offers cool interiors, tasty food and attentive service, Wagaboo is a good bet for lunch or dinner in Madrid. Specialising in pasta and noodles, Wagaboo has a great selection of contemporary Italian and Asain cuisine. The stylish industrial interior of exposed brick and piping is complemented with chic lighting, red leather seating and shiny dark wood tables. Contemporary art and photography adorn the walls, and the glassed-in kitchen allow patrons to see the pasta and noodles being made. Try an Asian stir-fry or the pizza with pesto, cherry tomatoes, arugula, feta and parma ham. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Bazaar serves creative Mediterranean food in a trendy environment. Priding itself on fresh produce and modern cuisine, Bazaar offers dishes such as thinly sliced tuna with mango chutney, or tender ox with parmesan and rocket. With oils, wines and various fripperies on display, Bazaar has an initial delicatessen feel to it. Follow the large staircase to the dining area with cream leather banquettes, and windows overlooking the streets of Chueca - ideal for people watching. The menu is displayed as a list of dishes with no definition between starters, mains and desserts. There is a wide-ranging wine list. Open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner, reservations recommended.
This extraordinary Michelin-starred restaurant (two stars) serves imaginative, unique food which is presented beautifully. Every dish is a work of art and foodies will relish the originality of the creations. Usually there are three set menus on offer and the creative meals are complemented with friendly service and a good wine list. El Club Allard is ideal for special occasions. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday to Saturday, but is closed on Sundays and Mondays. Reservations are recommended.
Maintaining its old world charm, quality dishes and unpretentious ambiance, Casa Paco has been a favourite of Madrilenos for over thirty years. A superb steak house, meat at this taverna is ordered by weight and the Casa Paco Solomilo (fillet steak) is a firm favourite. For those after something lighter, the sole and baby lamb are also first-rate dishes. The tiled dining room and traditional décor at Casa Paco add to the homely atmosphere, as does the old fashioned bar, natural sidra (cider) and conscientious service. Open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner.
For the best paella and a quality selection of cavas (Catalan champagne-type wine) that complements this traditional dish, Café Balear is the place. The elegant dining room is simply decorated with white linens and curtains, lifted by art prints and potted palms. Try the stuffed aubergines a la Mallorquina, or perhaps the vegetarian paella with fresh ginger. Attentive staff and a friendly atmosphere add to the appeal of this lovely restaurant. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
The Guggenheim Restaurant is located inside the world-class Guggenheim Museum, and it prides itself on being one of the city's very best eateries. Serving traditional Basque cuisine using the freshest local produce, diners can enjoy innovative dishes that have been expertly prepared by chef Josean Martínez, such as the mouth-watering perfumed 'euskal oiloa' chicken (Basque breed organic chicken) with rosemary and lime leaves, or the decadent pure chocolate with coffee ice cream and a hot marzipan sand. Bookings recommended. Open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and Wednesday to Saturday for dinner.
For a break from traditional Spanish and European food, this superb sushi restaurant is ideal. The friendly staff will help you select what you want to build your own take-away sushi box, or will make what you want if it is not available. There is no seating in the restaurant, but the glorious food can be enjoyed on the many benches outside or in a park nearby. Sumo also offers other traditional Japanese fare, like noodle dishes, but the sushi is definitely the highlight. Sumo is a good option for vegetarians.
Located in a quaint and charming country house just outside the city centre, Bilbao's Aretxondo Restaurant has a unique and distinctive character with modern and inventive twists on traditional cuisine. A popular venue for events, weddings and other special occasions, it boasts and extensive wine list, knowledgeable waiters, and simply heavenly food. Try the sautéed prawns with potato guacamole, tomato and condensed grapefruit, or the log on entrecote in fine herbs and black pepper, and end off with the mango cheesecake with mango ice cream and spices - deliciously light and decadent! Open daily for dinner, lunch on Fridays and Saturdays. Closed Mondays, the first two weeks in January, Easter week and the first two weeks in August.
Clean white linen tablecloths juxtaposed by the colourful and almost garish artwork on one of the walls creates a somewhat classic meets contemporary feel to this popular Bilbao eatery. Run by owner and chef, Fernando Canales, Etxanobe is located on the top floor of the Palacio Euskalduna and delivers innovative and intelligent dishes that tantalise and haunt the taste buds. Try the boneless suckling lamb with sweetbread or the Muscavado pudding with cinnamon and rice. Open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. Bookings recommended.
The Michelin-starred Zortziko boasts a formal atmosphere and an air of grandeur and is, deservedly, one of Bilbao's finest eateries. Three distinctive and classy dining rooms, each with its own theme, create the ultimate sophisticated yet contemporary dining experience. Try the Bisket of rock fish or the Fricadellede chicken with pistachios, and for those with a sweet tooth, the chocolate sponge, Malden salt and oil Hojiblanca is pure indulgence. Reservations recommended. Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. Closed Sunday and Mondays and the second fortnight in August and the first two weeks in September.
The only 1-star Michelin restaurant in Barcelona, ABAC is "el bulli" style, but you can actually get a reservation. The tasting menu (without wine) is about €125-175 per person. The sensory experience and the amazing meal that accompany the price is well worth digging a little deeper into the wallet than normal. ABAC is known as one of the best restaurants in Spain.
Moorish brickwork, a handsome mahogany bar and a ceiling that dates back to the seventeenth century give El Rinconcillo the kind of old-world charm that other restaurants merely aspire to. As one of the most famous tapas bars in the city, the venue not only claims a rich history, but also remains true to its Andalusian roots and the accompanying relaxed regional demeanour. Visitors can enjoy a full meal or a few light tapas portions. Open daily 1pm to 1.30am.
Styled to appear as a 12th-century Arab bath house, the lively atmosphere and delicious Italian cuisine make this a favourite among both locals and tourists. This particular venue is tucked away among the winding alleyways of Barrio Santa Cruz, but three other options - each uniquely designed - appear in different areas of the city. Reservations are crucial. Dinner is served from 8pm until midnight.
Situated in a bright and airy mansion dating back to 1926, this stylish space allows guests the opportunity to dine in the equivalent of a contemporary indoor garden. The restaurant was once credited with a Michelin star, though nowadays, tapas and drinks are just as much an occasion as haute cuisine. Visitors can look forward to a fantastic wine list and very knowledgeable sommelier. Closed Sundays. Lunch is served 1:30pm to 4pm; dinner from 8:30pm to midnight.
Seafood specialities have buoyed Barbiana to regular appearances on any of Seville's top restaurant listings. Though the city is inland, the chefs go out of their way to source a fresh selection of succulent shrimp, squid, sea bass and white fish all the way from the coastal town of Cadiz. The restaurant is set in the heart of Seville, adjacent to the Plaza Neuve. Those pressed for time can enjoy an abbreviated version of the menu at the tapas bar in front.
Classically Mediterranean and reasonably priced, Az-Zait is your affordable answer to lunch and dinner. Set next to the Convent of San Lorenzo, the restaurant is comfortable, the service good and the cuisine reliable. The menu offers both Andalusian favourites (gazpacho) and more inventive options, like the honey-glazed cuttlefish. There is also a tasting menu available. Lunch is served from 11am to 4:30pm, and dinner from 8pm to 12:30am.
Spain's official currency is the Euro (EUR). One Euro is divided into 100 cents. Money can be exchanged at bureaux de change and major hotels, but banks give the best rates. All major credit cards are widely accepted at most hotels, restaurants, and shops. ATMs are widespread and are generally the cheapest and most convenient method of obtaining money.
Spanish is the official language, but English is widely understood in areas frequented by tourists. Catalan, Galician and Basque are spoken in the relevant areas.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. European-style two-pin plugs are standard.
US nationals: United States citizens require a passport valid for three months beyond the period of intended stay. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
UK nationals: United Kingdom citizens require a passport valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay, with the exception of passports marked 'British Citizen', 'British Subject' (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom), and 'British Overseas Territories Citizen' issued by Gibraltar, which will be accepted if valid on arrival.
UK nationals: No visa is required for passports endorsed 'British Citizen', 'British Overseas Territories Citizen' issued by Gibraltar, Identity Cards issued by Gibraltar, and 'British Subject' (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom). All other British nationals are entitled to a maximum stay of 90 days without a visa within a 180 day period.
CA nationals: Canadian citizens require a passport valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
AU nationals: Australian citizens require a passport valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
ZA nationals: South African citizens require a passport valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay. A visa is required.
IR nationals: Irish nationals require a valid passport, but a visa is not necessary.
NZ nationals: New Zealand citizens require a passport valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
The borderless region known as the Schengen area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option, allowing the holder to travel freely within the borders of all.
Non-EU nationals must hold a return or onward ticket, all necessary documents for onward travel and sufficient funds. For travel to Spain, sufficient funds is defined as EUR 62.40 per day of stay, with a minimum of EUR 561.60 or equivalent in other freely convertible currency. Visitors to Spain also require an invitation letter or confirmation of accommodation. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after the intended date of departure from Spain. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
There are no health risks associated with travel to Spain, and no vaccination certificates are required for entry. Medical facilities are good in Spain, but comprehensive travel insurance is always advised. Spain has a reciprocal health agreement with most EU countries, including the UK, providing emergency health care for EU travellers on the same terms as Spanish nationals. EU travellers should take a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
Note that the scheme gives no entitlement to medical repatriation costs, nor does it cover ongoing illnesses of a non-urgent nature, so comprehensive travel insurance is still advised. Travellers should take any medication they require along with them, in its original packaging and accompanied by a signed and dated letter from a doctor detailing what it is and why it is needed.
Hotel and restaurant bills usually include service charges, but additional tips are welcomed for services rendered. In established restaurants, tips of about 10 percent are expected. In Mallorca, value added tax is usually included in restaurant bills, designated IVA, and may be mistaken for a service charge. Drivers of metered taxis expect small tips and it is customary to tip about 5 to 10 percent for most services, including guides.
Most visits to Spain are trouble-free, except for occasional street crime, which is common in the big cities; travellers are advised to take precautions to avoid theft of passports, credit cards, travel documents and money. Crime is usually petty and violent assault is rare. Be wary of strangers offering or asking for help of any kind, as it is often a distraction for accomplices. There are also scams involving letters for outstanding traffic fines or Spanish lottery winnings. If travellers exercise all the normal precautions they should have a trouble-free holiday in Spain.
Smoking in public places is banned and stiff fines will be imposed for smoking in areas such as enclosed public spaces, areas where food is prepared and sold, public transport, non-smoking areas of bars and restaurants, and any places that cater for children. Drinking alcohol in the streets of Madrid and the streets of the Canary and Balearic Islands is illegal.
The business culture in Spain is slowly shifting. But for now, it's entrenched in tradition and it can take some time for you to gain a foothold in the Spanish working world. It is important never to undermine authority, with hierarchy central to Spain's business world. Managers often tend to make decisions without considering input from their colleagues.
A strong emphasis is placed on social status, character attributes, and personal pride. Success is often hinged upon being well-dressed, honourable, and dignified, while also exhibiting great social skills. Business meetings are generally conducted face-to-face and can go on for long periods, as Spaniards prefer long deliberations in order to avoid uncertainty in corporate dealings. Business meetings in Spain tend to tread a fine line being personal and formal.
Conducting business in Spain can entail navigation through a lot of red tape and bureaucracy. Spanish is the language of business, but some of the larger multinationals conduct meetings in both English and Spanish. Business hours are often quite varied, but generally open by 9am and close in the mid-evening with a two-hour lunch break during the early afternoon.
Business attire is quite conservative with dark or linen suits, with shirts and silk ties for men. Women should wear modest dresses or tailored suits. Brand names or labels attract affirmation from colleagues and associates.
After the conclusion of successful negotiations, gifts are appropriate. Gifts should be of high quality and when receiving a gift, open it in front of the giver. Business cards are important and should be bilingual. Meetings are best scheduled for mid-morning, in which establishing a formal yet personable environment is important before beginning. Meetings often occur over lunches and dinners and may be characterised by several speakers.
The international access code for Spain is +34. Mobile phone operators provide throughout the country and the Balearic and Canary Islands. Internet access is available at internet cafes in most towns and resorts, and wifi is increasingly easily available.
If tax was included in the purchase price, travellers form EU countries are allowed the following items duty free: €300 (by land) or €430 (by air) gifts/souvenirs; 800 cigarettes or 400 cigarillos or 200 cigars or 1kg tobacco; 110 litres beer; 90 litres wine; and 10 litres spirit. Travellers from non-EU countries may have 200 cigarettes or 100 cigarillos or 50 cigars or 250g tobacco; 1 litre spirits, 4 litres wine, and 16 litres beer.
Spanish Tourist Office, Madrid: +34 91 366 5477 or www.spain.info.
Spanish Embassy, Washington, United States: +1 202 452 0100.
Spanish Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 0207 235 5555.
Spanish Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 747 2252.
Spanish Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 02 6273 3555.
Spanish Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 012 460 0123 (ext. 116/117).
Spanish Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 01 283 9900.
Spanish Consulate, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 04 802 5665.
United States Embassy, Madrid: +34 91 587 2200.
British Embassy, Madrid: +34 91 714 6300.
Canadian Embassy, Madrid: +34 91 382 8400.
Australian Embassy, Madrid: +34 91 353 6600.
South African Embassy, Madrid: +34 91 436 3780.
Irish Embassy, Madrid: +34 91 436 4093.
New Zealand Embassy, Madrid: +34 915 230 226.
The magnificent hilltop city of Toledo, about 43 miles (70km) southwest of Madrid, was immortalised by Spain's renowned artistic genius El Greco in a cityscape that currently hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The city has changed little since El Greco captured it on canvas in 1597, with its golden spires and Gothic buildings spreading across the Tagus River Gorge, overlooking the plains of New Castille. Toledo was established by the Romans in about 192 BC and some Roman ruins are still visible outside the city walls. The ancient city was later the capital of Visigoth Spain in the 5th and 6th centuries and as time passed Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities all left their mark on the city's rich architectural heritage, from the Moorish Gate to the Gothic convent of San Juan de los Reyes. Toledo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of all these wonderful cultural attractions throughout the city. Pride of place is held by El Greco's 'Burial of the Count of Orgaz', painted on the wall of the Santo Tome. Be warned that the town's attractions and its main street are packed with tourists throughout the summer.
Topped by four spiral towers, the huge granite edifice of the monastery is a foreboding sight in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. About 30 miles (50km) northwest of Madrid, El Escorial was a marriage of Roman Catholic power and Spanish. Once a monastery and a royal palace, this UNESCO World Heritage Site was completed in 1584 and took almost 21 years to build. The complex was built by Philip II as a memorial to his father, Charles V, as a summer residence and as a final resting place for Spanish royalty. The complex is similar to the Alcazar of Seville and the Alhambra of Granada in layout, but the architectural style and decor is far more austere. It also operates as a gallery with paintings and tapestries, containing works by El Greco, Hieronymus Bosch, Titian, and Tintoretto. Additionally, a magnificent vaulted library, covered in frescoes, contains a priceless collection of more than 60,000 ancient manuscripts. No photography is permitted in the complex. El Escorial is best explored on a guided tour or with the audio guide as the basic ticket doesn't grant access to as many areas and the majority of textual explanations are in Spanish.
Lying on a slope of the Guadarrama Mountains with the confluence of the Eresma and Clamores Rivers below, the ancient town of Segovia is a delightful taste of the glorious past of Castile in central Spain. Segovia is 54 miles (91km) northwest of Madrid and is well worth visiting for its reputation as being the most beautiful city in Spain; the journey only takes about an hour by bus (and only 30 minutes by high speed train), making it the perfect excursion. The ancient town has been awarded a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list and is a joy for photographers, with its historic pedigree proudly displayed. The ancient Romans turned the town into a military base, leaving behind Segovia's famous aqueduct, which begins nine miles from the city and until fairly recently still supplied the town with water. The other main attraction in Segovia is the Alcazar, a massive fortified citadel, built in the 11th century, perched on the edge of town. It is said to be the fortress that the Walt Disney castle is modelled on. The town overflows with Romanesque churches, 15th-century palaces, narrow streets, and small fountain-splashed plazas, and is best explored on foot.
One of the most visited sites in Catalonia is the monastery at Montserrat, 35 miles (56km) northwest of Barcelona. The monastery is surrounded by strange rocky crags and caves, and was founded in 1025 to celebrate local visions of the Virgin Mary. It has become one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Spain, sitting atop a 4,000-foot (1,200m) high mountain and housing about 80 monks. Its main claim to fame is a 12th-century Romanesque wooden sculpture of a black Virgin Mary, known as La Moreneta, which thousands come here to see and touch. There is lots to see at Montserrat, which has a fascinating museum housing masterpieces by artists like Caravaggio and Picasso, as well as exhibitions on the history of the sanctuary and the wider culture, religion, and history of Spain. It has been traditional since the Middle Ages for young people from Barcelona and surrounding regions to make the pilgrimage to Montserrat and watch the sunrise from the heights at least once in their lives. The hike to the monastery is still popular for both pilgrims and travellers. The monastery on its mountain perch is most conveniently reached by cable car.
The medieval fishing village of Tossa de Mar, 56 miles (90km) north of Barcelona, is the most attractive town on the Costa Brava, offering lovely sandy beaches and a lively atmosphere. Visitors are drawn to its 12th century walled town, Vila Vella, the ancient walls, battlements, and towers enclosing a quaint historical labyrinth. There is also the ancient Castillo de Tossa de Mar, a one-time Roman fortress dominating the bay, which visitors are free to explore. There are four beaches within the town itself and numerous others flanking Tossa on either side. It is easy to get around town on foot, but there is a blue and white tourist train that offers tours of the town, and a green train that takes visitors up to the fort. It is possible to walk up but don't try driving yourself up as the roads get very narrow and there is no parking at the top. There are, however, wonderful views and photo opportunities, and a visit to the fort is worthwhile for this alone. There are diving shops and centres in town to provide equipment and advice for scuba expeditions, and glass-bottomed boat tours and snorkelling are also popular.
The Basque region's most popular beach, La Concha, is to be found in the genteel resort city of San Sebastian, 62 miles (100km) east of Bilbao. The town became fashionable as a summer getaway during the reign of Queen Isabel when she took to holidaying there in 1845. Today the town hums with boutiques, surf-shops, and nightclubs. But the elaborate boardwalk and grandiose historic mansions lend an air of sophistication, as is appropriate for a resort endorsed by bygone royalty. For a spectacular view of the sea and countryside, ride the funicular to the top of Monte Igueldo, or opt for the opposite side of the bay where it is possible to stroll through shady woods to the summit of Monte Urgull, topped with a statue of Jesus blessing the city. The town's Museo de San Telmo, housed in a Dominican monastery, displays some interesting prehistoric Basque artefacts, and a few dinosaur skeletons. The house where Victor Hugo once lived is in the nearby charming fishing village of Pasajes de San Juan, which can be reached by ferry from San Sebastian. The main attraction is the lovely beach, which is wide, spacious, and sandy. Various boat tours can be arranged from the pier.
British visitors are reassured by the presence of a statue of Wellington, the 'Iron Duke', standing on the Plaza de la Virgen Blanca in the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz, 41 miles (66km) south of Bilbao. The statue commemorates Wellington's victory in battle here against Napoleon's forces. The main reason for visiting this Basque city, however, is to enjoy the impressive new contemporary art museum, and soak up some of the charm of this green urban enclave, packed with avenues and parks. There is also an old quarter, full of Renaissance palaces, most of which are now art galleries and museums. The Plaza de la Virgen Blanca is the tourist hub of the old town, surrounded by old mansions, and is a good place to start explorations of the city. Vitoria-Gasteiz also has two Gothic cathedrals: one dating from the 14th century, the beautiful Cathedral of Santa Maria, with a 17th-century tower and paintings by Rubens and van Dyck; and one 20th-century Neo-Gothic creation, the Cathedral of Mary Immaculate, which is also definitely worth a visit. It is a city with many churches, and also two 17th-century nunneries. Vitoria-Gasteiz hosts a number of popular music festivals and attracts many music lovers.
Hordes of tourists flock to this town in Navarre, northern Spain, in early July each year for the Running of the Bulls, officially called La Fiesta del Fermin. The festival, in honour of the city's patron saint, was made famous by Ernest Hemingway's novel The Sun Also Rises, and it has become one of Spain's most popular events. A bust of Hemingway stands outside Pamplona's bullring, where the 8-day extravaganza of dancing, dashing through the streets ahead of rampaging bulls, and drinking, begins. The practice of driving bulls through the centre of Pamplona started in the 19th century as the most practical way to get them to the ring, and for many years the city authorities tried to prevent the practice of running with the bulls. Aside from the festival, though, Pamplona is worth a visit any time of year, boasting lush parks, a splendid Gothic cathedral, a huge citadel, and a quaint old quarter. Pamplona is the capital of the province of Navarre, but its roots are Basque and a large percentage of its population are Basque nationalists. Those joining the throng of travellers who arrive especially to run with the bulls should note that the adrenalin-pumping activity is genuinely dangerous and every year there are serious injuries.
The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Parque Natural de Barenas Reales is a semi-desert landscape. The malleable clay, chalk, and sandstone of the landscape has been eroded into surprising and unusual shapes by wind and rain over the millennia. Vegetation of any kind is scarce in the reserve, as is human habitation, and the streams that flow across the barren land are seasonal. The rugged cliffs, hills, and ravines are home to Egyptian Vultures, Golden Eagles, and Peregrine Falcons, with a total of 24 species of birds of prey, as well as many other bird and animal species. Visitors to the park can also see the ruins of Peñaflor Castle, while the nearby towns of Arguedas and Valtierra boast a variety of attractions and historical sites for visitors to enjoy, as well as accommodation. The region is actually comprised of three nature reserves and is an absolute joy for photographers. There are a number of well signposted routes traversing the park which can be followed on foot, by bicycle, on horseback, or by car, and a number of reputable tour companies can arrange tours and activities within the park.
Just two hours southeast of Madrid lies Cuenca, one of the most charming small towns on the Iberian Peninsula. Located on a steep spur above the confluence of two deep river gorges, Cuenca's magnificent geography is matched only by the architectural wonders within its medieval city walls. In fact, the entire town centre of Cuenca is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and visitors to Spain who are looking for a romantic town to wander around for a few days are strongly encouraged to give Cuenca a try. Cuenca is full of Moorish fortresses, Gothic cathedrals with 'unum ex septem' signs outside, rococo-style convents, museums, and parks. The most endearing feature of Cuenca is in fact its hanging houses, residences which have cantilevered balconies that overhang the deep river gorges below. The strange angularity of these buildings is said to have inspired the artistic movement known as Cubism. A wonderful place to ramble around for a couple of days, Cuenca is an ideal stop for those travelling to Barcelona from Madrid.
A wonderful daytrip destination from Barcelona, Figueres is a lovely Catalonian town that also happens to be the birthplace of surrealist artist Salvador Dali. The main reason for visiting Figueres is to see the Dali Theatre and Museum (Teatre-Museu Dalí), a suitably bizarre-looking building which is pink, studded, and crowned with enormous eggs. It was not only designed by Dali, but also houses a full spectrum of his imaginative output including paintings, sculptures, 3D collages, mechanical devices, and weird and wonderful installations. The artist is buried in the museum's basement. There is simply no better way to get an appreciation of Dali's genius than by visiting the Teatre-Museu Dalí, and, whether you end up loving or hating his creations, they are sure to keep you thinking and talking for months after your visit. Be warned that many of Dali's works are erotic or grotesque in nature, and may upset younger visitors, making the museum a dubious attraction for families with kids. Feeling like a journey into the artist's mind, this museum is a must for fans.
French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre called Santillana del Mar the prettiest village in Spain, and it remains one of the undisputed highlights of Spain's northern coastline. Only six blocks long and home to just 4,000 permanent inhabitants, Santillana del Mar makes a wonderful base for exploring the alluring Cantabrian coastline. In the village, which is full of gorgeous Romanesque architecture lining ironstone streets, locals still sell fresh milk from open stable doors, and well-heeled visitors have the chance to spend the night in one of Spain's grandest paradores (Parador de Santillana), a converted 17th-century mansion offering luxurious and unforgettable accommodation. Santillana del Mar is also the closest urban area to the Altamira Caves, featuring amazing Upper Paleolithic cave paintings, and often dubbed 'the Sistine Chapel of prehistoric art'. Because Spain's northern coastline doesn't see nearly as much annual tourist activity as its southern coastline, independent travellers keen to avoid the crush of sun-seekers on the Costa del Sol are strongly encouraged to visit Santillana del Mar, which offers a relaxing seaside atmosphere as well as the chance to feel as though you've truly escaped the hustle and bustle of the modern world.
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