Budget airlines and affordable fares have turnedSpain into a beach resort haven for northern Europeans wishing toescape their own (sometimes) damp and dreary climates. Withsun-bleached beaches and a favourable exchange rate for mosttravellers, it's easy to see why Spain is such a popular choice foran unforgettable beach holiday in Europe. An incredible 53 millionpeople visit Spain each year (the second most in Europe afterFrance), and the country deserves its formidable reputation as atourist haven.
Some may feel that the Canary and Balearic Islandshave been overrun by tourists, and this is true to some extent.Tenerife, Lanzarote, and Mallorca have become synonymous with cheappackage holidays and warm beer, and Ibiza's reputation has beensomewhat tarnished by the revellers frequenting its famous danceclubs and beach parties. However, even in these crowded resortareas you will find many magical, unspoilt corners awaitingdiscovery.
Spain is comprised of numerous autonomous regions,offering great variation within one country. The hundreds of milesof Mediterranean coastline provide ample opportunity to get off thebeaten track, and the country's vibrant cities and colourfulfestivals 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 museumsand galleries.
Spain's Pamplona is a unique experience of thunderingstreets that vibrate to the rhythm of man and beast during theannual running of the bulls, and while the whole country celebrateseach February with the Carnaval, no place does it better thanSitges.
Barcelona is Spain's showcase of the uniquearchitectural style of Gaudi's bizarre organic turrets andbalconies. For a more provincial experience, the Valencian town ofBuñol goes wild every year with the La Tomatina festival, a timewhen the region's surplus tomatoes following the annual harvest aredumped on the streets and pelted about in a friendly riot.
Spain is also a country rich in heritage, and thehistoric cities of Toledo, Salamanca, Seville, and Granada promisea wealth of early Christian and Moorish buildings and monuments, aswell as the remains of some incredible medieval sites. Spain hassix cities that have been declared UNESCO World Heritage sites,more than any other country in the world.
Spain's many attractions and the journeys betweenthem are infused with the warm welcome of its diverse people.Holidays here should be slow, with room for spontaneity amidst thelaidback lifestyle which Spaniards have perfected.
The wealth of things to see and do is such that thetop attractions in Spain are whole cities, towns, and islands, anda single holiday can barely scratch the surface of what thiscountry has to offer. It is often best to plan an itinerary arounda single city or region.
Toledo is famous for its Roman architecture andancient history, while Santiago de Compostela bursts with religioussignificance and art. Cordoba entrances visitors with the medievalcharm of the Mezquita, while Barcelona is home to Gaudi and almostanything a tourist could want. Madrid is the capital, ideal for acosmopolitan Spanish experience while Grenada contains mountains,tradition, and architecture.
Partygoers will look no further than Ibiza, andBilbao is a hub of industrial creativity and boasts the GuggenheimMuseum. Both Mallorca and Tenerife enjoy spectacular beaches andstunning landscapes, as does San Sebastian along with its goodfood. Lastly, Seville offers fun after dark and a wealth ofhistory.
Granada is a high altitude city of romance andfolklore, boasting one of the most popular tourist attractions inSpain: the Alhambra. A palace-fortress built up between the 9th and16th centuries, the Alhambra is the most important and spectacularpiece of Moorish architecture in Spain. Set against the backdrop ofthe Sierra Nevada Mountains, the huge complex includes the SummerPalace with its fountains and gardens, the Palacios Nazaries withits intricate ornamentation, and a hilltop fortress. The queue toget into this UNESCO World Heritage Site gets ridiculously long andtickets should be booked online or booked weeks in advance to avoiddisappointment. At least one full day is required to really explorethe vast complex. Although the Alhambra is the city's mainattraction, Granada boasts a number of other gems, including theCathedral containing the Royal Chapel where Isabel and Ferdinand ofSpain 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. TheInterpretation Centre has an ethnographic museum detailing thehistory and culture of the cave dwellers.
One of Madrid's most famous attractions is the 19th-centuryPrado Museum, one of the world's greatest art galleries, with morethan 7,000 paintings that include masterpieces by Fra Angelico,Botticelli, El Bosco, Titian, Rembrandt, and Velazquez. The museumbegan as a Royal collection, which succeeding dynasties have addedto. The collection naturally focuses on the Spanish masters,particularly Goya, whose exhibited works fascinatingly follow thedevelopment of his painting from the sun-soaked early scenes ofjoyful festivities to the grim madness characterising his 'blackperiod'. The Prado has few equals - and whether you are an artlover or not, you should check out this magnificent Madridattraction. The collection is vast so cater at least a few hours toreally be able to appreciate it. There is a cafe and restaurant inthe museum, as well as a gift shop and bookshop. Tickets can bebooked in advance online, allowing the prepared to skip entrancequeues. Guided tours are available, but groups wanting a tour mustmake reservations at least 24 hours in advance. Audio guides areavailable for hire in multiple languages. No photography ispermitted in the galleries.
The second gallery in Madrid's golden triangle of art museums isthe Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Housing the former private collectionof the Thyssen family, the works were bought by the city of Madridto enrich its impressive collection of art treasures. Thecollection, housed in the restored 18th-century Palacio deVillahermosa near the Prado, contains more than 800 paintings,sculptures, carvings, and tapestries, ranging from primitiveFlemish works to contemporary pieces. Among the highlights areworks by Renoir, Durer, and Van Eyck, but many masters arerepresented in the Thyssen, including Claude Monet, John SargentSinger, Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse, and Edvard Munch. Thecollection includes some major American works as well. Guided grouptours with experts are available both during opening hours and whenthe museum is closed, but these must be booked in advance. Themuseum also hosts lectures, workshops, courses, and concerts, checkthe official website for details. For many people, the Thyssen isthe favourite of the three famous Madrid galleries due to itscompact nature, variety, attractive building, and atmosphere. It isalso usually the least crowded of the three major galleries.
One of Madrid's famed art galleries, the Reina Sofia isdedicated to 20th century Spanish art, having been designed to giveSpain a museum to equal France's Pompidou Centre and London's TateGallery. The museum was opened by Queen Sofia in 1986 and is housedin the former Hospital de San Carlos. The artworks displayed hereinclude those of Spanish masters Juan Gris, Julio Gonzalez,Salvador Dali, Equipo Cronica, Gerardo Rueda, Joan Miro, and PabloPicasso, among others, and there are also international artists ondisplay. The star attraction of the museum is Picasso'scontroversial Guernica, depicting the Nazi bombing of the Basquetown in 1937 in support of Franco's cause in the Spanish Civil War.Until 1980, this famous painting hung in New York's Museum ofModern Art. The top floor of the museum is a library dedicated toart, and there is a bookshop and a cafeteria. There is also outdoorsculpture garden, which is pleasant to stroll through. The museumis immensely popular, especially when there are high-profiletemporary exhibits, and the queues can get very long making it wellworth booking your tickets online in advance.
The massive Royal Palace on the Plaza de Oriente in Madrid datesfrom 1734, when the 3,000-roomed royal residence was commissionedby Philip V. The imposing palace was built on the site of a Moorishfortress which dated back to the 9th century. It was last calledhome by the royal family in 1931, but is still an official royalresidence and is used for some royal events. Most of the rooms arenow open to the public, and others are used for state business.English tours are run regularly, lasting about two hours, takingvisitors to the reception room and state apartments, the impressivearmoury, and the royal pharmacy. The grandiose state apartments arefilled with art treasures, antiques, and opulent Rococo décor thatcould even rival Versailles. The palace gardens, in their currentreincarnation, date from 1890 and contain a number of sculptures.The palace affords visitors great views over the city and there isplenty to explore in the vast palace complex. Apart from the guidedtours, visitors can self-guide with a rented audio guide, or simplypurchase a brochure in their language of choice.
Madrid's famous central arcaded square dates from 1619 and wasbuilt by Philip III, whose statue still stands in the centre of thecobbled expanse. In medieval times, the Plaza de Arrabal, as it wasthen known, was the venue for numerous public spectacles includingknights' tournaments, festivals, and executions. The buildingssurrounding the square were burnt completely to the ground threetimes in 1631, 1672, and 1790. The most famous building on thesquare is the Casa de la Panaderia, which predates the plaza, buthas also been rebuilt several times. The Plaza Mayor was alwaysintended to be a public gathering space, and has been used for bullfights, royal events, and military parades. It's still theepicentre of certain celebrations in Madrid, but the majority ofpeople who congregate in the sidewalk cafes to sip sangria onsummer nights are tourists, enjoying impromptu music performancesand watching the passing parade. The Plaza Mayor is invariably astop on sightseeing tours of Madrid and well worth a visit.
The Panteon de Goya (Goya's Tomb) is situated in the Glorieta deSan Antonio de la Florida, and is known as Goya's Sistine Chapel.The artist decorated the dome and cupola of the little chapel witha fresco depicting the miracles of St Anthony, with the use ofsponges, a project that took six weeks to complete. Amazingly, Goyapersisted with the project despite the fact that he was strugglingwith deafness and apparently felt dizzy most of the time he wasworking on the ceiling. Mirrors have been placed in strategicplaces to provide better glimpses of the art. The chapel alsocontains the artist's tomb. The art work in his final resting placeis more bright and cheerful than is typical of Goya. But hisinclusion of ordinary working class people, not to mentionprostitutes and beggars, angered the Spanish nobility. Luckily hispatron, King Carlos IV, approved of the fresco. Next door to theErmita there is a replica of the chapel, which is used forreligious services, so as to preserve the original as a museum.
Madrid's lush central park covers 350 acres (142hectares) and was originally laid out as the private garden ofPhilip IV. Opened to the public in 1868, it remains a favouritespot with locals and tourists. The vast park features formalgardens, statues, fountains, lakes, exhibition halls, children'splaygrounds, and outdoor cafes. Visitors can stroll among thetrees, admire the rose garden, and take a boat ride on the lake.Although usually quiet during the week, at weekends the park comesalive with buskers, clowns, fortune-tellers, and sidewalk painters.Thanks to its size, even when the park is crowded it is possible tofind a quiet nook. There is a lot to see and do in the park, butfavourite attractions include the metal and glass Palacio deCristal, among the trees to the south of the lake, which was once agreenhouse but is now used as a space for temporary exhibitions;and the Bosque del Recuerdo (Memorial Forest), in the southwest ofthe park, which is a simple memorial to the 191 victims of the 2004train 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-linedboulevard known as La Rambla (or Las Ramblas) is a long continuouspedestrian avenue that technically changes names five times as itcuts through Barcelona's Old Town, the Barri Gotic, from the PlacaCatalunya to the city's port. It is lined with cafes, restaurants,and shops, usually thronged with leisurely walkers enjoying thesights and sounds. The sprawling marriage of nature and creativearchitecture and ornamentation that is Gaudi's Guell Park is amust. The pretty square of Placa Reial, enclosed by impressivebuildings and promising some fantastic restaurants and nightclubs,is a popular social venue and sometimes hosts concerts and liveperformances. Also look out for the iconic mosaic by Joan Miro asyou walk over it, near the Liceu Theatre. The street is wonderfulfor shopping and attracts all sorts of buskers and street artists.It is a great area to visit at night, but travellers should notethat the southern end of La Rambla becomes somewhat seedy afterdark and is an unofficial red light district.
Five palaces dating from the 13th to 15th centuries have beenconverted into the Picasso Museum, celebrating the country's mostfamous artist. Sitting on Carrer Montcada, a street known for itselegant medieval structures, it is home to one of the most completecollections of works from his youth and formative years. PabloPicasso spent his early years in Barcelona (between 1901 and 1906),and the museum is now one of the city's top attractions. It was hiswish that his early work would be displayed in Barcelona and thecore of the collection was donated by the artist himself. Thepermanent collection now consists of 4,249 works and the art iscomplemented interestingly by the old buildings, which showcase theCatalan Gothic style. There are a number of childhood portraits andpaintings, as well as engravings, drawings, and art from his Blueand Rose Periods. It is important for visitors to understand thatthis museum does not house Picasso's most famous and recognisablepieces, but is dedicated instead to an exploration of the artist'sformative years and development. Audio guides are available. Thequeues can get really long at the museum and it is best to arriveearly or book in advance online.
Antonio Gaudi left his mark on Barcelona nowhere more than inthe gardens of Guell Park. Sitting on Camel Hill and offeringsplendid views of the city, it was originally planned to be agarden city suburb. But only two houses were completed before itwas turned into a public recreational park. The gardens arefestooned with examples of Gaudi's strange and mesmerising work,including flights of stairs, columns, and a plaza decorated withmosaics. Famous features include Gaudi's dragon, and the SalaHipostila, or Doric Temple, which is a forest of 88 stone columns.Gaudi enjoyed experimenting with natural forms and the park is afascinating mixture of art and nature. The pink fairytale housestanding at the entrance to the park was once home to Gaudi and hisniece. However, it's now a museum containing some Gaudi-designedfurniture, décor, drawings, and portraits. Guided walking tours ofthe park are available and usually very informative, but it isenjoyable to stroll around without a guide too. To fully explorethe park at your leisure you will need at least half a day.
Designed by modernist architect Antoni Gaudi, the bizarreSagrada Família is one of Catalonia's most intriguing landmarks.Building started in 1882, but it remains unfished and an object ofcontroversy. Gaudi worked on what was considered his masterpieceuntil his death in 1926. The structure imbues his characteristicArt Nouveau style and creates a unique interpretation of the Gothicarchitectural tradition. Gaudi had models and plans for thecompleted church were mostly destroyed during the Spanish Civil Warand those leftover have been disputed since. The extraordinarybuilding is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is fascinating evento those who don't find it beautiful. The church has beenconsecrated and is used for religious services. When it is completeit will have 18 towers and is expected to be the tallest church inthe world. The anticipated date of completion is 2026 (thecentenary of Gaudi's death) but this may prove ambitious. The twocompleted facades of the church, the Nativity Facade and thePassion Facade, are very different but both incredible, and theroof of the nave is one of the most stunning features. Visiting thechurch 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 ArtMuseum of Catalonia. Montjuic has been the site of severalfortifications over the centuries and the most recent of these isthe Castle of Montjuic, dating from the 17th century. The castle isnow home to the Military Museum as well as the Museum of Comics andIllustration. There are also some leisure attractions and greenparks festooned with fountains, themselves popular attractions thatentertain on summer evenings with displays of light, colour, andmusic. Accessible by cable car from Montjuic, the La Barcelonetaport district is below the hill. The eastern side is sheer,providing glorious views over the city's harbour. The formerfishing village that is now the port is renowned for its seafoodrestaurants and beach, which is lined with boardwalks and cafes. Agrand staircase begins at the foot of Montjuic, at the south end ofthe Avinguda de la Reina Maria Cristina, and ends at the PalauNacional, passing a number of historic buildings.
Barcelona's second landmark hill is Tibidabo, aboutfour miles (6km) northwest of the city in a wooded range that formsa backdrop to the urban landscape. Tibidabo can be reached byfunicular - the journey up is half the fun, with spectacular views- and is particularly popular on weekends with locals because it ishome to the Parc d'Atraccions, an amusement park with some thrillrides and a renowned house of horrors. Tibidabo also features thesoaring Torre de Collserola telecommunications tower, which offersvisitors the chance to ride in a glass lift to an observationplatform 377 feet (115m) high to enjoy a truly phenomenal view. Alarge church named the Temple del Sagrat Cor is surmounted by agiant Christ statue, offerinig a lift to a rooftop viewingplatform, while the Carretera des Aigues trail is perfect for keenhikers who want to climb the hill at their own pace. It is an easywalk, which only takes about an hour, starting from the base of thefunicular and ending at the church. There are a number ofrestaurants to enjoy on the hill.
The Costa Dorada's main city, Tarragona, has almostdoubled in size during the last few decades, with its residentialdistricts continually expanding around the beautiful medieval core.Tarragona, originally built on a rocky bluff, can trace its rootsback to 218 BC, when it was founded by the ancient Romans as amilitary base. Impressive vestiges of its ancient past still remainin the form of ruins of the Roman amphitheatre, aqueduct, forum,and other buildings situated on the Paseo Arqueologico which leadto some panoramic viewpoints. A wide boulevard called the RamblaNova represents the modern main street outside the old city walls.A popular outing for visitors is to explore the old harbour, knownas El Serrallo, to watch the fishing boats arrive and auction theircatch. As if all this wasn't enough, the city also sports someexcellent beaches on its doorstep, including Playa Llarga, regardedas one of the biggest and best on the Catalonian coast. Among themany museums is an archaeological museum devoted to Romanantiquities; the Diocesan Museum displaying Gothic paintings,sculptures and tapestries; and a house museum detailing the lifeand career of renowned cellist, Pablo Casals.
The city of Girona, on the route from the Pyrenees toBarcelona, 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, thisquaint medieval city attracts hordes of tourists from the CostaBrava resorts and Barcelona. All are lured by the experience ofwalking through the old quarter, the Call, with its narrowalleyways and ancient stone houses. Inside the ancient walls aresuch gems as the 12th-century Benedictine monastery of Sant Pere deGalligants and the 14th-century cathedral built in the CatalonianBaroque style. The cathedral can be accessed by climbing up 90steps. It includes a museum containing art works and raremanuscripts. Also of particular interest are the restored12th-century Arab baths with their central octagonal pool, and thefascinating Jewish quarter where, between the 9th and 15thcenturies, the culture and religion flourished on the narrow, steepstreets. The arcaded promenade, the Rambla de la Llibertat, islined with delightful cafes and shops selling souvenirs, crafts,antiques, and curiosities. In addition, the city is well suppliedwith museums and galleries.
The impressive Santa Barbara Castle has its originsin the Muslim rule of the 9th century, towering over Alicante ontop of the Benacantil Mountain. Most of the chambers that can beexplored today date from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Thefortress is massive, encompassing moats, drawbridges, tunnels,cisterns, and dungeons, not to mention a stately tower and keep. Ithas endured many attacks, rebuilds, and renovations during its longhistory and was opened to the public in 1963. Today it houses theMuseum of the City of Alicante. From the top of the castle superbviews over the bay and the city can be enjoyed. The castle can beaccessed 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 tothe beachfront for free. The walk up from the beach is very steepwith a lot of steps, and is only suitable for the fit, but it ispossible to drive up the mountain as well.
In the Plaza de Santa Maria stands Alicante's oldestbuilding, a former granary dating from 1685. Ironically the city'soldest building contains its most notable modern art collection,donated by painter and sculptor Eusebio Sempere in 1977. The Museode Arte Contemporaneo de Alicante is commonly referred to simply asMACA. Among the noteworthy paintings on display are those by Dali,Picasso, Calder, and Miro, and one of the highlights is the sectiondedicated to Sempere's own geometrical, moving sculptures. As otherfamous modern art galleries have realised, the contrast between anold building and a colourful modern art collection is striking andinteresting. The building is located in the historic city centre,opposite the Basilica of Santa Mariaan, an area which most touristswill pass through on their sightseeing jaunts in Alicante. Themuseum is part of the project to revitalise the historic quarter.The gallery is cool and inviting on a hot day, with goodair-conditioning, and seldom feels crowded. Guided tours of themuseum are available free of charge, but must be organised inadvance. It is a small but classy provincial gallery which is wellworth a visit for art lovers.
Just 12 miles (19km) inland west of Alicante isEurope's only palm forest, forming a lush oasis around the city ofElche (Elx). The city boasts several beautiful parks, publicgardens, and palm groves. The Palmeral of Elche, an orchard of morethan 200,000 palm trees, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. TheParque Municipal is one of the most popular places to enjoy thetrees, with the palms interspersed by grassy promenades andchildren's playgrounds. The most beautiful palm garden is theHuerto del Cura, filled with trees, water features, and brightflowerbeds. Another attraction in the city, located right next tothe municipal park, is the Altamira Castle, which was built inabout the 12th century and was renovated in the 15th century. Thefortress has been used as a prison, a town hall and a fabric plantbut now houses the Elche Archaeology and History Museum. A wealthof archaeological remains have been found in Elche, unsurprisinglyas 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 increasinglypopular day trip destination from Alicante or Santa Pola, with itsquiet fishing village offering an old fort, several very reasonablypriced fresh seafood restaurants, a rocky beach with clearturquoise water, and several coves and tidal pools ideal forbathing. Tiny and picturesque, Tabarca is the smallest permanentlyinhabited islet in Spain and can very easily be explored on foot.The islet is part of a marine reserve (Reserva marina de la Isla deTabarca) and promises varied marine life, clear unpolluted waters,and a healthy bird population. An artificial reef was planted nearthe island to further cultivate marine life. Formerly called SaintPaul's Island, in honour of the saint who is supposed to have madea landing here, visitors can still visit the Church of St Peter andSt Paul, built in 1779. The island lies 10 miles (16km) south ofAlicante and can be reached in an hour by ferry from the dock onExplanada d'Espanya in the city. The island becomes crowded in thepeak summer months but is still a charming destination.
Seville Cathedral is the third-largest church in theworld, behind St Peter's in Rome and St Paul's in London. Thismassive Gothic edifice took more than a century to build, after agroup of religious fanatics decided in 1401 to build a church sowonderful 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 minaretremains. Today it's open to tourists. Along with the Alcazar andthe Archivo de Indias, the cathedral has been declared a UNESCOWorld Heritage Site and is undoubtedly one of the highlights of avisit to Seville. The interior of the cathedral contains somemarvellous sights in its 44 chapels. It is claimed that the remainsof Christopher Columbus are here in a tomb dedicated to him, butthere is some controversy over this. Artworks to be seen includegilded panels, glittering icons, and intricately carved altarpieces. The cathedral is imposing and quite overwhelming in itsscope, but the intricate detail is also incredible.
Alcazar is Seville's top attraction and one of themost famous in Spain. The complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Siteand an undisputed architectural masterpiece. The site of Seville'sMoorish palace has been occupied by the city's rulers since Romantimes, and has been a favoured residence of Spanish kings since theMiddle Ages. Established by the Moors as early as the 7th century,it was primarily built in the 1300s and has been added to andaltered by successive occupants ever since. Of the early Christianadditions, most notable is the colonnaded quadrangle of the Patioof the Maids. The palace is set in beautiful, extensive gardenswhere 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 spectacularpalace complex.
A former Jewish ghetto, Santa Cruz in Seville is an enchantingmaze of alleys, gateways, and courtyards. Every street corner has aromantic legend attached to it, with windowsills festooned withflowers and the fragrance of jasmine pervading the air. Santa Cruzis also bordered by the Alcazar, the Jardines de Murillo, and SantaMaria 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 theCalle Lope de Rueda; the Convent de San Jose, which boasts relicsof Saint Teresa of Avila; and the Iglesia de Santa Maria la Blanca,which features Murillo's 'Last Supper'. Apart from many notablebuildings, the neighbourhood is home to numerous quaint and quirkyshops, art galleries, artisan workshops, hotels, guest houses,tapas bars, and restaurants, making it a tourists' paradise. SantaCruz is also a favourite haunt for locals, and the area is fun tovisit during the day and at night. Many walking tours of thedistrict are available and joining one makes for a goodintroduction to Santa Cruz.
A restored convent dating back to 1612 houses one ofSpain's most important and largest art collections. Hidden in atiny plaza off Calle de Alfonso XII in Seville, the museum wasestablished in 1839. It houses art spanning from medieval times tothe 20th century, with the pride of the collection being the rangeof paintings from the 17th century, Seville's Golden Age.Highlights include the religious paintings of Seville's own EstebanMurillo, but the collection also includes other Seville Schoolartists such as the macabre works of Juan de Vales Leal andFrancisco de Zurbaran. There are also two paintings by El Grecoamong the exhibits. The museum has a surfeit of religious art,which will delight some and bore others; it is probably not thebest attraction for children. The convent is an incredible housingfor the collection with frescoes and ornate vaulted ceilings, worthexploring even if it were empty. On Sundays there is usually an artmarket in the square outside the museum where local artists set upstalls and sell their work. A must for art lovers, this gallery isgenerally considered to have the second best collection of Spanishart in the country.
Regarded as one of the loveliest parks in Europe,this half-mile area in southern Seville near the port, is plantedwith palms, orange trees, elms, and Mediterranean pines. Bright andbeautiful 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 Decoand Mudejar styling. The park was originally part of Seville'sWorld Expo, which brought a burst of creative architecture andrejuvenation during the 1920s, and which included the redirectionof the Guadalquivir River and the construction of some opulentbuildings, like the stylish Guatemala building off the Paseo de laPalmera. Also fronting the park is the city's archaeologicalmuseum, focusing on the Romans and prehistory of the province ofSeville. Near the park is the Royal Tobacco Factory (today part ofthe university), immortalised by the fictional operatic gypsyheroine Carmen, who is said to have worked there. Many of thebuildings surrounding Maria Luisa Park are attractions inthemselves. The park is a pleasant refuge for relaxation and astroll, 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 in1997, has brought thousands of visitors flocking to the city to beawed or floored. The massive museum, designed by the famous FrankGehry, has no right angles, resembles a metallic flower clad inshiny titanium, and is situated in the former dockyard alongsidethe Nervion River. There are also some huge, striking sculpturesoutside the museum and many visitors consider the exterior thehighlight of a visit. Inside, apart from breathtaking and unusualspaces, the museum houses the works of some important 20th centuryartists, including Picasso, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol,Willem de Koonig, and Clyfford Still. There are also sectionsdisplaying the work of young Basque and Spanish artists, androtating exhibits lent by the Guggenheim museums in New York andVenice. There is a great cafe in the Guggenheim and a bookshop. Itis a good idea to book your tickets in advance online to get aslight discount and to jump the queues at the entrance. TheGuggenheim is undoubtedly one of Bilbao's greatest and most popularattractions and shouldn't be missed.
For a more mainstream artistic experience than that offered bythe astonishing Guggenheim Gallery, the Museo de Bellas Artes inthe Plaza Museo fits the bill admirably, with some valuable workson display behind an unassuming façade. The museum's impressivecollection spans art from the 12th to 20th centuries, highlightsbeing some excellent Flemish works from between the 15th and 17thcenturies. There are also works by masters like El Greco, Goya,Gauguin, Francis Bacon, Picasso, and Velazquez. The museum hostsregular temporary exhibitions so check the official website belowto see what is showing during your visit. To the rear of thebuilding there is a pleasant sculpture garden. Audio guides areavailable in multiple languages for an extra €1 and the museum isvery well curated and maintained. Bilbao's Museo de Bellas Artes isbecoming increasingly renowned internationally and generallyreceives rave reviews from visitors. In fact, it is consistentlyone of the top rated attractions in the city. Entry to the museumis free on Wednesdays, which is a big bonus for those travelling ona budget. Prints and other merchandise can be bought via the onlineshop.
The Museo Vasco, also known as the Euskal Museoa orBasque 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. Thedisplays offer the chance to dip into Basque political and sociallife, using everything from model ships to reconstructions of roomsand gravestones to guide the visitor along. The maps and theexhibition on traditional music and dancing are highlights. In anoutdoor courtyard visitors can see a remarkable stone sculpturecalled Mikeldi, which is thought to date back to sometime betweenthe 5th and 11th centuries BC. Although not all the information hasbeen translated there are sufficient explanations in English. It isa simple, accessible museum, which children will probably enjoy.Budget at least three hours to take it all in. Conveniently locatedin the historic centre of town, the Museo Vasco is near a number ofcafes and restaurants.
Dating from 1892 and designed by Joaquin Rucoba, Bilbao'selegant city hall in the Plaza Erkoreka Ernesto is located on thebank of the Estuary of Bilbao. The Baroque building includes aspire and a magnificent façade featuring balconies, columns,sculptures, and a sweeping staircase. The highlight of the interioris the Arab Room, an opulently decorated chamber used for weddings.Guided tours, lasting about an hour, are available, though theseneed to be booked in advance by phone. A brand new city hallbuilding was recently completed, situated right next to thehistoric old building, and the unique, modern design of the newcontrasts very interestingly with the old. The two buildings nowshare the functions of the city hall, with the modern's colourfulcontemporary décor contrasting with the ornate old hall, which isdistinctly Baroque in its decor. The city is now well served by acombination of functional modern space and historic charm.
Palma's magnificent Catalonian Gothic cathedral is a landmark ofthe city, standing in the old town overlooking the ocean. Thecathedral is actually called the Cathedral of the Saviour (Catedraldel Salvador) but is situated on the Plaza de la Seo and iscommonly referred to as La Seo. The cathedral forms part of aUNESCO World Heritage Site. The cathedral was built on the site ofan existing ancient mosque and ancient Roman forum, andconstruction on the Romanesque Cathedral began in 1140. There havebeen numerous rebuilds, additions, and renovations since then,including an extensive restoration in the second half of the 20thcentury, when Roman and Muslim remnants were excavated and exposed.The cathedral has a rich and interesting history. From 1204 untilthe 15th century, all Aragonese kings were crowned in this churchand it was the venue for royal baptisms, weddings, and burials. Thehead Inquisitor of Aragon, Pedro de Arbues, was assassinated in thecathedral while praying in 1485. He was later sainted and entombedin the cathedral.
Opposite the cathedral in Palma stands an austere fortresspalace that was erected by the Moors and later became the residenceof the kings of Mallorca. The Moors built the fortress in 1281 andit was converted into a royal residence at the end of the 13thcentury, but evidence suggests that the Moors themselves built onan existing Roman fort. The palace is still officially a royalresidence, although very seldom occupied, and is occasionally usedfor royal functions and events. Inside, most rooms and corridorsare bare, but there are some beautiful Flemish Gobelin tapestrieson display as well as a few antiques, art works and suits ofarmour. The royal apartments can be seen and there is an impressiveGothic chapel which showcases some rare late Romanesquearchitectural features. The palace, on the Plaza Reina, issurrounded by a pleasant Moorish-style garden sporting fountains,and offering panoramic views of the harbour. There is very littleinformation in the fortress itself, but audio guides are availablein English. Although visitors expecting lavish decor will bedisappointed, exploring the palace is still fascinating andphotographers will find plenty of worthy material.
Built in the 14th century and surrounded by a double moat, thisround hilltop castle was the summer residence of the kings ofMallorca. While once serving as a prison, it today contains Palma'sMunicipal Museum displaying archaeological artefacts and models ofexcavations. 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 museumbelow. Don't miss the prisoner's graffiti etched into thestonework, visible if you climb up to the roof. The Bellver Castleis on the route of the Palma City open-top sightseeing buses, butthe walk up through the forest from Placa Gomilla is pleasant andnot too strenuous, with many viewpoints to rest at along the way.Bellver Castle is one of the city's top attractions and a must-seefor its vistas alone.
Palma's most renowned art gallery contains workscollected by the Juan March Foundation, housed in a restoredmansion on the Carrer Sant Miquel. It focuses on modern worksincluding Picasso's Head of a Woman and paintings by acknowledgedmasters like Miro, Dali, Juan Gris, and Antoni Tapies, as well asart by contemporary Spanish artists. It is a small but impressivecollection and the 17th-century mansion in which it's housed isbeautiful and fun to explore, contrasting interestingly with themodern art. The spacious and quiet gallery is a wonderful refuge ona hot day. The museum is very active, organising lecture series,many temporary exhibitions, and free art workshops. Guided tours ofthe gallery are available by prior appointment on week days between11am and 3pm. There is a good museum shop selling exhibitioncatalogues, art books, posters, postcards, and the like. Thegallery is wheelchair accessible. The fact that a gallery of thiscalibre is free is quite remarkable and the museum is popular withtourists and locals alike.
The only surviving Moorish building in Palma is the bathhouse ofBanys Àrabs, located in the city's medieval quarter. It contains anelegant horseshoe-arched dome chamber supported by 12 columns,fronted by a lovely little garden with picnic tables. Although thisis a small attraction, basically consisting of two empty chambers(hence the low admission cost), the old architecture is gracefuland photographers should enjoy capturing the romanticallydilapidated walls and columns. The baths are worth visiting to getsome impression of the character of the old city as they are sadlyall that remains. There is a short video show, in multiplelanguages, providing some historical information about thebuilding, but not much else. The site is generally deserted and isa serene spot to imagine the past and take a break from sightseeingto read or write in the peaceful gardens. Bring your own picnic andenjoy a slow lunch at the baths. Although it is located on a smallside road, the building is well sign-posted and shouldn't be hardto find. Those interested in history or Moorish architecture shouldnot miss this tiny but charming attraction in Palma.
There are several good, though usually crowded, beachesaccessible by bus from Palma. El Arenal, seven miles (11km) to thesoutheast of the city, attracts many German visitors to itswaterfront restaurants, bars, and hotels. The long beach boastswhite sands and turquoise water. Palma Nova and Illetes, six miles(10km) to the southwest, are smaller but equally popular andpicturesque beaches. On the road to Palma Nova is Marineland,offering dolphin, sea lion, and parrot shows, as well as Polynesianpearl-diving demonstrations. Other beaches nearby include Portixol,El Molinar, Coll d'En Rebassa, and Can Pastilla. The most popularbeach on the entire island of Mallorca, Es Trenc, on the southeastcoast between Cap de Salinas and Cap Blanc, can be reached by busfrom the Plaza Espanya in Palma. Es Trenc is a long narrow beachwhich is not affiliated to any resort and is therefore lesscommercial than many others on the island - although its popularityensures it is still frequently crowded. It is a beautiful stretchof sand and an unofficial nudist beach.
Soller is set in a lush valley of orange grovesbetween the mountains and the sea halfway along the northwest coastof Mallorca. It's a popular daytrip destination because it can bereached on a vintage train ride from Palma. The train, awood-panelled 1912 model, takes passengers winding through thebeautiful craggy landscapes and into the Golden Valley where Solleris situated. The town is awash with tempting pastry shops,ice-cream parlours, and tapas bars in its quaint squares, but thereis more to do than just eat and drink. There are some good examplesof modernist architecture, like the church of Saint Bartomeu withits 1912 arched tower above a rose window and needle-like spires.There are also two museums: the Natural Science Museum and theMuseu Municipal filled with antiques. There is a vintage tramrunning between the town and the port (Port de Soller). Soller isan ancient town, with evidence that the area was inhabited byhumans as early as 5200 BC, but rather than big tourist attractionsvisitors will find buckets of charm and many good reasons to justrelax and enjoy the atmosphere.
In 1838, Frederic Chopin arrived in the small town ofValldemossa with his lover, George Sand, to stay in a former monk'scell in the Cartoixa Reial monastery and carry on their affair awayfrom the eyes of Paris. The shocked locals shunned the sicklyChopin and Sand, and the couple were so unhappy that theirrelationship never recovered from the wet, windy and miserablewinter in the monastery. Today the cells occupied by the lovers areopen to visitors. The library and old pharmacy can also be visitedand there is a small art museum with works by Picasso, Miro, andJuli Ramis. Valldemossa is one of the prettiest villages inMallorca: it is quiet and traditional, with narrow cobbled streetsand a backdrop of forested hills. The 13th-century monastery is themost famous attraction of the town, but many hours can be spenthappily wandering the streets and exploring the lush countryside.There are lovely cafes, restaurants, art galleries, and gift shopsin Valldemossa. It is not a coastal town, but the port of the samename is very close and many beaches are within easy reach.
About 20 miles (32km) beyond Soller, after a drivethrough the Serra de Tramuntana in the north of the island, is theremote mountain village of Lluc, in a valley that has been animportant place of pilgrimage since the 13th century. Lluc becameMallorca's most sacred site when a shepherd boy discovered a darkwooden statue of the Virgin in a cleft in the rock. The miraculousstatue somehow returned to its cave three times after being placedin the local church. Now the statue, known as La Moreneta, has beenencrusted 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 deLluc, the monastery which houses the statue, and remains a famouspilgrimage site. The sanctuary has a world-renowned boys' choir,established in 1531, which performs regularly. Although Lluc isprimarily a special destination for the religious, it also hassecular appeal, with some good restaurants and a scenicsetting.
The old medieval district of Ciudad de Ibiza (Ibiza Town), thecapital of the island, sports narrow cobblestone streets,picturesque whitewashed houses and Gothic buildings aroundcourtyards bright with blooming geraniums and bougainvillea.Ibiza'a Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with architecturespanning 2,500 years of history. The Old Town, enclosed by historicwalls, is best entered through the Puerta de las Tablas, which seesvisitors 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 onfoot, and contains some interesting sights, most noteworthy ofwhich is the Archaeological Museum. The museum, situated inCathedral Square, contains artefacts from prehistoric sites on theBalearic Islands, dating as far back as the Punic period betweenthe 5th and 7th centuries BC. Interestingly, the museum is said tobe constructed on a Carthagean burial site of about 4,000 graves.Also in the Old Town is the cathedral with its 10th-century Gothictower and 18th-century Baroque nave. From the battlements by thecathedral spectacular views can be enjoyed. There are plenty ofgift shops, art galleries, pavement cafes and good restaurants inthe area to keep tourists happy. The Old Town is delightful atnight, and a candlelit dinner at one of the restaurants spillingout into the narrow cobbled streets is a must.
Santa Eulalia is a pretty, atmospheric little town about ninemiles (14km) north of the island's capital, much favoured bytourists because of its proximity to some of the best beaches andfor its scenic setting. The town is situated on the estuary of theonly river in the Balearic Islands, overlooked by the Puig deMissa, a 16th-century fortified church situated on a hilltop. Thereare also a number of small museums and the remains of a Romannecropolis. Another attraction in Santa Eulalia is the Sant Carlessettlement a few kilometres to the north: the last true hippiecommune on Ibiza remaining from the 1960s, when hippie cultistsflocked here. The famous northern beaches of Ibiza, like AiguesBlanques and Cala Llonga, can be reached by bus or boat from thetown. Santa Eulalia has its own beaches though: the Santa Eulaliabeach has Blue Flag status and is very popular; the Es Calo deS'Alga beach, which can be reached on foot from the town, is agorgeous little beach with calm, shallow water and good facilities;and the nearby Es Canar beach is perfect for water sports likejet-skiing.
The tourist attraction cave complex of Cova de Can Marca sits afew miles north of Sant Miquel, a village with an attractivehilltop church and good tapas bars. The caves have beencommercialised and fitted with some spectacular sound and lightingeffects, providing for an entertaining guided tour. The caves aresituated atop a rocky inlet, with spectacular views over the bayand of the islands Murada and Feriradura. The cave is said to bemore than 100,000 years old and features underground lakes,stalactites, and stalagmites. There was once a natural waterfall inthe cave system but the waterfall featured on the tour today is areplica, as the waterbeds of the cave system are now fossilized.The caves were once used by smugglers to hide their cargo and it isstill possible to see the marks they made on the walls to guidethem through the cave system. Tours are held in various languagesand take about 40 minutes. The tours are suitable for people of allages and fitness levels and are very popular with tourists. It isnot necessary to book in advance.
The salt flats of Las Salinas are some of Ibiza'smost famous landmarks, close to the airport on the southernmost tipof the island. They've been used for more than 2,000 years sincethe Carthaginians traded with the salt left in the pans after thewaters evaporated in summer. The sparkling lakes provide one of theworld's most beautiful sunset photograph opportunities. Thefashionable Las Salinas beach on the southern tip of Ibiza attractsa glittering crowd of sun worshippers and party animals, includingmany celebrities, the wealthy, and the beautiful. There arenumerous beach bars to try out. The salt flats can be found in thenature reserve that surrounds this gorgeous beach, along with pineforests, sand dunes, and a general abundance of natural beauty. Thesaltpans are also a wonderful destination for bird watchers. It ispossible to just stroll into the woods from the beach, but thereare 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 ferryfrom Ibiza Town, with a regular service running every two hours.Ferry services to Formentera from the mainland have also beenestablished, due to the island's increasing popularity. It'srelatively unspoilt by tourism development, although not as emptyof crowds as it once was. Accommodation options are very limited.The main attractions are some pretty villages and marvellousbeaches flanked by palms and pines, many frequented by nudists. Thebest way to explore is on a rented moped or bicycle, as there arewell-maintained cycling tracks traversing the island. The main portis La Sabina, and other villages include beautiful Las Salinas, SanFrancisco Javier, and San Fernando, all featuring quaintwhite-washed houses. Recommended beaches are Es Pujols in thenorth, Mitjorn in the south, and Cala Saona in the west. Otherbeaches of note are En Boster, Ca'n Xico Mateu, and the naturalport of Es Calo. The highest point on the island is in thesoutheast corner at El Mirador.
Most visitors head straight for the string of restaurants andcafes lining the harbour of Mahon, Minorca's capital town. The townitself is sedate and conservative, featuring classic Georgiantownhouses (bearing testimony to the British occupation of bygonedays) and tall apartment blocks. Mahon does have some worthwhileattractions for those interested in making more of their holidaythan dashing off to the beach. The mansion house of Golden Farmoverlooks the harbour, and was once occupied by Admiral LordNelson. Also on the sightseeing list is the Xoriguer GinDistillery, where famed Minorcan gin is produced in an age-oldprocess. The celebrated organ (with more than 3,000 pipes) in thechurch of Esglesia de Santa Maria la Major is also a draw for somevisitors. The Swiss-made organ was brought to Mahon during theNapoleonic wars and is used during an annual music festival held inJuly and August. The historic centre of Mahon has been steadilyrenovated in recent years, and the old part of town is picturesque.The city has one of the deepest natural harbours in the world, andthe waterfront is a worthy tourist hub with lots to see and do.
Minorca's former capital city, the compact port ofCiutadella de Menorca is west of the modern capital and linked toit by the main island road. Usually just called Ciutadella, it'svery different in character to Mahon, sporting a distinct Moorishand Spanish influence in its Gothic and Baroque grand mansions andpalaces. It is an ancient town, reputedly founded by theCarthaginians by the 4th century. During its long history,Ciutadella changed hands multiple times, once having all 3,000 orso surviving residents taken as slaves by invading Turks in 1558after a siege of the city. Ciutadella remains the island'sreligious centre and is still the home of the bishop. The Cathedralof Menorca, located in the old quarter, was built in 1287 on thesite of an even older mosque, while the town hall is anothergorgeous building. Although the city boasts few specificsightseeing attractions, it does offer excellent restaurants,interesting shops, and arcades as well as a relaxed ambience thatis just perfect for wandering around. There are also some covesnearby inviting exploration.
Minorca is blessed with a beautiful coastline andoffers visitors a variety of beaches and resorts. Fornells, anattractive fishing village on the north coast, is on a spectacularbay ideal for windsurfing and watersports. Close by is the beachCala Tirant. Cala Galdana is one of the most popular beaches, setin a horseshoe bay, and complete with all desired amenities; whileSanto Tomas, with its stretch of golden sand, is a small resortfavoured by families and honeymoon couples. Son Bou is one of thelongest beaches on the island, with a few shops, bars, restaurants,and a club. Binebeca and Binisafua were Minorca's first resortcentres, but are now mainly residential areas filled with villasfronting numerous sandy bays. There are some interesting caves andrugged little coves between Mahon and picturesque Calan Porter,making the area fun for nature walks and snorkelling along therocky shore. Those looking for something a little lesscommercialised may enjoy Cala Mitjana, south of Ferreries. It's asmall, idyllic cove surrounded by pine forests, offering nofacilities but beautifully situated and usually not crowded.
The Museo Canario boasts mummies and the world'slargest collection of Cro-Magnon skulls. The permanent exhibitionis devoted solely to the aboriginal population of Gran Canaria, whoinhabited the islands from the second half of the first millenniumBC up until the 15th century. It covers things like religion andmythology, funerary practices, economic activity, and theorganisation of society. The award-winning museum in Las Palmashouses the most complete and comprehensive archaeologicalcollection in the Canary Islands and should be of great interest toanybody keen on archaeology, anthropology, and the ancient historyof the Canary Islands. There is a room full of the skeletal remainsof the ancients, which is spooky but fascinating. The informationprovided in the exhibitions is invariably only in Spanish, but atthe entrance you should be given a booklet explaining the displaysin your own language. The museum is popular with tourists and isone of the top-rated attractions in Las Palmas.
Christopher Columbus is believed to have stayed fordifferent periods in the Casa de Colon, in the historical quarterof Vegueta in Las Palmas. The house now serves as a museumdisplaying relics of early transatlantic voyages and pre-Columbiancultures, as well as acting as a cultural centre for the study ofthe Canary Island's relationship with the Americas. The building isa famous example of the architecture of the Canary Islands, withheavy wooden balconies, patios, fountains, and some unusualornamental features. It was once the residence of Las Palmas'searly governors. There are now 13 permanent exhibition halls, alibrary, and a research centre, containing fascinating artefactsand even some colourful parrots among the palm trees in thecourtyards. Although competition is not steep in the city, Casa deColon is probably the most popular museum in Las Palmas andgenerally receives rave reviews from visitors. The museum issituated next to the cathedral and is worth an hour or two ofsightseeing time in the city.
The whitewashed Pueblo Canario was the pet project of Canarianartist Nestor Martin-Fernandez de la Torre, who conceived andoversaw the creation of this idealised representation of a typicalisland village next to Dorames Park, Las Palmas. Buildings surrounda square where performances of folk music and dance take placeevery Sunday morning. The dancers and musicians dress up in fulltraditional garb and use traditional instruments. Those who justwant to enjoy the free music and show can sip on a beer or a coffeein the pleasant square, or have a meal at the restaurant. Thevillage also contains the Museo Nestor, in which is housed acollection of the artist's modernist paintings, a playground forchildren, and some handicraft shops where visitors can pick up somesouvenirs. The entertainment is simple and old-fashioned and thevillage is picturesque and worth strolling around, especially incombination with the park that borders it. Pueblo Canario givestravellers a taste of rural Canarian culture and charm in themiddle of the city. The best time to visit by far is on Sundaymornings.
The delightful town of Arucas sits beneath a dormantvolcano on the northern coast of Gran Canaria, and is one of themost popular places for tourists to visit. The neat town isdominated by the majestic Church of San Juan Bautista, carved instone by local workers. It is possible to take a short walk out ofthe town to the Montana de Arucas viewpoint for a panoramic look atthe northern coastline. The town is scenically situated, surroundedby fields of corn and potatoes and banana plantations, and thePalmitos ravine provides some beautiful vistas. The stunning,UNESCO-listed Gran Canaria Biosphere Reserve is also easilyaccessible from Arucas. The town is very close to the city of LasPalmas de Gran Canaria. The city has numerous historicalattractions as well as the pleasures of sun, sea, and watersports,and is one of the main travel hubs in the region. Arucas istherefore a great excursion from the city, providing a bit of ruralcharm as a break from the urban glories of Las Palmas.
A colourful and entertaining look at nature is presented atPalmitos Park, a botanical garden, zoo, and aquarium situated fourmiles (6km) inland from Arguineguin on the south coast. The park isa subtropical oasis containing thousands of birds, fish, animals,trees, plants, and particularly orchids. The orchid house is thelargest in the Canary Islands and the range is astonishing. Thereis a cactus garden too, a huge butterfly house, and an aquariumfeaturing a recreated riverbed. Attractions include dolphin showsand a number of bird shows including displays by birds of prey,parrots, and exotic birds. The park also houses a selection ofreptiles and other animals including aardvarks, wallabies, andmeerkats. Another highlight is Primate Island, which is inhabitedby entertaining gibbons and orangutans. There are numerous picnicspots and view points in the park, which is blessed with someruggedly beautiful scenery. There are also cafes sellingrefreshments for those who don't bring their own food. All displaysand shows are included in the entrance fee. Check the officialwebsite listed below to see what time all the different animalsperform. There is a substantial reduction for online booking viathe website.
The spectacular Parque Nacional de las Canadas del Teide wasdeclared a protected area in 1954, including an enormous volcaniccrater with a circumference of 30 miles (48km) out of which risesthe highest peak in Spain, Mount Teide. It is the largest, one ofthe oldest, and the most visited national park in Spain and hasbeen declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since 2007, it has alsobeen one of the 12 Treasures of Spain. In contrast to the coastalregions of Tenerife, the temperatures in the reserve can beextreme: winter in the park, which lies at about 6,562ft (2,000m)above sea level, brings snowfall and gale force winds, while insummer temperatures can soar to above 104ºF (40ºC). A cable carcarries visitors to the summit of Mount Teide, but many prefer tohike the route to experience the flora and fauna, including rarespecimens like the violet of the Teide, the Tajinastes, as well asthe many varieties of lizards and birds. There is a refuge near thesummit which you can book to stay in, and reserving thisaccommodation includes the permit you will need to climb MountTeida.
On the east coast of Tenerife, south of Santa Cruz, stand sixmysterious step pyramids of which archaeologists have yet todiscern the origin. The pyramids were initially thought to be theremains of agricultural stone terraces, or random piles of stonecleared from fields by early Spanish settlers. However, ThorHeyerdahl, the Norwegian anthropologist who lived in Guimar onTenerife until his death in 2002, thought differently. His researchindicated that the pyramids were constructed on similar principlesto those in Mexico, Peru and ancient Mesopotamia. The pyramids arenow 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 debateamong archaeologists, and the first real excavation of thepyramids, in 1991, didn't reveal anything to help definitively datethem. The park, however, is lovely, and is of botanical as well asarchaeological interest, with paths winding through miles ofCanarian vegetation. There is also a Secret Garden dedicated topoisonous plants. There are picnic areas dotted around the park andit is a good idea to bring a picnic to fully enjoy the area.
The picturesque village of Masca is found on thenorthwest tip of Tenerife. Sitting in the Teno Mountains, it clingsto the slopes of a deep, green ravine beside a narrow road full ofalarming hairpin bends. The zigzag drive from Santiago del Teidehas opened up the village and its magical setting, reputed to haveonce been a pirate's hideaway. The village has a little market andsome restaurants as well as accommodation options but its mainselling point is the spectacular scenery. Hikers have popularised atwo-hour walk, from the village through a gully to the sea at thebase of the majestic cliffs of Los Gigantes. The hike is a gloriousway to experience the landscapes, but is not suitable for thoseafraid of heights as things get rather steep. Once you reach thebeach you will find a picturesque bay with black volcanic sand andclear water which is lovely for a picnic, a swim, and a snorkel. Insummer there are water taxis transporting people between this bayand Los Gigantes every two hours or so.
The volcanic nature of the island of Tenerife means that theland has few natural beaches. Those that exist are characterised byblack shingle stretches created from the island's volcanic rockfoundations. The demand for tourist sun-bathing space, however, hasled to the creation of resorts and man-made beaches, with goldensand having been imported in some cases. Many of the beaches ofTenerife have been awarded the European Blue Flag for theircleanliness and the quality of their sand. The good beaches onTenerife for sunbathing and soft sand are Los Gigantes and San Juanin the west; and Fanabe, with its yellow sand, showers, and otherfacilities, located to the south. Also popular are Torviscas withits marina, Playa las Americas for its grey sandy stretches, thesoft yellow expanse of Los Cristianos' beach, Las Vistas, and LosCristianos. Candaleria in the east has a small black shingle beach.Up north Puerto de la Cruz has a beach with fine black shingle, butat Santa Cruz has imported golden sand. Although the imported whitesand is ideal for sunbathing, the black volcanic beaches ofTenerife can be very beautiful and are often less crowded.
A collection of modern artworks sit on permanent display in theCastle of San Jose, a fortress in built in 1779 to defend againstpirate attacks in Arrecife. The castle was in military use till1890 and then stood vacant till 1974 when it was converted into amodern art gallery and restaurant by architect and artist CesarManrique. The Museo International de Arte Contemporaneo is smallbut fascinating. The main attraction is actually the buildingitself 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 foodand has a funky decor, is a big drawcard and has fantastic viewsover the docks and ocean. It is worth visiting for drinks at thebar at least. Sunset is the best time to enjoy the views and ameal, as the view changes dramatically between day and night.Although there are usually tables available, it is recommended thatyou book in advance to get the best views.
Timanfaya National Park, in the southwestern part ofthe island of Lanzarote, is unique because it is the only nationalpark in the world to have been developed by local residents. Alsounique is what the park offers, including a volcanic field filledwith a variety of geological and geothermic phenomena. In fact, thereserve is almost entirely made up of volcanic soil, and volcanicactivity continues beneath the surface, although there is only oneactive volcano. Attractions include some geysers by the restaurant.Although the landscape is strange and stark, 180 different plantspecies do survive in the park. The whole of Lanzarote is a UNESCOBiosphere Reserve, and Timanfaya is one of the core protectedareas. Access to the park is strictly regulated to protect thedelicate ecosystem and visitors must stick to designated routes. Ajourney through this landscape is hugely enriched by having a guideso don't shy away from organised tours. Some tours offer camelrides as part of the package. In the restaurant, which hasspectacular views, visitors can end their guided tour of thesewonders by enjoying a meal cooked on geothermal heat emanating fromnatural steam vents and geysers.
In the northern part of Lanzarote, close to the Monte de laCorona volcano, is a spectacular system of underground grottosknown as La Cueva de los Verdes. This is one of the largestvolcanic galleries in the world, at just over four miles (6km)long, formed approximately five thousand years ago in a prehistoriceruption when a massive stream of lava boiled down to the sea,hardening around the spaces inflated by gases. Where the tunnelenters the sea there is an underwater section called the Tunnel ofAtlantis. More than a mile (2km) of these grottos is accessible tovisitors, and lighting effects have been added to accentuate thecontours and colours of the weird shapes resulting from the lavaflows. Feeling like a journey into the mysterious bowels of theearth, exploring the tunnels is a thrilling experience. Tours takejust under an hour and are conducted in Spanish and English. Thosewith mobility issues may struggle negotiating the uneven surfaces,but tour guides are generally accommodating and adjust their paceto suit the group as a whole. Evening concerts are sometimes heldin the caverns, and it is incredible to hear the musicreverberating off the ancient walls.
Situated between Guatiza and Mala is an unusual sightseeingattraction that combines art with nature. Artist Cesar Manriquecreated a work of art in the form of a cactus plantation in an oldquarry. The Cactus Garden was Manrique's final piece of work inLanzarote. More than 7,000 cactuses from well over 1,000 differentspecies from all over the world are represented in the garden, withmany coming from Madagascar, Mexico, Chile, Morocco, the US, andthe Canary Islands. The plants come in all shapes and sizes andhave been arranged beautifully in a landscaped garden with manywater features. The site also features a restored windmill, whichvisitors can climb. It is a weird and wonderful collection whichmakes you feel like you're on another planet, and most people needat least two to three hours to explore. The old quarry is a suntrap and gets really hot, so it is best not to visit on asweltering day, or at least to avoid the hottest time of day. Thereis a cafe at the site which sells light meals and provides welcomeshade.
Situated on the outskirts of Benidorm, Terra Mitica is Spain'slargest theme park and, with its rides, shows, restaurants, andshops, can be a great day for the whole family. Rides like theTizona, an inverted roller coaster that reaches speeds of 62mph(100kmh) and heights of more than 100ft (31m) with visitorssuspended beneath the track, and attractions like Warrior of theDawn (a simulated game) provide exhilarating entertainment for allages. The park is divided into five themed zones: Egypt, Greece,Rome, Iberia, and the Mediterranean Islands. Recently the park hasbeen further divided into two separate zones: Iberia Park is a freeto enter area which operates on a token system, while Terra Miticais a pay to enter area where all rides are free once inside. Thereisn't much shade and visitors should go prepared for the sun,especially in summer. The queuing sections are almost all cooleddown by sprinkler systems and there are some great water rides tocool down on. In the peak summer months the park is often open tillmidnight and visiting at night is a wonderful option. Those whohave 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 bytourism. It was established a few miles inland to protect againstsudden pirate attacks. Today the port has grown into a popularfamily resort. Some of Pollensa's medieval centre remains aroundthe Plaça Major, including the church of Nostra Senyora delsÀngels. The church is fairly austere, the sheer stone façadepierced only by a large rose window. But the interior is highlydecorative. Other than the church, the main square houses a clusterof bars and cafés, and on Sunday mornings, a busy market. Justnorth of the square is the Via Crucis, a long stone stairwaybordered 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 GoodFriday, a figure of Jesus is slowly carried down the steps bytorchlight in the Davallament. Perched on a hill just south ofPollensa is a rambling 18th-century monastery, a peaceful andserene spot to take in wonderful views of the surrounding area. Themonastery is an hour's walk from town.
An ancient hilltop town close to the east coast ofMallorca, Arta has been occupied for about 3,000 years and todaywelcomes visitors to the remains of its Bronze Age settlement. Theruins 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 RegionalMuseum of Arta, while the Sanctuary of Sant Salvador providespicturesque views of the town with its bleached rooftops spillingdown the hillside below Moorish battlements. The Baroque church wasbuilt in 1892 and is connected by a staircase of 180 steps to theparish church of Transfiguracio del Senyor at the foot of the hill,which is a Gothic structure built in 1573, on the foundations of anolder mosque. The town is particularly lively on Tuesdays, marketday, but the narrow streets and palpably ancient feel of the placeis thrilling on any day.
This crocodile park is home to more than 300crocodiles and alligators from all over the world. Visitorsshouldn't miss the crocodiles' feeding times, which occur daily atabout 12pm, 2pm, and 4.15pm, during which the animals are at theirmost active. The other half of the park is a zoo, which housesother reptiles, various birds, monkeys, chimpanzees, tigers,jaguars, camels, and more. There is a restaurant in the centre ofthe park where visitors can see a show where parrots performvarious tricks, while the educational crocodile show is the mainattraction. The park is near the town of Aguímes, a few milessouthwest of the airport. Those with a soft spot for reptilesshould also consider visiting Reptilandia, situated a little offthe beaten track near Agaete, in the northwest of the island. Thispark houses a collection of snakes, tortoises, turtles, spiders,monkeys, and lizards. The Komodo Dragon here is believed to be thelargest lizard in the world. Kids are bound to love bothattractions, and they are good options for families wanting a shortbreak from the beach.
The ancient town of Alcudia, not to be confused withthe popular modern resort two miles (3km) to its south, has afascinating and turbulent history. The Phoenicians and Greekssettled here and the Romans made it their capital in the 2ndcentury BC. Destroyed by the Vandals in the 6th century it wasrebuilt again by the Moors before being liberated by King Jaime Iof Spain in the early 1200s. Today, visitors still enter the narrowstreets of the old town through one of the two gates, which areguarded by large towers. There are lots of little cafes and a greatmarket twice a week, on Sundays and Tuesdays, which brings the oldtown to life and attracts big crowds. The market is the perfectplace to go souvenir shopping in the area. Near the town atPolentia there is a well preserved Roman amphitheatre and theOrator de Santa Anna, one of Mallorca's oldest churches. There area couple of boutique hotels in Alcudia for those who want to spendsome time in the charming medieval town.
This massive theme park attracts holidaymakers fromfar afield to its 'Five Worlds' (Far West, Mediterránia, Mexico,China, and Polynesia). There is now also a children's section witha Sesame Street theme. Visitors can be at the Great Wall of Chinaone minute and at the ruins of Mayan Mexico the next, and meet somecowboys for a taste of the Far West before cooling off by jumpinginto 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 waterride. The Shambhala ride is one of the tallest and fastest ride inEurope. The park is part of a resort complex which also includes awater park, four hotels, and a convention centre. Apart fromnumerous rides and restaurants, there are many shows andentertainment options at PortAventura. It takes much more than aday to experience everything, particularly if you want to visit thewater park as well (combination tickets are available), and manyvisitors opt to spend a night or two at the resort. Some of thesnack kiosks and entertainment venues do close outside of thesummer months.
Only recently capitalising on the tourist trade, the streets incharming Puerto del Rosario have been resurfaced and the harbourpromenade rebuilt. The main street provides some good souvenirshops and the old harbour area features some attractive examples ofCanarian architecture. The home of exiled poet Miguel de Unamuno,which has been turned into a museum, is situated in the harbourarea. There are two beaches in Puerto del Rosario: Playa Blancal,to the south, has Blue Flag status and is home to some surfschools, but the currents can get dangerously strong; and PlayaChica, right in town, is a small but popular beach with goodfacilities. A great excursion from the town is a trip inland toTefia, where the Ecomuseo La Alcogida can be found: an open-air'village' made of restored, abandoned buildings, which givevisitors an idea of the hard life the locals used to live, scrapingout an existence from the land. Some traditionally clad artisanswork in the village, making handicrafts.
The old town of Betancuria was founded in 1405 and was the firstcapital of Fuerteventura. The town enjoys a fantastic location,offering attractive views of the hilly terrain and winding riverbelow. In the town are several beautiful buildings and churchesworth visiting, including the Church of Iglesia de Santa Maria deBetancuria and the convent of San Buenaventura. The Casa MuseoArquebiologico has some interesting artefacts including fertilityidols and farming tools that reflect the earliest history of theisland. The town was built primarily to defend against pirateattacks and in 1593 it was all but destroyed by pirates and thenslowly rebuilt. There are various shops and stalls in Betancuriathat sell some of the best handcrafts and local produce onFuerteventura. One of the best places to get a feel for the folkculture and handicrafts of the region is the Centro Insular deArtesania, located next to the museum on the main road. Thepeaceful and sleepy old town seldom hosts tourists andaccommodation is limited, but it makes for a very popular andworthwhile excursion, providing insight into the history andculture of the Canary Islands.
On the east coast of Fuerteventura, the little fishing villageof La Lajita has been put on the tourist map because it offers oneof the island's main attractions: the Oasis de Los Cammelos.Usually called the Fuerteventura Oasis Park, the zoo is home tomore than 3,000 animals, including giraffes, camels, hippos,elephants, flamingos, lemurs, and more. The park is big andfeatures nature trails winding around the enclosures. The onlybotanical garden in Fuerteventura, it showcases indigenous andtropical flora. There are parrot shows, birds of prey shows, sealion shows, and reptile shows, as well as horse rides and camelsafaris. The lemurs are a highlight and, for a little extra,visitors can stroll through their enclosure and interact with thefriendly animals. It is possible to buy food to give the variousanimals at the entrance. There is a petting zoo and playground areadesigned for small children too. Visitors can relax under the palmtrees at the zoo's bar or try out one of the restaurants. EverySunday there is a fresh produce and craft market at the park.
Historic buildings from between the 17th and mid-19th centuriesremain in the village of La Oliva, which people can still visit.The Governor's townhouse (Casa de los Coroneles) has been restoredand is open to the public, boasting some intricate woodwork. Alsoin the centre of the village is the pretty church of ParroquiadeNuestra Seiiora de Candelaria, with a square bell tower and finelycarved wooden door. The interior of the church features a paintingof the Last Judgement, a Baroque altar painting by Juan de Miranda,and some wonderful trompe l'oeil work. The village also has an artcentre exhibiting the work of Canarian artists (Centro de ArteCanario Casa Mane). The somewhat desolate and barren naturallandscape of the interior gives way dramatically to the brightturquoise water of the sea, and the beaches around La Oliva arevery pretty. The water tends to be calm, making it a good swimmingdestination. Many tourists find it worth their while to spend sometime in La Oliva and a number of fun outdoor activities areavailable, including sailing and mountain biking jaunts, andexcursions into the Parque Natural de Corralejo.
You won't need to go far on Fuerteventura to find a perfectbeach, even if you are intent on seeking out solitude fromholidaymakers. The best are found around Jandia on the southern tipof the island. Juan Gomez is one of these, with an enticing stretchof golden sand and reached by turning off the Morro Jable-Punta deJandia Road. In the same section of the island is the pebbly blackvolcanic beach of La Pared, while right next door is the beach ofViejo Rey, a long stretch of golden sand flanked by dunes.Giniginamar is recommended for peace and quiet, surrounded by palmtrees and other indigenous plants. If you're looking for afamily-friendly beach, the southern Costa Calma is a great optionbecause the conditions are ideal for safe swimming and thefacilities are good. For remote beaches tourists can hire a 4x4 andexplore the tracks leading to the sea on the west coast. Nudism istolerated 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 mostfamous flamenco show in the world. The multi-award winningestablishment draws kings and queens, international presidents,film stars, and well-known artists and writers. They all come towitness the nightly performances of top flamenco stars, receivingexcellent service and dining on exquisite meals prepared by some ofthe best chefs in Madrid. The Corral de la Moreria was opened in1956 and is widely lauded as the best flamenco venue in the world.It has hosted some of the finest professionals of the flamencodiscipline, as well as world-class singers and musicians. Showslast for about an hour and 15 minutes and feature about 10 artists.Prices vary slightly depending on the time and day. The restaurantis also superb, serving up some exciting interpretations oftraditional Spanish and international fare, but visitors shouldnote that food is not included in ticket prices. Check who isperforming and buy tickets online via the official website listedbelow. You can find the venue right in the centre of Madrid, nextto the Royal Palace.
The ancient Andalusian city of Almeria lies sheltered at thebase of a bay, proudly dominated by the amazing Alcazaba, a hugeMoorish citadel with three walled enclosures dating from 995. A16th-century Christian castle was built on the foundations of theoriginal Moorish citadel, creating a potent aesthetic mixture ofarchitectural styles. From the citadel, visitors have a good viewof the city's most impressive and important Christian monument, theCathedral, dating from 1524, designed more like a fortress than achurch because of the need to defend it from pirate attacks. TheCathedral contains numerous art treasures, including a tabernacledating from the 18th century and designed by Ventura Rodriguez.With its interesting medieval architecture, Almeria's old town is adelight to stroll through with its tranquil squares, archways andcolonnades. The city also has a fascinating archaeological museumand unique cave dwellings in the hillside above the old gypsyquarter.
About 16 miles (26km) from Almeria and set betweenthe Sierra de Alhamilla and Sierra de Filabres, the little villageof Tabernas is in a barren landscape of canyons and rockywasteland. A few decades ago, when Western movies were the mostpopular Hollywood genre, legendary stars such as Clint Eastwood,Lee van Cleef, Claudia Cardinale and Charles Bronson strutted theirstuff here in the dry heat on film sets which fans will recognisefrom movies such as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, A Fistful ofDollars, and The Magnificent Seven. The movie lots have now becometheme park tourist attractions. There are three to visit: MiniHollywood, Texas Hollywood, and Western Leone. All offer a fun dayout in Europe's only desert region, with stagecoach rides, liveshows, a zoo, and the opportunity to quench your thirst in thesaloon. Tabernas is the name of the desert itself, with the barren,eroded landscapes typical of the badlands from cowboy movies, andthose who want to experience the real thing, instead of playing atit on the movie sets, can organise horseback treks into thedesert.
North of Almeria, a lighthouse stands at the tip ofthe Cabo de Gata Peninsula marking the extremity of Andalusia'slargest coastal nature reserve. The park is a fascinating landscapeof 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 thisnatural wonderland, which encompasses some quaint fishing hamlets,historic ruins, and magnificent stretches of beach. Two of the mostpopular beaches are Playa de Monsul, which has picturesque volcanicrock formations, and Playa de los Genoveses, which is withinwalking distance of San Jose. Tiny rock islands cluster off therugged coastline and there are extensive coral reefs along theshore. The salt flats between the village of San Miguel and theCabo de Gata point are home to thousands of flamingos, a delightfor birdwatchers. The abandoned mining villages around Rodalquilarare interesting and slightly spooky to explore. The small Morrishtown of Nijar is incredibly picturesque and the best place to seekout arts and crafts. Lastly, the Cabo de Gata-Nijar Natural Park isa paradise for photographers because of its unworldly and uniquelandscapes.
The busy fishing village of Cadaques draws plenty ofvisitors, but they do not come for the local beach, which is rathernarrow and stony. Rather, the resort town's attractions are itspicturesque natural harbour, some excellent restaurants, numerousgalleries, fashion, and art and craft shops, and the formerhome-turned-museum of world-renowned surrealist painter, SalvadorDali, situated in nearby Portlligat Bay. Dali's bizarre homeconsists of a labyrinthine cluster of fishermen's huts, added tothe original building in various stages by the artist over a periodof 40 years. Visitors must reserve a time for entry in advance asonly about eight people are allowed in the museum at a time. Youcan book via the website, by phone, or by email and must arrive atthe museum to collect your tickets at least half an hour beforeyour appointed entry time. Touching any of the art is strictlyforbidden. Despite how strict this all sounds, the staff are veryfriendly and the limited admission makes the experience moreintimate and rewarding. Tours are not guided and the house isremarkable, as one would expect from Dali. The house is veryprettily located and there are lovely sea views from some of thewindows.
Situated scarcely a mile from the beach of the popular resorttown of L'Estartit on the Costa Brava, the protected Medes Islandsare seen as heaven for divers. It may not look like much abovewater, but the craggy little archipelago of seven islets and a fewreefs form one of the most important and rich marine reserves inthe Mediterranean. Meda Gran, the largest of the islands, is theonly one of considerable size, and there is a 10th-centurylighthouse on it. Most of the islands are just rocky outcropsjutting out of the sea, with little vegetation. However, the magichappens underwater: millions of fish and thousands of animal andplant species inhabit the shallows, crevices, and submarine cavesat the base of the island cliffs, and are a delight to behold fordivers of all levels of experience, whether splashing with asnorkel or descending to the depths in scuba gear. Visitors cantake glass-bottomed boat trips around the islands, departing hourlyin season from L'Estartit, or arrange a fully equipped diving tripthrough one of the numerous tourist diving centres in the resorttown.
Just north of Girona, the historic lakeside town ofBanyoles is well known for hosting international rowing events. Butit is also a fun, attractive, and interesting place to visit andperhaps work off some energy in a pedal-boat or on a bicycle. Thebright blue lake itself is the only one in the world fed by twomerging subterranean rivers. There are numerous options availableto those wanting to take to the water, from a swimming dock tocruises or hire boats, and a grassy bank for sunbathers or anetwork of shady footpaths for those who prefer the shore. The townof Banyoles dates from 812, having developed around a Benedictinemonastery. Its old section is full of fascinating ancientbuildings, including the Sant Esteve de Banyoles Monastery, theGothic Church of Santa Maria dels Turers, and the Gothic palacecalled the Pia Almoina. The natural history and archaeologicalmuseums are worth visiting, and all are centred around a lovelyarcaded square where a traditional market has been held everyWednesday since medieval times.
The impressive, futuristic landscape of the City of Arts andScience covers a vast area, rising out of a man-made lake in whatwas formerly the bed of the River Turia. It encompasses variousattractions accessed along a magnificent arched walkway, overhungwith an array of flowering aromatic plants and shrubs. The cityconsists of five areas: the Hemisferic, containing the IMAX cinemaand other digital projections; the Umbracle, a landscaped viewingand parking area; the Principe Felipe Science Museum, dedicated tointeractive science; the Oceanografico, the largest aquarium inEurope, housing more than 500 marine species; and the Palau de lestArts Reina Sofia, which hosts opera, theatre, and musicperformances. The cost of exploring the whole 'city' isconsiderable but well worth the expense. The exhibitions andvarious features are stimulating, educational, and entertaining,and the beautiful, otherworldly architecture makes you feel asthough you are in a sci-fi movie. It is Valencia's most celebratedmodern tourist attraction and a must-see for visitors. The cityrequires a whole day of your attention if you want to experienceeverything, and there are some great restaurants to rest andrefuel.
The ancient district of El Carmen sits in the heart ofValencia's old town, with narrow cobbled alleyways, honey-colouredbuildings, and bars and cafes contributing making up a chilledBohemian atmosphere. El Carmen also has several interestingattractions, including the remains of the medieval city walls, andthe Gothic tower gates of Torres de Serrano and Torres de Quart,the latter pocked with cannon-ball marks dating from an assault byNapoleon. Roman and Moorish influences are clear in the Old Townand the numerous squares and narrow streets give the area anauthentic medieval feel, despite the invasion of tourists as thecity increases in popularity. Along with several museums, there isalso a convent complex dating back to the 13th century. TheCathedral of Our Lady is a good starting point for a walking tourof the Old Town, and climbing the cathedral's tallest tower willearn travellers fantastic views. Lastly, Mercado Central is one ofthe largest indoor markets in Spain is quite an experience.
It is reputedly the resting place of the Holy Grail, but whetheryou believe that or not the ornate Valencia Cathedral is worth avisit just because of its unique history and combination ofarchitectural styles. Since it started out in 1262, it has shuffledback and forth from being a mosque to a Christian church, and hasbeen added to accordingly in a variety of styles from Romanesque toGothic, Baroque, and even Moorish. It houses an interesting museum,treasury, and the Holy Grail chapel. Also look out for paintings byGoya. Most visitors make a pilgrimage to the cathedral simply toclimb its octagonal medieval tower, which provides a wonderfulpanorama of the city if you have the staying power to make it tothe top of the winding staircase. Climbing the tower entails asmall extra fee. The entrance fee to the cathedral includes anaudio guide, in multiple languages, which takes tourists to 21different points of interest in the cathedral. The square outsidethe church is lovely, with numerous cafes and restaurants. Part ofthe cathedral is always open for prayer, but tourists are only letin at certain times. Check the website for opening times.
One of Valencia's UNESCO World Heritage Sites is the old SilkExchange, founded in 1469, copied from a similar structure built inPalma de Mallorca. The walled tower and flamboyant Gothic tradinghall, once used for the trade of precious items like silk and gold,is widely regarded as the city's most beautiful building, and isnow a top tourist attraction, often used for hosting artexhibitions. The immensely high vaulted ceiling tops some unusualand very attractive pillars, the floors are lovely, and there islots of intricate stonework and Gothic detail to admire. Thereisn't much information of any kind inside, but informative guidedtours are available in multiple languages for a small extra fee. Agood time to visit is on a Sunday morning, when a popular stamp andcoin collectors market makes for a lively trading buzz. The SilkExchange is located opposite Valencia's Central Market, which somevisitors may also want to investigate.
The Crypt of San Vicente is an ancient part of Valencia andexploring the space takes visitors on an intriguing archaeologicaljourney through the history of the city. The crypt has existed inmany different incarnations: it was once part of a Visigoth chapel;was converted into palace baths during Muslim rule; and wasincorporated into a Christian chapel dedicated to the martyr SanVicente (although it is unclear whether the saint was ever actuallyimprisoned here as some historians claim). There is even evidenceof Roman architecture in the crypt, which is located in a districtonce occupied by Roman nobles. It is possible to wander in and seethe ruins, but without explanation it is not that interesting.History lovers are encouraged to book the audiovisual tour withimages projected on the walls and a voice over detailing everydifferent era in the building's past. Tours should be booked at theCity 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 thecentre and is surrounded by plenty of open-air cafes. On one sideof the square is the impressive Gothic façade of the Palau de laGeneralitat, seat of government for the Valencia region, andopposite is the Baroque Basilica de Nuestra Senora de losDesamparados, a grand church dating from the 17th centurycontaining fascinating frescoes. The Plaza de la Virgen is anentertainment hub during the famous Fallas Festival in Valencia,which sees the community building big, creative sculptures in thesquare and later burning them. Street performers come into thesquare during the evening and those sitting at cafes are treated toflame-throwers, jugglers, and the like. Even when there is noentertainment, the square is ideal for people-watching andphotography. It is one of the best known landmarks and gatheringplaces in Valencia.
Commonly known as La Pedrera, Casa Mila is an iconicconstruction by creative genius Antonio Gaudi. It was his lastcivil work before dedicating all his time to the assembly of LaSagrada Família. The building is a UNESCO World Heritage Site anddemonstrates the signature style of Gaudi with elaborate designs,globular shapes, assorted sculptures, colourful tiles, andintricate details. Built between 1906 and 1912, the distinctarchitecture of La Pedrera and her counterparts was unconventionaland unheard of in the popular Spanish architecture of the time. Theremarkable building is now a cultural centre that organises a rangeof activities and hosts exhibitions of various kinds. Areas open tovisitors include: the roof, providing lovely views and a close lookat the weird and wonderful architectural elements on top of thebuilding; the Espai Gaudi, an attic space dedicated to anexhibition on Gaudi's life and work; the La Pedrera Apartment, anarea that recreates the home and lifestyle of a bourgeois Barcelonafamily in the early 20th century; and the spectacular courtyardsand exhibition rooms of the first floor. Guided tours are availablein multiple languages but these must be arranged in advance.
Known as the Gothic Quarter, the Barri Gòtic is Barcelona'soldest district. A former fortified Roman settlement, the maze ofatmospheric narrow streets house spectacular Gothic buildings andcathedrals, marking the city's heyday during the 14th and 15thcenturies. There are many significant sights, the most illustriousbeing the immense Gothic Cathedral La Seu, with its breathtakingfaçade and serene cloister. With an assortment of shops anddelightful sidewalk cafés, the Barri Gòtic is a worthwhile day out.To view the remains of this ancient Roman city, once known asBarcino, 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 GothicQuarter, as many of the district's most attractive features wereactually added, in the Gothic style, in the last century, topromote tourism and restore the appeal of the area. However, it isa delightful district to explore and much of it is, or certainlyfeels, authentic. Most of the area is closed to regular traffic andlargely pedestrianised, which adds to its charm, but taxis and someservice vehicles are still allowed to traverse the quarter.
FC Barcelona, one of Europe's most beloved football teams, hasan 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 onthe Camp Nou Tour which takes fans to the heart of the club, thechanging rooms, tunnel and Nou Camp pitch. With a panoramic view ofthe stadium from the grandstand, visitors can get a taste of theheady atmosphere of a FC Barcelona match on their home ground. Themuseum also has an official store where club jerseys, caps andaccessories can be purchased. Be sure to check the tour schedule asgame days do disrupt the timetable. It is actually best not to makeyour visit on a game day because some parts of the stadium will berestricted and you may miss out. Exploring the stadium allows fansto make informed decisions about which seats to book if they areattending a game. If you are lucky you may well see some of the FCBarcelona players in the complex. There are discounts for bookingonline via the official website listed below.
A celebration of the life and work of world-renowned Catalansurrealist sculptor and painter Joan Miró, the Joan Miró Foundationin Barcelona houses the majority of the artist's works, includingpaintings, drawings, sculptures, and textiles. Distinguished by hisuse of primary colours, simple lines, and two-dimensional geometricshapes, Miro refused to be categorised into an established artmovement and as a result continued to create unparalleled works ofart. Another product of original artistic genius from Barcelona,the works of Miró at the Joan Miró Foundation allow visitors tofurther delve into the unrestrained creative energy of thisexceptional city. The building housing the collection was designedby Josep Lluis Sert and is unique and odd, an appropriate shell forthe works of Joan Miro. The museum hosts a wide variety oftemporary exhibitions by other artists, aiming to promotecontemporary art in general, rather than just the work of Miro, andalso hosts some workshops and lectures. As an added bonus there aresome fantastic views across the city from the museum. Tickets canbe booked online via the official website and audio guides can berented, which are a big help in understanding and interpreting theart.
Barcelona's coastline offers a string of attractive beaches, theideal diversion after excessive sightseeing and shopping. Visit thepopular Barceloneta Beach, only ten minutes from the city centre,where there is a selection of beach bars. Cool down with arefreshing swim and marvel at the bizarre architecture of Homenatgea la Barceloneta by Rebecca Horn. Windsurfing and kite surfing arepopular activities on this always bustling beach. The end ofBarceloneta and the beginning of Icaria Beach is marked by FrankGehry's El Peix. Marbella Beach is unofficially Barcelona's nudistbeach, but although nudity is tolerated, many people choose to keeptheir clothes on. For a peaceful beach near the city centre look nofurther than Caldetes, which is invariably almost empty. AlthoughBarceloneta is the most entertaining, the best beaches are furtherout of the city: St Pol de Mar is an hour-long train ride from thecity centre but it is arguably Barcelona's most scenic beach,backed by picturesque hills and with a lovely little cove that hasbecome a nudist zone.
The Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art is situated in theonce-shabby Raval District, just off La Rambla. Over the years itsfront plaza has become synonymous with international skateboarders,being fondly known as the famous MACBA, drawing skaters andcreatives from around the world to unite, compete, and collaborateagainst the backdrop of this chic white building. Being a work ofart in itself, the Museum of Contemporary Art was designed to takeadvantage of as much natural light as possible and the cool, airyinteriors confidently hold the works of modern art luminaries suchas Basquiat, Klee, Tàpies, and Barcelò. Kids will enjoy the museumas there is a lot to touch and interact with - this is not yourusual uptight gallery space. The museum has also made great use oftechnology, with an exhibition that allows visitors to downloadmobile apps which give additional information on each installation,even linking to YouTube clips about the artists. There is free wifiin MACBA and a comfy chill-out zone in which to take advantage ofit. A perfect union of two art forms, MACBA and the attendantthrong of talented skateboarders are a sight to be experienced.
One of the most well-known plazas in the country, Puerta del Solis the historical and geographical heart of the city. The15th-century entryway earned its name by being bathed in the raysof the rising sun due its eastern position. Littered with famouslandmarks, Puerta del Sol is home to the famous Spanish clock towerwhose bell marks the beginning of the New Year. The official symbolof Madrid (El Oso y El Madroño) is immortalised in a 20-ton statueof a bear eating fruits off a Madrono tree. There's also a largeequestrian statue of King Carlos III on display. Unmistakable isthe luminous Tio Pepe sign while more discreet is the kilómetrocero marker on the pavement, symbolically placing Puerta del Sol atthe centre of Spain. This geographical importance is mirroredpolitically and socially: the plaza is a popular site for ralliesand protests, and remains an important venue for social gatherings,festivals, and events. Puerta del Sol is well worth a visit and thearea is popular with tourists, with many hotels nearby.
Located nearby the Prado Museum, the Royal Botanic Garden ofMadrid is one of the oldest botanic gardens in Europe. With thefoundation of the garden ordered by King Ferdinand VI in 1755, theRoyal Botanic Garden has been cataloguing and nurturing rarespecies of flora for over 200 years. A welcome break after hours ofart, architecture, and frenetic streets, the garden is a smallhaven of natural splendour. Divided into three terraces andextending only eight hectares, the garden boasts an array of 30,000plants and flowers and 1,500 trees. Not only interested inexhibiting plants, the gardens' initial aim was to teach botany,and to promote expeditions to discover new plant species andclassification. Nowadays, the Royal Botanic Garden houses a cuttingedge research centre, an extensive herbarium, and a large library.Visit the Classical Romantic Garden, Villanueva Pavilion, theGraells Greenhouse, and the Exhibition Greenhouse. Guided tours canbe arranged online. There's also a series of self-guided tours setout on the website, suggesting what to see on a number of trips tothe garden arranged by themes like the evolution of the plantkingdom, aromatic plants, and outstanding trees.
A worthwhile visit in a country known for its rich history, theNational Archaeological Museum was founded in 1867 with the purposeof being a depository for the collection of coin, archaeological,ethnographical, and decorative art collections compiled by theSpanish monarchs. Situated in a stately neoclassical mansionalongside the National Library, the museum's collection ranges fromprehistoric times to the 19th century. One of the major exhibits isthe famous Iberian statue, 'The Lady of Elche', a carving from the4th century BC found on the south-eastern coast of Spain. Otherintriguing exhibits are the Islamic collection, outlining the longand influential history of the Moors in Spain, and the replica ofAltamira Cave, inhabited over 18,000 years ago, with rock paintingsdepicting bison, horses, boars, and human handprints. The replicaof the cave can be found in the garden and is particularly notablebecause the original has been closed to the public to preventdeterioration. The museum also holds interesting collections ofVisigoth, Roman, and Greek artefacts. With three floors ofexhibition space, this museum is a treasure trove for thoseinterested in the archaeological history of Spain.
A hidden gem, the Sorolla Museum was the home of renownedSpanish Impressionist painter Joaquín Sorolla and his family.Donated to the government in 1929 by Sorolla's widow, the house nowoperates as a memorial and museum, displaying a large collection ofSorolla's glowing works and other contemporary collectionsincluding sculpture, ceramics, furniture, and jewellery. A fineexample of a bourgeois Madrid home from the early 20th century, theattractive museum has an intrinsically Spanish style with brightlypainted walls, dark furniture, and a pretty garden. Much of thehouse remains as Sorolla left it, right down to his stainedpaintbrushes and pipes. Although known for his portraits ofaristocrats, Sorolla's passion lay in depicting the everyday livesof Spanish people, with many paintings depicting Spaniards in theirnative dress going to the beach and engaging in work or leisureactivities. Informative audio guides are available. Afternoonvisits are recommended for those wanting to avoid crowds, as schooland tour groups usually come in the morning. The museum isdelightful but small, and won't require much time to explore.
Also known as Fournella, Fornells is a sleepy resort and fishingtown. It's located in the north of Minorca, which is known for itsunspoilt and very often deserted beaches. Originally founded toserve the 16th-century castle as a defence against the Barbarypirates, all that remains of the military is the watchtower perchedupon a hill which visitors can stroll to and climb for gorgeousviews 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 toabout 1,000 permanent residents and although it is popular withtourists it has retained its charm and authentic character.Travellers can enjoy water sports here, especially windsurfing, andscuba divers can enjoy an excursion to the marine park off thenorth shores and marvel at the magnificent aquatic life. It is alsopossible to charter boats from the harbour. Fornells is smallenough to explore on foot, but if you want a lovely sandy beach itis best to make the short drive (10 minutes) to Son Parc.
Surrounded by rolling green hills, the 13th-centurytown of Ferreries lies nestled in the centre of Minorca next to theisland's second highest mountain. Travellers are attracted to thearea by the Castell de Santa Agueda, the ruin of a Moorish castlebuilt atop an ancient Roman stronghold. It exists as the last siteof resistance for Arab inhabitants when the island was conquered byKing Alfonso III of Aragon. The ruined fortress is accessed via anancient Roman road and there is a chapel dedicated to Saint Agathanext to the castle. Ferreries itself is a sleepy little place, witha character typical of the island. With orange tiled roofs andnarrow streets, this little town may not be an obvious attraction.However, a farmer's market is held in the town every Tuesday andFriday, attracting locals from all over Minorca. It's a great placeto buy local produce as the region is particularly celebrated forits cheeses. Ferreries is only a short, 30-minute drive from theairport and is a good starting point for walking tours of theisland.
Also known as Cala'n Porter and Cala En Porter, Calan Porter isone of the largest coastal developments along the central southcoast of Minorca. Calan Porter is a picturesque cove with abeautiful beach, with tourists flocking to its shores throughoutthe summer. Famed for its Cova d'en Xoroi, Calan Porter is locatedon the edge of sheer cliffs, boasting spectacular views over theMediterranean and creating the perfect vantage point for watchingthe mind-blowing sunsets. Calan Porter was one of the earliestdeveloped beach resorts on the island and is less than 20minutes-drive from the airport. By Minorcan standards this resortis lively, but visitors should not expect to find pumping clubs andbars like on Baleariac Islands Mallorca or Ibiza. Having said that,the bar and nightclub called Cova de en Xoroi - usually simplycalled 'The Caves' - is a dreamy drinking and socialising venue,which tunnels through the steep cliffs above the cove and offersincredible views. There is a selection of other restaurants, bars,and shops clumped together in the centre of town, near the roaddown to the beach. There is a good range of accommodation to suitall budgets.
Located in the centre of Barcelona, the Parc de La Ciutadella isa great place to spend a sunny summer's afternoon relaxing under atree with a book, a picnic, and the family. Originally the site waschosen for a fortress in 1714, but in 1869 it was decided that thearea should be a park and the palace was demolished. Featuring alake where visitors can hire a small rowboat, exploring the parkand being out on the water is a fun way to unwind. The paths forwalking, jogging, and cycling are wide and well-maintained, whilethere are some interesting sculptures dotted about the park andsome striking buildings. The Cascada is a giant water featuredesigned by Fontsere with some help from his student Gaudi. TheCatalan Parliament building is in the park, as is the Barcelona Zooand the Castle of Three Dragons, which now houses the ZoologicalMuseum. The Geology Museum, housed in an imposing neoclassicalbuilding, can also be found in La Ciutadella. The enormous, redtriumphal arch, Baroque in design, marks one entrance to thepark.
Featuring thousands of brightly coloured and exotic fish, theBarcelona Aquarium is a must for children of all ages. With 35different tanks holding creatures from different oceans, theaquarium is the largest of its kind in Europe and features speciessuch as giltheads, moray eels, sunfish, rays, sand tiger sharks,and sandbar sharks. The oceanarium is the largestMediterranean-themed aquarium in the world and the showpiece of theBarcelona Aquarium, with a transparent tunnel winding through itthat gives visitors the exhilarating feeling of walking underwater.The whole aquarium houses about 11,000 organisms from 450 differentspecies. The best time to visit is during feeding times: scubadivers feed the sharks on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday between12pm and 1pm; the entertaining penguins are fed twice daily onweekdays at about 1pm and 5pm, and on weekends at about 1.30pm and5pm; and the rays are fed between 1.30pm and 2pm every weekday. Theaquarium offers scuba diving and cage diving activities for anextra cost. A fun outing for the whole family, the BarcelonaAquarium provides a welcome break from traditional sightseeing inthe city.
The mock village of Poble Espanyol is an outdoor open-airarchitectural museum featuring workshops where visitors can seedifferent types of craftwork taking place. The village is made upof 117 buildings, streets, and squares which have been reproducedto scale giving the true feel of a Spanish village. The village wasbuilt in 1929 for the Barcelona International Exhibition and someof the replica buildings have now outlived the originals, whichwere found in villages across Spain. The village is a greatattraction for those travelling with children, with fun activitieslike treasure hunts to take part in, and some fantastic shoppingopportunities. More than 30 craft workshops demonstrate thetraditional secrets of the different art forms, producinghigh-quality crafts. The workshops produce handmade dolls andpuppets, embroidery, ceramics, glassware, jewellery, baskets,textiles, leather work, soap, and more. Various art exhibitions andstudios can be found in the village, including a sculpture garden.The village also showcases Spanish gastronomy, with a wide varietyof restaurants dedicated to different Spanish culinary traditions,and plenty of events and activities organised for foodies. Adeservedly popular tourist attraction, Poble Espanyol is awonderful cultural experience.
A great day out for the kids is a trip to the Safari Park, setin an African-style savannah landscape and home to giraffe, camels,zebras, elephants, hippos, bison, bears, baboons, monkeys, andrhino. The main wildlife attractions are the big cats, includinglions, tigers, and cougars. Many of the animals are allowed to roamfree, simulating an African safari experience that lets visitorsview game from their vehicles. Those who have been on real safariswill find the park disappointing, however. There is a reptilecollection, including a number of exotic snakes, and someinteresting birds. There are daily lion-taming and bird showsshows, as well as activities like camel rides. Small kids will bedelighted with the selection of meek, cuddly animals that they areallowed to interact with. There are two picnic areas in the parkand a swimming pool and slide that offer a welcome respite after aday of game viewing. There is even a go-karting track and somepaddle boats to play on. It is recommended that visitors bringtheir own food and also something to feed the animals. Animal foodis 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 animpressive aquarium, the Madrid Zoo is a great attraction for kidson 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 alsoboasts a good variety of reptiles and birds. Marine animals includethe ever-popular dolphins, seals, penguins, and sharks. There aredolphin and sea lion shows. The queues can get long at theentrance, and there are discounts for booking online, so it isworth booking your tickets in advance via the official website.Luckily, once inside the zoo is so vast that it seldom feels toocrowded. Those who have trouble walking or are in a bit of a lazymood can rent golf carts to get them around. There are plenty ofsnack kiosks and eateries spread throughout the grounds, but it isalso possible to bring your own picnic. It's a good idea to travelto the zoo on the metro, because parking can be a problem on a busyday. The Madrid Zoo can easily keep the family occupied andentertained for a full day.
Parque de Atracciones is a fantastic amusement park in Madrid,and a particularly good option for those travelling with kids. Thepark is big and modern and offers a number of rides and attractionsfor all ages. There is plenty for the thrill-seekers to enjoy, butalso some more relaxed rides. The park is divided into five largesections: Maquinismo (machinery), where many large rides can befound; the Gran Avenida (main avenue), which boasts shops,restaurants, shows, and street performers; Naturaleza (nature);Tranquilidad (relaxation); and Infantile, an area designed foryoung kids. There are a number of shows, games, and spectacles tokeep everybody entertained. The Virtual Cinema is a simulator withmoving chairs that kids will love, and the Spectacle of Sound,Light and Water show has fireworks and lasers that are also afavourite. There are about 15 food outlets in the park, includingrestaurants, fast food joints, and snack kiosks. Booking ticketsonline (at least three days in advance) allows you to skip queuesat the entrance and earns you substantial discounts. It is best toarrive early as queues can get long in the park.
This mini train departs from Platja d'Es Canar along a varietyof routes around the island. The gentle pace and open sides areideal for watching the scenery roll by. The train stops off atscenic places for the kids to stretch their legs and sunbathe orswim. The Sant Carlos and Beaches route takes three hours and stopsat some of the more remote beaches on the island. The highlight ofthis tour is the village of Sant Carlos with its picturesque18th-century church. The Santa Eulalia evening tour takes about twohours and gives passengers the opportunity to see the quaintvillage of Santa Eulalia, where visitors can stroll along thepromenade or engage in some souvenir shopping. The three-hourEnvironment and Culture tour allows visitors to explore thespectacular Ibiza landscapes before stopping for snacks at a17th-century farmhouse. Photo enthusiasts should take the trainalong its Prtinatx - Puerto San Miguel - Cala San Vicente route.Passengers on this route get the opportunity to explore many ofIbiza's beaches, wonderful shopping opportunities, and the scenicwhite churches of Sant Llorenc, Sant Vicente, and San Joan, as wellas the oldest church-fortress on the island, the 13th-century SantMiquel.
There are a number of world-class golf courses onGran Canaria, including Meloneras Golf Course, and golf is apopular activity in the Canary Islands. El Cortijo was home to theSpanish Open in 2002 and is just outside Las Palmas. The Real Clubde Golf is nearby in Bandama and is Spain's oldest golf club,founded in 1891; it is closed to non-members at weekends. TheMaspalomas Club de Golf is located close to the sand dunes within anature reserve, while the newest club, Salobre, is just 10 minutesdrive east of Puerto Rico. Other notable golf courses on GranCanaria include Las Palmeras Golf, Oasis Golf, Anfi Tuaro Golf, andMeloneras Golf. Las Palmeras Golf Course is located in the citycentre and boasts views over the Atlantic Ocean and the picturesqueCanteras beach. The Oasis Golf Course in Autopista del Sur is aquirky miniature copy of famous American courses and many considerit to be one of the best replicas in the world. It also hasfloodlights. The Anfi Tuaro Course in Mogan features both apitch-and-putt course of 9 holes and a par-72 18-hole coursecomplete with lakes, flowers, and spectacular mountain views.
Aqualand is one place that is not to be missed byfamilies on holiday in Mallorca. Children of all ages and parentsalike will have a grand time splashing in the pools, riding theslides, floating on tubes, a mini water park for the little ones,or jumping in the wave pools. Those who don't relish excitement canenjoy the lazy river or the Jacuzzis, and the whole family willenjoy the surf beach and group rides. There are lockers and sunloungers available to rent for a small extra charge and there arevarious options for food and refreshments in the park. Benches andbeach areas provide space for relaxation in between the thrills andspills. The park generally receives rave reviews from tourists andprovides a fun day out for all age groups. There are discounts forbooking online and having your ticket when you arrive allows you toskip any queues there may be at the entrance. Arriving early isalso a good idea to get a jump on the crowds at this popularattraction.
A trip to Marineland is a must for familiestravelling in Mallorca with children, where kids can enjoy watchingthe dolphin and sea lion shows. Marineland also has otherattractions including Europe's largest collection of sharks, aparrot circus, aquariums, crocodiles, and snakes. For a fee,visitors can choose to touch and have photographs taken withdolphins and other animals after their shows. Children of all ageswill love discovering all the animals and watching the spectacularshows. There is a wide range of options for refreshments inMarineland, with restaurants and pizzerias serving up simple food.It is also possible to take your own picnic. If watching all theanimals cavort in the water makes you jealous, Marineland offersdirect access to one of Costa de Calvia's loveliest beaches, whereyou can end your day with a swim, or lounge in the sun betweenshows. There are discounts for booking online and booking inadvance allows you to skip queues at the entrance. For details onthe times that the various animals perform and feeding times checkthe official website listed below.
Katmandu Park is a theme park and mini-golf complexthat proves wildly popular amongst younger visitors to Magaluf.Featuring cutting-edge technology, The House of Katmandu provides athrilling and interactive haunted house experience for youngsters;The Asylum, aimed at older visitors (12 years and older), takespassengers on a scary journey through an abandoned mental asylum;the interactive motion ride Desperado is a comical cowboy gunslinging experience; and there is a 4D cinema to enjoy. The 36-hole(two 18-hole courses) Expedition Golf area of the theme park ishugely impressive, featuring fun and challenging courses,elaborately ornamented and themed, that even adults will find toughto master. There are a few food options when you get hungry, aswell as a luxurious pool bar. Take kids of all ages to KatmanduPark for a day of fun and excitement they won't soon forget.
Aqualand is a must for all families visiting GranCanaria, especially those with children. The wide range of slides,pools, and rides will keep the young and the young at heart happilyentertained for hours. Those looking for an injection of adrenalinshould try the wide array of thrill rides, while young childrenhave their own water playground with fun mini slides and swings.There is a surf beach and a lazy river which families can enjoytogether, while there are plenty of benches and beach areas forrelaxing and picnicking. Lockers and sun loungers cost a littleextra, but visitors do get free bags to keep their towels and otherbelongings in. The park is clean and well-maintained, generallyreceiving rave reviews from tourists. It is open all year, but doesclose 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 ajump on the crowds.
Featuring a wide variety of activities, Holiday Worldis a fun park which caters specifically to families on holiday inGran Canaria. Kids of all ages can enjoy rides such as bumper cars,a Ferris wheel, roller coasters, and a pirate ship, as well asgames such as ten-pin bowling and things like pony rides and aparrot show. There is a playground area for children too young toenjoy the rides. A range of restaurants and fast-food outlets areavailable and after dark there are some nighttime entertainmentoptions, with frequent live shows and music concerts, an Irish pub,and some other drinking and dancing venues. Adults who don't wantto partake in the funfair attractions can luxuriate in the wellnesscentre, which offers gym facilities and spa treatments. On Tuesdaysthere is a craft fair, with stalls showcasing the local handicraftsand cuisine of Gran Canaria, as well as traditional dance, music,and folklore performances, making this the best day of the week tovisit.
A perfect day out for the whole family, Baku contains a waterpark with gentle slides, animal features, and shallow pools foryoung children. The Parque Europa opens in the evening, offering arange of entertainment. Attractions like the Big Jacuzzi, the lazyriver, and the wave pool will appeal to those who shy away from themore thrilling rides. As well as an infant play area, there is alsoa mini golf course if the family needs a break from the water foran hour or two as well as a food kiosk. On week days, between 9amand 2pm, there is a craft market set up in this area where visitorscan browse for souvenirs from the Canary Islands and even thenearby shores of Africa. For simple fun in the sun, the Baku WaterPark is a great attraction. Check out the website for details onthe free bus to the park which services Castillo, Jandia, and CostaCalma on certain days.
Mallorca's most popular hiking trail is the climb from the townof Alaro up to a ruined castle and hilltop chapel, which offerspanoramic views of the sea and plains as far as Palma. From Alarothe walk takes about two hours to complete depending on fitnesslevels. A castle has stood on this site since Moorish times and thefortress was once so impregnable that the Moors managed to hold outagainst the Christian conquest for two years. Later, in 1285,Mallorcan independence fighters tried to defend the castle againstAlfonso III of Aragon, but they were defeated and burned alive fortheir impudence.
The castle ruins now visible on the hilltop date from the 15thcentury and dominate the landscape. They seem to grow out of therock and are rather romantic and picturesque, fuelling theimagination. At the summit there is a restaurant and bar to refreshweary climbers. If you fall in love with the place it is possibleto spend the night on the summit in one of the simple rooms. OnSundays the trail becomes rather busy. It is possible to drivealmost 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 generallymore satisfying.
Visiting the dormant volcanoes is not one of thetypical things to do in Spain. Yet they offer stunning scenery anda one-of-a-kind experience. Sandwiched between the Pyrenees andCosta Brava, the region of Garrotxa is home to a multitude ofprehistoric volcanoes as well as many castles and country houses.Visitors wanting to experience more of Spain than thequintessential beach and city breaks should head to Garrotxa NatureReserve, just outside of Girona, to experience a land of amazingand rugged landscapes, fire, and ash. The reserve showcases thebest of rural tourism in Spain and is perfect for enthusiastichikers. The volcanoes in this area formed over 11,000 years ago andthe region is unique to Europe. Visitors can walk, hike, or horseride along any number of tracks and trails in the reserve and enjoya land of stark contrasts. There are also hot air balloon ridesavailable in the reserve, which is a very exciting way toexperience the beauty of the region. Some chefs in Garrotxa createwhat they call 'volcanic cuisine', trying to express the landscapethrough food, and Michelin-starred restaurants like Les Cols arethe perfect place to sample these interesting meals.
Credited both as the birthplace of bullfighting and the home ofone of Spain's great architectural feats, Ronda is an easy andentertaining escape from the city. Dramatically situated on theedge of a deep gorge, Ronda is a very picturesque place offeringplenty of fodder for photographers. Ambling about the cobbledstreets, handsome mansions, and well-established artisan boutiquesis enough to fill a day, but no visit would be complete without atrip to the beautiful old bull ring and Ronda's most famousattraction, the Puento Nueveo. The structure straddles amagnificent chasm and connects the old town to the new, whileallowing visitors a vista of the region unfolding around them. TheOld Town, La Ciudad, is a labyrinth of narrow streets and historicold buildings which is a delight to explore. Calle la Bola is themain 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 bestexplored on foot, with plenty of drinking fountains in the OldTown. Those who have energy to spare can walk down to the bottom ofthe gorge, which affords great photo opportunities.
This truly incredible limestone formation sits at theend of the Iberian Peninsula, famous for its astounding geology andoverly-friendly furry friends. Though many countries have claimedthe beacon over the years, it's officially owned by the Britishgovernment and thus it is advised that tourists exchange euros forpounds. The Rock of Gibraltar is easily conquered by cable car, butit's worthwhile to hire a guide to explain the countless caves androcks, and to entice the wild but sociable monkeys. On clear days,visitors can even view North Africa. St Michael's Cave, longbelieved to be bottomless, is a thrilling attraction with manymyths and stories attached. Part of the massively deep cave is opento visitors and is even used as a concert venue. The labyrinthineGreat Siege Tunnels, an incredible defence system constructed torepel the Spanish and French invaders between 1779 and 1783, isalso fascinating. The Moorish Castle complex, dating back to the11th century, is another impressive attraction in Gibraltar. Thefit and brave should consider walking up the steep MediterraneanSteps with its stunning vistas, which wind up the eastern side ofthe Rock.
This rustic little village has plenty of charm and character forthose looking for a quiet getaway and gorgeous beaches. El Cotillohas a rich history, and was previously a smuggler's harbour used byFuerteventurans shipping goods off to Gran Canaria where the priceswere better. The 18th century tower of Fortaleza del Tostónoverlooks the town from the cliffs to the south of the harbour,while the Museum of Traditional Fishing is housed in the oldlighthouse. The main attraction of a visit to El Cotillo isindisputably the coastline, which boasts spectacular beaches andlagoons, providing calm, sheltered swimming spots and long sandystretches for walking and sunbathing. As there are rock pools andthe water stays shallow for a few metres, the beaches are great forkids. Some nudity is common on the beaches, but there are so manysecluded coves and so much space that it should be easy to findsome privacy. It is also a good destination for surfers, with somedecent waves and even a surf school. There are some pleasant barsand restaurants close to the shore, but no sun loungers orumbrellas to hire.
This amazing animal park, both an aquarium and a zoo, in thenorth of the island is Tenerife's top attraction. The entrance feeis not cheap but considering you get a full day out, the ticket isgood value. The dolphin and orca shows are particularly thrillingand the penguins even have their own glacier to cavort on. Thereare also sea lion and bird shows to enjoy. Animals in the parkinclude gorillas, tigers, alligators, chimpanzees, jaguars,marmosets, otters, sloths, and meerkats, each in a lovinglymaintained microclimate. The park was originally established as asanctuary for parrots, and these colourful and characterful birdsare still one of the highlights. For those planning on going toSiam Park, a combined ticket is available that provides a gooddiscount on entry. There are several restaurants and bars in thepark for rest and refreshments, but if you want to save money youcan bring your own food and drink. For those watching the budgetthere is also a free train to catch from Puerto De La Cruz. LoroParque has received numerous awards and generally receives ravereviews from visitors.
Siam Park provides is an exciting waterpark with Thai-themedrides. Its presentation is excellent and the rides are numerous andworld-class. Lazily float down the Mai-Thai River or take thechallenge 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 wateryplayground area for small children. The Floating Market, styledlike a Thai village, has shops and restaurants and even offers spatreatments for those who would rather be pampered. There are somenice touches, like the sea lion enclosure, where you can watch theanimals at play, and a shark tunnel and some rapids as an optionalextra on the lazy river. The park is very popular and in the summermonths the queues do get long. It is recommended that you book yourtickets in advance online to skip the entrance queue. There arethings like lockers and sun loungers available for rent. A free busruns from Los Cristianos, Las Americas, and Costa Adeje. Siam Parkshould provide a fun day out for people of all ages and isespecially good for entertaining teenagers.
The town of Garachico offers a very different experience ofTenerife for those visitors wanting to see a more traditional andhistorical side to the island's character. Once a prosperous porttown, Garachico suffered a weeks-long volcanic eruption in 1706that destroyed the port but created rock pools that are today richin marine life and perfect for swimming. The rock pools are ahighlight of a visit to Garachico and make it a good destinationfor those travelling with kids. The village streets that fan outfrom the wonderfully picturesque main plaza, La Libertad, arenarrow and cobbled, with restaurants and rustic buildings hidingaround every corner. The old convent in the centre of town is opento visitors and well-worth checking out for its strikingarchitecture. Garachico should delight photographers, particularlyas it has retained its authentic character and charm, making it arefreshing break from the more homogenized resort areas. The driveto the village can be a bit stressful, because of all the curvinglittle cliff roads, but the views more than reward the effort, andare considered some of the prettiest on the island.
The beautiful town of La Orotava is firm proof that there ismuch 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 areconcentrated on Casa de los Balcones. The town was settled by noblefamilies in the aftermath of the Spanish conquest and they setabout a flourish of competitive building, a legacy that modern-dayvisitors can enjoy at their leisure. The west of the island washome to Tenerife's nobility who built many fine houses. There aremany churches and monasteries here too: don't miss the Gothicmarvel of Iglesia de la Concepción. Other attractions in La Orotavainclude the theme park PuebloChico, which reproduces iconicbuildings and landscapes of the Canary Islands in miniature. LaOrotava is beautifully situated, with volcanic black beaches andmountains that encourage hiking and other outdoor activities. Theperfect time to visit this picturesque town is during the festivalof Corpus Christi, in early March, when the streets are decoratedwith carpets of flowers. This incredible and unique site drawsvisitors from all over the world.
This park is a sure-fire hit with kids and a must for animallovers of all ages. Monkey Park is a privately-owned conservationand breeding centre for endangered animals, specialising inprimates, and doesn't put on any animal shows, aiming rather toeducate visitors and let them enjoy interacting naturally with theanimals. The park is home to a quirky variety of monkeys, parrots,iguanas, giant tortoises, lemurs, crocodiles, and other curiouscreatures. Some animals are in enclosures, but others, most notablythe comical and friendly lemurs, are allowed to roam free andinteract with visitors. The best way to make sure you're popularwith the animals is to bring fruit for them to eat. There is feedfor sale at the ticket desk, but grapes are a favourite. It's alsoa good idea to bring refreshments for yourself as the only snacksand drinks available are from vending machines. Families shouldcater to spend at least two to three hours in the park, which issmall but will delight children. The park is off the bus route so ataxi or hired car is needed to get there.
Andalusia's chalky soil is ideal for the cultivationof the palomino grape, from which the world-famous sherry (jerez)of the region is made. The main sites of sherry production inAndalusia are Jerez de la Frontera and Montilla, and these charmingtowns are home to plenty of self-proclaimed sherry connoisseurs,who will debate the quality of the sweet amber-coloured blends withthe seriousness usually reserved for appraising the finest Frenchwines. An increasingly popular tourist activity for visitors tosouthern Spain is to tour the bodegas of the region, wineries witha history dating back to Roman times, which specialise in thefermentation of palomino grapes and the production of sherry.Tasting tours of these bodegas are fun and informative, and can becombined with other great cultural attractions, such as checkingout a flamenco dance performance, or admiring beautiful Andalusianhorses at a dressage event. A bottle of Andalusian sherry alsomakes for a great Spanish souvenir for friends and family backhome. Many tour operators offer day trips to the bodegas but it isalso easy to explore without a guide.
El Raval is a compelling and interesting neighbourhood, with along and chequered history. It's one of two districts bordering LaRambla, with the other being the established tourist area of BarriGotic. Located near Barcelona's port, El Raval has always had anexciting, multicultural character, particularly popular withbackpackers and revellers keen to check out the city's cutting-edgegalleries and clubs. While having undergone a period ofdevelopment, the area still remains slightly dangerous and touristsshould be careful of pickpockets and avoid walking alone at night.El Raval is full of cool bars and funky cafes that beg to beexplored, from Bar Marsella with its Art Nouveau interior, toLondon Bar, a run-down though stately place once frequented byartists like Hemingway, Picasso, and Mirò. Another great sight inEl Raval is the Palau Guell, one of Gaudi's lesser-knownmasterpieces, featuring large parabolic gates decorated withbeautiful ironwork.
Mijas is a fantastic choice for visitors looking toamble through a pretty Spanish village with a real sense of historyand traditional Andalusian character. It's an ideal spot for thosekeen to take a break from the golden sands and sparkling clearwaters of the Costa del Sol which are somewhat dominated by masstourism. A popular day trip destination, Mijas is easily reached bybus, and offers visitors the chance to wander through narrowstreets lined with white-washed buildings and historic sights.Archaeological finds reveal the town's foundation by theTartessians, interactions with the Ancient Greeks and Phoenicians,Roman and Visigoth influence, and Moorish rule. Mijas also has itsshare of history from the Spanish Civil War. Once a tiny place,Mijas is growing in size and popularity and now boasts wonderfulcafes, restaurants, and bars, and is an ideal shopping destinationfor those looking to pick up a few Spanish souvenirs for theirloved ones back home.
Palma is a lively cosmopolitan city, its centreforming a bustling maze of shopping centres, narrow lanes, andrestored buildings surrounded by ruined ancient city walls andmodern boulevards. The Moorish heritage of Mallorca is stillevident, as are the remnants of Palma's golden years when it roseto wealth and prominence in the 15th century as the main port ofcall between Europe and Africa. Nowadays, it's a Spanish beachholiday haunt and favourite weekend city break destination of therich and famous. Despite the invasion of foreign tourists, Palmahas kept its local flavour, particularly in its old quarter, whichis still lined by cafés and tapas bars. The biggest concentrationof restaurants is in the centre of town, at El Terreno, and aroundthe Paseo Maritimo. Palma de Mallorca's key activities centre onits nightlife and the town is well known for its bars andnightclubs. In fact, some of Spain's biggest nightclubs are inPalma de Mallorca and the city is a great destination for thoseseeking a party. Shoppers will particularly enjoy exploring thestreets of the old town, while sightseeing attractions include thebeautiful 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. Popularexcursion destinations include the family-friendly Aqualand themepark, several excellent golf courses, and good hiking trails in therocky Mallorcan hills.
The ancient city of La Coruna has steadily been growing inpopularity as a base for travellers in northern Spain. The bustlingcoastal centre has a busy port, a gorgeously long beachfront, and areputation for liberalism. Today it is a cosmopolitan and proudcity, popular with expats. The main attraction for sightseers isthe Roman Tower of Hercules, an ancient lighthouse which has beendeclared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. La Coruna's Old Town, CiudadVieja, is picturesque, with some noble old buildings and a livelymedieval fair in July. The newest and most talked about attractionis the MunCyT technological museum (Museo Nacional de Ciencia yTecnología), a glass and concrete monument to modernism. Anotherfeature that gets visitors very excited is the beachfrontpromenade, one of the longest in Europe, which winds past many ofthe city's best attractions. The Orzan and Riazor Beaches, in theheart of La Coruna, are both Blue Flag accredited and immenselypopular in the summer months. For delicious and authentic Spanishfood visitors should head to the prime tapas territory of CalleEstrella.
The capital of Gran Canaria and a bustling holidayresort, Las Palmas is situated on the northeastern tip of theisland, between two long and lovely stretches of beach. The citywas founded in 1478 and was the spot where Christopher Columbusbegan each of his voyages to the Americas. Much of the historicVegueta district remains charmingly intact behind the modernapartment blocks which line the seafront, and there are manyinteresting ancient sights and museums to visit. Interestingcultural offerings, fun festivals, and highly renowned cuisineattracts thousands of holidaymakers to Las Palmas every year. Ofcourse, the surrounding stretches of beach are also a big drawcard, as is the fact that the city is the gateway to the wholeisland. The warm waters surrounding Las Palmas provide perfectconditions for all kinds of watersports for holidaymakers,including sailing and boating. Many of the resorts also have theirown tennis courts, golf courses, and other sporting facilities.Whale watching is a popular activity and tickets can be bought fromcompanies taking tourists out on boats for the day. Las Palmaspromises some good holiday shopping and the city also lurestravellers with an energetic nightlife.
Nerja is a special Costa del Sol destination forthose seeking an authentic, less commercialised coastal village.Nerja is more quaint and picturesque than many of the region'spopular beach resorts and is a good place to find charming tapasbars and a great restaurant scene. The narrow winding streets andmany squares are lit up beautifully in the evening, and the townhas a romantic atmosphere. The village is nestled among the sandycoves and rugged cliffs where the Sierra de Almijara Mountains meetthe sea, and the Balcon de Europa is one of many viewpoints thatallows visitors to enjoy spectacular views in and around Nerja.There are more than five miles (9km) of beaches stretching toeither side of Nerja, including long, sandy stretches for walkingand activities, and tiny secluded coves. The area of Nerja boastssome amazing attractions, including the famous caves of the samename, and some impressive Roman ruins. Nerja is about 31 miles(50km) east of Malaga, making it a convenient and popular excursionfrom the city, which is the capital of Andalusia and often thestarting point for travels in Costa del Sol.
The fortified medieval centre of Montblanc is gloriously wellpreserved. The historic old quarter is best explored on foot andnotable sights include the Church of Santa Maria la Mayor, the SantMiguel Church, the Sant Marcal Church, the Royal Palace, and theCastla Palace, all dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries. Thepicturesque village celebrates its medieval heritage every year inApril 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 closeto the UNESCO-listed Poblet Monastery, which is one of the mostfamous attractions in the Costa Dorada. Poblet was once one of themost powerful monasteries in Spain and was founded in 1151 by theCistercians. The kings of Aragon and Catalonia were buried here.Many of the beautiful monastic buildings at Poblet have now beenrestored and a visit is a must for holidaymakers in the region.Montblanc and Poblet are only about five miles (8km) apart and canbe 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 nombr� es|
|cuento cuesta||how much is||kwanto kwesta|
|donde esta||where is||donday esta|
|usted habla ingl�s?||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 warmestweather on mainland Europe, even during the winter months. Thesouthern and eastern coast of Spain has a Mediterranean climatewith hot, dry summers and mild winters, while the western Atlanticcoast is cooler in summer and wet in winter.
Inland the climate is temperate and the capital Madrid, which issituated on a plateau, can be surprisingly cold in winter. Most ofSpain is extremely hot during mid-summer, in July and August. Therest 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, withAugust the busiest month, but many people prefer to visit Spainduring spring or autumn (May or October) when the weather is stillpleasant and the crowds thinner. The exception to thisrecommendation is the Atlantic coast, which has heavy rains inOctober and November.
Budget travellers should consider visiting Spain in the winteras accommodation and flights are offered at discount rates. TheCanary Islands are a good beach destination if visiting in winter,and cities like Barcelona are exciting destinations at any time ofyear.
One of the most well known seafood restaurants in Barcelona,Botafumeiro consistently presents the finest regional cuisine ofGalicia and prides itself on the freshness of its fish, clams,mussels, lobster, crayfish and scallops, which are either kept inlarge tanks near delivered daily from the ocean. The impeccabletreatment of customers and the private atmosphere makes this aperfect dining experience for both business and pleasure. Open forlunch and dinner daily. Reservations essential.
For almost a century this restaurant has been a family-runbusiness and today the homey atmosphere still welcomes patrons withits old-fashioned, wooden panelling, and time-tested, traditionalfare. Catalán paintings from the 1950s serve as reminders of Agut'stime as a meeting place for artists and writers. The hearty foodincludes such dishes as sweet and sour wild duck, layers of pastryfilled with Catalán sausage and mushrooms, or monkfish with prawns,while desserts are light and creative. Not to be confused with theAgut d'Avignon restaurant nearby. Closed on Mondays, no dinner onSundays and the restaurant closes in August.
On the beachfront, Can Majó serves delicious seafood that can beenjoyed on the outdoor terrace overlooking the Mediterranean.Specialities include paella, but the fish is also superb. Choosefrom a daily catch including barnacles, prawns, crab, oysters andclams. Reservations required. Closed Monday. No dinner Sundays.
One of the many unassuming sidewalk café bars on Placa GeorgeOrwell in the Gothic Quarter, Oviso offers reasonably priced foodand an intimate, bohemian ambiance. Good for breakfast or anafternoon snack, this bar restaurant often serves as a place tobegin a night out or to end a long day. Great for people watching,Oviso attracts many artists and students and is a good choice foridling away a few hours in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.
Not called Rubi for nothing, this vibrant restaurant andnightspot is ideal for couples and friends looking for a chic butunderstated modern restaurant. With bright crimson booths, anelegant bar and high ceilings, Rubi has become one of Barcelona'squintessential nightspots. In true Barcelona style, Rubi isfriendly and laid-back. Serving contemporary fusion cuisine madefrom only the freshest produce from local markets, Rubi also bakeshomemade breads and desserts. After 11.30pm the restaurant shiftsgears and the venue is transformed into a groovy bar with LatinAmerican and funk tunes, heating things up a little. Open fordinner, Tuesday to Sunday.
For the best sandwiches in the city, and maybe the country, thishole in the wall take-away sandwich shop doesn't put on airs.Surrounded by fine dining restaurants and elegant tapasestablishments, staff at Viena simply and quickly throw togetherthe world's best ingredients between two delicious slices of breadand slides it across the counter. The restaurant is open from8.30am to 11.30pm during the week and 12.30am on weekends.
Some serious eating goes on here, in a little decorated andunpretentious room at the back of a delicatessen food store. Usingspeciality ingredients from around the world, gourmet food neverfelt so exclusive. Despite a city-wide reputation, the tinyrestaurant feels like a guarded secret. Can Rovell is open from10am to 9pm on Tuesday and Wednesday and closes an hour later fromThursday to Saturday. On Sundays this delectable restaurant serveslunch from 10am to 4pm. It is closed on Mondays.
Serving creative vegetarian cuisine, with dishes from all overthe world and a keen eye for presentation, Amaltea is a well-knownand frequented Barcelona vegetarian eatery. The décor is stylishbut down to earth, ensuring that all the limelight is afforded tothe colourful dishes of food that emerge out of the kitchen. Forlunch there is a choice of four starters, mains and various housedesserts with a fixed menu. Open for lunch Monday to Saturday anddinners on Friday and Saturday evenings.
This very trendy tapas hot spot dishes out extraordinary treatsunder the creative direction of Carles Abellan. Unusual foodcombinations are frothed, seared and caramelised until theycomplement one another. The dishes are more of a tasting experiencethan a full meal but enough of them can easily add up to a fullstomach, and an eclectic way to try local cuisine.
This old family-run room is not an ordinary tapas restaurant andis on the fly in more ways than one. With standing room only,perfect for fast eats, the chef rolls out seemingly random (butdelicious) concoctions from a huge list of ingredients lining thewalls. A superb but also random wine list is best enjoyed quicklywith the unique snacks before carrying on one's way. Advisable tocall beforehand and check opening hours.
Immortalised by Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, when Jakeinvites Brett to Botin for the Segovian speciality, the RestauranteBotin has been catering to guests since 1725. Botin is a family-runrestaurant that has spanned three generations, offering friendlycustomer service. Much of the décor pertains to the originalrestaurant, from the charcoal hearth to hanging copper pots and an18th-century tile oven. The mixed fish casserole and the grilledfilet mignon 'Botin' are excellent, a dessert favourite isstrawberries with whipped cream. Open daily for lunch and dinner,reservations recommended.
This intimate and luxurious restaurant is decorated in deepshades of red and gold, and furnished in the finest dark wood. Themenu offers an array of mouth-watering temptations which includelobster 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 onSaturday. Reservations essential.
La Bola is one of the last restaurants in the city to don ablood red façade, initially operating as a wine shop in 1802. Thisfamily-owned restaurant has been passed down over seven generationsand continues charming visitors with its 'olde worlde' décor ofvelvet, Spanish tiles and lace curtains. La Bola guaranteesaffordable prices and homemade dishes, packed with flavour. Housespecialities include Madrileña-style stew and roast lamb. OpenMonday to Saturday for lunch and dinner, and Sunday for lunch only.Reservations recommended.
A modern restaurant that offers cool interiors, tasty food andattentive service, Wagaboo is a good bet for lunch or dinner inMadrid. Specialising in pasta and noodles, Wagaboo has a greatselection of contemporary Italian and Asain cuisine. The stylishindustrial interior of exposed brick and piping is complementedwith chic lighting, red leather seating and shiny dark wood tables.Contemporary art and photography adorn the walls, and theglassed-in kitchen allow patrons to see the pasta and noodles beingmade. Try an Asian stir-fry or the pizza with pesto, cherrytomatoes, arugula, feta and parma ham. Open daily for lunch anddinner.
Bazaar serves creative Mediterranean food in a trendyenvironment. 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 variousfripperies on display, Bazaar has an initial delicatessen feel toit. Follow the large staircase to the dining area with creamleather banquettes, and windows overlooking the streets of Chueca -ideal for people watching. The menu is displayed as a list ofdishes with no definition between starters, mains and desserts.There is a wide-ranging wine list. Open Monday to Saturday forlunch 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 originalityof the creations. Usually there are three set menus on offer andthe creative meals are complemented with friendly service and agood wine list. El Club Allard is ideal for special occasions. Therestaurant is open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday to Saturday,but is closed on Sundays and Mondays. Reservations arerecommended.
Maintaining its old world charm, quality dishes andunpretentious ambiance, Casa Paco has been a favourite ofMadrilenos for over thirty years. A superb steak house, meat atthis taverna is ordered by weight and the Casa Paco Solomilo(fillet steak) is a firm favourite. For those after somethinglighter, the sole and baby lamb are also first-rate dishes. Thetiled dining room and traditional décor at Casa Paco add to thehomely atmosphere, as does the old fashioned bar, natural sidra(cider) and conscientious service. Open Monday to Saturday forlunch and dinner.
For the best paella and a quality selection of cavas (Catalanchampagne-type wine) that complements this traditional dish, CaféBalear is the place. The elegant dining room is simply decoratedwith white linens and curtains, lifted by art prints and pottedpalms. Try the stuffed aubergines a la Mallorquina, or perhaps thevegetarian paella with fresh ginger. Attentive staff and a friendlyatmosphere add to the appeal of this lovely restaurant. Open dailyfor lunch and dinner.
The Guggenheim Restaurant is located inside the world-classGuggenheim Museum, and it prides itself on being one of the city'svery best eateries. Serving traditional Basque cuisine using thefreshest local produce, diners can enjoy innovative dishes thathave been expertly prepared by chef Josean Martínez, such as themouth-watering perfumed 'euskal oiloa' chicken (Basque breedorganic chicken) with rosemary and lime leaves, or the decadentpure chocolate with coffee ice cream and a hot marzipan sand.Bookings recommended. Open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch andWednesday to Saturday for dinner.
For a break from traditional Spanish and European food, thissuperb sushi restaurant is ideal. The friendly staff will help youselect what you want to build your own take-away sushi box, or willmake what you want if it is not available. There is no seating inthe restaurant, but the glorious food can be enjoyed on the manybenches outside or in a park nearby. Sumo also offers othertraditional Japanese fare, like noodle dishes, but the sushi isdefinitely the highlight. Sumo is a good option forvegetarians.
Located in a quaint and charming country house just outside thecity centre, Bilbao's Aretxondo Restaurant has a unique anddistinctive character with modern and inventive twists ontraditional cuisine. A popular venue for events, weddings and otherspecial occasions, it boasts and extensive wine list, knowledgeablewaiters, and simply heavenly food. Try the sautéed prawns withpotato guacamole, tomato and condensed grapefruit, or the log onentrecote in fine herbs and black pepper, and end off with themango cheesecake with mango ice cream and spices - deliciouslylight and decadent! Open daily for dinner, lunch on Fridays andSaturdays. Closed Mondays, the first two weeks in January, Easterweek and the first two weeks in August.
Clean white linen tablecloths juxtaposed by the colourful andalmost garish artwork on one of the walls creates a somewhatclassic meets contemporary feel to this popular Bilbao eatery. Runby owner and chef, Fernando Canales, Etxanobe is located on the topfloor of the Palacio Euskalduna and delivers innovative andintelligent dishes that tantalise and haunt the taste buds. Try theboneless suckling lamb with sweetbread or the Muscavado puddingwith cinnamon and rice. Open Monday to Saturday for lunch anddinner. Bookings recommended.
The Michelin-starred Zortziko boasts a formal atmosphere and anair of grandeur and is, deservedly, one of Bilbao's finesteateries. Three distinctive and classy dining rooms, each with itsown theme, create the ultimate sophisticated yet contemporarydining experience. Try the Bisket of rock fish or the Fricadelledechicken with pistachios, and for those with a sweet tooth, thechocolate sponge, Malden salt and oil Hojiblanca is pureindulgence. Reservations recommended. Open Tuesday to Saturday forlunch and dinner. Closed Sunday and Mondays and the secondfortnight in August and the first two weeks in September.
The only 1-star Michelin restaurant in Barcelona, ABAC is "elbulli" style, but you can actually get a reservation. The tastingmenu (without wine) is about €125-175 per person. The sensoryexperience and the amazing meal that accompany the price is wellworth digging a little deeper into the wallet than normal. ABAC isknown as one of the best restaurants in Spain.
Moorish brickwork, a handsome mahogany bar and a ceiling thatdates back to the seventeenth century give El Rinconcillo the kindof old-world charm that other restaurants merely aspire to. As oneof the most famous tapas bars in the city, the venue not onlyclaims a rich history, but also remains true to its Andalusianroots and the accompanying relaxed regional demeanour. Visitors canenjoy a full meal or a few light tapas portions. Open daily 1pm to1.30am.
Styled to appear as a 12th-century Arab bath house, the livelyatmosphere and delicious Italian cuisine make this a favouriteamong both locals and tourists. This particular venue is tuckedaway among the winding alleyways of Barrio Santa Cruz, but threeother options - each uniquely designed - appear in different areasof the city. Reservations are crucial. Dinner is served from 8pmuntil midnight.
Situated in a bright and airy mansion dating back to 1926, thisstylish space allows guests the opportunity to dine in theequivalent of a contemporary indoor garden. The restaurant was oncecredited with a Michelin star, though nowadays, tapas and drinksare just as much an occasion as haute cuisine. Visitors can lookforward to a fantastic wine list and very knowledgeable sommelier.Closed Sundays. Lunch is served 1:30pm to 4pm; dinner from 8:30pmto midnight.
Seafood specialities have buoyed Barbiana to regular appearanceson any of Seville's top restaurant listings. Though the city isinland, the chefs go out of their way to source a fresh selectionof succulent shrimp, squid, sea bass and white fish all the wayfrom the coastal town of Cadiz. The restaurant is set in the heartof Seville, adjacent to the Plaza Neuve. Those pressed for time canenjoy an abbreviated version of the menu at the tapas bar infront.
Classically Mediterranean and reasonably priced, Az-Zait is youraffordable answer to lunch and dinner. Set next to the Convent ofSan Lorenzo, the restaurant is comfortable, the service good andthe cuisine reliable. The menu offers both Andalusian favourites(gazpacho) and more inventive options, like the honey-glazedcuttlefish. There is also a tasting menu available. Lunch is servedfrom 11am to 4:30pm, and dinner from 8pm to 12:30am.
Spain's official currency is the Euro (EUR). One Euro is dividedinto 100 cents. Money can be exchanged at bureaux de change andmajor hotels, but banks give the best rates. All major credit cardsare widely accepted at most hotels, restaurants, and shops. ATMsare widespread and are generally the cheapest and most convenientmethod of obtaining money.
Spanish is the official language, but English is widelyunderstood in areas frequented by tourists. Catalan, Galician andBasque are spoken in the relevant areas.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. European-styletwo-pin plugs are standard.
United States citizens require a passport valid for three monthsbeyond the period of intended stay. No visa is required for staysof up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
United Kingdom citizens require a passport valid for at leastthree months beyond period of intended stay, with the exception ofpassports marked 'British Citizen', 'British Subject' (containing aCertificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by theUnited Kingdom), and 'British Overseas Territories Citizen' issuedby Gibraltar, which will be accepted if valid on arrival.
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 Abodeissued by the United Kingdom). All other British nationals areentitled to a maximum stay of 90 days without a visa within a 180day period.
Canadian citizens require a passport valid for at least threemonths beyond period of intended stay. No visa is required forstays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
Australian citizens require a passport valid for at least threemonths beyond period of intended stay. No visa is required forstays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
South African citizens require a passport valid for at leastthree months beyond period of intended stay. A visa isrequired.
Irish nationals require a valid passport, but a visa is notnecessary.
United States citizens require a passport valid for three monthsbeyond the period of intended stay. No visa is required for staysof up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
New Zealand citizens require a passport valid for at least threemonths beyond period of intended stay. No visa is required forstays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
The borderless region known as the Schengen area includes thefollowing 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 thesecountries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entryoption, allowing the holder to travel freely within the borders ofall.
Non-EU nationals must hold a return or onward ticket, allnecessary documents for onward travel and sufficient funds. Fortravel to Spain, sufficient funds is defined as EUR 62.40 per dayof stay, with a minimum of EUR 561.60 or equivalent in other freelyconvertible currency. Visitors to Spain also require an invitationletter or confirmation of accommodation. It is highly recommendedthat passports have at least six months validity remaining afterthe intended date of departure from Spain. Immigration officialsoften apply different rules to those stated by travel agents andofficial sources.
There are no health risks associated with travel to Spain, andno vaccination certificates are required for entry. Medicalfacilities are good in Spain, but comprehensive travel insurance isalways advised. Spain has a reciprocal health agreement with mostEU countries, including the UK, providing emergency health care forEU travellers on the same terms as Spanish nationals. EU travellersshould take a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
Note that the scheme gives no entitlement to medicalrepatriation costs, nor does it cover ongoing illnesses of anon-urgent nature, so comprehensive travel insurance is stilladvised. Travellers should take any medication they require alongwith them, in its original packaging and accompanied by a signedand dated letter from a doctor detailing what it is and why it isneeded.
Hotel and restaurant bills usually include service charges, butadditional tips are welcomed for services rendered. In establishedrestaurants, tips of about 10 percent are expected. In Mallorca,value added tax is usually included in restaurant bills, designatedIVA, and may be mistaken for a service charge. Drivers of meteredtaxis expect small tips and it is customary to tip about 5 to 10percent for most services, including guides.
Most visits to Spain are trouble-free, except for occasionalstreet crime, which is common in the big cities; travellers areadvised to take precautions to avoid theft of passports, creditcards, travel documents and money. Crime is usually petty andviolent assault is rare. Be wary of strangers offering or askingfor help of any kind, as it is often a distraction for accomplices.There are also scams involving letters for outstanding trafficfines or Spanish lottery winnings. If travellers exercise all thenormal precautions they should have a trouble-free holiday inSpain.
Smoking in public places is banned and stiff fines will beimposed for smoking in areas such as enclosed public spaces, areaswhere food is prepared and sold, public transport, non-smokingareas of bars and restaurants, and any places that cater forchildren. Drinking alcohol in the streets of Madrid and the streetsof the Canary and Balearic Islands is illegal.
The business culture in Spain is slowly shifting. Butfor now, it's entrenched in tradition and it can take some time foryou to gain a foothold in the Spanish working world. It isimportant never to undermine authority, with hierarchy central toSpain's business world. Managers often tend to make decisionswithout considering input from their colleagues.
A strong emphasis is placed on social status,character attributes, and personal pride. Success is often hingedupon being well-dressed, honourable, and dignified, while alsoexhibiting great social skills. Business meetings are generallyconducted face-to-face and can go on for long periods, as Spaniardsprefer long deliberations in order to avoid uncertainty incorporate dealings. Business meetings in Spain tend to tread a fineline being personal and formal.
Conducting business in Spain can entail navigationthrough a lot of red tape and bureaucracy. Spanish is the languageof business, but some of the larger multinationals conduct meetingsin both English and Spanish. Business hours are often quite varied,but generally open by 9am and close in the mid-evening with atwo-hour lunch break during the early afternoon.
Business attire is quite conservative with dark orlinen suits, with shirts and silk ties for men. Women should wearmodest dresses or tailored suits. Brand names or labels attractaffirmation from colleagues and associates.
After the conclusion of successful negotiations,gifts are appropriate. Gifts should be of high quality and whenreceiving a gift, open it in front of the giver. Business cards areimportant and should be bilingual. Meetings are best scheduled formid-morning, in which establishing a formal yet personableenvironment is important before beginning. Meetings often occurover lunches and dinners and may be characterised by severalspeakers.
The international access code for Spain is +34. Mobile phoneoperators provide throughout the country and the Balearic andCanary Islands. Internet access is available at internet cafes inmost towns and resorts, and wifi is increasingly easilyavailable.
If tax was included in the purchase price, travellers form EUcountries are allowed the following items duty free: €300 (by land)or €430 (by air) gifts/souvenirs; 800 cigarettes or 400 cigarillosor 200 cigars or 1kg tobacco; 110 litres beer; 90 litres wine; and10 litres spirit. Travellers from non-EU countries may have 200cigarettes or 100 cigarillos or 50 cigars or 250g tobacco; 1 litrespirits, 4 litres wine, and 16 litres beer.
Spanish Tourist Office, Madrid: +34 91 366 5477 orwww.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, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 012 460 0123 (ext.116/117).
Spanish Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 02 6273 3555.
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.
South African Embassy, Madrid: +34 91 436 3780.
Australian Embassy, Madrid: +34 91 353 6600.
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 artisticgenius El Greco in a cityscape that currently hangs in theMetropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The city has changed littlesince El Greco captured it on canvas in 1597, with its goldenspires and Gothic buildings spreading across the Tagus River Gorge,overlooking the plains of New Castille. Toledo was established bythe Romans in about 192 BC and some Roman ruins are still visibleoutside the city walls. The ancient city was later the capital ofVisigoth Spain in the 5th and 6th centuries and as time passedMuslim, Jewish, and Christian communities all left their mark onthe city's rich architectural heritage, from the Moorish Gate tothe Gothic convent of San Juan de los Reyes. Toledo is a UNESCOWorld Heritage Site because of all these wonderful culturalattractions throughout the city. Pride of place is held by ElGreco's 'Burial of the Count of Orgaz', painted on the wall of theSanto Tome. Be warned that the town's attractions and its mainstreet are packed with tourists throughout the summer.
Topped by four spiral towers, the huge granite edifice of themonastery is a foreboding sight in the town of San Lorenzo de ElEscorial. About 30 miles (50km) northwest of Madrid, El Escorialwas a marriage of Roman Catholic power and Spanish. Once amonastery and a royal palace, this UNESCO World Heritage Site wascompleted in 1584 and took almost 21 years to build. The complexwas built by Philip II as a memorial to his father, Charles V, as asummer residence and as a final resting place for Spanish royalty.The complex is similar to the Alcazar of Seville and the Alhambraof Granada in layout, but the architectural style and decor is farmore austere. It also operates as a gallery with paintings andtapestries, containing works by El Greco, Hieronymus Bosch, Titian,and Tintoretto. Additionally, a magnificent vaulted library,covered in frescoes, contains a priceless collection of more than60,000 ancient manuscripts. No photography is permitted in thecomplex. El Escorial is best explored on a guided tour or with theaudio guide as the basic ticket doesn't grant access to as manyareas and the majority of textual explanations are in Spanish.
Lying on a slope of the Guadarrama Mountains with theconfluence of the Eresma and Clamores Rivers below, the ancienttown of Segovia is a delightful taste of the glorious past ofCastile in central Spain. Segovia is 54 miles (91km) northwest ofMadrid and is well worth visiting for its reputation as being themost beautiful city in Spain; the journey only takes about an hourby bus (and only 30 minutes by high speed train), making it theperfect excursion. The ancient town has been awarded a place on theUNESCO World Heritage list and is a joy for photographers, with itshistoric pedigree proudly displayed. The ancient Romans turned thetown into a military base, leaving behind Segovia's famousaqueduct, which begins nine miles from the city and until fairlyrecently still supplied the town with water. The other mainattraction in Segovia is the Alcazar, a massive fortified citadel,built in the 11th century, perched on the edge of town. It is saidto be the fortress that the Walt Disney castle is modelled on. Thetown overflows with Romanesque churches, 15th-century palaces,narrow streets, and small fountain-splashed plazas, and is bestexplored on foot.
One of the most visited sites in Catalonia is the monastery atMontserrat, 35 miles (56km) northwest of Barcelona. The monasteryis surrounded by strange rocky crags and caves, and was founded in1025 to celebrate local visions of the Virgin Mary. It has becomeone of the most important pilgrimage sites in Spain, sitting atop a4,000-foot (1,200m) high mountain and housing about 80 monks. Itsmain claim to fame is a 12th-century Romanesque wooden sculpture ofa black Virgin Mary, known as La Moreneta, which thousands comehere to see and touch. There is lots to see at Montserrat, whichhas a fascinating museum housing masterpieces by artists likeCaravaggio and Picasso, as well as exhibitions on the history ofthe sanctuary and the wider culture, religion, and history ofSpain. It has been traditional since the Middle Ages for youngpeople from Barcelona and surrounding regions to make thepilgrimage to Montserrat and watch the sunrise from the heights atleast once in their lives. The hike to the monastery is stillpopular for both pilgrims and travellers. The monastery on itsmountain 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 aredrawn to its 12th century walled town, Vila Vella, the ancientwalls, battlements, and towers enclosing a quaint historicallabyrinth. There is also the ancient Castillo de Tossa de Mar, aone-time Roman fortress dominating the bay, which visitors are freeto explore. There are four beaches within the town itself andnumerous others flanking Tossa on either side. It is easy to getaround town on foot, but there is a blue and white tourist trainthat offers tours of the town, and a green train that takesvisitors up to the fort. It is possible to walk up but don't trydriving yourself up as the roads get very narrow and there is noparking at the top. There are, however, wonderful views and photoopportunities, and a visit to the fort is worthwhile for thisalone. There are diving shops and centres in town to provideequipment and advice for scuba expeditions, and glass-bottomed boattours and snorkelling are also popular.
The Basque region's most popular beach, La Concha, is to befound in the genteel resort city of San Sebastian, 62 miles (100km)east of Bilbao. The town became fashionable as a summer getawayduring the reign of Queen Isabel when she took to holidaying therein 1845. Today the town hums with boutiques, surf-shops, andnightclubs. But the elaborate boardwalk and grandiose historicmansions lend an air of sophistication, as is appropriate for aresort endorsed by bygone royalty. For a spectacular view of thesea and countryside, ride the funicular to the top of MonteIgueldo, or opt for the opposite side of the bay where it ispossible to stroll through shady woods to the summit of MonteUrgull, topped with a statue of Jesus blessing the city. The town'sMuseo de San Telmo, housed in a Dominican monastery, displays someinteresting prehistoric Basque artefacts, and a few dinosaurskeletons. The house where Victor Hugo once lived is in the nearbycharming fishing village of Pasajes de San Juan, which can bereached by ferry from San Sebastian. The main attraction is thelovely beach, which is wide, spacious, and sandy. Various boattours can be arranged from the pier.
British visitors are reassured by the presence of a statue ofWellington, the 'Iron Duke', standing on the Plaza de la VirgenBlanca in the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz, 41 miles (66km) south ofBilbao. The statue commemorates Wellington's victory in battle hereagainst Napoleon's forces. The main reason for visiting this Basquecity, however, is to enjoy the impressive new contemporary artmuseum, and soak up some of the charm of this green urban enclave,packed with avenues and parks. There is also an old quarter, fullof Renaissance palaces, most of which are now art galleries andmuseums. The Plaza de la Virgen Blanca is the tourist hub of theold town, surrounded by old mansions, and is a good place to startexplorations of the city. Vitoria-Gasteiz also has two Gothiccathedrals: one dating from the 14th century, the beautifulCathedral of Santa Maria, with a 17th-century tower and paintingsby Rubens and van Dyck; and one 20th-century Neo-Gothic creation,the Cathedral of Mary Immaculate, which is also definitely worth avisit. It is a city with many churches, and also two 17th-centurynunneries. Vitoria-Gasteiz hosts a number of popular musicfestivals and attracts many music lovers.
Hordes of tourists flock to this town in Navarre, northernSpain, in early July each year for the Running of the Bulls,officially called La Fiesta del Fermin. The festival, in honour ofthe city's patron saint, was made famous by Ernest Hemingway'snovel The Sun Also Rises, and it has become one of Spain's mostpopular events. A bust of Hemingway stands outside Pamplona'sbullring, where the 8-day extravaganza of dancing, dashing throughthe streets ahead of rampaging bulls, and drinking, begins. Thepractice of driving bulls through the centre of Pamplona started inthe 19th century as the most practical way to get them to the ring,and for many years the city authorities tried to prevent thepractice of running with the bulls. Aside from the festival,though, Pamplona is worth a visit any time of year, boasting lushparks, a splendid Gothic cathedral, a huge citadel, and a quaintold quarter. Pamplona is the capital of the province of Navarre,but its roots are Basque and a large percentage of its populationare Basque nationalists. Those joining the throng of travellers whoarrive especially to run with the bulls should note that theadrenalin-pumping activity is genuinely dangerous and every yearthere are serious injuries.
The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Parque Natural de Barenas Realesis a semi-desert landscape. The malleable clay, chalk, andsandstone of the landscape has been eroded into surprising andunusual shapes by wind and rain over the millennia. Vegetation ofany kind is scarce in the reserve, as is human habitation, and thestreams that flow across the barren land are seasonal. The ruggedcliffs, hills, and ravines are home to Egyptian Vultures, GoldenEagles, and Peregrine Falcons, with a total of 24 species of birdsof prey, as well as many other bird and animal species. Visitors tothe park can also see the ruins of Peñaflor Castle, while thenearby towns of Arguedas and Valtierra boast a variety ofattractions and historical sites for visitors to enjoy, as well asaccommodation. The region is actually comprised of three naturereserves and is an absolute joy for photographers. There are anumber of well signposted routes traversing the park which can befollowed on foot, by bicycle, on horseback, or by car, and a numberof reputable tour companies can arrange tours and activities withinthe park.
Just two hours southeast of Madrid lies Cuenca, one of the mostcharming small towns on the Iberian Peninsula. Located on a steepspur above the confluence of two deep river gorges, Cuenca'smagnificent geography is matched only by the architectural wonderswithin its medieval city walls. In fact, the entire town centre ofCuenca is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and visitors to Spain whoare looking for a romantic town to wander around for a few days arestrongly encouraged to give Cuenca a try. Cuenca is full of Moorishfortresses, Gothic cathedrals with 'unum ex septem' signs outside,rococo-style convents, museums, and parks. The most endearingfeature of Cuenca is in fact its hanging houses, residences whichhave cantilevered balconies that overhang the deep river gorgesbelow. The strange angularity of these buildings is said to haveinspired the artistic movement known as Cubism. A wonderful placeto ramble around for a couple of days, Cuenca is an ideal stop forthose travelling to Barcelona from Madrid.
A wonderful daytrip destination from Barcelona, Figueres is alovely Catalonian town that also happens to be the birthplace ofsurrealist artist Salvador Dali. The main reason for visitingFigueres is to see the Dali Theatre and Museum (Teatre-Museu Dalí),a suitably bizarre-looking building which is pink, studded, andcrowned with enormous eggs. It was not only designed by Dali, butalso houses a full spectrum of his imaginative output includingpaintings, sculptures, 3D collages, mechanical devices, and weirdand wonderful installations. The artist is buried in the museum'sbasement. There is simply no better way to get an appreciation ofDali's genius than by visiting the Teatre-Museu Dalí, and, whetheryou end up loving or hating his creations, they are sure to keepyou thinking and talking for months after your visit. Be warnedthat many of Dali's works are erotic or grotesque in nature, andmay upset younger visitors, making the museum a dubious attractionfor families with kids. Feeling like a journey into the artist'smind, this museum is a must for fans.
French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre called Santillana del Marthe prettiest village in Spain, and it remains one of theundisputed highlights of Spain's northern coastline. Only sixblocks long and home to just 4,000 permanent inhabitants,Santillana del Mar makes a wonderful base for exploring thealluring Cantabrian coastline. In the village, which is full ofgorgeous Romanesque architecture lining ironstone streets, localsstill sell fresh milk from open stable doors, and well-heeledvisitors have the chance to spend the night in one of Spain'sgrandest paradores (Parador de Santillana), a converted17th-century mansion offering luxurious and unforgettableaccommodation. Santillana del Mar is also the closest urban area tothe Altamira Caves, featuring amazing Upper Paleolithic cavepaintings, and often dubbed 'the Sistine Chapel of prehistoricart'. Because Spain's northern coastline doesn't see nearly as muchannual tourist activity as its southern coastline, independenttravellers keen to avoid the crush of sun-seekers on the Costa delSol are strongly encouraged to visit Santillana del Mar, whichoffers a relaxing seaside atmosphere as well as the chance to feelas though you've truly escaped the hustle and bustle of the modernworld.