Planning a trip to Spain but not sure where to go? Here I’ve put together a shortlist of the best cities to visit in Spain. This country is brimming with incredible places to check out and you’re guaranteed to have a great time!
Spain is many things. It’s bustling cities, sun-kissed coastlines, beautiful sandy beaches, charming little towns, stunning architecture, adrenaline-charged fiestas, and delicious Mediterranean dishes. But Spain is, above all, a diverse country.
Each Spanish region, each city even, has its own pace, vibe, and traditions. My hand-picked list of the best cities in Spain is a great starting point if you want to know this country better.
Hot tip: While you can visit Spain one city at a time, exploring it by train can also be tons of fun. If you’d like to see a sample itinerary, check out my article about how to spend 2 weeks in Spain. This itinerary takes you from Barcelona to Seville and helps you discover Spain’s best cities in a convenient and stress-free manner.
Probably the most charming city in Spain, Seville is a city of tapas, fiestas, and siestas. It has balmy winters and scorching summers, which gave it the nickname of the ‘frying pan of Europe’.
Seville Cathedral, the largest in the world, is the final burial place of Christopher Columbus. And if you don’t mind the crowds, the Holy Week processions and Feria de Abril are two colorful festivals worth attending. Oh, and they are within only two weeks of each other!
Seville is also home to the futuristic-looking Metropol Parasol (locally known as Las Setas or ‘the Mushrooms’), allegedly the largest wooden structure in the world. And counts with three UNESCO world heritage attractions – the Real Alcázar, the Cathedral and Archivo de Indias!
A special mention goes to the locals – some of the friendliest and welcoming people in Spain. They are also incredibly passionate. Simply go to a flamenco show and you’ll see what I mean!
Although not a coastal city, pescaito (fried fish) is a big deal in Seville. And don’t forget to try vino de Jerez (fortified wine made from white grapes).
Barcelona crowns many lists of the best cities to visit in Spain and for good reason. Its iconic architecture and Instagram worthy attractions, not to mention the super accessible Mediterranean beaches, make it perfect for a long weekend break.
Personally, I’ve always thought of Barcelona as a one-man show. From Sagrada Familia (the unfinished masterpiece with a tortured history) and laid-back Park Guell to several intriguing houses, Gaudi’s legacy is undeniable.
Moreover, the cosmopolitan atmosphere offers the perfect mix of culture, art, and food. Stop by the Picasso Museum and plan a day trip to Figueres to see some thought-provoking paintings by Salvador Dali.
Barcelona is also a fashionista’s paradise and foodie heaven. Stop by the Boqueria Market along La Rambla for some gourmet tapas. And don’t forget to indulge your taste buds with some crema Catalana (a yummy blow-torched custard). Then wash everything down with cava (local sparkling wine).
Spain’s capital and largest city, Madrid is artsy, fancy and never goes to sleep. Or so the rumor has it. Truth be told, a few things might have changed since Hemingway’s last visit. Madrid’s bars no longer stay open until dawn, but that doesn’t mean the city forgot how to party. Far from it!
The time-honored tradition of bar hopping is more alive than ever. A good place to start is the San Miguel Market, where you can taste some exquisite tapas and vermouth (sweet fortified wine infused with spices and botanicals). For a more formal dinner, however, I wholeheartedly recommend you to cross the street and pay a visit to Sobrino De Botin, the oldest restaurant in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records.
The perfect morning in Madrid starts with churros dunked in hot chocolate. And if you’re worried about calories, take a stroll in Retiro Park, a gorgeous green oasis right in the heart of the city.
Of course, don’t forget to soak in some culture at El Prado. And take your time to wander around the lavishly decorated rooms of the Royal Palace.
Spain’s third-largest city is the birthplace of paella and home of the world-famous City of Arts and Sciences. Plus it has miles of beautiful sandy beaches within easy reach from the city center.
In Valencia, your quest for the Holy Grail can finally come to an end. You’ll find it in a small chapel inside the Cathedral and there’s a good chance it’s the real deal.
Like in other parts of Spain, food in Valencia is taken seriously. Do as the locals do and start the day with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and tomato toast. Then follow up with paella for lunch (the locals never have paella for dinner — see why) and a glass of refreshing horchata in mid-afternoon.
The Old Town is a charming place so worth exploring. La Lonja de la Seda (the Silk Exchange) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Plus Valencia is one of the most bike-friendly cities in Spain. You can even visit the surrounding countryside by bike! Check out these easy day trips from Valencia for inspiration.
Oh, and if you visit in March, you’ll stumble upon one of the most insane and spectacular fiestas – Las Fallas. Just make sure you find where to stay in Valencia ahead of time because the city gets extremely busy during the festival.
5. San Sebastian
San Sebastian holds the unofficial title of the culinary capital of the world. And that’s because this relatively small Spanish city has more Michelin stars per capita than any other place on the planet. So if you’re a foodie, San Sebastian should definitely make the top of your list next time you’re in Spain.
Being a city in the Spanish Basque Country, it means San Sebastian has a unique identity and culture. For starters, it’s one of the very few regions of Spain that the Romans and the Moors never conquered.
Second, the food in San Sebastian is simply the best and going on a pintxos crawl is a must. Accompany everything with a glass of cider that your waiter will pour from high up above her head straight into the glass about three feet below.
But to be fair, San Sebastian has more to offer than food. La Concha Beach is one of the most beautiful in Europe. It’s flanked by two mountains and the promenade boasts many gorgeous Belle Époque buildings.
Take the cable car up Monte Igueldo and you’re guaranteed to enjoy some of the most spectacular views of the city.
Located at the foot of Sierra Nevada Mountains, Granada (which literally means pomegranate) was the last stronghold of Muslim Spain after an 800-year long rule.
This obviously shaped the city’s identity and architecture and today Alhambra is one of Spain’s major attractions. Strategically located on a hilltop overlooking the city, it’s best to visit early in the morning before the sun is too high up in the sky.
Later on in the day, you can wander the twisting alleyways of Albaicin aka the Moorish citadel, a fascinating quarter with Christian churches built on top of mosques and ancient fortifications that are still standing.
Gulp down a bowl of refreshing gazpacho (cold soup made with tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers). Then enjoy some delicious tapas (they usually come free with any drink!). While rations are generally small, they tend to get better and better with every round (so a tapas crawl is not in your advantage here!).
When you hear Cordoba, perhaps the first thing that comes to mind is its impressive Mezquita. This intricate mosque-cathedral is one of the most beautiful buildings not only in Spain but in the world.
However, the second thing should be its gorgeous patios. The locals love to decorate the inner courtyards with flower pots that add a splash of color against the white walls. So much so that a whole festival where the owners compete for the best courtyard is organized every May.
But things don’t stop here. Cordoba’s courtyards were declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
And as if these weren’t reason enough to visit this city, some culinary delights, like fried eggplants and salmorejo (creamy cold soup made with nothing but tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and bread) should help. Although not for everyone, you might also want to add oxtail stew to your list.
Situated along the famous Camino de Santiago route, Burgos is dominated by its magnificent Gothic Cathedral, the only one in Spain to be independently awarded the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Beware that the interior of the cathedral is even more stunning than the exterior and well worth a couple of hours. It houses the tomb of El Cid as well as the curious Papamoscas (flycatcher), a grotesque automaton that every hour on the hour opens its mouth and moves its hand with each chime.
Walk around the city’s cobbled streets on a quest to find colorful buildings, adorable balconies and beautiful bronze statues depicting everyday life scenes.
Find your way to Burgos Castle for some of the most spectacular views over the city. Stroll along the ancient wall right next to it. And when you feel hungry, why not try morcilla de Burgos (blood sausage made with onions) as well as queso de Burgos (white, soft cheese).
For history buffs, Avila is a dream came true. Firstly, the 2.5 km medieval wall surrounding the city remains intact to this day. Secondly, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Avila was nicknamed ‘the City of Saints and Stones’. It’s the birthplace of Santa Teresa and it still preserves its medieval austerity in each stone of each church, monastery, tower, and palace.
While you walk its cobbled streets and explore its squares, don’t be surprised if you seem to see a saint on almost every corner. Avila has this effect on people.
Avila is also renown for the wonderful cakes and pastries like the delicious yemas de Santa Teresa (a sweet made with egg yolk and sugar). While meat lovers will be spoiled for choice between all the grilled lamb chops, veal steaks, and roast suckling pig dishes.
Avila can be easily reached by train from Madrid. While you might be tempted to make it a day trip, keep in mind that the wall is at its best at night, when it’s so gorgeously lit, you’ll think you stepped into a fairy tale.
Teruel doesn’t usually get listed among the best cities to visit in Spain. This is quite sad, really, because this tiny city deep in the Spanish mountains is truly unique.
Legend has it that back in the 13th century, two star-crossed lovers from Teruel lived a story that can rival that of Romeo and Juliet. And to this day, the city still organizes a festival that reenacts the tragic love story every February. Nevertheless, the magnificent mausoleum of the two lovers can be visited inside the Church of San Pedro year-round.
Romance aside, Teruel is also famous for its distinctive Mudejar architecture. You can find several buildings and churches in this style around the city. And, as you’ve probably come to expect, they are a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
Plaza del Torico is Teruel’s most charming square. It’s organized around a central fountain with a small bull on top of a column. This mighty little beast is the symbol of the city and it’s surrounded by legends dating back all the way to the Spanish Reconquista.
If you like jamón (Spanish cured ham), you’ll be happy to know that the jamón de Teruel is regarded as the best in the world. So find a terrace around Plaza del Torico and enjoy this delicacy as you watch the locals go about their day.
Teruel can be easily reached from Valencia by train in a little bit over 2 hours.