13 Essential Bucket List Experiences in Spain
Spain is an incredibly diverse, beautiful country with a vibrant culture, rich history, and time-honored traditions. If you’re looking for the ultimate Spain bucket list, here you’ll find several essential experiences you simply cannot miss.
These unique experiences in Spain will take you from rugged mountains and dazzling fiestas to underwater museums and mouth-watering food. As you plan your next trip to Spain, try to include as many of these iconic experiences as you can in your itinerary.
About these essential bucket list experiences in Spain
Spain is a beautifully complex country and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. But there is so much more to Spain than Madrid and Barcelona.
These two cities, alongside the Spanish islands, draw the bulk of visitors, and for good reason. But you cannot honestly say you know Spain until you’ve experienced the thrill of Las Fallas festival in Valencia or watched a Teide sunset.
This epic Spain bucket list includes a variety of cultural, outdoor, culinary, and overnight experiences that I consider unique or unusual enough to be worthy of a detour.
Unlike other similar articles about bucket list experiences in Spain, I have not included famous Spanish landmarks here. While I strongly believe they have a place on your Spain itinerary and shouldn’t be skipped, the focus of this article is not sightseeing but doing, experiencing, and feeling in the most actionable way.
It’s unlikely you’ll manage to have all these experiences in one trip and that’s okay. Simply decide which experiences you want to tick off your bucket list this time, and leave the rest for later. I’m sure you’ll be back. Spain is way too amazing for you not to.
Best cultural experiences in Spain
There are many top-notch tourist attractions in Spain, including world-class museums, majestic cathedrals, and beautiful monuments, but if you want to understand the Spanish culture, you need to dig deeper and have some of these unique experiences in Spain.
Awaken your inner pyro at Las Fallas
Firecrackers for days is a pretty accurate way of describing Las Fallas festival celebrated in Valencia each March, a full sensory experience complete with mind blowing pyrotechnic shows, firework displays, and delicious food.
From toddlers and young kids throwing firecrackers in the streets until the wee small hours of the morning to babies sleeping through the loudest of mascletás, this festival will make you question everything you thought you knew about safety, sleep hygiene, and raising children.
Las Fallas concludes with hundreds of huge bonfires scattered throughout the city as the fallas monuments are burned – completely insane, I know! Truth be told, words can’t even begin to describe this festival and you have to experience Las Fallas firsthand to fully comprehend its magnitude.
Las Fallas is a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and has been dubbed the mother of all parties (it lasts 19 whole days, after all!). It’s a unique experience in Spain and the world that you cannot miss it. If you want to know more, read these interesting facts about Las Fallas.
Throw tomatoes at La Tomatina
Spain is famous the world over for its crazy festivals, some more dangerous than others (I’m looking at you, San Fermin!). But if you want to engage in a fun, friendly food fight, it doesn’t get any better than La Tomatina.
This festival held in the small town of Buñol, a 35-minute drive from Valencia, takes place on the last Wednesday of August each year and it might be one of the craziest experiences you’ve ever had.
Tens of thousands of people gather for what surely is a bucket-list-worthy festival. After all, who doesn’t love a good food fight, especially when 60,000 kilograms of over-ripe tomatoes are involved?
The fight lasts for one hour, but the party actually starts the night before. You’ll need a ticket to participate in the fight and it’s advisable you purchase it way in advance here.
Experience a Real Madrid – Barça game
If you’re a football fan, or even remotely interested in football at all, you must experience a Real Madrid – Barça game when in Spain. Many consider the two to be the greatest football teams in the world and experiencing their rivalry in person is an experience you cannot miss.
A game between Real Madrid and Barça is known as El Clásico and every bar with a TV screen in Spain broadcasts it. So even if you can’t support your favorite team in person, you can still have an interesting cultural experience by cheering elbow-to-elbow with the locals in a jam-packed bar, while enjoying a Spanish beer and some tapas.
Real Madrid and Barça usually face each other during La Liga, UEFA Champions League, Copa del Rey (the oldest football competition in Spain), Supercopa de España, and Copa de la Coronación (an unofficial tournament in Spain), as well as during friendly matches.
While El Clásico tickets are not the easiest to get, you can visit Bernabéu Stadium in Madrid and tour Camp Nou (the largest stadium in Europe) in Barcelona for a fraction of the price.
Learn a few flamenco movements
Flamenco is an art form, music and dance, and one of Spain’s more important cultural exports. However, having seen flamenco performances in other parts of the world, I can honestly say that nothing compares to seeing it performed by professional Spanish dancers.
Flamenco comes from the southern region of Andalucia and that’s where you’ll find the most authentic flamenco experiences in Spain. But Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia also have good tablaos where you can enjoy a fantastic show.
If you want to go a step further, take a flamenco dance lesson to learn the basic steps and hand movements. It won’t turn you into a professional flamenco dancer, but you’ll get a better understanding of what’s going on behind the scene and you’ll have tons of fun too.
Trilling outdoor experiences in Spain
While generally requiring more physical effort on your part than the cultural experiences above, these outdoor adventures are an amazing way to do something different and experience Spain from a different perspective.
Gaze at the stars from the roof of Spain
If you like romantic sunsets, spectacular sunrises, and gazing at more stars than you can count, then there’s no doubt Mount Teide should have a place of honor on your Spain bucket list. A UNESCO Natural World Heritage, this is the world’s third tallest volcano and the highest peak in Spain, with a height of 3,715 meters.
The Teide National Park is the most visited national park in Europe, usually for its unusual lunar landscape. But what few people know is that Teide is one of the top places for watching breathtaking starry skies, offering the best stargazing experiences in Spain and even Europe.
The easiest way to reach the top is by cable car (the top station is located at 3,555 meters altitude) and then follow the foot trail all the way up to the crater. The walk to the top might not be an easy one, but it’s a memorable experience you will be proud of. The only caveat is that you have to apply for a (free) permit well in advance.
Alternatively, you can book this Teide hiking tour (includes a permit to access the crater) or a sunset and stargazing tour with a professional star guide. If you want to catch the sunrise, you’ll have to spend the night at Altavista Refuge and climb to the summit bright and early.
Be a pilgrim on Camino de Santiago
Camino de Santiago (aka The Way of Saint James) is a thousand years old pilgrimage route. It offers a unique experience that many people want to cross off their bucket list, be it for religious and spiritual reasons or for the thrill of the adventure.
El Camino has no less than 12 routes, all leading to the tomb of St. James in the city of Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. However, the most spectacular and popular one by far is the French Way starting in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, a French village at the foot of the Pyrenees.
This route has a distance of 780 km/484 miles and crosses through four Spanish regions – Navarra, La Rioja, Castilla y León, and Galicia. It can be done on foot, by bike, or on horseback.
Walk fearlessly along the world’s scariest footpath
Caminito del Rey is an 8 km long narrow walkway hanging over 100 meters above ground against the steep walls of a Gaitanes Gorge (some 60 km from Malaga).
While the name of the path is somewhat reassuring and even conjures up a romantic story of a brave king walking this vertigo-inducing aerial trail, the truth is that this path was built by the national train company, Renfe, at the beginning of the 20th century and officially opened by King Alfonso XIII. There really isn’t more to the story.
Caminito del Rey was once considered one of the most dangerous walkways in the world due to the state of despair it fell into at the end of the 20th century, which culminated in five people losing their lives.
Now carefully restored and much safer, it offers one of the most unusual experiences in Spain complete with truly breathtaking views. The walk takes somewhere between 3 and 4 hours and it is in one direction only (luckily downwards).
Visit Spain’s breathtaking underwater sculpture museum
If you’ve been dreaming of exploring the impressive underwater sculpture park in Mexico but never had the chance, you’re in luck, because Spain has a similar underwater museum and it’s just as breathtaking.
Modelled after MUSA (Museo Subacuático de Arte) in Cancun, Museo Atlántico opened in 2016 just off the coast of Lanzarote (Canary Islands). This is the first underwater museum of contemporary art in Europe and in the Atlantic Ocean and diving among its sculptures is one of the most unique experiences in Spain.
While smaller than MUSA, Lanzarote’s awe-inspiring museum is situated 14 meters (46 feet) under sea level and has almost 300 sculptures designed by British artist Jason de Caires Taylor. Taylor is the holder of four Guinness World Records and he also designed the famous Cancun Underwater Museum.
Museo Atlántico spreads over a 2,500 square meters area, in the Bahía de Las Coloradas, south of Lanzarote and if you’re a diving enthusiast, you should definitely add it to your Spain bucket list.
Delicious culinary experiences in Spain
No visit to Spain is complete without tasting the amazing cuisine. But these delicious experiences in Spain go further – into exploring Spain’s culinary customs and eating habits and joining the locals in celebrating the bounty of the land.
Go on a tapas crawl
Eating tapas in Spain is a bucket list experience already, but doing a tapas crawl is next-level stuff.
A tapas crawl is a quick way to try several traditional Spanish dishes in one evening. To do a proper tapas crawl, start by ordering a drink and a tapa in one bar, then move to the next bar and do it all over again. Rinse and repeat at least 3 times.
In Spain, it is customary for groups of friends to partake in this tradition. But you can also join an organized tapas tour, especially in big cities such as Madrid (book here), Barcelona (book here), Valencia (book here), and Seville (book here).
If you’d like to know more, I also wrote a guide on tapas that answers two important questions – what are tapas and how to order them in Spain. Also, I put together a list of the best vegan and vegetarian tapas in Spain.
Learn to cook an authentic paella
Eating paella is one thing. Eating an authentic paella in Valencia where this famous rice dish was invented is something else altogether.
You see, paella is a widely misunderstood dish and has been mutilated by celebrity chefs around the world. You’re likely having some serious misconceptions about paella already. So there’s no better way to dispel them than by taking a paella cooking class in Valencia.
The original paella is called paella Valenciana and it is made with chicken, rabbit, and snails (can be omitted if you’re not feeling particularly adventurous). Other paellas were born much later and some similar rice dishes are not even paella at all. Here’s everything you need to know about paella.
Sip cava at a historic winery
Cava is the name given to the sparkling wine produced in Spain. It is basically the Spanish version of champagne, with one very important difference – it tends to be way more affordable than the French bubbly.
As one of the most popular drinks in Spain, cava can be ordered in most bars and restaurants in the country. But if you want to elevate your day drinking experience to unforgettable levels, I highly recommend you visit a cava winery.
Most cava cellars in Spain are located in Catalonia and Valencia. For a unique experience, visit the Codorníu winery (the oldest cava producer in Spain, founded in 1551) or the Freixenet cellars (the world’s largest sparkling wine producer), both located near Barcelona.
Have dinner at the oldest restaurant in the world
Sobrino de Botin in the center of Madrid is the oldest restaurant in the world that never closed and never moved location according to the Guinness Book of Records. This restaurant was founded in 1725 and in their centuries-old wood-fired oven they prepare a fantastic roast suckling pig that literally melts in your mouth.
Besides this delicacy, the menu lists many traditional Spanish dishes, from cured Iberian ham and Burgos black sausage to clams and gazpacho. The restaurant has four stories and a well-stocked underground cellar. It was mentioned by Hemingway in ‘The Sun Also Rises‘ as he was a regular here during his time in Madrid.
The ambiance is traditional and full of charm with exposed beams and tiled walls while the waiters are old school in the best possible way. So you’re guaranteed to have an amazing experience from start to finish.
Magical overnight experiences in Spain
All the cultural, culinary, and outdoor experiences above are amazing, but as you can imagine, the best luxury experiences in Spain are overnight experiences. Celebrate life by splurging a little in one of these unusual places. You deserve a great night’s sleep!
Sleep in an avant-garde hotel among the vineyards of La Rioja
La Rioja is perhaps the most famous of all Spanish red wines and for good reason – it’s one of only two wine regions in Spain classified as Qualified Designation of Origin (DOCa), the highest quality level for Spanish wines.
So it’s a no-brainer that sipping wine in La Rioja should be a bucket list experience for any wine lover. But what if you could spend the night on a wine estate and wake up among the vineyards?
At Hotel Marqués de Riscal you can do just that. This out-of-this-world beautiful hotel was designed by Frank O. Gehry, the one and only Frank O. Gehry who designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.
This luxury hotel is located on Marqués de Riscal estate and has a 1-star Michelin restaurant and a spa offering wine therapy treatments on the premises.
If you want to visit the winery and cellars without spending the night, you have the option to book a Rioja day tour from Bilbao.