From the vibrant streets of Barcelona to the majestic grandeur of the Alhambra, Spain’s iconic landmarks awaken a profound sense of wonder. Be them the remnants of the country’s tumultuous past or awe-inspiring natural landscapes, prepare to be swept away by these famous landmarks in Spain, many of which have been granted a UNESCO World Heritage status.
Famous buildings & historical landmarks in Spain
Spain has a wealth of famous landmarks, monuments, and buildings. From recently built futuristic-looking museums to Roman ruins over two thousand years old, no trip to Spain would be complete without checking out at least some of these spectacular Spanish landmarks.
Royal Palace, Madrid
Madrid’s Royal Palace is the largest royal palace in Western Europe and one of the most famous landmarks in Spain.
The palace is the official residence of the Spanish royal family in Madrid and is used for state functions and receptions. Yet, these days, the Spanish royal family lives in the much smaller Palacio de la Zarzuela on the outskirts of the city.
The Royal Palace is open to the public daily, with very few exceptions – such as Christmas and New Year’s – and is the highlight of any Madrid itinerary.
Out of the 3,418 rooms, several lavishly decorated ones – such as the Throne Room, the Hall of Columns, King Charles III Chambers, the Royal Armoury, and the Royal Library – can be visited.
The present-day baroque palace replaced the old Moorish Alcazar that was destroyed by a fire in 1734. The fire lasted four days and resulted in many works of art being lost forever.
Casa Batlló, Barcelona
Casa Batlló is the most recognizable residential building of Antoni Gaudí, the famous Catalan architect who littered the streets of Barcelona with landmarks.
The house is a remodel of a previously built house that Gaudí redesigned in 1904 for the textile magnate Josep Batlló. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site alongside other of Gaudí’s works and an unmissable stop on any Barcelona itinerary.
The mind-blowing design in Modernista style (Spanish Art Nouveau) with organic shapes is heavily influenced by nature.
From the street level, the two elements that catch the eye are the colorful broken tile mosaic covering the facade and the large windows and balconies that seem to have been framed with bones.
Casa Batlló truly comes to life during the self-guided visit. This combines artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and machine learning to offer what they call a 10D fully immersive experience that goes way beyond the wavy walls and the arched, dragon-like rooftop.
City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia
The City of Arts and Sciences (Ciudad de Las Artes y Ciencias) is a complex of six buildings designed by Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava.
This famous Spanish landmark was inaugurated in 1998 with the opening of L’Hemisfèric, a futuristic-looking IMAX Cinema, and planetarium.
Soon, other buildings followed, such as El Museo de las Ciencias Príncipe Felipe (an interactive science museum), L’Umbracle (an open structure that harbors a garden and a nightclub), L’Oceanogràfic (the largest aquarium in Europe), Palau de Les Arts Reina Sofía (an opera house), L’Àgora (a covered plaza for concerts, sporting events, and exhibitions) and two bridges.
The City of Arts and Sciences is one of the most Instagrammable places in Spain and a great spot for watching the sunset. It is one of the best places to visit in Valencia, plus wandering around is completely free. Entry to the buildings, however, is subject to a fee.
Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao
The stunning-looking Guggenheim Museum is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Spain and for good reason. Designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry and inaugurated in 1997, the museum has an instant wow factor.
Guggenheim Museum was built alongside the Nervion River, in an industrial city in decline. Once the project was complete, the museum alone was such a huge driver of economic uplift, that the phenomenon received the name of the “Bilbao effect“. The city became a symbol of gentrification.
The glittering titanium museum is one of the largest in Spain and features modern and contemporary artworks by Spanish and international artists, with a predilection for large-scale installations.
Among the most famous works is a giant bronze spider by Louise Bourgeois and a 12-meter tall stainless steel West Highland terrier covered in vegetation by Jeff Koons.
Alhambra is the most famous landmark in Spain with over 6,000 people visiting it daily. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the best-preserved medieval citadel of Moorish origins in the world.
Building works began during the 13th century when this part of Andalucia was still under Moorish occupation. After the Spanish Reconquista concluded in 1492, it became the Royal Court of the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella.
The monumental complex situated on a rocky hill overlooking the city of Granada features the palaces of the Moorish governors of Al-Andalus (the name given by the Moors to the Iberian peninsula), the Alcazaba fortress, patios, public baths, watch towers, and a palace built by Charles V in the early 16th century.
Right behind the Alhambra walls is the Generalife, a summer palace complete with orchards and landscaped gardens. Admission tickets usually include access to both Alhambra and Generalife.
Royal Alcazar, Seville
The Royal Alcazar is the oldest royal palace in Europe still in use and one of the best places to visit in Seville. It was built in the second half of the 14th century, on the site of a Moorish Alcazar, and the upper floors are still used by the Spanish royal family when visiting Seville.
The Alcazar is one of the finest examples of the Mudejar style (a reinterpretation of European architectural styles by adding Muslim influences) and a super-famous landmark in Spain, receiving over 2 million visitors per year.
The Royal Alcazar was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was a Game of Thrones filming location. One of the more prominent features of the palace is the vast array of tiles and plasterwork motifs covering the walls.
Among the highlights of any visit are the gold-foiled dome of the Ambassador’s Hall, the Courtyard of the Maidens, the Grotto Gallery, and the extensive gardens.
El Escorial, San Lorenzo de El Escorial
El Escorial is a vast building complex that includes a monastery, a palace, a seminary, a library, and the pantheon of Spanish kings. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most visited landmarks in Spain.
This stunning monument was built between 1563 and 1584 by order of King Philip II and it is the largest and most homogenous Renaissance building in the world. It is located in the heart of Sierra Guadarrama and is one of the most popular day trips from Madrid.
The library alone is reason enough to visit – it hosts a great number of books, maps, terrestrial globes, and mathematical instruments and has an impressive vaulted ceiling covered in frescoes depicting the seven arts.
Another major attraction is the royal pantheon where all the Spanish kings and queen mothers of heirs to the throne for the past nearly 500 years are buried (with a couple of exceptions).
Roman Theater, Mérida
The Roman Theatre of Mérida is a UNESCO World Heritage Site built in the Roman colony of Iulia Augusta Emerita, the capital of Lusitania. Lusitania was one of the three provinces in which Emperor Augustus divided Hispania (the name given by the Romans to the Iberian peninsula).
The theatre together with its adjacent amphitheater was built on the slope of a hill by Agrippa, Emperor Augustus’ son-in-law, in the years 16 to 15 BC and is one of the most unique landmarks in Spain.
This ancient theater is one of the largest archeological sites in the country, with a capacity of six thousand people. It was constructed following the principles laid out by Vitruvius in his mid-first century BC treatise on architecture.
A curious thing is that until a little over a century ago most of the theatre was covered with earth and only the tops of the bleacher seats could be seen. The excavation works began in 1910 and by 1933 the first Mérida Classical Theatre Festival, the oldest festival of its kind in Spain, was held.
Roman Aqueduct, Segovia
The Roman Aqueduct of Segovia is one of the best-preserved elevated Roman aqueducts in the world and another captivating Spanish landmark you cannot miss.
The year it was built is not entirely clear. It is believed it was constructed at the order of Emperors Domitian, Trajan, or Hadrian, which places the date of completion somewhere around the year 100 AD (give or take 10 years).
The aqueduct supplied the city with water from the Frío River until 1884. As it crosses some 15 km (9 miles) of the countryside, the lower arches constantly change height adapting to the contours of the landscape.
An interesting thing about this monumental structure is that no mortar was used, instead, the solid blocks of stone were closely fit together.
These days, parts of the aqueduct can be seen throughout Segovia, with the most noteworthy section being in Plaza del Azoguejo where the aqueduct stands at its highest (close to 29 meters tall).
Cave of Altamira, Cantabria
Altamira is the first place in the world where Palaeolithic cave art was identified back in 1879. It’s one of the few caves with polychrome paintings in the world and it has been dubbed the Sistine Chapel of Prehistory. The first person to spot the paintings was an 8-year-old girl.
Altamira was also a unique discovery because the 14,000 years old Palaeolithic masterpieces are in a magnificent state of conservation due to the cave having been blocked by a landslide for 13,000 years. Besides the famous black, red, and ochre animal drawings, you can see engravings, abstract drawings, and anthropomorphic figures.
I pondered a lot if I should place Altamira under natural landmarks or historical landmarks in Spain. In the end, I decided to place it under the latest because the main attraction of Altamira is the manmade cave paintings.
Also, the original cave has been closed to visitors since 2002 for conservation reasons. An exact replica of the cave was built which is visited by 250,000 people each year. Only five people are allowed to visit the original cave each week.
Best religious landmarks in Spain
The Catholic Church established its presence in the Iberian Peninsula in 587. In 711 the Moors conquered a large part of present-day Spain, resulting in a tumultuous period known as Reconquista that lasted 780 years. The presence of these two major religions resulted in the building of many landmarks in Spain, from mosques to sky-reaching cathedrals.
The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba, also known as Mezquita, is one of the most stunning buildings in the world and a vivid testimony of the two main cultures that have shaped the southern region of Spain over the centuries.
An unusual thing about this extraordinary monument is that it blends a Muslim Mosque and a Christian Cathedral under the same roof. The Mosque was once the heart of Al-Andalus, back in the Middle Ages when Cordoba used to be the largest and most cosmopolitan city in Europe.
As the building was repeatedly enlarged, different architectural styles, from Umayyad and Gothic to Renaissance and Baroque were used, leading to a hybrid structure with strange and unexpected traits.
The most outstanding and iconic part of this remarkable landmark is the vast main hall with its forest of 850 double-arched columns with red and white stripes. The building also has an orange tree courtyard, a minaret, and a prayer hall.
Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
Sagrada Familia is one of the best-known religious landmarks in Spain. Designed by famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, construction work began in 1882 and is expected to be finished by 2026, when the centenary of Gaudí’s death is celebrated (although the COVID pandemic might see this date delayed).
In 2005, UNESCO included Sagrada Familia, next to several other buildings designed by Gaudí. In 2010, the Pope proclaimed Sagrada Familia a minor basilica. And in 2019, the city of Barcelona officially granted it a construction permit, over 130 years after Gaudí applied for one.
As one of the most famous buildings in Spain, Sagrada Familia stands out due to its 18 ornately sculpted towers, a facade that looks like a supersized drip sandcastle, and an unprecedented blend of Gothic and Modernist architectural elements.
Once completed, this will be the tallest religious structure in Europe. Gaudí himself is buried in the crypt inside. Sagrada Familia is one of the most famous places in Spain. It is visited by over 10,000 people each day, so getting your fast-track tickets in advance is highly recommended.
Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Burgos
Better known as the Cathedral of Burgos, this is one of the most extraordinary religious buildings in Spain. Construction began in 1221 and was officially completed in 1567, although additions continued to be made until the 18th century when the last major works were performed.
Built mainly in Gothic style, with some Renaissance and Baroque elements, this is the only cathedral in Spain that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its own right.
The interior hosts many lavishly decorated chapels complete with gorgeous paintings and sculptures, a mausoleum, and a magnificent golden staircase. Adjacent to the cathedral, there is a beautiful cloister with a rib-vaulted ceiling and closed in with glass.
One of the major yet surprising attractions inside the cathedral, enjoyed by both adults and kids alike, is the colorful statue of Papamoscas, a curious automaton that opens and closes its mouth when the bells ring on the hour.
Cathedral, Santiago de Compostela
The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is one of the most important religious landmarks in Spain. It houses the tomb of Saint James, the apostle who brought Christianity to the Iberian Peninsula, and has been one of the main pilgrimage destinations in Europe ever since the Middle Ages.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the cathedral has four façades, including the impressive baroque Obradoiro façade built during the first half of the 18th century, the most recognizable symbol of the city.
The visit takes you around the main nave, the cathedral’s museum, the library, and the rooftop, and you can even climb to the top of the towers. The beautiful cathedral cloister on the second floor was built during the 16th century and is one of the largest in Spain.
In the cloister, you will find the original Berenguela bell (that fell from the Clock Tower and cracked) and the tomb of Antonio Lopez Ferreiro, the man who in the late 19th century discovered the remains of Saint James hidden behind the main altar since 1589 when Sir Francis Drake threatened the Galician coast.
Breathtaking natural landmarks in Spain
Spain is famous for its fine sand beaches and 8,000 km of coastline. But did you know that Spain is also the most mountainous country in Europe, after Switzerland? This translates into countless natural landmarks, making Spain an even more attractive country to visit. Some of these are fantastic bucket list-worthy experiences as well.
Playa de la Concha, San Sebastian
Playa de la Concha is one of the most easily recognizable natural landmarks in Spain. It’s a gorgeous beach in the form of a shell that has been repeatedly named the best urban beach in Spain and even Europe.
This beach was made famous by Queen Isabel II back in 1845 after her doctors recommended bathing in the sea as a treatment for her skin condition. Soon, the rest of the court followed, together with the high society of the time, transforming San Sebastian into an elegant city with sophisticated beachside mansions.
Playa de la Concha is 1,300 meters long, with fine golden sands and tranquil waters. It is flanked by Mount Urgull on one side and Mount Igueldo on the other, making it ideal for water sports, fishing, and spectacular boat rides.
For an unforgettable experience, take the funicular up Monte Igueldo to enjoy the beautiful vistas at sunset. Or better yet, stay at Mercure Monte Igueldo Hotel and wake up with the best views in the city.
Drach Caves, Mallorca
Las Cuevas del Drach is a spectacular cave system on the eastern coast of Mallorca, made of four large interconnected caves, over 1,200 meters long.
This absolutely stunning natural Spanish landmark is best known for its fascinating formation and series of underground lakes, the largest of which is 117 meters long and up to 30 meters wide (one of the largest underground lakes in the world!).
As you walk the winding path, there are plenty of opportunities to admire forests of intriguingly colored stalactites, stalagmites, and columns. The cave is exceptionally lit which only enhances the already breathtaking experience.
The visit lasts approximately one hour. A 10-minute live classical music concert performed by a quartet of talented musicians is included in the ticket. The concert is followed by a light show and a boat ride on Lake Martel.
Teide National Park, Tenerife
Teide National Park is by far the most visited national park in Spain. Its otherworldly landscape with huge rivers of petrified lava is unique in the world and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Situated in the middle of Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands, Teide is the tallest mountain in Spain, standing at 3,715 meters above sea level. It’s one of the best places in the world for watching the stars and booking a stargazing experience with an expert astronomer guide is highly recommended.
The park has an extensive network of trails. You can take the cable car to 3,555 meters above sea level, then follow the easier routes to La Fortaleza or Pico Viejo vantage point. If you want to access Mt Teide’s crater, you’ll need to get a permit (usually months in advance) or join a hiking tour that includes permits, hotel pick-up, etc.
This impressive natural landmark of Spain has dozens of endemic plant species as well as birds, insects, and reptiles. However, the park’s only native mammal is the bat.
Picos de Europa National Park, northern Spain
The first national park of Spain, Picos de Europa comprises three dramatic limestone massifs with snow-capped peaks, deep valleys, extensive forests, lush meadows, and beautiful lakes.
Picos de Europa spreads across Asturias, Cantabria, and León provinces in northern Spain and offers some of the most spectacular mountain scenery and hiking routes in the country.
It is said these peaks received their name for being the first sign of land sailors were seeing when returning from the Americas. Among the highlights are the Fuente Dé viewpoint, the mythical Cares River Route, the Ordiales Scenic Balcony Trail, and the Covadonga Lakes.
These days, Picos de Europa is the second-largest and the third-most visited national park in Spain and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It’s also one of the best Spanish landmarks for canyoning, kayaking, caving, and mountain climbing.
Playa de las Catedrales, Galicia
Spain has many beautiful beaches, but few are as spectacular as Playa de las Catedrales (literally the Beach of the Cathedrals), a natural area in Galicia reminiscent of the Twelve Apostles in Australia.
Playa de las Catedrales is one of the most impressive natural wonders of Spain. It features an array of unique rock formations, such as 30-meter-tall arches, columns, and large chambers that resemble a cathedral paved with sand.
These intriguing rock formations have been forged by the erosion of water and wind over hundreds of years and the beach has been declared a natural monument.
A magnificent example of the raw power of nature, this beach can only be visited at low tide. During certain times of the year, visits to this unique landmark are limited, and booking your free spot in advance is required. Alternatively, you can book a last-minute guided tour.
Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park, Aragón
Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and one of Spain’s most unique natural landmarks. Situated in the Pyrenees, it consists of the highest limestone massif in Europe and the four valleys that embrace it.
The altitude throughout the park range from 750 to 3,355 meters, resulting in an incredibly diverse landscape, dotted with gorges, meadows, glaciers, waterfalls, and a unique karstic landscape.
Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park has 19 different hiking routes of different levels of difficulty, which makes it the ideal summer destination for Spaniards eager to escape the heat.
The park is home to interesting species such as chamois, deer, marmots, bearded vultures, and griffon vultures. The pine, oak, and beech tree forests look especially pretty in autumn when the leaves change color and the whole area becomes a leaf peeper’s dream.