Places to Visit in Spain

If you haven't read it yet, I wrote a series of posts describing "50 Reasons Why Madrid is the Greatest City" However, everyone I've ever met wants to go there or Barcelona, and I feel like the smaller, lesser known places to visit in Spain were by far my favorite. It took me living in the country to really fall in love with its incredibly unique story. Everything from the Arabic influenced history to even the marks of Franco's dictatorship created this country with its own style. While I obviously didn't get to see all the towns it has to offer, here are my favorites from the ones I did. If you find yourself able to travel around the Iberian Peninsula, here are the places to visit in Spain: 


Segovia is located roughly an hour from Madrid. It's #10 in my "50 Reasons Why Madrid is the Greatest City" list, but I'll elaborate on how amazing it is here. I went to Segovia on a whim, joining friends who were going, leaving the club at 4 a.m. and waking up at roughly 8 a.m. to hop on the bus to go. Segovia is utterly charming. On the scale of touristy towns, it's low even on that list, so you can really immerse yourself. As soon as you arrive, you'll notice the Roman aqueduct. It's stunning, and if you want history to really hit you in the face, here's twenty centuries of it.

There are two things that pretty much every town has in Spain-- an alcazar and a cathedral. Segovia's cathedral is gorgeous, but don't waste money exploring the inside. Save it for the alcazar. The Alcazar of Segovia was created over the remains of an Arab structure, and it serves as one of the inspirations for Disney's Cinderella Castle. Climb all the way down the side of the hill on which it stands and get the best view, but also spend the money to climb the Tower of John II to get a gorgeous aerial view of Segovia. I went here twice, and if I could I'd spend my fall months writing here every year.


Toledo was actually the last of the Spanish towns I visited. It's the closest of these five to Madrid at around 30 to 40 minutes, so you can actually take a train ride. It's a UNESCO World Heritage site, so it's a bit more touristy, but you won't find yourself frustrated by the crowds. It's elevated and surrounded by the Tagus River, so you'll be able to get some really beautiful scenery shots (apparently the sunset around one of the bridges is stunning). 

Because Toledo was a more religiously tolerant city, you will be able to find a lot of Arabic and Jewish sites in addition to Catholic ones, and often times the architecture style is mixed. For example, the main cathedral is Gothic but still has Mudejar influences. In terms of souvenirs, Toledo is also home to the famous Don Quixote, so you can find a ton of trinkets inspired by Cervantes' famous tale. It's also the place to buy knives, if you want to buy a knife.


Salamanca, another UNESCO World Heritage site, is located in Castille. The University of Salamanca is going to be 800 years old in 2018, and is the oldest university in Spain while being the fourth oldest in Europe, and the first to be granted a "university title." Let's just say, Christopher Columbus was one of its lecturers. I wish I had stayed more than a day, but this was the only school-sponsored trip I attended, so I was kind of at the mercy of their schedule (which was rapido rapido, I want to go back to my life).  

Being a university town, Salamanca has got quite a bit of cheek. Take a long look at the university's super detailed facade. You might find some interesting characters. For some reason, my tour guide informed us that while Salamanca had a younger population, it was home to quite a number of STD-related deaths, and the skull with the frog coming out of it in the facade was a warning. Work hard, play hard? Also, the Plaza Mayor has the face of every important Spanish leader (royalty, scholars, etc) in its history, including Franco because he demanded it. However, Salamanca being its cheeky self, used a duller material to make his face and the pillar itself is dirty, and no one intends on cleaning it up.  Other places that might interest you are Casa de Conchas, Casa de las Muertas, la Cueva de Salamanca (see it at night for a scare), and the most gorgeous cathedrals in Spain (because this place doesn't just have one but two of them).


Granada, aka land of the pomegranates, is probably the most well known on this list. It's the last Arabic stronghold, and thus it has the strongest influence in its architecture. My friend from university studied here, and she gave me a ton of recommendations for it. Do yourself a favor and visit the Alhambra by booking a tour guide to explain all its different aspects. When you learn how much this fortress has been through, it's kind of surprising it's managed to survive at all. 

You also have to visit the Capilla Real because that's where Ferdinand and Isabel are buried, and that's possibly the craziest thing I've ever seen. Even the most ignorant world history student knows Ferdinand and Isabel. There's also Parque Lorca which is based around Lorca's summer home. The tour is an interesting look into his life, and the park has everything from floor trampolines to a zipline. If you want to experience a Hammam, you can, but keep it mind it's very touristy. I went to this one.


So, I actually prioritized Cordoba over seeing Seville because Cordoba was the actual name of the caliphate, and I was intrigued to see what it had to offer. Also I still had memories of my high school Spanish class going over "El Burlador de Sevilla" and this terrible show, "Destinos." Anyhow, the minute you get into Cordoba, you'll notice everything seems to painted in this mustard yellow color, and it makes the whole city feel warm, even with torrential downpours on the horizon. We got caught in it on El Puente Romano, and it was the kind of rain that soaks you in a split second. 

Cordoba is also famous for La Mezquita-Catedral because it's a mosque cathedral that has very strong influences of both. It started as a church, was turned into a mosque, and then turned back into a church, and you can see how these influences mixed (like the cross of Jesus encased in Arabic arcs). Also go to the Alcazar of Cordoba, another place that went back and forth, as this is where Ferdinand and Isabel stayed during the campaign against Granada. The garden was my favorite part. Other places include the Jewish Quarter and the Synagogue and, if you have time, take a trip out to the Medina Zahara. The Medina was the technical capital of al-Andalus, and you can bet I'm going straight there the minute I return to Andalucia.

All of these places are fairly small, and you can easily walk around them. I suggest picking up a map at the tourist center, picking your places, and just wandering for a bit. 

O T H E R  P L A C E S  I  W A N T  T O  S E E:
  • Santiago
  • Seville
  • Bilbao
  • Palma de Mallorca
  • Ibiza
  • Malaga
  • Ronda
  • Zaragoza
  • Pamplona
  • Navarre
  • Gibraltar
  • Valencia 
Now that I think about it, maybe I should just do a year in Spain traveling around. I mean, I ought to use my Spanish language skills for something other than bad telenovelas. Do you have any places to visit in Spain that aren't quite on the map for tourist destinations?

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