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Vibrant nightlife, delicious cuisine, lively fiestas, and splendid beaches all make Spain one of the best getaways in Europe. Steeped in culture and with a history to discover, the western European country of Spain is a bright, vibrant and exciting place to visit. Since Spain encompasses a number of autonomous regions and islands, the country boasts one of the most widely diverse cultures and landscapes on the continent and thus is a perfect destination for a European vacation.Readmore
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They say you haven’t been to Spain until you’ve been to Andalusia. Straddling the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, this mountainous southern region is the original home of flamenco dancing, and is renowned for its delectable tapas and glorious weather. With the sunshine comes a slower pace of life; siestas are still very much de rigueur here. Must-see sights include the breathtaking Alhambra Palace in Granada, the 8th century Grand Mosque of Cordoba, and the awe-inspiring Cathedral of Seville. Those who appreciate traditional equestrian shows and dressage will want to visit Jerez de la Frontera – also famous for its fine sherry and brandy production. For more off-the-beaten-track excursions, travel through the tranquil Sierra Nevada Mountains and stop at the picturesque whitewashed villages of Las Alpujarras.
Straddling the Pyrenees Mountains along the French border, the Basque country is a fiercely independent region with a unique culture and language – and reputedly more chefs than anywhere else in Spain. Less crowded and touristy than other regions, this rugged country has a wild beauty all its own. Highlights include San Sebastian with its lively seaside ambiance and fabulous restaurants, Bilbao with its incredible Guggenheim modern art museum, and Pamplona, where the annual San Fermin Festival (held each July 6-14) features the exhilarating ‘Running of the Bulls’.
Barcelona & Catalonia
Hugging the golden coastline of the Costa Brava, the region of Catalonia sparkles in the Mediterranean sunshine. Beautiful sandy beaches, serene blue seas, and lush green countryside provide the perfect backdrop for a relaxing vacation. Culture also flourishes in this distinct region, with its own language and cuisine. The capital of Catalonia, Barcelona is a cosmopolitan city with world-class museums, top-notch restaurants, and dazzling architecture. Barcelona’s enchanting Gothic Quarter is a labyrinth of narrow streets – some dating back to Roman times – with medieval palaces, churches and placas (squares) inviting you to sit and absorb the ancient ambiance. In striking contrast, the more modern sections of the city are distinguished by grand boulevards and the wildly expressive architecture of Antoni Gaudi.
After soaking up the vibrant culture of Barcelona, the charming seaside villages and pristine sandy beaches of the Costa Brava offer an altogether more tranquil pace beside the sparkling Mediterranean. The historic city of Girona has a Dali Museum that is worth a visit if you appreciate modern art, while gourmands will delight in the legendary cuisine of El Cellar de Can Roca.
Costa del Sol
A famous tourist destination in southern Spain, the sunny Costa del Sol is a beach lover’s paradise. The picture-postcard village of Marbella is a dreamy upscale seaside resort, while the town of Malaga offers historic monuments, vibrant seaside culture, and a not-to-be-missed Picasso museum.
Spain’s capital offers an evocative taste of the country’s heritage as a global empire, with elegant Baroque buildings, grand plazas, and monumental fountains lending the city a regal ambiance. With its bustling energy and incomparable nightlife, Madrid exemplifies Spain’s unique standing as a meeting-place of the old and new worlds. The city’s world-class museums include the Prado, with Europe’s finest masterpieces of Spanish art, and the Reina Sofia Museum, with its incredible collection of over 20,000 works of contemporary art.
A veritable open-air museum of ancient architecture, Toledo is a designated UNESCO World Heritage City. This mystifying place transports visitors to another, more peaceful era, when Christians, Jews, and Muslims lived here together in harmony. Still surrounded by its medieval walls, the ‘city of the three cultures’ boasts incredible ancient churches, palaces, synagogues, and mosques. There is also an amazing cathedral with El Greco masterpieces and an impressive Alcazar, the old Moorish palace.
Situated in a dramatic natural setting along the El Tajo Gorge, Ronda is a beautiful historic city in the province of Malaga. Around the city are the remains of prehistoric settlements and rock paintings dating to the Neolithic era – the last part of the Stone Age. Ronda is also renowned as the birthplace of bullfighting, and tourists can watch this traditional sport performed in Spain’s oldest bullring.
- Soak up the medieval ambiance of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, reveling in the evocative atmosphere of ancient Roman temples, 14th-century churches, and medieval buildings where Catalan counts and monarchs held court for 500 years. The ancient streets are a shoppers’ paradise, with everything from big-brand stores to bustling markets and dusty old antique shops.
- Take a guided tour of the stunning, instantly recognizable architecture of Barcelona’s most famous son, Antoni Gaudi. The fantastic and surreal world of Post-Modern architecture has its pinnacle in the towering Sagrada Familia basilica – Gaudi’s visionary masterpiece, which is due to be completed in 2026.
- Spend time visiting the charming medieval towns, fishing villages, castles and vineyards that stretch along the Costa Brava near Barcelona. This sunny coastal region has become very popular with discerning Barcelonians and has a rich spread of fine restaurants and boutique hotels overlooking the Mediterranean.
- While on the east coast, be sure to savor the Valencian and Catalonian varieties of paella – the legendary slow-cooked rice dish served with chicken or seafood. Adventurous gourmands will be drawn to the famous ‘black paella’, made with rice stained with squid or octopus ink.
- Take an artistic pilgrimage to the birthplace of Pablo Picasso in Malaga, where the Buena Vista Palace in the city’s historic heart has become the Museo Picasso Malaga – housing an exceptional collection of 285 works by one of the world’s most influential artists.
- Andalusia, and particularly Malaga and Seville, have some of the tastiest tapas in all of Spain, and a tour of their charming cafes and tapas bars will show you a new side of these historic cities – and undoubtedly make you a few local friends into the bargain!
- Succumb to the haunting spirit of authentic flamenco at a traditional tablao flamenco, where the lively dances are often accompanied by delicious food and wine. Some of the better-known clubs, such as Madrid’s Corral de la Moreria and Tablao Cordobes in Barcelona, feature some of the finest flamenco dancers in the world.
- Spain is renowned for her breathtaking festivals, and it’s always worth trying to synchronize your trip with one of these elaborate spectacles. During ‘Holy Week’ at Easter, many of the larger towns come alive with grand musical processions of statues and exotic floats – often borne aloft by dramatically dressed cofradias(religious brotherhoods).
- Although bullfighting is off the agenda for most conscientious travelers, Spain’s most famous ‘Running of the Bulls’ continues to draw thousands of visitors to the narrow cobblestone streets of Pamplona each morning during the second week of July. This chaotic event usually lasts just three minutes – but the parties that follow it go on all day and night!
- The ancient city of Toledo, where Arab and Jewish traditions come together, is renowned for its delicious baked goods and marzipan sweets. While touring the city’s beautiful old palaces and churches, you may find an ancient convent selling melt-in-your-mouth cookies and confectionery made by the cloistered nuns.
- Among a multitude of Spanish locations for an incurably romantic dinner, few can match the exquisite carmen restaurants of Granada – where the candlelit terraces overlook the enchanting hilltop fortress of the 14th-century palace of Alhambra.
- Most of the cities of Andalusia have a beautifully renovated, ancient hammam (Arabian bathhouse), where you can unwind in a luxuriously appointed hot pool, sipping traditional teas or pampering yourself with an aromatherapy massage.
- Some of Europe’s most serene and spectacular hiking country is to be found in the Alpujarras Mountains, a region of secluded green valleys, flower-strewn hillsides, and ancient whitewashed villages scattered beneath the snowcaps of the Sierra Nevada.
Spain is blessed with an ideal Mediterranean climate throughout most of the country. Barcelona and the region of Catalonia in the northeast enjoy the especially mild weather. Southern Spain is naturally the sunniest part of the country, and the Costa del Sol is a sun-worshipper’s dream destination.
Late spring, summer, and early fall are the best times to take a beach vacation in Spain. August is the most crowded time at Spain’s vacation resorts, where many Europeans take their summer holidays. The Basque country offers less touristy and off-the-beaten-path destinations, although this lush region has the most rainfall – and visitors can expect rain even during the summer.
When planning a trip, it’s wise to consider the Spanish holidays, as many sites are closed during religious holidays. However, Spain’s lively festivals are often a highlight of a Spanish vacation, and it’s always worth asking your travel agent to check the festival schedules for the villages and cities you’re planning to visit. As well as the better-known festivals of Holy Week, you may want to catch the Festival of the Balconies in Cordoba in May, or the Saint James Pilgrims’ Festival in Santiago de Compostela in July.
Spain has a wide variety of tourist accommodation, from small boutique hotels to luxurious five-star resorts. Visitors can choose from brand-name hotels like the Sheraton or charming family-run bed & breakfasts. Spain also offers a unique type of luxury hotel called paradores, which are located within historic properties such as palaces, castles, convents, and monasteries. These monuments have been converted into classy hotels with all modern amenities – while preserving the authentic character and heritage of their original buildings. Many paradores are located in historic areas of a city or in parklands and nature reserves.
Visa and Passport Requirements
Most non-European Union nationals require a tourist visa only if they wish to remain in the country for more than 90 days. If you plan to stay longer than 90 days, you will need to submit a short-stay visa application at a Spanish Consulate before your visit. If you want to work during your stay, you may need to obtain a work permit.
Health And Safety
There are no health precautions for visiting Spain. The Center for Disease Control recommends that you are current on routine vaccines before your trip, including flu shots, polio, varicella (chickenpox), measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), and the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine. Prepare to bring along any medications you’ll need packed in your purse or carry-on bag. Before your trip, you may consider travel health insurance to cover the costs of any medical emergency and check to see if your health insurance plan will cover any medical costs incurred while traveling overseas.
Spain is a very safe country and most overseas visitors never encounter any issues. You should take the same precautions that you would be traveling anywhere. You may feel more at ease walking around at night in Spain than in the United States. Even families with little ones stay out late into the evening. In busy cities like Madrid, Barcelona, and Malaga, you should watch out for pickpockets. Pay special attention when you are in crowded urban areas such as a metro car or train station. Keep your passport and cash in your hotel safe or money belt. It is advisable to bring copies of credit card information in case of theft and to purchase travel insurance to cover lost baggage.
Another precaution: watch out for Gypsy children begging for money. They may have been sent by their parents to distract you while your wallet is snatched. To avoid being duped, be aware of your surroundings and be wary of strangers who approach you for no reason. Unfortunately, car break-ins are commonplace in many Spanish cities. If you’re driving a rental car, do not leave valuables in your car. If you must leave luggage in the car, be sure to keep it in the trunk.
Most cities in Spain have a laid-back and convivial atmosphere, and Spaniards are generally very friendly and outgoing. The Spanish culture puts a high value on family and community. You’ll notice the rich social life, especially in the plazas, where locals congregate to chit-chat and people watch. Barcelona is a cosmopolitan city with generally open-minded locals. Madrid is a commercial center that buzzes with activity, yet the Madrilenos still have time to regularly gather with friends and colleagues over tapas and partake in the city’s legendary nightlife. In the smaller towns and in Andalusia, the way of life is more traditional, with daily siestas and lively festivals throughout the year.
To make the most of your visit, ask your travel agent for a schedule of festivals and try to visit a city during an interesting festival. For example, early May is the ideal time to see Cordoba, during the ‘Fiesta de Los Patios’, when residents compete for the “most beautiful patio” award. Also consider if there are any religious or national holidays during your visit, as some sites may be closed during these periods. Another thing to keep in mind is that many museums are closed on Mondays and public transportation runs less frequently on Sundays.
For many tourists, the biggest difficulty is adjusting to Spanish meal times. Lunch is served around 1 pm to 4 pm and dinner is often as late as 9 pm or 10 pm. Only the most touristy restaurants (which are often not recommended) serve meals at American/British hours. If you want to experience the authentic culture without sacrificing your usual eating hours, try the tapas bars. These casual wine bars serve drinks accompanied by small plates of savory appetizers, called tapas, which will tide you over between lunch and dinner. Tapas bars are also great places to meet the locals and practice your Spanish.
Leisure offers an array of carefully crafted custom Spain tours and vacations. All tours can be put together to suit specific preferences and requirements or can be completely tailor-made around particular destinations and specific interests that are meaningful to you.
With Leisure’s custom Spain tours, travelers have the flexibility and convenience of self-planned independent travel and a pre-packaged group tour. You will travel independently, but your trip will be perfectly put together by our travel specialists to ensure hassle-free logistics, perfect lodging selections, and authentic experiences designed with you in mind.
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