There’s a host of top Historic Sites in Spain to visit and among the very best are the Alcazar of Segovia, Baelo Claudia and El Escorial. Other popular sites tend to include Belchite, La Sagrada Familia and Lugo Roman Walls.
We’ve put together an experts guide to Spanish cultural locations, landmarks and monuments, with our top ten places to visit as well as a full list of Historic Sites in Spain, which shouldn’t be ignored if you have the time.
What are the best Historic Sites in Spain?
The Roman city of Baelo Claudia in Andalusia is one of the best surviving examples of an ancient Roman town in Spain. Sitting directly on the coast, Baelo Claudia is a beautiful site to visit, with both stunning views and ancient ruins. The remains of Baelo Claudia, near the modern town of Tarifa, have been beautifully restored and preserved because of the good general conservation of the ruins, their easy interpretation and the beauty of their surroundings.
Today, Baelo Claudia is a place where visitors can observe the fundamental characteristics of a classical Roman city and there are many aspects to the site that can still be viewed. These include the forum and the temples of the Capitolium as well as temples of eastern character. Baelo Claudia has a visitor’s centre on site and has many facilities to make a trip there convenient for tourists, including a car park next door.
The Lugo Roman Walls have been described by UNESCO as “the finest surviving example of late Roman military fortifications”, a title they truly deserve. Built in the third and fourth centuries AD to protect the Roman city of Lucus Augusti, the Lugo Roman Walls are incredibly well preserved, rising up to a height of between eight and twelve metres and their over two kilometre circuit remaining entirely intact.
Several aspects of the walls are particularly impressive, including the fact that five of its ancient gates and forty six of its ancient towers are intact. While additions have been made over the centuries, what makes the walls remarkable is that they are predominantly Roman.
The Alcazar of Toledo is an imposing fortress with four looming towers which dominates the skyline of this Spanish city.
Dating back to the third century Roman era, the Alcazar of Toledo was restored under the rule of Alfonso VI and Alfonso X. It was once again restored under Charles V in 1535, with each ruler adding different elements to its design. During the Spanish Civil War, it was the site of the dramatic Siege of Alcazar, when the Nationalist Colonel José Moscardó Ituarte managed to hold the fort despite fierce attempts by the Republicans. The Alcazar of Toledo now houses an army museum.
The Merida Roman Theatre is one of the most impressive of the ruins of this former colony of the Roman Empire.
Now partially reconstructed, the theatre is extremely well preserved, particularly its lower levels. The semi-circular walls are intact and the back wall of the stage or “frons scenae” with its double-tiered columns has been beautifully restored.
Calat Alhambra or the “Red Fortress” in Granada, Spain, is a complex of royal palaces, mosques, baths, shops and other buildings surrounded by an imposing two kilometer fortified wall.
Today, the Alhambra is open to the public. Visitors can tour its palaces, including the Palacio Nazaríes and the 16th century Palace of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. The Alcazaba or “citadel” is another highlight of the Alhambra, this being the main element of the complex’s fortifications.
The Alhambra is centred on two main courtyards, the Court of the Lions and the Court of Myrtles, the former with a fountain and the latter with a long pool. Its beautiful Generalife gardens and buildings are also worth visiting, while the Alhambra Museum offers everything from Nasrid art to archaeological finds.
Seville Cathedral is an impressive gothic structure and, with a total area of 11,520 square metres, is only beaten in size by London’s St Paul’s Cathedral and Rome’s St. Peter’s, making it the third largest cathedral in the world. Some even argue that it is actually the largest when comparing volume.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987, the cathedral is an incredible historic site where visitors can appreciate the sheer scale of the building from inside, including its central nave which stands at a grand forty metres high. With its ornate, gold-laden interiors and eighty chapels, the scale of Seville Cathedral alone is quite a sight, coupled with the wealth of architectural influences, ranging from Gothic and Baroque to Mudejar.
The tomb of Christopher Columbus also offers a big draw to tourists, who flock to see the final resting place of this famous explorer.
Monestir de Pedralbes is a gothic church and monastery in Barcelona. Established by Queen Elisenda, the wife of James II of Aragon, in 1326, Monestir de Pedralbes is the oldest building in the wealthy Pedralbes quarter and an architectural gem.
Having once housed the nuns of Order of Saint Clare and later Queen Elisenda herself, Monestir de Pedralbes is now a museum, its beautiful gardens and arches providing a tourist haven. The museum focuses on the lives of the nuns in the fourteenth century, with many original pieces of furniture, gold and silverware and religious artifacts.
Guided tours and an audio guide are available.
Eglesia de Santa Maria del Mar (St Mary of the Sea Church) is a fourteenth century Catalan-Gothic church in Barcelona’s Born District.
Originally built to celebrate the Catalan conquest of Sardinia, Santa Maria del Mar is now one of Barcelona’s most famous churches and its best example of Catalan-Gothic architecture, designed by architect Berenguer de Montagut.
With the sheer size and scale of Santa Maria del Mar, it is somewhat surprising to find that its construction, begun in 1324, was completed in the relatively short time of 59 years.
Upon entering Santa Maria del Mar, one is struck by the feeling of space provided by its incredible height and supported by a central nave flanked by looming arches and octagonal pillars. This feeling is all the more potent given its empty interior, mostly due to a fire which destroyed much of its internal furnishing in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War.
If visiting on Sundays at 1pm, visitors can enjoy a choir performance.
Barcelona Cathedral (Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia) is the seat of the Archbishop of Barcelona. The original building on the site on which Barcelona Cathedral sits was destroyed by the Moors in 985 and replaced by a Romanesque church in 1085.
It was over the crypt of this church that construction of the current Barcelona Cathedral began in 1298 and continued through the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, accounting for its gothic architecture. Whilst most of the cathedral was finished by 1450, parts of Barcelona Cathedral, most notably its gothic façade, were only completed in 1890.
It is dedicated to Eulalia of Barcelona, the city’s co-patron saint who Catholics believe was a virgin horrifically martyred during the Roman era. The fact that she was martyred at the age of thirteen is marked by the thirteen geese that are kept in Santa Eulalia’s cloisters.
Barcelona Cathedral is an absolutely stunning building, with dramatic vaulted ceilings, golden pillars and a tower which visitors can climb for great views. It also contains numerous religious and historical artifacts, such as a cross once born by a ship that fought in the sixteenth century Battle of Lepanto.
Catedral de Toledo (Toledo Cathedral), which bears the full name ‘The Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo’, is a gothic church in Spain and the seat of the Archdiocese of Toledo. Original construction of Catedral de Toledo began in 1226 during the reign of King San Fernando and continued for over two centuries.
The final building is mostly gothic in style, with a central nave which was completed in 1300, the fifteenth century Santiago Chapel, beautiful stained glass windows and eighty eight columns. However, in a purported concession to the mosque that once stood on the site, it does contain aspects of the Mudejar style in the cloisters and the cathedral’s triforium.
Catedral de Toledo forms a central aspect of the city and is one of its most popular sites. It is of both architectural and historical importance and contains many original artifacts as well as artwork by Lucas Jordan, Juan de Borgona and el Greco. It also houses the sarcophagi of the Constable of Castile, Alvaro de Luna and his wife. Visitors can also see sixteenth century gilded wood depictions of scenes from the New Testament in its main chapel and scenes from the conquest of Granada in the choir stalls, created in the fifteenth century.