If you’re going to Spain on your holiday, you’re in for a treat, and not just in terms of the tapas. Sultry, sophisticated and decorated with wonderful art and architecture, Spain is a country packed full of amazing places.
Yet with so many incredible sites to explore, selecting a comprehensive list of the top ten tourist attractions in Spain is a genuine challenge. That’s why we thought we’d lend an overly-charitable helping hand and put together a list of Spain’s most incredible attractions, along with a couple of hidden gems that we feel deserve to rub shoulders with the best.
So whether you’re enjoying sun and sangria in one of Spain’s beautiful coastal resorts or visiting a city with culture as the focal point, our selection of the top ten sights in Spain will get you started. Roman remains, centuries’ old cathedrals and ancient Islamic architecture – these are just some of the amazing things you can expect to see. And, if you’re hungry for more, then check out our directory of Spanish sites, and delve even deeper into this amazing destination.
What are the Top Visitor Sites in Spain?
Part palace and part fortress, the Alhambra is the pinnacle of Moorish art and one of the best architectural sights in the whole of Europe. Overlooking the pretty hillside city of Granada, it’s easy to spend a day exploring this remarkable monument to Spain’s Muslim past. Its sheer beauty is simply astounding and it’s no wonder it ranks as one of the most incredible visitor attractions in Spain. The Alhambra was originally established in 1238 by the founder of the Nasrid Dynasty, Muhammad Ibn al Ahmar. He wanted to create a new Muslim capital in Granada upon being driven to Spain’s south by Christian forces. To this end, the Alhambra presents a hard and domineering face as it marks the bitter rivalry between Spain’s Christian and Muslim forces. But there’s beauty in its hostility, and its ornate gardens and pools of running water add a softer touch too.
The stunning Merida Roman Theatre is fit for an emperor, or at least it was back-in-the-day. As a former colony of the Roman Empire, Spain contains plenty of amazing sights for fans of ancient history and the Merida theatre goes down as a firm favourite. It was constructed in approximately 15-16 BC and would have accommodated as many as 6,000 people at the time. Now this extremely well-preserved Roman theatre displays its original semi-circular walls, part of the stage and double-tiered columns. And if seeing the Merida theatre piques your curiosity about Roman Spain, be sure to check out some of the other ancient-era tourist attractions in Spain particularly the Lugo Roman walls and the Segovia Aqueduct.
The Spanish Civil War was one of the most turbulent and tragic periods in Spain’s recent history. This makes the ruins of Belchite, a town destroyed during the conflict, all the more somber. As vividly represented by Picasso in his masterpiece Guernica, the Spanish Civil War witnessed the first deliberate mass aerial bombings of civilian towns and cities and Belchite is a memorial to this destruction. Located next to a modern town of the same name, the ghost town contains a series of eerie structures, including several churches and a convent – all that is left of this utter destruction. Not one of the most glamorous tourist attractions of Spain, it is nevertheless one of the most poignant, important and though-provoking.
When people think about Barcelona, the first name that springs to mind is the architect Antoni Gaudi. La Sagrada Familia is Gaudi’s masterpiece. Both ethereal and unique in design, La Sagrada looks like it has walked straight off the set of Games of Thrones. Because Gaudi died before it was completed, it is still a work in progress. And what a work in progress it is, both from the outside and in. Prepare to join the millions of annual visitors and to be seduced by what has now firmly claimed its place as one of the top ten sights in Spain.
The Royal Palace of Madrid is straight out of a fairytale. It’s the largest royal palace in Western Europe. Construction of the palace started in 1738 and took 17 years to complete. The precision that went into this can be seen in its 2,000 plus luxuriously decorated rooms. Technically it’s the official home of the Spanish royal family, but they actually only use it now for ceremonial and public functions. That’s good news for anyone wanting to see what is now one of the most famous tourist attractions in Spain: the Royal Palace of Madrid is open to business. We particularly like Charles III’s Hall of Mirrors (and not just from a vanity perspective), as well as the Royal Pharmacy.
You have to wonder if Walt Disney had the Alcazar of Segovia in mind when he was thinking of his signature castle design. With its magical turrets and cliff-top location, the Alcazar definitely deserves its place amongst the top 10 visitor attractions of Spain. Whether it’s covered in snow or lit up at night, the Alcazar, which started life as an Arab fort in the twelfth century, always looks spectacular. Its inside is equally grandiose and visitors should definitely venture to the top of one of the towers for breathtaking views over the Spanish countryside. Prepare to be visually stunned.
If you can bear to tear yourself away from the gorgeous beaches of Majorca, Palma Cathedral is worth the time. It’s a magnificent Gothic building in the island’s capital Palma, whose sandstone walls and flying buttresses seem to rise out of the sea. Construction of Palma Cathedral dates back to 1230, just a year after the famous crusader King Jaume I conquered the island. It took a whopping three hundred years to build, stretching from 1301 to the seventeenth century. In fact, it’s still privy to updates, with Spain’s famous architect Gaudi having designed certain parts of the cathedral in the early twentieth century.
Located on a wild dune beach and in front of a strip of clear, azure sea, the ruins of the Roman city Baelo Claudia will stir the imagination. Stretching back to the second century BC, Baelo Claudia was wealthy and successful enough to be granted municipal status by the Emperor Claudius. It went into disrepair later, as a result of various earthquakes and raids, leading to its eventual abandonment in the sixth century AD. Its former glory has never been restored, but that shouldn’t distract from what is ultimately one of the most underrated tourist attractions of Spain. Many parts of the city can still be made out, such as the forum, temples, aqueducts and cisterns and the sheer picturesque nature of the ancient ruins and the beautiful blue sea make this firmly one for the Iberian bucket list.
El Escorial is the ultimate symbol of Spain’s former royal glory. Lying 50 kilometres outside Madrid, this UNESCO-listed sixteenth century royal complex was built under the orders of King Philip II of Spain between 1563 and 1567. Its style, now known as Herrerian, was considered innovative at the time and it’s worth making the day trip from Madrid for this alone. Then there’s the fact that many of Spain’s monarchs have been buried within its imposing grand granite walls. Add to the mix around 1,600 paintings on display and El Escorial really is a royal residence to remember.
With its waterfalls, streams and natural pools, Monasterio de Piedra wins awards as one of the most scenic visitor attractions of Spain. In fact, so charming are the natural surrounds that you almost forget the central attraction – a stunning medieval monastery dating back to 1194 AD. The monastery features a pastiche of different architectural styles and was occupied by monks until 1835. From start to end a trip to Monasterio de Piedra is an indulgent experience. On top of these delights, the area contains a luxury hotel and spa, a wine museum and an exhibition devoted to everyone’s favourite dessert – chocolate.