Typically when travelers contemplate a trip to Spain, the history of Madrid and culture of Barcelona are the largest highlights. Not that we can blame them; Barcelona is one of the most stunning Mediterranean cities with sunny beaches, world-renowned museums, and mouthwatering food all with a few minutes’ walk of each other. That being said, the rest of the country is equally full of lively towns and spectacularly diverse cities that are every bit as interesting as the Catalan metropolis. Here we've listed 6 amazing and intriguing alternatives to the standard Spanish getaway:
If any city in Spain can be said to have personality, it’s Seville. The southern gem is a treasure trove of history and charm with seemingly endless rays of sun. The city center is easily walkable, putting iconic Moorish sights such as the Alcazar fortress and the Seville Cathedral well within a five-minute walk. If you’re looking to indulge in (or just watch) some traditional Spanish dancing, Seville is also said to be the birthplace of the fiery and passionate flamenco. And don’t miss out on the locals' favorite gazpachos — they're often served with some flavorful sherry produced in nearby Jerez.
If you're looking to embrace the culture of Spain without straying too far from the beauty of nature, Granada is the place to be. Backed by the Sierra Nevada but still along the southern coast, those who dwell here are famously able to go from skiing the slopes to sunbathing on the beach all within a couple hours. But in a city such as this, be prepared to be active; the city is full of winding alleys and streets that somehow always seem to be uphill. Don’t forget to look out for the iconic mix of Arabic and Spanish influence; it's evident in landmarks such as the Alhambra and Monastery of St. Jerome.
A historic mix of Roman and Islamic reign gives Cordoba a character unlike anywhere else in the world. Home to one of the oldest historic quarters in Europe, visitors can explore the narrow streets and alleys strolling between the Great Mosque, Roman Temple, and former royal homes. Cordobans take great pride in the beauty of their city, hosting a festival each May to see who can decorate their balcony with the most beautiful flowers and plants. Better still, most people tend to skip over Cordoba in favor of larger cities, meaning you're more likely to end up chatting with a local resident than a fellow tourist at your friendly neighborhood tapas bar.
The most accurate way to describe Bilbao would be, well, quirky. While it isn’t the most beautiful city you've ever seen, what lies beneath the surface makes it well worth your while. After years as an industrial hub, the arrival of the Guggenheim Museum slowly transformed the city into a major European art center. Visitors can spend days strolling through the various art galleries or wandering the streets to gaze at the bizarre architecture that lines the riverfront. Aside from that, Bilbao is also a great place to get a genuine sense of life in the Basque country, an area of Spain where both English and Spanish are rarely heard (in favor of Basque) and hardworking citizens abound.
If you are even remotely a foodie, you need to head to San Sebastian. Despite being a relatively small city on the Northern Coast of Spain, their claim to fame is having more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere else in the world. Visitors can effortlessly stroll between pintxos bars (the Basque version of tapas) or enotecas sampling the best food and wine at a fairly modest cost. Once you're done indulging, feel free to take a siesta on one of San Sebastian’s other most notable features — its sprawling sandy beaches. Because of its location along the Bahia de La Conche, the waters here are largely calm and clear. That being said, the waves are still just big enough to be popular among surfers.
The smallest of our six cities, Girona also maintains the most of its medieval history. In fact, historic sites such as the former Jewish quarter and ancient Girona Cathedral were so appealing that Game of Thrones producers filmed large portions of the most recent season here. We can’t really blame them — the views from the old city walls are absolutely stunning. Pop culture aside, Girona is just a short drive from Salvador Dali’s home where a museum now stands in his honor. And did we mention it is also hosts El Cellar de Can Roca, a multiple-year winner of the World’s Best Restaurant Award? Yeah, you're going to want to get there, stat.