Spain is a country of mountaintop whitewash towns, delightful cobbled squares that gently thrum with the sound of flamenco, and where scorching summer days are punctuated with sleepy siestas.
Situated on the sparkling Mediterranean coast, Spain attracts thousands of tourists every year, who flock to this fascinating country to get a taste of its food, soak in its rich history and culture, and discover its magnificent landscapes and cosmopolitan cities.
But Spanish culture transcends far beyond its golden-tinged shores. You’ll find works by the great 20th-century artists, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, in museums all over the world; and its storied cuisine, which includes staples like jamón ibérico and paella are popular in restaurants far beyond Spanish borders.
Whether you’ve always loved the thrums of flamenco music or a glass of full-bodied Rioja, discover what Spain is known for and gather inspiration for your next Iberian getaway.
From barrel-aged Rioja to fortified sherry, Spain is one of the top wine-producing countries in the world. Spain is also famous for producing Cava, a sparkling wine made in Catalonia that is loved for its crisp effervescence and for being far cheaper than its French rival, Champagne.
Get to know the local grapes while on a wine tasting tour. In Ibiza, try the family-owned Can Maymo winery in the north. Learn about the tradition of sherry making in Andalusia, where you’ll sip everything from extra dry to silky sweet varieties. In the Canary Islands, head to the heart of Lanzarote to sample the island’s unique vintages, including El Grifo, which is among the oldest wineries in Spain, founded back in 1777.
If you’re a fan of full-bodied reds, hit the wine trail in La Rioja, easily reached from Bilbao, where you can explore the region’s esteemed cellars and stock up on a Gran Reserva.
What is Spain known for? Sultry Seville is one of the answers. There you’ll hear the sound of flamenco float through the cobbled streets as you wander across the city’s revered sights.
Don’t miss visiting the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Royal Alcazars of Seville, a Moorish royal palace with exquisite design details and a charming courtyard with manicured gardens. Or climb La Giralda tower at the colossal Cathedral of St. Mary, the second-largest cathedral in the world.
Get a flavor of modern Seville with a visit to the mushroom-domed Metropol Parasol, a sprawling wooden structure that is home to a market, Antiquarium Museum, restaurant, and a viewing platform on the upper floor.
When your feet grow weary, settle down in Seville’s Santa Cruz neighborhood, the buzzing former Jewish quarter of the city. Find a table in a quaint square and order a mouthwatering selection of anchovies, stuffed olives, and acorn-fed Iberian ham with a generous carafe of wine.
If you ask anyone “what is Spain best known for?” you’ll most likely get “paella” as a response. Originally from Valencia, paella is a one-pan rice-based dish that is made up of aromatic saffron, shrimp, chicken, mussels, chorizo, wine, and vegetables. The result is a rich and flavorsome feast for the senses.
You can sample paella just about anywhere in Spain. However, it’s most authentic in Albufera Natural Park, a freshwater lagoon just south of Valencia, where the dish is said to have originated. Take a trip around the lagoon on a traditional albuferencs boat and admire the green-tinged rice fields and wetlands that provide many of the ingredients used to make the dish.
While you’re in Valencia, stop by the city’s bustling Central Market. Set inside a stunning Art Nouveau building, it’s one of the best food and produce markets in Europe.
The world-famous La Tomatina festival started in 1945, after a quarrel broke out among a group of boys in the otherwise sleepy town of Bunol, located about 40km inland from Valencia. Tomatoes were the ammunition of choice for the group of rowdy locals, who were armed with the produce from a local fruit and vegetable stall.
Today, the good-humored event is held every year on the last Wednesday of August, drawing thousands of people from around the world. Trucks unload tons of ripened produce onto the streets before festival-goers dive in, scooping armfuls of tomatoes to fire off at other attendees.
Take the express train from Valencia to Bunol to watch or take part in the amusing La Tomatina festival. If you’re participating, don’t forget to pack a change of clothes.
Bunol is worth a visit during the rest of the year, too. Explore the remains of the town’s 13th-century castle and the stunning Turche Cave, where a 60-meter waterfall thunders down to an idyllic emerald-hued watering hole.
Synonymous with southern Spanish culture, flamenco music combines guitar, castanets, and a percussion box known as an el cajón, accompanied by vocals and passionate dance moves.
Flamenco is symbolized by an expressive female dancer wearing a traditional red-and-black ruffled, layered dress, and was recognized by UNESCO in 2010 as one of the Intangible Cultural Heritages of Humanity.
Learn about the art of flamenco at the Flamenco Dance Museum in Seville. Or catch a fiery performance at a traditional flamenco theater, known as a tablao. One of the most famous is Tablao Flamenco Los Gallos, close by the Jardines de Murillo, Seville’s picturesque central gardens.
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
The Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is a landmark gallery that dominates the city’s waterfront. A curvaceous sculpted structure made of 33,000 titanium sheets, the museum opened to the public in 1997 and is one of the five Guggenheim museums around the globe.
One of the world’s best museums and packed with world-class contemporary exhibitions, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao reinforces Spain’s prowess on the world’s art stage.
Dedicate time to exploring the temporary and permanent collections, including the fun living-floral ‘Puppy’ installation by Jeff Koons. Though you may want to avoid the museum’s main entrance if you have arachnophobia, as it is dominated by a giant nine-meter high spider named Maman by the late French-American artist Louise Bourgeois.
Deep in Catalonia’s rugged sierra, lies Montserrat, a mountain town centered around a Benedictine monastery. Make the pilgrimage from the Catalonian capital of Barcelona, located roughly one hour away, and ride the steepest railway in Spain by boarding the glass-roofed Sant Joan funicular, which takes you to the monastery in the mountains. Surrounded by hulking pine and holm-oak forests, the sacred mountaintop village offers breathtaking views of the surrounding national park.
Discover the extraordinary works of art housed at the Museum of Montserrat, including pieces by some of Spain’s most revered artists such as Picasso, Dalí, and El Greco. And don’t forget to stop by the Santa Cova chapel, which seems attached to the mountain’s rockface.
Read: Three Days in Barcelona
For many, the unfinished Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, designed by Spain’s most celebrated architect, Antoni Gaudi, is one of the most iconic buildings in Spain and one of Europe’s most famous landmarks.
Under construction for over a century, the Sagrada Familia’s completion date has only recently been set for 2026. Since work began in 1882, this lofty landmark has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has risen through the ranks going from church to cathedral to basilica.
Upon completion, the three-sided Sagrada Familia will be the tallest religious building in Europe. Even if you’ve visited the famous basilica before, it’s worth visiting again and again as the facade continues to change each time as it approaches its final design.
Go beyond the iconic cultural attraction and discover more of Gaudi’s treasured masterpieces throughout Barcelona, including Casa Mila, Park Güell, and Casa Batllo.
The Canary Islands
The Spanish archipelago of the Canary Islands, located off the North African continent in the Atlantic Ocean, consists of eight sun-soaked islands. The main draws are Tenerife, Lanzarote, and Gran Canaria, three of the largest islands that are well geared towards tourism.
Each island has a unique character, though the archipelago’s deep-blue waters share an abundance of remarkable marine life. Embark on a sea safari to spot dolphins and whales from any of the islands and, off the coast of Lanzarote, explore the spectacular Atlantic Underwater Museum. Made up of sub-aquatic sculptures by artist Jason deCaires, it’s the only underwater museum in Europe.
Head to Lanzarote’s Timanfaya National Park, which is regularly used by NASA and the European Space Agency to train astronauts. Its lunar-like landscape, made of nut-brown sandy terrain and rocky formations, was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1993.
In Gran Canaria, kick back on the golden dunes of Maspalomas Beach. While in Tenerife, choose from vast swathes of gorgeous Blue Flag beaches that cover some 250 miles of coastline. El Medano on Tenerife’s south coast is considered one of the best beaches in the world for windsurfing.
For unbeatable views, one of the best things to do in Tenerife is to take the Teide Cableway and scale a portion of the volcanic Mount Teide, which stands 12,198 feet above sea level and is the highest peak in Spain.
Small-plate dishes designed for sharing, tapas are traditionally served before dinner, though it’s often enjoyed as a main meal nowadays. If you find yourself wandering the cobbled streets of Cadiz, Cartagena, or Alicante, find a local bar in which to graze over these delectable dishes. An omelet made with potatoes and egg, known as a tortilla in Spain, is a popular choice. As are the patatas bravas, a fried potato dish served with a tangy sauce and garlicky aioli.
Look out for melt-in-your-mouth ham, such as the acorn-fed jamón Ibérico, considered a delicacy around the world. Croquettes made with cod, ham, and cheese are also delicious, as is wine-infused octopus, deep-fried squid, and succulent shrimps served in garlic and chili pepper.
There are some regional variations, too. Even the name differs in the Basque Country, where instead of tapas, you’ll find pintxos (which are served with a toothpick) in areas like Bilbao and San Sebastian.
Different cheeses are served as tapas around Spain, such as Idiazabal, a hard sheep’s milk cheese famous in the north, or the deliciously soft, yellow-rind Mahon in the Balearic Islands. Manchego comes from La Mancha, in central Spain, though it’s a popular tapas dish all over Spain.
The Alhambra is a sprawling complex of lavish palaces and gardens, located roughly 90-minutes away from Malaga. A kaleidoscope of intricate Moorish architecture, the Alhambra was the seat of the Nasrid dynasty, the last Muslim rulers in the Iberian Peninsula, which reigned over Granada from 1230 until 1492. The 14th-century Nasrid Palaces are the centerpiece of Alhambra and are considered one of the best examples of Islamic architecture in Europe.
Spend a few hours touring the Alhambra, including the Nasrid Palaces, the Generalife Palace and its gardens, and the Carlos V Palace. Wear comfortable walking shoes and save some time to explore the gorgeous city of Granada afterward.
Spain is known for having some of the best beaches in the Mediterranean.
From the wild Galician coast to the warm Mediterranean Sea, Spain boasts roughly 3,000 miles of coastline that is home to almost 600 Blue Flag beaches—one in every six Blue Flag beaches in the world is located in Spain.
Pack your swimsuit and relax on one of Spain’s best golden swathes. In Ibiza, try Cala Conta Beach, a 30-minute drive from Ibiza Town, where the aquamarine water laps on the soft shore. Two sections of the beach meet at a large rocky outcrop, where a laidback restaurant and bar await at the top.
Barceloneta Beach is popular with both locals and tourists because of its central location and excellent facilities in the Catalonian capital. Just a short walk from La Rambla and the Christopher Columbus monument, this blissful beach is a perfect destination for both water sports enthusiasts and sun-seekers.
Facilities include showers, bathrooms, and even free WiFi access. Make a reservation at the iconic sail-shaped W Barcelona at the southern tip of the beach for a sunset cocktail after a stint on the sand.
For sports fans, Spain is best known for soccer or fútbol as it is known locally.
Spain’s football league, La Liga, is dominated by two powerhouse clubs, Real Madrid and Barcelona, with other popular clubs including Atlético Madrid, Sevilla FC, Valencia CF, and Athletic Bilbao also participated in the yearly tournament.
The top clubs draw the world’s best players and most in-demand athletes, including Cristiano Ronaldo, who made 292 appearances for Real Madrid between 2009 and 2018, and Barcelona’s long-standing captain, Lionel Messi, who is considered by many as one of the greatest soccer players of all time.
For football fans worldwide, attending a Barcelona match in their home stadium of Camp Nou is a bucket-list dream. On non-match days, you can tour Camp Nou, which is the largest stadium in Europe, or make your way around its museum.
Feel the excitement of walking out onto the pitch and seeing where the players prepare for their all-important games. Discover the club’s history at the Barca Museum. Even if you don’t make it to Camp Nou, don’t worry, nothing beats the thrill of sitting back with a cold beer and watching a game with locals at a neighborhood bar.
If your idea of a great vacation involves lounging on golden beaches, discovering stunning architecture, and savoring delicious tapas, explore our exciting array of luxury cruises to Spain and the Western Mediterranean.