If you were to visit Spain, you will never be finished. From north to south, east to west, nearly every corner, every building, every street, or square has a story to tell, a song to sing, or a dish to offer. Almost the whole of Spain is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and without much exaggeration—the impressive architecture and the exquisite heritage of Romans and Arabs, coupled with the inventiveness generated by an overseas empire, the alluring beauty of its Mediterranean beaches and imposing mountains, have made Spain a colossal magnet of attraction. Moorish palaces and souks in the south, magnificent cathedrals in the centre, high-end resorts on the Mediterranean coast, towering, quasi-Alpine scenery in the Pyrenees, the unique and eclectic profile of Barcelona, and the delightful cuisine are all but a tiny fraction of what this marvel of tourism has to offer.
No irony that this city happens to house the World Tourism Organization. And why not? Spain as a whole is synonymous with excellent tourism, and Madrid might as well be the very capital of tourism, though Barcelona at times wrests that title from her. Start by its most fashionable street, Calle de Alcala, where you’ll find most of the city’s famous landmarks, like the bustling Puerta del Sol Square, the picturesque Plaza de Cibeles square, the Puerta de Alcala monument (evoking Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate), the Cervantes Institute; the Las Ventas bull ring, and where many would enjoy an afternoon stroll, the Buen Retiro Park. At Plaza de Oriente square, one can stop for a minute and try to decide whether to visit the magnificent Royal Palace, or simply go across the street to the equally imposing Teatro Real, or royal theatre. Madrid is mostly about its famous squares, and no other is more visited than Plaza de España, where Cervantes’ hero had been immortalized with the statues of Don Quixote and his stout side-kick, Sancho Panza. From Plaza de España is a short distance to the Gran Via, or grand avenue, Spain’s trendiest, with hundreds of upscale shops, fine restaurants, clubs, and cafes. And if you think you’ve seen it all, well…you haven’t! Paris has the Louvre just as Spain has the El Prado, with magnificent works by Velazquez, Goya, El Greco and others. The Reina Sofía and Thyssen-Bornemisza museums also house marvelous displays of modern Spanish painting, including Picasso’s Guernica and European and American masters. Throughout the city, one will encounter a myriad number of cheerful bars, packed with warm clientele and of course, tapas! Madrid is for the lively and for the strong; there’s nothing placid about an extremely vibrant city ranked 4th as the most visited in the world.
If you thought Madrid was lively and had it all…think again! The second largest city in Spain, Barcelona is also the major port and has the reputation for being an ultramodern city, with its bizarre architecture and vigorous nightlife. The city, like Madrid, is replete with bars, cafes, fine restaurants, superb galleries and endless shopping boulevards, but unlike Madrid, Barcelona seems rather young, pulsating and bold! Yes, bold as conceiving such astounding architecture like Gaudi’s unfinished Sagrada Familia Cathedral. The Barri Gotic, or Gothic Quarter, is a living testament to the city’s ancient past, sharply contrasting with Guell Park, another of Gaudi’s colorful fancies. Equally bizarre, and thus so remarkably unique to this city, are the Batllo and Mila buildings, again, by the renowned architect. In fact, so evident has been his legacy that Barcelona could almost be the brainchild of Gaudi. And if you thought Madrid had trumped the idea of fashionable streets with Calle de Alcala and Gran Via, you would change your mind in Barcelona: La Rambla is perhaps Europe’s most fashionable shopping avenue, flanked with verdant trees, open-air cafes, quaint shops, boutiques and the very picturesque La Boqueria bazaar packed with people, young and old, living the life as they stroll through a boulevard paved with eclectic mosaics courtesy of Joan Miro. Nearby is the city’s famed square, Placa de Catalunya, where Barcelona’s major avenues diverge, like the tree-lined Passeig de Gracia, deemed the most expensive in the city, and Portal de l’Angel, yet another pedestrian street resembling very much the La Rambla.
The notes of flamenco resound against the agitated steps of a woman in love…This is the ‘passionate’ city of Spain, one where history and love combine to offer perhaps the most alluring of Andalucía. Once richer that Madrid as the first stop for the overseas’ gold fleet, grew into an imposing city of palaces and villas. But centuries of civilizations have left Seville a combination of a grandiose Moorish past, evoking a bygone charm and intense passion echoed in its flamencos; and the rumbling of modern life which just tries to pick up the pace from that marvelous past. Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is perhaps one of its most colorful vibrant of festivals where figurines of saints are paraded with music. Some of the city’s most beautiful sites include the iconic Alcazar Palace complex, ultimate symbol of the Moorish Civilization that once flourished; the emblematic Giralda Tower; and like nearly every city in Spain, its colossal cathedral, the St. Mary of the See. For the lover of culture, there are also the Archives of the Indies, displaying nearly the entire history of Spain’s huge overseas empire, from Columbus to the very end of the Spanish-American War in 1898; the elegant Museum of Arts and Traditions. Other places of interest include the Torre del Oro, or Tower of Gold; the city’s grand Plaza de España; the Maestranza Bullring where some of the country’s most spectacular bullfights take place; the iconic Puente de Triana bridge; and finally the Macarena neighborhood with its winding streets and colorful Moorish-styled homes packed against each other.
- The Balearics:
These are a group of islands east of the Spanish mainland. They are mainly four Ibiza, Formentera, Mallorca and Menorca. With a mild Mediterranean climate and alluring beaches, The Balearics are a magnet for thousands of tourists from around the world, but mostly for the cold-and-drenched British, German and Nordic visitors who come to sunbathe on the white-sanded beaches of the islands. Though they all share the same features, by far Ibiza is the most famous as a playground for the rich. Every year, hundreds of yachts dock at its harbor and the island’s main city becomes a terrific hub of pure, vibrant nightlife. The island resembles very much the Greek Kos, Rhodes and Santorini, but its vivacity and fame make generate an air of bustling around it. Its cuisine is also something worth visiting; try their legendary Lobster Stew, said to be so special that even the King of Spain himself is said to go there not only for the water sports and regatta, but also to sit and taste the dish. The islands’ capital and largest city, Palma de Mallorca, is on Mallorca Island and is itself a centre of cafes, fine restaurants, and stylish shops against a backdrop by rugged landscapes and fortresses. In fact, it’s no exaggeration when many refer to Palma as a bigger version of Monaco, but admit, nevertheless, it’s less ostentatious. And it’s true! Where there are no opulent hotels and casinos, Palma makes it up with picturesque neighbourhoods packed with colorful facades, squares and fortresses, alongside the lavish promenades and outlets by the seaside.