THE 5 ESSENTIAL TRAVEL DESTINATIONS IN SPAIN
Recommendations from a Madrid study abroad student
By Abby Balter
When studying abroad, there are always hundreds of things people exclaim are must-sees, but, realistically, you can’t do it all. Traveling always involves making trade-offs and sacrifices for what each individual values seeing. Europe, and each country, has an infinite number of remarkable things to do and see, with Spain being no exception. In a country with as much historical and culinary diversity as Spain, it can be overwhelming to narrow down where to prioritize visiting, so here is my non-comprehensive list of some of my favorite destinations.
I would argue that one cannot visit Spain without spending some time in the capital. From stunning architecture, prolific museums, storied history, to world-famous nightlife, Madrid is one of my favorite cities in the world. One of the most beautiful aspects of Madrid is that it is not as touristy as Barcelona, so visitors have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the culture, and even practice their Spanish. If you find yourself in Madrid, take a walk through the cinematic Parque de Retiro, and then stumble upon one of the numerous restaurants in the Malasaña neighborhood for tapas and a glass of wine before spending the afternoon perusing some of Picasso and Salvador Dalis’ most iconic works at the Museo de Reina Sofia.
About two hours south of Madrid is the city of Cordoba. Rich in history and charm, Cordoba possesses all the quintessential images one conjures up when imagining Spain—orange trees, old white brick buildings with flowers hanging from Juliet balconies, narrow cobblestone streets, and sites with hand painted tiles and intricate engravings. Since Cordoba was one of the most important cities in Al-Andalus, the region of the Iberian Peninsula ruled by the Muslims for about 700 years, much of the architecture and design of the city is of Muslim influence. Despite the Reconquista, there are still many elements of the original city intact, particularly in the Mezquita and Jewish Quarter.
Similarly to Cordoba, Sevilla is another city in the south of Spain with Muslim influence, woven into virtually every aspect of the city. Possibly my favorite place I have visited in Spain thus far, Sevilla is overwhelmingly beautiful, and a bit busier and more developed than Cordoba, with a vast array of cultural sites while simultaneously having a lively nightlife scene. A trip to Sevilla would be incomplete without touring the breathtaking Royal Alcazar. The palace is inspired by Muslim architecture, and the massive royal gardens are something out of a dream. In the afternoon, explore the Plaza de España before taking a sunset stroll by the Guadalquivir River that runs through the city.
Arguably one of the most famous landmarks in all of Spain is Alhambra. Although in just about every major city in Spain there is some form of a royal palace, Alhambra in Granada is a massive testament to the power the Andalusian empire had, and is one of the most well-preserved Islamic sights in the world. Granada was once the capital of Spain during the 12th century so, as with everything in Spain, there is deep history, but today is also a hub for street art, flamenco, and delectable tapas.
Likely the most popular tourist destination in Spain, there is a reason Barcelona is renowned as the artistic and cultural center of Europe. Located in the northeastern corner of Spain, Barcelona is a large metropolitan city, like Madrid, but with the benefit of being beachfront. Home to the emblematic Parque de Güell and La Sagrada Familia, both designed by revolutionary architect Antoni Gaudí, the spaces are colorful, eclectic, and fiercely creative–encapsulating the feeling of the city as a whole. Barcelona has a bohemian, free spirited aura, that is abundant with pride and loyalty to the preservation of art and identity.