Here is our insider’s guide to the top cities and places to visit in Spain – for both families and couples. The locations include Marbella, Valencia, San Sebastian, Seville, the Costa Brava, Barcelona, and Madrid.
Over the past few years Madrid has truly revamped itself. The Thyssen-Bornemisza, Reina Sofia, and the Prado have all got better and bigger, and the centre of the city has smartened up with new gastrobars, cafes, delis, and boutiques opening up each week. It is ideal for a city break or culture-rich long weekend, with a lively nightly atmosphere and delicious food. Madrid might be cold during the winter – after all, it is one of the highest capital cities in Europe – but usually the sun is strong enough and the sky is blue so that visitors can enjoy sipping a vermut at a sidewalk cafe.
Barcelona features varied architectural styles, with dark, Gothic facades displayed next to Modernista harlequin buildings and the skyline-piercing creations of de Meuron, Herzog, and Jean Nouvel. You can spend the day admiring the architecture and then finish off the day with a sundowner on one of the seven beaches of the city before enjoying dinner at one of the numerous Michelin-starred restaurants, or even a family-run tapas bar. There is a relaxed pace to Barcelona, with incredible food, months of abundant sunshine, and a design and culture edge that matches nearly any city in the cold northern part of Spain.
This is among the most unspoiled, beautiful, and romantic stretches of coastline in Europe. Tastefully manicured in some parts, and gloriously wild in others, the Costa Brava boasts some of the best Blue Flag beaches in all of Europe, sandy and broad stretches to secluded smugglers’ coves and elegant horseshoe bays. There is also incredible food and excellent independent hotels. This stretch of coastline is in fact a paradise for foodies and Catalonia has one of Spain’s highest numbers of Michelin-starred chefs, along with locally produced superb wines.
With bold development taking place over the past decade here, the third-largest city in Spain features some of the country’s most striking architecture, which adds to the abundance of elegant Art Nouveau buildings lining the streets, in addition to Renaissance and Gothic monuments. With its miles of beach, fabulous shops, lively nightlife (a Valencia stag do is an experience to remember), and flourishing restaurant scene, Valencia is full of Mediterranean vibrance. Valencia features a walkable centre which means you can stroll among the medieval monuments to avenues that are lined by elegant buildings, and along the way stop at a pavement cafe.
Rich in history and renowned for its orange trees, tapas bars, and flamenco, Seville is the perfect short break destination. Stay in the old-town part of the city to explore the Santa Cruz quarter’s cobbled streets and stunning Alcazar Palace. Soak up the atmosphere of the Guadalquivir banks, and enjoy the stunning views from both the ancient cathedral tower and Parasol Metropol, which opened recently. The influence of Seville’s Moorish past and its Catholic present is highly visible everywhere you go, and especially in the Giralda minaret, which is a superb Islamic architecture example, along with the largest cathedral in the world.
Eating newly-caught sardine near the sea is one of the great simple pleasures in life, and the beaches on both sides of the Malaga are the ideal place for doing this -especially after a morning spent at the Carmen Thyssen and Picasso museums. Unlike some other cities in Spain, it doesn’t wind down during the summer, and is especially lively in mid-August for the Malaga Fair, when even highly reserved visitors may find themselves twirling in the streets with the locals. There is plenty to do and see in Malaga, but it truly is a place to just relax and enjoy the laid back vibe of the Mediterranean.
Falling in love with San Sebastian is inevitable. Just the food alone, with its bars full of tapas, which are called pintxos here, and the numerous Michelin-stared restaurants, are a dream come true. There are also three breathtaking beaches – broad stretches of golden sand with clear waters from the Cantabrian Sea – along with exhilarating walks, heart-pounding panoramas, beautiful Art Noveau architecture, and the most glamorous film festivals in the world.