Spain is a land of rich cultural heritage, vibrant nightlife, top-notch sporting events and delicious cuisine. From the bustling streets of Madrid and Barcelona to the quaint cobbled alleys of Seville and Granada, the country is a melting pot of history, art, and tradition. The almost endless list of world-class tourist attractions and countless opportunities for adventure and exploration make Spain city breaks a no-brainer when it comes to planning your next short break in Europe. Below we’ve listed some of the most popular city break destinations categorized by region.
North-East Spain City Breaks
The proud city of Barcelona lies on the north-east coast of the Spanish Mediterranean just 175km from the French border. The 1992 Olympic Games saw great developments in the city and helped confirm the Catalan capital’s future as one of Europe’s most popular city break destinations. Key attractions include the magnificent architecture of Antoni Gaudí, most notably the ‘Sagrada Familia’ and the city’s world-famous football team, FC Barcelona.
Lying just 100km from Barcelona and much closer to the resorts of the Costa Brava, the city of Girona is often overlooked as very attractive destination in its own right. Colourful buildings overlook the River Onyar which winds through the heart of the city close to what is is one of Spain’s best preserved Jewish Quarters. A historic city in the shadow of the Pyrenees that well deserves a visit.
Spain’s 3rd largest city lies right on the Mediterranean some 350km east of Madrid. The city is important for its art galleries and its stunning City of Arts and Sciences is one of the main attractions. Many visitors include a stop in Valencia on journeys between Barcelona and Andalucía.
Northern Spain City Breaks
In 1981 Bilbao was a decaying industrial city Bilbao languishing on the coast of northern Spain. In that year the local government of the Basque Country proposed that a Guggenheim Museum be built in the old port area which would change the city’s fortunes forever. The Frank Gehry inspired structure opened in 1997 simultaneously placing the city on the tourist map of Spain.
San Sebastián overlooks the Bay of Biscay on the coast of Northern Spain surrounded by the glorious countryside of the Basque Country. Great beaches, Michelin star restaurants and some of Spain’s finest tapas bars in the lively Parte Vieja make this one of highlights of the country’s north coast.
Located in Northern Spain, Pamplona is the capital of the autonomous region of Navarra and famous worldwide thanks to its annual bull-running festival. But there’s more to the city than the San Fermín fiestas as the thousands of pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrim’s route will testify.
North-West Spain City Breaks
Santiago de Compostela lies in the very north-west of Spain in the beautiful Celtic region of Galicia. The city is best known for its Cathedral where St James is said to be buried and which is the final destination of the thousands of pilgrims who walk the Camino de Santiago every year. A beautiful, historic city well worth including on any tour of Spain.
Located on Spain’s Atlantic Coast, Vigo is the largest city in Galicia which is best known for its fishing port which is one of the largest in the world. Ready availability of fresh seafood and proximity to the Rías Baixas wine region have been key factors in the recent growth in tourism to Vigo. The city has become an important destination for cruise ships which helps fuel the local economy.
Southern Spain City Breaks
Seville is the stunning capital of Andalucía famous for its fiestas, flamenco and bullfighting. Architecturally, its enormous Cathedral is one of the world’s largest religious buildings whilst the Alcázar is another of the great Moorish buildings remaining in the region. There’s so much to see and do in and around Seville that you’ll wish to return time and time again.
At one time the city of Córdoba was the capital of Moorish Spain, Europe’s largest city which was an important centre of learning and culture. Today it is a simply delightful city dominated by the Mosque–Cathedral which is one of the finest examples of Arabic architecture remaining in Spain. Anyone travelling from Madrid to Seville ought to allow for at least a night here.
The delightful city of Granada is on the ‘bucket-list’ of travellers from all over the world as it’s the home of the magnificent Alhambra Palace. Described as the “Jewel of Moorish Spain” the Alhambra is truly one of Spain’s greatest tourist attractions which makes Granada a ‘must-see’ when it comes to Spain city breaks.
Málaga is best known for its airport which serves as the gateway to the resorts of the Costa del Sol for millions of tourists every year. Such a shame as the city of Málaga is well worth a stopover not only to visit the Moorish Alcazaba and Gibralfaro which overlook the port but also to go to the birthplace of Pablo Picasso which has been converted into a popular art museum.
Along with Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María, Jerez de la Frontera is part of the famous ‘Sherry Triangle’ of Southern Spain. Sherry, flamenco and dancing horses are the name of the game in this part of Andalucía. Well worth a couple of days’ visit but also accessible from nearby Seville as a day trip if time is running short.
Just 60km up a winding mountain road from Marbella is one of the highlights of Andalucía. Entering Ronda on the ‘Puente Nuevo’ which dates back to 1761 provides the first indicator of the historical legacy of this charming city. Day trippers from the resorts of the Costa del Sol can be a little overwhelming so try to stay a night or two in one of the city’s historic hotels.
Central Spain City Breaks
For many visitors the capital of Spain is best known as the home of the Prado Museum and Real Madrid football team yet there is so much more. Its art scene is one of Europe’s finest, it architecture simply exquisite and its nightlife is second to none. In addition its location provides for easily accessible day excursions to fascinating destinations including Toledo, Segovia and El Escorial.
Some 200km west of Madrid on the road to Portugal is the University city of Salamanca which is best known for its two cathedrals and its Plaza Mayor which is perhaps the most beautiful in Spain. The city has been a centre of learning since 1134 and still attracts many students from around the world to this day which helps generate a lively atmosphere in this historic city.
Located some 90km north-west of Madrid, Segovia is one of the highlights of Castilla y León. Whilst not generally considered a city break destination in its own right, Segovia is a popular day excursion from the capital. Its main attractions include a 2000 year old Roman aqueduct and the 11th century Alcázar which it is believed was an inspiration to Walt Disney when creating Cinderella’s Castle.
The ‘Imperial City’ of Toledo was once the capital of Spain until Philip II moved it to Madrid. It was known as the ‘City of the Three Cultures’ where historically Christians, Muslims and Jews lived peacefully together. Today it serves as a living museum of these cultures. It’s worth staying overnight on the journey from Madrid to Andalucía, otherwise it is one of the great day excursions from the capital.