A few months ago I was sitting in the ‘Patio de los Naranjos’ outside the Mezquita in Cordoba when I overheard an American lady telling her friend that she wasn’t going to go inside the building because she was “all cathedraled out”. Now if you’ve been travelling around Spain at length I can appreciate that after a while you become overwhelmed by the sheer number of incredible churches and historical monuments that you come across. At some point you can’t help but struggle to appreciate the beauty of these buildings as you travel from city to city. Time permitting that’s when you need a couple of days off.
Kirsty and I have travelled extensively in Asia and Australasia. On every trip we’ve both ‘hit the wall’ at some point when one of us has simply had enough of travelling and sightseeing. For us the solution is always to check into a nice place to stay, preferably with a pool, and just chill out for a few days. This shouldn’t be an issue in Spain unless you’re travelling for weeks on end but if it does happen to you don’t make the mistake of missing out on some of the country’s greatest sights because you’re getting tired. I spoke to the American lady and suggested that she did go inside the cathedral in Cordoba as there is nowhere like it in the world – after the Christian reconquest part of the mosque was converted into a Catholic church – but I suspect her mind was made up and she missed out on one of Spain’s great attractions.
I’ve been to churches and cathedrals all over the country and after being on the road for a while can get that blasé feeling of being underwhelmed by incredible sights. Now what I’d like to do is list my top 10 cathedrals in Spain. Of course, this is once again a completely subjective selection based on my own travel experiences so I welcome you to add any additional recommendations in the comments section at the end of the page. Having said that, if you’re visiting Spain and really want a definitive ‘Top 10’ then my list won’t be far off. So here goes … in no particular order:
The Great Mosque of Cordoba is at the historic centre of this beautiful city. If you stay overnight (and you should) take a walk around in the evening when all the day visitors have gone. It’s incredibly atmospheric.
Built on the site of the city’s mosque, you’ll be overawed by the enormity of this building which is one of the world’s largest religious buildings. If you’re fit enough climb the steps of the Giralda bell tower which served as the mosque’s minaret for great views all around Seville.
It took more than 250 years to build this cathderal which is simply stunning. A variety of architectural styles are in evidence within the building that once again was built on the site of the city mosque from the days of Moorish rule. It is one of the main attractions on a day-trip from Madrid to Toledo.
Overlooking the Bay of Palma is Mallorca’s La Seu Cathedral which again has Moorish origins. If you’re staying in one of the popular resorts of the south coast it’s well worth a day excursion into Palma. Also check out the former Moorish fort at Palau de l’Almudaina which today serves as a royal residence.
Every year Santiago de Compostela is the final destination of thousands of pilgrims who have walked the ‘Camino de Santiago’ (Way of St James). The city’s stunning cathedral houses the tomb of Saint James (Santiago) and at certain masses the enormous ‘botafumeiro’ incense burner swings up and down the main aisle.
I’d read in a Spain travel guide that the highlight of this cathedral is its stained glass window which didn’t sound a big deal. How wrong I was! Whilst the building is quite stunning both inside and out the multicoloured scene of the ‘Last Supper’ is quite breathtaking and unique amongst Spain’s many fabulous religious buildings.
If you ever take a ferry from the UK to or from Spain and are planning an overnight stay within proximity of the ports of Bilbao or Santander then I’d recommend that you consider Burgos which is an attractive city in its own right but the fabulous Gothic cathedral is enough to justify a visit on its own.
Salamanca’s “new” cathedral dates back to 1513 and encompasses the old cathedral within its walls. Take a wander down at dusk when the building’s sandstone walls seem to glow in the setting sun and try to spot the sculpture of an astronaut and an ice cream cone which appeared in the outer walls during a restoration in the 1990s. It’s true!
If you’re travelling between Barcelona and Madrid by road or rail you should consider taking a look at Zaragoza. The cathedral sits on the banks of the river Ebro and is home to the statue of El Pilar, the city’s patron saint. Seeing the building illuminated across the river at night is simply stunning.
Dominating the old Plaza Mayor in Segovia is my final recommendation which just had to make my list considering the number of times I’ve been there on a Sunday morning jaunt from the village where I used to live in the Sierra de Guadarrama. Take a walk down to the fairy tale Alcázar then look back towards the cathedral for a stunning view, especially in winter when there’s snow on the distant mountains.
I’m sure you have your own additions and I look forward to reading them below. Please note that an obvious addition would have been Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona but this is in fact a church and not a cathedral. Barcelona Cathedral is another fine building located in the Barrio Gòtico (Gothic Quarter) of the city which I could easily have added to my list.