The grandeur of a caliph’s palace, sybaritic sun-drenched Mediterranean beaches, the staccato stamp of a flamenco dancer’s heels, the awed hush of pilgrims entering the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela after weeks of walking El Camino. You can find the soul of Spain in tourist attractions such as these, which represent the country’s tumultuous history, rich culture, and enchanting natural beauty.
From the sunlight playing endlessly off the “scales” of Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum and the throbbing street life of La Rambla and Plaza Mayor to the forest of columns and Moorish arches disappearing into the silent expanse of Cordoba’s Great Mosque, Spain exudes a vibrant energy and a captivating blend of past and present. Plan your sightseeing adventures and things to do with our list of the top attractions in Spain.
The Alhambra and Generalife Gardens, Granada
No matter how much you have read or how many pictures you have seen of Granada’s Alhambra palaces, this Moorish pleasure palace will still take your breath away. The Nasrid dynasty’s royal palace is the artistic highlight of Spain’s Islamic period, when Al-Andalus — as they called Andalucía — represented the epitome of culture and civilization in Europe’s Middle Ages.
The Alhambra complex includes several buildings, towers, walls, gardens, and a mosque, but it’s the indescribably intricate stone carvings, the delicate filigrees, the magnificent tile-lined ceilings, the graceful arches, and serene courtyards of the Nasrid palace that will your dreams.
That said, the adjoining palace built for the Emperor Charles V, even in its unfinished state is the finest example of High Renaissance architecture in Spain. And Generalife’s terraced gardens offer a peaceful respite from the grandeur, and splendid views back at the rest of the Alhambra.
Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia and Gaudi
Antoni Gaudi took the architectural style known as Art Nouveau a step further, even, some have argued, into absurdity. The fanciful and outrageous buildings he created in Barcelona have become landmarks, the signature attractions of this Catalan city. Foremost is The Sagrada Família church, officially the Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família or the Holy Family Church of the Atonement. One of Europe’s most unconventional churches, it is also unfinished, so as you look down from its tower, you can see the work in progress below.
You may search in vain for absolute straight lines in Gaudi’s Casa Milà , his last and most famous secular work; it resembles a piece of sculpture more than a functional building. Be sure to ascend to its roof — the chimneys are said to have inspired the image of Darth Vader from Star Wars.
Parc Güell overlooks the city from a hillside, the views and gardens framed by fantastical creatures — salamanders, fish, an octopus — and designs in bright ceramic-chard mosaics. A fanciful towered house near the entrance is largely covered in colored ceramics. Unlike most buildings, Gaudi’s appeal even to children and to adults who don’t care a thing about architecture, for one simple reason — they are just plain fun to look at.