5 Spanish cities to visit that aren’t Madrid or Barcelona
Madrid and Barcelona are both excellent cities with an abundance of things to see and do, and are must-visits for travellers to Spain. But what other beautiful towns and cities should you visit? We’ve put together a list of some of our favourite Spanish spots.
Less than an hour by train from the Catalonian capital of Barcelona is the colourful city of Girona, on the famed Costa Brava, which is considered one of Spain’s best areas for beaches. Make your way through the maze of the medieval old town, take in sweeping views from atop the city walls, explore the well-preserved Jewish quarter located inside the 1st century Roman-built fortress, Força Vella, and immerse yourself in art, history, and culture in any of its many museums. Game of Thrones fans may recognise some spots in the Jewish Quarter which were used in the show as parts of Braavos, or the Girona Catherdral as the starting point of Queen Margaery’s walk of atonement. After you’ve worked up an appetite, stop by the Plaça Independencia for a light bite, a delicious coffee (or something stronger), and a bit of people watching.
About midway between Barcelona and Madrid you’ll find Zaragoza and its landmark Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar (above), which towers over the Ebro River. Head inside the Basilica to discover it’s gorgeous interior, and for epic city views, take the elevator all the way to the top. Pay a visit to the stunning Aljafería, an 11th century Islamic fortress and palace, and take a guided tour (free on Sundays!) where you’ll discover charming courtyards and delicate architecture. Step back in time with a stop at the Museo del Foro de Caesaraugusta to learn about Roman life between the 1st century BC and 1st century AD as you descend down into the excavated area and walk the streets, just as the Romans did 2,000 years before.
This coastal town in Basque Country is Spain’s culinary hot spot, and is a recommended destination for travelling foodies everywhere. While the city might be full of pricey Michelin Star restaurants, you can still eat very well on a budget; simply make your way into any one of the city’s numerous ‘pintxos’ bars (ie small plates) to sample a variety of local flavours for an affordable price. If you’re looking to work on your tan, head to La Concha Beach (ranked by TripAdvisor as the best beach in all of Europe) and soak up the sun as you pinch yourself to make sure you aren’t dreaming. After a day of food and sun, walk it all off as you stroll through the cobbled streets of the old town.
Just a short train journey from Madrid, this hilltop city is with an incredibly rich history rooted in Muslim, Jewish, and Christian culture, making it an interesting place to visit, especially for history buffs. Visit the cathedral for a dose of dramatic Gothic architecture; the Alcázar for a bit of history as well as panoramic views; and make your way to the Sinagoga del Tránsito which now functions as a museum and serves to teach visitors about the history of Jewish people in Spain. With such a diverse history, it is no surprise this diversity is reflected in the cuisine, which uniquely incorporates culinary traditions from all three cultures, creating an exciting gastronomic adventure for the ambitious foodie.
OK, so Menorca isn’t a city. It is, however, one of the ridiculously picturesque Balearic Islands, and is much more laid-back than its counterparts, Mallorca and Ibiza, which we feel makes it worth of this list. If you’re in the market for somewhere you can go to unplug and unwind, this island is perfect for you. This isn’t a “go and do things” destination, it’s a “go and do as little as possible” kinda place. There are fewer tourists than on Ibiza and Mallorca, and that’s a huge part of the appeal. Grab a snorkel (it’s also a great place for scuba diving) and find your new favourite beach; take in the wild, natural beauty of the island’s landscape; and for a taste of city life, check out Mahón and Ciutadella.