What cities come to mind when you think of Spain? Madrid? Barcelona? Yup. I thought so. I myself honestly knew nothing about Spain until I studied abroad there, but the country is full of so many great cities apart from the big two. Read on to find out more.
When you think of the stereotypical images of Spain – sun, flamenco, Arabic architecture – Sevilla has all of those and more. It’s one of the larger cities in Spain, but it’s smaller and so much more charming than Madrid and Barcelona. It has one of the largest old towns in all of Europe – filled with narrow windy streets that are so much fun to explore. Fun fact – part of Game of Thrones was filmed in Sevilla too.
Granada reminded me a lot of Sevilla except for its beautiful mountains and the Alhambra – a massive palace and fortress that is known all throughout Spain. Granada is a charming city nestled in the Sierra Nevadas. The mountains are great for hiking, skiing and more. The town itself is also fun to explore. One of the things I love about Granada is that anytime you order a drink in a bar, they give you food for free.
Córdoba is another charming and historic town – like nothing you could find anywhere else. The coolest part of visiting this town is seeing it’s old mosque. It’s an iconic place to visit while in Spain, with its beautiful architecture inside. It’s also interesting to see how the Christians later appropriated the mosque – there’s quite the start difference between the mosque and church areas of it. Additionally, there’s an old bridge in Córdoba that was built by the Romans in the first century, according to my professor. The Romans were such good engineers that the bridge is still very strong, and you can walk on it, without even realizing just how old it is.
Stepping into Toledo makes you feel like you’re stepping into medieval times. This city once was the capital of Spain in an earlier era and home to Charles V, Roman emperor. You can visit the alcazar there, once a fortress and once a Roman palace. There’s even a room inside the alcazar that shows some damage from when Francisco Franco bombed the city during the Spanish Civil War from 1936-1939. One of the coolest parts of this city is it’s many churches and cathedrals filled with art, many by famous painter El Greco, who lived in the city. There’s also a museum there that’s a recreation of El Greco’s home and features some of his works.
Bilbao is one of the larger and easier to access cities in northern Spain and the only one that I visited. It used to be a dreary industrial town, but it’s now a vibrant and underrated city. Everyone says that northern Spain is known as having the best food, and I definitely felt that. I very much enjoyed the pintxo-hopping there more so than the tapas found in most of Spain (for more on these differences, read my next blog post). Bilbao is home to one of the Guggenheim museums, which is it’s main attraction. I loved the town though too – it’s a beautiful clean city built into a valley and with an adorable old town. I also enjoyed traveling north to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, an old hermitage built on an islet on the northern coast.
The crazy thing about Gibraltar is its proximity to so many other cultures. On this day, I woke up in Spain, walked fifteen minutes or so, and then took this picture in the U.K.
Honorable Mention: Gibraltar
I loved Gibraltar and wanted to list it here, although, since it’s not technically in Spain, I thought I’d list it as an honorable mention (I mean it is close enough to Spain right?). Gibraltar, being almost in Spain yet technically the U.K. and also so close to Morocco, has such a unique blending of cultures, which makes it interesting. Secondly, the Rock of Gibraltar has such a unique history and it’s so much fun to explore – especially with the monkeys that inhabit it.
So there you have it! These are some of the cities that I’ve visited that seem to be some of the most underrated in Spain. Other cities that could be on this list but that I have not personally gone to include: Santiago de Compostela, San Sebastian, Oviedo, Segovia, Pamplona (not for the running of the bulls), Salamanca, Zaragoza and Palma de Mallorca.
What cities have you loved visiting in Spain? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.