There’s much more to Spain than sunbathing and shopping! Here’s what you need to know about the top hot spots
Spain is NI’s favourite holiday destination, but most of us have barely scratched the surface of what this cultural and passionate European country has to offer.
It is a land of extreme contrasts and diversity, with history, beauty, gastronomy, art and architecture to rival that of any country on the world stage.
The Belfast Telegraph has teamed up with Turespaña ahead of the Holiday World Show on 18th – 20th January to find out what Northern Ireland’s favourite Spanish destination is.
And if you need some help deciding where in Spain makes the top spot for you, read on or visit www.spain.info
It’s a city of elegance and history, renowned for its rich stores of European art, including the Prado Museum’s works by Goya and Velázquez. From the Gran Via boulevard and Retiro Park to Plaza España, and from Puerto del Sol and Reina Sofia to the Real Madrid stadium, it is little wonder that this city is the most visited in Spain.
Known best for the Alhambra, the astonishing palace complex whose Islamic stylings and stunning landscaped gardens are unsurprisingly Spain’s most visited attraction, Granada is a compelling city with grandeur and grittiness in almost equal measure. The city, which is sprawled at the foot of the Sierra Nevada, is as much home to traditional tapas bars and flamenco clubs as it is to graffiti art and bohemian cafes.
The 2018 winner of European City of the Year, it is fair to say that Bilbao’s major cultural and culinary investment over the past couple of decades has paid off. The dining scene offers a vast array of choice, from Michelin-starred eateries to traditional pintxo bars and family-owned traditional restaurants; there is truly something to whet every foodie’s appetite. It’s the Guggenheim museum, however, that captures the most attention from visitors, with its curvaceous, titanium-clad contemporary shell housing many prominent works of art.
Spain’s third largest city, Valencia has all the elements to be a serious contender for the perfect holiday destination. With vibrant cultural, nightlife and culinary scenes – it is home to paella – Valencia also boasts the best weather in Spain and miles of golden, blue-flag beaches, just a short journey from the city centre. The city hosts many futuristic structures including a planetarium, and aquarium, in contrast to the bustling Old Town with its charming cobbled streets overflowing with street art, cafes and amazing architecture.
Famous for its orange trees and incredible marmalade, the exotic and intriguing city of Seville is the capital of southern Spain’s Andalusia region. If you want to see traditional flamenco dancing, look no further as this city is argued to be its birthplace, with clubs today retaining the intensity and intimacy of the centuries-old Spanish dance. Overlooked by a huge gothic cathedral, Seville is also the site of Christopher Columbus’s tomb and last but not least, the resplendently ornate Alcázar castle, built during the Moorish Almohad dynasty.
You’d be wrong to think that Málaga is a less energetic option than some other Spanish cities, and if you haven’t been lately, you’ll be very pleasantly surprised by how this Costa del Sol port city has reinvented itself. The birthplace of Picasso has several new art galleries and a new art district called Soho, an unearthed Roman Amphitheatre, a totally redesigned port area, chic new shopping areas and boutique hotels, and trendy eateries that have popped up everywhere; from fish shacks and traditional taverns, to Michelin-starred fine dining.
The southeastern port city of Alicante has much to recommend itself for, including beautiful sandy beaches, long promenades, tapas bars and restaurants galore, a dynamic nightlife scene and the character-filled Old Town, Barrio de la Santa Cruz, where you can take an elevator or a steep climb on foot to reach the medieval Castillo de Santa Bárbara. Alicante is often overlooked by tourists who merely pass through on their way to the resorts of the Costa Blanca, but this city is well worth a visit in its own right, with cultural attractions spanning contemporary art to archaeology and architecture, and festivals to rival those of any Spanish city.
Spain’s breathtaking coastline reaches from the tip to the toe of the country and is divided into ten different coasts known as the Spanish Costas; Costa de Almeria, Costa Blanca, Costa Brava, Costa Calida, Costa del Azahar, Costa de la Luz, Costa del Sol, Costa Dorada, Costa Tropical and Costa Verde. Everyone knows of classic holiday resorts like Benidorm, Marbella, Salou, Fuengirola and Benalmádena, but they are merely the tip of the iceberg and there is much more to explore. Each Costa boasts stunning beaches but after that, they are amazingly diverse! Whether holidaymakers are looking for adventure, luxury, relaxation, rural escapes, hiking trails, golf or nightlife, they will be spoilt for choice. But make no mistake, there are no wrong decisions here!
This easy to navigate resort town on the Bay of Biscay in Spain’s mountainous Basque Country is most famous for two things; world-renowned restaurants which have put the city on the map for global foodies, and La Concha, which is considered the most beautiful urban beach in Europe. If you really need more reasons to visit, then you’re in luck as this picturesque city with its golden beaches and luscious hillsides has plenty to offer. From upmarket shops to grand architecture and a staggering number of festivals including the International Film Festival, which brings European and Hollywood stars to this idyllic coastline every September.
With near-perfect year round sunshine and warm weather, it’s no surprise that the seven volcanic Canary Islands to the southwest of mainland Spain are one of the most popular sun, sea and sand holiday destinations in the world. While they all share the good weather, each of these semi-tropical islands has its own personality and there is a whole world of beauty and activity to discover beyond the seafront resorts. From volcanic sites to sandy coves, and from lush pine forests to lunar landscapes, the diversity of landscapes between Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro is staggering.
The four largest islands of Majorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera all offer a sunny climate, relaxed holiday vibe and beautiful coastlines and countryside. Whether you’re exploring the historic old towns, soaking up the sun and watersports in one of the busy holiday resorts, cycling through majestic mountainous terrain or marveling at turquoise lagoons, there really is something for everyone. The Balearics are great for families with golden beaches and clear, calm waters as far as the eye can see.
Perhaps one of Spain’s best-kept secrets, Murcia on the Costa Calida is the perfect place to get an authentic yet family-friendly Spanish experience. It is famous for its ‘huerta’, market gardens dating back to Moorish times that produce top quality food for a thriving culinary scene. Murcia is also home to first class shopping, and multiple vineyards that make some of the country’s most delicious wines. Visitors who prefer to relax in peace and quiet on holiday are blown away by Murcia’s more intimate coastline walks and secret beaches.
Salou’s beaches are hard to beat, making it an undeniably attractive destination for holidaymakers. Add to that the opportunity to explore traditional Catalonian culture, walk along the contemporary promenade or hustle with the best of them in the Old Town on market days. Spain’s most popular theme park, PortAventura, resides in Salou, as well as a water park to thrill kids (and adults) of any age!
Castellón and the surrounding, unspoilt province of Castellón are well worth a visit for the discerning traveller. The diversity of landscape alone is reason to visit; everything from beaches, to orange groves, mountains and wetlands, and even castles that have been featured in the Game of Thrones. Visitors to this charming Spanish city can see some beautiful architecture in the historic old quarter of the city, relax in one of its many squares, take a stroll in the picturesque Ribalta Park or take a boat trip to the Columbretes Islands, a protected archipelago of reefs and islets.
For more info visit www.spain.info