If you are granted the supreme opportunity to travel around Spain there are some things you must discover and experience. The vitality and rich diversity of Spain shines through its people, the customs, and the natural landscape. So, experiencing only some of Spain can never be enough, every available opportunity must be taken advantage of to really LIVE Spain.
Much like the country, the list of things to do in Spain is varied. Whether you are in fashionable Barcelona or seductive Sevilla there is so much to discover. These are a few of the highlights to help you live Spain.
Go out for Tapas
What started out as a small bite to eat with a drink has turned into a whole new way of socializing. The tapas culture is more exciting than the club scene of most Spanish and European cities, and definitely more unique. Whether you are simply hungry or want an excellent way to chat up the locals head to a taberna, or tapas bar. The best way to choose a tapas bar in any Spanish city is to follow the locals. Once there, order a drink and enjoy whatever tapas the waiter serves or choose your own from the bar. In Madrid head to El Sobrino del Botin which is the city’s oldest and best taberna. When in Sevilla try Cerveceria Giralda which offers both a stunning view and the best jamon iberico in the city.
Visit one Great Art Museum
I am always quick to praise the many great art museums found in Madrid but most every city in Spain has one significant art museum worth visiting. If you are a fan of Renaissance art or Surrealism you will find a wealth of examples in Spain. My favorites and definite stops, if you find yourself in each city, are the Museo del Prado in Madrid and the Museo Guggenheim de Arte Contemporaneo in Bilbao. If in Valencia try the Museo de Bellas Arte for some of the most stunning works by Spanish artists. When traveling in Catalonia, stop to see the Teatre-Museu Dali for a look into Dali’s extraordinary life. If you don’t have any time for a museum run you can always step into a Spanish church, where most art was commissioned throughout the centuries. Take the time to enjoy the Spanish art and architecture that fills the country and you will find that it is very….well, Spanish.
Watch a Bullfight
The corrida de toros has been widely described by myself and others as exciting, revolting, passionate, fierce and pointless pageantry. Still, you cannot argue with the fact that bullfighting is a part of public life in Spain and has been for most of its long history. If you can stomach it and do not object to the idea of bullfighting then an afternoon in the stands is worth the pageantry and time old tradition you will witness. Traditionally, the bullfighting season begins on St. Joseph’s Day, March 19, and runs till October. Two things to help you along; pay the extra for a seat in the shade, or sombra, and feel free to shout out Ole! whenever something pleases you.
Take a drive through the countryside
The beautiful, dramatic terrain of Spain is a generous gift from Mother Nature herself. The area leading out of Madrid alone is a vast unspoiled paradise. The most striking features are the long stretches of isolated plains and the sun, which seems to shine differently for Spain alone. In the north you can climb the rugged Pyrenees or travel to Aragon to visit Ordesa, a national park riddled with waterfalls, gorges and steep cliffs. If coastlines get you going, Spain has plenty, the best are the shores of Finsterre and any stretch along the Mediterranean is worth a drive. In my mind nothing compares to the drive from Madrid to Toledo where the Roman fortress rises out of the plains in front of you. With the Tagus River wrapped around the city on four sides I understand why El Greco spent so many years painting and repainting this single landscape.
Celebrate one fiesta
Notice I said celebrate, because if there is one thing Spaniards are passionate about it is the way they celebrate and nobody is allowed to just watch. Every important, and mediocre, feast day is celebrated with food, wine, dancing and general merriment in all of Spain. There is always something to celebrate somewhere in Spain, from the very solemn to the purely pagan. The biggest fiestas are those of Holy Week or Semana Santa, so intense and passionate are the processions you will walk away changed. Another favorite is Sevilla’s Feria, which lasts six days and nights solely for experiencing pleasure. If you want to hear the best flamenco, see the best matadors, or just watch parades of men and women in flamenco outfits riding around in horse drawn carriages, attend Feria.
Attend a Soccer Match
The most exciting game to see would be a match between Real Madrid and Barcelona. I have not been fortunate enough, yet, to witness such a match but I can just imagine the tension between these legendary rivals. The season runs from August to May and tickets to most matches are not very hard to get. Before you attend though choose one team to root for, even if it comes down to your favorite colors. If for no other reason, cheer for the home team since Spaniards have an extreme love for fútbol and the team representing their home town.
Visit one Castle
The only other places that comes to mind when I think “castle” is Germany or England but even then Spain outshines the competition. The castles of Spain are the fairytale type: romantic, fantastic and all things glorious. A guide in Segovia once told me that the Alcazar was the inspiration behind Disney’s castle, though I have never found actual proof one look and I was convinced. The castles were a necessary part of life during the years following the Muslim conquest and without them the Spanish landscape would not command the same view. Some of the best to see are the Alcazar in Segovia, Panefiel, Valenci de Don Juan in Leon, and the Castillo de Guadalest in Alicante.
View Gaudi’s Work in Barcelona
Architecture does not get more original than Gaudi. An architect from Catalonia, Gaudi spent most of his working life in Barcelona and drew inspiration from several different styles. Gaudi’s work is so unconventional and bizarre that you cannot help but like it. His masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia, is still unfinished but the work done is amazing. The roof of Casa Batllo appears to be a slithering dragon and the façade is described differently by everyone that has a look. If you have the extra time stop by Parc Guell and Casa Mila, which are equally grandiose pieces of work by Gaudi.
Watch flamenco in a tablao
Flamenco is a dance of passion, describing all the joys and sorrows that accompany life. This raw feeling comes through to the viewer when the dancer, singer, and guitarist push themselves to the limit to express their emotions. For the most authentic flamenco experience head to Sevilla or another Andalucian town where you can find the most intimate of settings and passionate artistic expression. The luckiest person will be able to spend several nights in Sevilla and move from club to club, known as tablaos, watching several artists perform spontaneously, most only get to see a performance in a theatre. The former is the raw stuff; unchoreographed and improvised. The latter is not as moving but still impressive.
Sunbathe on the Islands
Spain is fortunate enough to have two sets of beautiful islands, the Canary and the Balearic Islands. The Canary Islands were once an outpost of society but have become a huge tourist attraction. The major draws of the Canary Islands are the endless beaches, balmy climate, and exotic landscapes. Aside from Ibiza, the Balearic Islands are relatively quiet and serene. If you are looking to escape the world you can do that relatively easily on any of the Balearic Islands. So much of the Balearic Islands are untouched most people wonder if they are the first to set foot on a lonely beach or deserted cove. Whichever one you choose, the islands are an ideal spot to sunbathe and relax.
Of all the experiences you have when traveling Spain, the ones that will be the most charming and memorable are those that involve an exchange with a stranger. Remember, in Spain the one thing that is absolutely done with flare is living. Make sure you don’t just visit Spain on your trip, but LIVE Spain.