As the fourth biggest country in Europe, Spain has plenty to offer outside of the lively, most populous cities: Madrid and Barcelona. In fact, there are so many incredible cities to visit it’s difficult to pick just a few.
Here are seven of my favourite cities to visit in Spain – that aren’t Barcelona or Madrid.
- 1. Granada
Nestled at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains is Granada, which offers much to recommend it – lively shopping streets, laidback terrace cafes spilling onto squares, the fascinating neighbourhood of Albaicin where Moorish and Morisco architectural influences are evident, and the magnificent Alhambra. The UNESCO World Heritage listed palace and fortress is perched on a hill between the city and Sierra Nevada mountains, with spectacular views of both offered from various points around the extensive complex. Despite its popularity with tourists, the Alhambra remains a mystical place sure to enchant.
You will quickly be seduced by stunning San Sebastian and its surfer-friendly beaches, sweeping bay views, picturesque old town and vibrant nightlife. But it is the food above all that will convince you travelling to the Basque city on the north coast was worth your while. Along with multiple Michelin star restaurants that find their home here, you will discover a pintxos culture like nowhere else in Spain.
The third-largest city in Spain is the home of paella, the expansive Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències (City of Arts and Sciences), and UNESCO World Heritage Listed Llotja de la Seda (Silk Exchange). The City of Arts and Sciences is an especially unique attraction, and is listed as one of the ‘12 Treasures of Spain’. The City features multiple attractions such as a planetarium, laserium, interactive museums, The Walk of the Sculptures, an oceanographic park and a performing arts centre.
The small mountain-top city of Ronda’s appeal is focused around the jaw-dropping views of and from its famous bridge, Puente Nuevo. The stone bridge spans a dramatic deep gorge, and the entire western edge of the city is rather precariously perched atop the same steep cliffs that drop to reveal incredible vistas across the valley and offer exceptional views of the sunset. Ronda dates all the way back to Celtic settlement in the sixth century BC, and has been featured in literary works by the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles.
Cordoba is worth the effort simply for the view of Mezquita behind the picturesque Roman Bridge across the Guadalquivir river – but once you’re there you might as well wander through the UNESCO old town, visit the countless cathedrals and churches, and of course, explore the Great Mosque of Cordoba. The Great Mosque has numerous names (including Mezquita) thanks largely to its rather fickle history, throughout which it has been used as a house of worship for both Christians and Muslims, depending which was dominant in the city at the time.
Situated just over an hour’s drive from Madrid, Segovia boasts ancient historical sites such as a Roman Aqueduct built in the first century AD; the dramatic Alcazar of Segovia, which sits on a stone peninsula between two rivers flowing far below; a 12th century cathedral; and walls that stand around the old quarter to this day. Segovia is so well preserved, charming and historically important that the entire old town and its Aqueduct were awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1985.
Orange tree-lined streets, charming cafes and tapas bars on narrow laneways, and magnificent landmarks such as Plaza de España and a castle combine to create beautiful Seville. The Alcazar castle complex features rustling gardens and stunning Moorish Almohad architecture, and is so spectacular it was chosen as the set for the capital city of Dorne in Game of Thrones. Seville is also one of the best places to take in a flamenco show, thanks to its location in the region of Andalusia, where the dance originated.
Courtney Gahan is a serial expat, traveller and freelance writer who has bartered with Moroccan marketeers, seen the sun rise at Angkor Wat and elbowed her way through crowds on NYE in NYC