The 12 Treasures of Spain is the Spanish equivalent of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Launched in 2007, this was a scheme conceived by Spanish broadcast media to elect a sequence of architectural and natural monuments to be declared the Treasures of Spain. Citizens were invited to cast their votes and vote – with the initial intention being to choose seven places.
From an original shortlist of 20, 12 Treasures of Spain were eventually chosen. Well, even choosing 12 must have been challenging enough!
So, what are the Treasures of Spain and how can you visit them? Let’s find out.
What are the 12 Treasures of Spain?
Located in some of the most beautiful cities in Spain and representative of nature and art, culture, and religion, these are the 12 Treasures of Spain.
- Alhambra of Granada
- Seville Cathedral
- Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba
- Roman Theater of Mérida
- Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
- City of Arts and Sciences (Valencia)
- Sagrada Família (Barcelona)
- Guggenheim Museum (Bilbao)
- La Concha Beach (Donostia-San Sebastian)
- Teide National Park (Tenerife)
- Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar (Zaragoza)
- Cave of Altamira (Santillana del Mar)
How to Visit the 12 Treasures of Spain
All of the Treasures are easily accessible and open for tourism. Here’s how to go about visiting them all.
1. Alhambra of Granada
Granada is a beautiful city in Andalucia at the foot of the Sierra Nevada National Park. Its emblematic palace and fortress, the Alhambra, sits on a ridge high above the city. Constructed between 1238 and 1358, the complex earned its name due to the reddish tint of the foundation walls – it derives from the Arabic word for “red fortress.”
Comprising a citadel, palatial residences (the Albayzín or Alcazaba), courtyards, and gardens, the Alhambra of Granada was the largest residence and stronghold of the Nasrid Kingdom in the Iberian Peninsula. It was added to the World Heritage List in 1984 due to its blended expression of Moorish and Andalucian culture. It remains one of the top Spain tourist places to encounter Islamic art and architecture. And, to be honest, it’s worth visiting alone for the panoramic views.
A guided tour is the best way to visit and understand the significance of the site. This Alhambra and Nasrid Palaces skip-the-line tour covers the entire complex and comes as a small group, large group, or private activity.
Guides aren’t necessary and this Alhambra and Nasrid Palaces fast-track ticket is a great alternative if you prefer to visit independently.
2. Seville Cathedral
The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. Up until its consecration in 1507, Hagia Sophia had claimed that title for 10 centuries. While Istanul’s house of worship was later transformed into a mosque, the Catedral de Sevilla was built atop the remains of a mosque.
As part of the construction, the foundations of the mosque were re-oriented to adhere to Roman Catholicism. The Giralda (bell tower) was once a minaret and would have sounded the call to prayer for Moors in Seville.
History buffs will appreciate this Seville Cathedral, Giralda, and Royal Alcázar guided tour. It’s an all-inclusive tour visiting three of the best things to do in Seville in succession with a comprehensive guide service.
Otherwise, you can skip the Royal Alcázar (and the guide) with a Seville Cathedral and Giralda skip-the-line ticket. As one of the most popular Treasures of Spain, lines can be extremely long during summer.
3. Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba
The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba (Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba) is another of the Treasures of Spain that illustrates the country’s history of passing between Islamic and Christian rule. As Córdoba was the first city conquered by the Moors when they arrived during the 8th century it holds a particular curiosity.
Some archaeologists claim that the mosque was built atop a pagan temple whereas others say it was first constructed by the Visigoths as a Christian church. The mosque was built rather hastily in 785 but continued to undergo expansion until the Reconquista.
Alterations saw the introduction of chapels although the remarkable prayer hall and its 856 jasper, onyx, marble, and granite columns were left intact. It is one of the best things to do in Córdoba and indeed one of the most magical sites in all of Spain.
A Córdoba Mosque-Cathedral guided tour is packed with insight into the different architectural elements of this holy site that has earned its place as one of the 12 Treasures of Spain.
4. Roman Theater of Mérida
Founded by the Romans in the 1st century BC, Mérida is located in the Extremadura region of western Spain. The city yields a number of Roman archaeological sites and is one of the most important destinations for travelers interested in this period of history.
Sitting on San Albin Hill, the Roman Theater of Mérida dates to around 15 BC and was voted as one of the 12 Treasures of Spain. It’s adjacent to an amphitheater where gladiatorial games would have been held. These days, the theater is still used to host family events and performances during the National Theater Festival of Mérida.
This Roman Theater of Mérida e-ticket includes an audio guide accessible via your smartphone and headphones. It’s ideal if you want to explore at a leisurely pace. Otherwise, you can book a full tour of Mérida that covers the entire archaeological site. Admission to all areas is included as well as the guide service.
5. Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
The capital of the Galicia region in northwest Spain, Santiago de Compostela is the climax of the Camino de Santiago. This pilgrimage route is now a popular hiking trail and is one of the classic Spain experiences not to miss for outdoorsy explorers.
It’s the final resting place of the apostle Saint James who is attributed to bringing Christianity to the Iberian Peninsula. The exterior exemplifies Romanesque architecture at its finest and features such personal motifs as reliefs of the saint’s parents.
Whether you arrive on foot or by train, the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is a splendid site open to all. This Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela tour includes queue jump admission and a guided commentary of the nave. It’s also possible to tap on entry to the Portico of Glory.
6. City of Arts and Sciences (Valencia)
There are so many unique and wonderful things to do in Valencia but only the City of Arts and Sciences has earned itself a spot on the coveted 12 Treasures of Spain list.
La Ciudad de las Artes y Ciencias (or Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències in Valencian) is a major complex on the riverside devoted to culture. Designed by the Spanish-Swiss architect Santiago Calatrava Vallas, it has an avant-garde design with a futuristic vibe.
There are several attractions to explore and it’s tricky to cram them all into a typical two or three days in Valencia. If you’re short on time, it’s simple enough to meander through the compound and the adjacent stretch of Turia Park. In addition, you can rent a water bike, kayak, or transparent boat and glide across the artificial lakes.
Engineered in the form of a whale’s skeleton, Principe Felipe Science Museum throws the traditional concept of a museum on its head. The idea is to touch as much of the exhibit as possible. As the largest aquarium in Europe, Oceanogràfic is an exciting place to cool down among marine life.
Furthermore, it’s possible to purchase combination tickets to two or three institutions to make a saving.
7. Sagrada Família (Barcelona)
The crowning masterpiece of Gaudí, Sagrada Família is one of the most iconic sights in Barcelona. Despite still being under construction the cathedral claims its spot as one of the 12 Treasures of Spain.
Officially the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, Antoni Gaudí took over from the original architect in 1883. The Catalan architect set about implementing his philosophy that nature is the work of God and devoted his work to the construction until his passing in 1926.
Illustrating the life of Jesus Christ in the phases of Nativity, Passion, and Glory, Sagrada Família merges Modernista, Art Nouveau, Catalan Modernism, and Late Gothic features. Whether you are spending three days in Barcelona or you’re here for longer, you cannot miss out on at least seeing the outside of this exquisite cathedral.
Seeing as there are so many details to make sense of, this Sagrada Família fast-track Access guided tour spotlights key elements. The guide will talk about the art and architecture of the basilica before dipping into the attached museum.
If you prefer to explore at your own pace, this Sagrada Família entry ticket includes an audio guide delivered via the official app. An upgrade on the base package permits access to the Passion Facade Tower or Nativity Facade Tower.
8. Guggenheim Museum (Bilbao)
One of the best things to do in Bilbao is to tour the art gallery that was voted a Treasure of Spain.
Sitting on the banks of the Nervión River, the museum building is the work of the Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry in 1997 in a radical modern style. Utilizing titanium, limestone, and glass, the curved exterior is custom-designed to catch the sun’s rays and provide an art installation beyond the gallery.
In fact, the original idea stemmed from Picasso’s oil on canvas, The Accordionist (1911). Contemporary paintings and sculptures from the likes of Vasily Kandinsky, Mark Rothko, and Eduardo Chillida.
This Guggenheim Museum guided tour has skip-the-line privileges and a local guide. Once the guided segment concludes, the audio guide will keep you company until you’re ready to check out.
9. La Concha Beach (Donostia-San Sebastian)
Those glorious beaches also have a part to play as one of the 12 Treasures of Spain. La Concha Beach is situated in a sheltered cove west of San Sebastian Old Town.
Naturally, the way to experience this Treasure is by laying down a towel, slapping on the SPF, and digging into a good novel. However, you can also visit as part of an adventurous San Sebastian guided e-bike tour. The route passes some of the city’s lesser-known neighborhoods as well as the gorgeous beach.
It’s also possible to visit the Beach of La Concha on a day trip from Bilbao. This San Sebastian and Sand Juan de Gaztelugatxe guided tour blends history, shocking natural scenery, and the sandy shore of La Conca.
10. Teide National Park (Tenerife)
The only one of the 12 Treasures of Spain off the mainland, Teide National Park is located in one of the warmest places in Spain in winter. Of course, that’s the Canary Islands – Tenerife to be precise. This vast park is home to Mount Teide, the highest peak on Spanish soil and the world’s third-tallest volcanic structure.
Teide National Park is also recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unique geodiversity and its status as a geologically complex and mature volcanic system. But, you needn’t be a geology whizz to get a lot from the experience – the landscapes are stunning and delight travelers of all ages.
This Mount Teide tour with cable car ticket and transfer is a sustainable option that spares over-pollution on the mountain. An eight-minute journey through the sky drops you at the lookout from where you can hike up one of three trails to the peak (permit required).
Stargazing is pretty astronomical up near the peak. This Teide National Park night sky star safari lets you view the Milky Way through four telescopes. It also includes sunset cava and an authentic Canarian dinner at a traditional restaurant. If you’re not fussed to eat, this guided large telescope stargazing tour orbits entirely around astronomy.
11. Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar (Zaragoza)
The Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar (Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar) is believed to be the first church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It’s situated on the riverside in Zaragoza in the Aragon region.
There are a lot of fun things to do in Zaragoza (and the food scene is incredible). You can easily spend a long weekend exploring the city and including el Pilar in your plans.
What you see today was built in the Baroque style under the Spanish king, Charles II. Consisting of eleven cupolas and four towers, it cuts a striking image and is bathed in golden light over sunset. The image of the Virgin rests in the Holy Temple which is adorned with frescoes painted by the prestigious Francisco Goya.
Visiting one of the holiest 12 treasures of Spain gives you an easy excuse to explore this lesser-visited city. This Zaragoza historical tour of the Old District condenses 2,000 years of history into 2.5 hours, culminating at the church.
12. Cave of Altamira (Santillana del Mar)
The Cave of Altamira is situated in Santillana del Mar, just 15 miles west of the Cantabria coastal capital of Santander. This cave contains Paleolithic paintings and rock art that have been preserved for over 14,000 years. Naturally, it’s earned a place of pride on the UNESCO World Heritage list as well as on the 12 Treasures of Spain.
These rock paintings depict wild animals and human handprints that reveal telling details about life during this ancient era. Besides the original cave, there is a replica and a museum.
The only way to visit is by booking one of the official Altamira Cave Tours. These tours include the Cave of Altamira as well as other caverns within this Paleolithic cave system. Tours are private, include transport, and are delivered in English.
It’s also possible to visit the replica cave and museum as part of a day trip from Santander to Santillana del Mar.