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12 Essential Spain Experiences Not to Miss

12 Essential Spain Experiences Not to Miss

Wherever your itinerary takes you, you can take your pick from a bounty of unique and quintessential Spain experiences.

Spain offers an equal balance of urban and rural, rugged and polished beaches, ancient architecture and modern art, laid-back nightlife, and world-class clubbing. It’s for this reason that all types of travelers find a plethora of pursuits to enjoy – whether traveling alone, as a couple, or with children.

Let’s break down the most unforgettable activities for your Spain bucket list.

Essential Spain Experiences

With options to suit adventurers, foodies, art lovers, and more, these definitive activities will inspire any Spain bucket list.

1. Feast on Paella in Valencia

As one of the classic Spanish dishes, you can eat paella in any part of the country. However, this quintessential Spanish experience is best enjoyed in Valencia – the city where the dish was born.

It is thought that paella was introduced by Valencian farmers as an easy and practical lunch. These agricultural workers would throw together rice and whatever vegetables and meat were kicking around the land.

Nowadays, paella is prepared in a large, flat-bottomed pan using bomba rice. Onions and garlic provide the essence while saffron adds further taste and that vivid tint. Seafood and meat are tossed with the rice although you can also find vegetarian paella. Pair paella with your choice of Agua de Valencia, sangria, or zesty white Spanish wine.

paella with lemon wedges on the sides

Traditioanl Valencian Paella has chicken, rabbit, butter beans and artichokes.

2. See a Flamenco Performance in Seville

Flamenco is a captivating performance art combining dance, music, song, and costume. The roots of flamenco are unclear – supposedly it hails from the Gitanos who traveled to the Iberian Peninsula from further east. Seeing as the dance has become synonymous with Andalucia, catching a show is one of the essential Spain experiences while in the southern region.

Visiting the Flamenco Dance Museum is one of the most unique things to do in Seville. You can start with an educational tour of the museum and then watch a show straight afterward.

An alternative option is to hop over the river to Palacio Andaluz. Renowned as one of the finest flamenco displays in the city, you’ll not be able to resist tapping along. Here you have the option to upgrade your reservation to include dinner so do pay attention when booking tickets.

3. Ogle at Gaudí’s Masterpieces in Barcelona

The ambitious architect behind Catalan Modernism, Antoni Gaudí, left his whimsical mark on Barcelona. His uncompleted Sagrada Família attracts all the glory but there are other masterpieces to explore in the coastal city.

Be sure to add Casa Batlló, Casa Milá, and Park Güell to your Barcelona itinerary. The two properties may be appreciated from the street although tours of the interiors are an option. On the other hand, visiting the hillside park is a must – it’s like a fantastical village with incredible views out to sea.

Park Güell is a year-round attraction and one of the most family-friendly experiences in Spain. Time your visit carefully if you want to stick around for the golden hour.

casa batllo in barcelona is one of the most essential spain experiences.

There are so many incredible Gaudi buildings and parks to explore in Barcelona.

4. Journey through Andalucia’s Moorish History

Originating from countries in North Africa, the Moors ruled over parts of the region we know as Andalucia during the Middle Ages. Moorish legacy remains through such buildings as the Alcazabas of Málaga and Almeria, the Royal Alcázar of Seville, the Alhambra of Granada, and the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba.

All four constitute some of the best things to do in Andalucia. As they were built at different times during the Moorish occupation, these citadels and palaces showcase a variety of influences from North Africa, the Iberian Peninsula, Islam, and Christianity.

Visiting these sites provides essential Spain experiences for connecting with the country’s history. All three are open to the public and may be visited independently or with a tour guide. Enrolling in a tour makes sense if you want to understand the significance of the architecture and Moorish culture.

Moorish architecture at a home in Seville.

The Moorish and Mudejar architecture around Andalucia is one of the best things about exploring this region.

5. Party Like it’s the 1970s in Ibiza

The Balearic island of Ibiza is known for its legendary nightlife where celebrated DJs perform until sunrise in the summer months. The party scene is concentrated on the emblematic superclubs around Ibiza Town and its hedonistic western neighbor, Sant Antoni.

On the whole, Ibiza Town itself is a quieter place to stay in Ibiza as the major venues are dotted on the outskirts. Pacha and Amnesia have been around since the “flower power” movement of the 1960s and 1970s brought artists, musicians, and painters to Eivissa. These historic clubs offer a carousel of different styles of music.

The perk of choosing Sant Antoni is that the nightlife is a fraction cheaper and more centralized around the hotels and resorts. Other fun things to do in Ibiza include party boat cruises. These “booze cruises” usually include unlimited drinks and food onboard plus watersports activities like jet skiing or inflatables.

In addition to the clubs, this beautiful island is also blessed with sandy beaches that reel in families and honeymooners. Therefore, if you’re not crazy about big nights out, you can soak up the vibes in a beach club. There are beach clubs in Ibiza that welcome kids or where you can partake in yoga classes. A private supper under the stars at Amante takes the biscuit for romantic Spanish experiences!

beach with a castle in the background.

The beaches around Spain are what draws many people to the country.

6. “Tomar el Sol” on the Spanish Beaches

Feeling the sun on your back is one of the essential Spain experiences that’ll leave you feeling replenished and relaxed. Spain has over 3,000 miles of coastline across its Northern and Mediterranean regions plus its Balearic and Canary archipelagoes.

Southern Spain receives baking hot summers and mild winters that ensure your vitamin D levels stay buoyant. Beaches swell during the high season yet these crowds peter out as we creep into fall. Visit the “Coast of the Sun” for some of the sunniest beaches in Spain. Málaga and Marbella are the principal resorts where you’ll find some of the prettiest – and most accessible – Costa del Sol beaches.

If you’re up in the north, hitting the beaches of Badalona is one of the best things to do in Barcelona. Hiring a rental car or hopping on a bus/train opens you up for exploring the beaches and towns of the Costa Brava. The “Wild Coast” comprises rugged beaches and medieval sights.

Temperatures are pleasant year-round in Spain. Although, if you have your heart set on off-season swimming, you’ll need to head to the Canary Islands. This volcanic cluster off the West African coastline is one of the warmest places in Spain in winter.

7. Brave the Caminito del Rey

Once upon a time, Caminito del Rey was considered one of the world’s most perilous hikes. Nowadays, the trail is far safer with a series of walkways navigating the sheer cliff of the ravine.

Essentially, this is a 4.5-mile (7 km) hike through the Los Gaitanes and El Chorro gorges. The views are spectacular and you’ll need to feel comfortable with heights in order to enjoy the trail and suspension bridge.

This hair-raising Spain experience may be enjoyed as a day trip from Seville or Málaga. It’s possible to organize this outing independently or as a guided tour with round transport from either city. Once you reach the attraction itself, the hike will take around 3 hours to complete.

caminito del rey bridge in spain.

Finish the Caminito del Rey by walking across this stunning bridge.

8. Celebrate Spanish Culture at a Festival

Attending a festival is one of the coolest Spanish experiences for connecting with traditional culture. At the same time, these events also provide a window into modern life in Spain.

As a Catholic nation, the majority of towns and cities host an annual festival in honor of their patron saint. It’s always worth checking out the dates to see if your travel dates align. Otherwise, you might want to plan a vacation with the sole intention of experiencing one of the famous festivals in Spain. Las Fallas (Valencia) and Fiesta de San Isidro (Barcelona) are two of the more accessible ones for tourists to enjoy. The Feria de Abril is a huge occasion for Sevillians although it’s somewhat exclusive.

Furthermore, if you’re not too attached to your vacation clothes, check out tickets for La Tomatina de Buñol.

paper mache characters that are made for the Fallas festival in Valencia each year.

The Fallas Festival in Valencia is one of the loudest and proudest festival in Spain.

9. Share Twilight Tapas in Madrid

As with paella, tapas is the backbone of Spanish cuisine and one of your essential Spain experiences. A tapa is an appetizer served alongside wine or beer. These small plates typically include a mix of hot and cold bites that are shared. Classic tapas options include tortilla española, chorizo, croquetas, and calamari.

Menus will vary based on where in the country you are with seafood being more prominent closer to the coast. If you’re a light eater, a couple of tapas dishes might satisfy you for dinner. However, it’s the norm to treat tapas as a pre-dinner snack.

Dining on tapas and your choice of Rioja, sangria, or cerveza late into the night is a rite of passage while traveling in Spain. As one of the most popular areas for tapas in the capital, Calle de la Cava Baja should take precedence on your Madrid itinerary.

tapas on a table with bread, cured meats, cheese and wine.

Tapas around the country are exceptional, but in Madrid it’s a truly special Spain experience.

10. Hike the Camino de Santiago

One of the best-known multi-day hikes in Europe, the Camino de Santiago was originally a medieval pilgrimage. This is actually a sequence of trails of varying lengths that pass through France, Spain, and Portugal. Ultimately, all roads lead to Santiago de Compostela, the capital of northwest Spain’s Galicia region.

This is the supposed burial site of James the Great, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. It’s thought that his remains are housed within the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela.

Depending on how much time you have, you can tackle one or two of the Camino trails. The longest route, the Camino Frances, requires an average of 35 nights to complete. Although it’s one of the lengthiest, this one does have the best infrastructure for hikers with less experience on long hikes.

Tracing the beautiful coastline of northern “Green” Spain, the Camino Norte (Northern Way) is a similar length. It’s generally quieter than the Camino Frances but has more ascends and descends. Starting in Irun, you’ll traverse Basque Country with stops in San Sebastian, Bilbao, and picturesque seaside villages.

On the other hand, the Camino Inglés from A Coruña or Ferrol just takes 4-6 nights. It’s possible to even hike only part of one of the longer trails. This way, you can get a flavor of one of the essential Spain experiences for hikers. Alternatively, you can cycle certain legs.

While it’s not necessary to join a tour, Camino Ways is useful for getting an overview of the hiking routes.

wine tasting with a meat platter in the middle.

There are SO many wonderful wine regions around Spain, you’ll want to sample around to find out which is your favorite.

11. Explore the Wine Regions of Spain

While not quite as famous as its northern neighbor, Spain does have superb wine production. Spanish wine regions are dotted around the country where red, white, sparkling, and fortified wines are produced.

The green northwest coast claims the monopoly on mineral-rich whites and aromatic reds. Perhaps the most famous export from Spanish wineries, Rioja, hails from the Ebro and Duero River Valleys south of Bilbao. Elsewhere, Catalan is the queen of cava production and Andalucia is the powerhouse of sherry. Laying closer to the African continent, the Canary Islands produce bold varieties from volcanic soil.

If you’re a wine aficionado, you can supplement your Spain bucket list with a tour or tasting surrounded by rolling hills and dramatic island landscapes.

12. Enroll in Spanish Lessons

English is widely spoken in Spain’s tourist areas although speaking Spanish means you can stray further from the path. It’s always beneficial to brush up on the basics before taking a vacation and essential if you’re planning on relocating to Spain. Free apps such as DuoLingo and online courses with Pimsleur are a good place to start.

Language schools exist throughout the major cities as well as outlying hubs, such as Salamanca, Bilbao, and Cadiz. Some schools offer packages where you can book accommodation while you study and most run extra-curricular events where you can mingle with other students. This is one of the most immersive experiences in Spain

It’s worth noting that while Spanish is the official language in Spain, you will also hear regional languages spoken. These include Catalan, Galician, and Basque.