Sunny Spain

Explore Gaudi’s weird and wonderful buildings over a long weekend in Barcelona or take a cultural trip to the capital, Madrid.

Barcelona

The capital of Catalonia, Barcelona is Spain’s second largest and most visited city. That’s no surprise, as it really does seem to ‘have it all’ – great shops, lively nightlife, unique architecture and sunny Mediterranean beaches. It’s perfect at any time of year for both a stimulating city break and a longer holiday exploring the area. In fact, while Barcelona’s relatively compact and easy to walk around, you’ll find it difficult to fit everything into a weekend. You’ll of course want to see the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the renowned architectural works of Antoni Gaudí. But there are special pleasures to be found in exploring the winding streets, hidden squares, fountains and palaces of the Gothic Quarter or soaking up the lively scenes on La Rambla, the city’s most famous avenue.


Madrid

Spain’s cosmopolitan capital city is rich in culture. There’s much to see. You could spend a week at the huge Museo del Prado alone. The collection of art rivals any in the world and features some unforgettable paintings by Velasquez and Goya. Together with the Thyssenand Reina Sofia the Prado completes Madrid’s ‘Golden Triangle of Art’. To best see the city, you should head from one cultural hotspot to another on foot. Pleasant streets lined with authentic tapas bars give way to impressive plazas and parks where the locals gather. As night falls, make your way toward the city’s bars and clubs – they start late and keep jumping till dawn.


 


Valencia

Valencia is Spain’s 3rd city but the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences rivals anything to be found in Barcelona or Madrid. At over a mile long, it contains a science museum, Europe’s largest aquarium, an impressive opera house and more. Valencia’s charming old town is nearby. Its streets are studded with architectural gems, including the Cathedral of Our Lady – home to the Holy Grail. If all that sightseeing leaves you peckish, then tuck into a bowl of the local paella – served piping hot at backstreet cafes across the city.


Figueres

Figueres is best known as the home of the Theatre Museu Dali, Salvador Dali’s typically elaborate gift to the town he was born and raised in. The building itself is every bit as mind-boggling and not to be missed as the art inside, with huge eggs and mannequins lining its red and gold perimeter walls. But it’s not all about Dali: Figueres is an attractive and compact town, with plenty of sights and attractions to keep you occupied away from all those melting clocks and armies of ants, and a great base for exploring the rugged beauty of the Costa Brava.


Seville

For a true flavour of Spain, head to Seville. Bullfights, flamenco dancing, raucous festivals, great tapas – it’s all here. Seville was under Muslim rule in the early middle ages and signs of those times are everywhere. Head to Seville`s grand cathedral – one of the largest in the world – and climb the ‘Giralda’ minaret, a relic of the ancient mosque that once stood on the same site. Visit the Moorish palace of Reales Alcázares, with its magical reflecting pool and sunken gardens. 


Alicante

The long, sandy beaches of the Costa Blanca, the pleasant, Mediterranean climate, spectacular festivals and lively year-round nightlife – all contribute to Alicante being one of Europe’s leading tourist hubs. Here, you can enjoy a holiday that’s as relaxing or as active as you wish. There’s pleasure to be had simply ambling along the wide esplanades and seaside promenades, pausing for a drink or bite to eat at a terrace café. And if you want to play and party hard, there are plenty of opportunities for that too. Meanwhile the compact old town, with its museums and baroque buildings, bears witness to a long and interesting history as a major port. The Moors gave the city its modern name of Alicante – Arabic for ‘city of lights’. You’re sure to take a shine to it.


Malaga

Many Brits overlook Malaga in favour of nearby Marbella, Fuengirola and Torremolinos. But they don’t know what they’re missing. Malaga offers a far more authentic flavour of Andalucia. And it’s got the sunshine and beaches too! You’ll find culture: Malaga was the birth place of Pablo Picasso and the Picasso Museum hosts a permanent collection of his work. There’s history: the city’s 2 9th-century forts are fine examples of Malaga’s Moorish roots. And great gastronomy: stroll along to the charming fishing districts of Pedragalejo and El Palo – a stone’s throw from the city centre – for some fantastic fresh seafood.


Benicasim

Benicasim is an attractive beach resort in Castelló province on the Costa del Azahar, a little over 50 miles (85km) north of Valencia. Its main claim to fame is the Benicasim Festival (Festival Internacional de Benicasim), an annual rock music event that draws fans from all over Europe, particularly the UK. Unlike festivals in Britain, here the sunny weather is virtually guaranteed and there are lovely beaches close by. Festival-goers tend to stay in Benicasim itself, so hotels and other accommodation can be booked up long in advance of the festival in July.

 


Irun

In all likelihood, Irun will just be somewhere you catch a connecting train towards Madrid or Paris. But if you do have a few hours to spare there are some sights worth seeing. The granite mountains that watch over the city are good for a hike, while the Baroque city hall and 16th-century Gothic church have their charms. For something a little different, head to the city’s butterfly museum – there are 7,000 specimens on show from across the globe.


Girona

Often overlooked in favour of its Catalan big brother Barcelona, Girona is a stunning, historic city that’s perfect for travellers looking for somewhere off the beaten track. Known in Spain as the ‘City of 1000 seiges’ due to its rich, turbulent history, it’s a place full of narrow alleys and Gothic archways, as well as wonderful curiosities like the perfectly preserved Moorish bathhouse. Oh, and don’t forget to plant a kiss on the rear end of the lion up the lamppost on Placa de Sant Feliu: the locals reckon it’ll bring you years of good luck.