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The best things to eat, see and do in Spain

Spain is famous for its delicious food, flamenco dancing, architecture and football, but there are so many more things to do in Spain beyond the highlights. 

Inhale the sweet, fresh scent of thousands of citrus trees. Savour the salty taste of jamon iberico and the creamy texture of soft-ripened cheese. Marvel at the Gothic architecture. Listen to the waves crashing against cliffs and raise a glass of Tempranillo to a sky streaked in orange. Welcome to Spain. A place of mountains, museums, medieval villages and markets. Sun-drenched sandy beaches, lush gardens and music playing softly in the background. There are so many things to do in Spain that inspire the senses, and we’ve found some of the best to add to your itinerary. 

Spain travel facts

Currency: Euro (€)

Official language(s): Spanish,

Time zone: GMT+1

Emergency contact number: 112

Power adaptor required: Sockets meet European regulations and use the round pin system (AC 220 volts, 50 Hertz)

Visa: Part of the Schengen Zone, member states can stay up to 90 days in any 180-day period. That includes Australian passport holders. EU/EEA nationals only need an identification document to enter Spain.

The best things to do in Spain

See (and smell!) the Brihuega Lavender Festival

In Brihuega, one hour north of the capital city of Madrid, the delicate sweet scent of lavender wafts on the breeze. At the height of Spain’s summer, an annual festival is held to celebrate these pretty purple blooms. Walk among the rows of flowers and, at sunset, you can picnic beneath the stars.

Listen to Spanish guitar in Seville

In the south of Spain, in the city of Seville, it’s a scent of a different kind. Here, you’ll smell citrus by simply walking the city streets. Thousands of orange trees line its laneways, patios, squares and plazas. Introduced around 1,000 years ago, they are now a city symbol. Seville is also famed for its stunning architecture and lively atmosphere where the traditional Spanish guitar is often heard. 

Visit a scent museum in Santa Cruz de la Salceda

The Museum of Aromas of Santa Cruz de la Salceda is the only museum of its type in Europe in a quaint village on the road between Madrid and Bilbao.

Spain - Seville and lavender fields in Brihuega
Smell the sweet scents in Seville and Brihuega

Listen to flamenco music

In the hillside neighbourhood of Sacromonte, in southern Spain’s Andalusia region, sit in a whitewashed cave and watch as flamenco dancers in red-ruffled gowns perform in the region where the dance was born. La Cueva de la Rocío Tablao flamenco is directed by the Mayan family, known as one of the great artists in the flamenco world. It’s a valued tradition on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and can be found in almost every corner of the country.

Visit Palau de la Música in Barcelona or if you want to experience a centuries-old Spanish tradition first-hand, there is nothing better than the sounds of any Semana Santa procession.

Flamenco is a fantastic experience when travelling in Spain | Palau de la Música in Barcelona

Relax in a spa

The Archena hot springs in the Valle del Ricote Natural Area in Murcia, are one of the oldest in Spain. Beyond the thermal waters, experience a vitamin C bath, feel the soothing warmth of volcanic stones as part of a rejuvenating massage. Or even one based in chocolate.

Enjoy the sun by the water

Spain has so much to offer in the great outdoors. From dipping your hand in the cool stream of a lake to caressing the grass of a green meadow. There is no better feeling than walking barefoot on a fine sand beach or in the breathtaking dunes like Maspalomas in Gran Canaria.

Markets in Madrid.

The best things to eat in Spain

Try traditional foods

From the dangerously sweet chocolate dip you’ll devour with churros to the aroma of a hot pan of paella bursting with fresh seafood, one of the best things to do in Spain is try the traditional foods. Head to the old quarters of the cities in ‘the Basque Country’ for bars brimming with pintxos (small snacks). Think Angulas (small eels), bacon-wrapped dates, potato croquettes, goat’s cheese, and chorizo.

Visit the markets

Century-old markets also provide unique places to taste local, regional cuisine. Try San Miguel Market in Madrid and Boqueria Market in Barcelona.

Sample the wine

Spain is a paradise for wine lovers. Take a tasting at one of the Ribera del Duero wineries in Castile and Leon, or head to Ribeira Sacra wineries in Galicia, with unique vineyards in the mountains and on the riverbank. 

 Discover bars brimming with pintxos

The best things to see in Spain

Gaze upon the works of Gaudí 

Millions flock to Spain to see the works of Antoni Gaudí, from the eccentric neo-Gothic spires of the unfinished La Sagrada Familia to the colourful mosaics of Parc Guell.

Get out in nature

Spain’s natural landscapes are just as colourful – and breathtaking. Las Medulas, a UNESCO Heritage-listed area in the mountainous northwest, is one of the world’s most remarkable remnants of gold mining sites dating to Roman times. Some of the best outdoorsy things to do in Spain can be found here. Hike, bike, or horse ride through the ancient site where Romans worked 2,000 years ago.

Explore the fishing towns of Catalonia

If you’re looking for things to do in Spain that cater to a slow pace of life, visit a fishing village. With a rocky coast fringed by beautiful beaches and quiet coves, head to the northeastern region of Catalonia to the little fishing village of Cadaqués. Walk the narrow, cobbled streets of the Old Town, and it won’t take long to see why it’s been a source of inspiration for painters and artists for decades, including Dalí.

Spain Barcelona
Discover the grandeur of Gaudí in Barcelona

Follow in the footsteps of Picasso

The 50th anniversary of the death of one of the most important Spanish artists, Pablo Ruiz Picasso, takes place in 2023 – he was born in Malaga in 1881. Celebrated across the world for his bold and abstract works, an extensive program of exhibitions and events is taking place across Spain to commemorate his life and work. Yet any year is ideal to immerse in Picasso’s life and work. You can follow in Picasso’s footsteps from Malaga to A Coruna, Madrid and onto Barcelona, where he spent his formative years.  It’s one of the more inspiring things to do in Spain. 

The southern city of Malaga boasts more than just Picasso’s birthplace. It’s an art lover dream. Take in the Jorge Rando Museum, the San Telmo Royal Academy of Fine Arts and the Interactive Museum of Music of Malaga. Seek out the Church of Santiago, where Picasso was baptised, his former school of San Rafael, and the La Malagueta bullring that inspired his first drawings and oil paintings. And naturally, the Picasso Museum that boasts over 230 artworks in the Buenavista Palace.

As a teenager, Picasso lived in the Spanish capital of Madrid, where he found inspiration from the great masters in the Prado Museum. He later became an honorary director of the art space. Madrid has a charming old town mixed with the heady nightlife Spain is renowned for. All making it a must visit on any Spanish itinerary.

Check out museums

On the subject of artists, there is only so much more pleasing to the eye than the details of an iconic work of art. You could see “Las Meninas” by Velázquez in the Prado Museum in Madrid. More of Picasso with “Guernica” in the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid. Or study the sculptural elements, known as mocárabes, of La Alhambra in Granada. 

Learn about traditional arts and crafts

There are very few things to do in Spain that aren’t enriching, but visiting a traditional workshop is one of the best cultural experiences for visitors. From silversmithing, basketry, pottery, weaving, cabinetmaking. Or stroking one of the famous Ezcaray blankets. Interior lovers flock to the Royal Tapestry Factory in Madrid to marvel at the work of weavers in its living museum which offers immersive guided tours.

Read more: 

A luxury travel guide to Spain
Take a look inside The Spa at Mandarin Oriental Barcelona

This article originally appeared in volume 44 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style magazine.