Average cost p/day: US$60
Time frame: 1 month +
Spain is up there as one of my favourite places in the world. Partly, this is because I love the Spanish language and culture. But it’s also because there’s heaps of cool places to explore; countless beaches and mountains to keep the outdoorsy-types busy, plus bustling cities and quiet villages and everything inbetween. While in Spain, be sure to indulge in the tapas, sangria and pintxos.
I’ve spent a lot of my time in Spain doing ‘Workaway’ programs – staying with local families to help them learn English and to help out with the kids. This means that I’ve experienced the local culture first-hand and got to see a lot of places that might be considered “off the beaten track.” I can’t recommend it enough!
WHERE TO GO
Everyone loves Barcelona! With the beaches, the nightlife and the very chilled out vibe, what’s not to love?! It can be overly touristy and tacky in parts (around the Gothic Quarter) but beyond the tourist traps, Barcelona is fun, safe and beautiful. The Gaudi architecture is phenomenal, of course including the unmissable Sagrada Familia. If you have the opportunity, it’s well worth going inside! At Park Guell you’ll see more quirky buildings and also get great views of the city. Another standout Gaudi site is Casa Battlo. Tibidabo, reachable by funicular or a short hike, gives more great views over the city and boasts a cute little amusement park as well as a stunning church.
Hostel recommendation – Urbany BCN GO
Spain’s capital city has this amazing charm to it. After you’ve checked out the key spots (Retire Park, Plaza Mayor, Santa Maria Cathedral and the Royal Palace) you can spend days and days just roaming the streets, enjoying the diversity of the different neighbourhoods. There are tons of great markets, notably the Mercado de San Miguel. The nightlife is amazing and for something a bit different, catch a flemenco show one night. The music, the dancing, the atmosphere..guaranteed fun night out!
Hostel recommendation – Cat’s Hostel
Though Valencia is Spain’s third largest city, it has a kind of ‘small town’ vibe to it. The old town is beautiful and generally quiet as compared to Barcelona or Madrid. Turia Gardens, a park that runs around the edge of the city, offers lakes, bike paths, playgrounds, fitness stations…something for everyone. It also houses the Arts & Science center which just looks like something from the future, very much contrasting the traditional buildings in the centre of town. If you’re game, climb the 207 narrow steps up to the top of the Miguelete Tower, a part of the Cathedral, to get 360 degree views of the area. And, of course, the beach is worth a visit! La Tomatina is held just outside of Valencia, in Bunol.
Hostel recommendation – Red Nest Hostel
The old town of San Sebastian has the highest density of bars/restaurants in the world. So it comes as no surprise that food is such a big part of the culture here. Pintxos are laid out on almost every bar; a standard meal in San Sebastian is spent hopping between bars to try a little bit of everything! Other than eating and relaxing on the beautiful beach, you can also take a short walk up to the castle at Urgull Peak to look over the city.
The home of the running of the bulls! If you don’t fancy that, then spend your days in Pamplona relaxing in the cafes and bars that look out onto the cobble-stoned streets and plazas of this beautiful city.
While Seville may initially seem like a small city, it’s jam packed with things to see and do. You can easily fill at least three or four days roaming the streets. The most popular attraction is the Alcazar, a palace initially created by Moorish Muslim Kings. However, I preferred Casa de Pilotas – a smaller palace with much more impressive tile work. The Cathedral is also a major point of interest, once also a mosque under Moorish rule, it is the burial site of Christopher Columbus and the bell tower offers panoramic views of the city.
Hostel recommendation – La Banda Rooftop Hostel
A small city with lots of personality! The narrow cobble stoned streets of Albazin (the Arab district or ‘Old Quarter’) are filled with musicians and market stalls selling items you might expect to see in Morocco, not Spain. If you walk a little bit out of town you’ll find Socremonte – a hippie neighbourhood where houses are built into the mountain, like caves. From there you’ll get great views of the town and even better views await a little higher up – at San Miguel Alto. Of course, Granada is most famous for its palace (the Alhambra) and the free tapas that come with every drink!
Hostel recommendation – Oasis Hostel
Something different —
Though it may be Spain’s smallest region, Cantabia has plenty to offer. You won’t meet many foreign visitors here, but rather Spaniards who come from inland to the coast for their holiday. I stayed in a tiny village called Argonos, from which Berria beach and El Brusco beach are easily accessible. These beaches are surrounded by mountains – I highly recommend the little walk up to the hill between the two beaches. Amazing view! Nearby in Santona you can hike to Faro de Caballo – a lighthouse set against the bluest water I’ve ever seen! Across the bay you’ll find Laredo which offers a beautiful beach, as well as a nice little old town and a stunning viewpoint up at Fuerte El Rastrillar. Slightly more inland, you’ll find traditional villages such as Barcena Mayor and Santillana Del Mar, both of which are heritage protected sights. Just outside of Barcena Mayor there is an amazing little river where you can slide down the flowing water into a pool of icy cold water. The Altamira caves, near Santilliana, are full of paintings that date back 13,000 years! Though the caves are no longer open to visitors, there is a fantastic museum with a replica cave.
Greater Madrid (region)
Just outside of Madrid there’s lots to explore! I spent a few weeks in a little village called Talamanca de Jarama. Whilst there’s not a lot to do in this tiny town, you can check out the Cartuja and Roman Bridge and cycle around the countryside. Not too far away, there’s an amazing hike up to Pico Penalara. You’ll walk past many lakes as you ascend the mountain and get great views of the area. Another hike starts at Patones (a tiny village with very traditional buildings) and leads you up to Cancho de la Cabeza, where you get fantastic mountain and lake views. Toledo and Segovia are other beautiful smaller cities nearby.
Still on my to do list —
Camino de Santiago (hike)
This hike follows the pilgrims trail from France into Spain, ending in Santiago. There are multiple paths you can follow and various different starting points, depending on how long you want to hike for. The full hike will take around a month! I am hoping to do this soon, though perhaps not the full length.