Beautiful sandy beaches, romantic music in the air, colourful dances and raging bulls. Mash them all together and what you’ll get is the alluring nation of the Iberian Peninsula known as Spain. It is a top travel destination for travellers from all over Europe and is especially popular during the summer.
While there are many amazing destinations throughout Spain, each filled with their own unique activities, some of the very best experiences in Spain cost close to nothing. So here they are: five cities in Spain, five unique experiences, and an infinite feeling of gratification.
1. An architectural and cultural tour of Barcelona
If Spain is a body, then Barcelona is the heart of that body. The Catalan capital is famous for its eye-catching architectural landmarks such as the Sagrada Familia and the Casa Batlló, both works of the late Antoni Gaudi. In fact, Barcelona is filled with the master architect’s works, making it a city whose design and beauty is uniquely one-of-a-kind.
While you have to pay to visit the interior of some of Gaudi’s best works, truth be told, even admiring the facade is a feast for the eyes. So much so that taking a stroll through the streets of Barcelona is in itself a tour on its own.
In addition, taking a walk through La Rambla in the evening is an adventure of its own. The busy street in central Barcelona is the heartbeat of the city with various bars, clubs and restaurants operating with a real air of festivity. No wonder Barcelona is known as a city that never sleeps.
2. Revisiting Spain's spiritual roots in Valencia
Spain has a deep history with the ancient Roman Empire and was one of the earliest cities under the Empire in which Roman Catholicism flourished. As such, there are many monuments and buildings which reflect Spain’s roots to its past. One such prominent connection lies in the Plaza De La Virgen in Valencia.
Found in the centre of the city’s historic district, the Plaza De La Virgen is a beautiful square which looks as if it came out of a romantic movie. It can be recognised by the iconic water fountain in the middle of the square which features Neptune, the Roman God of the Sea.
That being said, the main attractions here are actually the many churches which surround it. The churches there allow free admission. However, should you visit during prayer times, which usually occur in the morning between 8.00am till 12.00pm and again in the evening between 6.00pm till 8.00pm on an hourly basis, it is imperative to observe silence if you’re allowed to enter the churches. Most churches in the square come with a bell tower which can be climbed for a beautiful view of Valencia’s cityscape at the top.
In fact, some of the churches around the Plaza De La Virgen still ring the bells manually using ropes and raw manpower. So if you’re lucky, you might be able to witness how a traditional church bell is rung which, according to a local who had told me during my visit, is quite a rare sight even for the people who live there.
3. Admire the beautiful ambience of Sevilla’s Plaza de España
Moving further down along the southwest of Spain, we find ourselves in Sevilla, which is known as the capital of Andalusia (more on that later). While Sevilla houses quite a few major attractions such as the Royal Alcazar of Sevilla, one of Spain’s most beautiful palaces, Sevilla’s most unique attraction is the Plaza de España.
The Plaza’s semi-circle complex is lined with colourful alcoves that represent every province in Spain and there is a canal in the middle of the Plaza upon which visitors can rent a rowing boat and go on a relaxing ride. The Plaza de España is also connected to several gardens and museums, most (if not all) of which offer free admission.
Because of the sheer size of the place, it’s not unheard of for visitors to spend hours within the place admiring the beautiful ambience. And just in case there are any Star Wars fans reading this, the Plaza de España was also the filming location for the city of Theed on Planet Naboo in Star Wars Episodes I and II. The Force is strong in this location.
4. Soak up the summer sun on a beach in Cádiz
About a 2 hour train ride further south of Sevilla is the little port city of Cádiz, which, like Sevilla, is part of the region known as Andalusia. For those of you who might not know it, Andalusia is most famous for its sandy beaches and beautiful summer sun. And Cádiz is home to some of the most breathtaking beaches in all of Spain.
Despite its small size, visitors in Cádiz will be spoilt for choice in terms of choosing which beach to spend the day at. La Playa de Santa Maria del Mar is a far less crowded beach but it’s also smaller while La Playa de la Victoria is the beach with the smoothest sand. But perhaps the most famous of all is the La Playa de La Caleta, which is considered the most beautiful beach in Cádiz and has been featured in the James Bond movie, Die Another Day.
5. Experience Madrid's urban culture at the Plaza Mayor
And finally we’ve arrived in the capital, Madrid. While there are obviously many things to see and do in Madrid, one thing that should never be missed is the Plaza Mayor.
The Plaza Mayor is the main square and activity centre of Madrid. The perimeter of the square is lined with bars, restaurants and souvenir shops. While some of the shops charge between average and expensive prices, the real charm of the Plaza Mayor is the people that are found there.
It is a popular spot for both tourists and locals to hang out and relax after a tiring day and you would often find street performers, such as musical acts and mimes within the Plaza Mayor. It is also often the site of fiestas and other activities.
It is an exceptionally ambient place at night when the lights are switched on and there’s just an air of enticement around the place. In a busy city like Madrid, sparing a few minutes to rest and watch the people go by in the Plaza Mayor is truly an activity of a different sort of bliss.
Sometimes, it's the simple things in life
Spain is one of those destinations which captivates minds and hearts and keeps visitors coming back for more. While it does have its glitz and glamour, it’s nice to know that many of the finer things in Spain are still relatively inexpensive.
Before travelling to Spain though, it is important to know that sometimes the locals would assume that you speak Spanish.
So a helpful phrase to remember is: Yo no hablo espanol. Puedes hablar ingles? Meaning: I do not speak Spanish. Can you speak English? However, some locals in Spain actually speak very little English, so be prepared for an adventure nonetheless. But don’t let the potential language barrier put you off, visiting Spain will be one of your most rewarding travel experiences ever. I promise you!
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