Off to Spain for two weeks? What to see? What to do? It can all become overwhelming. The aim of this post is to take some of that pressure of your shoulders. After all, travelling is supposed to be relaxing. Spain is a great destination for those looking for adventure and those looking to relax. This old landscape has seen a lot and holds a lot of history which could help us become better versions of ourselves. This landscape has seen great administrations like the Roman Empire rise and fall, all of them leaving a lot of structures and artefacts for us to understand how they lived. This is the best destination for a getaway to blow off steam as you step back into the past times of gothic architecture and forget about all the troubles of today’s world.
Day 1, Asturias
Begin your adventure in northern Spain along the coast in Asturias, the state is well known for its traditional cider but it has a lot to offer to the eyes as well. Still, on the coast take a chance with some diving in Acuario de Gijon.
Having an area of 1 acre the Gijon Aquarium is the only Spanish aquarium where you will find all five groups of animals. The aquarium is heaven for marine life, being home to more than 400 different species of marine life, all bringing colour and vibrancy to the aquarium’s waters. Next head to the Atlantic Botanic Garden which is home to more than 2000 plants of different types.
Day 2-3, Cantabria
Arriving in the province of Cantabria the main city of interest is the city of Santander. On the Peninsula of La Magdalena is the Palacio Real de la Magdalena, the palace was erected in 1911 for the royal family of Spain who used it as a summer home.
Currently, the palace houses the International University and features a public park open for the general public to enjoy nature. The palace stables are open every weekend for horseback riding or watching the events performed on horsebacks. For relaxing purposes, the garden is open 24 hours.
Preserving the Époque era feeling of the seafront terraces, Playa del Sardinero is not to be missed. Here you will find restaurants serving mouth-watering dishes and elegant luxurious hotels. The El Sardinero Beach facing the Atlantic Ocean is beautiful with soft sands and offers a lot of water sports like surfing. The beach is ideal for sunbathing and very popular among sun-worshippers, seaside dining is also a great idea watching the beautiful sunset, swimming in the waters is allowed however the water is not conducive for bathing.
On a historic note, you should then visit the Museum of Prehistory and Archaeology. The museum is very rich in information about the Palaeolithic and Iron age eras among others. On display in the museum are more than 1,000 objects discovered by archaeologists. The museum offers a guided tour to allow visitors to gain comprehensive information about all the pieces it houses.
The other museum to go to is Museo Maritimo del Cantabrico in Santander Bay. The maritime museum is a popular attraction as it reveals the not so popular underwater maritime world which most people are ignorant about. The museum has 3,000 square metres of display space which has on display seafaring objects and ship models among others.
Another beautiful attraction in the city is the El Faro de Cabo Mayor lighthouse which has been in existence since 1839. Inside the lighthouse is the Centro de Arte Faro de Cabo Mayor museum which has a lot of information about signalling and giving instructions to ships out at sea. From Cape Mayor head to Centro Biotin arts centre on the southern shore.
The centre focuses on contemporary art and is strategically located next to Pereda Gardens. On display at the centre are paintings and sculptures among other media displays like photography. The centre has a restaurant where you can enjoy the dishes served accompanied by the beautiful view of the Pereda Gardens.
Day 4, Basque
Basque is like a country on its own, it has a Spanish side and a French site, it is a state in two different countries. It is home to one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe in the form of La Concha Beach in San Sebastian. The beach is characterised by soft, fine white sands and water sports like surfing. From the beach we headed into town for some drinks, the town has a lot of bars and restaurants all with vibrant flavours.
Next, enjoy the beautiful displays of art in the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. The museum building itself is a fascinating piece of art designed by Frank Gehry. On display in the museum are a lot of local pieces dating hundreds of years. Next to the museum building is Maman, which is a beautiful and gigantic art piece by Louise Bourgeois depicting a spider. The museum is full of picture-perfect spots so be sure to bring a camera to capture the moments.
If you have a craving for wine, pass through the Marques de Riscal Winery in Rioja Alavesa. The winery offers the best wine blends coupled with tasty dishes from the Restaurant. After entertaining your taste buds continue to Artium in Vitoria Gasteiz. The museum is arguably the best in Basque displaying local art and history including that from the rest of Spain. Still, in Vitoria Gasteiz visit the Cathedral of Santa Maria which dates as far as the 13th century. The cathedral has a guided tour which explains its long and rich history.
Day 5-6, Navarre
This region is rich in history as is evident by the castles it has. One of these is the Palacio Real de Olite which dates to the 12th century, the palace is where the court of the Kingdom of Navarre sat under the leadership of Charles III the noble. From the palace, we made our way to Santa Maria Ujue which was built as a fortified church in the 11th century. The church has a guided tour which explains its long and rich history and the role it played under different administrations.
Still, on a historic note, visit the Interpretation Centre of the Pamplona City Walls where are given explanations about the history of the Pamplona city walls and the barracks within the walls. From the military structure visit Puente de la Reina bridge which was constructed in the 11th century to help pilgrims cross the Arga river still in Pamplona head to the famous Plaza de Toros which is the second largest building in all of Spain constructed in 1922.
Pamplona is very rich in history and buildings which survived the test of time, one of these is the Cathedral de Santa Maria which was completed in the year 1525 but its construction began in the 13th century. The building is a beautiful sight with a mixture of different architectural styles due to its building taking centuries to complete.
Then make your way to Sanguesa where you will come across the Church of Santa Maria, which features fascinating stone carvings and scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Navarre is home to a lot of monasteries and churches which include the Monasterio de Iranzu, Monasterio de Santa Maria de Irache and the Monasterio de Leyre among others.
On a more natural note head to the Bardenas Reales desert which is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve spanning 40,000 hectares. For the green part of nature, you should visit Parque Natural Urbasa-Andia which is rich in green plants and rivers, this spot created by a tectonic slip is great for hiking and a lot of hiking trails have already been established. Still, on the natural vibe visit the Parque Natural del Senorio de Bertiz which is very green to the point that you might think they water it every five minutes. The park is 2,000 hectares and features a variety of plant species from different parts of the world, also in the park are beautiful sculptures and vibrant greenhouses.
Day 7-8, Aragon
This is the state that will take you back in time. Your first encounter will be in Calatayud where you will come across the Ayyub castle which dates to around 716 CE. This beautiful piece of ancient architecture is located between the river Jalon and the Sistema Iberico Mountains. Other attractions in the town include the Terrer Gate which dates to the 16th century. The once vibrant Bilbilis is now in ruins, it was the place the great poet Martial was brought into the world in 40 AD. The castles of Bilbilis were greatly fortified.
Next head to Tarazona which is an ancient city established in the Roman times. It was converted into a Muslim town when the Roman Empire fell. Some of the most interesting sights in the city are the Renaissance-style Bishop Palace, the Townhall constructed in the 16th century and the Mudejar-style church of La Magdalena not forgetting the Convent of Conception.
Aragon has some beautiful natural sites most of which you will find in the Posets-Maladeta Natural Park. The park is pretty big and features a lot of glaciers, snow-capped mountains and alpine lakes among other beauties. The park is also rich in wildlife like bears, mountain goats, boars and deer among others. This means while you enjoy the scenery during a hike you should keep a sharp eye for the animals that might escape your line of sight before you get a glimpse at them.
On the foothills of the Pyrenees, you will come across the elegant Castle of Loarre which featured in the movie ‘Kingdom of Heaven’. The castle was built in the 11th and 12th century fortified with high walls. The castle features a series of secret passageways, dungeons and tunnels. On the castle gates, there are carved monkeys which signify that evil is not welcome in the compound.
Next, take a trip to the village of Alquezar which was established in the 8th century just before the Roman empire fell. The most popular attraction in the village is the Santa Maria la Mayor collegiate church which was built in the 11th century. The caves found in the village have on their walls paintings dating to prehistoric times.
To understand all this complicated and fascinating history of this ancient village visit the Casa Fabian Ethnological Museum. Just outside the village, the Sierra y Canones de Guara Nature Reserve is a great place for outdoor adventure like horseback riding.
Not to be missed is the Ordesa National Park which was the first area to be protected in Spain back in 1918. This is the ultimate destination to reconnect with nature featuring forested valleys, astonishing rivers, breath-taking waterfalls and grassy meadows with wildflowers. The nature reserve has buses to see the scenery but the best way to enjoy this paradise scenery is on foot through the very visible hiking trails vary depending on the ability of your body. The most famous in the park is the Ordesa Valley where most photographers come to get the perfect shot, other valleys include the Pineta valleys and Garganta de Escuain valleys among others. The park is where you will come across bird species you only see on TV like the Golden Eagles.
Day 9-11, Catalonia
Next to the Mediterranean-sea is the traditional state of Catalonia. The biggest headlining destination in the state obviously is Barcelona and it is where you will start the day with one of the most beautiful churches in Europe which is the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, to signify the importance of this structure, it is recognised by UNESCO. The church was designed by Antoni Gaudi in 1883 not to resemble a gothic church. The exterior of the church was designed to narrate the life of Jesus on earth while the interior is breath-taking 90 metres long and 60 metres in height with a sparkling detailed ceiling.
Next visit the Gothic Quarter which has been the spiritual centre of the city for centuries. It was the home to the administration of the monarch since the 14th century. From there the Casa Mila which was constructed between 1906 and 1912, it is more art than architecture and is nicknamed ‘The Stone Quarry’. The building was designed by Gaudi and is recognised by UNESCO. Still, on a historic note visit the Palace of Catalan Music which was constructed from 1905 to 1908 for the choral society Orfeo Catala. The building was designed by Lluis Domenech Montaner to be a thing of beauty as is evident by the detailed curving lines and vivid palette.
Another UNESCO listed site is Gaudi’s Surrealist Park which is listed as a World Heritage Site. The beautiful landscape was designed by Gaudi between 1900 and 1914 and features a lot of architectural features since the designer was an architect.
The park is where Gaudi resided which shows how proud he was of this creation of his. Gaudi designed other attractions in Spain which include Casa Batllo among others. Do not leave Barcelona without visiting the legendary home of football Camp Nou which the 99,354 seater FC Barcelona stadium, the stadium is the largest in Europe and only second in the world.
From Barcelona head to the Costa Brava on the coastline, the coast is popular among young couples featuring soft sandy beaches which are conducive for sunbathing. The beach is also equipped for water sport with gear available for rental.
Sitting on a rocky landscape is the historic Monastery of Montserrat which dates to the year 1025. The monastery is famous for its carving of the La Moreneta well known as the Dark One. Not so far from Barcelona is the walled town of Girona which is located on the right bank of the Onyar River. In the town is the Romanesque Cathedral built in the 11th century.
Day 11-12, Valencia
If you get tired of living in the past experience of gothic buildings and monasteries, head to Ciudad de las Artes las Ciencias in Valencia for a more futuristic look. This futuristic complex has six main areas namely the Principe Felipe Science Museum, the Hemispheric IMax Cinema which screens digital films, the landscaped area which has the best views, an interactive science museum, the Oceanographic aquarium, the Reina Sofia opera house and last but not least the Agora concert space.
From the future complex as I like to call it, head to the Fellas Museum which has on display pieces from Las Fallas Festival which is a day the locals celebrate the Feast Day of Saint Joseph. On the day floating figures called fellas are installed on the street then burnt at midnight when the day is over.
The custom began in the middle ages where craftsmen would burn leftover scraps and wood on the feast of Saint Joseph, the custom has grown and evolved but in the museum, there is all the information of its evolution throughout the years. The festival is in March so to experience it you should visit Valencia in March.
Next, take a ride to the Cathedral of Valencia which is a gothic design church built on top of a mosque in the 13th century. In the design gothic architecture is dominant but it includes others like original Romanesque and Baroque architectural elements. The chapels onsite have different paintings by the famous artist Goya and crucifixes by Alonso. Illustrating the scene of the 12 apostles is the chapel of the Holy Grail.
Bioparc Valencia is a nature reserve which also has a zoo in it. The Zoo has the best collection of African wildlife including the big five. Some of the animals found here are lions, giraffes, rhinoceroses and antelopes among others. A sure place to visit.
Day 13, Castilla-La Mancha
Before hitting the capital head through Castilla-La Mancha. In its ancient town of Atienza, you will come across the ruins of the 12th-century castle on top of a rocky cliff. On the western part of the province is the Cabaneros National Park, the park is home to a variety of plant species from all over the world, also the wildlife in the park is on-point for nature lovers. When going to the park be sure to carry a camera if you can as there are a lot of beautiful and colourful birds which will give the best shots.
Day 14, Madrid
Begin your day on an educational note in the renowned Prado Museum, in the museum are more than 5,000 art pieces from all over the country. The paintings on display date as far as the 12th century, some of the pieces on display include masterpieces by the famous painter Francisco de Goya and other masterpieces from all over Europe. To easily accommodate all this art the Museum has 3 floors having more than 100 rooms. For easy touring the museum includes paid tours featuring audio guides.
In the hive of activity is a 120 hectares park which offers a quick escape from the fast city as you immediately step into nature. The park came into existence in the 17th century. From the centre of the park, you can head to the Crystal Palace which is where exhibitions are usually held in this great city. Still exploring gardens, visit the Royal Palace mostly because of its beautiful gardens.
The palace was built mostly of granite and some white Columnar stone, it is decorated by art pieces which were initially intended for the Louvre in Paris. The palace was built in the 18th century and is a marvel of the Rococo style. The throne room in the palace is still used for state ceremonies to date.
Philip III built the Plaza Mayor which he intended to hold big events. The plaza was built in the 17th century but suffered a fire in 1790. Today the plaza is not as important but it still holds prestigious events.
The Puerta del Sol is where the gates on the city used to stand and its town square aligns with the rising sun. The Puerta del Sol is also called the Heart of the City and is where all the distances on the Spanish roads are measured from. The sight is rich in history and is famous for being the site where the Spanish resistance to Napoleon proclaimed the republic.
Also not to be missed in Madrid is the Temple of Debod, this ancient Egyptian temple was a gift from the Egyptians in appreciation of the help they got from Spain in saving the Abu Simbel temples. The temple was brought to Spain in 1968 but was initially built for King Adikhalamani in the 2nd century BC. The Egyptian temple is well preserved here and still contains some of its original decorations.