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Things to Do in Spain

Sandwiched between Portugal to the west and France to the northeast, Spain entices visitors with its rich culture, history, and fabulous cuisine. The sun shines almost all year round; locals pass down traditional tapas recipes through the generations; and people greet each other with warmth and affection. Whether you visit for the food, the weather, the coast, or the history, Spain brims with adventures, all of which can be easily accessed by a host of private and small-group tours. In vibrant Barcelona and Madrid, walking and cycling tours lead you to top attractions such as the Prado National Museum and Gaudí’s iconic La Sagrada Familia, and offer skip-the-line access as well as a guide to bring Spain’s history to life. Food and wine-tasting tours and cooking classes teach you how tapas delicacies such as Iberian ham, salted cod, and rich chickpea stew complement Spanish reds and whites like Rioja, Montenovo Godello, and Serrana Macabeo. History buffs can explore medieval streets around Besalú, Tavertet, and Rupit on a group tour to see where castle ruins hide among rugged cliffs and dense forests; while culture vultures will want to take in the passion of flamenco, a traditional Spanish dance. Multi-day tours take travelers to far-flung destinations like Cordoba, Granada, Ronda, Seville, Toledo, and the beautiful coast east of Malaga, where ancient olive groves thrive in the Spanish sunshine.
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Alhambra (Alhambra de Granada)
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The Alhambra is not only Spain’s greatest architectural treasure, but one of the world’s wonders. It might not wow you right up front like a Taj Mahal or a Great Pyramid, but soon enough that austere exterior reveals a wonderland of musical fountains, cunningly devised gardens and finely carved palaces. Its construction was begun in the 11th century on the red hill known as Assabika, which overlooks Granada. The Alcazaba fortress was the first structure to be built, followed by the royal palace and residence of members of the court.
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La Concha Beach (Playa de la Concha)
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San Sebastian’s main crescent-shaped beach is of softest sand and punctuated at both ends by craggy hills: Monte Urgull to the east and Monte Igueldo to the west. Translating into English as ‘the shell’, La Concha was fundamental in the incarnation of San Sebastian as an elegant seaside resort favored by Spanish royalty back in the 19th century.

The beach fills to bursting in the summer, when the bumpy waters of the Bay of Biscay are calm and pleasantly warm to swim in. Lifeguards are always on duty and there are showers and other facilities on the beach, making it safe and easy for families to enjoy a day on the sand. Two floating pontoons out in the bay are just the spot for sunbathing; beyond them the small, rocky islet of Santa Clara has a tiny beach that is a prime picnic spot and can be reached by motorboat or hired canoe. Now backed by formal gardens, a brightly painted carousel, and a row of charming hotels, seafood restaurants and bars.

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Sagrada Família
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La Sagrada Familia is no doubt the most iconic structure in Barcelona. The church, located in L'Eixample, has been a fixture in Barcelona since construction commenced in 1882 and as building continues on today the structure's fame only grows.

Though still a work in progress, the church already is an amazingly intricate structure. Antoni Gaudí spent 43 years on this project and, since his death in 1926, the duty to finish it has been passed on to several architects. Though the responsibility continues to change hands over the years, the architects have all respected Gaudí's vision and have made additions with his design in mind. Inside the church has an impressive stained glass windows line the main room and a lift takes visitors up one of the towers to enjoy the view. Smaller rooms hold exhibits detailing the history and future of the structure. La Sagrada Familia is projected to be completed in 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudí.

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Catalunya Square (Plaça de Catalunya)
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Strategically located at the meeting point of La Rambla and Passeig de Gràcia, two of Barcelona’s busiest boulevards, Catalunya Square (Plaça de Catalunya) makes a strategic starting point for walking tours of the city. More than just a navigational landmark, Catalunya Square is also the symbolic heart of Barcelona and the large, tree-lined plaza is abuzz with activity both day and night.

As well as being surrounded by restaurants, cafes and bars, including the iconic Cafe Zurich and the Hard Rock Café, Catalunya Square is also home to large department stores like El Corte Inglés, FNAC and Habitat, a pair of dramatically illuminated fountains and a number of monumental sculptures, including the white marble La Deessa by Josep Clara and Josep Subirachs’s Monument of Francesc Macià.

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Generalife Gardens
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The Generalife was built as a summer palace for the Muslim emirs, a place of retreat where they could kick back with their harems and take some time away from the world. Its charming gardens – undoubtedly the highlight of the Generalife - are still a prime place to do just that. Generalife Gardens are designed for tranquility, with everywhere the trickle of running water cooling the senses. Tall cypresses frame pathways, fountains play in arches over long pools, streams flow down staircases, flowers and flowering trees cast their scent, and hedges enclose serene little lawns. The sultana’s garden, with its ancient cypress trunk, was where one sultan’s wife trysted with her lover (and was caught, precipitating bloodshed – hard to believe as you stand in this artful paradise).
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Mezquita (Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba)
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Originally the site of the Christian Visigoth Church San Vicente, Córdoba’s Mezquita -- or Grand Mosque -- stands as the city's most proud monument and one of the most exquisite Islamic structures in the western world.

Its initial origins date back to the year 600 and, following the Islamic conquest in the 8th century, the site of the Visigoth church was actually split between Christians and Muslims for a time. Ultimately, it was bought out by the governor of al-Andalus, with the construction of the Islamic mosque beginning in 785 by Muslim emir Abdurrahman I.

Since then, the structure has evolved right along with Spanish history. A minaret was added, and the building was enlarged, reaching its final size in 987. Then, when Kind Ferdinand conquered Córdoba during the Reconquista in 1236, the structure was consecrated as a Christian Cathedral.

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Papagayo Beach (Playa de Papagayo)
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One of a string of sandy beaches and bays lining Lanzarote’s southern coast, Papagayo Beach (Playa de Papagayo) lies within the Monumento Natural de Los Ajaches Natural Park and is largely regarded as one of the island’s most beautiful beaches. A horseshoe-shaped bay cocooned between sea cliffs and blessed with swaths of pale gold sand, Papagayo is a top choice for swimming, snorkeling and water sports.

A visit to Papagayo Beach is easily combined with exploring the five neighboring beaches - Playa de Afe, Playa de Mujeres, Playa Pozo, Playa de Afe,] and Playa de la Cera – often collectively referred to as the ‘Papagayo beaches’. The beaches are linked by a coastal walk, which runs all the way from Punta Papagayo to Playa Blanca, and are famous for their fine sands, warm, clear waters and abundance of exotic fish.

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Palace of Catalan Music (Palau de la Música Catalana)
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One of Barcelona’s most impressive architectural feats, presiding over the streets of La Ribera, the Palau de la Música Catalana is one of the city’s most popular concert halls, renowned for its spectacularly ornate interiors. Built in 1908 to designs by Catalan modernista architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, the concert hall was initially built to house the Orfeó Català choir and remains an important venue for a range of traditional Catalan folk music.

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, the concert hall features décor by some of the era’s most prominent Catalan architects – a sumptuous museum including ceramic mosaics and relief busts by Eusebi Arnau, a stone arch by Pau Gargallo, vibrant mosaics by Lluís Bru and stained glasswork by Antoni Rigalt.

Although the concert hall is not renowned for its acoustics, the Palau provides a suitably glittering backdrop to performances, making attending a concert at the venue a rich audio-visual experience.

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Palace of Charles V (Palacio de Carlos V)
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The Palace of Charles V is a carefully designed statement of triumph and prestige. By building a royal residence in the heart of a conquered Muslim citadel, Charles honored his grandparents, the Catholic Monarchs, and celebrated the victory of Christianity over Islam. The palace is in the Roman style, with a circular building set in a square. It was begun in 1526. Work on it was abandoned for 15 years during Granada's Moorish uprising, and abandoned again in 1637, leaving the palace unfinished and roofless. Finally, in 1923, a plan was designed to rescue and complete it.
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More Things to Do in Spain

Las Ramblas

Las Ramblas

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Las Ramblas, a series of 5 stretches of road that run through central Barcelona, is known collectively just as La Rambla. It's name comes from a stream (raml in Arabic) that used to run along the same path before the land was developed in the 14th century. Now in place of the stream is a 3/4 mi (1.2 km) street with a wide, tree-lined pedestrian boulevard down the middle. Along the path are numerous shops, cafes and bars as well as some interesting attractions.

Both the Wax - Cera and Erotica museums are situated on La Rambla as are the Grand Opera House - Gran Teatre de Liceu - and the city's most colorful market, Mercat de la Boqueria. A large mosaic by Joan Miro is another iconic piece that warrants at least a second look, if not a photo opportunity. La Rambla is filled day and night with snap-happy tourists as well as locals so there is never a dull moment to be had. No Barcelona experience is complete without a stroll down this boulevard.

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Los Hervideros

Los Hervideros

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An extraordinary collage of rocks, caves and lava tubes looming over Lanzarote’s west coast, the coastal cliffs of Los Hervideros rank among the island’s most unusual geological attractions. Formed during the 18th-century eruptions of the Timanfaya volcanoes, the dramatic coastline is now adorned with sharp rock columns, oddly shaped archways and natural rock sculptures, created as the hot lava met with the icy waves.

While the unique landscape makes for some remarkable photo opportunities, the real highlight of visiting Los Hervideros is watching the waves crash against the coast. Looking out from the cliff top, visitors can witness the all-natural spectacle as the waves explode against the rocks and the water funnels through the spillways, sending spurts of sea water roaring into the air – a fitting example of how the cliffs got their name - Los Hervideros is Spanish for "boiling waters."

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Cordoba Jewish Quarter (Judería de Córdoba)

Cordoba Jewish Quarter (Judería de Córdoba)

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Sprinkled across the Spanish Peninsula, you'll come across Jewish Quarters known as juderías. In Córdoba, which was once considered the most populous city in the world, the Jewish community especially thrived, and now its ancient neighborhood of white buildings is considered one of the most famous juderías in Spain.

The Jewish community indeed played an important role culturally in the history of the Iberian Peninsula. During the Moorish Caliphate -- the period of Islamic rule over Spain which ended in 1031 -- the Jewish community flourished as Córdoba rose as a center for commerce, prosperity, education and religious tolerance.

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Córdoba Synagogue (Sinagoga de Córdoba)

Córdoba Synagogue (Sinagoga de Córdoba)

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Located in the heart of Córdoba's Jewish Quarter, and just blocks away from the Mezquita, sits one of Spain's most unique connections to the past: the Synagogue of Córdoba.

Constructed in the 14th century, Córdoba's synagogue is the Judería's (Jewish Quarter's) main attraction and is one-of-a-kind in the Andalucía region. This is because, while the Jewish community once played a very key role on the Iberian Peninsula -- especially during the Moorish Caliphate -- much of Jewish culture was eradicated and expelled in 1492 during the Spanish Inquisition. As a result, Córdoba's synagogue and two others in the city of Toledo remain as the only lasting structures of their kind from pre-Inquisition Spain.

The small Córdoba synagogue houses a courtyard, prayer room and women's gallery. With a humble brick exterior, the small interior features walls with intricate Hebrew inscriptions, scalloped archways and Mudéjar plasterwork.

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Barcelona Cruise Port

Barcelona Cruise Port

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Welcome to the vibrant Catalan capital, Barcelona! With its laid-back Mediterranean setting, exciting Modernist architecture and labyrinthine Gothic Quarter, Barcelona has enough shore excursions and activities to keep you bar-hopping and sightseeing for days.

Barcelona’s cruise terminals are clustered in historic Port Vell at the foot of Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s most famous thoroughfare. It’s a 10 to 30-minute walk to Las Ramblas and the Gothic Quarter. Most visitors catch a shuttle bus to the iconic Christopher Columbus statue, a minute’s stroll from Las Ramblas. A quick taxi ride to the Gothic Quarter takes only 10 minutes from the port.

It’s de rigueur to take a stroll along tree-lined Las Ramblas, with its flower stalls and singing birds. Drop into Barcelona’s historic market for tapas and champagne, then follow winding streets through the Gothic Quarter to the centuries-old cathedral.

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Park Güell

Park Güell

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Park Güell is known as one of Gaudí's most colorful works and its expansive display of this artist's playful architecture is what makes it one of Barcelona's top attractions. While the park was originally meant to be a housing development for rich socialites, when the wealthy decided not to move to the hilltop, it became a public playground.

Gaudí spent the first 15 years of the 20th century constructing the numerous fountains, pedestrian walkways and benches in his signature style that are still enjoyed by visitors today. One of the most popular spots in the park is at the top of the hill, where from brightly colored mosaic seats you can take in the panoramic view over Barcelona city and capture some great photos of the park.

Another must-see attraction in Park Güell is the Gaudí House Museum. This pink house near the base of the park is where Gaudí spent the last two decades of his life and it is filled with furniture and other works designed by the artist.

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Gran Vía

Gran Vía

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Meaning "Great Road", Gran Vía is a main thoroughfare in Madrid, built to connect Calle de Alcalá to Plaza de España. Lined with a mixture of high end shops, eateries, and bars that cover both ends of the spectrum, this lively bustling street is best enjoyed at night when the locals and tourists alike come out to eat, drink, and mingle into the wee hours of the morning. Besides the shopping and nightlife scene, Gran Vía is best known for the 20th century architecture that creates landmarks along its way. One such example is the Edificio Metropolis, which stands at the head of Gran Vía and boasts a magnificent rooftop statue of the Goddess Victory. There are also several old movie theatres including the Capitol, built in the art deco style.
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Port Olímpic

Port Olímpic

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Facing the Olympic Village of the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, the Port Olimpic was built as a part of the redevelopment of the area in preparation for the event. With its proximity to the beach area and its iconic art and sculpture, it has become one of the most popular leisure areas in the city.

Surrounded on both sides by skyscrapers such as the prominent Torre Mapfre and the Hotel Arts, the port is a marina for over 700 boats. The view of the many yachts on the water is something to see, as is the masterful copper ‘Peix’ or fish sculpture by architect Frank Gehry. This is also the jumping off point for many sailing trips on the Mediterranean Sea. There are dozens of dining and shopping options along the area, as well as that famous Barcelona nightlife once the sun goes down. The Barceloneta and Nova Icaria beaches can be found on either side.

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Timanfaya National Park (Parque Nacional de Timanfaya)

Timanfaya National Park (Parque Nacional de Timanfaya)

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With its still-steaming mounds of volcanic tuff and eerily barren lava fields, the volcanic terrain of Timanfaya National Park is a world away from the lively beach towns that Lanzarote is best known for. The focal point of the protected area is the dramatic red and black-rock mountain range, aptly named the Fire Mountains (Montañas de Fuego) after a series of eruptions in the 18th century that covered the entire island with volcanic ash and lava, completely reshaping the its topography.

Today, the volcanoes lie dormant, but the area remains a potent source of geothermal energy thanks to a residual magma chamber – a fact enthusiastically demonstrated by tour guides who toss bundles of branches into the steaming pits, where the wood rapidly burst into flames. Access to Timanfaya National Park is restricted to guided tours, and most visitors to the park opt to take the guided coach tours included in the admission price.

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Teide National Park (Parque Nacional del Teide)

Teide National Park (Parque Nacional del Teide)

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The largest and oldest National Park in the Canary Islands and home to Spain’s highest peak, Mount Teide, the UNESCO World Heritage listed Teide National Park is one of the top attractions on the island of Tenerife. At 3,718m, the landmark peak of Teide - the world’s third highest volcano from its base - is omnipresent and taking the cable car to the top is one of the most popular pastimes for visitors, with views spanning the surrounding islands.

Even from ground level, the park’s rugged landscape is magnificent, a geological wonder featuring an expanse of rugged lava fields, ancient calderas and volcanic peaks. Spread over 18,900 hectares, additional highlights of the park include the 3,135m Pico Viejo volcano, the distinctive Roques de García rock formations, and a unique array of native flora and fauna, including rare insects like the Tenerife lizard and an impressive collection of birds, including Egyptian vultures, sparrowhawks and red kite.

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Albaicín

Albaicín

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The Albaicin (also spelled Albayzin or Albaycin) is Granada's old Muslim quarter, and its steep twisting streets still have a medieval feel. With its white buildings and deep-gardened mansions spilling down the hill, the Albaicin is beautiful in itself, but what makes it particularly stunning is its views of the Alhambra. (The views of the Albaicin from the Alhambra enhance that experience as well!) There's a viewing point by the church of St. Nicolas that offers particularly good Alhambra vistas.

The Albaicin was heritage-listed in 1984. Its name may have derived from settlers fleeing the Christian invasion of the town Baeza, or it may derive from an Arabic phrase meaning 'quarter of the falconers.' Despite the Christian conquest of the city in 1492, it survived as a Muslim quarter for some decades, and you can still see the remains of Islamic bathhouses, mansions and fountains.

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Barcelona Cathedral (Catedral de Barcelona)

Barcelona Cathedral (Catedral de Barcelona)

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Standing tall over a medieval square in the center of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, the Barcelona Cathedral (known formally as the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, or La Seu) is the seat of the Archbishop of Spain and a major landmark of the city. With octagonal bell towers, five aisles and two chapel areas, the hall church has stood since the 13th century. It is dedicated to Saint Eulalia, a patron saint of Barcelona, whose body is entombed in the crypt. Large, colorful stained glass windows look over twenty eight total small chapels inside.

The Cathedral is known for its 14th-century cloister full of palm trees and a lush garden, as well as a massive Gothic portico under which thirteen geese can be found wandering. Each goose represents a year of the life of the young Saint Eulalia. As for the exterior, it is carved in great Gothic style detail — and is particularly beautiful when illuminated at night.

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Forum Park (Parc del Forum)

Forum Park (Parc del Forum)

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If you’re eager for views of the sea, lots of photo opportunities, and wide, open spaces, then head toward the northernmost coastline of Barcelona to the Parc del Forum. This architectural park of sorts was built in 2004 for the Universal Forum of Cultures, and continues to serve as a giant venue for events and exploration.

Though many of its attractions come and go — such as Primavera Sound, an annual music festival that takes place in June — the forum is always a worthy destination, beyond just checking out the architecture. Go there to visit the natural history-focused Museu Blau, which is situated in the park’s iconic triangular-shaped Forum Building; to take a dip in the Mediterranean from the sand-free, direct-to-the-water Forum marina and bathing area; or to let the kids burn off some energy at the seaside play area.

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Triana

Triana

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Just across the Isabel II Bridge, and squished between two parallel branches of the Guadalquivir River, you'll find Seville's Triana District. Originally founded as a Roman colony, this neighborhood -- like the rest of the city – has also been ruled by both Muslims and Christians. Over time it has served as a key strategic position as the last line of defense before invaders reached Seville's western walls. Traditionally, it has also been home to an eclectic mix of residents, from sailors and bullfighters to potters and flamenco dancers – all especially proud of their Triana heritage.

You can still see what endures of the barrio's eccentric personality in today's Triana. While visiting the neighborhood, keep an eye out for the few remaining (and culturally protected) corrales, which traditionally served as communal homes for the district's many Romani people.

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