All About Spain
Spain is perhaps the most relaxed of the Mediterranean countries, where the global economic crises has kept prices low and the locals celebrate the good things in life with long siestas, late dinners, and the camaraderie of an evening tapeo, the collective stroll from tapas bar to tapas bar, nibbling on delightful snacks and sipping a variety of wines along the way before finishing it all off with some churros and hot chocolate.
Madrid and Barcelona
The capital of Madrid has a royal palace to explore, lovely city parks, a fabulous restaurant scene, and more museums—of which the Prado ranks among the world’s very best—than you could exhaust in a week. Bohemian Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, a semi-autonomous province on the Mediterranean, with a Gothic cathedral, luxuriant seafood dinners, bustling markets, and dozens of spectacular, colorful, playful Art Nouveau buildings and structures by the local masters of Modernisme, chief among them Gaudí, whose gargantuan drip-castle cathedral of Sagrada Famiglia is still being built, a massive public works project of the likes unseen since the late Middle Ages.
Beyond the Big Cities
Spain also offers Roman ruins in Segovia and Mérida; medieval Toledo with its El Greco paintings; the Gothic cathedrals of Salamanca, Burgos, and León; the famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail to Santiago de Compostela; the shiny modern Guggenheim museum of Bilbao in northern Basque country; and countless other small cities and towns blessed with unforgettable attractions. However, if you have to pick just one area to explore, make it Andalusia.
The southern Andalusia region is the land where flamenco and bullfighting were born, the last part of Spain to fall to the 15th century Reconquista—and therefore the one most elaborately decorated with Moorish monuments, from the stunning mosque of Cordoba to the Alhambra Palace above Granada. Seville’s Alcázar is graced with Arab-styled gardens beside a sprawling cathedral converted from a mosque, and around it spread the tangled streets of the historic center where flamenco music spills out of tiny bars late into the night. You can follow the Route of the Pueblos Blancos past whitewashed hilltowns to Jerez in the heart of sherry country, hike in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, or explore the Mediterranean beaches of the Costa del Sol around Málaga or the Costa de la Luz along the Atlantic, just past Gibraltar. If the mainland beaches aren’t enough, railpass holders get 20% off tickets on ferries to the Balearic island, including Ibiza, the hub of Europe’s summertime party scene.
When to Go to Spain: Spain is at its best in spring and autumn, with temperatures mild and crowds thinner than in the summer. Though the country is vast and covers everything from mountains to ocean, this is a southern Mediterranean nation, so summer can get brutally hot—and overcrowded, especially on the beaches and islands. While winter doesn't put much of a damper on life in the big cities, it can get chilly and damp—and many smaller towns and tourist centers are often shut down completely.
Events and Holidays in Spain:
|Parades, feasts, and celebrations all around the country mark the popular Spanish tradition of La Candelaria, or Feast of Candles—ostensibly celebrating the baby Jesus, but really a pagan midwinter festival.|
|The Feria de abril de Sevilla started in 1847 as a cattle fair in Seville but quickly grew into a week-long street party where crowds of locals put on traditional costumes and gather to party, dance, watch bullfights, eat and drink at the fairground casetas (marquee tents).|
|Pamplona's Fiesta de San Fermín is that world-famous festival when bovine gladiators destined for the bullfighting ring are released to charge through the streets of town pursuing a crowd of white-clad runners in red neckerchiefs.|
|The palaces and gardens of the amazing Alhambra serve as the primary stages for this festival of both traditional and classical music and dance in Granada—though events spill over to the Cathedral, other historic churches and palaces, and other venues across the city and province.|
|Spain celebrates its Patron Saint in the town of his tomb, Santiago de Compostela, with concerts, performers, special masses, and processions on either side of the actual Feast Day of July 25, including a spectacular fireworks display the night of July 24.|
|Gràcia Festival is Barcelona's biggest, most colourful and most popular neighbourhood fiesta, filling the streets of the Gràcia district with a week of free festivities, various concerts and shows.|
|Celebrants (and legions of backpackers) gather in the tiny Valencian town of Buñol to spend a few hours pelting each other with tomatoes. Second only to the Running of the Bulls among Spain's slightly demented annual traditions.|
|The Nuestra Señora De La Merced fiesta is Barcelona's big traditional holiday, with street parades of giants, "big-heads," and torch-carrying costumed characters, as well as concerts, film series, folk dances, and more.|
|The Fiesta Nacional de España is the national holiday of Spain, but is also celebrated across the Hispanic world (called "La Día de la Raza" in many Latin American countries) as it commemorates Spain's most famous historical triumph: Christopher Columbus's landing in the New World. It is also the Day of the Armed Forces, so military parades, government dignitaries, and pomp and circumstance are the order of the day|