Spain beguiles with its natural parks and island archipelagoes. But, if you’re looking to experience the finest Spanish culture, architecture, and food – you need to get acquainted with ciudades españolas! In fact, some of the best cities to visit in Spain also throw in beaches so you can get the full experience.
Read on to discover the most beautiful and foodie-centric cities in Spain.
Best Cities to Visit in Spain
We’ve pulled together this guide to help you cherry-pick which Spanish cities belong on your wishlist. Many of the selected cities are where you can find the most iconic places to visit in Spain.
Best city to visit in Spain for: Arts, culture, music, food.
Located right in the heart of the country, Madrid is the capital and one of the most beautiful cities in Spain.
Its central tourist attraction is the Royal Palace of Madrid. Although it is the official residence of the Spanish royal family, it exclusively hosts state events and is open to the public.
A kooky item for your agenda is the Temple of Debod. Originally built in 200 BC, this Egyptian temple was gifted to Spain and is a prime spot for sunset.
The Gran Vía is lined with opulent buildings and is a joy to roam on foot outside of the hottest part of the day. But, when the sun peaks, head to a plaza and shelter with a jug of sangria.
Art aficionados flock to Madrid for its galleries, such as Museo Nacional del Prado. If you want to run your eyes over works by the likes of Velazquez, Goya, and El Greco, then this is a must.
While Madrid doesn’t have the beaches of Barcelona, it more than makes up for that with its lush gardens. Spend a sunny summer’s afternoon in El Retiro Park which consists of a sequence of manicured gardens, sprawling grassy areas, and boating ponds.
With two days or three days in Madrid, you can expect to explore a decent chunk of the main sights. But, you could easily spend a whole week in one of the best cities to visit in Spain.
Best city in Spain for: Architecture, beaches, nightlife.
Barcelona, in northeast Spain, may be the second city but it tends to top the bucket list for travelers. Glorious beaches, energetic nightlife, and eccentric buildings (thanks to a certain famous architect) make Barcelona a knockout tourist destination.
Gaudí placed Barcelona on the scene as one of the best cities in Spain. La Sagrada Família – the world’s most famous unfinished church – is the star of the show. But, if you like what you see, you must also check out the likes of Park Güel, Casa Milá, and Casa Batlló.
If you’re fortunate to spend three days in Barcelona, you can also check out attractions slightly further afield. The hilltop amusement park Tibidabo provides hours of family fun while Montjuïc Hill is a melting point of culture, sport, and views.
Anyone visiting in summer can look forward to lazy days lolling on Barcelona’s succession of beaches.
Best city in Spain for: Moorish heritage, flamenco dancing, and laid-back energy.
Swooping down to the autonomous region of Andalucia in southern Spain, Seville is a handsome city with a mellow vibe. While undeniably popular, it receives less footfall than its northern neighbors.
Seville is one of the places to visit in Spain for encountering Moorish architecture. Any Seville itinerary should start with a trip to the Royal Alcázar. An example of Mudejar design, this palace combines Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance architecture.
Meanwhile, Seville Cathedral is a Roman Catholic place of worship that was erected on the site of an earlier mosque. In fact, you’ll no doubt notice how the bell tower resembles a minaret.
Flamenco originated in the Andalucia region and Seville is one of the leading cities to experience the dance. You can catch a show in town or even enroll in a class if you fancy picking up a new skill.
Other awesome things to do in Seville include pottering around plazas and palaces, and strolling alongside the River Guadalquivir. You can also plan outdoor adventures in the nearby Sierra Norte and Parque Natural Sierra de Hornachuelos.
Best city to visit in Spain for: Beaches, Moorish architecture, proximity to nature.
Málaga is another city in the southerly Andalusian region. But, this time, you get to experience the Spanish coastline alongside culture and architectural heritage.
Yet again, Málaga stuns with its Moorish architecture. The Alcazaba is a beautifully preserved hilltop fort that grants killer views over the city toward the sea and mountain ranges.
Although, the Alcazaba is somewhat undone by an even loftier hill with panoramic views that sweep over the citadel. Hiking to the summit of Gibralfaro is no easy feat but the reward isn’t up for debate.
As the birthplace of Picasso, the Museo Picasso Málaga is a rite of passage.
Málaga sits in close proximity to the Parque Natural Montes de Málaga and the Parque Nacional Sierra de las Nieves. Prefer to paddle? Plan a morning kayaking in the lesser-known Cabo de Gata Níjar Natural Park.
For something even more thrilling, head to the Caminito del Rey. Once referred to as one of the most dangerous walkways in the world, the canyon trail has since undergone a major renovation. Now, it’s a safe but slightly hair-raising track that scales the side of the cliff.
Spend evenings basking on the beaches in and around Málaga, cold cerveza in hand, as the sun dips into the sea. Marking the northernmost point of the Costa del Sol, beach time is one of the top things to do in Málaga.
Málaga is one of the best cities to visit in Spain if you want a piece of everything that we know and love about the country.
Best city in Spain for: Paella, distinctive architecture, beautiful parks
Valencia, on Spain’s southeastern coast, seamlessly merges tradition with new.
The City of Arts and Sciences is a cornucopia of futuristic museums and tourist attractions. You can take your pick from the cutting-edge aquarium (Oceanogràfic), the planetarium (La Ciutat), or the science museum (Museu de les Ciències).
In total contrast, the old town center is a hub of historic churches and what remains of the old ancient city walls. Virgin Square (Plaça de la Mare de Déu) is the epicenter and where you can visit the cathedral and climb to the top of the bell tower for views.
Another outstanding component to Valencia is the Jardín del Turia. This vast green park is sited atop what used to be the River Turia. After it overflowed in the 1950s, the waterway was transformed into a public green space that spans 5.5 miles in length.
Most importantly, Valencia is one of the best cities in Spain for foodies. Specifically, for fans of paella. This is where the iconic feast was conceived! Innumerable restaurants serve the saffron-tinted rice dish with your choice of meat or seafood.
Best city in Spain for: Year-round sunshine, small town vibes, beaches.
Alicante is another of Spain’s golden port cities. But, this time, on Costa Blanca – the Costa del Sol’s sister for the places to go in Spain for beaches.
Alicante is the gateway to a popular vacation resort further along the coast. As the city is often skipped, it benefits from a sense of calm and solitude that’s akin to a smaller town.
The city has a gentle nightlife with a fantastic dining scene across seafood and no-frills rice dishes. One of the best things to do in Alicante is a stroll along the palm-lined Explanada de España at dusk and let your nose guide you to your chosen supper spot.
Santa Bárbara Castle looms over the bay and is great fun to scramble around before the sun peeks. Or, complete the hike up the hill in time for sunset.
Best city to visit in Spain for: Art, modern architecture, wine tours.
North Spain is often overshadowed by its sunny southern cities. However, Bilbao is one of the best cities to visit in Spain to experience the vivacious Basque Country.
This intriguing city is a blend of modern skyscrapers alongside long-standing plazas and the rabbit warren of the Old Town.
Home to the Guggenheim Museum and the Fine Arts Museum, Bilbao is one of the best destinations in the country for art-minded travelers. The Azkuna Zentroa is another essential item for your list. This cultural center hosts visual art installations and performance art exhibitions within a former wine exchange.
Even if you don’t manage to swing by either gallery, innumerable sculptures flood the streets to ensure you leave feeling artistically inspired.
8. San Sebastián
Best city in Spain for: Food, wine tours, beaches.
San Sebastián is a northern resort town in the Bay of Biscay, mere miles from the French border.
This small city is one of the best places to go in Spain for a blend of culture, nature, and food. Yes – In case you are wondering – San Sebastián is the birthplace of the famous cheesecake with zero crust and a caramelized top.
Playa de la Concha is the premier beach destination in San Sebastián. Overlooking the craggy Isla de Santa Clara and enjoying gentle swimming conditions, you can lose hours on this beach on a summer afternoon.
Together, San Sebastián and Bilbao are the best cities to visit in Spain for exploring one of Spain’s premier wine regions. Rent a car or book a tour and you can spend a day in La Rioja, the area to thank for Spain’s classic fruity red wines.
Best city to visit in Spain for: Tranquility, beautiful landscapes.
Located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Granada is one of the most beautiful cities in Spain.
With its hilltop Alhambra and Generalife, Granada draws comparisons with some of the other historic cities in Spain. If you love Seville, Granada will not fail to steal your heart.
Constructed during the 13th and 14th centuries, the Alhambra was once the largest political center of the Nasrid Kingdom in the Iberian Peninsula. Open to the public, the complex includes a citadel, residential towers, courtyards, and verdant gardens.
Beyond the number one attraction, you can wander the tiny cobblestone streets of the Albayzin, Granada’s historic core. The city is brimming with churches, monasteries, and lookouts.
As with Seville, Granada is a wonderful all-rounder and a great place to start your adventures in Spain away from the busier Madrid and Barcelona.
Best city in Spain for: Offbeat city travel, history.
Cádiz is one of the most unique cities in Spain. This ancient port city is situated on a peninsula on the southwest coast in the Province of Cádiz.
Established 3,000 years ago by the Phoenicians, Cádiz is the oldest city in Western Europe. It flourished into a major center for trade and is now the base of the Spanish Navy.
The waterfront district buzzes with seafood eateries, ancient architecture, and scenic beaches. The historic centro is the setting for the Gadir Archaeological Site (Yacimiento Arqueológico Gadir) where you can immerse yourself in the history of the early traders and the gradual development of the city.
Stroll along the Puente Hierro for a peek at the fort and former prison, Castillo de San Sebastián. Sadly, the castle is closed for the foreseeable future but the views on the promenade are worth the wander.
11. Ibiza Town
Best city in Spain for: Island experience, nightlife, beaches.
Leaving the mainland, Ibiza Town is the capital of the party destination, Ibiza. This is the setting for most of the island’s “superclubs” such as Amnesia and Pacha.
However, Ibiza Town in general carries a casual vibe in contrast to its more boisterous neighbor to the west, Sant Antoni. You can spend balmy days following the pathways through Dalt Vila (Upper Town) to the Castle of Ibiza (Castell de Eivissa).
In addition to partying, Ibiza is one of the places to go in Spain for relaxing beach holidays. The best things to do in Ibiza include watersports, renting a car to explore hidden coves, and exploring unique natural areas such as the Parc Natural de ses Salines.
Planning a trip to this amazing Spanish city? Check out our advice for what to pack for Ibiza.
Do factor in time for a day trip to Formentera. Accessible via a 35-minute boat ride, this small island has a tropical climate and is great fun to explore by bicycle.
Ibiza Town is the perfect base for a family vacation, romantic escape, or workation. But, you can also use this city as a gateway to smaller resorts such as Santa Eulalia or remote villages on the island.