“Traveling outgrows its motives. It soon proves sufficient in itself. You think you are making a trip, but soon it is making you – or unmaking you.” – Nicolas Bouvier, The Way of the World
With 41 buildings listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Spain attracts tourists wishing to discover its history and culture throughout the year. Be it Zaragoza, Barcelona, Mardia, or Segovia, Spanish towns know exactly how to charm you with their historic and cultural buildings.
From the Alhambra in Granada to Catalonia’s Montserrat Abbey, here are the most beautiful monuments to see when you visit Spain.
The Alhambra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the finest examples of Islamic and Moorish architecture and one of the most visited monuments in Spain. Tourists can enjoy the gardens as well as the different parts of the monument that tells the story of Spain’s history. You can also enjoy the views of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
The Alhambra is the finest example of Moorish architecture. (Source: dkatana)
You shouldn’t miss out on seeing this monument if you’re visiting Andalusia. Granada will impress you as much as the Alhambra, too. Make sure you add this destination to your list and enjoy the tapas you’ll get free with almost any drink!
In the heart of Barcelona, the Sagrada Familia Basilica is one of Gaudí’s most famous architectural works. Construction on the building started in 1882 and it’s expected to be finished by 2026. In fact, the construction is funded by money from tourism. The boom in recent years has allowed the construction of the monument to be funded. Hopefully, it’ll be finished sooner rather than later.
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Built as a mosque in 786 and then changed into a cathedral in 1523, Cordoba’s most famous monument is an architectural delight that you have to see for yourself. Just like the Alhambra in Granada, the Mezquita de Cordoba is one of the many Islamic monuments in southern Spain. Unsurprisingly, this is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site where you can enjoy the art of the Umayyad Caliphate. Don’t forget to bring your camera!
This Roman cathedral with its Baroque facade was built between 1098 and 1738 and is a popular Catholic meeting point. Each year, thousands of pilgrims make the journey to discover this monument in Galicia, home to the tomb of Saint James, an apostle who travelled across Europe to convert the Iberian Peninsula to Catholicism.
A lot of curious tourists visit the cathedral to find out more about the Way of Saint James. You can find out a lot of about this pilgrimage here.
Like many of the monuments in this list, Burgos Cathedral is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cathedral is famous for its Gothic style. Built between 1221 and 1765, it’s famous for being the resting place of Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar (El Cid) and his wife Jimena. It’s one of the country’s biggest cathedrals after those in Toledo and Seville respectively. The different sculptures make this cathedral a veritable museum for those that find themselves in Burgos.
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According to legend, this castle, which could have been lifted straight from fairy tales, was the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty. This castle, which can be found near Madrid, has an incredible style. It was used as a fortress, royal palace, prison, and military academy. From its position high on the hill, it overlooks the surrounding area. This makes it the perfect site for admiring the Spanish countryside near the capital.
This is straight from a fairy tale. (Source: cascalheira)
The Cathedral of Palma de Mallorca is a huge monument which is also known as the La Seu de Mallorca (the Cathedral of Santa Maria). Built in the 13th century, it overlooks the city and the Mediterranean Sea. If you find yourself on the island, you have to visit this monument. You should also pay attention to the chapel built by Miquel Barceló. It’s a good way to see the island in a different light, too.
In the heart of Aragon, the Cathedral-Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar is a religious building dedicated to the appearance of the Virgin Mary. She is said to have appeared on a column in front of the apostle Saint James. For this reason, the basilica is a Christian pilgrimage site. If you visit Zaragoza, make sure you visit the breathtaking architecture of this cathedral.
The Roman Theatre in Mérida is a huge part of the city’s archaeological history. It’s one of the largest on the Iberian Peninsula and is a remnant from the former city of Emerita.
The theatre itself was built between 16 and 15BCE and, like all Roman theatres, was designed with exceptional acoustics in mind. With 3,000 audience members, shows produce an incredible sound.
The Giralda of Seville provides visitors with the highest viewpoints in the city. In fact, the city outlawed the construction of anything higher than the minaret of the mosque. This became a cathedral after the Reconquista. The Giralda was turned into a bell-tower that combined Spanish architectural styles with Islamic styles.
Make sure that you take in the breathtaking views of the old Andalusian city from the top.
The City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia is one of the city’s finest examples of architecture. The futuristic architectural site covers 350,000 metres squared and was designed by Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela. The buildings include a planetarium, science museum, botanical gardens, oceanographic museum, an art and music space, a bridge, and a covered square.
You can learn more about arts and sciences in Valencia. (Source: papagnoc)
The site itself is worth a visit to Valencia for. You can also learn more about art and science while learning more about Spanish culture. Don’t worry too much about the language barrier as almost all the information is available in English, too!
The Guggenheim Contemporary Art Museum was designed by the famous architect Frank Gehry. This art gallery in the heart of the Basque Country opened in 1997 and includes works from famous artists such as Richard Serra and Jeff Koons.
The architecture is also incredible. The building is made of stone, titanium, and glass and impresses visitors as much as the art it contains. This contemporary monument has helped boost Bilbao’s status.
There are plenty of examples of Gaudí architecture in the city of Barcelona. After the Sagrada Familia, you should definitely pay the Casa Milà a visit. This building, also known as La Pedrera, was built between 1906 and 1910 and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its baroque and modern style have left their mark on Barcelona’s urban landscape.
The building didn’t receive a warm welcome from the city and its residents when it was first built but over a century later, it’s now one of the city’s most popular sights.
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At the heart of the Spanish capital, you can enjoy the famous Royal Palace. With over 3,000 rooms and its massive gardens, this palace is the biggest in Western Europe. Even though it’s the king’s official residence, it only really welcomes tourists and official visits. It was built during the latter half of the 18th century and covers 135,000 metres squared.
You can find it right in the heart of the city and it’s one of Spain’s most visited attractions.
Madrid is also a great city for art lovers. (Source: Donations_are_appreciated)
Both tourists and pilgrims make their way to the Montserrat Abbey in the Montserrat Mountain Range in Catalonia. This abbey was built in the 9th century. Today, the monument is home to a Catalan art museum as well as a monastery with around sixty monks. Pilgrims visit the monastery on a daily basis. This is an impressive monument in the heart of the mountains.
As you can see, Spain isn’t just a popular tourist destination for its beaches. That said, there are plenty of different regions you can visit including Malaga in the Costa del Sol in the South, Ibiza in the Balearic Islands, San Sebastian in Northern Spain, or Tenerife in the Canary Islands. There are so many interesting Spanish cities and monuments to visit!
When you travel to Spain, you can also take trips to small villages with whitewashed streets in Andalucia, take in a flamenco show in Sevilla, or enjoy paella in Valencia. There’s a reason Spain welcomes so many tourists every year!