Spain: more than just beautiful beaches

31 Mar 2021

For Brits, Spain has always been synonymous with a traditional beach break — from lazy days chilling out by the pool to dipping your toes in the turquoise Mediterranean. These holidays will always be a firm favourite, but there's so much more to this spectacular country than its sandy costas.

Spain is fully prepared to open up for UK travellers again, as soon as the travel restrictions are lifted. In preparation, we’re bringing you a guide to planning your next Spanish adventure...

No trip to Spain is complete without tapas

Tapas, papas, and a glass of rioja, por favor

If you're looking for a foodie adventure, there are plenty to choose from in Spain. Go wine tasting in La Rioja, try pintxos in the bars of San Sebastián, take part in the art of skewering sardines in the Costa del Sol, eat paella by the sea in Valencia, or visit the volcanic vineyards of Lanzarote.

One of the best known staples of Spanish cuisine is tapas but which are the best? You've got the classics like patatas bravas, padron peppers, and cured ham and cheese, but for a truly authentic experience try pan con tomate (bread with tomato, olive oil, garlic, and salt), gilda (a skewer with an anchovy, an olive, and a hot pepper), or chicharrón (fried pork belly).

No matter where you go in Spain, you'll be able to find local products that showcase the region. In the Balearic islands, make sure you try ensaimadas, a pastry similar to brioche, or if you're in the Canaries, look out for papas arrugadas, a traditional boiled potato dish that's often served with mojo, a sauce from the region made with red peppers and sweet paprika.

If bread and pastries aren’t great for your gut, fear not: gluten-free dining has become much more widely catered to. More and more restaurants are serving gluten-free options, most notably in Barcelona, Madrid, and Asturias — which celebrates National Coeliac Day every May.

The Caminto del Rey footpath in Malaga

A taste of the great outdoors

Spain has more biosphere reserves than any other country in the world, making it an ideal destination for getting back to nature. Whether you're checking out the constellations at a starlight reserve, taking in the beautiful surroundings at one of Spain's 15 geoparks, or walking along one of the Vias Verdes (abandoned railway lines converted into nature trails), there are plenty of outdoor activities for you to try.

If you're visiting Tenerife, make sure you check out the incredible volcanic landscapes. Head to the south of the island for authentic volcanic fields, such as the Hermano Pedro Cave or the La Centinela viewing point. This is also a great base for activities like windsurfing, scuba diving, and boat trips. Or, if you want to soak up the volcanic action with a glass of vino, try the Territory of the Great Landslides between Puerto de la Cruz and Puertito de Guimar, which can be combined with a tour of local wineries.

If you fancy something a bit different, try the Drach caves in Mallorca, which hold one of the largest underground lakes in the world. The site also hosts classical music concerts. Take a small boat through the through the luminescent green waters of the caves, which are framed by stalagmites and stalagitites.

Daredevils can walk the Caminto del Rey footpath in Malaga, dubbed "a footpath for the brave", as it was once considered the most dangerous in the world. It's completely safe now, and offers breathtaking views — if you're not too scared to look down the 700-metre drop.

Palma de Mallorca's Gothic cathedral

Soak up some culture on a city break

If you prefer the buzz of cities, Spain's got a lot to choose from. Learn flamenco dancing in Seville, marvel at Barcelona's unique architecture, or visit some of the country's best museums in the capital, Madrid. Been there, done that? There are plenty more cities to explore.

Mallorca is often thought of as a beach destination, but the island's capital, Palma de Mallorca, is a cultural treasure trove. Dating back to the 13th century, Palma has a rich history — start off at its awe-inspiring Gothic cathedral (Catedral de Mallorca), then wind your way through narrow Medieval streets to churches, vibrant markets, and bustling public squares bursting with trendy bars and hip galleries. As Lonely Planet so aptly puts it, "you could spend weeks in this city alone, and still uncover fresh joys every day".

Another lesser-known gem for a city break is Bilbao — wander through the Old Town, stop in a bar for poteo (small glasses of beer and slices of bread with a variety of toppings), marvel at the Santiago cathedral and the San Anton church, chill out in the Arenal gardens, or shop for bargains at the Ribera market. For spectacular views of the city, take the Artxanda mountain cable car and take in the panoramic views at the top.

Eco-surfing is becoming increasingly popular in Spain

Be adventurous

A holiday to Spain doesn't have to mean doing nothing all day. If the thought of lying on a sunbed for a week doesn't cut it for you, there are plenty of active alternatives. Dive down to Europe's only underwater museum in Lanzarote, go white-water rafting in the Pyrenees, or give eco-surfing a try.

Spain has an extensive network of waterways, perfect for activities like canoeing and kayaking at all different levels. Some of the most popular navigable rivers are the Ulla river in Galicia, which has a nice mix of rapids and calmer areas, and Bidasoa in Navarra, which is a shorter route but with beautiful landscapes.

If you love the challenge of mountain climbing, there's plenty of choice in Spain, with the Pyrenees and the Picos de Europa. Try the Reconquest Route, which starts in Asturias and is nearly 60 kilometres long, and takes you through dramatic gorges and finishes in Covadonga, with its beautiful lakes and basilica. Or, if you're looking for height, you can climb the peak of the Mount Teide volcano in Tenerife, the highest point in Spain, for jaw-dropping views across the Canaries.

Aragon is home to beautiful rural villages

Take the road less travelled 

If you're looking for a laid-back trip but you still want that sense of discovery, a road trip could be for you. The regions of Aragon and Castilla y Leon are home to gorgeous rural villages that are ripe for discovery. Here, you can walk through Medieval towns and pretty market squares, and experience life slowed down.

History buffs will enjoy the Charles V route, which recreates an important chapter in 16th-century Spanish history: the last journey taken by Charles I of Spain and V of Germany before his death. You'll start in the port town of Laredo in Cantabria in northern Spain, and finish down in Cuacos de Yuste in Extremadura, home to the monastery where Charles V spent his final two years.

Lovers of literature can try the Don Quixote route, starting in Madrid and finishing in Ciudad Real, home to the Don Quixote museum, as you follow in the steps of the "Knight of the Sad Countenance". This week-long journey passes through 13 towns, taking in historic city centres, giant windmills, and plenty of culinary delights — like duelos y quebrantos (scrambled eggs with chorizo).

Ready to start planning your next trip? Take the quiz to find out which destination is best for you.

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