A mild year-round climate, warm and welcoming people, and a dazzling array of landscapes have lured travelers to Spain for decades. But beyond the undeniable pull of dynamic Barcelona and historic Madrid, there are several smaller cities in Spain that really should be explored, thanks to their fabulous architectural legacy, unique cultural offerings, thriving street life, and a café scene where tapas-tasting is something of a national pastime – ideally with una cerveza.
On the banks of the Guadalquivir River in the southwest region of Andalusia sits romantic, sunny Seville – home of the flamenco. Every street and square that makes up the historic quarter of the Andalusian capital bursts with movement. Follow the narrow, winding streets to stunning Moorish architecture, the copper-topped Giralda Tower that marks the Cathedral of Seville (the world's third-largest), and the palatial Alcázar – a fascinating cultural heritage emerging from foundation by the Romans, conquest by the Moors, and subsequent rule by Spain.
Dive into a feast of tapas – serrano and iberico ham, olives, tortillas, fried or marinated seafood – in the city where they were reportedly invented (if the sheer number of tapas bars is any guide). Yes, there are some 1,000 places to choose from, but for a taste of history with your tapas, head to the 400-year-old El Rinconcillo (located at Calle Gerona 40), the oldest tapas bar in the city.
The snow-capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada surround beautiful Granada, where an impressive Andalusian legacy meets both architectural jewels from the Renaissance and the most modern facilities.
Wander through the Alcaiceria (the old Moorish silk market) and find craftworks like ceramics, marquetry, and leather goods for sale. Join a tapas tour through some of Granada’s lively squares near the Alhambra Palace, and drop in to one of the small flamenco taverns around the city to see how the art form here differs from Seville's version.
Explore the 11th-century Alhambra Palace and marvel at its dominating red fortress towers, sumptuous palace decor, multitude of architectural styles, and magnificent gardens. With fountains, impeccably maintained hedges and pools, centuries-old defensive walls, turrets, and views overlooking Granada, this unparalleled attraction will not disappoint.
Delve deeper into local life in the Albaicin barrio to one of the city’s traditional tea houses; the view from this area across to the Alhambra Palace is not to be missed.
Valencia is positively bursting with a vibrant culture, quintessentially Spanish architecture, and great food – after all, it is known as the birthplace of paella.
Take the entire family to the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences, an entertainment-based cultural and architectural complex devoted to scientific and cultural discussion and education that has rapidly become the city’s number one tourist attraction.
Valencia Cathedral, also known as Saint Mary’s Cathedral, is a stunning example of Gothic architecture, and houses some wonderful 16th-century works of art, making it the ideal spot to wander before exploring the rest of the historic Carmen neighborhood. The Basilica of Our Lady of the Forsaken, The Silk Exchange, City Hall, and the Central Market are some other must-sees in Valencia that showcase the very best of Spanish and European architecture.
But back to the paella: the quality of vegetables and seafood in Valencia is second to none, ensuring that dining out in the city is a foodie’s heaven. Head to the Cabanyal quarter near the beach or La Tassa district for some of the best traditional paella in Spain. Alternatively, the old fishermen’s quarter of Calle José Benlliure is renowned for its fresh and fragrant seafood paella.
Although El Carmen is considered a hotspot, few tourists know to check out the streets of Calle Alta and Calle Baja as well. The charming, well-hidden bars here have locals flocking to soak up their traditional and cozy atmosphere night after night.
Next time beautiful Spain is on your mind, remember: beyond its main cities are endlessly unique experiences.