5 Overlooked Cities In Spain You Should Make Time For
There’s a certain magic in Spain that’s difficult to describe, but easy to love. It presents itself in the diverse cultures, bite-size food, welcoming people, and laid-back appreciation for the good life. Most hurried travelers experience this all in the country’s main cities of Barcelona and Madrid, but there’s a lot more waiting for you further afield. Here are 5 cities in Spain not to overlook.
Cities in Spain
1. San Sebastián
San Sebastián, in the heart of Basque Country, has an effortless charm and beauty that’s hard not to like. The city finds the perfect balance between self-indulgent hedonism in its quirky bars overflowing with pintxos (delectable bite size snacks), and a healthy, outdoor lifestyle in its pristine urban beaches, spotless promenade, and hikeable urban hills.
How to get there: There are regular trains from Madrid, Barcelona, and various smaller cities throughout Basque Country. There’s also easy access from the south west coast of France.
Must-see: Take an afternoon walk up Monte Urgull for a stunning view of the city and its surrounds. A museum at the top offers fascinating insight into San Sebastián’s history.
Insider tip: Learn a few Basque words to connect with local San Sebastiáns. Eskerrik asko (thank you) and agur (goodbye) will win you instant respect.
Most people know Pamplona for its Running of the Bulls (Fiesta de San Fermín). But there’s so much more to this small city in Spain’s Navarre province. The annual festival takes over the city for a week in July, when fearless runners lead bulls through the narrow streets of the city’s old town. Visit at other times of the year, and you’ll find trendy bars, impressive architecture, serene parks, well-priced tapas, and beautiful panoramic views across the valley below.
How to get there: There are regular trains to Pamplona from Madrid and Barcelona that take between 3 and 4 hours. There are at least two daily trains from San Sebastian. The station is quite far from the center of town, so prepare to walk or catch a bus or taxi.
Must-see: Walk the walls of Pamplona for breathtaking views of the valley, particularly impressive at sunset.
Insider tip: Skip the steep walk from the train station and enjoy the views from Pamplona’s not-so-secret free outdoor elevator.
Granada is most famous for its fine examples of medieval architecture, some of which dates back to the Moorish occupation of Spain in the 8th century. There are few better examples of Moorish architecture in the world than the famous Alhambra, which rises up spectacularly above the modern town. The magnificent building and Generalife gardens started out as a humble, strategically-located fortress overlooking the valley below. Its 13th century renovations turned this into an unmissable masterpiece.
How to get there: There are regular trains to Granada from Madrid and other smaller towns in the vicinity including Seville and Córdoba.
Must-see: You can’t go to Granada and not visit the Alhambra. It is also as beautiful from the outside, so plan a sunset trip to the adjacent hill of Albayzín for the perfect view.
Insider tip: Tickets for the Alhambra are limited and go fast, so it’s best to book long in advance. If you don’t have tickets, get to the entrance gates a few hours before they open.
Ronda is a quaint and charming small city balancing on the edge of dramatic golden cliffs. The Puente Nuevo stone bridge is a sight to behold – both from the city, and from afar. It spans a 120 metre deep chasm, and unsurprisingly claimed a few dozen lives during the 40 year construction period. The city is home to Spain’s oldest bullring. It’s also a hiker’s dream. There are several short walks and longer day hikes, which depart from the city center and spread out to nearby towns and villages.
How to get there: Ronda is easily accessible by train. There are regular trains from Madrid, Seville, and many of the smaller resorts along the Costa del Sol.
Must-see: Take a walk out of town to catch a view of Puente Nuevo at sunset. Ask a local for the best vantage point from across the valley.
Insider tip: Skip the touristy restaurants in the old town and head to Calle Naranja for Bar La Sacristia and Gastrobar Camelot. They may look onto a parking lot, but they serve some of the finest tapas in the region at rock-bottom prices.
This sleepy port city in the southwest of Spain claims to be the one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in Europe. It dates back to 1100 BC, and this extensive history will follow you around as you explore the ancient streets. Cádiz’s charm lies in its laid-back activities: quiet strolls along the weather-beaten sea walls, exploring the rusted lighthouses and old forts, relaxing on the tranquil beaches, or taking in a fine Spanish meal at one of the numerous hole-in-the-wall restaurants and bars.
How to get there: Cádiz is 4 hours by direct train from Madrid.
Must-see: The aerial view from the Cadiz Cathedral bell tower is worth the small admission fee. You’ll see the lay of the land and imagine the city as it was nearly 3000 years ago.
Insider tip: Casa Manteca, a budget-friendly tavern on Calle del Corralón de los Carros, serves up superb regional tapas in a warm and welcoming environment.
Spain is packed full of fascinating cities, each with its own unique appeal. With an extensive rail network connecting most parts of the country, there’s no better way to explore it than by train. For more information on exploring Spain’s cities by train, visit Eurail.com.