About 100 miles south of Valencia and along the Costa Blanca (White Coast) is Alicante, an easygoing Spanish city that's highly favored among the party set. You'll most likely find them congregated around the Explanada de España, donning resort wear with drink in hand and bobbing to the house-music beat. During the day, the beaches are the main event — especially San Juan Beach, one of Spain's best strips of shore, replete with soft sands, about 330 days of sunshine a year and warm water. Although there are cultural attractions like the acclaimed Museo Arqueológico, the main reason to visit Alicante is to relax and make merry. So, imagine: the sun on your skin, sand between your toes, grilled fish on your fork, a glass of sangria in your hand, lively music in your ears, a medieval castle, a Renaissance cathedral or a modern fountain before your eyes … Alicante.
Barcelona contains both the authentically historic and the wildly bizarre. From the scenic trails of the colorful Park Güell to the romantic narrow alleys of Barri Gòtic; from the beachside nightclubs to the city's dozens of sacred churches and architectural marvels, this city by the sea seems to attract all types: the adventurer, the couple, the partier, the culture lover – and more – with an almost overwhelming variety of things to do. You could stay for a few days, but chances are you'll need a whole week to explore.
You'd be right in comparing Spain's Canary Islands to a tropical paradise. Located in the North Atlantic Ocean off the southwest coast of Morocco, all seven islands in this archipelago flaunt enviable strips of shoreline that roll out into aquamarine waters. Surfers, windsurfers, scuba divers and sunbathers all flock to different shores to revel in the gnarly waves, vibrant underwater world and soft sands. And if you're visiting some of the bigger islands — namely Gran Canaria, Tenerife and Lanzarote — you'll find the requisite plush resorts. These luxury accommodations boast gourmet restaurants, sprawling golf courses and prime beach access.
Granada's allure is perhaps its most palpable force, enticing visitors long before their scheduled arrival. Tucked away among the Sierra Nevada Mountains in southern Spain, this Andalusian gem is awash with an infectious European charm as well as a strong sense of mystery brought on by its storied history. In Granada, churches were once the sites of mosques, bakeries formerly bath houses and shops primarily served tea instead of tapas. Though the days of dynasties changing and cultures clashing are long gone, what's left is a tangible sense of tradition begging to be understood.
But that doesn't mean it's not appreciated. Granada's history as a former Moorish empire fascinates, its age-old architecture enchants and its rich culture enthralls the scores of travelers who make the trek to this small Spanish city every year. And visitors may quickly discover that in Granada, anything is possible. You can catch a flamenco show in caves once inhabited by African gypsies, shop goods that can be found on the streets of Morocco, hike the foothills of Spain's largest national park and – with Granada's thriving tapas scene – never pay a dime for dinner. So when in Granada, embrace the city in all its unique forms and if anything, allow yourself to get completely lost in its splendor, you won't regret it.
If sun-drenched days spent lazing on beaches and sailboats, and long nights grooving to techno beats sounds like your idea of vacation, then Ibiza (or Eivissa in Catalan) is the place for you. Known for its collection of buzzy nightclubs clustered around Ibiza Town and Sant Antoni, the third-largest Balearic Island – located off the east coast of Spain – is packed with revelers throughout most of its summertime peak season. Still, partying isn't Ibiza's only pastime. Pine-clad hills conceal quaint villages, secluded coves hide family-friendly beaches, eateries tempt with traditional Balearic foods and vendors hawk everything from leather goods to olive oils in the local markets. Ibiza is everything you think it is – and so much more.
In many ways, Madrid is similar to many other international metropolises – it's Spain's largest city, has the largest population, is the capital and is the center for international business. But, before you jump to conclusions, hush … if you listen carefully, you can hear the gentle melodies of the Spanish guitar, the swish of a flamenco dancer's skirt, and the happy laughter from a midday meal infused with too many glasses of sangria. Yes, Madrid is for travelers interested in famous paintings and stunning architecture, but it's also, and maybe more so, for those looking for an unhurried good time.
Mallorca, the largest of the collection of islands located off the east coast of Spain, is also the most diverse of the Balearics. Although it's true that the same aquamarine waters that lap Ibiza – its southwestern neighbor – also roll onto Mallorca's pristine shores, Mallorca's landscape holds many more treasures. For examples, look no further than the island's Serra de Tramuntana mountain range, which lines the northern coast and drops into the rocky Cap de Formentor, or the inland's swaths of green that are draped in olive, almond and carob groves. And its medieval town – Palma – with its soaring cathedrals and palaces and its quaint streets and squares, are in their own way just as delightful to behold. Couple that with a local culture that appreciates good food, good wine and fun – summer is a nonstop party! – and you'll start to wonder, why not Mallorca?
A city and resort destination located along Spain's southern Costa del Sol, Marbella (pronounced mar-BAY-ya) is backed by the Sierra Blanca Mountains and fronted by the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea. In between them, visitors will find luxe resorts, gleaming designer storefronts, see-and-be-seen restaurants, and remnants of historic Andalusia in the twisting cobblestone alleys of the city's Old Quarter. Although Marbella is a favored destination of the rich and famous – Antonio Banderas lives here – mortals are invited too. In fact, if done right, the other half can enjoy a luxurious vacation filled with beach days, delicious food and cultural encounters, just like their celeb counterparts, but maybe without the hassle of paparazzi.
With all of its remarkable offerings, it's hard to believe that San Sebastian isn't as popular as neighboring Madrid or Barcelona. But this oceanfront resort town deserves the same regard reserved for Spain's most popular metropolises. San Sebastian's timeless beauty has a tendency to put travelers into a trance, that is, if its world-class culinary offerings don't take hostage of their taste buds first. The Basque Country lends a kind of cultural experience that deviates from what some might see as the norm in Spain. Here, flamenco and bullfighting aren't sought-after cultural activities in the same way that pintxo bar hopping is. And while siestas are still practiced and Spanish is still spoken, much of the city's residents are bilingual (San Sebastian has the highest number of Basque speakers in the Basque province) and opt to surf in their spare time.
The passion of a flamenco dancer, the dedication of a bullfighting matador and the laid-back indulgence of an afternoon siesta are not merely romanticized memories of a long-ago Spain. These cultural traditions are prominent aspects of life in Seville and throughout the country's southernmost Andalusia region. A city marked by Jewish, Islamic and Christian influences, Seville shows evidence of each religion's presence in its church facades, minarets and former ghettos. Travelers who appreciate a good dose of history between leisurely strolls along narrow streets and relaxed, drawn-out meals will swoon over Seville's centuries-old neighborhoods and cultural offerings.
Valencia is as pleasing to the eyes as it is to the wallet. The green hues found in the Old Turía River Bed Gardens contrast the shimmering golden sand and sparkling cerulean waves of the beaches. And the color of its oranges is as rich as the taste. Those who say this Spanish coastal city lacks any sense of charm may have never walked under the citrus trees as they drop blossoms onto the cobblestone streets or listened to the hum of the Valencian dialect amidst the produce stands of the Mercado Central. Although it has spent years hiding in the shadows of larger cities, Valencia now offers a mixture of Madrid's history and Barcelona's contemporary atmosphere for a fraction of the cost.
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