Spain is often thought of as a holiday resort for beach holidays spent in 1970s resorts with bars, beaches and little else, never far from these resorts though are fascinating historic cities.
Spain has always been on the edges of Europe, for a long time ruled by the Islamic Moors, later isolated during the early Franco era; this has given it a unique history though and its many historic towns and cities reflect this: many built for defense during the centuries long struggle for control of the Iberian Peninsula between Christians and Moors.
Art is another important part of Spain’s history and the country has some of the best and most varied Art museums in the world.
Gaudi’s Barcelona( inc. Casa Mila, Parc Guell and the Sagrada Famillia)
Antoni Gaudi’s art and architecture can be found across Spain but he is most associated with the Catalonian capital of Barcelona, his Sagrada Familia Church becoming the symbol of the city.
The Sagrada Familia is a church but on the scale and of the grandeur of a Cathedral, started in 1882 it was only concreted in 2010 and remains unfinished, despite this it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Casa Mila apartment block was, unlike the Sagrada Familia, finished during Gaudi’s lifetime, having been built between 1905 and 1910. With the undulating façade made to resemble the rock face of the sacred mountain Montserrat and distinctive wrought iron decoration it is a popular tourist attraction and inside the wonder continues with its fantastic open roofed atrium.
Parc Guell is one of Gaudi’s works that can not just be admired but can be used and enjoyed by tourists and Barcelona residents alike. On the hill of El Carmel the park gives fantastic views of the city below but is also fantastic itself: a public park dotted with Gaudi’s art and features, many of them mosaiced.
Picasso Museum in Malaga
Another of Spain’s most famous sons, Picasso was born in Malaga and it is here you will find one of the world’s best collections of his works as well as other artefacts and exhibitions about his life.
Picasso’s early works, cubist paintings, sculptures and old master reworkings are all represented here.
The centre of this small historic city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it has everything you would expect from a medieval Spanish city: including old churches (many of them Romanesque), a city wall and Castle. Although much of the historic city was built between the 12th and 16th centuries it was originally Roman; the Roman Aqueduct remains at a height of 28.5 metres.
As well as sightseeing the city has a good choice of shopping and eateries serving fantastic regional cuisine.
France has San Tropez and Spain has San Sebastian as its most fashionable Mediterranean resort. The harbour at San Sebastian is often filled with luxury super-yachts yet traditional fishing boats remain as well.
St Vincent’s Church is in the old town, which is best enjoyed on foot and also contains the best cafes and restaurants, ther church dates from the 16th Century and is the city’s oldest. Head over to the new Town though to visit the late Victorian Cathedral. Of course you may wish to simply enjoy the beaches with the best across the Urumea River.
You shouldn’t miss out on the city of Ibiza simply because the island has a reputation as a party island if a wild night out isn’t your thing. If a wild night out is your thing then try to make sure you come out to take in the old city as well. The best sights are within the massive 16th century city walls.
Best enjoyed in the morning when it is quieter enter the old city over a drawbridge and then walk the steep streets up to the Cathedral and then descend back down to the harbour for a pleasant lunch looking out on the bay
The Golden Triangle of Art, Madrid
Three of the world’s best art museums all within a small area in Madrid. Two are national museums divided into pre 20th century art in one and 20th century art in the other.
The Prado museum is that dealing with pre 20th century works with many Spanish paintings plus Italian Renaissance paintings and works by the Flemish painters from the 15th through to the 17th century such as Rubens. 300 French paintings and 200 Dutch school paintings including famous works by Durer and Rembrandt make these the next most well represented nations; German, and British paintings can be found in smaller quantities. As for sculpture Greek and Roman sculptures are included as well as later mainly renaissance pieces.
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía has a collection of modern art by Spanish and international artists including Picasso, Hirst, Bacon and Serrano.
The private Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum of contemporary art fills in many gaps in the collections of the other two museums and includes more English and German works plus several old masters.
Nou Camp Stadium, Barcelona
The largest stadium in Europe with a capacity of 98,787; in reality though the stadium is more impressive than the numbers alone, to watch Barcelona play here is to experience unrivalled passion and atmosphere. The stadium also includes the FC Barcelona museum and tours can be booked year round.
The Silk Exchange, Valencia
Started in the 15th century and finished in 1548 this late gothic building is a symbol of the wealth merchants bought to the city in the late 15th century at around the time they also funded the voyage of Christopher Columbus. The building remains open to the public and as well as the trading hall itself you should visit the top of its viewing tower for the best views of the city.
The Royal Palace of Madrid
Still the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family the Royal Palace was originally built for Felipe V the palace took 40 years to build but decorating the 2000 rooms and embroidering 20km of tapestry took another century.
Mainly used for state occasions rather than as a home the Palace is normally open to the public including the Royal Armoury with its important historic collection.
Toledo may only be home to around 65,000 citizens but its history is that of a former capital of the Holy Roman Empire, Visgoth Empire and Muslim empire; within Andalucía it was one of the last strongholds of the Moors in Spain to fall.
There are examples of each civilisation that has been here since Roman times including remains of the Roman Circus, Moorish Tornerias Mosque and the Gothic Cathedral.
The San Lorenzo Monastery at Escorial
Another residence of the Spanish King the site includes a Monastery and Palace plus an Architectural museum open to the public.
The extensive site includes several important collections of art, books and architectural artefacts within the museum. The buildings themselves are from the 16th century when the devoted Catholic Phillip II built the complex, including a Monastery and Basilica, as a symbol of his faith, the Monastery still operates as such.
Arcos de la Frontera
Once the frontier with the moors, hence the name, Arcos, as it is normally known, is a small provincial town in southern Spain a top steep Sandstone cliffs. The position made it an ideal defensive spot and the 15th century castle still stands today as do a number of historic churches.
These sites may start to give you some idea of the rich history Spain has, though there is of course much more with cities like Seville, Cordoba and Granada not even mentioned, each of them though treasure troves of history.