With its reputation for romance and passion, Spain’s culture, cuisine and traditions consistently surprise and delight visitors. Equally enchanting are the country’s varied landscapes and intriguing topography, ranging from rugged mountain-ranges and wild countryside to idyllic seaside towns and crystal blue ocean. But it’s Spain’s cities that deserve an honourable mention in the line-up of its highlights. Jumbles of rustic stone houses with red-tiled roofs adorn the hillsides, while countless architectural masterpieces punctuate the urban landscapes. While beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, here at Original Travel we’re all in agreement that these are some of the most beautiful cities in Spain. Their beauty also extends beyond the surface, with each boasting a blend of enticing attractions and culinary wonders woven into the tapestry of each city’s identity.
Seville’s confetti-coloured houses, eye-catching courtyards and centuries-old traditions have long seduced travellers. The city is famed for its prolific orange trees - with more growing here than in any other city in the world - and the azahar (orange blossoms) provide both pleasing décor and an intoxicating scent (which is at its most fragrant in February and March). Sample Sevillian staple vino de naranja (orange wine) at one of the city’s stylish wine bars, before heading out on an evening tapeo (tapas bar crawl).
Barcelona’s fabled buildings bless the pages of many an art history book and the city itself can be likened to a real-life art museum. From the legendary Sagrada Familia and surrealist Parc Güell, to the gothic Catedral de Barcelona and Gaudí’s Casa Milà, these iconic landmarks attract an abundance of visitors, making this one of Spain’s liveliest cities. Stroll down Las Ramblas (Barcelona’s most famous street) for a myriad of entertainment, or head to the sun-soaked Barceloneta beach for some welcome relaxation.
Crowned Spain’s culinary capital, San Sebastián has mastered the art of gastronomic indulgence. The city itself is just as palatable, with art nouveau edifices lining leafy streets and its fair share of well-kept parks. Beyond the charming cobbled pathways, you’ll find the butter-soft sands of Playa de la Concha and Playa de Ondarreta (touted as two of Europe’s greatest city beaches), which provide excellent backdrops for enjoying cutting-edge tapas (known as pintxos in the Basque Country).
As the country’s capital, Madrid couldn’t be left off the list of the most beautiful cities in Spain, and the city’s elegant avenues and Belle Époque buildings certainly earn it this accolade. The Museo del Prado, Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza form a tempting trifecta for art-lovers, while its innovative restaurant scene is all about blending enduring food traditions with creative flavours. The energetic pace of life is something to behold and the city really comes alive after-dark, when the many storied bars and clubs whirr into action and fill with late-night revellers.
Situated in Andalucía’s northernmost region, Córdoba is best-known for the Mezquita (the Great Mosque), which is an extraordinary example of Islamic architecture. It is also the only city in the world to have as many as four UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and the labyrinthine streets surrounding the Mezquita are filled with hidden plazas and authentic foodie spots. Visit in May for the Fiesta of the Patios, a festival that dates back to 1918 and sees the city overflowing with colourful displays of flowers.
Palma de Mallorca
The capital of Mallorca (the largest of the charming quartet of Balearic Islands), Palma, is sometimes dubbed a miniature Barcelona, thanks to its Gaudian-influenced architecture. Honey-coloured houses and bustling plazas characterise El Casco Antiguo (the Old Town), while the world-class art galleries and neighbourhood markets are also well worth exploring. Scattered throughout the city’s surrounding areas, you’ll find peaceful villages nestled within the craggy mountains and secluded coves lapped by gin-clear waters.
Slightly more off-the-beaten-path and undeniably underrated, Zaragoza - located in the north-eastern Aragon region - is in fact Spain’s fifth-largest city. A haven of Mudéjar-style buildings combined with avant-garde architecture, some notable landmarks include the Moorish Aljafería Palace, the art nouveau Casa Solans and the Roman Museo del Teatro de Caesaraugusta. A visit to Zaragoza is akin to a history lesson, such is the array of influences apparent within its well-preserved monuments.
Santiago de Compostela
Another under-the-radar treasure, Santiago de Compostela is the finishing line for the Camino de Santiago, the Medieval pilgrimage route that has been popular since the Middle Ages. Today, over 350,000 people still complete the trail each year, finding refuge within the city’s historic streets and appealing plazas. The Cathedral is a definite highlight, while its many restaurants serve enticing Galician cuisine and locally-produced wine.
Nestled in the foothills of Spain’s Sierra Nevada mountains, Granada is renowned for its striking examples of Moorish architecture, most notably the Alhambra (Spain’s most visited attraction). The intricately-decorated palace complex is an incredibly well-preserved monument of Islamic design, set among manicured gardens and atop an emerald hillside. As a university town, the city itself is vibrant and lively, with grandeur and grit in equal measure.
Located just north of Madrid, UNESCO World Heritage-designated Segovia sprawls unassumingly across the lush hills of Castilla. The Alcázar de Segovia (Segovia’s fortress) is said to have provided Walt Disney with the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle, and if the architecture is beguiling enough for a princess then the city undoubtedly deserves a spot on our list of the most beautiful cities in Spain.