Most people think of Spain as a summer holiday destination, but it’s also a great choice for weekend city breaks at the end of the year, when the weather is still pleasant, hotels have rooms to fill, and flights are cheaper. So leave the beaches to the birds and head inland to explore the country’s beautiful and historic cities.
Art-lovers will adore spending time in Madrid, which boasts some of the best galleries in Europe. Admire the star-studded private collection of the Thyssen family in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, see Picasso’s famous “Guernica”, as well as many works by Salvador Dali, Joan Miró, Georges Braque and other contemporary artists in the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, or visit the world-famous Museo del Prado which houses a fabulous collection of masterpieces by Velázquez and Goya.
Architecture lies at the heart of Barcelona’s appeal, with the Gothic drama of the old town providing a stark contrast to the quirky and colourful art deco boulevards and striking Modernist buildings. Most people come here to admire the work of Antoni Gaudi, whose awe-inspiring and still unfinished Sagrada Familia is one of the most-visited tourist sites in Spain, while the sheer madness of the mosaic-adorned Park Güell will bring a smile to your face round every corner. Barcelona is also one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Spain, with a vibrant nightlife, fabulous bars and restaurants and some of the best shopping in Europe. What’s not to love?
History is etched into every stone of Granada, and yet this ancient city is reinventing itself as the hip capital of Andalucia. The winding streets of the old Muslim quarter, the Albayzin, are packed with lively bars and cafes where you can eat tapas and listen to flamenco in the shadow of the Alhambra Palace, the 9th-century fairytale fortress now protected by UNESCO World Heritage status, or check out the churros in the famous art nouveau Café Fútbol.
Pilgrims flock to Santiago de Compostela from all corners of the world, many of them arriving on foot via the Camino de Santiago, to view the holy remains of St James the Apostle housed in the awe-inspiring Romanesque cathedral. Since the early Middle Ages this has been a Christian rallying point and, every day at noon, there is a special pilgrims’ Mass. The cathedral rooftop tour provides an unforgettable view of the beautiful medieval town and its gold-tipped monuments, while the neighbouring museum includes an impressive collection of religious art as well as the tombs of the kings of medieval Léon.
Vibrant Valencia is packed out for festivals such as Las Fallas in spring and Benicassim in summer, but visit out of season and you’ll still find plenty going on. The futuristic City of Arts and Sciences was inaugurated in 1998 with the opening of L’Hemisferic, housing an IMAX cinema, planetarium and laserium, and completed in 2005 with its last major component, the opera house and performing arts centre of El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía. The complex also includes the largest oceanographic aquarium in Europe, an interactive museum, sports arena and sculpture walk. After an exhausting day of sightseeing in Valencia, head for the old town and relax over a steaming bowl of the famous local speciality – paella!