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Rick Steves Best of Spain
By Rick Steves
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- Trade Paperback $24.99 $30.99 CAD
- ebook $16.99 $21.99 CAD
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- Strategic advice from Rick Steves on what's worth your time and money
- Short itineraries covering Barcelona, Madrid, Toledo, Granada, Andalucía's White Hill Towns, and Sevilla
- Rick's tips for beating the crowds, skipping lines, and avoiding tourist traps
- The best of local culture, flavors, and more, including insightful walks through museums, historic sights, and atmospheric neighborhoods
- Trip planning strategies like how to link destinations and design your itinerary, what to pack, where to stay, and how to get around
- Over 400 full-color pages with detailed maps and vibrant photos throughout
- Suggestions for side trips to Montserrat and Figueres, Basque Country, Santiago de Compostela, El Escorial, Segovia, Salamanca, Córdoba, and Spain's South Coast
Planning a longer trip? Pick up Rick Steves Spain, an in-depth guide perfect for spending more than two weeks exploring Spain.
THE BEST OF SPAIN
Map: Top Destinations in Spain
THE BEST OF BARCELONA
THE BEST OF MADRID
THE BEST OF TOLEDO
THE BEST OF GRANADA
THE BEST OF ANDALUCÍA’S WHITE HILL TOWNS
THE BEST OF SEVILLA
THE BEST OF THE REST
Designing Your Itinerary
Trip Costs per Person
Before You Go
Travel Strategies on the Road
Like a grandpa bouncing a baby on his knee, Spain is a mix of old and new, modern and traditional. Spain means mas-sive cathedrals, world-class art, Moorish palaces, nonstop nightlife, whitewashed villages, and glorious sunshine. Spain has a richness of history and culture. From the stirring sardana dance in Barcelona to the sizzling rat-a-tat-tat of flamenco in Sevilla, this country creates its own beat amid the heat.
Spain’s charm really lies in its people and their unique lifestyle. Even as the Spanish embrace modern times, their daily lives focus on friends and family, just as they always have. Many still follow the siesta schedule, shutting down work during the midday heat to enjoy the company of loved ones. In the cool of the evening, Spain comes back to life. Whole families stroll through the streets and greet their neighbors—a custom called the paseo. Spaniards are notorious night owls. The antidote for late nights? The next day’s siesta.
You can see many European countries by just passing through, but Spain is a destination. Learn its history and accept the country on its own terms. Gain an appreciation for cured ham, dry sherry, and bull’s-tail stew. When you go to Spain, go all the way.
THE BEST OF SPAIN
This book is all about Spain’s top destinations, from its thriving cities to its authentic towns. The biggies on everyone’s list are exuberant, trendy Barcelona and marvelous Madrid, the nation’s capital. Buzzing with energy, Sevilla features flamenco and nightlife that doesn’t quit. Granada has Spain’s finest Moorish sight—the grand palace of the Alhambra. And no visit to Spain is complete without exploring its smaller towns, from historic Toledo to the sleepy whitewashed hill towns of Andalucía. In some cases, when there are interesting sights or towns near my top destinations, I cover these briefly (as “Near” sights), to help you enjoyably fill out a free day or a longer stay.
Beyond the major destinations, I also cover what I call the Best of the Rest—great destinations that don’t quite make my top cut, but are worth seeing if you have more time or specific interests: the Basque Country, Santiago de Compostela, Córdoba, and the South Coast.
To help you link the top stops, I’ve included a two-week itinerary (see here), with tips to help you tailor it to your interests and available time.
The Ramblas—Barcelona’s long, tree-lined, pedestrian-friendly boulevard—spills gently down from the heart of the city to the harbor.
The huge, unfinished church of Sagrada Família, with sequoia-sized columns and fantastical Neo-Gothic decor, feels both medieval and futuristic.
Barcelonans crowd into lively bars to feast on tapas—small portions of olives, seafood, meatballs, and deep-fried tasties on a toothpick.
In the shadow of the 700-year-old cathedral in the Barri Gòtic neighborhood, locals join hands in a communal circle to dance the sardana.
Park Güell—with its colorful mosaics, wavy forms, and whimsical statues—is one of several fanciful sights by Antoni Gaudí, the master of Modernisme.
The vibrant Boqueria Market along the Ramblas evokes deep passion among Spain’s devout jamón-iphiles.
In the shape of an animal’s back with iridescent scales, Gaudi’s Casa Batlló is a magical place.
Near the busy downtown but a world away, the beach at Barceloneta is a balmy world of sand, surf, snack shacks, and slow sunsets.
The numerous street performers express the spirit of this city—playful, nonconformist, spontaneous, and a bit theatrical.
Plaza Mayor—Madrid’s historic center—is ringed by gloriously symmetrical buildings from the era of Spain’s Golden Age.
El Rastro, Europe’s biggest flea market, is a field day for shoppers, browsers, people-watchers, and bar-hopping Madrileños.
Spain’s capital city offers a smorgasbord of culinary delicacies from across the country—including seafood from the Mediterranean coast.
Escape the brutal Madrid sun in spacious Retiro Park, a leafy oasis a stone’s throw from the Prado Museum.
Spanish masterpieces (like Las Meninas) hang alongside Italian Renaissance works and more at the Prado, arguably Europe’s greatest museum of paintings.
A bear picks berries from a madroño tree—part of the city’s coat of arms since medieval times, and now a statue in the city center.
Puerta del Sol—the city’s cultural heart and transportation hub—bustles with pedestrians, taxis, neon, demonstrations, and celebrations.
The skyline of Toledo looks much the same today as when El Greco painted it four centuries ago, when he made the city his home.
Local cuisine specializes in game meats from the surrounding countryside—venison, partridge, and wild boar—with almond-sweet mazapán for dessert.
Perched strategically in the geographic center of Iberia along the Tajo River, Toledo grew to become the first capital of Spain.
To create Toledo’s specialty, damascene, artisans inlay gold and silver wires into steel, making intricately patterned bowls, jewelry, and bull-fighting swords.
The vast cathedral has a collection of priceless paintings, including El Grecos, that would put any museum on the map.
The Sinagoga del Tránsito is richly decorated in Mudejar style.
Toledo’s many souvenir shops sell locally hand-crafted knives, swords, maces, armor, and other nouveau antiques. I buy all my medieval weaponry here.
The Alhambra—a wonderland of fountains, pools, gardens, and fantasy architecture—shows the Moorish civilization at its peak in Spain.
In flamenco, the women make graceful turns, the men do the machine-gun footwork, and castanets set the beat.
Like an Arabian souk, Granada’s Alcaicería marketplace is a maze of small shops selling leather purses, scarves, and trinkets.
The Alhambra’s intricate decoration is rooted in the Moors’ reluctance to portray living creatures (that was God’s work)—instead, they created art with calligraphy and stylized patterns.
Granada’s terrace eateries come with world-class views.
The tombs of the “Catholic Monarchs”—Ferdinand and Isabel—are the centerpiece of the Royal Chapel.
Late-night visits to the Alhambra are romantic and less crowded.
Whitewashed villages with narrow lanes and timeless traditions, perched atop craggy bluffs—these are Spain’s pueblos blancos.
Inside the dank Pileta Cave you can see some of mankind’s oldest creations—paintings of fish, horses, and goats by Paleolithic Michelangelos.
In Jerez de la Frontera, you can watch balletic stallions prance and high-step to a classical music soundtrack.
Many hill towns, such as Ronda, have paradors—historic luxury inns—where you can sleep with a view (or just settle for a drink on their veranda).
Crowned by its cathedral, Arcos de la Frontera is not only quaint—it’s also rustic, historic, and genuine.
Ronda, the birthplace of bullfighting, has Spain’s first bullring (which still operates), and the best museum on matadors and their craft.
The festive city of Jerez de la Frontera is just a gateway to the White Hill Towns, but it’s home to two Andalusian icons: fine horses and dry sherry.
Elbowing your way through a crowded bar to order tapas and a small caña of beer is a classic Sevilla experience.
Sevilla is home to some of Spain’s most “Spanish” traditions, like flamenco dancing, which erupts spontaneously in late-night bars throughout the old town.
Matadors relish showing off their technique, fancy outfits, and flair in Sevilla’s popular bullfighting ring.
The cathedral has the world’s biggest church interior, and houses the world’s largest altarpiece, a half-ton monstrance, and the tomb of Columbus.
The Alcázar palace, with both Christian and Moorish elements, has lavish decor, quiet courtyards, and reminders of Columbus.
Graceful statues of the Virgin Mary mourning her crucified son adorn many of Sevilla’s churches—each one a different variation on sorrow.
Andalusian pride is on display as Sevillans don their traditional outfits—dresses, mantillas, fans, brimmed hats—for the April Fair.
Castle walls surround the Royal Alcázar, Sevilla’s spectacular 10th-century palace.
Spain’s often-overlooked progressive side is trumpeted boldly at the Guggenheim modern art museum in Bilbao.
The Costa del Sol—home to sun, sand, and seafood—is heavily touristed, but there are still a few unspoiled beaches and quaint towns.
Córdoba’s huge former mosque, with its forest of 800 red and blue columns, attests to the cultural vitality of the Moors’ 700-year presence in Spain.
For centuries, pilgrims have trekked across Europe to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain’s northwest corner.
Apes rule the Rock of Gibraltar. Hide your snacks or they’ll grab them.
Nerja is a relaxed Costa del Sol town, perfect for an evening paseo on its Balcony of Europe promenade.
Locals throughout southern Spain get more excited about their many festivals than the tourists do.
The Running of the Bulls in Pamplona is like surfing—you hope to catch a good wave and ride it.
Approach Spain like a veteran traveler, even if it’s your first trip. Design your itinerary, get a handle on your budget, make advance arrangements, and follow my travel strategies on the road. For my best advice on sightseeing, accommodations, restaurants, and transportation, see the Practicalities chapter.
Designing Your Itinerary
Decide when to go. Peak season—July through September—comes with crowds, heat, and higher prices, especially in the coastal areas. Air-conditioning is essential. Spring and fall (April, June, and Oct) offer the best combination of lighter crowds, good weather, and moderate prices. Off-season, November through March, prices drop, sights have shorter hours, and the weather is crisp.
Choose your top destinations. My itinerary (on here) gives you an idea of how much you can reasonably see in 14 days, but you can adapt it to fit your own interests and timeframe.
Art lovers are drawn to Madrid and Barcelona, which have the greatest collections of art and the most museums. Historians travel back in time to Granada’s sprawling Moorish Alhambra, and to Toledo, with its concentrated mix of art and history within small-town walls. If you’re fond of sleepy hill towns, get a good dose (or doze?) in Andalucía. Night owls have a hoot in Sevilla. Sun worshippers bask in Barcelona, San Sebastián (a Basque city that’s fun for foodies, too), and little Nerja on the South Coast. Pilgrims head for Montserrat (near Barcelona) and Santiago de Compostela.
Draft a rough itinerary. Figure out how many destinations you can comfortably fit in the time you have. Don’t overdo it—few travelers wish they’d hurried more. Allow enough days per stop: Figure on at least two days for major destinations (and at least three for Barcelona).
Staying in a home base—like Barcelona or Madrid—and making day trips can be more time-efficient than changing locations and hotels. Minimize one-night stands, especially consecutive ones; it can be worth taking a late-afternoon train ride or drive to get settled into a town for two nights.
Connect the dots. Link your destinations into a logical route. Determine which cities you’ll fly into and out of; begin your search for transatlantic flights at Kayak.com.
Decide if you’ll travel by car or public transportation, or a combination. A car is helpful for exploring regions in-depth, such as Andalucía’s hill towns (where public transit can be sparse and infrequent). But a car is useless in cities, and it’s not necessary for connecting far-apart destinations (easier by train or even a short flight), unless you plan to make a lot of stops along the way.
Barcelona, perched at the far northeast corner of Spain, makes a good first or last stop for your trip. Given its fast AVE train connections with Madrid (three hours, simpler than flying), you could put off renting a car until after you see Barcelona, Madrid, and Toledo.
- On Sale
- Sep 5, 2023
- Page Count
- 464 pages
- Rick Steves