Rick Steves Spain


By Rick Steves

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Now more than ever, you can count on Rick Steves to tell you what you really need to know when traveling through Spain. Savor authentic paella, run with the bulls in Pamplona, or relax on Barcelona's beaches: experience it all with Rick! Inside Rick Steves Spain you'll find:
  • Fully updated, comprehensive coverage for planning a multi-week trip to Spain
  • Rick's strategic advice on how to get the most out of your time and money, with rankings of his must-see favorites
  • Top sights and hidden gems, from El Escorial and the great mosque of Córdoba to medieval bars serving house-made madroño liqueur
  • How to connect with local culture: Enjoy a flamenco show in Madrid, chat with fans about the latest fútbol match, or meander down winding streets in search of the best tapas
  • Beat the crowds, skip the lines, and avoid tourist traps with Rick's candid, humorous insight
  • The best places to eat, sleep, and relax with a glass of sangria
  • Self-guided walking tours of lively neighborhoods and incredible museums
  • Vital trip-planning tools, like how to link destinations, build your itinerary, and get from place to place
  • Detailed maps, plus a fold-out map for exploring on the go
  • Over 1,000 bible-thin pages include everything worth seeing without weighing you down
  • Coverage of Barcelona, Basque Country, Bilbao, Santiago de Compostela, León, Salamanca, Madrid, El Escorial, the Valley of the Fallen, Segovia, Toledo, Granada, Sevilla, Córdoba, Andalucía, Spain's Southern Coast, Gibraltar, Morocco, and more
  • Covid-related travel info and resources for a smooth trip
Make the most of every day and every dollar with Rick Steves Spain.

Planning a one- to two-week trip? Check out Rick Steves Best of Spain.


Welcome to Rick Steves’ Europe

Travel is intensified living—maximum thrills per minute and one of the last great sources of legal adventure. Travel is freedom. It’s recess, and we need it.

I discovered a passion for European travel as a teen and have been sharing it ever since—through my bus tours, public television and radio shows, and travel guidebooks. Over the years, I’ve taught millions of travelers how to best enjoy Europe’s blockbuster sights—and experience “Back Door” discoveries that most tourists miss.

This book offers you a balanced mix of Spain’s lively cities and cozy towns, from trendy Barcelona and upbeat Madrid to Andalucía’s romantic hill towns. It’s selective: Rather than listing dozens of beach resorts, I recommend only my favorite (Nerja). And it’s in-depth: My self-guided museum tours and city walks provide insight into the country’s vibrant history and today’s living, breathing culture.

I advocate traveling simply and smartly. Take advantage of my money- and time-saving tips on sightseeing, transportation, and more. Try local, characteristic alternatives to expensive hotels and restaurants. In many ways, spending more money only builds a thicker wall between you and what you traveled so far to see.

We visit Spain to experience it—to become temporary locals. Thoughtful travel engages us with the world, as we learn to appreciate other cultures and new ways to measure quality of life.

Judging by the positive feedback I receive from readers, this book will help you enjoy a fun, affordable, and rewarding vacation—whether it’s your first trip or your tenth.

¡Buen viaje! Happy travels!


Welcome to Rick Steves’ Europe

Spain’s Cuisine Scene

Spain’s Top Destinations

Map: Spain’s Top Destinations



Planning Your Trip


Whirlwind Three-Week Trip of Spain

Map: Whirlwind Three-Week Trip of Spain

Trip Costs Per Person


Travel Smart

For the traveler, Spain means many things: bullfights, massive cathedrals, world-class art, Muslim palaces, whitewashed villages, delicious paella, sunny beaches, and lively nightlife. You’ll find all of this, but the country’s charm really lies in its people and their colorful lifestyle. From the stirring communal 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 spread-out geography makes it seem more like a collection of distinct regions than a centralized nation. In the central plain sits the lively urban island of Madrid. Just south is holy Toledo, a medieval showpiece and melting-pot city with Christian, Muslim, and Jewish roots. Farther south is Andalucía, home to sleepy, whitewashed hill towns and three great cities: Granada (topped with a magnificent Moorish palace), Córdoba (with a massive medieval mosque), and Sevilla (where Holy Week is celebrated as if God were watching). Spain’s south coast offers a palm-tree jungle of beach resorts along the Costa del Sol, a taste of British fish-and-chips in Gibraltar, and a launch pad to Morocco from Tarifa.

To Spain’s far north is San Sebastián and the Basque Country, with sparkling beaches, cutting-edge architecture, and tasty pintxos (the local take on tapas). In nearby Pamplona, bulls and tourists run for their lives. Gregarious pilgrims hike across northern Spain on their long journey to the cathedral town of Santiago de Compostela. To the east, along the Mediterranean coast, Spain has an almost Italian vibe. Trendy Barcelona, where Antoni Gaudí’s architecture makes waves, keeps one eye cocked toward trends sailing in from the rest of Europe.

Running with the bulls in Pamplona; Segovia’s towering aqueduct

Thanks to the Pyrenees Mountains, Spain is physically isolated from the rest of the Continent: It is in Europe, but not of Europe. For more than 700 years (711-1492), Spain’s dominant culture was Muslim, not Christian. And after a brief Golden Age in the 16th century (financed by New World gold), Spain retreated into three centuries of isolation.

Spain’s seclusion contributed to the creation of its distinctive customs—bullfights, flamenco dancing, elaborate Holy Week processions, and a national obsession with ham. Even as other countries opened up to one another in the 20th century, the fascist dictator Francisco Franco virtually sealed off Spain from the rest of Europe’s democracies. But since Franco’s death in 1975, Spaniards have swung almost to the opposite extreme, becoming wide open to new ideas, technologies, and visitors. Tourism is huge here. With 47 million inhabitants, Spain entertains 82 million visitors annually.

Spanish is spoken everywhere. But Catalans (around Barcelona) also speak their own Romance language, Catalan. The Galicians speak Galego. And in the far north the Basques keep alive the ancient tongue of Euskara. People think of themselves first and foremost as Basques, Catalans, Andalusians, Galicians, and so on...and only second as Spaniards. Each region hosts local festivals, whether parading Virgin Mary statues through the streets or running in front of a pack of furious bulls.

For a country its size, Spain has produced an astonishing number of talented artists with distinctive styles—from El Greco’s mystical religiosity to the sober realism of Diego Velázquez. In the 20th century, Pablo Picasso shattered the two-dimensional picture plane, then pasted it back together to invent Cubism. Salvador Dalí created surreal juxtapositions, while Joan Miró picked up the Surrealist baton and ran with it. In music, Spain continues its long tradition of great guitarists—classical, flamenco, and Gipsy Kings-style “new flamenco.”

Even as the country plunges forward, some things stay the same. Daily lives focus on friends and family, as they always have. Many people (especially in rural areas) still follow the siesta schedule: Spaniards tend to have a small, quick breakfast, grab a late-morning sandwich to tide them over, then gather with friends and family for a big midday meal. From around 1:00 to 4:00 p.m., many businesses close as people go home to eat lunch, socialize, and maybe take a quick nap. The siesta is not so much a time to sleep as it is an opportunity for everyone to shut down their harried public lives.

In the cool of the evening, Spain comes back to life. Whole families pour out of their apartments to stroll through the streets and greet their neighbors—a custom called the paseo. Even the biggest city feels like a rural village. People stop at bars for a drink and tapas or to watch a big soccer match on TV. Around 10:00 p.m. in the heat of summer, it’s finally time for a light dinner. Afterward, even families with young children might continue their paseo or attend a concert.

Enjoy Spain’s street life, from sidewalk cafés to the daily paseo.

The resort town of Nerja overlooks the Mediterranean; sangria comes with a smile.

Spaniards are notorious night owls. Many clubs and restaurants don’t even open until after midnight. Dance clubs routinely stay open until the sun rises, and young people stumble out bleary-eyed and head for work. The antidote for late nights? The next day’s siesta.

Travelers love Spain. You can see some European countries by just passing through, but Spain is a destination. Learn its history and accept it on its terms. Gain (or just fake) an appreciation for cured ham, dry sherry, and bull’s tail stew, and the Spaniards will love you for it. If you go, go all the way. Immerse yourself in Spain.

Spain’s Top Destinations

¡Bienvenido! There’s so much to see in Spain and so little time. This overview breaks the country’s top destinations into must-see sights (to help first-time travelers plan their trip) and worth-it sights (for those with extra time or special interests). I’ve also suggested a minimum number of days to allow per destination.


Spain’s four major cities—Barcelona, Madrid, Granada, and Sevilla—give you an excellent and diverse sampler of urban Spain. All are linked by train.

▲▲▲Barcelona (allow 2-3 days)

This trendy seaside city has an atmospheric old town, an elegant new town, strollable boulevards, and a Modernista skyline. Barcelona is the heart of Catalan culture, and hometown talents Gaudí, Picasso, and Miró all left their mark on this arty city. Barcelona’s inviting beaches are linked by a promenade and dotted with beach bars, delightful at sunset.

▲▲▲Madrid (2 days)

Madrid is the country’s dynamic capital. It’s Spain on a grand scale, with a huge central square (Puerta del Sol), the Royal Palace (2,000 rooms), and top-notch art treasures, from Picasso’s powerful Guernica to the Prado’s many masterpieces. This livable city has an unsurpassed tapas scene, fun paseo, street markets, and flamenco shows.

▲▲▲Granada (1-2 days)

Granada pairs evocative history with good living. Its Moorish legacy shines brightest at the magnificent Alhambra palace, and the old town’s Royal Chapel is the final resting place of Ferdinand and Isabel. The fun-to-explore city also has distinctive neighborhoods, from the bustling Alcaicería shopping lanes to the hilly Albayzín, with funky tea shops and sublime views of the Alhambra against the mountains.

Madrid’s Retiro Park; dancing in Barcelona; Granada’s Alhambra at sunset; visiting the Prado

▲▲▲Sevilla (1-2 days)

This soulful city boasts a number of Spain’s bests: flamenco, Holy Week fervor, bullfighting, and the late-night paseo. Sights include the tangled Barrio Santa Cruz neighborhood, a massive Gothic cathedral (with Columbus’ tomb), and the Moorish Alcázar palace and gardens. And there’s the nonstop city itself—a festival of color, music, and street life.

Spaniards turn out for festive events; Ronda clings to its cliff top; Sevilla comes alive at April Fair.


You can weave any of these destinations—rated or ▲▲—into your itinerary. Choose from a mix of small towns, pilgrim destinations, countryside stops, beach resorts, and historic cities, or go for a taste of Gibraltar or Tangier. It’s easy to add some destinations based on proximity (if you’re going to Madrid, Toledo is next door), but some out-of-the-way places can merit the journey, depending on your time and interests.

Near Barcelona (1 day)

Day-tripping from Barcelona, pilgrims and photographers head to the rugged mountain retreat of Montserrat, while fans of Salvador Dalí visit Figueres for its Dalí Theater-Museum and Cadaqués for the artist’s house.

▲▲Basque Country (1-2 days)

The vibrant Basque region, which overlaps southwest France, is anchored on the Spanish side by the beach resort town of San Sebastián (pictured above) and neighboring Bilbao, with its striking Guggenheim modern art museum.

Camino de Santiago (4 days for drivers)

This centuries-old pilgrimage route traverses the top of Spain from France to Santiago de Compostela, with stops at charming villages and interesting cities (including Pamplona, famous for the Running of the Bulls).

Santiago de Compostela (1-2 days)

Tucked into the far northwest corner of Spain, this moss-covered city is the end of the trail for pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago (the “Way of St. James”). Greet pilgrims as they arrive at the town’s vast cathedral, home to the relics of St. James.

Bilbao’s stunning Guggenheim museum; trekkers at Santiago’s cathedral; sublime Toledo; Córdoba’s vast Mezquita

Salamanca (1 day)

Humming with a youthful vibe, this university town has the country’s finest main square, where you can pull up front-row seats at a sidewalk café and enjoy a drink and tapas. Here and about town, bands of student musicians break into song, hoping for a few coins.

Northwest of Madrid (1-3 days)

Several different destinations make fine day trips (or a loop trip) from Madrid: El Escorial has an imposing royal palace, and nearby is the Valley of the Fallen, a monument to victims of the Spanish Civil War. The pleasant town of Segovia (also good for an overnight stop) is crossed by a towering Roman aqueduct. Little Ávila, the birthplace of St. Teresa, nestles within its well-preserved medieval wall.

▲▲Toledo (1-2 days)

Hill-capping Toledo has a wonderfully rich history (Roman, Jewish, Moorish, Christian), an outstanding cathedral, and works by hometown artist El Greco. An overnight visit is best to savor the town’s evening tranquility, though Toledo also works well as a day trip from Madrid.

Córdoba (1 day)

This bustling city is home to Spain’s top surviving Moorish mosque, the huge and marvelous Mezquita. Nearby are the quaint side lanes of the city’s Jewish quarter, alive with history. Córdoba is an easy stop on the AVE train line between Madrid and Sevilla, or a quick day trip from Sevilla.

▲▲Andalucía’s White Hill Towns (1-2 days)

Andalucía is the classic heartland of southern Spain, known for its windswept hills and scenically perched towns, including tiny Arcos de la Frontera and livelier Ronda, with its massive, gorge-straddling bridge. (If you want to visit more hill towns than these, you’ll find it easier by car.)

Spain’s South Coast (2-3 days)

Spain’s beach-resort zone offers several vivid stops: the appealing village of Nerja (enjoy paella on the beach); the whitewashed hill town of Frigiliana; the intriguing Rock of Gibraltar (with English pubs in town and a colony of monkeys on the Rock); and the laid-back town of Tarifa, with daily ferries to Tangier, Morocco. A swing along the coast can include all these destinations (or choose your favorite).

▲▲Tangier, Morocco (1-2 days)

Tangier, Morocco’s revitalized gateway, offers a fascinating look at North Africa and the Muslim culture, with its friendly, curious people. The bustling medina (old town) is a winding maze of shops and tea houses. A quick ferry ride from Spain, Tangier makes an unforgettable day trip (or you can stay the night).

Tangier at dusk; a sidewalk café in Tarifa; a timeless Andalusian hill town

Planning Your Trip

To plan your trip, you’ll need to design your itinerary—choosing where and when to go, how you’ll travel, and how many days to spend at each destination. For my best general advice on sightseeing, accommodations, restaurants, and more, see the Practicalities chapter.


As you read this book and learn your options...

Choose your top destinations.

My recommended itinerary (see the sidebar on the next page) gives you an idea of how much you can reasonably see in 21 days, but you can adapt it to fit your own interests and time frame. Trendsetters linger in Barcelona, and art lovers are drawn to Madrid. If you like flamenco, Sevilla will shake your castanets. Historians travel back in time to Granada’s sprawling Alhambra or to Toledo, with its concentrated mix of art and history within small-town walls. Pilgrims pay homage at Santiago de Compostela and Montserrat, while sun worshippers bask at coastal Nerja and San Sebastián (a city fun for foodies, too). If you’re fond of quiet hill towns, get a good dose (or doze?) in Andalucía. For an exotic excursion, it’s Tangier. Photographers want to go everywhere.

Decide when to go.

Spring and fall offer the best combination of good weather, lighter crowds, long days, and plenty of tourist and cultural activities.


  • "The country's foremost expert in European travel for Americans."—Forbes
  • "Steves is an absolute master at unlocking the hidden gems of the world's greatest cities, towns, and monuments."—USA Today
  • “Every country-specific travel guidebook from the Rick Steves publishing empire can be counted upon for clear organization, specificity and timeliness."—Society of American Travel Writers
  • "Pick the best accommodations and restaurants from Rick Steves…and a traveler searching for good values will seldom go wrong or be blindsided."—NBC News
  • "His guidebooks are approachable, silly, and even subtly provocative in their insistence that Americans show respect for the people and places they are visiting and not the other way around."—The New Yorker
  • "Travel, to Steves, is not some frivolous luxury—it is an engine for improving humankind, for connecting people and removing their prejudices, for knocking distant cultures together to make unlikely sparks of joy and insight. Given that millions of people have encountered the work of Steves over the last 40 years, on TV or online or in his guidebooks, and that they have carried those lessons to untold other millions of people, it is fair to say that his life’s work has had a real effect on the collective life of our planet."—The New York Times Magazine
  • "[Rick Steves] laces his guides with short and vivid histories and a scholar's appreciation for Renaissance art yet knows the best place to start an early tapas crawl in Madrid if you have kids. His clear, hand-drawn maps are Pentagon-worthy; his hints about how to go directly to the best stuff at the Uffizi, avoid the crowds at Versailles and save money everywhere are guilt-free."—TIME Magazine
  • "Steves is a walking, talking European encyclopedia who yearns to inspire Americans to venture 'beyond Orlando.'"—Forbes
  • “…he’s become the unofficial guide for entire generations of North American travelers, beloved for his earnest attitude and dad jeans."—Outside Magazine
  • "His books offer the equivalent of a bus tour without the bus, with boiled-down itineraries and step-by-step instructions on where to go and how to get there, but adding a dash of humor and an element of choice that his travelers find empowering."—The New York Times
  • "His penchant for creating meaningful experiences for travelers to Europe is as passionate as his inclination for making ethical choices his guiding light."—Forbes
  • "[Rick Steves'] neighborhood walks are always fun and informative. His museum guides, complete with commentary about historic sculpture and storied artworks are wonderful and add another dimension to sometimes stodgy, hard-to-comprehend museums."—NBC News

On Sale
Oct 11, 2022
Page Count
1032 pages
Rick Steves

Rick Steves

About the Author

Since 1973, Rick Steves has spent about four months a year exploring Europe. His mission: to empower Americans to have European trips that are fun, affordable, and culturally broadening. Rick produces a best-selling guidebook series, a public television series, and a public radio show, and organizes small-group tours that take over 30,000 travelers to Europe annually.  He does all of this with the help of more than 100 well-traveled staff members at Rick Steves’ Europe in Edmonds, WA (near Seattle). When not on the road, Rick is active in his church and with advocacy groups focused on economic and social justice, drug policy reform, and ending hunger. To recharge, Rick plays piano, relaxes at his family cabin in the Cascade Mountains, and spends time with his son Andy and daughter Jackie. Find out more about Rick at http://www.ricksteves.com and on Facebook.

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