Spain is at the top of many people’s lists for many reasons: food, culture, heritage, or just somewhere to escape to. In fact, as Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world, it’s no surprise that many Spanish cities are known the world over.
But given Spain’s tumultuous history and geographical location, its regions and cities are so varied and unique that picking where to visit has a huge impact on what experiences you’ll have.
So, even if you’ve heard of or visited cities such as Madrid or Barcelona, we guarantee that you’ll learn a thing or two about some of the most famous cities in Spain. Here’s our comprehensive guide to where you should visit and why. Let’s jump in!
The most famous (big) cities in Spain
Where? Autonomous Community of Madrid (Center)
One of the most famous cities in Spain is Madrid, renowned for being the second-largest city in the European Union. Around 3.4 million residents call Madrid home, and a further 6.7 million live in its metropolitan area.
And you can really feel that as you walk Madrid’s busy and occasionally hectic streets. Madridians, like many Spaniards, love a party – and whenever you arrive there’s almost guaranteed to be some kind of fiesta going on. I recommend arriving on or before 15 May, where Madridians celebrate their patron saint, San Isidro.
Madrid is also a cultural center for the arts, including the Museo Reina Sofia, the largest modern art museum in Spain and El Prado, which is home to classic works by Diego Valázquez, Francisco de Goya and Peter Paul Rubens and El Greco, among many more.
The Spanish Royal Family have their official royal residence in Madrid, and the palace is a stunning building with even more glorious gardens. Close by, you’ll find the reconstructed Egyptian temple of Debod in Montaña park with great views over the city at sunset.
Read more: 15 Things Madrid is Famous For
Where? Catalonia, East Coast
Barcelona is the second-most inhabited city in Spain. A fiercely independent city, Barcelona is definitely more Catalonian than Spanish in many regards. Set against the gorgeous blue backdrop of the Mediterranean, Barcelona’s distinctive grid layout is jam packed with monuments, activities and sightseeing.
Barcelona is home to some of Spain’s most popular tourist destinations such as La Sagrada Familia, the church that is still being built after 140 years. It was partially designed by Barcelona’s most famous architect, Anton Gaudí, who is credited with designing 14 buildings in his distinctive, quirky style.
What really draws visitors to Barcelona, however, is its stunning beaches, Platja de Barceloneta, Platja de Bogatell and many others.
Another reason that Barcelona is one of the most famous cities in Spain is its love of sports: Barcelona FC is a highly reputed soccer club and Formula 1’s racetrack, Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, both draw visitors in their thousands.
Read more: 21 Pros and Cons of Living in Barcelona
Where? Autonomous Community of Valencia, East
Valencia is one of those cities that seems to have it all: amazing food, gorgeous sandy beaches, plenty of history and gorgeous scenery. Despite this, only four million international tourists visited Valencia last year (2021), significantly less than Madrid or Barcelona.
Why that’s the case, I have no idea. Valencia is the home of Paella, which is probably the most iconic (and delicious) Spanish dish. Valencia is also a very cultured city, which contributes a lot to its international fame.
The main reason Valencia is one of the most famous cities in Spain, however, is due to its festivals. The most prominent of which I’m sure you’ve heard of, Las Fallas and La Tomatina.
Las Fallas is a huge affair where people build giant figures out of wood and papier-maché, some reaching up to 15 meters (49ft). They are paraded and when a winner is chosen by a jury, the rest are burned and fireworks are set off.
La Tomatina is widely regarded as one of the largest foodfights in the world, where thousands of people throw tomatoes at each other.
Also read: Valencia or Seville: Which City Should You Visit
Seville is one of my favorite Spanish cities, and here’s why: Seville is one of the greenest and most beautiful cities in Spain. There, I said it. The abundant nature combined with bustling streets and happy-natured locals makes it the perfect city break for travelers.
Legend has it that Seville was founded by Hercules himself (you know, the one who did the twelve tasks). It was conquered by Romans, Visigoths and Moors – in fact, it was the capital of Muslim Spain for many years. It also has links to Christopher Columbus and The New World – he’s actually buried in Seville Cathedral, the largest cathedral in Europe.
If you like warm weather, you’ll be glad to know that Seville is also one of Europe’s hottest cities – temperatures regularly reach 30° and as early as April, the mercury climbs to well over 40°.
But the true gems in Seville, in my opinion, are the nature and gardens throughout the city. The Royal Alcazar gardens and Maria Luisa Parks are full of plant life, many species of flowers and orange trees fill the air with sweet scents and taking a stroll in either is a wondrous experience.
Also read: Malaga or Seville: Which City Should You Visit?
Where? Aragon, North-East Spain
Zaragoza is Spain’s fifth-largest city, and is famous for its stunning architecture, easygoing locals and hearty cuisine. Zaragoza is the hometown of the famous Spanish painter, Francisco de Goya. There’s a fantastic museum dedicated to his life and work (I highly recommend the top-most floor containing de Goya’s satirical engravings).
Zaragoza takes art quite seriously without being snobbish – there’s a wonderful fountain and statue which, to the naked eye, looks a bit like a cracked map. It’s actually a map of South America, and you can find it in the center of Plaza de Pilar.
Finally, Zaragoza is famous for its picturesque cathedral, Maria del Pilar, named after a miracle performed by Mary. It acts as a backdrop as you cross the equally lovely bridge into the old town and sunsets here really are magnificent.
Most famous cities in inland Spain
Where? Andalusia, South Spain
Again, Granada is probably one of my favorite cities in Spain to visit (and that’s quite controversial, as Seville and Granada are in fierce competition with one another!). However, I have a soft spot for Granada due to its history, tapas culture, and gorgeous scenery.
Granada is famous for its Moorish history, in particular, the stunning and world-famous La Alhambra, a Moorish palace and gardens. It sits atop a hill in the city, grand and ornate soaking in the hot sun. Set aside plenty of time for exploring it and the Generalife, as it truly is spectacular. I also recommend booking the earliest slot (it gets extremely busy and the lighting is perfect for budding photographers).
Granada is also especially famous for its tapas culture which differs from the rest of Spain. Essentially, you order a drink and in most places you will be given a free plate of tapas to enjoy with it. That’s right, FREE! We sampled plenty of dishes and, as drinks are generally cheap (and don’t have to be alcoholic), it’s a splendid way to while away an evening in Granada.
Finally, Granada is famous for its grand and ornate cathedral, which is certainly worth a visit. The echoing high ceilings are minutely decorated and again, I highly recommend a visit if you’re in town.
Where? Andalusia, South Spain
Only around 130km north of the Costa del Sol, you’ll find one of the coziest and welcoming famous cities in Spain. Fine cuisine, Flamenco dancing and exceptionally beautiful streets offer tourists a multitude of ways to spend their time in Córdoba.
Córdoba is famous for its thoroughbred horses. The Córdoban Royal Stables were founded in 1570 by Felipe II, and the horses are world-renowned for their beauty, strength and even as a symbol of the Spanish empire. The Cordoba Ecuestre regularly performs at the stables and it’s a great show for all the family.
La Fiesta de los Patios de Córdoba (Festival of Patios in Cordoba), held in May, is an unmissable opportunity to see some of the most beautiful local gardens in the city. The doors of ordinary homes are flung open, revealing inner courtyards decorated to the max with pot plants, fountains and wall flowers.
Lastly, the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba is a world-famous landmark. It was originally a mosque built in 784-786, and was one of the largest sacred buildings in the Islamic world at the time. It was then converted to a cathedral, but the interior red and white arches remain.
Where? Castille, West
Salamanca is wedged neatly between Portugal’s border and Madrid, about a two hour drive either way. It’s quite a grown up, sophisticated city with heaps of history, fascinating tourist sites and markets stuffed with homemade and homegrown produce. What could be better?
Salamanca has its place as one of the most famous cities in Spain for having the oldest university in the country. It was founded in 1218 by King Alfonso IX. It was here that the feasibility of Christopher Columbus’ plans were discussed – and even how the indigenous peoples of America should be treated with respect, rather than force.
But aside from top-notch education, Salamanca is renowned for being a city with gorgeous architecture. The Plaza Mayor, nicknamed the “living room” of Salamanca, is a Churrigueresque Baroque style arcade that used to be a bullfighting arena. These days, it’s a trendy place to browse boutiques, eat and drink and chat with friends.
Where? Navarra, North-Eastern Spain
Pamplona is a famous city in Spain that captured the world when Ernest Hemingway set his book, The Sun Also Rises there. But Pamplona is also known for its unique take on tapas called Pintxos and raucous festivals such as San Fermin.
San Fermin festival takes place from 6 to 14 July. Its most famous event by far is the Running of The Bulls ceremony, and the event draws crowds from all corners of the globe. Aside from the bull running, there are fireworks, dancing and live music.
Pintxos are small snacks that are served in bars. They get their name (pronounced “Pincho”) from the toothpick or skewer that holds them together. They often consist of bread with some kind of topping and make a delicious addition to your evening drink.
Mérida is a famous city in Spain located near the border of Portugal. Although a relatively small city, it shouldn’t pass you by merely for its size. Visiting Mérida is like time-traveling back to the Roman period. With so many Roman monuments and buildings, it’s a history buff’s paradise.
One of the most astonishing things to see in Mérida is the 2,000-year-old theater which is still in use. During the summer months, shows are frequently held to accommodate tourists and locals.
Mérida is also famous for the Emerita Lvdica festival, a celebration of all things Roman. Actors dress up as gladiators and “fight”, traditional Roman markets are open on the streets and performances are held in the amphitheater.
Where? Castille, Central Spain
The gorgeous and glamorous city of Toledo is one of the most famous cities in Spain because of its picturesque beauty. The city itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is famous for its striking architecture and natural surrounding scenery.
Toledo is also famous for having a very interesting history. Its rich culture is owed to the fact that, at various times, Jews, Muslims and Christians lived side-by-side inside its Roman walls, each putting their own stamp on the landscape.
This is best seen through the architecture, such as the Toledo Cathedral, the second-largest in Spain, The El Tránsito Synagogue, which now houses the Sephardic Museum and the Alcázar, a Moorish caliphate.
Other notable places in Toledo include the El Greco Museum, dedicated to the famous painter who made Spain his home in the 15th and 16th centuries. The city is nestled beside the River Tajo, or Tagus as it’s known in English, where tourists can soak in the views from the water by taking a boat ride.
Most famous coastal cities in Spain
Málaga might have a reputation as a backyard for Europeans, especially Britons, on vacation, but it’s also much more than just a nightlife city. In fact, if you travel at the right time and go to the right places, it’s a peaceful getaway that will suit just about anyone.
Málaga is primarily famous for its 16 beaches, all of which offer vacationers the chance to catch some rays and waves. The beaches are mostly well-kept and clean, and watersports are readily available.
But Málaga has a historic side to it, too. Firstly, it’s Pablo Picasso’s birthplace, and there’s a museum dedicated to him and you can also visit the house he was born in.
If you want to go further back in time, be sure to check out the Alcazaba, one of the biggest Arab fortresses in Andalucia. It’s well worth the trek for the stunning panoramic views you get at the top!
Where? Andalusia, Southern Spain
Another of Andalusia’s gems, Cádiz, is a famous port city bursting with delights. It’s famous for being one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in Western Europe, and for being the largest city on the coastline of Costa de la Luz. It’s also where Christopher Columbus set sail for the New World.
To the naked eye, the center of Cádiz can look quite unassuming. And, to be honest, that’s hardly surprising given the turquoise waters and mountain scenery that embraces its skyline. But there’s something distinctive and charming about its whitewashed villas with crimson roofs, and its tower buildings such as the Nuevo Catedral.
However, there are an eclectic mix of famous neighborhoods to be explored, including the medieval Barrio del Pópulo, and the gypsy quarter of Santa María, where Flamenco music has its origins.
Where? Andalusia, Southern Spain
Marbella is sometimes referred to as The Miami of Europe, and that pretty much sums it up. Its mild climate makes it the perfect place for the rich and famous to escape to most months of the year, and if you’re keen to do some celebrity spotting, this is the place to do it – at a cost, of course.
Marbella is famous for its marine harbor, where fancy yachts and their owners dock to bask in the glorious sunshine. There’s also a famous promenade for pedestrians to take in the coastline on foot.
Sure, Marbella is mostly known for being a party city for the rich and famous (Instagram models flock here to get a picture on its beaches), but it’s also a culturally significant city on the Costa del Sol.
Marbella is famous for being the place where the official handing over of the keys took place between the Muslim rulers and the new Catholic Monarchs. It occurred in front of a cross, which is still kept in a Marbella church.
Where? Murcia, Southeast Spain
Cartagena is a two millenia-year-old Greek and Roman city in Spain, famous for its naval and archaeological history. History lovers flock here to see the numerous sites that have been recently excavated and learn more about Spain’s complicated history.
The most famous archaeological site in Cartagena is its 2,000-year-old theater, only discovered in 1988 beneath the ruins of the Old Cathedral. It’s now a popular museum containing Roman and Arab artifacts.
Cartagena is also famous for being one of the major bases for the Spanish Navy. It’s also one of the oldest naval bases in Spain and the world, opened in the 18th century.
Where? Costa Blanca, South Spain
Alicante is a famous city in Spain well known for being a bubbling metropolis popular with tourists. Its glorious sandy beaches and energetic nightlife beats a steady pulse throughout the warmer months.
Alicante is also known for its Islamic Alcazar turned castle, Castillo de Santa Barbara. Located high on a mountain, it looks imperiously over the city with an impressive tower and ramparts.
There’s also the Esplanada de España, a pedestrian walkway that offers some much-needed shade to tourists and locals and is always brimming with people and artisan markets. It’s also situated alongside La Concha, a shell-shaped auditorium where concerts and festivals are frequently held.
Where? Basque region, North coast
Arguably one of the most famous cities in Spain for the arts and architecture after Barcelona is Bilbao. Situated on the northern coast of Spain, it has recently undergone a massive transformation. Once a medieval logistics hub that transported wool and iron, it soon became the second-most vital port city in Spain after Seville.
These days, however, Bilbao is famous for its cultural heritage and love of the arts. The Guggenheim Museum is one of the most iconic buildings in the Basque region, boasting incredible pieces of modern art. Bilbao is also home to plenty of classical art pieces, many of which can be found in the Museo Bella Artes.
Pintxos are common snacks in Bilbao, often made with local produce such as cheese and seafood. Marcado de la Ribera is a famous market in Bilbao where you can stock up on locally sourced foods. It’s actually the largest indoor market in Europe, so even the pickiest of eaters will find something to their liking!
Cities on Spanish Islands
Where? Balearic Island, off the east coast of the mainland
Again, Ibiza is a famous city in Spain for party lovers and nightclub goers. In the ‘70s, it became popular with hippies who enjoyed the Bohemian nature of the island. Since then, it’s undergone some major transformations.
Ibiza is famous for being a party paradise with possibly the most exclusive nightclubs in Europe – and the world. It’s where people flock to let loose. House music in particular is especially popular, showcasing some of the biggest names in the genre.
However, the Spanish government has made it its mission over the last ten years or so to attract more family-oriented tourism. There are plenty of resorts, a golf course and family-owned restaurants for those who want a quieter vacation.
Ibiza is also famous for its holistic spas and yoga retreats, where you can practice sun salutations in Ibiza’s glorious weather.
Where? Mallorca (Majorca) Balearic Islands
Palma is the capital of Mallorca, one of the most popular places for Dutch, German and British tourists. For that reason, it’s one of the most famous cities in Spain for bumping into neighbors from home (if you’re from one of the above countries, that is!).
But there’s more to Palma than just sunburnt north Europeans. Mallorca is famous for the medieval castle called Bellver, which sits atop of a hill on the edge of Palma. It’s a great hiking trail popular with walkers. I’d recommend you go the “long way round” – it’s either a winding path or 450 steep steps! The castle itself is one of the few circular castles and offers great views of the island.
Mallorca is also famous for its pastries called Ensaimadas, which have spread throughout the world as far as Latin America and The Philippines. These coiled, sweet-bread treats are often served with thick hot chocolate for you to dip in, delicious!
For people interested in history, there’s the famous historic quarter of Palma, and the Lonja fish market is worth a visit for seafood lovers.
20. Santa Cruz
Where? Tenerife, Canary Islands
Santa Cruz is the capital of Tenerife, a Spanish island belonging to the Canary Islands. Tenerife frequently tops vacation lists due to its position as a European governed island off the coast of Africa, meaning EU passport holders can travel there visa-free.
One of the most famous cities in Spain, it’s home to the world’s second-largest carnival after Rio de Janeiro’s. This includes several weeks of non-stop partying and celebrations and electing a Queen of The Carnival. The carnival is themed, and previous themes have included Flower Power, Fantasy and Paris in the 20’s.
Other than the stunning beaches and nightlife, Santa Cruz is also famous for the Mercado Municipal Nuestra Señora de Africa food market and the Sendero El Bosque Encantado hiking trail.
21. Las Palmas
Where? Gran Canaria, Canary Islands
Las Palmas is the largest city on the island of Gran Canaria with a reputation as a diverse landscape and easygoing culture. It’s home to the famous Maspalomas Dunes, 400 hectares (1000 acres) of sand which was washed up at the end of the last Ice Age.
Las Palmas also has a reputation as a LGBTQ+ friendly vacation destination, in particular Playa del Inglés, a beach lined with gay bars and nightclubs for any sexual oritenation. It’s a lively part of town and parties last long into the night!
There are 82 beaches in total in Gran Canaria, each with its own level of popularity and ease of accessibility. Sunbathing and watersports are popular on many of them, and according to some statistics, Las Canteras is the most popular beach in all of Spain. There are also boat rides available for tourists to catch a glimpse of wild dolphins!
Where? Menorca, Balearic Islands
People often refer to Menorca as Mallorca’s little brother, and it’s not difficult to see why. While Mallorca is a buzzing, vibrant city keen to show off its capabilities as a tourist destination, Menorca shyly waits in the wings, modestly nodding at its counterpart knowing that what it has to offer is just as good – and sometimes better.
Mahón, or Maó as it is affectionately referred to, is famous for being a quieter option for tourists. Although it’s the capital of Menorca, it’s actually slightly smaller than Cituadella, the only other city on the island. Famously quiet and relaxed, Mahón offers a simpler, more traditional escape to Spain.
Mahón is famous for its fish market, or Mercat des Peix, where you can buy good quality pintxo for €1 or €2. Mahón is also famous for its boutique stores selling handmade leather sandals, called Avarcas, a traditional Menorcan shoe. They were previously made from car tyres, and are now a sought-after souvenir from Menorca.
Small towns and cities to visit in Spain
Cities aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Especially if you already live in one, sometimes you just want to go somewhere with a slower pace and quieter streets.
The good news is, there are loads of small Spanish towns and villages which are just as worth visiting – many of them located close to the cities so you can still squeeze in some sightseeing if you want to.
If you’re looking for a good history book about Andalusia, I can recommend South From Granada by Gerald Brenan. He lived in this village after WWI and immortalized its status as a typical, southern Spanish village. It’s located between the Sierra Nevada mountains and the Mediterranean coast.
See it for yourself in all its glory, though it has changed a lot since Brenan’s time. It’s still a fascinating place worth visiting, especially if you’re looking for peace and quiet.
Ok, so admittedly, Girona is actually a city. But it doesn’t really feel like one. This charming metropolis is full of excellent eateries, excellent seafood and wine and you really get an insight to life in Spain for locals.
The cathedral was used as a set in the TV show Game of Thrones, and it’s a beautiful building besides.
Where? Basque Country
Tolosa is a typical, charming Spanish town popular with foodies. It hosts a weekly market on Saturdays where farmers come from all over the Basque Country to sell locally sourced produce.
If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll be pleased to know there’s a famous cake and candy store in Tolosa called “Gorrotxategi” which was founded in 1680. There’s even a museum dedicated to the Gorrotxategi family, containing the machinery used to produce cakes and sweets for over 300 years.
Another confession, this is actually a city. But it only has 300 residents, making it Spain’s smallest city – and what it lacks in size it more than makes up for with its charm. Nestled beside the River Ebro, this tiny city is lined with cobblestone streets and local eateries.
It’s hard not to fall in love with its red-roofed buildings and sloping hills, and a stay here will guarantee you bragging rights in Spanish geography knowledge!
So there you have it! 26 famous cities and towns in Spain to visit. Hopefully you know a bit more about where you’d like to visit next. Where’s next on your list? Let us know in the comments below!
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