My Top Five Favorite Cities in Spain

Picking out just five Spanish cities from the big list was not easy. In order to come up with my top favorite five, I had to ask myself: what if I only had two weeks to visit five Spanish cities, which ones would I pick? Which ones are a must see? Considering that I have already visited these cities, doesn’t exactly make it any easier either. But here it goes.

Sevilla: Naturally, I have a lot to say about this city as it is my favorite of them all. I fell in love with Sevilla!Seville is very diverse—thousands of tourists visit, study, work, and move to the city every year. Almost all the study abroad programs I’ve checked out offer Seville as a hot spot.

Plaza de España Sevilla

It’s no surprise so many people are interested in this Andalusian city, as its people are as warm as its weather. Temperatures reach the 100+ degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, but the weather remains perfect throughout the rest of the year. (It was one of my favorite things about Seville.) You can always take an hour drive ride or a Renfe train to the beach area, in Huelva.

Because it’s warm, there are always people out on the streets. The neighborhoods of La Macarena and Maria La Blanca are some of my favorites. The vibe feels incredible. There is lots of bars and restaurants to choose from.

If feeling like exploring beyond your horizons, there are bullfights throughout the year and flamenco shows at many different spots. Tip: sometimes the free ones are the better ones. But if interested in a good flamenco show, try to go to Casa de La Memoria.

The prices for meals and drinks in Sevilla were some of the cheapest I had seen in Spain.

I’m sure there are things to do with kids; I never explored it. The same shops they have in Madrid are also in Sevilla, and some other independent ones. There’s also a lot of gift shops with a lot of beautiful interesting little things. I talk about Seville here, here, and Seville food here.

Madrid: One thing about Madrid is that this city is always alive. This was a favorite characteristic as it was so hard to find open businesses during siesta time—from 2pm through 5:30pm. While the rest of Spain takes the siesta, Madrid stays open for business. Shopping stores in the heart of the city, like Puerta del Sol, rarely close.

Madrid is the capital of Spain, so naturally they have almost anything you need. People from everywhere visit Madrid, crowding the streets and train stations so much that it requires continuous surveillance. The presence of cops and security guards at the parks and shopping stores was totally normal.

Madrid has one of the best gastronomy there is. There’s a wide range selection of restaurants and bars and they’re on every corner. Not only do they have fine Spanish restaurants, but also cuisines from different countries and regions, such as Basque, Galician, Asian, Dominican, Peruvian, Cuban, etc.

I enjoyed the parks. The most popular, Parque del Retiro. Right in the center of Madrid. The park is huge! You can go for a walk, exercise, meet up with friends, or simply relax under a tree. It’s an incredibly beautiful park. (There’s another park I visited that was absolutely amazing, but which name escapes me right now. I’ll post it as soon as it comes back!)

Salamanca: Salamanca is a small city, but it is beautiful. It is a must-see. Salamanca is part of Castile and Leon. One of the places that blew me away was its Plaza Mayor (Main Square). The architecture and model are beautiful.

View from the Bell Tower

The city is a university city; it hosts hundreds of students each year. So the atmosphere is relatively young. It is recognized as a Spanish region where many go to learn Spanish as it is said that Castilian is the better Spanish. (Not sure about this statement.)

Salamanca has a lot of historical buildings and monuments, such as University of Salamanca, the Cathedral and the Old Roman Bridge, which you can visit all in one day. If you have an appreciation for art and Baroque architecture, this is the place to go. You feel like you’re walking through a medieval town.  The nightlife is not bad for a small city and the tapas and wine are really good. There’s more about Salamanca here.

Granda: I wasn’t sure whether to choose Bilbao or Granada for my fourth best, but I chose Granada because I just love everything about the region of Andalusia. Plus, Granada is so rich in culture and history, you have got to see it. It is easily accessible from any point in Spain via train or bus.

"La Alhambra" (The Red) of Granada, ...

Starting right off with the greatest monument in Granada:  the Alhambra. I can’t believe it was built by humans. It’s an incredible fortress, a humongous castle built centuries ago. The Alhambra was home to many Arabs rulers and it’s now a major tourist attraction of the city. Inside the Alhambra, you’ll find many palaces and gardens with ponds.  In addition to the Alhambra, there are also museums, churches and parks you can visit in Granada.

The Arab influence is obvious everywhere you look. A lot of Moroccans migrated to Granada and, honestly, it seemed to me that big part of the city is run by them. There are tons of Moroccan shops, tea houses and shops and restaurants. I tried the tea and the Moroccan food and everything was delicious.

Like everywhere in Spain, there are lots of restaurants and bars and a bunch of little streets packed with tourists and locals out for a good time.

Granada’s climate is mild; very hot in the summer, warm in the spring, but it cools off as the night falls. The winter is cold—the city is inside mountains. There’s more about Granada here.

Barcelona: I love energetic cities and diversity, so I love Barcelona. It’s not cliché—there’s a reason almost everyone wants to go to Barcelona. It really is an amazing city.

Barcelona is the capital of the region of Catalonia, which borders with France. Catalonia has its own language, but everybody understands and, as far as I know, can speak Castellano (Spanish). You’ll have to look deep into their history in order to understand this.

One of the most popular spots is Las Ramblas, which is just a long pedestrian mall that connects Plaça Catalunya and the seaport (not sure why it is so popular being what it is). At Las Ramblas, there are always a lot of pickpockets watching you, waiting for the best time to make their moves. I always tell everyone to be especially careful around there.

The nightlife in Barcelona is ahhmazing! Really fun bars and nightclubs. Incredible vibe. There’s a very popular market by Las Ramblas, Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, which carries anincredible selection of meats, seafood, fruits, and vegetables. For the seafood lovers, there are seafood restaurants with a big seafood selection menu around the market.

Other points of attraction are Camp Nou (Barcelona’s soccer team stadium), Park Güell (Antonio Gaudi’s park and architecture), the Sagrada Familia cathedral (which architecture is also by Gaudi). You can go eat tapas at any Pintxo bars (small-sized plates), visit the neighborhood of La Barceloneta, the Gothic Quarter, museums, and so much more.

Barcelona can be expensive for accommodations, but for young people there are a number of youth hostels and pensions. And for the not-so-young, there are also hostels and hotels that can be affordable if booked with time in advance. It is a very modern, touristy and very expensive city, that’s for sure, but it’s worth visiting. I talk about Barcelona here.


Startling weekend in Barcelona

I am just getting back from my weekend in Barcelona and Girona and, man, what a weekend it was. Chris and I flew from Madrid to Girona on Thursday, spending the first night in Girona, as it is an hour away from Barcelona. We couldn’t find cheap flights to an airport closer to the center, like El Prat, and the high-speed train Ave is insanely expensive to take from Ciudad Real.

In Girona, we didn’t really see much; it was unfortunately cold for the beach in Catalonia and where we stayed for the night was kind of far from everything. But at least Girona airport is small and easy to figure out. It was an in-and-out experience. That’s always good.

Friday morning, we toughed it out and hopped on an hour-and-half long Regional train to Barcelona. The ride was a bit uncomfortable as these Regionales tend to get too crowded, with no assigned seat numbers, and make way too many stops. (Sort of like the subway, except that here you have hours to go.) Our hotel was in L’Hospitalet, a city to the southwest of Barcelona. It was not the most centrally located place, but it was the most affordable close-to-center area. Besides, moving around in Barcelona is very easy. By the way, Barcelona has been the most expensive city we’ve visited in Spain thus far. Madre mía…

We started out by hanging out around Plaza de Cataluña and Las Ramblas—sadly the only place I remember from my first visit in 2003. I had also forgotten how overhyped Las Ramblas is. I mean, it’s just a long pedestrian mall that connects Plaça Catalunya and the seaport (about 0.8 mile long between these two spots).

There are sweets and flower shops, street performers, cultural gatherings, among many other activities going on there. It’s fun and there’s a lot of energy, but it’s just so touristy…not my thing.

Now the little streets perpendicular to Las Ramblas, I’m more interested in. There are a few “hidden” gems back there (restaurants, bars and cute little stores). Worth checking out.

Also, while at Las Ramblas, we visited the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, a market with an incredible selection of meats, fruits, vegetables and everything edible you can think of.

The fish selection looked amazing (too bad we were days away from home to buy some). But everything there looked really good. If I ever book an apartment by the beach in Barcelona, I’m hitting this market again and I’ll be sure to get all sorts of veggies and seafood to cook. Yum. They even had big, healthy-looking green plátanos! In Barcelona! Talk about variety…

The next day we divided the afternoon in two to visit two crucial spots in Barcelona; Gaudí’s park and Camp Nou, Barcelona’s FC Barcelona soccer team’s stadium.

At Camp Nou, we visited the museum, the stadium and other spots within the building, like the conference room, the locker rooms and the showers. We also got our picture taken with Gerard Piqué. 😀

The FC Barcelona team is a bigger deal than what I thought; they have achieved so many incredible wins and have received so many awards and they have so much history…great team. It was very interesting to see. Glad we visited.

Then, we took a taxi to spend the rest of the afternoon at Park Güell, designed by the eminent Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. It is Patrimonio (Heritage) of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). I have studied Gaudí’s art; I have heard of his work almost my entire life, and just the other day I had to help my second graders paint a picture of one of Gaudí’s works. So it was pretty cool to see his architecture and mosaic work finally in person. It is…unique.

The architecture at the entrance is impressive, of course. There are the two famous buildings at the entrance, as well, which to me look like something from a story book, casas de muñeca (doll houses), but they’re real.

That’s Gaudí’s architecture.

Park Güell is big. It’s not just about his architecture, but there are also trails that you can walk to exercise and benches and green grass for a picnic, maybe? We walked almost all of it (very proud of how easily we can go for super long walks now). Some performers play music with their special guitars (and we also saw a man with what looked like a piano) at different spots in the park and the melodious music turns the whole thing into a romantic affair. It was a great relaxing time at the park.

Barcelona is even much more fun at night! To summarize our Saturday evening, we had dinner somewhere in Ciutat Vella, the neighborhood of La Barceloneta, a district by the sea—beach, boardwalk, restaurants and nightclubs. Fun, fun, fun! The lights, the mood in the air…it could be perfect.

Something that—sort of—stunned me was how openly dealers were selling their illegal stuff on the boardwalk, and how openly people also smoked in the parks. I’ve been to most Spanish cities and this is the first time I (personally) noticed this going around. The dealers were everywhere, like a swarm of ants, walking by us in a slick shady way. Almost whispering. Hard to ignore what it was they were selling. Combined, they might’ve offered about three different kinds of drugs—or more. Might’ve been Spanish names, I wouldn’t have known the difference. I heard one of the guys ask us if we were looking for “something fun.” I was not expecting that…

Actually, this is something that happens to us more often than we know, and not just while here. Chris has this presence to him (he carries himself well) and he stands out in Spain—maybe because of his height or his perfectly “clean cut,” or his obvious American ways—and that makes him a major target for drug dealers. Shouldn’t it be the opposite? I don’t know. But it’s part of the whole experience and we’ll proceed with caution.

So that was one of the sellers. Another man was a little more direct. I guess he figured; oh what the heck, competition is tough out here, might as well just go for it. And he went for it: ¿Buscas ecstasy?—and his voice faded away as he mentioned something else, perhaps another drug. We kept walking.

Say what?! Ha Ha! Have got to be very careful around those weird characters. You don’t want to end up on an episode of Locked Up Abroad!

But all in all, we had fun. Barcelona is beautiful. It is so multicultural and multilingual; it’d be such a joy to wake up in this cosmopolitan city every day. I hope I can go back soon. A weekend is not even close to being enough to discover and take in Barcelona; you need months!

Anyway, I have more stories and pictures about our weekend in Barcelona, but that’ll be on another session because this one is getting longgg and it’s bed time for this Miss! 🙂