For those of you lucky enough to be moving to Spain or visiting Spain this year, here are 11 things you must do in as soon as you land! Okay, that’s a little dramatic. But, just think of this as a hit list of the most common activities you must absolutely do as soon as you can. Thankfully, even in this pandemic, those of us that are can travel can still enjoy this beautiful country. So, put on your mask and get exploring!
1. Eat Every Tapa You Meet
This is a no-brainer. Spain is one of the best destinations for foodies, and your trip wouldn’t be complete unless you devour every tapa you meet. Tapas are small bite-sized pieces of deliciousness, and sometimes they’re even served free with your favorite adult beverage, especially in the south of Spain.
The most popular types of tapas include patatas bravas, chorizo, tortilla de patata, and gambas (shrimp). One of my favorite spots for tapas in Madrid is Mesón del Champiñón. If you’re a mushroom lover, you must visit!
My other favorite spot is La Casa del Abuelo, a great restaurant in Madrid that has been around since 1906. They’re most famous for their garlic shrimp, but everything they serve is delicious.
Going for tapas is a perfect way to grab a little nosh after a long day of sight-seeing. Spaniards are friendly people, so don’t be afraid to scoot right up to the bar, order yourself a vino or cerveza and strike up a conversation with the locals.
2. Likewise with Pintxos… Eat Them All!
Almost everywhere in Spain you’ll find tapas, but you’re more likely to see pintxos on the menu in Northern Spain. Pintxos are also small snacks of deliciousness. They are served on a piece of bread and are held together with a small skewer. You’ll see all types, but the most traditional are made with seafood like cod, calamari, or anchovy.
If you’re in Northern Spain, try your pintxos with txakoli, a fresh light white wine produced primarily in the Basque Country. Like tapas, going out for pintxos is an extremely social activity. Don’t think of it as going out to eat, but instead think of it as going out for an adventure.
3. Learn to Make Authentic Paella in Valencia
One of the coolest things I’ve been doing since moving to Spain has been learning how to cook. Being a New Yorker for the better part of 20 years, the kitchen has never been my forte. But last year, I learned how to make paella, and I am super proud! There are many different variations, and you’ll see it served throughout Spain, but the best paella is in Valencia, where it originated.
I learned to make paella at Mi Paella en el Huerto, which I 100% recommend. The class was held at a house outside of Valencia near the fields where the rice is actually harvested. It was so much fun and only took a few hours to learn!
If you make it to Valencia, I have no doubt that an afternoon learning how to make authentic paella will make you feel relaxed and accomplished.
4. Explore La Sagrada Familia
If there’s one thing in Spain you should prioritize, it’s to marvel at the beauty of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. There’s something therapeutic about being in the presence of genius, ingenuity & innovation, and a visit to La Sagrada delivers on all those things.
I’ve been to dozens and dozens of churches and cathedrals in my time, but this is the only one that brought me to tears the moment I walked in. It is seriously that stunning.
Though construction is still ongoing, La Sagrada welcomes millions of visitors every year. Book your tickets well in advance, and if you can, hire a tour guide or join one of the smaller tour groups. Learning about its incredible history will make the experience extra special.
5. Marvel at Gaudi’s Architecture
If La Sagrada Familia blows you away, then visit more works from its architect, Antoni Gaudí. There are numerous Gaudí sites in Barcelona that you can see, such as Casa Vicens, Casa Míla, or the Casa Batlló.
However, after La Sagrada, my next favorite Gaudí site is Parc Güell. Gardens and funky architecture fill the park, which oozes with personality. If you decide to visit Park Güell, it’s best to get there early because it gets very crowded!
There are various museums and exhibits in the country dedicated to the works of Gaudí. Before you visit his works, read up on their context and history to really appreciate Gaudí’s genius.
6. Visit Alhambra Palace
One of Spain’s most popular tourist destinations Alhambra Palace is an enchanting architectural masterpiece. It holds so much historical and cultural significance for Spain that it cannot be missed, especially if you’re a history buff.
The Palace was built by the Arabs on top of a hill overlooking Granada. Travelers are treated to breathtaking views of the beautiful city, the Andalusian countryside, and the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Furthermore, you can also feast your eyes on the Generalife Gardens, which is over 750 years old. Although the Alhambra Palace started out as a military fortress, it became home to royalty in 1492.
Definitely buy your tickets in advance for this one, and try to go in the Spring when the gardens are just spectacular.
7. Learn How to Dance or Play Flamenco in Seville
You can find great flamenco almost everywhere in Spain, but if you want a truly authentic experience, then head to Seville, where the art form originated. The city is filled with flamenco tablaos, venues where flamenco is performed (named after the wooden platform the dancers use), and finding classes is super easy.
If you’re more comfortable leaving the performing to the professionals, I recommend visiting La Casa del Flamenco. However, if you find yourself in the front row, be warned that the dancers move with such ferocious passion that they tend to work up quite a sweat!
8. Take a Spanish Course in Ronda
You should consider studying in Ronda if you’re thinking about spending some time in Spain learning Spanish.
With its medieval vibe & gorgeous vistas, Ronda is one of the most beautiful towns in Andalucía and has one of the best Spanish schools I’ve been to (and I’ve been to quite a few).
Entrelenguas School has friendly teachers, a super laid-back vibe, and the owners do so much to help their local community. As well as studying Spanish, you can also sign up for some of their regional tours and cultural events.
Trust me, it’s a productive and fun way to spend your vacation and is especially suited for solo travelers.
9. Hop Over to the Balearic Islands
Mainland Spain has no lack of beautiful beaches. But if you want to shake up your vacation and truly feel transported to another place, head over to the Balearic Islands.
Whether you choose Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza or Formentera, you’ll be in for a treat. You can find everything from heavenly unspoiled beaches to roaring nightlife.
One of my favorite things to do is rent a boat (with a captain, obvi) and explore the various coves and small beaches along Menorca’s coastline.
For me, there’s nothing more relaxing than spending the day on the water!
10. Get to Know Spanish Wine
Spain produces a wide variety of wine styles and is the third-largest producer in the world. Regardless of which region you’re in, you’ll find a fantastic local selection.
If you’re in Barcelona, visit the Penedés area just outside of the city to try various Cava types. Or, if you’re in Andalucía, order a glass of Sherry as an aperitif. And no doubt, if you’re in Valencia, try their sweet Moscatel. And if you’re in Madrid, get out of the city & visit some of the fantastic wineries in the nearby region of Ribera del Duero.
11. Walk the Camino de Santiago
Okay, this last one is highly ambitious. Trust me. I did the full French Way in six weeks, and it wasn’t a walk in the park.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, the Camino is a pilgrimage route that crosses through Spain and ends at Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. According to tradition, it is believed the remains of St. James were brought from Jerusalem and kept in the Cathedral.
While the pilgrimage started in the Middle Ages as a religious journey, today thousands do the walk, or parts of the trail, for various reasons. Whether it was done for spiritual or personal reasons, everyone who has walked says the Camino changed their life.
It’s definitely an experience to remember and to cherish!
See You Soon!
Now that you’re armed with things to do in Spain, I hope you’re inspired to get exploring. As you see, there is so much to do here & this list only scratches the surface. So, be safe and have fun!