Spain Summer Highlights

Barcelona has so many faces, enchantment etched into dozens of suburbs and hundreds of attractions along the Mediterranean coast. It’s the city of Gaudi, the cityscape marked by La Sagrada Familia, the aristocratic lanes enhanced by the mansions he designed. It’s also a coastal getaway, with golden beaches and salty sea air and outstanding fish restaurants. In one moment you can be immersed in its Roman side, in the next you’re exploring the regal Catalonian symbol, or a creative and contemporary subculture. Then there’s a fine dining and drinking scene that rivals any in Europe, a collection of old monuments that defy the imagination, and a proud Catalonian heritage that’s been updated for the 21st century.
But most of all, Barcelona is about the atmosphere. Decadent wine bars tucked into the carcasses of Roman buildings, cobbled streets dotted with buskers and artists, cafe terraces basking in the sun, a sense that anything is possible wherever you are in the city. It’s vibrant and bustling, imbued with an energy that is quick to whisk you away. Barcelona can also be tranquil, especially when you ascend the hills to viewpoints and palaces overlooking the blue-green waters of the Med. Such a rare mix of outstanding sights and salubrious ambience makes Barcelona understandably popular, and it is the major tourist destination of Spain. From June to August it is positively heaving, with local and international visitors filling the streets. The other months are quieter and calmer, although you’ll find a lot of life in Barcelona all year around.
The classic visit to Barcelona takes two to three days and incorporates three distinctive parts of the city. The Old Town, centered on the seductive Barri Gothic, is a jigsaw puzzle of quaint lanes and towering monuments – Barcelona Cathedral is the splendid and detailed standout. Most of it is easy to walk, Las Ramblas the most famous of the streets that are lined by glamorous townhouses. Rising inland is Montjuic, grand and imposing yet also a place for some relaxing hours away from the central streets.
The stunning examples of Art Nouveau are mostly found in Eixample, a wealthy inland suburb dotted with works by Antonio Gaudi and Lluis Domenech I Montaner, his teacher. Elegant and elaborate, they became proud symbols of Catalonia, the bizarre chimneys and ceramic tiles and curved lines an unmissable part of the city. After 100 years, Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia is still under contstruction, a fitting endpoint to a tour through the Modernistas – an alternative is Park Guell, with its inspiring views over the city.
It can be tempting to try and see everything. Such an approach could mean spending more than a week, given the quantity of museums, galleries, monuments and neighborhoods. A good guide is essential, helping you navigate both the famous and lesser-known highlights of the city. Accommodation choice is also important, relevant to what you want to see. While there is a lot to see and do, the lesser celebrated appeal of Barcelona is the chance to sit back at one of the fine restaurants or cafe terraces, sample sublime food and drink, while watching the city wander by. And when you’re finished, the airport provides connections to cities all across Spain, along with international routes.


Countries:

Spain


Best time to visit:

May, June, July, August, September

EXPERIENCE DESCRIPTION

Itinerary for Spain Summer Highlights

Days 1 - 5 Barcelona

Barcelona has so many faces, enchantment etched into dozens of suburbs and hundreds of attractions along the Mediterranean coast. It’s the city of Gaudi, the cityscape marked by La Sagrada Familia, the aristocratic lanes enhanced by the mansions he designed. It’s also a coastal getaway, with golden beaches and salty sea air and outstanding fish restaurants. In one moment you can be immersed in its Roman side, in the next you’re exploring the regal Catalonian symbol, or a creative and contemporary subculture. Then there’s a fine dining and drinking scene that rivals any in Europe, a collection of old monuments that defy the imagination, and a proud Catalonian heritage that’s been updated for the 21st century.
But most of all, Barcelona is about the atmosphere. Decadent wine bars tucked into the carcasses of Roman buildings, cobbled streets dotted with buskers and artists, cafe terraces basking in the sun, a sense that anything is possible wherever you are in the city. It’s vibrant and bustling, imbued with an energy that is quick to whisk you away. Barcelona can also be tranquil, especially when you ascend the hills to viewpoints and palaces overlooking the blue-green waters of the Med. Such a rare mix of outstanding sights and salubrious ambience makes Barcelona understandably popular, and it is the major tourist destination of Spain. From June to August it is positively heaving, with local and international visitors filling the streets. The other months are quieter and calmer, although you’ll find a lot of life in Barcelona all year around.
The classic visit to Barcelona takes two to three days and incorporates three distinctive parts of the city. The Old Town, centered on the seductive Barri Gothic, is a jigsaw puzzle of quaint lanes and towering monuments – Barcelona Cathedral is the splendid and detailed standout. Most of it is easy to walk, Las Ramblas the most famous of the streets that are lined by glamorous townhouses. Rising inland is Montjuic, grand and imposing yet also a place for some relaxing hours away from the central streets.
The stunning examples of Art Nouveau are mostly found in Eixample, a wealthy inland suburb dotted with works by Antonio Gaudi and Lluis Domenech I Montaner, his teacher. Elegant and elaborate, they became proud symbols of Catalonia, the bizarre chimneys and ceramic tiles and curved lines an unmissable part of the city. After 100 years, Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia is still under contstruction, a fitting endpoint to a tour through the Modernistas – an alternative is Park Guell, with its inspiring views over the city.
It can be tempting to try and see everything. Such an approach could mean spending more than a week, given the quantity of museums, galleries, monuments and neighborhoods. A good guide is essential, helping you navigate both the famous and lesser-known highlights of the city. Accommodation choice is also important, relevant to what you want to see. While there is a lot to see and do, the lesser celebrated appeal of Barcelona is the chance to sit back at one of the fine restaurants or cafe terraces, sample sublime food and drink, while watching the city wander by. And when you’re finished, the airport provides connections to cities all across Spain, along with international routes.

Days 6 - 10 Madrid

Footsteps echo across the cobbles as you wander through capital city Madrid, so much to explore on central streets with an indelibly laid-back atmosphere. Whiffs of hot chocolate and churros mingle with fragrances from country-wide tapas, coffee cups and wine glasses fill the tables on reams of cafe terraces, while the townhouse facades present an understated yet elegant charm. This is a city alive in both atmosphere and attractions, one that has remained very traditional while embracing contemporary tastes and tourism. However, it’s a capital that feels very different to its European contemporaries. While cities like Paris and London are crowded, with the experience focused on their magnificent sights, Madrid is just as much about the ambience you feel as the attractions you visit.
That doesn’t meant there isn’t much to to see. A trio of world-class art museums present the best of Spanish art from through the centuries. Picasso and Dali are just two of the artists featured in the Renia Sophia, while the Prado Museum is a walk through the old masters and masterpieces; El Greco, Goya, Velazquez, Rubens, and all the essential figures in what is the national art museum. Nearby, the once private Thyssen-Bornemisza collection extends the insight to cover European art from the 13th to 20th centuries. Exquisite design is also alive in the architecture, with grand public plazas all over the city and a real sense of Spain’s wealth from the Golden Age. Then there’s Europe’s oldest royal palace (Palacio Real) and a towering cathedral, trademarks of the Habsburg reign, plus a myriad of monasteries and churches that show how design moved from Renaissance to baroque.
Visit Madrid and you realize that, like other European capitals, you need time to get around all of the attractions. A glimpse at a royal dining room gilded in gold, an Egyptian tomb, the sculpted figurines all over the Paseo del Prado suburb, statues of fallen and fictional characters...you could easily spend two weeks and still be unraveling something new at every hour. Madrid is also very central and very well connected, both internationally and internally; sometimes a layover is a necessary and even with just a day there’s a wonderful abundance of sights to take in, along with some great parks to doze away on the city’s atmosphere.
Yet the main takeaway is not always the sights but the atmosphere. It’s told on a tapas crawl, the taverns’ chefs cooking up flavors from provinces across Spain, a great introduction to the country’s cuisine. It’s found when you get lost without a map, stumbling across uncelebrated plazas and neighborhoods. It’s particularly alive during the evening, when even in the very heart of Madrid you’ll get a real sense of Spain’s traditions and customs. And if you start and end a trip in Madrid, there’s an excellent choice of hotels in different parts of the city, so returning to the capital means a new choice of attractions.

Days 11 - 13 Seville

Energetic and effervescent, Seville loves to create an immersive experience. You can’t watch on from the sides here, the city quickly carrying you off with its vibrant rhythm and romantic soul. Flamenco emanates from traditional bars, the elegiac plucking of guitar strings stirring through narrow streets. Terraces are everywhere, life lived outside, with small plates of tapas gathering on your table. Dazzling white buildings juxtapose with Moorish relics and a love for anything baroque. You’ll find cosy cafes along the river, stunning historic art in the museums, and an old city that’s larger than any other in Spain. But most poignantly, you’ll be enveloped by the heart of Andalusian life and culture.
Color is central to city life, the white harmony of the buildings allowing vibrant swirls to shine; bright hues of bullfighting posters, geometric patterns on blue tiles, palm trees and gardens rising across the city. Local culture is omnipresent, not just in the flamenco and tapas bars. Refresh on an ice-cold sherry, sample revered cured hams, listen to choir-song ring out from churches, and take to the city in a horse-drawn carriage. Hidden plazas reward discovery while postcard-perfect alleys and flower-adorned patios keep you guessing as to what will be found next. In a day you can see the major sights; spend three and you get a real feel for one of the world’s most inimitable cities. And when you leave the city the outlying sights are just as inspiring, such as the excavated Roman ruins of Italica.
Two areas are particularly important. El Arenal stretches out from the river, a historic area packed with bars and bodegas. Admire the white and ochre tones of the Spain’s oldest bullring here, find sweet sellers in convents and baroque churches that gently reflect the hue of the setting sun. Museo de Bellas Arts is perhaps Spain’s best art gallery outside Madrid, while Hospital de la Caridad continues to be a sanctuary for the elderly as well as one of the country’s great baroque buildings.

Days 14 - 16 Granada

Granada has soul, narrated on lanes that mix Moorish relics with subculture graffiti, found in both Mudejar palaces and gritty suburbs that love to welcome visitors. While Seville has the all-round appeal and atmosphere, and Cordoba has Andalusia’s number one attraction, Granada goes mysteriously missing off many itineraries. It’s not quite postcard perfect but that is the appeal, an untamed dose of past glory and postmodern reflection. This is the enigmatic home of myths and riddles, where narrow streets hum with something ineffable.
History provides the backdrop, the final stronghold of the Moors wonderfully showcased through the Alhambra’s stunning intricacy. Churches have been built over most of the old mosques, but local guides take you through the backstreets to lavish Moorish baths and other relics down the cobbled alleys. Following the Moors came Catholic extravagance – the cupola in the Monasterio de la Catuja just one example – then guitar-strumming gypsies, whose ballads still flutter through the streets. You’ll need time to make sense of the contradictions, because all this history is jumbled up with both bohemian and Arabic counterculture, along with tapas bars and taverns preserving a different tradition. The question is now what but why, the answer is to leave more baffled than when you arrived; for some, there simply is nowhere on the planet quite like Granada.