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Why the Very Best of Spain Is Found Beyond Barcelona

Pueblos Blancos, Spain | ©cascalheira / Pixabay
Pueblos Blancos, Spain | ©cascalheira / Pixabay
Photo of Esme Fox
22 September 2017

Don’t get us wrong, we’re big fans of Barcelona here at Culture Trip, but when you’re considering a Spanish break, this vibrant Catalan city shouldn’t be the first and only place that comes to mind. There are plenty of amazing things to experience outside of Barcelona, from vast Natural Parks to dramatic coastlines, Moorish architecture and charming clifftop villages.

Amazing Natural Parks

Barcelona is a city, so there’s not too much nature about, apart from the smallish (compared to some Natural Parks in Spain) Collserola Natural Park. If you really want to experience some of Spain’s vast wildernesses, home to a diversity of animals, then why not try the Picos de Europa in the north of the country, Doñana in Andalusia, or the Delta de l’Ebre in the south of Catalonia. For a list of the best National Parks in Spain, check out our list here.

Picos de Europa, Spain | ©Dave Evans / Wikimedia Commons

The Moorish-style architecture

Yes, Barcelona may have Antoni Gaudí and his quirky, colourful buildings, but do they really compare to the sheer size, sumptuousness and opulence of what the Moors left behind? There’s really no contest between La Pedrera and Casa Batlló, compared with Granada’s amazing Mudéjar-style Alhambra Palace or Seville’s elegant Real Alcázar is there?

Granada's mighty Alhambra fortress; WikimediaImages, pixabay | Granada’s mighty Alhambra fortress; WikimediaImages, pixabay

The Flamenco

Flamenco is from Andalusia, so if you’re hoping to catch a really authentic show or even some impromptu dancing from the locals, then Barcelona is definitely not the place. Instead, you should head to cities such as Seville and Granada – the birthplaces of the dance. In Seville you’ll find world-class shows, while in Granada you can even see gypsies performing in traditional underground caves. Check out our list of the best places to see flamenco in Granada here.

flamenco dancing, Spain | ©Flavio~ / Flickr

The Easter celebrations

Barcelona’s celebrations are more about devils, fireworks and giants, but they don’t really go in for the huge Easter celebrations that some other Spanish cities are famous for. Some of the best and most elaborate Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations and parades can be found in Seville, Granada, Zamora and Valladolid.

Semana Santa in Seville, Spain | ©Luisfpizarro / Pixabay

The beaches

Yes, Barcelona is a coastal city, but let’s face it, the beaches here aren’t great. They’re too crowded and the sea is often filled with pieces of rubbish floating beside you as you try and swim. Travel further north to the Costa Brava or further south to the Costa Dorada however, and you’ll find charmingly beautiful coves with crystal-clear water, perfect for snorkelling. Alternatively, you could visit some of Spain’s best beaches such as As Catedrais Beach (Cathedrals Beach) or Playa de Rodas, both in Galicia.

Playa de Rodas, Galicia, Spain | ©Alquiler de Coches / Flickr

The quaint villages

Barcelona may have its charm, but it’s nothing compared to the picturesque villages found elsewhere in the country. Some of the most famous are the White Villages or Pueblos Blancos, found between Cadiz and Malaga near the southern coast within the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park. These villages are definitely Instagram-worthy.

Pueblos Blancos, Spain | ©cascalheira / Pixabay

The paella

Despite the number of restaurants offering paella in Barcelona’s Barceloneta barrio, it’s really not the best, and most of it even comes straight from the freezer. If you really want the best saffron-smothered rice dishes, you need to head to the Valencia region instead. You might think paellas are all about seafood, but actually Valencia’s most traditional paella is made with rabbit, broad beans and snails. Take a look at our article on the best restaurants for paella in Valencia to find out where to go.

Paella | ©EstudioWebDoce/Pixabay

The mountains

Yes, Barcelona is surrounded by rolling green hills and the odd mountain or two, but if you really want to see the soaring, white-topped mountains, where you can ski in winter and climb in summer, you’ll want to find somewhere else in Spain. Your best options are northern Catalonia or Aragon, which border the Pyrenees. Another excellent spot is Andalusia’s Sierra Nevada, where you can ski and visit the beach in the same day.

Skiing in the Sierra Nevada, Spain | ©Melissa Ramirez / Wikimedia Commons

The adventure sports

There are many spots in Spain where adventure sports are rife, but sadly not in Barcelona. For windsurfing and kitesurfing head to Tarifa on the country’s south coast, and for normal surfing, visit the Basque Country coastline. Scuba diving is best off the coast of both the Canary and Balearic Islands.

windsurfing in Tarifa, Spain | ©Manuel González Olaechea y Franco / Wikimedia Commons

The vineyards

If you want the best of Spanish wine, then your best bet is to head for the country’s vineyards, rather than the city. Many of the best can be found in the regions of La Rioja, the Ribera del Duero and the Canary Islands. Take a look at our list of La Rioja’s best wineries to help you decide where to go.

La Rioja wine region, Spain | © Gurrea / Wikimedia Commons

The wildlife

Although Barcelona might have a few species of green parakeets flying about in the parks and the odd wild boar in the Collserola Natural Park, there’s not much else to spot in the city. Head to some of Spain’s more remote and wild regions, however, and you can see a whole host of various types of fauna. Some of the more interesting animals to be found in the country include the Iberian lynx, the long-haired mountain goat, the Spanish ibex, the Iberian wolf and the golden eagle.

Iberian Lynx | © / Wikimedia Commons

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