Barcelona has long been a popular destination for travelers looking to enjoy the artistic and architectural culture of Spain. With its proximity to Montserrat and endless beaches, Barcelona has a landscape as inviting as its man-made attractions and is therefore one of northern Spain’s most frequently visited cities. However, with Spain’s Atlantic coast offering a different yet equally charming side of Spanish life, when it comes to choosing your next Spanish holiday, why not consider some of the country’s unsung highlights?
Not a Tolkien character, Bilbao is the 14th century capital of Biscay. Its annual Semana Grande (Big Week) Festival in August sees entertainers and musicians take to the streets, supported by firework displays and ticketed games and events. Keep an eye on the website for the 2014 programme (and you might need Google Translate to help!).
If you’re visiting at any other time of year, there is still plenty to see and do. Visit Frank Gehry’s iconic Guggenheim Museum, relax in Dona Casilda Park or stroll through the city centre to admire the architecture of Legorreta and Moneo. You can revitalize your spirit in one of Bilbao’s many churches and cathedrals, which include the magnificent Basilica of Begona and the Gothic St James’ Cathedral, constructed in 1379.
Leave all your thoughts of banks at the door! Coastal Santander is an excellent base for travelers hoping to traverse the almighty Picos de Europa limestone mountain range. Explore some of the world’s deepest caves and meet the shepherds behind the infamous Cabrales cheese.
If you fail to see brown bears or wolves in mountains, you can always visit Santander’s Parque de la Naturaleza de Cabarceno for some animal interaction. Santander boasts a number of inviting beaches, including Langre, El Puntal and Primera de El Sardinero and there are breathtaking views to be seen at Magdalena Peninsula and Parque de Cabo Mayor, such as its old lighthouse (now an art gallery). You can find some pretty cheap ferry crossings to Santander from the UK using Ferrysavers.
If it’s good enough for the Spanish Royal family, it’s probably good enough for you. Like Bilbao, the city is host to the Big Week Festival, although with its glamorous harbor, combination of modern and traditional architecture and its engaging museums, there’s enough here to keep you entertained any week of the year.
Being a favorite location of the elite, this can be one of the more expensive possibilities on this list. However, with award-winning beaches and cuisine it’s definitely worth visiting. Save money on your visit by choosing great package deals and using flight comparison websites such as Momondo to get the best value.
It’s also a fantastic base from which to explore the whole of Basque County and guests are urged to consider taking day trips to nearby Pamplona (home of the running of the bulls) or medieval Olite (to take in the remarkable Royal Palace) in Navarre.
It’s very easy to think automatically of Chile, but this Galician jewel (full name Santiago de Compostela) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its religious connection.
Home to Spain’s most prominent pilgrimage destination, the Roman Catholic cathedral near which Saint James is purportedly buried, Santiago is a beautiful, historical city with outstanding Romanesque architecture and numerous places for quiet contemplation.
Santiago is also ideally located for day trips to sample empanadas in charismatic La Coruña (the beach-side origin of fashion-house giant Zara), to admire the beautiful panoramas in Pontevedra’s Molinos Do Folon or even to relax in the calming geothermal springs of Ourense.