Spain is a country in Western Europe that’s famed for its foodie scene (think sangria and all the tapas), Mediterranean coastline, and medieval towns. And with 75 million visitors a year, you would think that there’s no hidden gems left to uncover. However, scratch beneath the surface and you’ll soon discover that there’s a myriad of off the beaten path things to do. Here’s your guide to the best of secret spots in Spain you simply must visit on your next European trip.
Roman ruins in Barcelona
Most major cities in Europe today are constructed on the foundations of Roman settlements and the city of Barcelona in Catalonia is no exception. One of the best-preserved examples of Roman architecture in the city is the Temple of Augustus, which is located in the city centre (the Gothic Quarter to be precise) and is free to visit.
All Corinthian columns in a covered setting, the structure dates all the way back to the 1st Century BCE and was once the main focal point for Roman Barcino, i.e. the Roman Forum. Once upon a time, the Forum would have been 120 foot long and surrounded by columns as tall as 30 foot high. Today, just a few Corinthian columns remain, but are worth checking out nonetheless.
Castell Sant Ferran (Saint Ferdinand Castle)
Located on the fringes of the city of Figueres, a city close to the border with France, Castell Sant Ferran is one of the of one of the best-preserved forts from 18th-century Europe and can be visited for a small fee (just a few euros).
It was here, in this fort, in the 1920s where Salvador Dali (check out the best of Dali in Figueres here) undertook his obligatory military service. Today, from the elevated position of the fortress, it’s easy to see the lay of the land; you can spy both Figueres spread out below, as well as the mighty Pyrenées beyond.
Though less of a hidden gem than some of the other secret spots in Spain listed here, Burgos Cathedral nevertheless merits a place in this guide, if only because it’s one of the most impressive and beautiful buildings in all of Spain.
Boasting no fewer than 38 altarpieces, countless chapels, ornate religious imagery, and of course, being the final resting place of the legendary El Cid, there are few reasons why you wouldn’t want to visit Burgos Cathedral on your next trip to Spain.
Santo Domingo de Silos
The little off the beaten path town of Santo Domingo de Silos in Northern Spain is located along the Camindo de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage route, and is best-known for its historic monastery which dates back to the 7th-century (i.e. the Visigothic period).
Best visited over the course of a day so as to see all of the monuments and vistas in town, some of the top highlights of Santo Domingo de Silos include the church of Saint Peter, sitting and soaking up the sun in the main town square, and heading to the Desfiladero de La Yecla.
Barcelona’s Triumphal Arch
Situated close to Parc de la Ciutadella, a delightful green space which can easily over the course of a few hours if your itinerary so permits, Barcelona’s brick triumphal arch dates all the way back to the 19th-century.
Constructed for when the Catalonian city hosted the Universal Exhibition in 1888 and standing at the entrance to the grand Passeig Lluís Companys (a promenade slicing its way through several city districts), the archway invokes Classical designs and is reminiscent of much older triumphal arches.
Kiss the Lion’s Bottom in Girona!
Those who wish to return to Girona once more after departing need to (allegedly) do just one thing prior to leaving: kiss the lion’s bottom. And yes, you read that correctly, though, in actual fact, the lion is a stone carving!
Though I would insist that the statue in old-town Girona actually resembles more of a dog or dragon as opposed to a lion, this Romanesque statue dates all the way back to the 12th-century.
Set atop a stone poll, legend has it that if you kiss the lion statue’s bottom, then you’ll return to Girona, or Gerona as it is known in Spanish. For more inspiration, be sure to check out our guide to the best hidden gems of Girona.
Sistine Chapel in Madrid
As the capital city of Spain, it’s clear that Madrid has plenty of things to offer even the most discerning of visitors (here’s our guide to the best of Madrid in one day). And one of the most beautiful churches in Madrid costs €2 to visit but is well worth the nominal fee.
Often nicknamed the “Sistine chapel of Madrid” due to its floor to ceiling frescoes and ornate detail, the San Antonio de los Alemanes church is easily one of the most beautiful places to visit in the Spanish capital. For more inspiration, be sure to check out our guide to the best-kept secrets of Madrid.
By Faith of XYUandBEYOND
The Tabernas Desert is an incredible nature reserve of over 110 square miles in Spain’s Almeria Province this is the only inland desert in Europe. Here the sun shines for over 3000 hours a year and rain is virtually unheard of.
The Tabernas Desert is an Area of Special Protection for birds and the ravines and canyons are a fragile ecological environment where rare birds are found such as the Trumpeter Finch and the European Roller. You will also spot birds of prey swooping down from the mountains including Peregrine falcons and the rare Bonelli’s Eagle.
In 1989, the Andalusian Government issued a decree that the landscapes around Tabernas should be protected for the use of the film industry. This was due to the fact that many a famous spaghetti western was filmed here along with great movies such as Indiana Jones, Game of Thrones and Lawrence of Arabia.
As a result of the spaghetti westerns there are several movie sets that have been converted to tourist villages where you can relive the old movies of Clint Eastwood’s A Fistful of Dollars, and the Good Bad and the Ugly.
Amid the harsh landscape you will find an olive mill where you can take a tour for free and learn about the oil created from these ancient trees. The Castillo Tabernas Olive Mill was also used in the filming of Exodus of Gods and Kings, Ridley Scotts epic movie about the migration of the Jews from Egypt.
You can also visit the Tabernas Castle 11th century ruin where the last Moorish King surrendered. If you prefer something a little more modern why not take a race around the Almeria racing circuit a 4.3km track which designed with MotoGP and F1 testing in mind.
By Cristina of My Little World of Travelling
Torremolinos is known for being a resort town that is often chosen because of its location, close to the airport, and the lively beaches and atmosphere during the summer months.
However, there is more than beaches in Torremolinos, and most tourists often miss some incredible hidden gems in this town. One of these hidden gems is Parque de la Batería, a park located next to the neighbourhood of the famous Carihuela beach.
Its name comes from an old defensive artillery battery that was situated in the park. Nowadays, cannons and underground bunkers can still be seen. The park has some beautiful features that cannot be missed.
In the middle of the park, there is an artificial lake where families and friends rent a boat to have some fun. Walking through this park is a lovely experience as it makes you feel like you have escaped the urban area.
Another great feature is the tower that offers incredible views of Torremolinos town and the coast. The best time to visit the tower is at sunrise or sunset. Children will enjoy the Venetian-style carousel that has nearly 50 different carriages with animal figures such as giraffes and horses.
Also, there is a big playground and many green spaces to enjoy a picnic on a sunny day. Last but not least, the park has numerous marble statues and fountains to be contemplated.
The park can be accessed by public transport or walk. Walking to the park from La Carihuela is very straightforward, but there are hilly and narrow streets where cars also drive-through.
Walls of Lugo, Galícia
By Claudia & Jorge of Travel Drafts
One of the best landmarks of Spain is the ancient walls of Lugo. Lugo is a fortified city in Galicia in the North of Spain, 100 km from Santiago de Compostela. Surrounding the old city are the Roman walls built in the 3rd century, that were built to protect the town.
These walls are an architectural and engineering masterpiece as they stand for over 2000 years old and are still in perfect condition. As would be expected the walls are UNESCO World Heritage site.
They reach a height of 10 to 15 meters and enclose the old town in a 2,117-metre circuit. They have 10 gates to enter the city and several towers, some still intact from the Roman Era.
The coolest part of the walls is that you can walk on the 2-km walls encompassing the historic center of the city and see the beautiful town from there. Besides the walls, Lugo is also an interesting historic town.
The historic center preserves a medieval charm, with the small alleys and the medieval houses, a beautiful Cathedral, and a city hall. The city is also famous for being one of the main pilgrim stops of St James way. When visiting the city you should also try its fantastic cuisine, in particular, the pulpo à feira, octopus, which is to die for.
Malaga Botanic Garden
By Emma of Emma’s Roadmap
A little bit outside of the city, Malaga’s botanic garden is a true hidden gem that waits to be discovered by you! The botanic garden, called La Conception, was created in the 19th century by the Marquis and Marchioness of the House of Loring.
Initially, the garden was not renowned because its collections flora end fauna but because of the archaeological remains of the ancient Roman empire. Bought by the government of Malaga, it is since 1990 open to the public.
Today, you can easily spend at least half a day exploring the botanic garden, as big as it is. One moment you’ll think you stand in a desert, the other moment you appear to walk through a rainforest!
However, reaching the botanic garden without a car is not very easy. The nearest bus stop (with buses coming from Malaga centre) is still a 15-minute walk away. Nevertheless, the hassle of getting there is definitely worth it and the garden is a calm escape from the busy city of Malaga!
A standard ticket to the garden costs €5.20, but if you visit on a Sunday afternoon you might get lucky and get in for free! If you wish and if there is enough demand, you can also take a guided tour inside the garden.
It is also wise to take some snacks and water with you, although you’ll be able to drink and eat something small at the entrance and exit of the garden. Dogs are welcome in the garden and will certainly like this wonderful place!
Street art in Valencia
By Džangir of Dr Jam Travels
Valencia is best known for its City of Arts and Science and Turia’s ex-riverbed turned into a set of parks. But the old town also hides not that explored gem of street art.
In the small neighbourhood of El Carmen, you will find many graffiti and wall murals. This neighbourhood is placed in the north of the old town. Main part of street art can be found in and around streets of Carrer de Dalt, Carrer de Baix, Carrer de Llíria and Carrer de na Jordana.
In narrow and cobbled streets you will find many interestingly revived old house walls. One of the most prominent artists presented here is Hyuro. Her mural of Moses with sneak-beard on Plaza del Tossal is probably the most photographed wall in the city of Valencia.
The second big artist here is Escif with the more political context in his works. So the best way to explore this neighbourhood would be to start at Plaza del Tossal and continue to the north exploring these little streets.
Take it at your own pace and stop to enjoy at walls that will attract your attention. These murals are not permanent. So you never know what you will find the next morning. In a way, this sad, to see something missing.
But on other hand, you will find always new content that keeps up with current issues. So if you ever go to Valencia reserve half an hour, buy yourself a coffee to-go, and let all this impressions soak in while you wander these interesting streets.
The town of Villajoyosa is definitely one of the best hidden gems in Spain. This unique colourful town is located on the Costa Blanca, on the so-called White Coast of Spain, and thus not far from the major tourist strongholds of Benidorm, Alicante and Calpe.
However, this little town is a true specialty of the region and also a place that certainly not everyone knows! Especially the colourful townhouses in the pretty old town, but also the many beaches in the area, make this place so unique on the Spanish coast.
The colorful old town of Villajoyosa is located directly on the turquoise blue sea on a fine sandy beach, which gives the place an extra dose of charm. Directly in front of the colorful old town is the main beach Playa la Villajoyosa, a beautiful sandy beach that invites you to swim and relax.
In summer, it is very busy, but in the off-season you can enjoy a picture-perfect ambience. Just behind it is the picturesque beach promenade with its many colorful little houses, where numerous cozy restaurants and cafés invite you to linger and enjoy.
Strolling through the alleys, you will discover numerous photo spots, and you will also pass some chocolate stores. No wonder, as the delicious chocolate of Villajoyosa is a celebrity in Spain and another sweet attraction not to be missed on any trip! The best places for a tasting, which can even be quite romantic, are the Valor Chocolate Museum and Chocolates Clavileño.
Getting to Villajoyosa is easy to organise! By plane to the nearest international airport in Alicante, 50 km away. Then you can easily take the public bus, train or cab to get there.
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