Our guide to Spain’s regions

Spain generally tops the charts when it comes to popular Mediterranean holiday hotspots. Whether you are looking for an exciting city break, a relaxing sunny holiday or a culinary tour cross-country, Spain is an obvious candidate. Deciding on which part of the country is a difficult decision to make (although one we’d all like to have) as they are all fascinating and varied in equal measure! We’re here to inspire your next sojourn across Spain and give a little more insight into the seven sun-drenched regions of the country.

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, designed by architect Frank O. Gehry. Photo: iStock / typhoonski

Basque Country

Dramatic mountain landscapes, lush greenery and perfect surf together with exciting history, culture and gastronomy have made the Basque region a favourite among both international visitors and locals alike. The area’s two metropolises are Bilbao and San Sebastián – the former an exciting city where old and new complement each other and is home to the world-famous Guggenheim Museum. San Sebastián, on the other hand, attracts with its classic coastal appeal, with La Concha being a prime beach location.

If the lure of good food is what pulls you to Spain, then you’ll be well-catered to in San Sebastián. Here you’ll find five-star catering alongside local hole-in-the-wall style eateries that deliver some of the finest fare in all of Spain. In fact, the Basque Country boasts having the most Michelin stars per capita. Traveller’s tip; be sure to make a reservation well in advance since many of the restaurants get booked months in advance.

No matter where you go in Spain, you will be treated to delicious tapas Photo: GettyImages / Xavi Talleda Photo collection

The Basque region is also known for its small dishes, pintxos, which is the local variant of tapas. The words are derived from the verb “pintxar” (to knit) and refer to the fact that the dishes are usually served skewered with a toothpick. Two traditional pintxos that come highly recommended are bacalao (cod) in tomato sauce and anchoas jardineras (anchovies).

Casa Batilo, one of many iconic buildings designed by Antoni Gaudí photo: iStock / Nikada

Catalonia

Barcelona is Spain’s second largest city and very popular with tourists thanks to its beaches, outstanding architecture, delicious food and vibrant nightlife. As beautiful as Barcelona is, the Catalonia region has much more to offer. If you look further, you will find beautiful vineyards, the Pyrenees mountain range and the endless strips of beautiful Costa Brava coastline. We must also mention the medieval city of Girona, which with its colourful buildings is certainly worth a visit and being just a day trip from Barcelona it’s ideal if you want to get out of the bustling big city.

During your stay here, don’t miss the opportunity to sample some authentic Catalan cuisine. Among the more famous dishes can be counted the breakfast favourite pan a la catalana which is a bread topped with tomato (and sometimes olive oil, ham and garlic). Catalans love their desserts and especially the local crema catalana (a version of Crème Brûlée) which is an excellent end to dinner alongside a strong coffee.

Catalonia, and Barcelona in particular, is famous for its fantastic architecture, most notably those of Antoni Gaudí. But did you know that the city was once asked if it could house the Eiffel Tower? Barcelona said no on the grounds that it would not blend into the city’s cityscape.

The Valencia region produces one third of all citrus fruits in Europe Photo: GettyImages / Miguel Sotomayor

Altea Playa del Albir in Alicante

Valencia

With 513 kilometres of golden coastline, it comes as no surprise that the region of Valencia is a favourite among sun worshipers. The region is also known as Spain’s most colourful due to the endless citrus groves that perfume the air in the summer months. In fact, no less than a third of all citrus fruits in Europe are grown here. The most popular tourist cities in the region are, unsurprisingly, the capital Valencia and Alicante.

Valencia is known for many things, but perhaps most famously for being known as the place where Paella originated. Spain’s third largest city has a thriving cultural scene, futuristic buildings, world-class museums and a thriving nightlife. Alicante is perhaps better known for sun and swimming, but can, like Valencia, attract architectural buffs with the castle Castillo de Santa Bárbara which towers high above the city. If you’re beginning to lag after a day of sightseeing, we recommend that you try turrón – a local cake with honey and nuts for an instant pick-me-up. 

Fun fact: Did you know that the name Costa Blanca is roughly 60 years old? The term was coined by British Airways in the 1950s in order to market the region to British tourists. 

Andalusia

Spain’s southernmost region is home to the Costa del Sol and is a wonderful melting pot of Spanish and North African culture. Here you can experience fiery Flamenco dancing, taste delicious tapas and enjoy traditional hammam baths. The region consists of exceptional surroundings including snow-capped mountains and kilometres of beaches.

Here you’ll find the cities of Malaga, Seville and Granada, all of which have their own distinctive character.

Granada is located inland, in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and has a history that stretches back thousands of years. The Moorish Alhambra Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a sight to behold. 

Alhambra Palace

With 320 days of sunshine a year, Malaga is one of the most popular destinations in Spain and, in addition to sunshine, can attract with its culture and good shopping. Visit the city centre and order a drink (small tapas bites are usually included for free) then pop past the Picasso Museum, which is built in the city of his birth.

As with other cities in Andalusia, Seville’s Moorish heritage can clearly be seen in the city’s architecture. Take the opportunity to visit a genuine flamenco bar and experience the passion and dramatic flair of the south up close and personal. 

Andalusians take their food and drink very seriously and are proud to showcase their regional specialities. Go from tapas bar to tapas bar and feast on delights like Pata negra ham, gazpacho and boquerones with olives, artichokes, bread and olive oil. Wash it down with the locals’ favourite drink rebujito or some regional wine.

Fun fact: It is said that during the summer when temperatures soar above the 40-degree mark, it is possible to fry an egg on the street in Andalusia. If you are sensitive to oppressive heat, spring and autumn are the best seasons to visit.

Plaza España was built for the Ibero-American exhibition in Seville in 1929 Photo: iStock / nevarpp

Balearic Islands

The Balearic archipelago is located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea and consists of Formentera, Menorca, Ibiza and Mallorca. Many people have preconceptions about what the islands have to offer, but there are always lots of new, exciting things to discover. Ibiza has long had a stamp as the number one party island, but what few know is that the island also offers scenic experiences with beautiful green areas and lovely coves – far away from the party scene at Playa d’en Bossa.

Cala Figuera is one of Mallorca’s many picturesque coastal communities Photo: iStock / pixelliebe

Mallorca delivers sun aplenty and today has a thriving eco-tourism and foodie vibe. As with Ibiza, nature-lovers can get their fill here. The island has a hilly landscape with green olive groves, vineyards and red poppy fields that are perfect for scenic hiking trips. Those who like to avoid the crowded beaches in the tourist resorts have a good chance of finding their own small cove along the island’s coast. The Balearic Islands are very child-friendly, which makes them ideal for family holidays, but there are also plenty of adults-only hotels if that is your preference. On the food front, those with a sweet tooth are in for a treat. Buñuelos is a type of small doughnut and can be bought everywhere on the island, as well as the traditional Mallorcan pastry ensaïmadas which locals often have for breakfast. Be sure to also try the local paella.

Did you know that the beaches of Mallorca are some of the most visited in the world? Every year, more than half a million visitors make the pilgrimage to the island to enjoy the sun and swimming.

Gran Via is Madrid’s main shopping street Photo: iStock / kasto80

Madrid

Spain’s capital and largest city Madrid, has for centuries been marked by the country’s monarchist culture and displays an impressive collection of palaces and cathedrals. Today, the city of millions is teeming with life and can offer both outstanding architecture and world-famous art museums as well as fantastic shopping and exciting nightlife. A must during your stay in Madrid is to experience a door-to-door tapas tour at any number of bars throughout the city which are open until well after midnight (we recommend the cosy area of ​​La Latina). Another popular foodie spot is the Mercado de San Miguel market hall, where you can browse delicacies including dried hams, aged cheeses and the freshest seafood. We recommend purchasing an oyster or two with a glass of white wine – fast food at its finest. Expect standing room only throughout the chocolate shops, patisseries and stalls as the market hall is bustling from dawn to dusk. If you want to dance off some of that amazing grub, we can recommend the areas of Chueca and Malasaña for all-night partying, the latter of which is one of Madrid’s hippest with lots of vintage shops and chic bars. If you’re in need of a break from the jungle metropolis, take some time to recharge at the green oasis Parc Casa de Campo.

Fun fact: The people of Madrid call themselves “gatos”, the Spanish word for cats. The name can be traced back to the 11th century when Christian troops tried to escape the Moorish soldiers by climbing over houses and walls – just like cats!

Canary Islands

With its location off the West African coast, the Canary Islands attracts millions of tourists every year with beautiful beaches, scenic surroundings and its wonderfully warm climate. Tenerife is the most visited of the islands, closely followed by Lanzarote, Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura. On Tenerife, you’ll find Spain’s still active volcano Teide which is 3,718 metres high and the World Heritage-listed Teide National Park, which is the most visited national park in Europe.

Mount Teide and Teide National Park, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain. Getty.

The Canary Islands attract sun worshipers from all over the world, which is reflected in the restaurants’ menus, which are often more international than typically Spanish. If you are curious about the regional food, try the classic Conejo al salmorejo which is a rich rabbit stew, and the dessert bienmesabe which is a cake made of almonds and honey.

Fun fact: In clear weather, you can see the volcano Teide from the African mainland, just over 300 km away!