Miles of beaches, big-name cities, world-class theme parks – holidays to Spain give you a to-do list as long as a tapas menu.
Flamenco dancers in polka dots, Moorish castles standing proud, matadors with sweat on their brows – Spain conjures up millions of different images. The country has been a favourite with British holidaymakers for years, thanks to its fantastic beaches, lovely climate and the fact it’s just a short hop from home soil.
There’s one theme park in Spain that sends thrills down everyone’s spine – Port Aventura. The country’s biggest park, it goes overboard with white-knuckle rides and spectacular shows. For a fun-filled day out, Mario Waterpark is a corker. There are loads of pools, including a wave pool and a kids’ section, and when it comes to slides you can brave daredevil attractions like Kamikaze and Black Hole, or go for something slightly more sedate like the Rio Bravo.
For culture seekers, there are an abundance of sites to see. From the quaint ancient fishing village of Tossa de Mar to the picture-perfect city of Girona. La Caldera de Taburiente National Park to the Santa Maria Monastery in Montserrat or take a sip of the world’s sherry capital, Jerez de la Frontera.
Holidays to mainland Spain revolve around the Costas. Up north in Catalonia, you’ll find the rugged Costa Brava and Costa Dorada. Further down the coast are the Costa Blanca’s white-sand beaches. And curving around Spain’s southern edge are the sun-soaked regions of Costa de Almeria, Costa del Sol and Costa de la Luz. And not forgetting the vibrant city attractions of Barcelona and Madrid.
Barcelona is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, attracting millions upon millions of visitors each year. So why is it so popular? Well, it has almost everything any holidaymaker would desire. Easy access, favourable weather conditions, attractive beaches and surrounding mountains, a buzzing nightlife, tasty local cuisine and it’s steeped in culture and history. It’s also a sight-seeing wonderland, housing many recognizable monuments. Variety’s the word with Barcelona and the city has something for everyone; families, couples and singletons alike.
It’s definitely still sunshine season in September in Barcelona – temperatures average around 25ºC in the daytime, a balmy 19ºC at night. The locals are back from their holidays, but everyone’s still going to the beach and eating out and partying like mad to make the most of the last days of summer. Catalonia’s national holiday is on 11th September, when the city closes for parades, concerts and celebrations, and the Fiestas de la Mercè is a week-long festival, the biggest of the year, with hundreds of musicians and carnivals, performances and gigs, planned and impromptu, all over the city.
Spain’s capital and largest city, Madrid, is widely known for its sizzling nightlife scene. The city constitutes a diversity of ethnic groups, making it one of Europe’s most colourful cosmopolitan cities. Located within the city centre are most of Madrid’s most popular tourist attractions such as the Royal Palace, the residence of Spain’s monarch. The heart of Madrid (and Spain) is Puerta del Sol, a large plaza serving as the scene of festivals, important gatherings and street performers as well as a hub for the public transportation network. Another important square is Plaza Mayor, known for the lively San Miguel Market.
Barcelona’s big sister sheds her winter skin in March. When the clocks go forward, as if by magic a wave of warmth sweeps the city and loosens up its reserved exterior. Madrid’s expansive parks burst into bloom and locals tumble out onto the streets to sip caipirinhas and dance till dawn. Temperatures stay around 20ºC (far more gentle than the capital’s sizzling summers), meaning you can explore its world-class galleries, belle-époque mansions and designer boutiques without breaking a sweat. There’s great traditional tapas to be had, but leave time to try the city’s newer breed of stylish gastrobars. Just don’t plan anything more than a siesta afterwards.
Floating in the Mediterranean, just off the Spanish mainland, are the Balearic Islands. Choose from family-friendly Majorca, low-key Menorca, off-the-radar Formentera, and hip and happening Ibiza. Needless to say, they all come with beautiful beaches, countryside scenery and a relaxed way of life that’s typical of this part of the world.
The Balearics’ biggest island is all about the beaches. And whether you pick superleague stretches like 13-kilometre-long Ca’n Picafort, or tucked away coves, such as those around billionaire’s playground, Cala d’Or, you’re pretty much guaranteed golden sand and calm waters.
Ibiza is the king of Europe’s club scene. The island’s main resort, San Antonio, is home to world-famous dance spots like Pacha. It’s a different story up on the north coast, though. Make your way to the countryside around Puerto San Miguel and you’ll find hidden caves and walking trails through thick pine forests.
For an island that moves to a much slower rhythm, Menorca hits the spot. Families flock here for quiet beaches like Son Bou and Cala’n Forcat. Plus, there are prehistoric relics like the village of Torre d’en Gaumes, which is over 3,000 years old.
If you want to really drop off the radar, head over to Formentera. Its 20-kilometre coastline is dotted with secluded stretches of white sand. Some, like Playa Mitjorn, have been compared to the Caribbean.
You’ll find Spain’s Canary Islands just off the coast of Morocco, in the Atlantic Ocean. Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Tenerife are the big three, while Fuerteventura is starting to make its mark on the travel circuit. For somewhere made for peace and quiet, try the lesser-known isles of La Gomera or La Palma.
Gran Canaria’s enduring appeal begins with its beaches – and it’s not a case of one size fitting all. On one hand, you’ve got the larger-than-life costal resorts of Playa del Ingles and Maspalomas, where sunbathing is serious business and nightlife is of the neon variety. On the other hand, you’ve got the sleepier towns of Puerto Mogan, Bahia Feliz and Puerto Rico, where the beaches come with more space and the evening entertainment is a little lower-key.
With more than 150 swathes of sand to its name, holidays to Fuerteventura are all about the beach. Its coast morphs from the empty sweeps at Cofete to the busy, bar-lined stretches in Jandia. Then there’s the Parque Natural de Corralejo to think about. Unravelling along the coast for 10 kilometres, this national park is a huge expanse of rolling sand dunes.
The secret of Tenerife’s success starts with its beaches. On the island’s south coast, resorts like Playa Las Americas, Los Cristianos and Costa Adeje have something going on around the clock. There are white sands and watersports to see you through the day and a world of restaurants, bars and nightclubs to move you through the night. The tourism limelight shines a little softer on the resorts on the west coast. Days in Playa de la Arena, for example, revolve around the sleepy volcanic beach, and nights play out in beachside restaurants.
Lanzarote has been in the business of sun, sea and sand breaks since the Seventies. In fact, as one of Europe’s first mainstream holiday destinations, it helped to invent the classic beach break. Take one look at the place and you’ll see what made it the perfect prototype. The main resorts of Puerto del Carmen, Playa de los Pocillos, Costa Teguise and Playa Blanca are hemmed by long ribbons of sand, and their shores are top spots for watersports.