The Most Underrated Destinations in Spain

Sure, Barcelona and Madrid have stuff like airports, world-class museums, famous sports teams, and restaurants that will serve you food before 9pm. But Spain’s a big country, and there’s plenty to see outside those two metropoles — even if most of it’s closed all afternoon for siesta.

From the white towns of Andalucia to the sandy shores of the Costa Brava, here are the most beautiful overlooked places in Spain, all worthwhile destinations in their own right.

Castile and Leon
Segovia boasts a beautiful cathedral and historic Roman aqueducts. Seriously, can you imagine your water pipes working 2,000 years from now? Well, that’s the aqueduct in Segovia. Also, the city’s castle is one of the most beautiful in all of Spain, and even served as inspiration for Cinderella’s castle in the Disney film. For a bit of nourishment after your castle-exploration, try the local specialty, cochinillo asado, or roast suckling pig; it’s one of the most delicious things you’ll ever taste.

This former Roman colony has some of the most well-preserved Roman ruins in Europe, including a Roman theater, coliseum, and an entire museum full of artifacts. All that without the pesky tourists you’d find yourself bumping into in, ya know, actual Rome. Amazingly, the 2,000-year-old theater is in such good condition that it still hosts concerts and plays.

Arcos de la Frontera
Cave men, Romans, Moors, Christians… all of them have enjoyed the spectacular views from what is now known as Arcos de la Frontera. Built at the edge of a large plateau, with a river surrounding it on three sides, the views are second to none. There’s no better way to enjoy the city than by simply wandering the narrow, winding streets. It’s the epicenter of the whitewashed hill towns that dot the arid landscape of southern Spain. Enjoy the slow pace of life, and watch the birds flying beneath you.

Setenil de las Bodegas
You know that saying, “Have you been living under a rock?” Well, the good people of Setenil de las Bodegas can say, “Sí,” because their small village is literally carved into a cliffside. So technically, they’d be living under, in, and around a rock. Though in some parts it appears like any ordinary Andalusian town, Setenil de las Bodegas’ unique architecture isn’t like any other place you’ve been. And the terrific pork products and pastries produced here are enough to make you stick around to do more than just gawk at people’s weird cliff homes.

Castile and Leon
Burgos sits just about halfway between Madrid and the northern Spanish cities like Santander, Bilbao, and San Sebastián. The city’s cathedral is the only one in Spain that’s independently recognized as a World Heritage Site, and the Gothic-style building stands 288 feet at its highest point. It also contains the tomb of El Cid, Spain’s national hero, who was cool enough to have peak Charlton Heston play him in 1961. You’ll find El Cid himself (his statue, that is) along the Paseo de Marceliano Santa María, a leafty, riverfront walk frequented by locals and visitors alike. Then tuck into some morcilla, or blood sausage — Burgos has a reputation for producing the best in the country.

Castile and Leon
Everybody loves a college town, and Salamanca is basically the OG. The University of Salamanca was founded in 1134 and is the fourth-oldest in Western civilization — and it’s had college nightlife for about as long. Sure, the city sparkles at night, especially the Plaza Mayor, and the cathedral and historic buildings are worth a visit. But the city really shines because of its student atmosphere, wealth of bars and discos, and its cheap prices. For the raging doll enthusiasts among you, visit the vast porcelain doll collection at the Museum of Art Nouveau and Art Deco Casa Lis.

San Sebastian
Basque Country
When most Americans think of Spanish beaches, they envision Mediterranean waves along the Costa del Sol or the sands of Barcelona. But they’re leaving out the best beaches in the country, which are actually on the Bay of Biscay in the northern reaches of beautiful Basque Country. Travelers flock to postcard-like San Sebastian’s La Concha beach for the ‘Grammable backdrop. But the temperate climate makes for green scenery around the city, and the pintxos and txakoli that you’ll find in nearly every bar will fill you up and keep you busy, even when it’s not sunbathing weather.

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