The Alternative Guide to Spain: Don’t Go There, Try Here

Spain is a buzzing tourist destination, but all too often travellers stick to the tried-and-tested locations rather than branching out and exploring somewhere else. If you fancy avoiding the usual tourist hotspots and trying something a little different, here are some options:

Not Barcelona – Girona

Long overshadowed by its big sister, Girona offers an authentic slice of Spanish life. While Barcelona can be daunting and over-hyped, this beautiful little city is relaxed, stylish and compact with a lovely old town – the Casco Viejo. Wander around the narrow streets of El Call, the old Jewish ghetto, marvel at the splendid gothic cathedral, and explore Girona’s own La Rambla – a pedestrian street where locals shop, stroll and chat over drinks in the shady cafes.

Not Valencia – Malaga

Located on the sun-drenched Costa del Sol, Malaga is often overlooked in favour of Valencia, Spain’s third city a few hours up the coast. But anybody with a passing interest in history would love it here. Malaga has been occupied by various civilisations for over 2,000 years, leaving behind some eye-catching monuments, such as the Alcazaba, a Roman fort dating to the 8th century, and Castillo de Gibralfaro. Culture vultures will love the Picasso Museum.

Not Madrid – Toledo

Located 70 kilometres south of Madrid, many tourists make a day trip here, but rarely give it the attention it deserves. Known as the ‘City of Three Cultures’ thanks to its status as a base for the invading Romans, Moors and Christian Reconquista, the entire city is now recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Spend a few days here to enjoy the Alcázar and Cathedral of Toledo, along with numerous other mosques, synagogues and churches. There’s also a museum dedicated to the Renaissance master, El Greco, who lived and worked here.

Not Palma de Mallorca – Cádiz

Spain’s oldest city, Cadiz is a laid-back Andalucian port that juts out over the Atlantic. Its crumbling houses and fortifications form part of its charm – a little world-weary perhaps, but well loved. The stunning beaches of the Costa de la Luz are on its doorstep, and its location makes it a favourite for seafood-lovers with fritura, fried fish, its speciality. Perhaps the best time to visit is during the riotous February carnival. It has all the attractions of the Mallorcan capital, but a lot more charm.

Not Seville – Salamanca

Although delightful, Seville’s charms are know to many and this wonderful city can get crowded, especially during the Feria. Instead head to Salamanca. This landlocked city is home to one of the oldest universities in the world, hence has a young, vibrant atmosphere. A medieval town with its fair share of sandstone buildings, it offers a relaxed pace of life, although the student crowd ensure there are plenty of bars and nightclubs to keep you entertained. Perhaps the best time to visit is in September, for the Virgen de la Vega festival celebrating the city’s patron saint.

Spain is a treasure trove for travellers – next time you visit head off the beaten track and try some of these lesser-known gems.