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 with a beautiful medieval twist. While Barcelona can be daunting and over-hyped, this beautiful little city is relaxed, stylish and compact, offering a perfect alternative to travellers who want culture and architecture without the crowds.
Girona has a lovely old town – the Casco Viejo – which contains one of the best-preserved Jewish quarters in the world. Marvel at the splendid gothic cathedral and explore Girona’s own La Rambla – a pedestrian street where the locals shop, stroll and chat over drinks in the shady cafes.
Girona’s medieval architecture can be admired all over the city, but a real highlight is the spectacular walls that surround the Old Town’s eastern border and provide exceptional views across the streets and surrounding landscape. Another highlight of the city is that Game of Thrones fans will recognise many landmarks and streets from Season 6 of the popular television show, which was partly filmed in this area.
Girona makes an excellent alternative to Barcelona if you’re visiting Spain on holiday, or can just be enjoyed as a day trip from the other city if you’re looking for some peace and quiet.
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, especially if they’re also looking for a Spanish city that likes to party.
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 huge range of galleries and art venues dotted around the city, including the Picasso Museum which is dedicated to the famous cubist artist that grew up here.
The food and drink scene in Malaga is also fantastic, with a wide variety of eatery options that range from Michelin-star establishments to classic street-food shacks. There are lively bars and restaurants all over the city that let visitors party until the sun comes up. after which you can wander back to a boutique hostel or hotel through the streets that showcase a beautiful range of architectural styles.
Not Madrid – Toledo
Located 70 kilometres south of Madrid, many tourists make a day trip to Toledo, but rarely give it the attention it deserves. One of Spain’s oldest and most interesting cities, there’s a fascinating mix of different cultures and architectural styles to be found around Toledo that tell the story of the city and how it was once the capital of the country.
Known as the ‘City of Three Cultures’ thanks to its status as a base for the invading Romans, Moors and Christian Reconquista, Toledo 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 that make for some very impressive holiday photos.
There’s also a museum dedicated to the Renaissance master, El Greco, who lived and worked here, which is a real highlight for fans of art.
Toledo is perched on top of a gorge that overlooks the Río Tajo, providing stunning views of the surrounding area when you’re at the highest points of the city. It might not have the modern variety of Madrid, but it’s a destination with a truly fascinating history and plenty of different things to see and do.
Not Palma de Mallorca – Cádiz
Spain’s oldest city, Cádiz ,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 certainly 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, which is said by many visitors to rival the celebrations that take place at the same time of year in Rio.
Cádiz has all the attractions of the Mallorcan capital, but a lot more charm. The region of Andalucia is one of the most passionate and beautiful parts of Spain, and with fantastic food, beautiful beaches, ancient culture and history along with incredibly friendly locals, Cádiz is a real highlight.
Not Seville – Salamanca
Although delightful, Seville’s charms are known to many and this wonderful city can get crowded, especially during the Feria. Instead, head to Salamanca; a UNESCO World Heritage city and one of the most beautiful places in Spain.
This landlocked city is home to one of the oldest universities in the world, hence it 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. You can expect plenty of traditional Spanish celebration, from dance and music to endless offerings of food and drink, as well as the religious aspects of the event as well.
Salamanca is a brilliant city for culture, with a multitude of museums that include a special building dedicated to porcelain dolls – a little creepy but certainly something to write home about! The architecture all over the city is stunning, and combined with the infectiously lively atmosphere that Salamanca’s inhabitants bring to the streets, it makes a great alternative destination for a Spanish holiday.
Spain is a treasure trove for travellers and has been for centuries, but this can mean that its most popular cities often leave travellers feeling as though they haven’t got a chance to experience the true atmosphere of the country. Next time you visit head off the beaten track and try some of these lesser-known gems. You can thank us later!