Oct 21, 2022



Travel Inspiration

The 16 Best Places to Visit in Spain for First-Timers

Fora Author Fora

The Modern Travel Agency


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Planning a vacation to Spain can be dizzying, especially if it’s your first time in this amazing, storied country. But not to worry — we’ll make it easy on you with our guide to the 16 best places to visit in Spain for first-timers.

Want to visit Spain and receive expert guidance while handing off the hassle of planning to a pro? Connect with Fora to plan and book your trip, and travel like a VIP. We’ll help you narrow down your destination options — per your preferences and budget — then score you A+ hotel perks and other extras to make your trip that much better.

First, why vacation in Spain?

If you love the idea of immersing yourself in a unique and vibrant culture amidst the stunning backdrops of historical cities and the natural beauty of the Mediterranean, you’ll love Spain

The local food is extraordinary and features a diverse and unique blend of influences ranging from the Middle East and West Africa to Western and Southern Europe. These influences are also evident in Spain’s incredible variety of architecture and culture, cultivated by thousands of years of different reigning empires, from the Romans to the Moors and beyond. 

Spain’s nightlife is equally diverse and extraordinary. There are wild party islands, bustling cities, quiet countryside retreats and more.

Deciding whether to visit Spain is a no-brainer, but deciding where to stay in Spain, especially for your first visit, can be tough with so many awesome options. Which leads us to…

The 16 best places to visit in Spain for first-timers

From the fabled city of Barcelona to a tropical set of islands off the coast of the Western Sahara (seriously!), read on for our favorite places to visit in Spain for first-timers. 

BTW: these places aren’t listed in any particular order, and a perfect trip to Spain will include as many of them as possible. (And if you can’t decide which place is the best for your first visit to Spain, connect with Fora for expert guidance.)

1. Barcelona: the place to visit in Spain if you want a bit of everything

Historically significant with a laid-back, coastal-cool vibe, Barcelona is a special city that makes a strong case for being the best place to visit in Spain for first-timers because it’s filled with amazing sights and experiences.

Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, the only region in Spain to remain relatively independent during the Moorish rule of the Iberian Peninsula in the Middle Ages (check out our Iberian Peninsula itinerary). As a result, the city’s architectural roots are unique among Spain’s top 15 destinations

The works of Antoni Gaudí are also famously front and center in Barcelona. Major landmarks such as The Crypt of La Sagrada Familia, Park Güell and Casa Batlló were all designed by the renowned architect. 

Beyond the cultural draw, visiting Barcelona with kids, or for the exciting nightlife, can be just as appealing for first-timers. From energetic dance clubs to unbeatable gastronomy, there’s something here for everyone. 

Our city guide to Barcelona covers the basics, though speaking with a Fora Advisor will give you even more details. And don’t forget: we can help you book the best places to stay in Barcelona (like the top boutique hotels in Barcelona), whether you’re visiting Spain with kids, alone or with a group.

Love the idea of making Barcelona your first-time Spain destination? Book and plan your trip with Fora for VIP perks and expert suggestions.

2. Madrid: an amazing Spanish city filled with culture, nightlife & more

As the cultural, business and government capital of Spain, Madrid is one of the best places to stay in Spain for first-timers simply due to the city's variety. The neighborhoods in City Center (a.k.a. Centro) — particularly those around Plaza Mayor and the Royal Palace — are especially fun to visit because of the electric nightlife, amazing tapas and some of the best art museums in all of Europe.

And like Barcelona, there’s something for everyone in Madrid. However, Madrid also has the benefit of easily connecting to most other major destinations in mainland Spain — so it’s an excellent choice for first-time visitors eager to check out a few different places.

Our local’s guide to the best of Madrid (and LGBTQ-friendly guide to Madrid) highlights the city’s top sights and tips, including great intel on where to stay in Madrid (like Madrid’s best boutique hotels).

3. San Sebastián (a.k.a. Donostia): the best place to visit in Spain for foodies & leisure seekers

Declared one of Europe’s Capitals of Cultures in 2016 by the EU, San Sebastián (a.k.a. Donostia, in the native Basque language) is a beautiful beachfront town on Spain’s Atlantic coast, close to the French border and nestled near the Basque mountains (which are loaded with natural beauty).

The town is known throughout Europe for its incredible blend of Spanish and French cuisine (seriously, the local food is amazing). Budget-conscious travelers may enjoy our beach and food guide to San Sebastián, but if you’re pulling out all the stops, check out our San Sebastián luxury foodies’ guide, too.

San Sebastián’s Old Town (or Parte Vieja) is one of the best places to visit in Spain for first-timers who are looking for upscale wine-tasting opportunities and grandiose architecture. The area surrounding Constitution Plaza (a.k.a. Konstituzio Plaza or Plaza de la Constitución) is particularly worth checking out because of its bevy of upscale boutiques, bars and restaurants. 

Want to learn more about San Sebastián? Connect with Fora to work directly with a travel pro.

4. Seville: Andalusia’s capital & one of the best places in Spain for first-time visitors who love cultural immersion

Seville, the capital of Andalusia in Southern Spain, is the birthplace of flamenco. Along the city’s walkable stone streets, you’ll often see locals dancing to live music, cultivating a charming vibe that makes cultural immersion in Seville a blast. 

Also of prominence: Seville’s architecture includes a fascinating mix of Gothic and Islamic landmarks, with the Seville Cathedral — the largest Gothic cathedral in the world — and The Alcázar of Seville being among the most famous examples.

There are so many things to do in Seville for first-timers (and second-timers, and beyond…), like exploring the city’s musical history, checking out Plaza de España and other cool landmarks and, of course, enjoying some of Spain’s best gastronomy — the tapas culture in Seville is among the country’s most vibrant, for instance.

Seville is also an excellent starting point (or base) for exploring Andalusia, one of the most unique places to visit in Spain. It’s worth mentioning that Granada, Málaga, Cádiz and Córdoba are all featured among the best places to visit in Spain for first-timers (keep reading for a quick breakdown of each).

5. Granada: gorgeous palaces, Moorish architecture & access to a beautiful countryside

Granada is relatively close to Seville in Southern Spain. So again, if you’re looking for seven days in Andalusia, you could potentially explore both (and more) during your first time in the country.

This beautiful city is found at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Moreover, Granada is a great place to enjoy Spain’s more outdoorsy side, especially if you’re into hiking (Sierra de Huétor Natural Park is a great nearby option).

That said, Granada’s most prominent feature is the iconic Alhambra Palace, one of the most stunning examples of Moorish architecture in Spain. The city’s crowning jewel, the massive fortress-slash-royal-residence has been meticulously maintained since it was built over a millennium ago. But even if you’re not wowed by architecture, Alhambra’s extensive gardens are a sight in and of themselves. 

Aside from Alhambra, Granada is dotted with historic streets and lively plazas. Flamenco culture is celebrated here and, like Seville, the tapas and gastronomy scene is exceptional. 

Convinced that Granada is a great destination for your first time in Spain? Connect with Fora to kick off planning (and travel like a VIP).

6. Valencia: the best place to visit in Spain for first-timers who want perfect weather, fewer crowds & neat sights to explore

The best of Valencia involves idyllic beaches, striking architecture and the City of Arts and Sciences, the latter of which is a super-cool collection of museums, kind of like Washington DC’s National Mall. Europe’s largest aquarium, Oceanogràfic, is found here, for example. 

If you’re looking for a less crowded Spain vacation, Valencia doesn’t have quite the same hustle and bustle of Barcelona or Madrid, but it’s just as gorgeous and as exciting to visit. You’ll find the city along Spain’s Mediterranean Coast, where the weather’s warm and picturesque all year. Likewise, Valencia is among the best places for first-timers ready to bask in the sun on magical beaches like Playa de la Malvarrosa and Playa de las Arenas, which occasionally glow at night because of bioluminescent plankton. (Witnessing this incredible phenomenon is also one the coolest things to do in Puerto Rico.)

Valencia is also renowned for its gastronomy — it's the origin of paella, after all — and its historical city center, which features the La Lonja de la Seda (or the Silk Exchange) and a neat central market. 

(Pro tip: while visitors to the Balearic Islands travel through Barcelona, you can also take a ferry from Valencia to both Ibiza and Mallorca.)

7. Ibiza (Balearic Islands): a can’t-miss Mediterranean destination if you love a party

Ibiza is one of Europe’s — let alone Spain’s — most popular destinations, especially if you’re looking to dance the night away.

The vibe on this super-hip Balearic Island is very different from mainland Spain. While Ibiza is not necessarily more energetic (the mainland is lively in its own way), the island is definitely the best place to visit in Spain for first-timers looking for a good party.

At the same time, you can absolutely visit Ibiza with kids. Many of the island’s beach resorts cater to a low-key (and age-appropriate) crowd. We can steer you toward the best spots, including the best clubs and beaches for a Spain bachelorette party.

Beyond Ibiza’s exceptional nightlife and beaches, the island is home to gorgeous, adventure-filled nature reserves, a variety of yoga-centric wellness retreats and endearing ports and towns.

Ready to make Ibiza the setting for your first visit to Spain? Book and plan your trip with Fora to VIP your experience (at no extra cost).

(P.S. curious about other nightlife destinations in the Mediterranean? Check out our guides to Greece nightlife and where to stay in Milan, Italy.)

8. Mallorca (Balearic Islands): Ibiza’s laid-back & scenic neighbor

The Mediterranean Island of Mallorca is more family-friendly than Ibiza and attracts a wider group of travelers. Whether you’re looking for a beachside detox in Formentera or want to explore the island’s ancient architecture, there are many things to do in Mallorca

Mallorca is an excellent destination to relax and unwind — the vibe is fairly laid back and the natural beauty of the island is A+. Mallorca isn’t devoid of nightlife, though. The island’s largest city, Palma, is just as lively as Ibiza at night, but with a wider appeal. Some districts very much cater to the party seeker, while others are a little more low-key, trading nightclubs and DJ-hosted beach parties for classy tapas bars and traditional pubs. 

Pro tip: if you’re staying in Barcelona, Mallorca is only a seaside escape away.

Want to check Mallorca out for your first time in Spain? Connect with Fora to plan and book your stay.

9. Bilbao: the capital of Basque Country, one of Spain’s must-see destinations for first-timers

The capital of Basque Country — a beautiful region in Northern Spain known for its distinct culture and gastronomy — Bilbao is one of the best places to visit in Spain for first-timers who want a mix of off-the-beaten-path adventure and classic experiences. 

The city doesn’t get the same kind of attention as Barcelona or Madrid, for example, but it’s also filled with lovely Old-World architecture, bustling streets and fun things to do — the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is definitely worth visiting. The neighborhoods surrounding the Nervión River are among the liveliest and most scenic in the city. And, of course, Bilbao is the gateway to exploring the region at large. (Speaking of: see our insider’s guide to Basque Country.)

10. Málaga: a quieter seaside alternative to Barcelona or Valencia in Southern Spain

Another cool entry from Southern Spain’s Andalusia region, Málaga can be a great place for first-timers who want to avoid the crowds of more prominent coastal cities like Barcelona or Valencia. And yet, Málaga has a neat appeal of its own. The city was founded by the Phoenicians over 2,800 years ago, making it one of the oldest cities in Europe — and it shows in the city’s storied streets and landmarks. 

Among the city’s highlights: The Picasso Museum (Málaga is the birthplace of the Pablo Picasso), Playa de la Malagueta — a gorgeous beach near City Center that’s especially beautiful and lively in summer — and Plaza de la Merced, for nightlife. 

Also worth mentioning: the nearby village of Mijas Pueblo provides a fun opportunity to explore an authentic Spanish town rife with low-key bars, cafés and historic charm. The drive from Málaga only takes about 30 minutes and is quite scenic.

Want the full low down on what makes Málaga one of the best places for first-timers to visit in Spain? Connect with Fora.

11. Cádiz: one of the best places to visit in Spain for first-timers looking for a cool cultural experience

Beautiful beaches, imposing medieval towers and an exhilarating festival season make Cádiz a super cool place to visit in Spain for first-timers looking to sample a bit of everything the country has to offer.

The one-time home of the infamous Spanish Armada, the historical district of Cádiz still bears some elements of its past as a naval fortress. Castles, towers and high walls can be found throughout the district, presenting a fun clash with the modern city’s otherwise friendly and cheerful atmosphere.

Above all else, though, Cádiz is renowned for the Carnival de Cádiz, a two-to-three-week street festival with colorful costumes, performances and parades (check out our Cádiz Carnival guide for deets). Carnival season typically starts in late January or early February and then ends the day before Ash Wednesday, which generally occurs in February or early March.

12. Córdoba: one of Southern Spain’s most historically & architecturally rich cities

Many cities across Spain feature an enthralling blend of architecture, but Córdoba stands out. The city’s most famous landmark, for example, la Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba (or the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba), was first built in the 700s by the Moors before it was converted into a Catholic cathedral, after the city was taken by King Ferdinand III of Castile in the 13th century. Today, the Mosque-Cathedral remains one of the most stunning examples of Islamic and Christian architecture. 

There’s also the Roman Bridge, the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos and the ruins of Medina Azahara, just to name a few more architectural wonders in Córdoba. 

Connect with Fora for more intel on Córdoba, and to plan & book your stay.

13. La Rioja: one of Spain’s most celebrated wine regions

Marked by scenic hills, valleys and rivers, La Rioja offers a vastly different experience from Spain’s buzzing metropolitan hubs. In fact, there aren’t any major cities in the region, which is instead sparsely populated with small towns and smaller villages. 

Like Italy’s Tuscany, La Rioja is arguably the best place to visit in Spain for first-timers who love the idea of exploring a gorgeous countryside while sampling delicious cuisine and fine local wine (so, just about everyone). 

Logroño, the capital of La Rioja, is also the region’s only major city. While much smaller than cities like Barcelona and Valencia, Logroño is still home to a ton of fun tapas and wine bars, plus thrifty boutiques and fine dining. The city’s central location makes it a great starting point for exploring the rest of La Rioja, too. 

The town of Haro, often considered the wine capital of La Rioja, is also worth visiting for oenophiles.

Our 3-day wine and Tapas guide to La Rioja is an excellent place to start for itinerary ideas. (Also considering a trip to Italy? See where to stay in Tuscany, Italy’s famous wine region.)

14. Girona: a lovely historic city in Catalonia with sparse crowds (compared to Barcelona & Madrid)

About an hour’s drive north of Barcelona in Catalonia, Girona is a beautiful and historic city dating back to the time of the Romans. Over the centuries, it has been ruled by half a dozen different cultures, contributing to a distinct and varied modern culture.

Today, Girona is best known for its excellent local food, museums — like the Girona Art Museum — and the medieval architecture of the Old Quarter (a.k.a. Barri Vell). Like Córdoba, it’s an excellent place for first-time visitors to Spain to enjoy a piece of the country’s history and architecture, usually sans crowds. Girona hosts festivals, like the Time of Flowers and Girona Film Festival, throughout the year.

(Sidenote: if you’re an art history enthusiast who doesn’t mind a drive, the Salvador Dalí House Museum is about 60–90 minutes northeast of Girona, just outside the small village of Port Lligat.)

Want to get off the beaten path in Spain? Connect with Fora to plan and book your vacation.

15. Toledo: the “City of Three Cultures” also makes for an excellent setting for the history-lover’s first visit to Spain 

Around 45 minutes south of Madrid, you’ll find the ancient hilltop city of Toledo, best known as the “City of Three Cultures” because Christians, Jews and Muslims have peacefully coexisted here for hundreds of years. This dynamic has manifested in the city’s unique architecture, which also bears elements of both the Roman Empire and the Visigoth Kingdom.

The exact origin of Toledo has likely been lost to history. The earliest mention of the city comes from Roman texts dating back to the third century BCE, but their context suggests that the site had already been settled for some time, only adding to the city’s mystique. 

Toledo is also, rather uniquely, known for its sword crafting. The tradition dates back over a thousand years and is still practiced today. Although, the focus is now on replicas for hobbyists rather than tools of war. As such, sword shops and blacksmiths dot the city, along with trendy shops, bars and restaurants.

Want to learn more about Toledo? Connect with Fora to book and plan your trip (with VIP travel perks and expert recs).

16. The Canary Islands: a gorgeous tropical setting for a first-time visit to Spain

The Canary Islands probably don’t spring to mind whenever you think of the best places to visit in Spain for first-timers, which is fair considering this picturesque island chain is set off the coast of the Western Sahara in Africa, not Europe. 

Since the 1400s, the Canary Islands have been part of Spain. Initially, the islands were used as a strategic trading port, as well as a starting point for expeditions to the Americas. But like the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands are among the most coveted destinations in Spain. 

Gran Canaria is the most developed of the islands, with the islands’ only major urban hub, plus stunning beaches and the Maspalomas Dunes. Tenerife boasts diverse landscapes and volcanic peaks, along with a vibrant nightlife and fun towns to explore. The island of Lanzarote is a hidden gem that’s home to Timanfaya National Park and laid-back beach resorts. 

La Palma and La Gomera are known for their lush forests and hiking trails. Fuerteventura features glorious beaches and tons of options for watersports. And finally, El Hierro is an under-the-radar enclave known for its natural beauty and abundant marine wildlife. 

(Our guide to adventure in the Canary Islands and our 5-day Gran Canaria and Tenerife itinerary have more details if you’re interested.)

What’s the best place to visit in Spain for the first time? Ask Fora

Eager to jump into the best places to visit in Spain for first-timers? Need help deciding which place makes the most sense for your first visit to Spain? Connect with Fora to plan and book your first trip with access to VIP hotel and travel perks, insider intel and more.

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