Spain See And Do
Calle Elvira, a street of tapas bars and nightlife hot spots, lies just behind the Gran Vía de Colon—the main artery of the bustling city center. This marks the beginning of the Albaicín neighborhood with its walled gardens and mazelike alleys, the historic quarter where the Muslims were once forced to live after the topple of Moorish rule by the Catholic Monarchs. These days the neighborhood still retains its Arab heritage and plays host to a full-fledged economy, with restaurants, bakeries, health-food shops, halal grocers, and cafés where patrons sit on cushions smoking hookah pipes. Take time to explore the Albaicín's labyrinth of whitewashed alleyways. Check out the fantastic views of the Alhambra against the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains from Plaza Mirador de San Nicolas, a lookout point with a lively bar and restaurant where everyone goes to see and be seen.
Patio de Banderas s/n
Tel: 34 954 502 323
First built in A.D. 913, this fortress was expanded and rebuilt countless times by successive Muslim rulers. In the 14th century, Catholic kings took it over and further embellished it. The Alcázar is a succession of courtyards, tiled arbors, enclosed gardens, and halls with lacy stucco friezes adorned with Arabic inscriptions. The Spanish royal family still uses it as their pad on visits to Seville (making it the oldest royal residence in Europe still in use).
Cuesta de Gomérez
Tel: 34 902 441 221; 34 915 379 178 (for tickets)
Millions of sightseers flock to Granada for one reason: the extraordinary Alhambra citadel, the most exciting and sensual of all European monuments. It was the palace-fortress of the Nasrid sultans, rulers of the last Spanish Muslim kingdom. There are four distinct sections of the citadel on the Alhambra hill: the Casa Real (The Royal Palace), the palace gardens of the Generalife, the Alcazaba, and the unfinished Palacio de Carlos V.
It is amazing that the Casa Real (Royal Palace) has survived at all, as it was built (crudely in many places) from wood and clay brick. Its 14th-century buildings are essentially a stone canvas for ornate decoration, in which Arabic inscriptions feature prominently. The palace is structured in three parts, each arrayed round an interior court and with a specific function. The sultans used the Mexuar, the first series of rooms, for business and judicial purposes. In the Serallo, they would receive embassies and distinguished guests. The last section, the Harem, formed their private living quarters and would have been entered by no one but their families and servants.
The main entrance to Alhambra is Generalife, a collection of gardens and summer palaces of the sultans. The name literally means "garden of the architect." Deeply evocative, the Patio de los Cipreses is a dark and walled garden where the Sultana Zoraya was suspected of meeting her lover. Nearby is the inspired flight of fantasy of the Camino de las Cascadas, a staircase with water flowing down its stone balustrades.
The Alcazaba is the oldest—and most ruined—part of the fortress, a military stronghold dating back to the ninth century. Visit its Jardín de los Ardaves, a 17th-century garden laid out along the fort's southern parapets. There is access from here to the Alcazaba's watchtower, the Torre de la Vela, named after a huge bell on its turret.
The exit from the Casa Real to the Generalife is through the courtyard of the Palacio de Carlos V, where bullfights were once held. Begun in 1526 but never finished, this distinctly European building seems totally out of place amid the Moorish splendor, but is a distinguished piece of Renaissance design in its own right.
16 Calle Santa Ana
Tel: 34 958 229 978
After a visit to the Bañuelo, it's likely you'll want to experience the historic baths for yourself. Just across the river you'll find a deceptively large and beautifully decorated network of rooms cut into the hillside, where you can submerge yourself in the cold, tepid, and hot waters, then enjoy a massage (included in the admission price). The baths are lined with ceramic tiles and Mudejar arches with intricate plasterwork, while the relaxation areas have soft lighting, warm air, and jewel-colored walls—the perfect place to sip a mint tea and zone out.
Open daily 10 am to midnight.
Bordered on one side by the glitzy yachts of the Port Vell and on the other by the bronzed bodies basking on the city beaches, this triangle-shaped grid of streets offers a rare chance to catch a last fleeting glimpse of gritty Barcelona. La Barceloneta was a poor fishermen's quarter for generations, and though time has brought greater prosperity, it's still as eclectic as ever. Few haul in the nets these days, but the mariners' legacies live on in the many off-the-beaten-track seafood restaurants. Locals' dives hold their own against a handful of contemporary bars—try La Cova Fumada—as the neighborhood faces an inevitable makeover. A face-lift has already come to the brazenly rebuilt El Mercat de la Barceloneta, where you can shop for fresh produce or dine at the Michelin-starred Lluçanes restaurant. Down on the waterfront, a new sail-shaped W Hotel by Barcelonese architect Ricardo Bofill has not proved quite as popular with the locals but acts as a sign that the secret's out on this waterside neighborhood.
As the name suggests, most of the architecture in this neighborhood, in the heart of Barcelona, is Gothic. Cathedral of Santa Eulàlia, where the martyred Santa Eulàlia was laid to rest after being rolled down the Baixada de Santa Eulàlia in a barrel of glass, was begun in 1298, although its facade is actually neo-Gothic and was tacked on in the 18th century. The magnificent Esglèsia del Pi, is also the real deal, as is the Royal Palace in the Plaça del Rei and parts of the two civic buildings—the Ajuntament and Generalitat—facing off in the Plaça Sant Jordi. Less well preserved though just as authentic and interesting is the recently excavated Synagogue, in use until 1391 and considered the oldest in Spain. There are also some Roman traces in the vicinity, such as pieces of the defense wall and three lone columns that once formed part of a temple at what is now Plaça San Jaume. You can find the full story of Barcelona's birth beneath her shaded medieval streets at the Museu d'Història de la Ciutat, where excavated Roman foundations remain.
4 Plaza Miguel de Unamuno
Tel: 34 94 415 5423
Though the exhibits are captioned only in Spanish and Basque, this small Casco Viejo museum will still give you a strong sense of the Basque region's history. The collection includes archival photos, artwork, and artifacts like the prehistoric tools and pottery found in nearby Paleolithic-era cave dwellings—remnants of one of the world's oldest civilizations.
San Sebastián is home to three terrific swimming and sunbathing beaches, all with golden, powdery sand. La Concha, named for its curved seashell shape, is right off the city center and the longest of the three (nearly a mile from end to end). It's also narrow, though, and the crowds can reach Coney Island density during the summer. The water is calm here, so expect lots of families with kids. Just west of La Concha, the smaller Ondarreta draws a slightly tonier crowd. Though it's only a third of a mile long, its breadth means there's room for rows of striped cabanas (which can be rented by the day and offer some small measure of privacy). Zurriola, east of La Concha and across the river in the Gros neighborhood, is the hippest and most sceney; it's the choice of the city's gay population, and its rougher water also attracts surfers.
If baking in the sun's not your thing, take a stroll, jog, or bike ride along the elegant paseo (boardwalk), fronting La Concha and Ondarreta. Along the way, you'll pass Miramar Palace, the former summer home of Spanish royalty, built in the 1880s. Though the building is now used for conferences and educational events and is not open to the public, the beautifully landscaped gardens that face the ocean (and are free to visit) are an ideal place to stop and relax with a good book. If the weather cooperates, you can walk to the end of the boardwalk to see Eduardo Chillida's dramatic sculpture The Comb of the Winds, three steel forms fused onto a rocky outcropping, where they're constantly buffeted by the ocean's spray.
In an effort to promote sustainability, Bilbao's city government is launching a program in April 2007 to make free bikes available to tourists. The program will allow visitors to pick up bikes at one of seven different spots around the city, ride for four hours, and drop the bike off at whichever location is most convenient. For a map of routes and more information, check out www2.bilbao.net/bilbaoturismo/ingles/qvisitar/bicicleta.htm.
Tel: 34 91 356 2200 (box office)
Even as modern Madrileño culture continues toward yuppiedom, the proud old tradition of the corrida de toros has not died. Yes, young people now make fun of it: 20-somethings will tell you that they've never been to a fight in their lives, that it's inhumane, that it's a dying relic of their grandfather's era (or, if you prefer, Hemingway's era; read Death in the Afternoon for his greatest account of the sport). All of these things may be true, but Las Ventas, Madrid's central and most famous bullring, continues to thrive, and its fights are still televised in bars all over the city, where the older male crowd gathers around televisions to watch the bloody proceedings over beer. The season runs from March to October; the center of it all is the San Isidro bullfight festival from mid-May to mid-June, when fights take place daily. Otherwise, fights are on Sundays and sometimes Saturdays, usually in the pleasant weather of the early evening (around 5:30 p.m.). The novillos are periodic fights featuring rookie bullfighters. Novillo tickets are cheaper, and the quality is lower—expect to see some young fighters stalk off in disgrace to a chorus of boos after failing to kill the bull, even after four or five stabs. For tours of Las Ventas, call 34-91-556-9237.
6-8 Avinguda del Marquès de Comillas
Tel: 34 93 476 86 00
For one of its first forays into Barcelona's art scene, La Caixa bank converted modernist architect Puig i Cadafalch's Casarramona, a textile factory, into a state-of the-art gallery and added a modern entrance and a walkway by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki. The permanent collection of minimalist and abstract works includes a gargantuan mural by Sol LeWitt in the lobby, but it's the photography and contemporary art exhibits in the first floor's three light-filled galleries that are really special. A room for children holds workshops and activities related to whatever is currently showing—which makes a visit the Caixaforum a great family option.—Updated by Suzanne Wales
Open Sundays through Fridays 10 am to 8 pm, Saturdays 10 am to 10 pm.
3 Plaza de Weyler
Palma de Mallorca , Mallorca
Tel: 34 971 178 500
Built at the beginning of the 20th century by the great Catalan architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, the former Gran Hotel is the place where modern tourism in Palma began. The four-story building's sculpted facade is the best example of modernism on the island. Today the home of the Caixa Forum Palma, the building's interiors have been restored to house a contemporary art library, changing exhibitions, and a collection of works by local painter Anglada Camarasa. The very stylish café-restaurant, with picture windows for people watching, has a calm, cool atmosphere and is reason enough to visit.
Closes at 9 p.m.; 2 p.m. on Sundays.
116–126 Carrer Roc Boronat
Tel: 34 93 320 87 36
One of the most exciting additions to Poble Nou, a sizable working-class district that's fast becoming a creative and high-tech hub, Can Framis opened in April 2009. Winner of a clutch of architecture awards, it was artfully converted from a 19th-century wool factory with a towering smokestack, which is now surrounded by a tranquil courtyard. Can Framis is part of the Fundació Vila Casas, a project from a local industrialist dedicated to collecting and exhibiting Catalan art. The collection, which spans three floors, displays works of artists either born or living in Catalonia dating back to the 1970s. The collection starts, appropriately enough, with a painting of an icky black brain from artist Jaume Plensa. You will recognize the murky, mixed-media offerings from Tàpies and Agustí Puig's interpretation of Las Meninas, Velázquez's famous court portrait. A separate annex invites private collectors to put their troves on public display, which at the time of writing included Damien Hirst's vibrant and ironic Last Supper screen prints.—Suzanne Wales
Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 11 am to 6 pm.
1 Plaza de Pilatos
Tel: 34 954 225 298
Supposedly a reproduction of Pilate's house in Jerusalem, this 16th-century palace was the home of the dukes of Medinaceli. Its network of courtyards, salons, and fountains combines Gothic, Moorish, and Plateresque styles. You'll see Greek and Roman statues as well as works by Goya, Carreño, Batalloli, and Pacheco and collections of antique vases, plates, and silverware. The ground floor, patios, and gardens are self-guided, but the upper level can only be seen on a guided tour.
Open daily 96:30.
Plaça de l'Almöina s/n
Palma de Mallorca , Mallorca
Tel: 34 971 723 130
This handsome cathedral represents one of the finest Gothic structures in Europe. An imposing sight seen from the outside, with its distinctive flying buttresses and ornate rose windows, it is at its most impressive from within, where the nave soars 44 meters in the air in what seems an impossible feat of engineering. Built to replace the great mosque that stood here prior to the 13th century, the cathedral now encompasses a variety of styles that represent the fashions of each century. Its most prolific architect and designer, however, was undoubtedly Antoni Gaudí, and his hand is evident in the creation of an unusually light-filled space.
Avenida de la Constitución s/n
Tel: 34 954 214 971
Its 15th-century builders said, "Let us create such a building that future generations will take us for lunatics." Today, Seville's cathedral is Europe's third-largest church, a Gothic pile topped by spires, towers, and a delicate network of buttresses. Inside, you'll find Columbus's tomb; works by Goya, Murillo, and Zurbarán; and a display of skulls. La Giralda is the single remaining minaret of the 12th-century mosque on which the cathedral was built. Climb the 300-foot tower's ramp for a superb city view.
Open MonSat 112:30 and 34, Sun 2:306; JulAug 9:303:30.
Tel: 34 96 391 8127
Construction of Valencia's cathedral began in 1262, but the building remained unfinished until the main portal was erected during the Baroque era. Echoes of the mosque that originally stood on this site can be seen today in the cathedral's octagonal Gothic micalet, or bell tower, where a 155-foot climb leads to a fantastic city panorama. The devout and the doubting-yet-curious tend to flock here for one primary reason: a side chapel containing an ancient agate cup that for over 500 years has been heralded as the bona fide Holy Grail.
Gran Vía de Colón 5
Tel: 34 958 227 848
Granada's cathedral offers a Spanish Renaissance break from the Moorish mood of the Alhambra citadelbut not from the ornate richness. Built between 1521 and 1714, the highlights are the 17th-century facade designed by painter Alonso Cano, with a trio of tall arcades, and the intricate Capilla Mayor inside. The Capilla Realentered around the side of the cathedralis a late-Gothic fantasyland built from 1506 to 1521 to house the mortal remains of the conquering royal couple, Isabella and Ferdinand, whose last wishes were to be buried not in their native Castile or Aragon but here, in the capital of Moorish Spain, where they achieved their greatest victory toppling the Moorish kingdom and uniting Spain under Catholic rule.
5 Carrer de Montalegre
Tel: 34 93 306 4100
Located within what was the Casa de Caritat, a charitable institution for the city's poor during the reign of Charles IV, the CCCB in El Raval creates an interesting dialectic with the adjacent MACBA. In its 21st-century incarnation, by architects Piñón and Viaplana, it has become a multidisciplinary space, hosting music, dance, video, and theater sessions along with high-brow seminars on art and politics. In the summer, movies by some of Barcelona's most talented young filmmakers are projected onto a giant silver screen in the 19th-century courtyard. It is also the daytime headquarters of SÓNAR, Europe's largest multimedia, electronic music, and general mayhem festival (34-93-492-9180; www.sonar.es).
Heading northwest from the cathedral, you can go on a good church crawl down the Calle San Jerónimo, taking in a succession of half-forgotten churches, each more sumptuous than the last. Attached to the Basílica de San Juan de Dios, built in 1759, is the still-functioning 17th-century hospital San Juan de Dios at the end of Calle San Jerónimo. There's nothing clinical about its columned and galleried cloisters planted with palm and orange trees and painted with 18th-century frescoes illustrating the miraculous life of the saint (entrance at 23 Calle San Juan de Dios). Nearby the hospital is the Monasterio de San Jerónimo, a Renaissance building founded by the Catholic Monarchs King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in the nearby town of Santa Fé that was later moved to Granada (9 Rector López Argüeta).
Avenida Autopista del Saler
Tel: 902 100 031
Valencia's most celebrated modern cultural export—architect-engineer Santiago Calatrava—made his mark on his hometown with this ambitious, 86-acre "arts and science city" complex, which rises near the seaward end of the Jardínes del Turia. Four of the five main parts of the sprawling site were designed by Calatrava, who many see as the space-age heir to Gaudí, the Príncipe Felipe hands-on science museum; the Hemisfèric, a combined planetarium, laser show, and IMAX cinema that resembles a blinking eye; the Umbracle, a long greenhouse that's open at both ends; and the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía, a concert hall and opera house, half Darth Vader helmet and half ocean liner, that was the final piece of the puzzle to fall into place in autumn of 2006. The other attraction—and the most successful of all—is L'Oceanogràfic, the largest marine park in Europe, which was designed by the late Félix Candela. With ten thematic underwater habitats, a dolphinarium, and a gourmet restaurant surrounded on all sides by the glass walls of a giant aquarium, this is a great family draw. There's a bewildering range of combined and reduced-fee entrance tickets; check the Web site for details.
47-51 Carrer de Teodor Roviralta
Tel: 34 93 212 60 50
Like most of Barcelona's other museums, this structure in San Gervasi is as impressive as the collection within. Cool and airy, with slate water pools and acres of glass, it is dominated by a glittering chrome spiral staircase that cascades down six floors, offset by raw steel and lit by tangerine and fire-engine-red skylights. Once in the exhibition space proper, visitors encounter an array of interactive objects, such as dinosaur skeletons, ancient Buddhist prayer books, plasma balls, pendulums, stick insects, and scorpion fish. Don't miss the pièce de résistance—a cross-section of the Amazonian rain forest in a giant tank, complete with piranha fish and capybaras (the world's biggest rodent).
A world of spacious boulevards in a neatly beveled grid system, ostentatious houses, fine restaurants, and the city's shopping triangle—Avinguda Diagonal, Passeig de Gràcia, and Rambla Catalunya—the Eixample is as distinctly middle-class today as it was bourgeois in fin-de-siècle Barcelona. Taking its name from the Catalan word for extension, it was built to cope with the ever-swelling population at the start of the 19th century. It is the heart modernisme, the 20th-century art and design movement that juxtaposed elements of nature with skilled craftsmanship. The Eixample contains a host of remarkable buildings: The Mançana de la Discòrdia showcases three of the great modernista architects' work on one block, Casa Amatller by Puig i Cadafalch (1898); Casa Batlló by Gaudí (1904–1906); and Casa Lleó Morera by Lluís Domènech i Montaner (1902 and 1906).
31 Carrera del Darro
Tel: 34 958 027 800
Formerly part of the Mezquita del Nogal (Mosque of the Walnut Tree), these beautifully restored baths date from the 11th century and are among the oldest and most complete in Spain. It's easy to miss the entrance, just off the Carrera del Darro, and first impressions are not overwhelming, with an unremarkable small courtyard centered around a fishpond. But inside you'll find a series of perfectly preserved brick-vaulted chambers complete with typical horseshoe-shaped arches. These were used as cool, warm, and hot rooms; the pretty star-shaped skylights were to let light in and steam out. The columns, which look incongruously Western, were pilfered from Roman and Visigothic ruins. Baths in Moorish Granada were important meeting places for both sexes (on separate days), as well as having religious significance. Today these rooms are used as a venue for cultural events such as concerts and poetry readings; if you want to actually take a dip, visit the Baños Arabes across the river.
Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 10 am to 2 pm.
Ribera, more commonly known as El Born in reference to its main axis, Passeig del Born, is a medieval-turned-trendy neighborhood near the city center. After the obligatory visits to the soaring, columned Santa Maria del Mar, the Museu Picasso, and the Passeig del Born (the site of public floggings and burnings during the Spanish Inquisition), you'll probably want to seek out the neighborhood's quieter spots—this area can be overwhelmed with tourists at times. The tranquil Plaça de les Olles is great for an alfresco lunch, while Carrer de L'Esparteria and Carrer Vidriera are lined with quirky boutiques. Also check out the adjacent neighborhood of Sant Pere, which is a bit edgier than trendy El Born. Like New York's Lower East Side or Hoxton in London's East End, San Pere retains its eclectic atmosphere while casually embracing a slower-paced gentrification.
Calle San Pío V 9
Tel: 96 393 20 46
Occupying a recently restored 17th-century building on the north bank of the Turia River, this fine arts museum is one of the most important in Spain. Strong collections of 14th- and 15th-century Valencian primitives, as well as Goya portraits, hang here, along with a Bosch triptych of the Passion, a Velázquez self-portrait, and works by El Greco, Ribera, Murillo, and Van Dyck. Representing the 20th century are local lads like Joaquín Sorolla and Antonio Muñoz Degrain.
In 1925, journalist Àngel Marsà described fetid El Raval (the slum) as a warren of thieves, prostitutes, and lowlifes; the (mostly deserved) reputation stuck until recently, when a flurry of private and public initiatives—spiffed-up parks, museums, restaurants, and fashionable boutiques—infused El Raval, which borders the Ramblas close to the waterfront, with new life. The lower swath, nearest the port, still attracts some fairly unsavory characters, although regular crackdowns by police and mushrooming gentrification help. First up, visit MACBA a modern art museum surrounded by the best of the barri's new streets and plazas (1 Plaça dels Angels; 34-93-412-0810). Then head south along the palm-filled boulevard of Rambla del Raval, where the ethnic Monraval market thrives on Saturdays. About halfway down, the cylinder-shaped Barceló Raval hotel stands loud and proud, while next door a new film theater is taking shape.
10 Plaça Porta Santa Catalina s/n
Palma de Mallorca , Mallorca
Tel: 34 971 908 200
The shining jewel of the up-and-coming neighborhood of Santa Catalina, this impressive museum opened in 2004 and gave a much-needed injection of energy into what was a flagging art scene. Much of the collection was donated by Pere A. Serra, a wealthy Mallorcan business man, and spans works by high-profile Catalan artists including Joan Miró and Santiago Rusiñol, paintings by island artists such as Hermen Anglada-Camarasa, and modern-art works by Kees van Dongen and the Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava. The space is a triumph of light and space, combining glass, steel, wood, and concrete to create a series of galleries connected by rooftop walkways and patios. There's also a great café here, worth a stop to admire the views and refuel.
Tel: 96 352 5478
The annual week-long Fallas festival, which culminates on March 19, is one of the most popular draws in Valencia. A fire festival with obscure pagan origins, Fallas centers on ninots—hundreds of towerlike tableaux vivants made out of wood, papier-mâché, wax, and other nontoxic materials—many with satirical themes and featuring politicians or celebrities in scandalous poses. Built by skilled local artisans, the ninots are placed at key points around the city in the week leading up to St. Joseph's Day. As evening falls on March 19, these displays are stuffed with fireworks and then, on the stroke of midnight, torched in huge pyres (this fire-orgy climax is known as La Cremà). A single ninot—judged by a committee to be that year's best—is saved from destruction, and ends up in the Museo Fallero (4 Plaza Monteolivete; 34-96-352-5478; www.fallas.com).
Formentera is the smallest of the Balearics, offering visitors mile upon mile of pearl-white sand, crystalline waters, and some of the least developed terrain in Spain. Geologically like a Swiss cheese, the island is formed of pale, porous rock that the sea and elements have carved into dramatic sculptures over millennia, making it a paradise for diving (Vellmarí Formentera, 34-971-312-071; www.vellmari.com). It's worth breaking away from the beach to explore areas like Punta Pedrera, where the sea and wind have carved natural swimming pools into the rock; the Estany des Peix, located on a small lagoon, to see the fishing boats chug in and out; and the lonely, windswept lighthouse La Mola, written about by Jules Verne. Those who prefer their feet on dry land will find that many of the roads remain unpaved, and the preferred method is two-wheeled, by bicycle or moped (Motorent Migjorn; 349-971-32-27-87; www.motorentmigjorn.com). While beaches like Platja Illetes are as packed as any of the resorts on the bigger islands, those willing to explore will find a little piece of paradise to call their own. Head to Es Caló for fresh-caught fish on the beach, or over to Espalmador, a smaller island located 492 feet off the northern tip of Formentera. It has no facilities, but its isolation makes it all the more idyllic. To get there, swim or take a boat.
Parc de Montjuïc
Tel: 34 93 443 94 70
After an illustrious career in Le Corbusier's Paris studio and then as Harvard's dean of architecture, Josep Lluís Sert designed the Joan Miró museum in memory of his lifelong friend. It won the prestigious AIA Twenty-Five-Year Award in 2002 in recognition of a "design of enduring significance." And rightly so. An exceptional homage to light and space, the building's airy passages, high ceilings, soaring archways, and accompanying sculpture gardens compose a futuristic Nasrid palace in Parc de Montjuïc. It also holds the world's largest collection of Miró's work, some 11,000 pieces in all. There are sculptures and paintings (including Flame in Space and Nude Woman, and Woman and Bird), a few textiles and ceramics, an almost-complete set of his graphic works, and 8,000 drawings. Most were donated by Miró himself.
This headland park to the southwest of the city welcomes more than 15 million visitors a year to its museums, concert arenas, sports centers, and gardens (only New York City's Central Park gets more foot traffic). Mossén Costa i Llobera is the best collection of its kind in Europe—a secret garden with a sea view, planted with more than 800 exotic species of cacti (Carretera de Miramar 1; 34-93-424-3809; www.bcn.es/parcsijardins/pa_llobera.htm). The Jardí Botànic, with its futuristic steel banks and hardwood walkways, was inaugurated in 1999. The planting pulls together vegetation from Mediterranean-like climates around the world, such as rapistrum rugosum—Texan bastard cabbage (34-93-289-0611; www.bcn.es/parcsijardins/pa_botanic.htm). Full maturation is still a ways off, but for keen gardeners and botanists, it's a fascinating amble.
Girona, Catalonia's second city, an hour's train journey from Barcelona, is fortified by stone ramparts along the banks of the Onyar River—walk along the walls for an excellent bird's-eye view of the city. In addition to smart boutiques, there's a warren of narrow, shady streets and cool courtyards in the medieval quarter, and the Girona cathedral has an 11th-century Charlemagne tower, a beautifully preserved Romanesque cloister, and the world's widest gothic nave. Before a hundred years of persecution (1391 to 1492), the city had a sizable Jewish community, and the Call (Jewish quarter) is one of the best preserved Jewish quarter's in Europe. The Centre Bonastruc ça Porta, home to the Museum of the History of the Jews, is at its center. Take a short taxi ride from town for lunch at the stylish new home of El Celler de Can Roca, a Michelin-starred showcase for some of the most talented cooking in the country.
Fiercely independent, Gràcia is a curious bed partner to the metropolis. Perched above the Eixample, this "village" was entirely separate from the city until the construction of the Passeig de Gràcia in 1897. With a distinctive atmosphere, organic markets, sunny plazas, and cute two-story houses, it retains its neo-radical character and continues to attract students and free spirits in droves (although middle-class residents come to escape the hurly-burly of the center as well). During the third week of August, it's also host to one of the city's most extravagant festivals, the Festa Major de Gràcia (34-93-459-30-80; www.festamajordegracia.cat).
The Albaicín is full of carmines, houses with walled gardens hidden from public view. The Carmen de la Victoria is a residence for guests of the university, but its gardens, which date from the 19th century, are open to visitors. Halfway up the road that marks the northern edge of the Albaicín, look out for a beautiful gate with intricate ironwork, offering a glimpse of the lush greenery inside. An expert in Islamic gardens planted Carmen de la Victoria with flowers and bushes dating from Nasrid times (from 1232 to 1492), although there are also more recognizable species, including bamboo, palm, honeysuckle, and wisteria, as well as the city's namesake, granada (pomegranate). Arranged along terraces facing the wooded hill topped by the Alhambra and the Generalife, this peaceful place has small fountains, cobbled pathways, and hidden pergolas where you can escape the hordes.
Another respite from the crowds can be found in the extensive and ornamental Carmen de los Martires, situated on the other side of the Alhambra's hill, just up from the Alhambra Palace Hotel. Very few people know about this place, which has spectacular views over the city toward the Sierra Nevada and is dotted with baroque fountains, statues, and grottos, and populated by peacocks. Carmen de los Martires is where the Christian prisoners who were forced to build the Alhambra were held captive, so it also forms an integral part of the city's rich history. Bring bottled water, as there's no café and it's a steep climb up the hill.
5159 La Rambla
Tel: 34 93 485 99 00
The opulent Liceu was built in 1847 as a paean to the arts, with gilded ballrooms, a hall of mirrors, and an auditorium similar to Milan's Teatro alla Scala. The Liceu suffered two fires over the years, in 1861 and 1994, which ultimately hastened its leap into the 21st century; it's now one of the most technologically advanced theaters in the world. Events range from flamenco shows to ballets to classic operas. There's a standard guided tour for a rundown of the theater's history, but much more interesting is the new behind-the-scenes tour, which reveals the inner workings of the multilevel stage, the costume room, and the technical controls. Tours are given daily from 10 am onward (call ahead in case productions get in the way), and you can reserve tickets in advance (34-93-485-9914). Season ticket holders take up the bulk of the seats for most shows, but you can pick up what's left online, where full details of the programs are also listed.—Updated by Suzanne Wales
2 Avenida Abandoibarra
Tel: 34 94 435 9080
Traveling to Bilbao without stopping at the Guggenheim is like going to Paris and skipping Notre-Dame. Unfortunately, everyone else feels the same way—so set your alarm early on a weekday and beat the crowds by heading right for the always well-curated temporary exhibitions on the second and third floors. Past exhibits here have ranged from masterworks by Rubens and Michelangelo to ancient Aztec art to cutting-edge motorcycle designs. The permanent collection, which focuses on contemporary art, includes some notable pieces—like Richard Serra's steel sculpture The Matter of Time, Jenny Holzer's LED display Installation for Bilbao, and Jeff Koons's topiary Puppy—but is otherwise surprisingly thin. It's better to save for the end of your visit. You can cover the whole museum in about three hours. Of course, you'll want to leave time to explore Frank Gehry's building itself—the true star of the show—both from the inside and out. It's impossible to take a bad photo of the structure from any angle, and when you see it in all its undulating, shimmering titanium glory, you'll understand what the fuss is about.
Closed Mondays (except July and August).
Parque Natural de Aralar
With its gorgeous mountainous terrain and dramatic coastline, the Basque country is prime territory for outdoor activities. For a particularly breathtaking location where you can hike and horseback ride, head about 30 minutes south of San Sebastián to the Parque Natural de Aralar, a 27,000-acre nature preserve that has 4,000-foot-high peaks crisscrossed with trails. The park also has more than 30 prehistoric dolmens (Stonehenge-like prehistoric monuments that date back to the Neolithic period) and cave dwellings. Though you can explore the park on your own, it's best for newcomers to pick up maps and arrange guided visits through the helpful folks at the tourism office in Ordizia, open seven days a week (24 Santa María; 34-943-882-290; open MonFri 101 and 47; weekends 112 and 47).
After a recent clean-up of the notorious nightlife scene, Ibiza is now attracting what some would call a more discerning breed of globe-trotter, who come not only to party but also to enjoy the island's myriad pocket-sized beaches and azure water, pretty rolling countryside, and yoga retreats. To tap into the Ibiza of the 1960s, head for Platja Benirras, where hippies play drums as the sun sets; Cala Salada, to get away from the crowd; Cala d'Hort, for lovely views over the monolithic rock of Es Vedra; and Cala Jondal, to bathe with the beautiful people. Boats leave from the harbor in Eivissa and Sant Antonio to ferry visitors to beaches inaccessible by car. The other often-overlooked attraction is Ibiza Town itself. The D'Alt Villa (old town) is a delightful jumble of cobblestone streets and 16th-century town houses, crowned by an ancient cathedral and crumbling Moorish castle. You'll also find the Museu Arqueológic, which gives a good overview of the history of both Ibiza and Formentera (3 Plaça Catedral; 3-94-971-301-771; www.aamaef.org; closed Mon), and the Museum of Contemporary Art (Ronda Narcís Puget; 34-971-302-723). It's well worth dedicating a morning to exploring these honey-colored ramparts. Predictably, it's become good for shopping, too, with innumerable boutiques, many of them stocking natural fabrics and showcasing talented island designers, as well as some gourmet delis offering island cheeses, charcuterie, and designer salt.
118 Calle Guillem de Castro 118
Tel: 34 96 386 3000
The Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno (IVAM) displays temporary exhibits along with the core permanent collection, highlights of which include the iron Cubist/Surrealist sculptures of Julio González and a significant body of work by local Modernist painter Ignacio Pinazo. The photography collection includes some impressive works by native son Gabriel Cualladó.
After a devastating flood in 1957, city authorities decided to divert the Turia River south of the city. The original riverbed, which traces a curving course around the historic center, was turned into a 4.5-mile-long park. Valencianos come here to walk, jog, cycle, or just picnic under the acacia, maple, and orange trees. Along the way there are playgrounds; sports fields for soccer, rugby, baseball, and pétanque; and several overpass bridges. The most notable bridges are the Puente Serranos, which dates back to 1518, and Santiago Calatrava's contemporary Puente de la Exposicion, nicknamed La Peineta because of its resemblance to the iconic hair comb traditionally worn by Spanish women. Kids will love the huge Gulliver play area—a reclining giant whose body is covered with slides and climbing frames. The city's small but charming zoo is, as of spring 2007, moving from its home in the Jardínes to the Parque Cabecera—the most recently landscaped part of the former riverbed, west of the center. To be renamed the Valencia Bioparc, the new zoo will be one of the biggest in Europe; opening is scheduled for fall 2007 (www.zoovalencia.com).
Calle Jardines de Murillo
Barrio Santa Cruz
Just a hop, skip, and salto from major tourist stops and watering holes, the Murillo Gardens are easy to recommend, yet often overlooked. The park, hidden behind the Alcázar palace walls, is essentially a backyard for the maze of alleys that form the endlessly explorable Barrio Santa Cruz. The gardens are named for a famous son of the city, Baroque painter Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, yet their calling card is a striking statue honoring another major player in Seville history, Christopher Columbus. Though the monument merits a look for its odd rendering of Columbus' Santa Maria impaled on a pair of towering columns, it is the park's quieter charms that are worth lingering for: the palms, colossal banyans, and tile-edged gardens, walkways, benches, and fountains. With backdoor access to some of the Barrio's less traveled, most atmospheric plazas and patios, this is a shady spot to contemplate the picturesque present and charged history of the neighborhood, centuries ago Seville's Jewish quarter. The gardens are also a handy escape for families with kids maxing out on culture or cobblestones.—Patricia Reilly
If you've got wee ones in tow, you'll want to take the Funicular from Ondarreta beach up Monte Igueldo. The panoramic view of the city will wow them (and you), and there's a small amusement park with rides at the top of the mountain (34-943-210-564; www.donostia.org). Access to the park is included in the price of your funicular ticket (less than $5).
At the foot of the opposite mountain, Monte Urgull, is San Sebastián's Aquarium, with live piranhas, clown fish, and sharks as well as an enormous whale skeleton (1 Carlos Blasco de Imaz Plaza; 34-943-440-099; www.aquariumss.com).
1 Avenida de Zurriola
Tel: 34 943 003 000
The unmistakable translucent cubes of the Kursaal buildings, designed by Spanish architect Rafael Moneo, loom over Zurriola beach in the San Sebastián neighborhood of Gros—though they're hard to miss from any part of downtown along the Urumea River. More than just a convention center, the Kursaal also hosts concerts by artists ranging from Ben Harper to the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as the annual San Sebastián International Film Festival.
Plaza del Mercado
Tel: 34 96 352 5478
Built between 1482 and 1498, this commodity exchange and silk market, now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, is one of the architectural wonders of Valencia. The elaborate Gothic tracery of the lofty ceiling is supported by tall stone columns that look like sticks of barley sugar. On the other side of a courtyard planted with orange trees, stairs lead up to the main hall of the Consolat del Mar, with its glorious ceiling of painted wood panels (hundreds of them) portraying scenes and characters from the Bible and classical mythology.
Through all Barcelona's self-styled reinvention, the pedestrian walkway known as La Rambla has remained the city's most enduring icon. Even if some locals shy away because of the many tourists, the broad sycamore-lined path stretching a mile from Plaça Catalunya to the harbor is a required visit. It's flanked by famous buildings like the Gran Teatre del Liceu and the atmospheric Café de l'Opera, and the tile mosaics embedded near the Boqueria market are by native son Joan Miró himself. Rambla means "stream" in Arabic, and the pedestrian-only thoroughfare actually used to be a riverbed. These days, it's full of life, with wacky street performers, preening local teenagers, and fútbol fans celebrating the latest Barça victory.
The lungs of the city, this park has monuments, pavilions, and pools shaded by palm, pine, and elm trees. Start off at Plaza de España, a grandiose semicircular brick Art DecoMudejar building with ceramic-tiled benches depicting each region of Spain. It was designed by Sevillano architect Anibal Gonzalez for the 1929 Ibero-American Expo. Walk through the park to Plaza de America, where the Mudejar Pavilion now houses the Museum of Popular Arts and Customs, full of quirky, fascinating artifacts covering all aspects of Andalucian life, from olive oil presses and guitar workshops to handcrafted shepherds' wine containers and the famous Triana azulejo tiles. Opposite, in the former Renaissance Pavilion, is the Archaeological Museum, with magnificent Roman mosaics and the Carambolo treasure, a hoard of sixth-century Tartessian gold jewellery discovered near Seville.
Park open daily from 8 am to 12 am in summer, 8 am to 10 pm in winter.
Both museums are open Tuesdays 2:30 to 8:30 pm, Wednesdays through Saturdays 9 am to 8:30 pm, and Sunday 9 am to 2:30 pm.
Menorca is the second largest of the Balearic Islands, with a peculiarly English heritage left over from when the British ruled the island for 70-odd years beginning in 1708. It has the distinct pull of being the least developed (aside from Formentera). Of the island's two main towns, Maó is the capital and is distinguished by a hard-core yachting community, thanks to its spectacular harbor and its strong military and naval history. It's worth chartering a boat to get the full experience. Menorca Cruising School offers luxury sailing days aboard its 36-foot wooden yachts, with a gourmet lunch and cava thrown in (34-971-354-103; www.menorcasailing.co.uk). The town has a fairly lively nightlife along the Moll de Ponent, which snakes along the curves of the marina and a pretty old town. Ciutadella is a charming town on the opposite side of the island. It has pink-and-champagne-colored villas, bustling plazas filled with the chinking of pomadas (the local cocktail of syrupy Xoriguer gin), a Lilliputian-sized port, and smart fish restaurants. It's worth timing a visit to be here on June 23 for the Festival of Sant Joan, the biggest party of the year. Elsewhere, it's mainly agricultural country with some surprises: Curious Neolithic monuments (talayots) litter the landscape, left by some little-known, supposedly second-millennium B.C. civilization. Clear waters, much of it nature reserve, have made this one of the best places in the Mediterranean for diving (Ulmodiving; Zona Comercial Addaia; 34-971-35-90-05; www.ulmodiving.com/en.htm).
Plaza de la Encarnación
Consisting of six enormous wooden umbrellas, Metropol Parasol opened in March 2011 and is Seville's contemporary iconic architectural statement. German architect Jürgen Mayer H.'s $130-million structure provides shade in the heart of sun-drenched Seville and houses a food market and restaurants, as well as an open-air concert plaza. Up inside the parasols is Gastrosol restaurant (due to open in December 2011), and an outdoor pasarela (walkway) offering views of the city that match the Giralda's.The cherry on top is a panoramic terrace 90 feet above the ground. In the basement is the Antiquarium, an archaeological museum that tracks the city's multilayered past, on display are Roman houses, streets, and mosaics and Moorish remains. The jury is out on whether locals will take the parasols to their hearts; so far, they've nicknamed the structure "las setas," the mushrooms.—Fiona Flores Watson
Walkway and panoramic terrace open daily 10 am to 2 pm and 6 pm to midnight. Antiquarium open Tuesdays through Saturdays 10 am to 8 pm, Sundays 10 am to 2 pm.
2 Avenida Américo Vespucio
Isla la Cartuja
Tel: 34 955 037 070
Restored for the 1992 Expo, this 14th-century monastery on Isla de la Cartuja has a long and fascinating history: Carthusian monks bred pure-blood Andalusian horses here, Columbus planned his voyages, Napoleon's troops set up camp, and porcelain was created in the factory founded by Englishman Charles Pickmanhence the tall, cone-shaped chimneys visible from across the river. It's now home to the Andalucian Center of Contemporary Art (CAAC), with its permanent collection of works by regional artists and rotating themed exhibits. Its best cultural offerings are the art biennales, BIACS (www.fundacionbiacs.com). An installation from the first biennale remains in the garden: a small Mudejar pavilion hung with black bead curtains, which sway gently in the breeze. In summer there are music festivals and concerts in the gardens. The café, with tables overlooking magnificent bougainvillea, serves drinks and tapas.
Open Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 am to 8 pm, Saturdays 11 am to 8 pm, Sundays 10 am to 3 pm.
2 Plaza Museo
Tel: 34 94 439 6060
Sharing a city with the Guggenheim means Bilbao's fine-arts museum doesn't always get the recognition it deserves. But its impressive collection—which spans eight centuries and includes works from artists as varied as El Greco and Francis Bacon—makes it a destination in its own right. The neoclassical building houses works dating back to the 12th century, including Orazio Gentileschi's intensely emotional 17th-century painting Lot and His Daughters; the newer wing focuses on contemporary art, such as Maria Helena Vieira da Silva's luminous Passage of the Mirrors, and the unsettling Three Graces by Antonio Saura Atares.
9 Plaza del Museo
Tel: 34 95 478 6482
This museum houses one of the world's best collections of Spanish art, particularly from the medieval and Renaissance eras. Highlights include stunning works by El Greco, as well as tender Murillo Virgins and macabre biblical scenes by 17th-century artist Juan de Valdés Leal. The collection is housed in a charming 17th-century convent.
Open Tues 2:308:30, WedSat 98:30, Sun 92:30; closed Mon.
Castillo de San Jorge
Plaza del Altozano
This museum explores one of the darkest periods in Spain's—and Seville's—history: the Inquisition. The Castillo de San Jorge in Triana, of which only the foundations remain, was the seat of these religious purges, which started in the late 15th century and largely targeted the wealthy Jewish population. Exhibits include a flashy multimedia presentation on topics such as judgment and abuse of power, but it's not until you reach the ruins of the castle itself, and the cells where the "heretics" were housed, that it all comes alive. Other highlights include a model of the original impenetrable castle, complete with chapel, stables, and streets; blown-up reproductions of Goya drawings of "suspects" wearing sinister X-marked tunics and pointed hats (signifying that they were under investigation); and a moving film about a (fictional) young woman accused of brujería (witchcraft). Don't expect gruesome instruments of torture; a visit here is an enlightening, if sobering, experience.—Fiona Flores Watson
Open Mondays through Fridays 9 am to 2 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 10 am to 1:45 pm.
3 Calle Manuel Rojas Marcos
Tel: 34 954 340 311
The Museum of Flamenco Dance was established by renowned local bailaora Cristina Hoyos, hailed as the Queen of Flamenco, and occupies a four-story 18th-century casa-palacio in the Barrio Antiguo. The museum covers the Asian and Caribbean origins of the dance, the different styles (from the joyful alegría, danced at Spanish fiestas, to the melancholy farruca), and its development since the 19th century. Although subjective and a little narcissistic (Hoyos is the ubiquitous star as well as owner), the museum is hugely interesting for anyone looking to learn more about flamenco; the massive wall-to-wall screens showing life-size dancers give you a sense of an actual performance. Also on show are costumes and accessories, such as castanets and hair decorations, photographs, and flamenco-themed art exhibitions. Watch the professionals in action at one of the nightly shows in the charming ground-floor patio, and if you get a taste for it, there are classes as well.—Fiona Flores Watson
Open daily 9 am to 6 pm, November through March; 9 am to 7 pm, April through October. Flamenco shows Mondays through Thursdays 7 to 7:45 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 7 to 8 pm.
2 Avenida Juan de Herrera
Tel: 34 91 549 7150
The new fashion and costume museum was, until 2004, the Museo Nacional de Antropología. Now there's an incredible range: from crinoline frames, doublets, and 20th-century designers' pieces (Fortuny, Balenciaga, Paco Rabanne) to 19,000 household objects.
52 Calle Santa Isabel
Tel: 34 91 774 1000
A spectacular triangular-roofed addition by French star architect Jean Nouvel has boosted what was already Spain's most important modern-art museum into the capital's new must-see. The $120 million building houses exhibition spaces, a 350,000-volume library, two auditoriums, a bookshop, a tapas bar/restaurant called Arola, a fabulous interior plaza, and a sixth-floor terrace with stunning views of the city. The permanent collection, which stays in the 18th-century hospital it's inhabited since 1992, still makes essential viewing: Miró, Dalí, and Barceló are especially well represented, and Picasso's iconic Guernica is here.
Open Mondays through Saturdays from 10 am to 9 pm; Sundays from 10 am to 2:30 pm.
2 Calle del Poeta Queról
Tel: 34 96 351 6392
The National Ceramics Museum is housed behind the elaborate marble facade of the 18th-century Palacio del Marqués de Dos Aguas. Valencia's history as an epicenter of Spanish ceramics goes back to the Middle Ages, when the region's Arab rulers introduced new lead-glazing techniques. Today, the architectural use of ceramic tiles and plates can be admired on balconies, floors, and vintage shop-fronts around town. Most of the museum exhibits hail from the region's main centers of ceramic production, like Manises and Paterna; they trace the development of pottery from prehistory and the ancient Greek and Roman eras up to the 20th century, represented by works of Mariano Benlliure and Picasso.
Paseo del Prado
Tel: 34 91 330 2800
One of the world's greatest art museumsin Europe's top three, with Paris's Louvre and the Uffizi in FlorenceEl Prado is now bigger and better thanks to Pritzker Prizewinning architect Rafael Moneo's addition, which doubled the museum's floor space. Moneo's $100 million extension links the original 18th-century Prado with the Iglesia de los Jerónimos buildingwhich has a new skin around its crumbling cloistersand an underground passage. The extra space has allowed much more of the museum's collection of more than 7,500 paintings, 1,000 sculptures, 2,400 prints, and 6,000 drawings to come out of storage. Highlights include Velÿzquez's Las Meninas; a sweeping collection of Goyas, including the canonical war image Tres de Mayo; and a fascinating group of paintings by El Greco, with his trademark pallid, ghostly use of color.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays from 9 am to 8 pm.
8 Paseo del Prado
Tel: 34 91 369 0151
The collection of old masters and major 19th- and 20th-century works amassed by the late Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza has graced Madrid since 1992. In summer 2004, a five-story, 250,000-square-foot addition by the Barcelona architects BOPBAA opened, making room for some 200 more pieces from the collection of the Baron's widow, Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza. These include canvases by Hopper, O'Keeffe, Kirchner, Kandinsky, Picasso, Fragonard, and Corot. There are now two happening restaurantsParadis, in the new wing, and rooftop restaurant El Miradorplus an amazing design store.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 am to 7 pm.
1 Plaça dels Angels
Tel: 34 93 412 0810
When Richard Meier's cool, white, futuristic "ship" sailed into the heart of El Raval, it regenerated an area best known as the underbelly of Barcelona. Inspired by Le Corbusier, the real art here is the building itself—straight lines and curves juxtaposed against a sapphire sky. A skylight-dotted roof floods the interior with natural light. The permanent collection, made up mainly of works from the second half of the 20th century, gives a good overview of the fundamental principles of contemporary art.
48 Carrer Balmes
Tel: 34 93 272 2896
Without doubt, Barcelona's Modernista heritage is its greatest cultural asset. While the shapes and fluid forms of Gaudí, one of the movement's most recognized exponents, are well known, the Modernista manifesto in the decorative arts is less so. The Museu del Modernisme Català, which opened in a typical Eixample town house in March 2010, has a superb collection of furniture, sculpture, and painting. The ground floor holds the most interest, with many pieces from Joan Busquets and Gaspar Homar, both master cabinetmakers who excelled in marquetry techniques, rendering the dainty maidens, idealized scenery, and floral iconography of the period in wood. Gaudí's heavy-handed chairs and plinths from the Casa Calvet are also on display, as is an OTT buffet from the architect Puig i Cadafalch, which, like his famous Casa Amatller, is dotted with instrument-playing beasts. The below-ground floor is dedicated to painting and sculpture, with Josep Llimona's melancholy, marble figurines taking prime place.—Suzanne Wales
Open Mondays through Saturdays 10 am to 8 pm, Sundays 10 am to 2 pm.
Avinguda de les Drassanes
Tel: 34 93 342 9920
In the 13th century, Catalonia was a powerhouse at sea, and many of the kingdom's ships were built in the mammoth Drassanes (Royal Shipyards) in Barcelona. The city's greatest medieval civic structure, the long-lined, elegant Drassanes now houses the Maritime Museum, a fascinating, kid-friendly place that explores Catalonia's seafaring history through reconstructions of ships and fishing boats and interactive exhibits. The museum also has a seaside annex out by the port, which includes a three-masted schooner from 1918; you're free to roam. Currently these are the only parts of the museum that can be visited, until a renovation of the main building is completed by the end of 2012.—Updated by Suzanne Wales
Opening times vary until renovation work is completed; call ahead.
Tel: 34 93 622 0376
Covering 1,000 years of Catalan art, this fully modernized museum on Montjuïc was carved out of the Palau Nacional for the 1929 International Exposition. It has now absorbed the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection (previously at the monastery in Pedralbes) and the works from the city's Museum of Modern Art (a trove of Art Nouveau previously in the Parc de la Ciutadella). Set aside an entire afternoon to fully appreciate the sheer extent of the holdings. The 11th-century Romanesque works constitute one of the best exhibits in the world and include sizable original 13th-century ecclesiastical murals as well as some gruesome medieval and Gothic paintings.—Updated by Suzanne Wales
Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 10:15 am to 6:45 pm, Sundays 10 am to 2:30 pm.
Madrid is a wonderful walking city. You'll doubtless find yourself, sooner or later, along the Paseo del Prado, in Plaza Mayor, and in Puerta del Sol. Stop for a quick look, but don't sit at any of the overpriced cafés in these areas, where you'll be serenaded by patronizing Spanish guitarists, condescended to by uppity waiters with tuxedos and A.D.D., and generally made to feel like a fanny-packed loser.
The key to seeing Madrid is, instead, to escape from these places and explore the neighborhoods, where the changing nature of the city is more palpable. First and foremost, this means Chueca, long known as the city's gay neighborhood but now also housing the hippest restaurants, nightspots, and boutiques—most among streets and buildings that only a few years ago were ready to be condemned. Las Letras, the rapidly gentrifying old literary district, is also fascinating, and by night on weekends, Malasaña is a scene of throbbing street culture that has to be seen to be believed.
Another way to walk the city is by art gallery–hopping. Chueca and the Lavapiés neighborhood are where the new galleries and foundations are clustering. Check out the Galería Travesía Cuatro (4 Travesía de San Mateo; 34-91-310-0098; www.travesiacuatro.com), the Fundación Juan March (77 Calle Castelló; 34-91-435-4240; www.march.es), and the Círculo de Bellas Artes (42 Calle de Alcalá; 34-91-360-5400; www.circulodebellasartes.es).
2 Carrer de Sant Francesc de Paula
Tel: 34 90 244 2882
Architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner's masterpiece, the Palau de la Música, was built between 1905 and 1908 in El Born. Montaner was fascinated by small birds and flowers, an obsession that can be traced in the intricate, colorful mosaic work commissioned from Lluís Bru. Within, forests of lushly decorated columns unfold like flower petals to reveal detailed sculptures and dramas set in stone. Each is more opulent than the last: A choir of stone maidens rings the domed ceiling, and Wagner's wild horses gallop out from backstage, while a bust of Beethoven looks on. In 1997, the building was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it remains one of the finest concert halls in the world. If you can't get to a performance, tours are held from 9 am to 3:30 pm daily. Tickets are available at the box office.—Updated by Suzanne Wales
Located in the southwest of Mallorca, the capital, Palma, is a cosmopolitan city on the sea, a sort of mini-Barcelona boasting handsome architecture, a delightful old quarter—the casco antiguo—and excellent shopping (the island is the home of Camper, so you'll get good deals on its footwear). Must-sees include the Gothic cathedral, also known as La Seu, and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.
Carretera de Vallvidrera a Sant Cugat
Tel: 34 93 280 3552
It's a mere 20 minutes on the FCG train line from Plaça Catalunya, yet most visitors admire these nearly 20,000 acres of open space, Holm Oak forest, and farmland only from the plane. What everyone's missing is innumerable hiking and biking trails, a masia (Catalan farmhouse) lunch of hearty country fare—think barbecue chops and sausages, pa amb tomaquet (bread with tomato), and roasted vegetables—and a glass elevator ride and 360-degree views from the top of Norman Foster's 944-foot Torre de Collserola (Carretera de Vallvidrera al Tibidabo s/n; 34-93-406-93-54; www.torredecollserola.com).
7 Carrer d'Olot
Tel: 34 93 413 24 00
Gaudí's iconic mosaic lizard and two fairy-tale gatehouses are harbingers of the fantastical landscape that lies beyond this park's entrance. Originally conceived as high-class housing for the city's elite, the project never came to pass and the land became the city's domain in 1922. Today, this hilly escape from the heat of downtown on the edge of the city is one of the Barcelona's most beloved outdoor attractions—a world embellished with staircases and benches encrusted with trencadís (shattered colored tiles), the Hall of 100 Columns, and Mount Carmel, which hovers like an island above the city's rooftops.
Club Deportivo de Bilbao
28 Alameda de Recalde
Tel: 34 94 423 1108
Sports fans looking to witness something unique to this region should check out a pelota match. Pelota is a traditional Basque handball that comes in three varieties: a paleta (with a wooden paddle), a mano (bare-handed), or cesta punta (played with wicker baskets and better known as jai alai). The matches themselves are fun to watch, but even more entertaining is the loud, chaotic crowd, with bookies constantly calling out the changing odds to gamblers, even while the point they're betting on is played. Bilbao's frontón (court) features professional pelota a paleta matches. Tickets can be bought on game day, or the day before, at the frontón.
The Penedès region, southwest of Barcelona, has been making wine since the Romans arrived 2,000 years ago. Its rolling hills are home to some of the biggest names in Spanish still and sparkling wine, such as Torres (www.torres.es), Codorniu (www.codorniu.com), and Freixenet (www.freixenet.com), all of which offer daily cellar tours. Though traditionally known for light, fruity whites and especially sparkling cava, gutsy vintners are earning praises for their balanced reds as well. The area is also gaining respect for boutique bottlings from such wineries as Jean Leon (www.jeanleon.es) and Albet i Noya, Spain's first organic winery (www.albetinoya.com).
29 Calle Saridakis
Palma , Mallorca
Tel: 34 971 701 420
Set in the hills just outside the city of Palma, the artist Joan Miró and his wife, Pilar, opened the foundation in 1981 as a place to promote art in all its forms and to provide young artists with a space to work in. The original structure, which included four workshops used by Miró, was expanded in 1986 with the addition of a wing by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Rafael Moneo. The foundation has a permanent collection of works donated by Miró, including paintings, sketches, and sculpture all produced during the time he spent in Mallorca. The rest of the space includes an exhibition gallery, an auditorium, a library with many of the artist's personal documents, and the ever-present museum shop. There's also a young artists' workshop on the upper floor, and a recently opened space in the basement to exhibit the works these artists produce.
Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 10 am to 3 pm, Sundays 10 am to 7 pm, mid-May through mid-September; Tuesdays through Saturdays 10 am to 6 pm, Sundays 10 am to 3 pm, mid-September through mid-May.
For centuries, religious pilgrims have walked from various points across the country to reach this city, in Spain's northwestern region of Galicia. It's said that the body of Saint James the Apostle is buried in the ornate cathedral. There are various routes one can take to Santiago de Compostela—and these days, hikers and other adventurers make the journey, too—but one of the oldest is the coastal Camino del Norte, or "northern way." This roughly 500-mile passage starts in the Basque border town of Irún, passes through San Sebastián and Bilbao, and hugs the dramatic Cantabrian coastline. The route varies at different points—sometimes it's a rural hiking trail through farmland, sometimes it's a gravel track overlooking the sea, and at other points it parallels paved roads—but following it is a unique way to see some of Spain's most beautiful country. Spanish Steps, based in Aspen, offers 13-day half-walk/half-guided-drive trips to Santiago along the Camino del Norte. The tours require about eight to ten miles of walking per day but also include plush accommodations and meals (877-787-9255; www.spanishsteps.com). For general information about the pilgrimage, its history, and its routes, check out the website of the Confraternity of Saint James, a non-denominational association of former and current pilgrims (www.csj.org.uk).
12 Paseo de Colón
Tel: 34 954 224 577
Bizet's Carmen met her fate in the red-and-yellow Real Maestranza bullring, where a statue of her now stands. This elegant ring, flanked by stables and a chapel, is one of the oldest and most beautiful in Spainbuilding began in 1730. You can also visit a museum containing paintings, cloaks, and tributes to bullfighting celebrities. (If you hanker to see an actual bullfight, note that few are held in summer.)
Open daily 9:302 and 37 (9:303 on bullfight days).
Poble Nou is flat, with wide boulevards and low-rise housing. Gentrification of this former industrial neighborhood has come in the form of Diagonal Mar, a gated residential community, and 22@, a dot-com business precinct, both of which have gobbled up a fair amount of Poble Nou's grittier charm. However, the area has spawned a number of decent clubs and bars (most notably Razzmatazz and a couple of the defunct factory buildings have been revived as art and design studios; the exciting Can Framis is a case in point. This is also home to the city's other Rambla—Rambla del Poble Nou—an infinitely more genial alternative to the rowdy Ramblas in town. Another Poble Nou landmark: French architect Jean Nouvel's gigantic phallic Torre Agbar.—Updated by Suzanne Wales
Few visitors venture into Poble Sec, the largely residential "dry village," so named because it lacked any water supply until the 19th century. The narrow streets and 18th-century buildings that back up the east-facing side of Montjuïc (the mountain wedged between the city and sea) offer little in the way of sights—for years, the main draw was tapas at Quimet & Quimet. Slowly but surely, however, Poble Sec is developing a reputation as a cozy neighborhood studded with intimate bars and restaurants springing up along its backstreets, particularly the Carrer Blai. The reopening of El Molino, an iconic music hall in the style of Paris' Moulin Rouge (99 Carrer Vilà i Vilà) suggests a bright new beginning for the area, as does the appearance of 41°, a cocktail bar from the Adrià brothers.—Updated by Suzanne Wales
Tel: 34 96 354 2460
When Swiss team Alinghi announced that Valencia had won the bid to host their 2007 America's Cup defense, there were citywide celebrations. But the new state-of-the-art marina built to house the team bases and the Cup headquarters has an important function beyond the race itself, which took place from June 23 to July 7, 2007. American architect David Chipperfield's Velas y Ventas pavilion, with its clean, intersecting white lines, will remain as a clubhouse and leisure center for the new 700-berth yacht marina, and the historic warehouses that surround the harbor are destined to host restaurants, bars, and shops open to visitors.
13 Calle Alcalá
Tel: 91 524 0864
The go-to gallery for Goyas; including two of the artist's self portraits, as well as paintings by Ribera and Velázquez. But it's not only the Spanish Masters, there's also pieces by Rubens and Van Dyck. Don't let the city's big three galleries prevent you from coming here.
Anyone who even nominally follows soccer is in awe of Real Madrid, and if you're lucky enough to be in town for a game (half the weekends from September to May, generally), you should try to get a ticket. Real Madrid plays at the legendary 75,000-seat Santiago Bernabéu stadium in Chamartín (34-902-324-324; www.realmadrid.com). If you can't score tickets on the phone, you can buy them from scalpers outside the stadium, sometimes at only a mild markup. And if Real is playing away, Atlético, known as "Atleti," another distinguished club, might be at home; they play at Vicente Calderón stadium, closer to downtown (www.clubatleticodemadrid.com/en/). In keeping with Madrid's born-again culinary identity, there's now an ambitious and creative restaurant right in Bernabéu stadium called RealCafé Bernabéu, where you can dine on bonito over quince and Thai tomato, or baby squid with shiitake mushrooms, artichokes, and mushroom reduction, in front of plate-glass windows overlooking the field, even when there's no match going on (www.realcafebernabeu.com).
A must-go destination for oenophiles, the Rioja region was turning out serious vintages even back in the 1970s and '80s, when the rest of the country was still making plonk. The best way to get access to top winemakers and their wineries is to go with a knowledgeable guide. Tenedor Tours, based in San Sebastián, runs all kinds of food and wine tours throughout the Rioja as well as the surrounding Basque country; these let you sample the region's classic reds made from tempranillo grapes, along with a growing number of notable whites and rosados, or rosés (34-943-313-929; www.tenedortours.com ). If you'd rather go on your own, the Rioja region's tourism department has a fairly detailed website that lists everything from accommodations and the location of wine museums to wine-tasting classes. Not every winery is open to the public, but if you sign up via the site (registration is free), you'll be able to download brochures that list visiting hours and contact information for all those that do welcome tourists (lariojaturismo.com; 34-941-291-260).
Tel: 34 91 454 8800
The official residence of Spain's royal family (now only used to host official ceremonies) was commissioned in 1738 by King Felipe V and was first used by Carlos III in 1764. Although much has changed since then, the palace still retains the original Throne Room with frescoed ceiling, the King's Chamber, and a rather ostentatious but impressive Porcelain Room. Of note is the Painting Gallery, which includes works by Caravaggio, Velázquez, and Goya. The Royal Gardens are also open to the publicin front is the recently remodeled Plaza del Oriente, which contains a series of statues carved during the reign of King Ferdinand VI. At the far side of the square, the Café de Oriente is the perfect place to end the tour with a drink on the lively terrace. Palace admission is free to European Union residents on Wednesdays, so if you are not from a member state, you'd be better off going any other day of the week to avoid the crowds.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 9:30 am to 5 pm, Sundays and holidays 9 am to 2 pm.
401 Carrer de Mallorca
Tel: 34 93 207 3031
Never mind that it's a cliché: If you see only one sight in Barcelona, head to the Eixample and see Gaudí's resplendent Sagrada Familia. An architectural "beauty and the beast," it is at once monstrous and breathtakingly beautiful—Modernisme in its ideal state. The church completely embraces the movement's idea of marrying nature with the handicraft of man: An organic quality, earthy tones, and steeples that seem to drip rather than stand make it look as though it has actually grown out of the ground rather than been constructed on top of it. Cavelike windows are inhabited by gargoyles and monsters, and religious scenes from the Last Supper to the Crucifixion are depicted on the facade. Gaudí is buried beneath the nave—he dedicated 40 years to the building, the last 14 of those living there—and in some sense he's still watching over the progress of his life's greatest work from the grave. The church was consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI in late 2010, meaning that services can now be held here, well before the expected completion date of 2026.—Updated by Suzanne Wales
Open daily 9 am to 6 pm, October through March; 9 am to 8 pm, April through September.
Tel: 34 943 481 212
During the second half of every September, San Sebastián is overrun by actors, directors, and cineastes from all over the world as it hosts its annual film festival. Tickets can be hard to come by, particularly for official festival selections, so go online early the week before the festival if you have your heart set on attending the screenings. All showings are held at the Kursaal convention center.
1 Plaza Zuloaga
Tel: 34 943 481 580
The Basque Country's oldest museum has just added a brand-new modernist concrete wing to the 16th-century Dominican convent that houses its collection. The museum now offers two very distinct areas. One is an art museum with paintings from the 16th to the 21st century from artists such as El Greco, Rubens, Soroya, and Miró. The other area is dedicated to a trip down Basque memory lane, with everything from 15th-century farming tools to 1950s kitchen appliances on display.—Guy Fiorita
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 10 am to 8 pm.
Less than 35 minutes away by train from Barcelona's Sants station, Sitges is a small, self-confident seaside town. It was "discovered" as a bohemian outpost in the latter part of the 19th century by the artist Santiago Rusiñol, who made it the darling of Barcelona's artistic classes when he moved his studio there and began throwing decadent parties. The feeling of bonhomie has survived to this day, and the town's whitewashed houses, pretty cobbled streets, ornate villas, and beaches attract a diverse crowd of gay partygoers, families, and hipsters. The most exciting times to visit are during carnival (early spring), the Festa Major (August), and a film festival that specializes in all things macabre (October). Ornately tiled, neogothic Cau Ferrat was built by Rusiñol to join his two cottages together and is now a popular museum (Carrer del Fonollar; 34-93-894-0364). Arrive early to beat the crowds.
The north and northwest of the island are all about beautiful villages and rugged coastline, with the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range stretching down the western shore. A picturesque wooden single-gauge railway connects Palma with the town of Sóller via a valley filled with orange groves and almond trees (El Tren de Sóller; 349-902-364-711; www.sollernet.com. Sóller's square is a pretty spot to sit and enjoy a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. From here, a tram takes visitors to Port de Sóller, a bustling little resort that curves around a natural bay. Just south of Sóller, the village of Valldemossa has picturesque stone buildings and winding streets. Don't miss its monastery, which dates back to 1310, made famous by Frédéric Chopin and George Sand's sojourn there in the 19th century.
Further north, the road narrows to the tumbling, sea-facing terraces of Deià, where the poet and novelist Robert Graves was a longtime resident. A museum, Fundació Robert Graves, opened in 2006 at his home, Ca N'Alluny (Carretera de Sóller, Km 1; 34-971-636-185; www.fundaciorobertgraves.com). Walk the narrow streets to the uppermost part of the town, where you'll find the cemetery where Graves is buried—there's a quirky mix of traditional Spanish and funky artists' headstones. The view of the coast from here is worth the hike. Today the village is also home to Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones's summer pad, as well as a handful of superb restaurants.
Beyond Deià the road becomes a series of hairpin bends and steep ups and downs, but it's well worth persevering with the knuckle-biting ride to get to some of the island's loveliest and most deserted beaches, such as secluded Cala Tuent and Sa Calobra. The latter can also be reached by boat from Port de Sóller.
On Mallorca's south coast, visit the lovely fjord-like coves, notably Cala Figuera, with its bottle-green–trimmed boathouses; Cala Llombards, which calls to mind the Caribbean; and the Parc Natural de Mondragó, for its virgin beaches and forest walks. Unlovely Magaluf, on the western Bay of Palma, has long been the default cheap vacation of British package tourists, who still populate a coast buried under ugly blocky hotels, English pubs, and fast food. Head into the center of the island, however, and you are rewarded with picturesque rural villages, mountaintop sanctuaries, and a way of life that has remained unchanged for decades.
Facing the Cantabrian Sea, the Basque coastline—a 150-mile stretch from Muskiz on the western edge of Vizcaya to the border of France—is a surfer's paradise, with some amazing breaks within easy reach of Bilbao and San Sebastián. The towns of Sopelana and Bakio are particular hot spots; so is the fishing village of Mundaka, which is known for having one of the longest left-handed waves in the world. The Aussie-owned Mundaka Surf Shop is a good place to stop if you need equipment or advice (8-10 Txorrokopunta, Mundaka; 34-94-687-6721; www.mundakasurfshop.com).
Tel: 34 94 479 2036
Like the city it calls home, the Arriaga theater has gone through its own dramas and difficulties—from a devastating fire in 1914 to floods in the 1980s—but the institution has endured to become a haven for arts and culture. The grand building, perched on the edge of the Casco Viejo, is the place to go to see opera, ballet, classical music, dance, and theater performances. If zarzuela is on the schedule, make sure to check out this classic Spanish genre of lyrical theater.
Bilbao Tourism Office
11 Plaza del Ensanche
Tel: 34 94 479 5760
On weekends and summer weekdays, Bilbao's tourism office offers two separate 90-minute walking tours of the city. One covers the Casco Viejo area, including the Gothic cathedral, the Ribera market, and the ruins under the San Antón church. The other focuses on the urban development of the Ensanche and Abandoibarra neighborhoods, from the 19th century to the present day. The average person will likely find the Casco Viejo choice more interesting, although architecture buffs will prefer the other option. Tours are offered in both English and Spanish, and cost less than $5 per person.