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Spain is one of the most popular European destinations to visit, not just for its renowned landmarks, but also a deeply entrenched culture.
The country is very diverse, from the bustling cities of Madrid and Barcelona, to the rural communities and sandy Mediterranean islands.
As an avid lover of all things Spanish, I’ve put together this guide on the best things Spain has to offer, from delightful cuisine to famous faces.
- 1. Siesta
- 2. The Beaches
- 3. Spanish Civil War
- 4. Football
- 5. Tapas
- 6. Alhambra
- 7. Flag
- 8. Wine
- 9. Baby Jumping Festival
- 10. Spanish Omelette
- 11. Día de Sant Jordi
- 12. Miguel de Cervantes
- 13. La Sagrada Familia
- 14. Paella
- 15. Ibiza
- 16. La Tomatina
- 17. Pablo Picasso
- 18. Salvador Dalí
- 19. Sangria
- 20. Madrid
- 21. Flamenco
- 22. Antoni Gaudi
- 23. Spanish Bullfighting
- 24. Zara
Of course, first on my list is my favourite thing that Spain gave the world, Siestas.
A siesta is a short nap from around 2-5pm that has been part of the Spanish day for many centuries.
This is the hottest time of day and the Siesta was traditionally for field workers to get out of the heat but spread to other workers too.
These days, it’s more of a stereotype as less than 20% actually take a midday nap.
2. The Beaches
Spain has almost 5000km of coastline so it’s no surprise that the country is known for its beaches.
The most popular breaches are those that face the Mediterranean side such as those in Catalunya, Valencia and the Balearic and Canary Islands. This is because they have much warmer water.
Spain is a popular destination with Europeans in search of a beach holiday, with over 600 Spanish beaches that have achieved blue flag rating.
3. Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil War was fought between 1936 and 1939 when Spanish General Francisco Franco fought against the government of Spain and successfully took control of the country.
Franco was backed by troops from Germany and Italy who had fascist governments at the time, and weapons were acquired from the Soviet Union.
Half a million people died in the conflict which ended when Franco took control of the country and remained ruler until his death in 1975.
Spain has given us some of the worlds most recognisable football (soccer) teams, including Barcelona FC and Real Madrid whose players have included Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
These two teams compete at the top tier of Spanish football and between them have won more than 45 international trophies.
The Spanish national team is one of the handful of teams that have won the FIFA World Cup, taking home the trophy in 2010.
Well known Spanish football players are Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Pep Guardiola who now manages the premier league team Manchester City.
If you’ve been to Spain and haven’t experienced Tapas, then you definitely did something wrong.
Tapas refers to the style of food rather than the actual food itself, served on small plates and usually with sharing in mind. It’s small enough to be an appetizer, but you can combine multiple Tapas to create a meal.
Tapas was originally intended to cover your drink in a bar to prevent flies from getting in, the word ‘Tapas’ translates as ‘to cover’.
It has evolved into a delicacy of its own and can be served hot or cold. Some popular Tapas dishes include patatas bravas, chorizos, and olives.
Calat Alhambra (or just Alhambra for short) is an old palace and fortress located on a hill in Granada, Andalusia that has become synonymous with Spain and Spanish architecture.
The oldest part of the complex is the Alcazaba which has records dating as early as the 9th century.
Despite being originally white, the buildings are known for their reddish appearance which is due to many centuries in the sun.
I couldn’t miss out the Spanish flag. The iconic flag we know today has changed many times over its life.
The yellow and red stripes were first used on the flag in 1760 when they were chosen by Charles III as a way of distinguishing the flag from enemies in battle.
This was not the end of the matter, the flag changed again during the second Spanish republic and again after the civil war.
The current design with the coat of arms was only settled upon in 1981.
There are more than 400 varieties of grape grown in Spain.
Some of the most popular Spanish wines are Rioja, Priorat and Cava, the latter being Spain’s answer to Champagne.
The Spanish are also known for Sherry which is a fortified wine from Andalucía that’s garnered a passionate fan base around the world.
But despite all this, Spaniards aren’t big wine drinkers themselves, instead they send their bottles to most countries as the third largest wine exporter in the world.
9. Baby Jumping Festival
Perhaps the strangest thing to come out of Spain is the Baby Jumping festival, El Colacho.
The tradition has been taking place in the small rural village of Castrillo de Murcia since the 17th century.
The main part of the festival sees babies born that year laid down on a mattress in the street, then a man dressed as the devil goes around the village to jump over them.
Supposedly this clears them of their sins, they are then blessed by priests. However, there has been controversy as the Pope disagrees with the tradition.
10. Spanish Omelette
Tortilla de patatas (commonly referred to as Spanish omelette or Spanish tortilla) is an omelette made with eggs, potatoes and onions that’s a traditional dish in Spain.
It tends to be served at room temperature and can be a starter, main or tapas style.
You might find some restaurants attempting to add other ingredients such as cheese or chorizo, but this isn’t the traditional way. In fact, even including an onion in the recipe can be controversial in some regions of Spain.
11. Día de Sant Jordi
Día de Sant Jordi (translates as St Georges Day) is celebrated on 23rd April each year, but unlike the English St George’s Day that takes place on the same day, in Spain this is a day to celebrate love.
It’s mainly celebrated in Catalonia where St George was the patron saint of the former Crown of Aragon which occupied the north of modern day Spain among other areas.
On Día de Sant Jordi, Catalan men send gifts of roses or books to their sweethearts, however it’s also common to gift friends, family and colleagues. The day is also known as El Día del Llibre (the Day of the Book).
The tradition of giving books on 23rd April formed the basis for World Book Day which is recognised by UNESCO and celebrated by many countries.
12. Miguel de Cervantes
Miguel de Cervantes is one of the most important writers in Spanish literary.
He was born in 1547 and spent most of his life living in poverty. He served in the military and spent time in captivity during which he was sold as a slave.
His literary success came late in life, with most of his surviving work being written in the few years prior to his death in 1616.
His most successful work is Don Quixote, a two part novel that’s regarded as the first modern novel and has since been translated more than 60 times.
13. La Sagrada Familia
Spain’s best-known building is La Sagrada Familia which can be found in Barcelona.
The building is the piece de la resistance of the architect Antoni Gaudi who worked on the building in the final years of his life.
LA Sagrada Familia is a large basilica that combines gothic and Art Nouveau styles, along with Gaudi’s only fairy tale-like influence.
Despite being over 100 years in the making, the building is still under construction and expected to be finished in 2026.
Paella is a Spanish rice dish with vegetables, olives, herbs and spices. Traditionally, Senia Albufera rice will be used which has a great ability to absorb flavours.
It’s usually served with meat or seafood in the coastal areas. It’s popular for sharing and often served at large family gatherings.
The dish originates from Valencia, but each region has its own take on the recipe that is Spain’s most famous dish.
The ‘White Isle’ aka Ibiza is one of Spain’s most famous islands.
It’s one of Europe’s best party destinations with some world famous clubs such as Amnesia, Pacha and DC10, attracting the biggest names in dance music.
As well as the all night parties, the island is full of beautiful beaches, stunning walks and some great diving spots too.
16. La Tomatina
La Tomatina is a festival in a small Spanish village that’s earned itself a big name internationally.
The festival is one large tomato fight that takes place on the last Wednesday of each August.
With over 40,000 attendees each year, the event has become so popular that it’s now ticketed with the whole village sealed off.
It uses over 150,000 tomatoes that are overripe or low quality and unlikely to ever have been eaten.
17. Pablo Picasso
One of the worlds most well-known artists was Spanish, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973).
Born in Malaga, he spent most of his life in Spain. It’s estimated that he created 147,800 pieces, mainly paintings but also including prints, sculptures and ceramics.
He was best known for his involvement in cubism in which paintings are made up of small geometric shapes. His most famous example of this was ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ which depicts five naked women made from jagged shapes.
He would wear a Breton-striped shirt designed by Coco Chanel which would become his iconic uniform.
18. Salvador Dalí
Salvador Dali (1904-1989) was a prominent artist in the 20th century, born near Barcelona. He was an eccentric artist known as a leading figure in the surrealist movement.
His best-known work is The Persistence of Memory which depicts melting clocks against a Catalonian landscape, believed to represent the passing of time.
Much of his life was just as bizarre as his paintings, he believed he was the reincarnation of his brother who died just before his birth, he had a pet ocelot and a marriage that was unconventional for the time.
He is also known for collaborating with Disney for an animated film, Destino, and he designed the original Chupa Chups logo.
If there’s one drink that Spain is renowned for, it has to be Sangria.
Traditionally, it’s made from red wine, syrup, soda water, and sometimes a drop of brandy, the drink is popular to drink in the evening and accompany a meal.
It’s usually served with lots of chopped fruit like a punch.
The name comes from ‘sangre’ which translates as ‘blood’ and seems to be a reference to the dark red colour of the drink.
Each year, December 20th marks National Sangria Day, something that is celebrated in many countries, not just Spain.
Madrid is the capital of Spain, so I couldn’t leave it out.
The city is the largest in Spain and the third largest in Europe. It’s known for being one of the sunniest cities in Europe with 2,769 hours of sunlight per year.
Madrid is home to the oldest restaurant in the world, Sobrino de Botín, which was founded in 1725 and even has a Guinness World Record to prove it.
It’s also one of the few places in the world outside of Egypt that you’ll find an Egyptian temple after it was gifted to the city for helping save important Egyptian relics.
Flamenco dancing is a style of dance that was first popularised in the Andalusian region in the South of Spain but can now be found across Spain and other Spanish speaking countries.
Its origins are associated with the Roma (gypsy) people who migrated to Spain as early as the 15th century.
The dance includes hand clapping, foot clapping and intricate body movements. But the dance alone does not complete Flamenco dancing, the singing and guitar playing are also key elements.
Of course, you’ll also recognise the unique sevillana dress worn by women when performing Flamenco.
22. Antoni Gaudi
Spain’s best-known architect was Antoni Gaudi born in the late 19th century. His unique style was inspired by nature and often took a fairytale look and feel.
He did not draw plans for his work, instead opting to build 3D models to work from.
His best-known pieces can be found in Barcelona, including the Sagrada Familia, Park Guell (shown here), Casa Mila, Casa Batlló, Casa Vicens, Crypt in Colonia Güell and Güell Palace.
These 7 pieces make up a UNESCO heritage site aimed at preserving his work.
23. Spanish Bullfighting
Corrida De Toros (known as Spanish Bullfighting) has been a tradition in Spain since as early as 711, however the modern style in which a matador faces a bull on their own dates back to 1726 by Francisco Romero.
During a bullfight, a matador will test the strength of a bull with a cape, taught the bull from horseback using lances and eventually kill it with a sword.
The sport isn’t as popular these days and can be considered quite controversial. Many people proclaim it as animal cruelty and a number Spanish region have banned it altogether, including Catalonia and the Canary Islands.
The oldest bullring can be found in Rhonda which was built in 1785.
A Spanish brand that is now commonplace around the world is fashion retailer Zara. It is headquartered in Arteixo with more than 2,000 stores in more than 80 countries.
Despite being such a global fast-fashion company, half of the products are still made in Spain. It was founded by Amancio Ortega who is now the wealthiest man in Spain and at one point was the wealthiest in the world.
Zara is the part of the Inditex, the largest apparel company in the world, also based in Spain.
It was originally called Zorba but change to Zara as a local bar had the same name.