Spain is everything you can imagine it to be – and more! From flamenco and poetry to fabulous architecture and art. Travel to its heart, boisterous Barcelona and farther to Seville and partake of the good life.
People have different reasons to put this charismatic country on their bucket list. Spain being a football crazy nation attracts a large number of fans as well as an equal number of revellers for its traditional festivities such as the famous Running of the Bulls at Pamplona and La Tomatina at Valencia’s famous town of Bunol. For me though, Alhambra in Granada was a surreal experience, described by Moorish poets as ‘a pearl set in emeralds’.
I have travelled to other beautiful countries but Spain has an invincible soul. It wasn’t just about awesome tapas bars, Gaudi’s architecture, Picasso’s art—there was also a lot of amazing graffiti on the walls of alleys, street artistes performed everywhere and their astounding spirit rubbed off on me soon after my arrival.
However, the two cities that stood ours for me. And definitely gave me the best Spanish experience – are the cities of Barcelona and Seville.
Barcelona was a revelation, with its boisterous people and musicians strumming their Spanish guitars around cathedrals and the sound of music elating the senses and putting everyone on a happy high. I spent a few days in Barcelona with friends, walking the popular La Rambla, admiring the eclectic craziness of Antoni Gaudi’s Casa Batllo, Park Guell and the famous Basilica of Sagrada Familia.
Places to Visit in Barcelona
The Basilica of Sagrada Familia has been under construction since 1882 and it remains among the most visited monuments in the world. I soaked in the zestfulness of the city, getting lost in the alleys of the Gothic Quarters. There was the stunning Cathedral of Santa Maria and Placa Reial, where I spent my evenings exploring bars, meeting local artists and savouring delicacies such as black paella and chomping on churros. And then there was the beach, of course, rated among the top 10 city beaches by National Geographic.
Shopping in Barcelona
Barcelona has lots of amazing areas for shopping and you must not miss the La Boqueria market at La Rambla where time stops and everything comes alive. Smells, colours, tastes, sounds and textures fill you up. Here you can lay your hands on the freshest authentic produce, whether it’s meats, cheese, mushrooms or anything that tickles your gastronomical buds.
Barcelona Night Life
Barcelonians really know the secret of taking their afternoon siesta so they can dance under the stars while enjoying the buzzing club scene, which kicks up by 2 am and goes on till sunrise. So if you love the party scene, you will be spoilt for choice with an abundance of small bars and popular nightclubs.
Also read: Best things to do in Barcelona
After spending some glorious time in the tourist capital of Catalonia, I flew to the capital of Southern Spain’s Andalusia region—Seville. As a solo traveller, I prefer to use Airbnb and stay with a local, so that the host can share their secret places and things to do in the city. In Seville, my Airbnb house was next to Alcazar, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the centre of the city overlooking mandarin trees.
One of the most visited cities of Spain, Seville is a dream not only because it is rich in history but because it is charming and easygoing. It stirs your soul and leaves a sweet yearning when you depart. Sevillianos, as the people of Seville are called, are known for their hospitality, enthusiasm and lust for life. It is after all the city of flamenco, poetry and art.
Sightseeing in Seville
I met the sweetest Sevilliano called Pablo who was nice enough to walk with me along the Guadalquivir river, which divides the city. We walked past students sketching, locals playing sports and relishing their tapas with Cerveza (Spanish for beer), people enjoying their city which is blessed with sun for the most part of the year—it was a life of leisure.
We walked around the alleys of Seville exploring some eateries that are popular both with locals and tourists, such as the Confiteria la Campana which has been around since 1885 and is known for its pastries and coffee. Patio San Eloy was one of my favourites, a tapas bar with lovely tiled stairs for sitting at the back.
Alcazar Castle in Seville: If you aren’t going to Granada after this to see Alhambra with its Moorish architecture (which is highly recommended), then Alcazar Castle offers you a close experience to that—with over 200 years of history and beautiful gardens. If you are hooked on the popular TV series Game of Thrones, then you have heard of the majestic Alcazar. We saw a few artists sitting and painting beautiful art inspired by the architecture and the colours of the castle. We walked out of here on winding cobblestone roads behind the castle. It takes you to Barrio Santa Cruz, the primary tourist area of Seville which used to be the Jewish quarters. Its narrow twisting alleys and hidden plaza are what tourists come for to feel the real Spain. It has old bars and taverns and also some of the best hotels with rooftop bars.
Seville Cathedral: The Seville Cathedral, on one of the busiest streets in the city, is the third largest in the world. Interestingly, it’s an old mosque converted into a church and houses the remains of the explorer Christopher Columbus. La Giralda is the cathedral’s tallest tower with the bells. I loved passing it multiple times as there were musicians performing at every corner. The sounds and the life on this street is what I still connect with Seville and Spain.
Seville – Culture and Night Life
Seville has the Museum of Flamenco and Fine Arts but for me the best part was to follow the locals to their popular hangouts such as Carboneria, where musicians jammed, flamenco dancers tapped their feet with full gusto and locals and tourists joined in the celebration. Seville’s night life is known in Spain as the craziest and most fun. You can tell a Sevilliano from far as they are believed to be the happiest people in the country.
Triana is a vibrant, less touristy quarter, across the river Gaudalquivir which is connected to the city by the iconic bridge Isabel 11. It is famous for its markets, ceramic shops, but especially its nightlife and flamenco. The locals go once a month to see performances at Teatro Central, Teatro Lope De Vega and Teatro Quintero. For good touristy flamenco performances, you can check out Los Gallos, El Arenal and Casa de La Memorial. You could, if so inclined, get flamenco lessons on your visit to Seville as well. These evenings spent in Seville are embedded in my senses forever.
How to get to Seville:
Flights from all major airports in Spain fly to Seville. You can hire a car and drive past olive trees and beautiful landscapes or take a bus or train to go to all destinations in Andalusia.
Places to eat in Seville:
Bodega, Belmonte, Bodeguita, Antonio Romero, El Patio.
Things to do in Seville:
The locals go once a month to see flamenco at Teatro Central, Teatro Lope De Vega and Teatro Quintero. For good touristy flamenco performances, you can check out Los Gallos, El Arenal and Casa de La Memorial. La Nuestero is the best place to go dance Rumba and Sevillana. It begins around 11 pm.
Local hangouts: Chile bar, Casino, Alfonso, Groucho, Carboneria.
Religious Festivals of Spain
Holy Week of Semana Santa during the Holy week of Semana Santa, the celebration of Jesus Christ’s Passion, a week before Easter, millions of people from different faiths come to the city from around the world for the festival. during the week, you can see church processions throughout Spain. People follow the images of Jesus and Mary through the city, and while the atmosphere is quite sombre and emotional, there is spontaneous singing, with locals and visitors getting involved in the event.
Feria de Abril The other big event which takes place just two weeks after the Holy week is Feria de abril, which might sometimes be in May (depending on the Holy week). The festivities of Feria de abril, which was originally an animal fair of horses and cows, is the week of flamenco and rebujito (a Spanish cocktail of a dry sherry and Sprite). The women are dressed in the traje de gitana (a traditional flamenco outfit) and men and women ride on horseback. This is the best time to be in Seville where everyone is in party mode.
Climate of Spain
July is the hottest month and January the coldest. August is the best time to swim in the sea, with the average temperature being 23° Celsius.
So if you are short on time and want to experience the best of Spain – head to its two most charming cities – Barcelona and Seville.